Cross-cultural Dialogue Instead of a Universalistic Monologue

Category: World Affairs Topics: Muslim World Views: 2588
2588

A recurring call echoed in the West since September 11 was that of reform in the Muslim societies. To this end, the United States is asking them to reform their religious education. It is assumed by several scholars, journalists and politicians that fanaticism that motivated the highjackers, is rooted in religious precepts - that they teach narrow views to be imposed on the rest of humanity through violence.

This call is made without any objective analysis: it does not take into account the causes that underlie Muslim frustrations with the current situation, and is an exaggeration that considers only a fringe element of Muslim society. Despite this, it requires examining the 'why' of this reality: why the West is at odds with the non-Western, especially Islamic concepts.

Clearly, this problem arises because the West insists that its cultural norms should become universally accepted as standards. And it is this universalistic monologue that the U.S. is forcefully engaged in now, instead of relying on a cross-cultural dialogue that would aim at finding a middle ground for common human existence.

In fact, ever since the emergence of Islamic movements, the Western decision-makers and their cohorts in the Muslim societies have suspiciously viewed the advocacy of religion in the public domain as regressive, and a return to medieval way of life. Their contention is that the Western society has progressed intellectually, politically, socially and economically by pushing religion aside into private life; and therefore, other societies must follow a similar course for modernity and progress.

This secular assumption has been vigorously advanced as a strategy for modernization through the model of Westernization. Its advocates range from Leonard Binder to Samuel Huntington. Although Binder realized that Islam is central to modernization in the Middle East in his seminal work, Islamic Liberalism, but unfortunately, that marked the end of his career among modernization theorists. Conversely, Huntington advanced from advocating modernization to forecasting the doomful "Clash of Civilizations."

It must be realized that the call for reformation within Muslim societies is nothing new: For example, consider the middle nineteenth century reputed reformers Jamaluddin Afghani and Muhammad Abdu. These reformers realized that profound societal and cultural changes in the Muslim societies were needed; but they always based them within the Islamic vision - although their endeavors were frequently undercut by the ruling elite who used the facade of Western modernity to disguise their despotic intentions. Isn't it ironical that Western reformation within Muslim societies is voiced by the very powers that resist Islamic reform? And isn't it even more ironical, that the advocates of freedom and democracy in the West, in gross violation of these principles, have aligned themselves with such autocrats to achieve their specific selfish ends? There goes the truth and honesty!

A meaningful reform of Muslim societies cannot be undertaken by ignoring the Islamic foundations of Muslim cultures. Nor, can it be unwillingly forced upon the Muslim masses. Islam is ingrained in the very psyche of Muslims and any reform effort must be firmly based on it; nothing that is in conflict with this basic understanding will ever succeed - as clearly evidenced from various post-colonial experimentation in Muslim lands. Furthermore, all reform efforts must proceed through free and open debate in the public square and a consensus achieved before it could be enacted. This is also what Islam demands in all dealings from home to the state affairs.

A cultural reform has been underway since colonization of Muslim lands, and includes, in addition to the above, a long list of reformers; for example, Khairuddin al Tunusi, Abdulrahman al Kawakibi, Rashid Rida, Muhammad Iqbal, Said al-Nursi, Malik Bennabi, Ali Shariati and Ismail al Faruqi, to name a few others. Their appeal is to the values and ethos embodied in the Islamic sources in order to restore the moral autonomy of the individual, and to develop an open and egalitarian political culture.

Indeed, all major reform movements that brought about profound cultural changes have been religious. Even the modern secularist West owes it to the Religious Reformation, as reminded by Weber in his Protestant Ethic. Likewise, the Muslim East should carry out its own reformation that is rooted in its Islamic ethos.

Islam requires both individual and societal reformation. It emphasizes individual responsibility, and as a result, has encouraged various individual expressions within its very broad boundaries. It inspired individual creativity in eminent works such as that of al-Farabi, Averroes, Avicenna and Ibn Khaldun that contributed to the Western scholarship. And along with it, this individualism has historically maintained, rather celebrated - pluralism, much more than the modern West. And this pluralism, lasting until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, reached far beyond the religious and political into the social, cultural and even legal spheres. Indeed, the current totalitarian orientation is the result of decline in rational thought, and the rise of authoritarian regimes encouraged and assisted by the West.

