“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Holy Qur’an 49:13]
While browsing through the social media and looking at all the salutations and greetings of Happy New Year something dawned on me that hadn’t in the past.
We didn’t say “Happy Julian New Year” Or “Happy Western New Year” or “Happy ……Caucasian? New Year” we simply said, “Happy New Year” as if it was the default new year for the whole world.
Yet here I am in Singapore, a majority Chinese country. It is interesting because just around the corner in February we will be celebrating ‘Chinese New Year‘. Even the Chinese call it ‘Chinese New Year‘ and not just simply ‘New Year‘. I wonder if they too have been conditioned by Euro-centric worldviews.
The greetings that are exchanged during this time is the phrase: “gong xi fa chai” which can be translated as: ‘may you see an increase in wealth‘ or ‘may you be favored with more fortune‘.
In a multi-cultural world of globalization clearly the narrative favours the West.
Just think about geographical terminology like ‘The Middle East’ or the ‘Far East‘.
If I went to Japan and asked someone there where Far East is for them where do you think they would direct me?
Clearly the starting point the lens through which we are viewing the world is through a lens that is manufactured. A world view in which a Euro-centric view determines truth concerning geography and much much more.
ISLAM AND THE WEST?
This phrase is seen again and again. What does that actually mean? Islam and the West? Does that mean that Islam is the East? Is the phrase an ‘othering‘ of Islam?
If by the West it means the Western hemisphere it would deeply problematic for a number of reasons. That is because Iceland, Portugal and Ireland are the only European nations that are truly Western.
There are more Muslim majority countries that are truly Western than there are European nations that are.
Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Senegal they are more numerous than Iceland , Portugal and Ireland.
The two European countries that are mostly in the Western Hemisphere are again outnumbered by Muslim majority countries that are mostly in the Western Hemisphere.
Europe has England and Spain while Africa has Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali.
Again the one European country that probably is considered very Western is actually only partially Western. It is only partially in the Western Hemisphere, and that is France.
France itself is tied with, out of all countries ironically Algeria.
Are Australians considered ‘Westerners‘? They are not even in the Western Hemisphere. In fact a whole host of nations that are considered, ‘Western‘ are not even in the Western Hemisphere.
Among them are the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Denmark [excluding Greenland], Belgium, Sweden etc.
None of them are ‘Western‘.
The majority of the former Roman Empire are Eastern based upon this division of the hemispheres.
Why is it said ‘Islam and the West‘ and not ‘Islam and the East‘ ?
The Eastern Hemisphere has Russia, China, Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea among others that are not Muslim majority nations. This list alone is 3 billion 33 million people who are not Muslims.
So if ‘Islam and the West‘ what does that actually mean?
Where did this idea of a Prime Meridian and East and West hemisphere come from?
“The prime meridian is the line of 0 longitude, the starting point for measuring distance both east and west around the Earth.”
“The prime meridian is arbitrary, meaning it could be chosen to be anywhere. Any line of longitude (a meridian) can serve as the 0 longitude line. However, there is an international agreement that the meridian that runs through Greenwich, England, is considered the official prime meridian.”
In almost an act of magic these people were able to foist an allusion upon the world. What we know was the ‘Eastern Hemisphere‘ and the ‘Western Hemisphere‘ is mere slight of hand.
Is the ‘West‘ unified in it’s world view? Does the ‘West‘ have a singular world vision? There are no political or ideological divides?
It should be noted that in the past all Muslim majority areas where under the control or influence of European powers at one point. What is also interesting to note that is that these European powers completely dominated Muslim majority areas, militarily, economically, academically, you name it.
This particular manifestation of European power over Muslim majority areas was a conservative vision of the world. Those European powers were not liberals. They were Christian powers. They were everything that some Muslims may dislike in today’s reassurance of the political right, except in those times they were completely unhindered and unrestrained.
Yet, something we don’t ponder often….we are still here.
Something else that I have noticed in life. If a person wears a suit and tie or a business suit someone will comment, “you look smart.” Yet I have never heard this directed at anyone who wears the traditional dress of the Chinese, Malays, Arabs or anyone else.
So if a Chinese wears a cheongsam is it not smart? Who makes these rules?
Now one could argue about what maybe appropriate attire on certain occasions for example: Not wearing loose clothing around machinery.
Take a look at the Chinese cheongsam. It is elegant, smart and tasteful.
Where as to me western ‘smart‘ dress is dull, drab and lifeless. I personally do not equate intelligence with dullness and lifelessness. It is the same or similar fashion that is often used at funerals. So that just proves my point that it’s somber. What is the point of a tie?
To me it always seemed like a leash. Why do I want to wear this garment that essentially is an arrow pointing at my genitalia?
What is also interesting in this context is that usually in the business world women have a greater degree of flexibility in what they wear to the office over men.
The whole of this system is designed as a symbol of economic humiliation and reminder of the class system. The one’s who are more wealthy, will wear more opulent clothing. Or often they will ‘dress down‘ to show they don’t have to abide by rules they set for others.
Contrast this with a nation like Bahrain, Qatar or Oman where people in the office may all virtually be wearing white even the big boss. You tell me which is more egalitarian?
In an office in Manhattan you have to impress with the way you dress, the style of watch your wearing or the shoes you picked up. In an office in Dubai it is your personality that needs to shine.
I always had respect for Manmohan Singh wearing his Turban during the various G7 and G20 nations. It is something to be admired and respected by Muslims. That with this day and age and immense pressure to give up one’s culture and adopt a ‘euro-centric look‘, the Sikh men have maintained their attachment to the turban.
I am also reminded of a time in which tourist came to the Sultan Masjid in Singapore. When I received them they had asked me where do the women pray?
I replied: Traditionally women had remained at home to be care takes of the children but as their roles in society change or they take on additional responsibilities Masjids make more and more room for women congregants. In this particular Masjid, the Sultan Masjid women pray up stairs. In some Masjids women pray behind the men or side by side with a partition in the middle.
So woman asked , ‘Why do the women pray behind the men.’ At first I reminded the visitors of the various postures of the prayer and that they can be distracting for the opposite sex. Second I also reminded that in the city of Mecca during the pilgrimage men and women intermingle during the prayer.
Lastly I wanted to press home the point about perception and how perception can often be the cause of how we interpret information. So I positioned myself in front of one man in their group.
I asked, ‘Who is standing in front of whom?’ ‘Am I standing in front of him or is he standing in front of me?’
They could also see that it was subjective. It depends on a person’s perspective or perception. So again I said likewise it is important to understand that where a person is in the rows and lines in prayer does not indicate proximity to the divine as does the condition of one’s heart.
Muslims do not believe that Allah [swt] occupies space/time. The men are no more closer to Allah [swt] in the prayer hall than the women are further away from Allah [swt].
What about this picture from NASA showing ‘you are here‘ in the cosmos?
What do you suppose those coordinates are?
I’ll give you another example. If you want you yourself can read and research about this so called worrying trend of the ‘Arabization of Malaysia‘.
So now it is o.k if the Malays want to adopt European and U.S American style of clothing but they absolutely must not adopt an Arab style of dress.
Why is this a problem?
There are various cultural influences upon people in Malaysia today, Japanese, South Korean, European, U.S American and Arabian. Why is it only when Malay people adopt Arabic words, greetings, and/or customs it is problematic but it is completely o.k for them to adopt European, U.S American culture?
People may like it or not but there is practically an ‘ization‘ of everything on the planet. What is interesting is why certain types of ‘ization‘ are acceptable and others are not.
“To Allah belong the east and the West: where ever you turn, there is the presence of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing.” [Holy Qur’an 2:115]