Globalization: Some Ground Realities & an Islamic Response

Every age has its own fads and cliches. In contemporary times, ‘globalization’ seems to have become one; at least a sizeable section of the intellectual and political community of the world surmises so. Reservations aside, the developments of the past two decades suggest that globalization no longer seems to be a mere fad or cliche; it is assuming the position of a framework for a re-ordering of the world. As such, it is incumbent on the Muslim ummah in particular and the people of the third world in general to have a deeper understanding of what is going on. They must be able to sift the grain from the chaff; to identify those aspects of globalization that are useful, and as such desirable and acceptable, and those that are injurious and need to be resisted, modified or adapted to suit their conditions, needs and aspirations. The claim of inevitability and universality has to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, the response should be positive as well as creative, since isolation and autarky are not the best options.

Globalization is not new. As far as the Muslim ummah is concerned, its existence is based on certain universal values, articles of faith, and principles, which provide the intellectual and conceptual foundations for globalization. The Muslims believe in Allah, the Lord of the worlds and the Creator of the heavens and the earth. They believe in all the Prophets of Allah and the Qur'an testifies that these Prophets and their followers belong to one ummah.

The Qur'an makes it very clear that though human beings have been made into tribes and nations - something natural and inevitable - this has been done for mutual identification only. All human beings, races and ethnic groups are equal and the only basis for superiority, greatness and leadership is moral excellence. The Qur’an says: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware” (49:13).

So the conceptual framework of Islam and the Muslim ummah, even by definition, has a global dimension. In fact, it may rightly be claimed that Islam provides, par excellence, the intellectual and moral foundations for an appropriate and sustainable conceptual framework for globalization.

Historically, the Muslim ummah is the best example of a universal community. From the flood in the age of Prophet Nuh (Noah) to our own times, the spread of this ummah is and has been global. Today, there are some 57 independent Muslim states inhabited by over 900 million people, and over 400 million more Muslims are spread throughout the rest of the world. Consequently, in every part of the world, there is Muslim presence - in most cases, quite a significant one.

Globalization as a political, economic, cultural and technological process is not very new. Throughout history, there have been waves of globalization, the critical vehicles for this process being migration, trade and conquest. What is indeed new in our times, however, is the spread, the scope, the speed, and finally, the structure that is going to imbue the current trend towards global integration with liberalization, deregulation, privatization and the hegemonistic contours of capitalism and American power. These factors combined make the globalization of today, to a great extent, a unique phenomenon. It is in this context that limitations of time and space are being annihilated and the entire world is, willy-nilly, becoming one global city.

The most significant aspects of the contemporary phase relate to revolutions in technologies concerning transport and communication, particularly the processes of instant transfer of information. Swift global interactions and decision-making via new information systems are having far-reaching effects on the whole matrix of worldwide relations, including the movement of goods, services and financial flows. These represent developments with profound consequences, moral, ideological, economic, cultural and political.

In view of the dominant paradigm of power and civilization, America and Europe remain major players in the making of this new world order. American military power and its outreach, political influence, economic strength, command over technology and almost total control over media, bordering on virtual thought-control, have given globalization a distinct Euro-American identity. In the name of promotion of liberalization, privatization, market economy and modernization, the domination of Western norms, value-systems of life, socioeconomic institutions, and finally, political and economic interest is being established over the length and breadth of the world. Along with the state players, three other powerful actors are in the field, which are:

  1. The multinational corporations,
  2. The international NGOs and
  3. The media.

Together, they are playing a decisive role in bringing about what can be described as the emergence of a hyper-imperialism, giving it a benign name: 'globalization.’

There is nothing wrong with globalization per se; however, when the crucial ground realities that comprise the context of globalization are ignored, serious problems arise. A judicious and honest approach by the Muslim leadership towards addressing these realities is a must for affording some relief to the world that is at the suffering end.

Khurshid Ahmad


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.
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