The Arab World’s Silver Bullet

This is a rant. No more, no less. Anyone is free to critique it as long as they keep in mind that this is in fact, a rant. I say this now because by the time people finish reading a blogger’s posts these days, they tend to forget that.

I’ve had this conversation regarding religion with three different people in the past week alone and I thought it may be a God given sign that I should probably write it down.

Islam is the solution…this is a very common answer that finds its way into a conversation about the Arab condition. Be it about Israel and Palestine or unemployment and poverty, low GDPs and GNPs or corrupt leadership; the solution is Islam. This is usually said with a small sparkle in one’s eye, as if remembering the unrequited greatness of an empire now passed; now a fairytale our fathers tells us as children.

So when people tell me that Islam is the solution I don’t know what they mean anymore.

I am a practicing Muslim. And I say this because although I pray 5 times a day I see it as (a); an act of individual worship and (b); a foundation of character. But I don’t see it as a solution to the problems my generation faces today.

When people say that Islam is the solution I get sudden mental flashes of the morality police marching down streets burning books, whipping indecently clothed men and women, and the strict application of an extreme interpretation of Islam. Because this is where we are today. Islam is not being introduced by degrees nor is it progressing as it once did. Instead, the religion remains in center field while society swings from one extreme to another; like a pendulum that never comes to a complete stop.

It can be used to cure and it can be used to do a lot of damage; but in the hands of the common man it has far greater potential for the latter.

I won’t deny that I would like to see religion flourish in the Arab world as perhaps it once did, but I would like to see it happen naturally; without the imposition. I don’t know how that picture looks like but I imagine a society inspired plays some role. What I do know is that imposing a functioning religion in a dysfunctional environment will yield dysfunctional results and we see that today in many instances.

From a personal perspective, I have an invested degree of faith in my religion but I don’t trust many of its adamant followers, and I trust their aspirations for an Islamic society even less.

Every time I turn on the TV to see yet another long bearded sheik discussing Islam, I see nothingness. There is absolutely no inspiration there. Not an ounce of hope or motivation. What they have to say is merely a statement of how immoral our society is today and how applying the Islamic principles will solve everything. And while I don’t deny that Islamic principles are excellent foundations for a society, I often wonder where we’re supposed to go from the ground floor. You fill the mosques; and then what?

These are just some of the reasons why I believe that currently, Islam is not “the” solution we are looking for. To say nothing of the difficulty in creating a religious society.

I think the Arab world’s solution comes in a much simpler package: Education.

I don’t know why education is so overlooked these days when it can be our silver bullet.

For poverty, unemployment, drugs, crime, self-sufficiency.

Industrial giants like China, India and Japan are investing massively in education and yet we seem to be grateful just to be able to read and write; if that.

Millions of degrees, but degrees have to mean something. The fact that we see little output and/or impact from all the so-called educated masses is evidence that they don’t. Moreover, an education is meant to inspire, not a recitation of facts (if that), but something much more. Whether its elementary school or graduate school, educational institutions should be able to open the doors of imagination; university should be an experience. And from that innovation follows. And from that progress follows.

We don’t have that.

Kids go to school (if that) and hardly any of them have any aspirations. We as a society don’t embed that in our children, and the sorry excuse for a system that our governments implement doesn’t help. We tell them to be doctors and if they don’t have the grades then they should be engineers and if they don’t have the grades for that they should become this or that. The private sector has a pool of unemployed ‘educated’ workers who are by any set standards unemployable and more or less uneducated. Unprepared. Uninspired. Unmotivated.

We overlook both education and inspiration; especially the latter for some reason. We reduce it to pipe dreams. Ironically the only thing that has ever induced progress in the world, in any civilization including our own, has been inspiration, dreams; drive. When that rare instance of a small group of committed people come together in our region with the desire to change their world, we cast them down. Ironically, it’s the only thing that ever has.

You educated people; you create entrepreneurs. You create ideas that create industry that create jobs that create on and on and on and on and on. This is the infinite appeal of education and we don’t seem to get it.

The paradigm desperately needs to shift.

The public sector and the private sector need to sit down and create something efficient. People need to educate their own kids. To put in them the overwhelming thought that they can be anything they want if they want it bad enough. Let them look at a map and think about the world in the global sense, instead of the limitations of their classroom or neighborhood.

Without that, we will fade in to historical obscurity. Still waiting on Islam to come and change our world.

