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Islam in the Age of Globalization

The three major religions in the 21st century are all Abrahamic in historical basis. These religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity remain at the edge of political, social, and cultural issues, particularly now in that globalism has become so predominant. These religions are noted as Abrahamic because each uses the basic teachings of the Prophet Abraham in their general world view. All three faiths are monotheistic and together account for over half the world's population, or combined in excess of 4 billion people. Within these three religions, despite much public disagreement, there are many areas of commonality (The Top 10 Organized Religions in the World, 1998). From a non-religious perspective, however, globalism has brought about some change in the perception of these religions based not necessarily on religion, but on marketing and consumerism.

One of the consequences of globalism in the world is the availability of a number of products and services from the Western world that are somewhat questionable in the Islamic culture. Outside the political sphere, many Muslims say that the forces of satellite TV, the Internet, certain movies, McDonald's and other fast food restaurants may be problematical and not always equitable with traditional Muslim society (Shoher, 2011). Certainly, Muslims have consumer power and have, in the past, used boycotts to limit consumption of Coca Cola, Pepsi, Burger King, McDonalds, and even Proctor and Gamble products (Islamic Consumer Protest Hits West Where it Hurts, 2002). However, Western companies have a dual challenge, they must respect Islamic law, particularly food laws like halal, enter the Islamic market, increase market share for Muslims in other countries, and retain an appropriate profit that makes the idea of global markets justified (Food, Fashion and Faith, 2007).

In the past several decades, there has been a drastic change in the manner in which technology has become part of the Islamic world. Telecommunications technologies, satellite television and the Internet have connected the 1.2 billion Muslims around the world in a way never imagined. This connection, however, is not limited to connecting the Islamic community. The connection includes the Christian, Buddhist, and all other parts of the world as well. Islamic scholar Riaz Hassan notes that many call the connectivity between Muslims unmah, or increasing a sense of togetherness and belonging to a larger community. He notes that many conservative Muslims, particularly in Saudi Arabia, believe that unmah can make it easier to establish a pure strand of Islam worldwide; a position that creates tension and promotes more extremist thinking. In effect, though, Hassan notes that the only way to resolve this issue is to accept a "culturally and religiously differentiated unmah," in which the effects of globalization are carefully integrated into Islamic society (Hassan, 2003).

Background to Islam

The Islamic religion is a Middle Eastern, Arabic Peninsula, based religion that originated right around the 7th c. And is based on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. The definition of the word Islam means "submission" in Arabic, and connotes the notion of a total surrender of oneself to God, Allah in the Arabic language. Individuals who practice Islam are known as Muslims, which, again in Arabic, means "one who submits to God." The basic tenets of belief in Islam surround the words Allah revealed to the Prophet Muhammad within the holy text the Koran (Qur'an in Arabic). Muslims do not believe that Muhammad was the originator of Islam, but that it was he who brought back the original monotheism of Abraham, Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, and other Prophets from the Christian and Judaic Old Testament. Islam holds that these Prophets were seminal instruments of God's word, but that both the Judaic and Christian traditions have misinterpreted the meaning of the word of God, altered the texts given to man by the Angels, introduced false interpretations of God and man's place within the framework of God, or a combination of all (Nasr, 2002).

The locus of Islam surrounds the duties one must perform in order to solidify the individual's relationship to God. We must remember, Islamic Law, like the Old Testament, was part of a vast oral tradition focused on an illiterate population. Law, then, was a way to organize society, culture, and all relevant aspects of life. The basic source of Islamic Law consists of the "Five Pillars of Islam," which are five important tasks that unite all Muslims around the world. These duties are: 1) The Profession of One's Faith (Shahada); 2) Giving to the Poor (Zakat) charity; 3) Fasting to honor one's faith during high holy days (Sawm); 4) Ritual and regular prayer and contrition (Salah); and 5) A holy pilgrimage to the city of Mecca during one's lifetime (Hajj) (Nasr).

There are five main paradigms that form the basis of Islam: God, the Koran, Muhammad, Angels, and then Humanity. It is also these tenets that become important when contrasting Islam with the Judaic or Christian tradition. For Islam, there is but one God, and his name is Allah -- the shout from many an Arabic city multiple times per day. Islam does not view God as an entity, and the very nature of God is beyond comprehension to mankind, for Muslims, "God is the One and Only; God the Eternal, Absolute; He Begetteth not, nor is He Begotten, And there is none like unto Him" (Koran, 112:1-4). In contrast, the Judaic and Christian God is a wise, more paternal figure; judgmental and often cruel in the Torah and Old Testament; kind and forgiving in the New Testament. It is the task of mankind, however, to learn and to know God rather than simply view him as a far flung entity that is not involved in daily lives (Kamal-ud-din, 1990).

Islamic Law

To understand the tie that Islam has for Muslims in different countries, and the contradictions between State and Religious law, we must have a brief understanding of Islamic Law. The basic belief system in Islam surrounds the words Allah revealed to the Prophet Muhammad within the holy text the Koran (Qur'an in Arabic). Judaic and Christian traditions have misinterpreted this, and altered the traditional texts given to Muhammad. The law then, or the 5 Pillars of faith, are requirements to complete the Islamic cycle of belief (Esposito, 2000).

In addition, Islamic law (Sharia) focuses on almost every aspect of life - there are the dietary laws, banking laws, welfare laws, criminal laws, and even warfare laws. Of course, over time and depending on geography, some of these laws have evolved, but in much of the Islamic world, many of the conservative tenets of Sharia are used as common law (Aslan, 2006, pp. 45-72). One of the differences in Islam between modern countries is the overall adherence to the Pillars. For instance, if one lives in the Middle East, Hajj is relatively easy; while it is difficult for an American Muslim to make the Holy Pilgrimage. The other pillars likewise need moderation depending on the cultural or political tradition of the area; it is difficult for children to fast, particularly in American schools; it is difficult to manage prayer time in a modern urban environment. Liberal Islam, though, takes these differences into account and provides ways to remain faithful within modern culture (www.islam.com; How to Live According to the 5 Pillars of Islam: The Foundation of Islam Cannot be Laid in a Day, 2008). This is important to note in that there are as many ways to bring the 5 Pillars into the individual's life as there are individuals and will vary over time, geography, and even surrounding socio-political events.

Modern Islam

Islam, while more unified than Christianity, is expressed different by country, by region, by generation, and even by family. There might be conservative Muslims in Detroit, or liberal Muslims in Cairo, the issue is more one of focus on the way the individual decides to adapt his spiritual views in the modern world. For example, Saudi Arabia is a true enigma for Islam. As the largest country of the Arabian Peninsula, it is also home to the two holiest places in all of Islam, Mecca and Medina -- or "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques." Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of oil, and accounts for 90% of exports and 75% of government revenues, causing a true Islamic welfare state. It is contradictory in some ways because the basic law of the country is the Koran, and Islam is seen as the basic way of life within the country. However, because of the economic ties to the West, the Saudi's must often moderate their position in order to continue their own economic prosperity. The Saudis often use their vast wealth to fund Islamic organizations within other countries, in contrast to it drawing a significant portion of its labor from foreign countries. Saudi Arabia positions itself as the titular leader of the Islamic world, perhaps based on it being one of the richest of the countries. (Kepel, 2002).

The Challenges of Modern Islam

One…[continue]

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