The end of oil, the Abraham Accords and Turkey are forcing Gulf states to renegotiate the role of religion in their societies. Talking up openness and moderation, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha have different playbooks – but share a common aim
It wasn’t long ago that Gulf states were actively promoting ultra-conservative interpretations of Islam, and didn’t shy away from cultivating political Islam either. The U.S. National Intelligence Assessment from April 1970 judged Riyadh as “likely to support conservative non-governmental groups in the Arab world, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.”
But times are changing. Gulf states are being forced into a comprehensive rethink of their religious, political and economic systems, triggered by, most immediately, the prospect of drastically declining oil revenues as global demand shifts away from dependence on hydrocarbons.
In order to understand how cultural and societal changes influence any religion, we must first know the definition of religion. Religion is a relation with God which human beings regard as sacred, divine, spiritual, holy and worthy of respect. It consists of the ways to deal with different concerns of human life. Religious influences are rooted in all aspects of human life. Religions evolve and change with time. Religions consist of ideas, values, practices and stories that are embedded in culture and are not separable. It is not possible to understand a religion without its cultural dimensions How Islam has adapted cultural and societal changes as it has spread throughout the globe is an interesting and complex phenomenon.
Islam traveled in many ways through different regions. The history of Islam is full of events that led to Islam’s spread across the globe. Sometimes it was transferred through military conquests, it was also carried through trade caravans that travelled over vast distances or through the missionaries. When Islamic ideas came into contact with new societies, they evolved in unique ways and took on diverse forms. That’s why these societies have multiple different interpretations of Islam. The spread of Islam across different regions involved some prominent factors such as inter-marriages, trade, influencers etc . Spreading of Islam is a complex phenomenon and to say that it travelled merely through sword is not justified. Muslim culture developed from the ninth century to the twelfth century, and crystallized into what we currently know as Islam. The military expansion of the early centuries facilitated the spread of Islam in name only and it was later that Islam spread in true meaning, as a number of citizens started converting to Islam. Expansion of Islamic culture was carried out by missionaries and political convoys, it also expanded through trade. Group of travelers (caravans) used camels to transport goods and themselves across different regions, they played the most important role in the spread of Islam. These caravans helped in expanding Islamic civilization and culture by connecting different provinces (with the Islamic empires) which were far apart. Merchants carried out trades across different regions. These trades were equally influential in expanding culture and created a sense of multiculturalism or internationalism. These new cultural relationships led to the transfer of technology, science and other forms of culture. This was the start of globalization. But at that time it was just known by multiple names like multiculturalism or internationalism. Cultural globalization is a multidimensional process which leads to different impacts and consequences and makes possible the coexistence of different values with Islamic symbols , values and discourses. Islamic culture does not consist of merely a group of a combination of rituals rather it is a complete way of life prescribed by the Quran.
“The human history is the graveyard of great cultures that the disastrous end of them has been due to this matter that they couldn’t present a planned, rational and volitional reaction against the challenges.” -Erich Fromm
Posts on social media make the claim that U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden wants “Islam to be taught in our schools”, suggesting this would be at the expense of teaching Christianity. This claim is misleading and misrepresents Biden’s remarks.
One example of the claim, shared over 154,000 times since July 23 is visible here . Other examples are visible here and here .
On July 20, 2020 Biden sought support from Muslim Americans during an online event hosted by Emgage Action, a membership organization mobilizing around issues affecting American Muslims ( here , emgageaction.org/about-us/ ).
Speaking virtually before the Million Muslims Vote Summit, Biden said, “I wish we taught more in our schools about the Islamic faith.” He added: “I wish we talked about all the great confessional faiths. It’s one of the great confessional faiths.”
Biden specified that, from a theological standpoint, “what we don’t realize is that we all come from the same root here, in terms of our fundamental basic beliefs.” ( here )
During his remarks, Biden did not imply substituting the teachings of one religion over another but encouraged learning broadly about the “confessional faiths”, or faiths usually associated with a formal statement of doctrinal belief, including different denominations of Christianity and Judaism.
Biden is a Roman Catholic who for years has written and spoken publicly about his faith ( here ). Most recently, Biden has leaned into his religious commitments, emphasizing his faith during the presidential election and the Democratic National Convention this past week ( here ).
