Challenges Facing The Muslim World – Analysis


Preserving And Strengthening Identity

The impact of the globalization process, which has brought unprecedented changes in societies and accelerated the pace of the scientific and technological development has caught the human beings unprepared and there is still a number of issues at mega and micro levels which need to be examined with great care to protect ethical and human values, as well as, the unique characteristics of societies.1

Abdul Majid Jaffry, writing in Islamic City views globalization as a Western veiled form of cultural colonization and alienation:2

“However, when we cut through the elitist’s rhetoric of globalization, we find ourselves twinkling around at the glimmering light of the western world. The culture and liberal capitalism that is being pushed, under the cover of globalization, in the Muslim countries is not global; it is but a western culture based on the core values and core achievements of the western civilization. It’s simply an attempt at imposing of the cultural-forming institutions of the dominant west on the feeble and frail nations – nations who suffered cultural degeneration during the long colonial rule and incapable of mounting any formidable resistance against the onslaught of western social, cultural, and political ideology.”

In the context of globalization, the safeguarding of the cultural specificities of Muslim people has become an essential factor to preserve their identity and a vital element that enriches cultural diversity and the expected dialogue among cultures and civilizations.3 Throughout their history, original education institutions have played an important role in protecting the Islamic identity and withstanding any attempt to obliterate or dissolve it.4 They have, indeed, significantly contributed to raising human, economic and social development indicators in the Islamic countries by reducing illiteracy rates and enabling young people access the labor market by providing them with theoretical and practical training and infusing them with the values advocating action and income-generation. Now, there is a need to enhance this education in the light of cultural and economic requirement of the modern world: dialogue, tolerance, peace, gender issues, employment, etc.5

The Scourge Of Illiteracy

Courtyard, Al-Qarawiyyin University, Fes. Morocco, the oldest in the world. Photo by Khonsali, Wikipedia Commons.
Courtyard, Al-Qarawiyyin University, Fes. Morocco, the oldest in the world. Photo by Khonsali, Wikipedia Commons.
Illiteracy among Muslims is still the most dangerous scourge and challenge that impede any optimum investment of human resources in the implementation of the national development plans in their countries. Due to many complex factors related to the political, cultural, economic, social and demographic conditions, the efforts led so far in several Muslim countries to combat and eradicate this scourge still prove inadequate. Worse even, this scourge has taken on alarming proportions in countries with a long-standing record of political and social instability. The truth of the matter is that illiteracy is besides being an economic scourge on the individual, his family and country, it is also a danger on the stability of people and social and political institutions, given that such citizens can be easy prey for extremists that use them to achieve their vile and dangerous objectives.6

Under the sweeping changes being witnessed in the world of technology and applied science and the corollary prosperity in the industry of information, the sector of services, and the developments in the labor market and the production systems, it has become necessary for the international and regional bodies active in the field of education as well as the competent ministries, centers for studies, prospection, planning and school counseling across the world, to initiate revision of the existing educational plans and policies in order to chart the strengths and weaknesses in the educational systems7 all over the world, and to draw up a roadmap for actions likely to qualify the educational systems in the world to effectively contribute to the much-desired human and societal development.8

Defending Spiritual And Scientific Knowledge

The modern university is expected to aim at addressing the epistemic crisis resulting from the separation between knowledge and religion and the stripping of science of religious values and contents and of philosophical insights. It, also, seeks to further understanding of Islam along with its intellectual and philosophical trends, and to take stock of human expertise in the different fields of knowledge and assimilate it in the structure of Islamic thought, in a sound and reasonable way.

Other aims include asserting the importance of integration and creative coexistence between natural, human and social sciences, on the one hand, and between copying, reasoning and educating on the other. The ultimate goal is to build the well-balanced Muslim personality which draws in its thinking, methods and behavior on harmony between rational, spiritual and scientific knowledge.

