Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Let Us Reshape Our Society

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi • kbatarfi@al-madina.com

When people move from one culture to another they often experience culture shock. When I returned from the United States, after my five years spent there studying, I was shocked to find that things had changed here dramatically to the extent that people had become polarized.

I would go to a mall and see girls completely covered, hands included. Nearby, girls less modestly dressed eyed boys wearing the latest Western fashions, exchanging signs and mobile phone numbers. Between the people who adopted these two different lifestyles, disagreement and anger had grown to unprecedented levels.

Adnan is a perfect example of “let’s-live-as-we-please” attitude. He despises conservatives, wants to study anything but religion, and demands cinemas, discos, bars, top-less beaches... with no religious police. If all this doesn’t come soon, he says he will consider going to live in the United States.

Walid, on the other hand, does not allow TV and music at home. His wife and daughters do not answer the phone, less a strange male is on the other end. They only go out when it is absolutely necessary. Walid believes travel to foreign countries should only be allowed under special circumstances, such as studying. Learning about the hereafter is more important to him than about this passing journey we call life. Anyone of a different race, religion and school of thought is a complete mystery to him.

What about moderation? What about the rest of us who live between these two extremes? Fortunately, we do exist. The problem is that we lack voice and willpower. We go about our life, trying to pass through the chanting and shouting parties without provoking them or taking sides. We discuss our ideas only among ourselves. While occasionally we may get into a heated debate with one side or the other, in the final analysis we don’t count.

What the world sees, what we see, is a polarized society, with each camp trying to impose its ideas on the rest. Whose fault is this? I contend it is ours — the moderate, tolerant and worldly. We are not united or organized, we don’t advocate a cause, and we don’t contribute to the reshaping process of our society. We don’t even have a name.

As a first step, may I suggest a definition of who we are? We are people who believe in a rich, tolerant, open and diverse Islam — an Islam that accommodates all schools of thought with similar principles and values. We believe in a dialogue with other religions and different schools of our own. We respect the other and believe in mutual and individual responsibility toward the building of a peaceful world where we share resources, exchange knowledge and human skills, and work collectively to safeguard the global environment, peace and human rights.

And what should we call ourselves?

I would suggest: Muslims.

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