A call for a global conversation

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A blog posting  by Rumman Ahmed.

Recently, the noted British Muslim community leader and faith-based activist, Dr M. A. Bari,  has written an insightful article ‘Healing the ills of the Muslim ummah’s public life where he outlined three priority areas for Muslims across the ummah to address. All three are of utmost importance, and I especially endorse his second point of the need to ‘make a truce between moderate secular and Islamist politicians to protect a country’s sovereignty and national interest’. Without such an all out effort our 60+ Muslim nation states will be lost to hundred years’ anarchy. The time has come for Islamically inclined thinkers, intellectuals, political and social activists to come up with a National Charter for Peace, Justice and Development for their own respective countries so as to clearly chart out a pathway for national reconciliation and harmony and making all sectors of their society stakeholders in such a process. Without such a stake-holding society, which is reflected in its politics, there can be no sustainable development or progress in any of these Muslim nation states. Any little progress made so far will just remain ephemeral benefitting mostly the elite, with small crumbs thrown down the social ladder. The citizens of these Muslim nation states all desire peace with justice, equity and the forging of unity amongst themselves.

Dr Bari’s other two points are also critical for any sustainable endeavour in the rectification of our societies and their body politics. I think that he, along with  like-minded people, now need to work on the draft modalities of a template for such a National Charter which can then be contextualised for the specificities of each Muslim nation state by their own political, civic and spiritual leaders.

False Dichotomy

The key issue challenging contemporary Muslims is to come out of the false dichotomy between religion and politics. Spiritual and religious values can and should shape and influence the overall national ethos and the values of a country’s politics. This is not to say that religious leaders should become politicians, actually the overwhelming majority of them would not want to. The religious leaders and the faith-based organisations can, and should, positively and peacefully articulate the religious and societal necessity for equity, equality and justice which is sin qua non for peace, progress and development. The Muslims need to conceptualise, develop and frame a new ethical narrative for their nation states and peoples.

Learning History

Elsewhere Dr Bari has also written

“What we desperately need, in the Muslim majority and minority situation, is knowledge capital as well as social, political and spiritual capital. Elders like us should invest on these areas without any delay.”

I agree that knowledge capital is now a key imperative. Recently BBC World hosted an hour long programme Jihad: Counting the cost conducted by Mathew Amroliwala. He had a distinguished panel of very learned Muslims. But, in my humble opinion, they were so seemingly pedestrian in their comments and lacked any strategic depth or understanding of the global necessity for a 100 year War against Terror! They could not even cite any recent European historical analogies to rebut the falsification of the narrative even though they deemed themselves to be good Europeans. What I have realised from my interaction with the good Muslims over the decades is that we lack a sufficient hinterland of knowledge from which we can draw upon in times of crisis. Therefore each crisis is for us is a re-invention of the wheel. There is no sustainability in whatever little knowledge we generate. Because one is appalled to see how little commentary there is on Muslim leading edge thinking even when it occurs. Without critiquing, re-assessing, re-formulating, revising, discarding, innovating, we will not be able to generate second, third, fourth generation knowledge. Knowledge generation is necessarily an upwardly moving escalator. We have to be on it in order to climb up.

Ahistorical environment

The Muslim second and third generation communities in Europe are growing up in an ahistorical environment. Neither are they aware of the complexities of Islamic history nor are they cognisant of European history. Partly it is the fault of parents – of the first, and increasingly the second generation – as they tend to encourage their children to study science, technology and professions-related subjects as they are deemed to be good for practical and material-orientated careers. Very few study humanities and social sciences. And hence they lack the authority and gravitas when they are involved in head butting encounters on the media. This gross knowledge deficiency needs to be rectified as soon as possible if Muslim narrative is going to prevail in the European-American scene. [As an aside, the situation is not so dissimilar in Bangladesh- the world’s third largest Muslim populated country. Many of the students in the elite Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology ( BUET) and various medical colleges are Islamically inclined but one can see hardly any, or very few, in the humanities or social sciences departments. That is why the young, secular left there is so self-confident when they go head butting with the Islam-loving youth! The latter are simply no match for the former.]

Democratic Deficit

Though Dr Bari has very highlighted many of the key challenges confronting the Muslim world but there is one particular area which needs to be specifically highlighted and boldly underlined. There is a gross democratic deficit existing right across the Muslim world. As there is no democracy, in a meaningful sense, the ruling class and the governing elites of the Muslim nation states are not held accountable to the people they purport to serve! Nor are the people consulted upon the vital policy decisions made on behalf of the nation. Thus there is a massive disconnect between the people and their rulers. The two seemingly inhabit two different planets both in lifestyles and attitudes. Sadly the much vaunted Arab Spring soon turned into a cold winter! But it is in the nature of societal progress and evolution that often humanity takes one step forward and two steps back. Progress is necessarily slow, incremental and often piece meal. That is the lesson of history. So Muslims in order to lead a life of dignity, honour and with respect must continuously strive forward to construct a democratic society and polity whereby their rulers are held accountable. And whereby the people do actually participate in the affairs of the nation- whether at the local or national levels.

I would urge all to benefit from our individual learning and experiential curves. The key thing is that now many of us have been able to identify the crucial challenges before and ahead of us. I think we urgently need to come up with some concrete plans as how the few of us can realistically start addressing the social, political and spiritual capital deficiencies along with the knowledge capital and democratic deficits.

Let all of us join in a global conversation as to how all generations in the Muslim nation states can invest on and harvest from the above mentioned areas without any further delay. Time is of essence for the Muslims as the rest of the world is marching forward!

About the blogger, Rumman Ahmed

Rumman is a strategic analyst with wide experience of management and consultancy in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors, both in the global ‘North’ and ‘South’. He is author of several works on good management practice in community organisations and has has served on advisory forums at  local and central government level on matters relating to good community relations. 



2 thoughts on “A call for a global conversation

  1. Reflecting on the contributions by Dr Bari and Mr Rumman, it seems that up to the 60s the atmosphere was quite supportive for Islamic socio-political activism (to use the Salaam blogger’s term). But then it seems some strategic mistakes were made, notably in Pakistan. Firstly, the Jamaat placed great emphasis on an elitist argument: its members referred to the thousands of pamphlets printed etc. So ‘literature’ became a critical success factor, perhaps because Abul A’la first employments were as a journalist (Muslim and al-Jamiat and later he became an editor-publisher of Tarjuman), so the printed word was privileged. The experiences in Pakistan and now Egypt show that large sections of society are not impressed by ‘literature’ or normative statements of what an ideal society should be like. The lesson from Erdogan in Turkey is that people were impressed by his track record as mayor of Istanbul. So maybe an alternative course of action is for the activists not to think of a leadership project, but rather humbly take up civic/social delivery projects and gain the necessary practical experience of what makes society function. There is a nice saying attributed to the astute and literary Sir Nizamat Jung:

    for forms of government let fools contest
    whate’er is best administered is best.

    Of course the other strategic blunder may have been cosying up to Zia ul Haq’s military government? The same mistake committed by the Sudanese Ikhwan in the Turabi-Bashir entente?

  2. Pingback: Lessons for socio-political activists | Salaam Blogs

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