Islam was the first civilization and culture ever to balance unity and diversity. It was, indeed, the melting pot of different peoples and cultures who rallied around this monotheist religion that provides for the right to diversity and difference, without any discrimination or segregation. It is a call for mutual acquaintance and concord, as Allah says in the Quran:

“O mankind! We created you of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other, not that you despise each other (emphasis mine, Mohamed Chtatou). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is the most righteous” [Al-Hujurat (the Dwellings) 49:13],

and, also,:

“And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colors” [Ar-Rum (the Romans) 30:21].

As a result of this avant-garde cultural vision, the peoples of the Islamic Ummah proceeded to writing their languages in the Arabic script so as to remain spiritually linked to the Quran9, and to its culture, language, sciences, arts and literature, as well as, to the noble tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. Thus, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Bengalis and others wrote their languages in Arabic, similarly as the Hausas, Fulanis, Swahilis and others, known as Ajami script10. These languages have greatly progressed and the literary, artistic, scientific and cultural heritage of their people registered significant improvement, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of manuscripts housed in libraries and documentation centers.

With regard to indigenous cultures11, delays in the adoption of a universal convention on the protection of popular arts, traditional know-how and genetic resources confirm the economic and cultural challenges inherent to this issue. With this in mind, emphasis must be laid in this sensitization process on the role of traditional know-how in sustainable development. Indeed, it is not enough to guarantee the right of linguistic minorities to cultural expression, but, also, their right to monitor the exploitation of their intellectual heritage.12 Furthermore, and considering the major role the civil society plays in this regard as the link between national policies and the strategies of sustainable development international organizations, the scope of partnerships with civil society organizations and institutions will be broadened to achieve the desired objectives.13

Taj Mahal, India.
Taj Mahal, India.

Islamic countries have always placed greater emphasis on the promotion of social and human sciences policies and programmes at national, regional and international levels. As such, action will have to be taken to facilitate implementation of national social and human policies through the convening of various events with the objective to advance knowledge, standards, freedom and human dignity and to enable Islamic countries to adopt social transformations in accordance with the Islamic spirit and values.

Efforts to support education and research programmes14 of the institutions to prepare suitable human resources and to enable researchers to identify and solve social, cultural and human problems arising from the development of new trends and reactions in the society will have to be sustained. Research results will be utilized to contribute to policy formulation and implementation of action according to the real needs of populations.15 Emphasis will also be laid on enhancing the roles of various sections of society through wider dissemination of knowledge, and understanding of social and human issues so as to enable the general public to play an effective role in determining the trends of society.

Athar Osama and Nidhal Guessoum in an article entitled: “Scientific research: Are these the dark ages in the Muslim world?”, argue quite rightly that a survey of Muslim institutes of higher learning finds them lagging behind the rest of world when it comes to providing quality science and tech education 16:

“It is a well-known fact that 1.6 billion Muslims contribute a disproportionately smaller share to the world’s knowledge. This global community – forming the majority population of 57 countries and spanning virtually every single country of the world – has had only three Nobel laureates in science in the history of this prestigious prize. The number of universities from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation member countries in the top 500 universities of the world is only a little better than that.

Clichés aside, there is a widely shared view that science in the Muslim world is significantly lagging behind the rest of the world. This view is partly based on indicators, such as global university rankings, research spending, researchers per million people, performance of pre-university students etc. The causes of this bad performance and potential remedies are hotly debated.”

And go on to say, with much emphasis:

“Universities of the Muslim world have not ranked highly in the various global university rankings. In the 2014-15 edition of the QS World University Rankings, no university of the Muslim world was in the top 100, and only 17 ranked among the top 400 (11 between 300 and 400). Similarly, the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings had only 10 universities from the Muslim world in the top 400 (five of them between 300 and 400). This has often led to repeated calls to enhance rankings of universities in the Muslim world and to create world-class universities. While there has been some advancement on the former, the latter has remained largely inaccessible.

Safeguarding Rights

Muslim mother and daughter.
Muslim mother and daughter.