28 Comments

  • WELL SAID! I don’t often write in capitals, so forgive me. WHen I saw the disclaimer at the top, and then realised it was a post about Islam, I got worried – very worried.

    I am a practising Muslim, and I define myself as secular. Very few people understand this, but it doesn’t mean atheist, as many misunderstand. It just means that my religion is between me and my god. I don’t wear it on my sleeve, I don’t tell others how to act, and I don’t run around telling everyone I’m a Muslim.

    That certainly doesn’t mean I’m a Muslim in hiding. If anyone asks, I will explain my beliefs, I don’t hide them, I’m not evasive, and I certainly won’t lie.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you, I don’t believe it is a tool for social change. Education is our biggest problem. And there is absoultely no conflict there with Islam. On the contrary, we have abandoned knowledge in pursuit of god.

    Sasa.

  • You have to know that people who say that islam is the soloution are just longing for the old days of the isalamic empire, they see the “humilation” that we live in now and compare it to how we used to be. Islam is not only a catch phrase that you use whenever the time is right, I do believe that islam gave us guidelines and general rules to follow and I am ready to become a citizen in a modern islamic state, but do the holders of “islam is the soloution” have an agnenda that we can read?

    Islam is the soloution is what created al-qaeda, islam became political, it serves as a recruiting tool by reminding the youth with our glourious past which was driven by “islam”, the youth think and say: “we used to rule the world when we were “true muslims” and look at us now, we are worthless and humilated”

    “On the contrary, we have abandoned knowledge in pursuit of god.”

    Couldn’t agree more, people forget that the first verse in the quran was about education and learning, god told mohammed PBUH “read”, I think that is enough of a sign for us, but I think we are talking to deaf people..But still there is hope..
    God bless..

  • eh……. I am not sure if a good 200 years in a 1400 years of history is the glorious empire they want to reestablish.
    Some how am always amazed how forgetful they are of history.

    sasa :now my understand of the term secular muslim, is a non practicing muslim. maybe you were looking for private religion ? or is it believing muslim instead of a practicing one ?

    As for education, yeah….. do you really think the other 95% of the populations think that way ?
    I think its more of a “2illi binzal min hal sama btistla2a 2il 2ard” mentality, change that first then you can tackle education.
    So i guess i would agree on instilling hope and aspiration before education which is kinda what u said 😀
    Enjoy

  • What I do know is that imposing a functioning religion in a dysfunctional environment will yield dysfunctional results and we see that today in many instances.

    I agree and disagree with the above statement at the same time. The word “impose” makes me uncomfortable, of course, so in that I agree. However, I have seen instances where religion accepted by a dysfunctional environment can yield favorable results. Then again, my definition of religion most likely differs from yours.

    We should talk more about this the next time you are in town.

  • Moreover, an education is meant to inspire, not a recitation of facts (if that), but something much more.

    Amen, brother. I despise a system designed around rote memorization, rather than critical thinking. It hinders society in so many ways.

  • Brilliant post Nas. I think it’s easier said than done though, once again it’s something that has to do with the inner-selves of people, governments play a role and so do shyookh but the catalyst in this formula is people themselves. Many people have this Islamic-Utopian state of mind that is so blinding.

  • I think my thoughts are worth more than a piasta! ( I know, I know). As many of you recognize to be a Muslim does not mean you disengage from a society, and adopt a more “austere” way of life. I think you have to engage and help build a society that is fair, just and is more or less according to the teaching of Islam. We are having a career forum at the Zara expo at the end of July for the tourism sector. Does this mean we are unGodly, I don’t think so. It simply means that there are givens and we have to make do. We can’t beat tourism or the careers forum but we can certainly engage in them constructively and try as Muslims re-image them in the way we see fit. If the objective is to create jobs then this is surely not a bad thing but a good thing.

  • I think the problem is that we are looking at everything from only a religious point of view and are forgetting the critical thinking part that Islam encouraged.

    I think the key word is being adaptive and responsive to change. One of the key things that came with the introduction of Islam is the challenging of all the norms and methods of the society back then.
    That change brought a decisive advantage to the early Muslim “country” . There were more efficiencies in terms of economic, educational, and political system when compared to other systems of the time. People that joined Islam were pioneers at the time in that they challenged the status quo and thought outside the box.