The universalistic monologue of the U.S. is predicated on its strategic and hegemonistic designs and is coercive in its nature whereby its proponents feel justified dictating to others their particulate dictums based on these considerations. In order that a meaningful dialogue could take place, it requires instead a change in understanding and attitude - from one that relies on power and self-righteousness to one that depends on rational interaction, and respects the autonomy of various cultural communities. Only thus through an open and free dialogue could universally shared standards be objectively established.

Therefore, in a world distinguished by its cultural pluralism, the emphasis must shift from an inter-subjectively derived universal norm of a certain cultural community (the West, in the current situation), to cross-cultural inter-subjectivity, wherein communities with their different normative references must freely acknowledge a universal norm. While explicit agreement of people within a similar cultural set-up is essential, it is all the more so, for a cross-cultural dialogue that aims at peace and justice for the world.

Siraj I. Mufti, Ph.D. retired as a research professor from the University of Arizona and a chaplain from the U.S. Department of Justice. He currently writes as a free-lancer.


  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Muslim World
Views: 2588

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Older Comments:
MIRZA NASRULLAH BAIG FROM SAUDI ARABIA said:
It is a balanced view point. Any one who stand for justice and respect the freedom of individuals & nations will agree to this view point, but America or the western world have the other baias prefrences than human rights, freedom and respect to the socities, therefore it is diffcult they will agree to any logic. I congratulate the author for this article.
2002-08-20

A BELLO FROM NIGERIA said:
It is assumed by several scholars,...that fanaticism that motivated the highjackers is rooted in religious precepts..

There's in your article two presumptions detrimental to islam and the Muslims:
1. that there was indeed a highjack
2. that that highjack was by Muslims
No one, not even the victim, has come up with proof of this. It is therefore preposterous for a Muslim to assume the truth of the allegation, for that is what it is.
The Korean civilian arliner was shot down in the 80's by Russian when, as confirmed by Reagan, it deliberately flew over Russian territory in order to activate their defence systems. Us Aurforce was around receiving intelligence information and they sacrificed the civilians, including, I think, a congressman who was on board. The end, they say, justifies the means.
If the end this time around is to deal-- in their thought-- a death blow to the Muslims, would it be hard for America to bomb itself for a pretext to pounce on the Muslims?
Noriega was captured by USA without much bloodshed. Could they have done it with the Taliban leaders without such deliberate genocide?
Allah is the greatest. He will help His religion even if the infidels dislike it!
2002-08-19

ESTELA R. JEBRIL FROM USA said:
I would like to find out more about the author of this article, Mr. Mufti. Please tell me how I can find out about him. It is a wonderful article and we need more of this style in the media. Thank You. Assalamu Alaykum.
2002-08-18

NURU MUHAMMAD FROM NIGERIA said:
Assalamu alaikum,
Jazakallah bihayr! Allah SWT has warned us through the Prophet SAW when He said: "Verily they were about to tempt you away from that which We have revealed unto you,to fabricate something other than it against Us, and then they would certainly have taken you a friend! And had We not made you stand firm, you would nearly have inclined to them a little. In that case, We would have made you taste a double portion (of purnishment) in this life and a double portion (of purnishment) after death. And then you would have found none to help you against Us" - Q 17:73-75

May Allah help us.
2002-08-16

SALMAN SHOAIB FROM PAKISTAN said:
I must say Sir that evertything u said was very true and that u have touched a subject that has been part of the current political scenario for a long time. I have believed (for a long time) that Western (especially American culture) and its norms are the greatest threat to our future generations. With the passage of time it is being embedded in our way of life and I think this article will go a long way in preventing this phenomena from occurring. Well done!!
2002-08-16

ABDUL HAKEEM LANRE ODEJIMI FROM NIGERIA said:
Insread of advicing the muslim to make reformation it's the U.S. Govt that should reform their law and reduce the mentality on freedom of this freedom of that that does not conform with the Almighty Allah law even the Bible did not encourage some of their practice ,domination and all sort of sexy mode of dressing .they should try to peruse other people views too and should not see America as supoer power and other country as inferior
2002-08-15

