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Old 01-06-2010, 01:06 PM
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Default A Muslim Century: Myth Or Reality

A Muslim Century: Myth Or Reality?

By Rohana Mustaffa

PUTRAJAYA, May 27 (Bernama) -- World renowned Muslim intellectual Prof Dr Ali Al'Amin Mazrui has several reasons the Muslim century should commence from sometime in the 1950s until the 2050s.

The first 'raison d'etre' or basis is that over half of the Muslim world population was under some kind of foreign rule for much of the first half of the 20th century.

These included those parts of the Muslim world which are known today as the four biggest concentrations of Muslims in the world.

These four largest Muslim concentrations are Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh dan Muslims in India.

And also under the colonial or foreign rule in the first-half of the 20th century were Malaya, Burma, half of the Arab world and almost the whole of Black Africa.

An additional reason is the creation of Pakistan in 1947 - large enough at that time to include what later that became a separate nation in the form of Bangladesh.

At the same time, said Prof Dr Ali, these were the days when half of the Muslim world was under the Sultans, Kings and Emirs. Sultans among the Malays became constitutional monarchs, but the Middle Eastern part of the Muslim world dealt with its monarchs by revolution starting with Egypt in 1952, Iraq in 1958 and Libya in 1969.

But the most influential of all the anti-monarchical revolutions in the Middle East in the second half of the 20th century was the one in Iran in 1969.

But the Iranian Revolution was not merely anti-Royalist as it was also pro-Islamic.

The nature of the Islamic revolution helped to push up Iran to a new global status.


However the academician said even after all these anti-royalist upheavals in West Asia, the Muslim world still had more monarchs than any other civilisation.

Monarchical systems have continued to flourish in Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, United Arab Emirates, northern Nigeria as well as Malaysia.

Prof Dr Ali, the Director of Institute of Global Cultural Studies, State University New York, USA, is well respected for his contribution towards the development of knowledge and Islamic intellectualism.

He revealed these facts in his lecture titled "A Muslim Century: Myth or Reality (In Search of Modern Pillars of Wisdom) for the inaugural lecture of the Putrajaya Premier Lecture Series (SPP) held recently.

SPP is the brain child of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak which will invite scholars, academicians dan renowned individuals to give lectures, sharing their knowledge, ideas and innovations with the audience.

Prof Dr Ali said the Muslims of South Asia have excelled in numbers and in cultural achievements. But particularly distinctive has been being ahead of the rest of the Muslim world in the political empowerment of women.

He cited the example of Benazir Bhutto who led the way as the first woman Muslim head of government in modern history. Bangladesh followed suit with two remarkable women who alternated as Prime Ministers for virtually two decades.

Bangladesh was for a while the only country in the world where both the head of government and the leader of the opposition were women.

Later, Indonesia raised the stakes by being Islam's most populous country headed for a while by a woman - Megawati Sukarnoputri.

He said in this second half of the 20th century the Muslim world became economically exceptional because of Allah's bounty of petroleum. Saudi Arabia and Iraq for example were blessed with the world's greatest oil reserves. And the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (Opec) is at least two thirds Muslim in composition.


Through his observation, Prof Dr Ali saw by the end of the 20th century all of Africa, Asia, and most of the Arab world were at least nominally independent of old-style colonialism.

But a whole new phenomenon had emerged - a different kind of empire under the United States of America.

Prof Dr Ali interpreted the history of the relations between the Muslim world and the West as a tumultuous transition from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I to the rise of the American Empire after the end of the Cold War.

The rise of the American empire subsequently exploited the Arab fragmentation. Muslims also confronted the alienating consequences of the end of the Muslim Caliphate.

In the face of this new international disequilibrium, humanity needs a new Global Ethic.

There is a compelling need for new criteria of right and wrong across civilisations.

One approach is for Islam to rediscover the seven pillars of wisdom and redefine them in the context of the new imbalances in the world system.


In his lecture Prof Dr Ali proposed that 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom" outlined by T.E .Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) in his momentous work in 1926 be replaced by the new Seven Pillars of Wisdom for the rest of the Muslim century. (Prof Dr Ali has mentioned Lawrence, a British army officer who contributed to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire `a stranger in the Arab World' who symbolised how strangers in our midst could change the course of our history).

He stressed that the first of the new pillars of wisdom has to be a quest for tolerance and minimisation of violence. He also posed questions:- Is Islam in this Muslim century conflict prone? Who forged the link between terrorism and political Islam?

The behaviour of every people, he said, was only partially determined by the ethical standards of its culture. Some cultures are born intolerant, some become intolerant and some have intolerance thrust upon them.

How much of the violence in the Muslim world is native born and how much has been thrust upon Muslims? Can the Muslim world transcend its conflicts and be an example to the world?

The second new pillar of wisdom to Prof Dr Ali is the optimisation of the economic well being of the people.

In this respect he questioned how egalitarian were the cultures of Islam and the Malay people and is Malaysia handling the challenge of ethnic pluralism with the imperative of mutual esteem?


While the West in the 20th century had evolved the concept of the welfare state, Malays had evolved even earlier the concept of the welfare village.

Long before welfare socialism in Britain, Malays had developed a defacto system of collective responsibility for orphans, for the infirmed, for the aged, and for the needy.

Malayan communities had historically looked after their most vulnerable members.

The third pillar of wisdom is social justice.

Prof Dr Ali said it is a struggle to reduce ethnic and racial inequalities and a quest for a more humane equilibrium. If in terms of political violence in the world, racial prejudice and discriminatiom, Muslims are a people more sinned against than sinning.

The fourth new pillar of wisdom is a basic gender equality. This is a major change from the world of T.E Lawrence. How has Asian Islam treated women?

In no Muslim country are women more liberated than women are in the United States, but in some Muslim countries women have been more empowered than women have been in the United States, he said, and in this twenty-first century, as well as before, the Muslim world has produced women heads of government.

Prof Dr Ali turned to the environmental as the fifth pillar of wisdom - the quest for ecological balance and the protection of Planet Earth against excessive exploitation and devastation.

The Green movements of recent decades have also been inspired by the aesthetics for conservation.

The concept of "endangered species" has been a deference of biodiversity, rooted in the belief that a world with fewer species of animals and a smaller range of plants was a less beautiful world.

Muslims have often chosen green as the colour of Islam, partly because green was associated with peace.

But from the middle of the twentieth century the colour green has also been adopted by environmental movements, by those who are committed to keep the hills and valleys of Planet Earth forever green, he stressed.


On the sixth pillar of wisdom, inter-faith dialogue and cooperation, Prof Dr Ali noted that Asia as a whole is the mother of all great world religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

As for relations between Christianity and Islam in Asia, both religions are expanding in numbers and growing in influence. But can they co-exist peacefully? Christianity and Islam are divisive in both Asia and Africa only if they reinforce prior ethnic and linguistic divisions, he said.

Prof Dr Ali chose the quest for further wisdom as the seventh pillar of wisdom based on the fact that Allah first command to prophet Muhammad was the imperative Iqra (Read) and they were indeed about knowledge.

It was arguable that Islam was historically at its most creative when it was ready to learn mathematics from India, philosophy from ancient Greece, architecture from Persia, science from the Jews, and jurisprudence from the legacy of Rome.

Prophet Muhammad had called upon his followers to pursue knowledge "even as far as China." and his wisdom is proven as China now is a great country.

In this aspect, Prof Dr Ali suggested the possibility of at the end of the twentieth century about an emerging alliance between Islam and countries of the Confucian heritage.

He stressed that wisdom begins when we understand ourselves. Wisdom matures when we aspire to higher human standards.

"Let us do so, guided by the Seven Pillars. As the book of Proverbs announced to the world two thousand years ago, `Wisdom hath builded a house; she has carved out her seven pillars.' In our own modern ways, let us respond to those imperatives," he said.

However perspectives on these new seven pillars of wisdom have to respond to the diversity among Muslims themselves, and between Muslims and others, he added.

There is also the shadow of Pax Americana and whither the American empire?

He forcasted that the United States may gradually be tamed by Islam as the Muslim century unfolds its remaining decades towards the year 2050. Out of the tensions between the United States and the Muslim world a more humane civilisation may eventually emerge.

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