    What brought the Islamic empire down among other empires is a stagnation and non-responsiveness to a changing world. People stopped questioning; they did what they were told. This led to other civilizations getting ahead. It does not matter whether you are at the top now, it matters whether you are advancing faster than everyone else, if not, someone is going to overtake your civilization and you are going to be behind sooner or later.

    It is time that we move away from slogans, from pre-packaged solutions, from copying others, or even attempting to copy the past. Each solution is based on a set of conditions and assumptions that do not necessarily hold at our current time and situation. Most importantly, no group should be marginalized as they all should contribute fully to society and diversity should be encouraged not repressed, it is through diversity that our ideas are challenged.

    As you said, we should invest in education, which means investing in a generation of people who will challenge the status quo and bring forward change. Yes, many will resist the change as is always the case, but that’s the point: without others to question and provide opposing our thinking we will never get it right.

    Just my two cents.

  • Let me ask you this question Nas,What about the role of the Arab government?Did the imposed Arab government contribute to our predicament? and lack of advancement? who supported for long time Muslim or rather Islamic fundamentalism in our region?
    When secular left movements were growing in the last 70 years,most Arab government carried out terrorist campaign to eliminate and uproot all Arab secular leftist movements.
    In the early 1950s and 60s,Jordan had very strong and well organised secular left,just go and ask Yacoob Zayadeen who headed Jordanian Communist Party, for long time ,he along with several of his friends were jailed and tortured in Al jafer prison.

  • In the early 1950s.Islamic movements were weak and marginalized ,and very few people advocated the idea of Islam is “the” solution.
    I blame the puppet Arab governments that created ,financed and encouraged Muslim fundamentalism to flourish and spread,for example,the conservative governments of Saudi Arabia,Jordan, Egypt and Gulf States helped and encouraged and even assisted in recruiting thousands of “Arab Mujahideen” to go to Afghanistan and fight “the reds”.

  • the chicken are coming home to roost. i agree with one of the posters that the Arab reactionary regimes have sabotaged all secular movements, nationalists or leftists, that once managed to rally the Arab public. All what we have today are regime thugs who have divided the political turf between them but they all take order from the despot. some call themselves moderates, others social democrats, etc. I had the displeasure of watching Mohammad Hasaneen Hykal on Al-Jazeera. The guy is a bore, but he is the consummate investigator, official documents and all made available by freedom of information acts in US, UK, and France. In those policy-formulating documents there were clear instructions to undermine Arab nationalism and socialism because of their staunch anti-colonialist stances. and the mercenaries often were the Saudi thugs with their oil money. Yes, the chicken have come home to roost. Now they will have a taste of the religious monster they have created to fight nationalists and leftists. I and other leftists intend to savor the moment as we kick back and enjoy our front row seats.

  • That’s a common misunderstanding bambam.

    No, secularism is a political view, not a religious one. It is a view which believes in the separation of church/mosque and state. That’s the most basic explanation.

    So, no, there’s no conflict between secularism and islam. A secular Muslim is not a lapsed believer, or a lazy, or non-practising person. Just someone who doesn’t think religion and state should be linked.

  • alurdunialhurr: to answer your initial question…arab government have always been a problem when it comes to our predicament even though I feel the evolving culture is primarily social.

    moreover, the reason i didnt write several paragraphs bashing the arab government for everything is because (a) i didnt have the time, (b) there are plenty people such as yourselves who spend a much greater amount of time on that and (c) i’m more concerned with solution than pointing fingers…the latter is something we’ve been doing for much too long and to no avail.

    hence the title of this post 😉

  • regarding religion .. i’d say that as i look around at today’s generation my impression is that the overwhelming majority are not religious and don’t know anything about their religions .. forget religion .. today’s generation is not even arab anymore .. they are more and more westernized.

    i agree with urduni that arab governments are to blame more than anyone for our predicament .. and nas just like you said you are uninspired by the sheikhs you see on tv (a sentiment i share btw) .. i would like to add that i find arab leaders speeches and words just as mundane and hollow .. i think arab summits are a case in point.

    and i agree with you nas .. education is key if we wish to rise as arabs .. but i don’t think it alone is enough .. i would also add freedom to the equation .. freedom from occupation .. and freedom from oppression i.e. political freedom, freedom of press, of speech, human rights, etc.

    p.s. the first words of the quran were iqra2 .. read .. there a lot of ahadeeth that encourage seeking education .. so your solution wasn’t that original really .. it was actually islam’s solution :p

  • Nas,,In order to find solution ,we must diagnose the root cause of our problems,otherwise we will be wasting our time.
    The reason I keep pointing out and blaming “our” government because they have always stood against our inspiration as humans to advance ,learn and contribute to the human civilisation.