Recognition of human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of expression, and equality before the law; and social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to participate in politics and culture, the right to food, the right to work, and the right to education, is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provided basic foundation to proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Islam has always promoted human, civil, economic and social rights; asserting these rights provides firm foundation for peace and justice and allows all human beings to live with each other with dignity and freedom.17

Woman is equal to man in pursuits of knowledge and same vital to life. The status of women in Islam constitutes no problem. Islam grants equal right to woman to contract, to enterprise, to earn and to posses independently. Efforts will have to be continued to promote gender equality and balance. Acknowledgement of social rights of women is an urgent necessity and has undeniably to be followed by projecting women’s role in social development, keeping in view Islamic principles and values.18

Conferences, seminars and symposia will have to be organized to examine women progress towards empowerment and gender equality and social, economic, political and cultural obstacles, to increase their capacity. Projects will have to be implemented to strengthen their role in social development through cross-cutting themes especially related to poverty alleviation in poor localities. In order to uplift women especially in rural and urban areas. Formal and non-formal education and training will be utilized in order to alleviate their role and provide equal opportunities in the social development of their societies and to achieve self-fulfillment.

Advocating Dialogue And Tolerance

muslim islam school schoolchildrenAs a result of new threats and the outbreak of violent inter-ethnic conflicts in many parts of the world in recent years, violent terrorist incidents, international level propaganda against Islam, as well as the introduction of new technologies and certain scientific developments and the process of globalization, an increased surge in social problems has been observed. Societies and communities have also observed an increase in intolerance and hatred among human beings on the basis or fundamentalism, extremism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related Intolerance. In order to respond to the challenges emerging in modern societies, it is necessary to adopt an integrated approach to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. Islamic countries will have to take step to combat all forms of racism, xenophobia and discrimination and to promote dialogue among civilizations in order to resolve all kind of differences and bring conformity in the creation of peaceful social conditions.

It is a fact that intolerance exists in the Muslim world among a minority of fundamentalists and followers of the infamous al-Qaeda and ISIS but the truth is that the majority of Muslims in the 54 countries of the Islamic world are peace-lovers and fully tolerant and open to the other in his “otherness.” In this regard, Syed Imad-Ud-Din Asad  debugs the myth of Islamic intolerance in an article in Islamic City:19

“In fact, tolerance is an essential religious and legal obligation imposed upon the Muslims. Muslims have been instructed to promote the message of Islam by way of engaging in religious dialogues with non-Muslims and in this process Muslims have been told to employ the most respectful and polite methods: “Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner…”. (Quran 16:125) And if the non-Muslims incline to disagree with the message of Islam, despite all the arguments and logic produced by the Muslims, the latter are still not to resort to any form of religious compulsion or violent reaction.

God declares: “There is no compulsion in religion…”. (Quran 2:256) “But if they dispute with thee, say: I submit myself entirely to God and (so does) he who follows me. And say to those who have been given the Book and the Unlearned (people): Do you submit yourselves? If they submit, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, thy duty is only to deliver the message…” (Quran 3:19) “

and he goes on to say that Islam forbids coercion in religious practice whatever it is and instead calls for wasatiyya, a philosophy of moderation and calibration in belief, faith and way of life:

“In fact, tolerance is an essential religious and legal obligation imposed upon the Muslims. Muslims have been instructed to promote the message of Islam by way of engaging in religious dialogues with non-Muslims and in this process Muslims have been told to employ the most respectful and polite methods: “Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner…”. (Quran 16:125) And if the non-Muslims incline to disagree with the message of Islam, despite all the arguments and logic produced by the Muslims, the latter are still not to resort to any form of religious compulsion or violent reaction.

God declares: “There is no compulsion in religion…”. (Quran 2:256) “But if they dispute with thee, say: I submit myself entirely to God and (so does) he who follows me. And say to those who have been given the Book and the Unlearned (people): Do you submit yourselves? If they submit, then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, thy duty is only to deliver the message…” (Quran 3:19)

So whatever violence and intolerance is expressed by any group in the name of Islam is pure mystification made use of for purely ideological reasons and political gains as in the case of fundamentalist groups which use Islam to gain power in undemocratic way. Syed Imad-Ud-Din Asad, goes on to say in his article:

“And if thy lord had pleased, all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them. Wilt thou then force men till they are believers?” (Quran 10:99) “And say: The Truth is from your Lord; so let him who please believe, and let him who please disbelieve…” (Quran 18:29) These verses clearly establish:

(1) Islam denounces forced-conversion; and

(2) Islam does not enjoin Muslims to wage war for the spread of faith.