MDSOALEH FROM INDIA said:
no one has the right to interfere into islamic matters even though it is US,we never try to to change any religion. it is my firm belief that if muslims unite themselves and follow islam no power can challenge them inshallah
2002-08-15

SHAHJAHAN FROM KASHMIR, INDIA said:
the fact is not so faar, i believe that the timea has come that the
announcement in all over India should be made for jehad, it is not
only kashmir now who are fighting for their cause but the muslims
who have been grated rudeely in Gujarat, India must go for jehad.
what has happened to them is not an attack on GUjarat only but for
the whole muslim community. kashmir........everyday on an average
12 people are killed but no reports, i will type in detail after i get
reply from you
thanks
2002-08-15

RASHID SAMNAKAY FROM WESTERN AUSTRALIA said:
No body has the right to tell us what, why and when we should reform ourselves, particularly not the West. That is kettle calling pot black. However I am convinced that "Muslims" have to be come Muslims, for they are not now! They are Shia, Sunni and followers of myriads of other mazahibs, but not Muslims!! We do not even have a homogeneous definition of Islam.Divisions in the Ummah of Islam is shirk and the prescribed punishment is for all to see!!!
It may sound harsh but this is what is required--Get rid of all the peripherals including Hadis, the Sahi, Motaber, Maroof etc etc and the Lagoo and start again with the Quran, which is more than enough if only we could have a universal interpretation from a central body of Muslims (not the kings and Muftys please).
Do we have the will and the courage to bell the Cat??

2002-08-15

SAEED NAWAZ FROM USA said:
The last time i.e. before 9/11/01 the US experienced suicide bombers was when the Japanese Kamakazi pilots who were trained for their missions attacked US war ships, because they their homeland was threatened. US did defeat Japan but did not occupy any land or forced the japanese to accept immigrants from Europe or US. The Kamakazis stopped.
But ever since 1948 with the collusion of UN the European and US Zionists have forced their way into Arab Lands, quoting their Holy Books that read "Jews are coming the Jews are coming" after 2000 plus years they are entitled according to their own interpretation of their own hand written books, and all of Europe, US and the rest of the world go along with this attrocity.
And the local Arabs who are actively defending their homeland are labeled terrorist by the terrorizing zionists.
Who is trying to force their religous beliefs by force on others? the answer is quite clear, the zionists.
No Justice, No Peace. was good in 1776 and it is good today,

Khuda Hafiz
2002-08-15

JOHN GOOPY FROM AUSTRALIA said:
I may just be showing my ignorance, but it seems to me that you have used many words to say very liitle. I think that you are using the imperialistic attitude of the USA as a surrogate for your notion of "the West", and I believe strongly that this is untrue and inappropiate. I have several Muslim friends whom I talk with often about some of these matters, and I do find some of attitudes and beliefs difficult. This is not for want of trying - from the time we were all small children, people from western society and Muslim countries have been taught in such fundamentally different ways, the divide is understanding and appreciating each others views is hard to bridge. I am sure that itimust be hard when many Muslims feel slandered by the press, but it is proverbail that "empty vessels make the loudest noise". If we promote the schism thatsays the other side is the problem, the chances are good that the prophecy will self-fulfill.

I have heard and read many arguments similar to yours. Many in "the West" find the cultural and economic imperialism of the USA an almost constant irratant, and many, though not enough are aware of the problem of a lack of representative government in many Middle East countries. So the problem, has been I think, well stated. I ask you now, in concrete terms, What Is The SOLUTION?
I hope that I have not given offence, and that you will read this in the spirit in which it is intended.
2002-08-14

LOUBNA NASSER FROM U.S. said:
REFORMATION IS NOT GOING TO STOP UNTIL IT KILLS THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM AND MUSLIMS TOGETHER. THIS IS THE JEWISH PLAN!
2002-08-14

TANVIR AHMED FROM USA said:
Beautifuly written Article.

It says all that can be in the heart of a sincere, educated and unbiosed Muslim.

I would pray to GOD and Request Mr. Siraj Mufti to use his writing skill more on the subject of Muslims getting together which he referred as pluralism for that's where lies Muslim's respect , diginity and only then West will talk to them on equal terms else they will be kicked around and humiliated as is being done now, right or wrong.

It may not happen during the life of the present Muslim generation, BUT whenever it happens, we will be part of that or atleast God knows we have used our skills to that direction and we can expect reward for that.

Regards.

Tanvir Ahmed
2002-08-14

MOHAMED IQBAL AHMED FROM INDIA said:
the tolerance will be at a limit,
no one tolerate a wrong doing,thinking,action,
one should obey islamic ethics,
moral,displine,etc,

will you please send the detail about - MOHAMED IQBAL- I AM INTERESTED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT HIM,
2002-08-14

HABIB SULEIMAN FROM KENYA said:
BISSMILAHI RAHMANI RAHIM
ASSALAM ALAIKUM
Dear brothers in islam it is very anfourtunate
to lern that you are talking of reforms in islam.
pleas the way islam was left by the prophet{s.a.w}
is the same way that it should be followed by every belliver.regardles of nationality. thus
1 FASTING
2 PRAYING
3 JIHAD
3 ZAKAT
4 SADKA ETC
WITHOUT FEARING THE DEVILS BEING LED BY bush,w
and his bro louis farakhan
FEAR ALLAH ALONE
2002-08-14

ANSARY FROM CONFIDENTAL said:
hi my comment
is this allah sended us for spread islam and his dawaat to other kafirs.see allah said one more thing that is every impotant that is some kafir is try to destroy allahs house or some thing that concern to allahs stuff like quran
no fighting until they do serious damage
thanks
khuda hafiz
l hope u understand my letter
2002-08-14

SABRA FROM USA said:
Do you have anything good to say about America and Americans? You seem to have tunnel vision. America and Americans don't have a problem with Islam-they have a problem with "Islamic"terrorists(if you can call them islamic). Focus more on why you think most terrorists are muslim. Instead of picking on American ways, pick on the ways of the terrorists for once. My son-in-law is Muslim. He was born in Saudi Arabia-parents from Pakistan. He was never taught violence to my knowledge. He practices his religion and represents the Muslim religion in a very positive light that anyone could not help but appreciate and respect. Your newsletter depicts Muslims as victims. My son in law is very successful and fits in well with American society and has a good life and outlook. American doesn't seem so bad to him. It is the land of opportunity for him! He doesn't whine about America's view of Muslims. He just continues on practicing his religion and shows his integrity by the way he lives.
2002-08-14

SFA GATES, PH.D. FROM USA said:
The problem stems from the fact of the
misuderstanding of Islam. Islam does not
need reformartion rather the world needs to
understand Islam from an biased point of
view. Islam is a perfect religion hence the
defense for it assumes that it is lacking.
People who need to understand Islam should
do the proper homework. Just like I cannot
teach my child calculus before he/she has
advanced from algebra and basic
computational skills.
2002-08-13

CHARLES HOLCOMB FROM UNITED STATES said:
A writing that informs and makes sense. We need many more like this!
2002-08-13

SHAIKKH ABDUL RAHMAN FROM INDIA said:
ASSALAMWALIQUM

WE MUSLIM SHOULD LIVE IN THIS WORLD AS MUHAMMAD(PEACE BE UPON HIM) HAS SHOWN US PATH WITHOUT LESENING TO THE ATHOR THAN ONLY WE WILL PASS IN OUR EXAMINATION OF THAT WORLD AND VICTORY HERE IN THIS WORLD
2002-08-13

MALIK-UL-ISLAM FROM INDIA said:
A BLACK MUSLIM,A PALESTINE MUSLIM,IRAQI MUSLIM,
INDIAN,MALASIAN,CHINESEMUSLIM ETC ARE NOT FRIENDS
AMONGST THEMSELVES THOUGH RECITING THE SAME BOOK
(NOT FOLLOWING)AND HAVE CHRONIC ETHNIC /LANGUAGE/REGIONAL DIFFERENCES !THEN WHAT TO TALK ABOUT AMERICANS/MUSLIM RELATION SHIP?
ACT LIKE UNIVERSAL BROTHERS FIRST IN YOUR HOME,HOMELAND,WITH YOUR PEOPLE NEIGHBOURS,ETC THEN TALK ABOUT OTHER RELATIONSHIPS.
2002-08-13