  • Atee3a ,, “the chicken are coming home to roost.”
    That sums it up,yes the chicken is still roosting right at this moment in naher Al Bared,lebanon,the so called Fath Al Islam are being financed and armed by the same Arab thuggish government to off set Hisballah balance of power.
    Innocent civilians are slaughtered in the name of fighting terrorism ,all of you out there ,read The Redirection by Seymour M. Hersh that should give you an idea of what’s doing on

  • “(c) i’m more concerned with solution than pointing fingers…”

    oh but you did point fingers Nas; most of your rant is blaming the “Islam is the solution” mentality and those who advocate it. I agree that we can get stuck on blaming certain parties, but like alurduni said, you must find the root cause(s) to be able to address the problem with a comprehensive solution.

  • Excellent post dude! But I do have one question. You say education. Guess what? I agree.

    Problem is, what kind of education. Secular education, religious or a combination?

    I’d love to see education that encourages creative and critical thinking, not “education” meant to programme us a robots.

  • alurdunialhurr: you seem adamant to list either the arab governments or israel as the root causes for all our problems. if you come back to live here you’ll that they play a fairly smaller role compared to society. moreover i did mention that governments do need to take a hold of the situation; removing them completely out of the equation is wrong.

    moi: i did not say islam was a source of the problem nor the mentality that advocates it as a solution to everything. moreover there are a thousand and one sources to the problems we’re facing, not just governments.

    my post is saying that education is merely the better option in this day and age.

    drima: i absolutely agree

  • Can I actually talk more about the Tourism and Hospitality Career the Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Forum is holding on 31 July 1 August at the Zara Expo. Its a first time event in the tourism sector, its aim is to bring school leavers and university graduates who are about to enter the labour market directly with employers who will tell them directly of the job opportunities that are increasing in the tourism sector. We are constantly being told 5000 extra jobs are being created every year in tourism from across the board whether they are in hotels, travel agents, restaurants, tourism parks and so on. The career forum will provide wisitors with a great opportunity to look around and maybe shop around from employers that are not just in Amman but all over the Kingdom to see for them selves.

  • Interesting Nas, Even religion needs an excellent base of education. I always think and wonder about the fact that the first word of the message of Islam was a one word command READ!

    Why this word? Education, I guess!

  • as-salaam alaikum
    I think you dont understand how “Islam is the solution” because you are unaware of the totallity of Islams teachings – you think it is “filling up a mosque” – no it isn’t -Islam covers all aspects of human life
    e.g economics . For example were zakat to be properly paid Muslim poverty would vanish. Were Islamic principles applied in business there would be greater honesty transparency and less corruption.

    In most Arab countries when people have had a choice they have voted for Islamic governance – what do they know that you dont? What have secular governmants brought to the Muslim world?

  • Munir, this is not about what Islam preaches, but what people want to believe.

    as for islamic governance…poor people will vote for whoever benefits them…right now the brotherhood is the most beneficial and most heavily funded.

    so do not confuse the failure of arab governments with the success of a religious party…or more specifically the success of religion

  • I guess that attacking any attempts to build a society based on Islamic foundations is becoming one hot trend, specially among young Muslims, forgive me if I found this sad!
    Don’t get me wrong, I know that the article had good intentions (if you well) and I won’t be surprised if I found myself quoting much of what been mentioned there as a supporting argument.

    BUT let me use a quote from one of jubran khalil jubran’s writings about the ottoman ruling (this’s not the exact words btw): I don’t fight the sick body I just despise the sickness. This is it, this’s what we should be concentrating on: getting to know the real Islamic basis: saying no to whoever tries to limit our great religion to a set of rules on what to wear, eat, or drink. But then again, we should also stand solid against people who think Islam fits in only mosques! No, this should never be the case! Prophet Moh’d came as teacher and a state leader as well! Now if I am to adopt secularism then I shall throw piles and piles of quran and hadith!

    Yes, education is very important, but I don’t think it should be the starting point! I believe we can set off by establishing a solid ethical background, and here’s where the real discussion starts and my mouth (or hands) runs out of words.

Your Two Piasters: