Navigating Change

Navigating Change

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR in the Muslim world, or at least we hope that it is. Since the era of independence the Muslim world has suffered from governments that have not only stifled the aspirations of their peoples, but have also heralded a depressing era of nepotism and stagnation. Stagnation has become the typifying condition of the religious, intellectual, social or economic realms of Muslim nations. The result of it all is a population, after years of unaccountable government, that is desperate for change.

Many see democracy as perhaps the only solution for the region. As countries around the world embrace a new openness, transparency and power-sharing in governance, so too is the idea of democracy taking hold in the Muslim world. The pace of democratization has, however, been extremely uneven with countries such as Malaysia and Jordan making the biggest strides; Egypt and Iraq tentatively mov ing towards it; whilst Saudi Arabia, Syria, and others not at all. One cannot be over-optimistic about the prospects of change – but change in this region will take time. The establishment of a vibrant civil society across the Muslim world will be vital if” the democratization process is to succeed and permeate all stratas of society.

Muslim countries will also have to find ways of making the democratic model suited to their Islamic values and that is why, as Firas Ahmad argues here, we need to inject a more communitarian ethos into the liberal democracy model promoted by Western nations. Liberal democracy has its problems and it is imperative that Muslim policymakers are able to strengthen the democracy model with a better balance between the rights of the individual and those of the polity.

The Muslim world cannot afford not to open up their political set-ups. Global terrorism breeds on dissilusionment and poverty, and the only way to fight it is to create better social and political conditions. Our dossier on democracy brings leading experts such as John Esposito, Robert Crane, Osman Bakar and others, to assess the prospects of change in the Muslim world and highlight the issues ahead.

However, as the bombings in Baghdad, London and Sharm al-Sheikh show, the problem of indiscriminate terrorism will require not just a political solution, but also a religious solution. The Amman Initiative, reported here by the veteran journalist-scholar Abdallah Schleifer, produced a landmark declaration that will promote unity within the Islamic commonwealth of believers and hope that its message will permeate our religious communities on the ground. Our imams and religious leaders and activ ists need to promote a more constructive and unitive message to the believers.

But above and beyond the political and religious solution there lies also the need for a spiritual solution and it can no longer he ignored. The poverty of fanaticism is a spiritual poverty. The spiritual desert that reformist and nationalist movements have created across the Muslim world robbed our communities of their spiritual sustenance-of that which makes our hearts at once humble and exulted, just like our Prophet’s, may the blessing and peace of God be upon him. The revival of interest in devotional works such as Imam Jazuli’s Dala ‘il al-Khayrat, as examined here in an essay by Adam Larson, will, God willing, bring the baraka back into the destinies of our people.

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