Is there a chasm between ‘the Muslim world’ and the West?
Am I hearing right? As I sat at my laptop this morning I could hear the news coming from the television. A chasm has opened up between Islam and the West, it was claiming, a clash of civilizations, they pronounced. Now that is rubbish, very dangerous rubbish initiated by Samuel P. Huntingdon’s ‘Clash of Civilizations and the Re-making of World Order’ written in 1993. Read here for a review on the consequences of this theory.
I live in the West and I am a Muslim but where is the chasm inside me? Do the fault lines of this ‘clash’, as Huntingdon calls it, run right down the middle of me? Maybe my intestines are at war with my liver, or possibly my left foot is ashamed of my right foot, even, God forbid, my heart is in denial of its dependence on my lungs! Or is that vice versa? No culture, civilization, or religion is, or ever has been, an island. Muhammad Pbuh is reported to have said that we should seek knowledge wherever we find it and the exchange of knowledge is one way in which the peoples of the world are interdependent, effecting industry, philosophy, religion, even cuisine, worldwide. The gain that Europe accrued from the scholarship of medieval Al-Andalus in medicine, philosophy, and theology, paving the way for the Renaissance is an excellent illustration of this fact, but it has been said many times and the powers that be choose to ignore it because the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ theory appears to provide a good excuse for Islamophobia.
To return to my own situation, I am Muslim and I am in the West, I was born here and I grew up here. How can this be if there is supposedly a chasm between the two? Some well meaning people might say that I can act as a bridge; well no actually, I am not here to be walked across so that some can maintain that ‘not all Muslims are extreme’ while looking at me quizzically (and sometimes worse) and wondering what on earth attracted me to Islam. I and many others like me, both reverts and born Muslims, can stand as a paradox to the non-Muslims being swayed by the ‘chasm and clash’ syndrome. I am not a paradox to myself of course, embracing Islam was part of a natural and logical flow in my life, but I appear as such to non-Muslims and my hope is that their engagement with what seems to be a paradox can lead to a paradigm change in thinking so that the ‘them and us’ attitude dissolves into history and is recognized as the destructive and nonsensical paradigm of identity construction that it is.
In conclusion, what is then meant by ‘the Muslim world’ in Western discourse and news reports? It is spoken as if it where a place elsewhere and completely forgets that a country is the people who live in it, the people of England, the country of my birth, as in many other ‘Western’ countries, includes many Muslims, they are not ‘other’, they are English, or French, Danish, American, Australian etc. I would also like to approach this question from the perspective of the Muslim concept of the Dar al-Islam, which according to Muslim scholars is a place where you can practice Islam freely. Traditionally this is a geographical location where Islamic laws rule. This is changing. Islam is present all around the globe so what do we mean when we speak of the Dar al-Islam today? Is it not also the space within which every sincere Muslim moves and prays and acts? The space they create around themselves? Is the Dar al-Islam today more about the energy of surrender that is dependent on the sincerity of the heart and knows no territorial borders as it traverses the planet? Surely the only boundaries to the Dar al-Islam are ignorance and hypocrisy and they also traverse the globe. I am speaking here of the inner state of the individual that effects that persons behaviour and actions and contributes to the condition of the wider community, not of the proclaimed politics of the powerful. The Dar al-Islam therefore, as also the ‘Muslim world’, is anywhere and everywhere that the sincere Muslim sees that: ‘To God belong the East and the West; wherever you turn there is the Face of God’ Qur’an 2:115
Copyright Katherine Randall, Granada 2006