Islam and the West Term Paper

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Islam and the West

How do you see Islam offering an alternative to modernity as defined by the West? Is this alternative oppositional to or complementary with the West or both? Why or why not? Focus on specific examples.

Globalization is a phenomenon that has touched all spheres of human life. Made pervasive with the aid of technology, globalization has come to define the manner in which we lead our lives. Be it social, physical or emotional aspects, all of these are now considered in a broad perspective. But in this realm of the world being rendered a global village, the fact remains that globalization is seen as a Western phenomenon where the entire world, specially the East is seen as a passive object that was awaiting for the Western led tide of modernism take over its primitive traditions and ways of life. (Hobson)[footnoteRef:1] [1: Hobson, John M. "Eastern Agents of Globalisation: Oriental Globalisation In The Rise Of Western Capitalism ." Hobson, John M. Everyday Politics of the World Economy. Cambridge University Press, 2009. 141-159 .]

The author, John Hobson, in his book, called" Eastern Agents of Globalization: Oriental Globalization in the Rise of Western Capitalism" terms this approach taken by the Western world as Eurocentricism. Eurocentricism is a derivative of the term ethnocentrism and implies that due to the progress of the Western World, and its dominance in world affairs, the thought that Western ideals are the best and that every other culture is derived from theirs. According to Hobson (Hobson):

"In the conventional Eurocentric historiography, the year 1492 traditionally represents the moment when the Europeans came of age and then launched the 'Voyages of Discovery'. And their significance derives from the assumption that they served to project outwards the Western capitalist system as the Europeans 'battered down the walls' of the so-called inward-looking, backward Eastern regions thereby transforming them into outward-looking capitalist economies." (Hobson 196)

As the main proponent of the way the modern state has turned out to be, the Western world has had a dominant role to play and has influenced the world in a way so as to conform to its ideology of capitalism and of civil liberties. The fact that modernism has been defined primarily in terms of Western values is a given in the current circumstances and contemporary scholars are now looking for means to reverse this 'marginalization' of eastern philosophies given the way that events in the current world climate have panned out. (Acharya)[footnoteRef:2] [2: Acharya, Amitav. "Dialogue and Discovery: In Search of International Relations Theories Beyond the West ." Millennium: Journal of International Studies 39.3 (2011): 619-637.]

The recent spate of events and conflicts as well as the anguish shown by many groups has led to indications that may be things are not as bright as they are made out to be. The financial crisis has led many to question whether western ideologies really are the panacea that they are made out to be, or in their ignorance of other major religions, have become a curse. This has been evident in the Occupy Wall Street Protest, where common people are demanding a change in the system. (Gabbatt and Devereux)[footnoteRef:3] [3: Gabbatt, Adam and Ryan Devereux. "Wall Street protesters to occupy foreclosed homes." The Guardian 6 December 2011.]

The current system of democracy in the West has been used in a form of a 'cookie-cutter approach' as stated by leading economist Joseph Stiglitz who has said that the Washington -- based institutions such as the IMF, and the World Bank, backed primarily by Western powers, has spread the trade liberalization approach to many countries, sometimes at a disadvantage to the debt-taking country. The arguments posed by the economist state that IMF and World Bank policies are led by the powers that are also the main funding countries. Weaker countries who want to take loans to avoid defaults are given loans on conditions that make structural reforms compulsory, and this compulsory clause has been used by the IMF on behalf of world powers to spread capitalism and liberalization philosophies all over the world. (Stiglitz)[footnoteRef:4] [4: Stiglitz, Joseph. Challenging the Washington Consensus Lindsey Schoenfelder. 7 May 2002.]

In such a situation where the world peoples are increasingly voicing their concerns with the current world order and with the manner in which modernity and progress are being linked to westernization unquestioningly is what is driving this paper to explore alternate ideologies to see if they can better the situation in the world today.

Islamic values

As far as Islam is concerned, the religion has been in force since more than 14 centuries. The ideologies of Islam are based on Quranic Law or the Sharia' and takes in examples from how the Prophet lived and dealt with matters as well (Sunnah). The law also focuses on Ijmah or consensus as a way to decide how best to go forward in situations where people find it difficult to gauge whether an action is in accordance with Islam from the Sharia and the Sunnah.

The fundamental Islamic values that are part of Muslim's lives in the public sphere include the compulsion of Zakat, a wealth tax aimed at fair distribution of income among the population. Moreover, Islam forbids taking interest with a view under which people in need are not wrongfully manipulated and are able to pay back the principle sum.

These values have led the Islamic ideology progress where a Muslim nation state should ideally be more similar to communism where there is equitable distribution of wealth and concern for weaker players. (Thompson)[footnoteRef:5] [5: Thompson, Michael J.Theoria. "Islam, Rights, and Ethical Life: The Problem of Political Modernity in the Islamic World." A Journal of Social & Political Theory 57.123 (2010): 99-125.]

According to (Hobson):

"Indeed there are many points in the Qur'an that suggest a clear link between rational capitalist behavior and Islam (Rodinson 1974; Hodgson 1974; Hobson 2004: Chapter 2). And while we usually consider the Sharia (the Islamic sacred law) as the root of despotism and economic backwardness, it was in fact created as a means to prevent the abuse of the rulers' or caliphs' power and moreover, it set out clear provisions for contract law. Not surprisingly there was an entirely rational reason why the Islamic merchants were strong supporters of the Sharia." (Hobson)

The author therefore indicates that Islam has been based on the ideology of progress for the entire nation and all those considered poor as well. In fact as far as contract law enforcement is concerned, Islam has traditionally proposed very strict punishment -- a sign that is seen to signal economic backwardness to the western world.To see how Islam is an alternate to modernist theory and how it could have fared better, is a case to be seen in light of the arguments posed by various scholars on the subject.

Islam as an alternative to modernity

Recent attention to Islam and other eastern ideologies has come about due to the liberalism defying its roots in theological disciplines. Scholars have indicated that liberalism is actually contradicting its roots in that Western ideologies have also been derived from the Church, which had a very important role to play in ruling lands and influencing politics.

According to Mustapha Pasha, the world has become fractured as the notion of the modern secular state vehemently denies the derivation of modern ethics, values and morality in the public sphere. These values are seen as inherent in modern states and are taken for granted as pillars that hold the world together. According to (Pasha): [footnoteRef:6] [6: Pasha, Mustapha Kamal. "Fractured Worlds: Islam, Identity, and International Relations." Global Society 17.2 (2003).]

"Upon scrutiny, liberalism continues to vigorously deny its own theological underpinnings, unwilling to acknowledge explicit linkage between notions of subjective morality, salvation, or work ethic, on the one hand, and political economy, on the other. Resting on the fiction of well-demarcated public and private zones, particularly in the more puritanical variants of the liberal order, sovereign individuality is simultaneously unleashed and restrained. The formal place for religion, then, becomes the private sphere, while its real effects can be easily disbursed throughout the social body to the point of opaqueness." (Pasha)

What the author says here is that the modern world is strictly categorized into public and private lived and that religion, while it remains a strong defining factor in individual lives and is yet considered a taboo to discuss in collective individual lives better known as the public domain.

This is a contradictory position to be in, as a society is a collection of people and where people in private practice religion, they are mum about their beliefs in public, which indicates a conflict of sorts. (Pasha)

It also indicates that while Western thought talks of liberalism and modernity as well as an inclusive climate where people are regarded without any concern to their religion, western thought too has led to a situation where economic discrimination rather than religious discrimination exists. Moreover with liberalism at its core,…

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