Not only Muslims are prohibited from forcing Islam on non-Muslims, they have also been ordered to deal with them in a just and kind manner: “God forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly. Surely God loves the doers of justice. God forbids you only respecting those who fight you for religion, and drive you forth from your homes and help (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends of them; and whoever makes friends of them, these are the wrongdoers.” (Quran 60:8,9)

The International Conference on Fostering Dialogue among Cultures and Civilizations through Concrete and Sustained Action, which was organized in Rabat in 2005, jointly between ISESCO, the OIC, UNESCO, ALECSO, the Danish Center for Culture and Development, and the Anna Lindh Euro Mediterranean Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures, provided an occasion to examine concrete and sustained initiatives in dialogue among cultures in the areas of education, culture, communication and science. The conference was crowned with the Rabat Commitments.

These commitments constitute a successful outcome of the efforts in reflection about the ways of instilling the values of tolerance, dialogue, and openness onto other cultures, civilizations and religions, into the minds of children and the youth in schools, through integration of concepts serving that purpose into educational programs of formal and non-formal education institutions, to uproot the causes of violence and discrimination that might result of cultural, ethnic and religious differences.

Fighting Poverty

arab muslim womanPoverty is a global problem and the phenomenon is alarming in the third world including the Muslim Countries. Three broad categories of poverty alleviation measures have been analyzed. According to 
Abul Hasan M. Sadeq (International Islamic University, Malaysia and Chairman of Social Science Institute, Bangladesh) fighting poverty can take the following path:20

  • First, the positive measures which include income growth, functional distribution of income, and equal opportunities to all.
  • Second, the preventive measures which are control of ownership and prevention of malpractices in economics and business that lead to income concentration.
  • Third, corrective measures which include compulsory transfer payments, recommended transfer payments, and state responsibility.

The positive measures are expected to lead to high level income and its equitable distribution, the preventive measures are expected to limit concentration of wealth, while the corrective measures are meant for correcting imbalances in the distribution of income and wealth, and to upgrade economic conditions of the worse‐off population in the society. If these measures are applied, the problem of poverty could be solved quite substantially. The paper concludes with some recommendations with respect to poverty alleviation in the context of Muslim countries.

Alleviation of poverty, a scourge that is widely spread in the Islamic countries, has always remained a target under various programmes of international organizations. In view of the significant impact of poverty on sustainable economic development, Islamic States will have to initiate policies, projects and national plans and support the implementation of appropriate strategies and solutions to reduce the plight of poverty. Activities of Non-Governmental Organizations working in the field of social and human sciences were strengthened to tackle issues of vital concern for populations living in poor localities.

Initiatives will have also to strengthen the action of the parties engaged in the alleviation of the suffering of impoverished populations. Training programmes are to be conducted to foster the capacities of the underprivileged and physically-handicapped people of the society. Creation of economic opportunities for the unemployed and empowerment of women will also remain a targeted area of action. Islamic States will have to work jointly with the United Nations agencies both in the organization of conferences and seminars and in the implementation of in-field projects to alleviate poverty.21

Muslims will have, also, to undertake efforts and implement actions to deal with social and human problems and issues which are not resulting from poverty or emanating from an extreme form of it. Special projects and awareness campaigns will have to be launched to enhance understanding among religions and cultures. Propaganda against Islam will have to be countered through provision of knowledge about Islam’s principle of peace and tolerance.

Today, it is axiomatic that the development of education, science, culture and communication hinges on security and peace, within or between the Member States both at the regional and international levels. No development will be conceivable under a climate filled with ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions. The same is true for the lack of justice and mutual respect, which are key elements for creating international relations that could promote prosperity and human development.

Also, it is internationally recognized that the alliance of civilizations represents the sole means that can restore balance to the world and establish peace, respect for diversity and the acknowledgment of the legitimate cultural rights and cultural specificities of the different peoples and nations.