America, Protestantism and coffee all have a Muslim history
By Alan MikhailAlan Mikhail is professor of history and chair of the department of history at Yale University and author of the new book “God’s Shadow: Sultan Selim, His Ottoman Empire, and the Making of the Modern World.”August 20, 2020 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
Most Americans don’t know that their morning cup of coffee connects them to the Ottoman Empire. Few are aware that this bygone Muslim state helped to birth Protestantism, America’s dominant form of Christianity, or that the European explorers who “discovered” the Americas did so because of the Ottomans’ and other Muslims’ stranglehold on trade between Europe and Asia. In fact, some Americans don’t even know what the Ottoman Empire was. When Americans think of the Middle East, they often view it as a theater for American wars and a region essential for its oil. Yet all of us owe important parts of our culture and history to the most important empire in Middle Eastern history, the Ottoman Empire, and specifically to one sultan who lived half a millennium ago.
This September marks the 500-year anniversary of the death of a singular, but forgotten, historical figure — Selim I, the ninth sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Selim’s life and reign spanned perhaps the most consequential half-century in world history, with reverberations down to our own time. He nearly tripled Ottoman territory through wars in the Middle East, North Africa and the Caucasus. More than Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, German Catholic priest Martin Luther, Italian diplomat and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli or others of his contemporaries, Selim’s triumphs literally changed the world.
In 1517, Selim and his army marched from Istanbul to Cairo, vanquishing his foremost rival in the Muslim world, the Mamluk Empire. Selim now governed more territory than nearly any other sovereign. He held the keys to global domination. He controlled the middle of the world, monopolized trade routes between the Mediterranean and India and China, and possessed ports on all the major seas and oceans of the Old World. His religious authority in the Muslim world was now unrivaled. And he had enormous resources of cash, land and manpower. Lording over so much, he fittingly earned the title “God’s Shadow on Earth.”AD
Many Muslim majority countries bear the brunt of climate change, but their cultural awareness of it and climate action are often staggeringly limited.
A movement of “Islamic environmentalism” based on Islamic tradition – rather than imported “white saviour” environmentalism based on first-world political campaigns – can address both. And the post-COVID-19 lull in emissions is an opportunity to fast-track this.
It is a movement we sorely need. My home country Turkey, for example, is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as temperatures are rising and rainfall is decreasing year on year, causing serious problems with water availability. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that by 2050 one in seven will be displaced by climate change, creating millions of climate refugees. In the Middle East, large areas are likely to become uninhabitable due to heatwaves likely to sweep over the region in the next few decades.
However, despite their vulnerability, many Muslim countries are contributing to the problem. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and is doing little to curb emissions. Bangladesh and Pakistan are the two most polluted countries in the world, but have taken no serious measures to address pollution. Inaction in the Muslim world persists despite a declaration by Muslim countries in 2015 to play an active role in combatting climate change.
Muslim men practice social distancing as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19 as they take part in Friday prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at a mosque in Chana District in Songkla Province on May 8, 2020.TUWAEDANIYA MERINGING / AFP via Getty Images
Without fail, hardly a week goes by when news from the Islamic World does not embarrass ordinary Muslims worldwide.
Either we are each other’s throats, or are hunting to eliminate the ‘kuffar,’ be they Christian, Hindu, Jew or the agnostic and atheist, unless of course, they adhere to the guilt-ridden ‘Cancel Culture.’
And if at all a Braveheart among the ‘infidels’ murmurs a protest, trust us to invoke ‘Islamophobia,’ the ever-present Sword of Damocles that hangs over the head of whosoever dare protest. For we are unique — demanding both supremacy as well as victimhood.
The late Iranian scholar Ali Dashti concluded that Muslim follies have little to do with Islam, but everything to do with early Islamic conflicts where “ambition for the leadership replaced zeal for the religion as a pivotal motive.
In the book Twenty-Three Years that got him tortured by the Khomeini regime, Dashti wrote: “The study of the history of Islam shows it to be a sequence of struggles for power in which the contestants treated the religion (Islam) as the means, not as an end. … The further the Prophet’s death receded in the past, the greater became the tendency to use it (Islam) as an instrument of seizure of the leadership and the rulership.”
One day, in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad dropped a bombshell on his followers: He told them that all people are created equal.
“All humans are descended from Adam and Eve,” said Muhammad in his last known public speech. “There is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, or of a non-Arab over an Arab, and no superiority of a white person over a black person or of a black person over a white person, except on the basis of personal piety and righteousness.”
In this sermon, known as the Farewell Address, Muhammad outlined the basic religious and ethical ideals of Islam, the religion he began preaching in the early seventh century. Racial equality was one of them. Muhammad’s words jolted a society divided by notions of tribal and ethnic superiority.