N H STORBECK FROM UNITED KINGDOM said:
The main opposition to Islam in the west is american and to a somewhat lesser extent british and european women. These women are no longer wives and mothers, they do not wish to care for the family anymore striving instead for a one sex society. Many mothers go out to work just to pay for childcare and home help and indeed do it with government blessing by giving financial incentives and tax breaks.
When did you last see a man going to a DIY store alone to make his selection for that long awaited home project. Who pushes the baby buggy these days and carries the shopping bags at the same time. Are our women going to give up this role reversal and once again become the carer and sustainer of the family unit as has been the case since God created man? I don't think so.
All kinds of reasons are put forward to shun Islam - that women are repressed, that Muslims are fanatics....you've heard them all. Generally all this stuff is beleived by the public because people are ignorant of Islam, and ignorance creates fear.
2002-08-13

ABDUL MUJEEB FROM CANADA said:
An excellent scholarly article that is timely for the current state of affairs. There can be no forced reevaluation of Islamic principles because America and George wants us to. Muslim world at the momnet is in a state of shock and as aresult is not producing enough scholars like Iqbal who will look into matters of the religion for them with new light.
More such srticles will go towards projecting the correct attitude of Islam.
2002-08-12

PORTAL said:
Concerning what one man asks of another...

When you take only half of the whole truth and wield it as a club, it cannot do half the damage.

When you practice a form of spirituality which is compromised, and use it as a cloak to keep you warm and comfortable, it will fail you when cold winds blow.

What have your prophets stated about end times? Can you some how stop the events with words of indignation?

If your spirituality was as right or true as you seem to think it is, then what is happening in the world should not be of any concern; end times or not, such should be your peace with your maker.
2002-08-12

IRETHA CALLENDER-MOSLEY FROM USA said:
When I first asked for this subscription, it was right after September 11, 2001. I wanted to know what the otherside thoughts were, see I was always taught that they are two sides to every story and then there is the truth. I kept reading and reading, and was unsure of what was really going on. Because one side said one thing and the other side said another. I understand what it means to be judge and how bad you want that light to stop shining on you. I also understand the struggle to be free and how some groups are so focused on keeping others down.

What I didn't understand was why it took this tragic event to happen until now. See the way I see it is this. A lot of countries look at the USA as a child looks at its mother, for help. And sometimes the mothers that we are given in life doesn't always have our best interest. She has so many children, she can only do the best she can with what she has to work with. And when that one child(s) sees that they can't get their needs met as quickly as they want, then issues arise. I am not saying that this is the case, but what I saw and what I heard was an awakening.

Awake and see that life has much to offer, but greed always has its hands out.

It was horrible to see the images on both sides, innocence being destroy because of what. It was sad to see that but the awakening allowed, objections, voices and life to take a good look because just like that it all can be taken away.

In conclusion, at what stage in life is enough and if the whole world dies what have you contribute to your cause other than death. Why do we live in a world that would choose death rather than life? Why do we assume that choice?
2002-08-12

A. UMRANI FROM USA said:
I generally agree with your thoughts but I do have one slight disagreement. I would be dishonest, if as a muslim, I did not admit that there is an extreme and unbalanced element within our community that needs to be addressed. Extremists may be a fringe element but the consequences of their actions are disproportionate to their numbers. Their austere interpretations are being exported around the world. The Muslim ummah should have addressed this problem before it culminated in such violent acts. Of course there are underlying political and economic issues that foment this extremism but that does not deny the fact that these groups are antithetical to some basic tenents of Islam. We are taught to stand for what is right even if it goes against ourselves. I believe the call to reformation is correct but it's up to the Muslim ummah to decide when and how it will happen, insha Allah.
2002-08-12