Today, there is no doubt that challenges to building intercultural dialogue include: building intercultural competencies, promoting interfaith dialogue, and reconciling conflicting memories.22

  • Intercultural dialogue requires intercultural competencies – the ability to engage effectively and appropriately when interacting with those who are linguistically and culturally different.
  • Interfaith dialogue is a crucial dimension of international understanding, and thus of conflict resolution. Misunderstanding and ignorance of religion heighten tensions.
  • Divergent memories have been the source of many conflicts throughout history. The different forms of institutional memory preservation and transmission tend to embody alternative views of the past, each with its own logic, protocols and perspectives.

And the Muslim world must meet these challenges at once to be able to dispel allegations of intolerance, extremism and dislike of the other.

A Last Word For The Muslim World

Muslim prayer beads. Photo by Muhammad Rehan, Wikipedia Commons.
Muslim prayer beads. Photo by Muhammad Rehan, Wikipedia Commons.

The Muslim world has the human potential, youth in many countries constitute half of the population and are ready to step into action with determination and even zeal if they are given the opportunity and are fully empowered with education, training, capital and trust. Millions of young men and women are poised to develop the Muslim world, but political will has to allow them to take over the destiny of their countries, at once.

The Muslim world has, also, the needed resources: arable agricultural land, sufficient water resources, abundant mineral ore, diverse trade opportunities and numerable tourism capabilities, but what is needed is good economic planning, equal distribution of opportunities and willingness to see development as a beneficial strategy for creating wealth and moving forward.

However, most importantly, the Muslim world needs badly democracy and rule of law to move forward and give hope to its people in the future.

9. Chtatou, M. 1992. Using Arabic Script in Writing the Languages of the People of Muslim Africa. Rabat: Institute of African Studies.

استعمال الحرف العربي في كتابة لغات شعوب إفريقيا المسلمة

This book reproduces the lecture given by Professor Mohamed Chtatou at the Institute of African Studies on March 26th, 1992, within the activities of the chair of the Moroccan-African Heritage Program.
11. Adeeb, K. 1999. The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform: Jadidism in Central Asia. University of California Press. 400 pages. ISBN: 9780520213562

Adeeb Khalid offers the first extended examination of cultural debates in Central Asia during Russian rule. With the Russian conquest in the 1860s and 1870s the region came into contact with modernity. The Jadids, influential Muslim intellectuals, sought to safeguard the indigenous Islamic culture by adapting it to the modern state. Through education, literacy, use of the press and by maintaining close ties with Islamic intellectuals from the Ottoman empire to India, the Jadids established a place for their traditions not only within the changing culture of their own land but also within the larger modern Islamic world.

Khalid uses previously untapped literary sources from Uzbek and Tajik as well as archival materials from Uzbekistan, Russia, Britain, and France to explore Russia’s role as a colonial power and the politics of Islamic reform movements. He shows how Jadid efforts paralleled developments elsewhere in the world and at the same time provides a social history of the Jadid movement. By including a comparative study of Muslim societies, examining indigenous intellectual life under colonialism, and investigating how knowledge was disseminated in the early modern period, The Politics of Muslim Cultural Reform does much to remedy the dearth of scholarship on this important period. Interest in Central Asia is growing as a result of the breakup of the former Soviet Union, and Khalid’s book will make an important contribution to current debates over political and cultural autonomy in the region.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

2 thoughts on “Challenges Facing The Muslim World – Analysis

  • September 11, 2018 at 9:39 am

    the Ashari school, through a 1000 year process has killed ‘critical thinking’ in the muslim world. Unless the mutazalite way of ‘reason’ can revive, things won’t change for another 1000 years and dark it will be.

    • July 5, 2019 at 6:56 pm

      The only way out of this quagmire is unity. Until the question, “What should Muslims refer to in case they differ? Which is surely going to address the Sectarian differences which certainly has made disunity worse. All the Sects know Muslims have been well admonished that they must refer back to the Islamic law, since this is what was said in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allah. Statement of Allah, “…then if you differ in any matter refer it to Allah and the Messenger.” Qur’an Ch 4: V 59.


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