Apart from monotheism – worshipping just one God – belief in the equality of all human beings in the eyes of God set early Muslims apart from many of their fellow Arabs in Mecca.
Chapter 49, verse 13 of Islam’s sacred scripture, the Quran, declares: “O humankind! We have made you…into nations and tribes, so that you may get to know one another. The noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most righteous.”
In most major religions there is scripture encouraging the protection and care of nature. From Buddhism to Christianity, Hinduism to Islam, faiths recognize the need for environmental stewardship and urge followers to be caretakers of the planet and its biodiversity.
Spiritual leaders play an important role in sharing religious practices and passages so that followers can live a more sustainable lifestyle respecting the 8 million species we share our planet with.
That message was echoed by World Environment Day 2020, which fell on 5 June. The celebration cast a spotlight on the services nature provides us—from food to medicine—and highlighted that, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, life on earth would not be possible without nature’s bounty.
Here are how seven faiths remind us how we are connected to nature.
The Baha’i writings are replete with statements on the importance of the harmony between human life and the natural world. Bahá’u’lláh’s writings are imbued with a deep respect for nature and the interconnectedness of all things, seeing especially in nature a reflection of the divine:
Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity, there are signs for men of discernment.
Buddhism inspires ecological mindfulness to address the loss of biodiversity. It seeks wisdom through adherence to the Five Precepts, the pursuit of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the understanding of karma. Buddhists find themselves in harmony with nature by acknowledging the interdependence of all forms of life.
At the core of Brahma Kumaris’ work is the understanding of the connection between our consciousness, thoughts and actions, and their impact on the world. It is seen that long-lasting change in any social or environmental system starts with a profound shift in the minds and hearts of people. The current loss of biodiversity is therefore a clear call to transform our awareness and lifestyle, and start caring for all living forms on the planet.
“Our capacity to change ecosystems is proportional to our capacity to change our own consciousness” – Brahma Kumaris
For Christians, biodiversity conservation is a role that is at the heart of their daily lives. In the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi, Christians are called to experience the world as a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise, as St. Francis does in the words of the Canticle of Creation:
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.”
Course pairs students with religious groups to expand their learning
The two things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company are religion and politics. And that’s what this class is about.”—Timothy Longman
The titular twin taboos in Timothy Longman’s Religion and Politics class certainly coaxed language heated enough to upend a genteel dinner party during a recent Zoomed session. Longman, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of political science, lectured about the Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, an influential article and 1996 book by the late Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington, who posited an irreconcilable cultural battle between supposedly rational Western democracies on one hand, and Islam, with its inherent “violent propensity,” on the other.
Lillian Ilsley-Greene (CAS’20) succinctly sums up her peers’ reaction: “God, this is like bonkers racist.”
Huntington published his book 20 years before the election of a president who imposed a controversial travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations. Ilsley-Greene found it “terrifying,” she says, that Huntington’s thesis echoes today from advocates who don’t realize the effects of their words on the non-Western world.
Steven Rubin (CAS’22) scoffs at Huntington’s division of the world into eight major civilizations as simplistic, lumping together what Rubin called a ginormous sprawl of Muslim nations with disparate cultures. “How many times will Westerners take a map of the world and try to draw lines all over it?” he asks.
On the new season of Ramy, Mahershala Ali stars as the wise and charismatic Sheik Ali to a lost and confused Ramy Hassan, played by show creator Ramy Youssef. In an excerpt from A24’s quarterly zine, Youssef interviews his co-star about his relationship to Islam, refusing to do sex scenes, and how prayer factors into his acting.
Ramy Youssef: We’ve talked before about the spiritual struggles you had early on in your career over doing certain things you didn’t think you should do onscreen. How’d you come to terms with that? Mahershala Ali: If you look at Judaism, Islam, maybe some versions of Buddhism, the Sikhs — any time anyone is hard-core practicing those faiths correctly, it feels like anything outside the faith is haram. But as you move further along, as you embrace the faith, get more comfortable in it and understand how you identify as a Muslim, you’re always examining your relationship to anything secular, anything outside of your actual faith. If you grow up Muslim, you probably have more of a natural barometer for what “slacking off” means for you — that middle ground where you’re okay not following something to the tee. Embracing the tenets of Islam that say you will be held accountable for all your actions, that you will be credited for all your positive actions, and you will essentially be called out on all the things you knowingly did wrong and all that, you begin to examine your work — entertainment, storytelling — and anything outside of your faith. And you have to strive to bring that into alignment with not just your religion, but with how your religion informs the way you see the world and what is okay and what is not okay, so that you can have peace.