Islam, from its very beginning has been a global message. As one browses through the Holy Quran, they will find that it addresses the entire humanity and not just a race or community. Moreover, the first Islamic state established by Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was based on a written constitution (Pact of Medina) ensuring and protecting the rights of all minorities by which internationalizing the character of Medinian society. Through his last sermon, Holy Prophet (PBUH) gave a New World Order and a declaration of human rights. This was the initiation of globalization of the human society.
Initially, there should be a clear distinction between culture and society.
Culture defines the beliefs, values, behaviours, and material objects shared by a particular people. Various components such as symbols,languages and values exist in cultures. However, the similarities and differences in the symbols do not create any hindrance in the development of a multicultural society. For example, dogs are considered beloved household pets to the millions in the west but a regular meal to millions in China. Cows are sacred to the Hindus in India, however, they are routinely consumed by millions of other eastern and western communities. The fur coat may be a symbol of success to one and inhumane treatment of animals to another. These kinds of differences exist even in uni-cultural societies, for they are based upon options, priorities and preferences. We have to find ways to harmonize different cultures and find the commonalties on which we can base the multiculturalism of a society upon.
Society refers to people interacting within a limited territory, which is guided sometimes by religion, culture, laws, customs, morality and sometimes by a mixture of all of these factors. Hence, we can neither exclude any of these elements from the process of the development of a culture, nor can we be bound to include all of these elements in the process of globalization of culture. They hold their relevance in the process of culturalization.
Integration of Cultures
There are two aspects of integration: Societal and Cultural.
As far as societal integration is concerned, the ethnic minorities become an integral part of the society by residing, following the laws, sharing the many social and cultural values and working together for the promotion of societal betterment.
Cultural integration is an outcome of cultural interaction, and cultural interaction cannot occur without an inter-cultural dialogue. Although it requires both the majority and the minority groups to create an environment of integration, the initial responsibility lies upon the majority.
This cultural interaction cannot take place without initiating the process of cultural openness. We must be open to listen to the problems, the priorities and the demands of all of the cultures irrespective of the fact whether the culture belongs to the majority or to any other ethnic minority. This in turn would lead to an environment of multiculturalism. It is important to promote the commonalties between cultures and at the same time appreciate the differences in arealistic and democratic manner. Solutions cannot be imposed. They emerge in a realistic and democratic way in our society, which in turn resolves conflicts.
Types of commonalties on which bridge-building can take place
There are many commonalties between the Islamic and the Western societies. Autonomy, vitality, education, morality, spiritual contentment, working ethics, social harmony, global outlook, religious and social services, cultural activities, and environmental and ecological changes are just a few basic commonalties on which multiculturalism may be promoted.
Another factor on which the process of globalization of culture maybe established is Human Rights. Islam is the founder and the best promoter of the concept of human rights and participatory democracy. When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) established a political society in Medina after his migration, he established a society based on devolution of power and participation of public and democratic process in power. He established local bodies consisting of ten representatives headed by a counselor and 10 counselors headed by a chief counselor. They they were appointed as the member of provincial or federal council. Hence, Islam introduced and practically implemented the process of the participation of the public in the process of power. Subjects as such can easily be the basis for the establishment of globalization.
Standards of success and achievements, activity and work, material comforts, practicality and efficiency, progress and futuristic advancements, science and technology, freedom of individual choice and individual initiative and other elements as such are the basic commonalties on which we can easily establish the idea of a multicultural society.
No Dual Standards
As far as the factual position is concerned, the media has dual standards for the Western World and for the Islamic World. Whenever acase of violent criminality occurs in any western country, the media looks into the social factors behind the occurrence, including gender, youth, race, socio-economic background, personal factors, biological, psychological or psychiatric factors or even ecological factors. But as soon as any kind of issue takes place that involves a Muslim, instead of blaming the wrongdoers, the attack is directly placed upon Muslims and ultimately Islam. The relevance of socio-economic factors or personal factors is overlooked. The presentation and the analysis of the events should be the same.
One thousand years ago, when Europe, in its entirety, was not developed, scientifically, academically and culturally, it was said to be in its dark ages. However, during this period it was Islam that was the torchbearer. It was Islamic Spain, Islamic Grenada, Islamic Baghdad, Islamic Damascus; in short, it was the Islamic world which was spreading the light of science, technology, culture and civilization along with a complete interaction of Islamic and Christian culture and faith which initiated the process of globalization. Hence, Islam has been an integral part of the European society for about 1000 years, sometimes in a ruling capacity and sometimes jointly living together with communities.
Only in the last two – three centuries was it that the Muslims lost their involvement, however, they have again returned to it.
There is a very clear lack of communication which the western society is not recognizing. This is what leads to distorted visions and misguided opinions about Islam. The western population does not have a true picture of Islam and has only gained their present opinion from their own media. That is why if there is any single minor incident through which any negative inference can be drawn in the Muslim world, it is highlighted and propagated in the media and for days ongoing debates start on the subject. Whereas, thousands of positive points are neglected so that bridge-building between the cultures is made impossible.
What sort of misunderstandings exist?
It is a common belief of many westerners that minorities possess no rights in Islamic countries such as Pakistan. On the contrary, the Islamic State of Pakistan is much more liberal towards the minorities as compared to the Western World towards its minorities.
Rights of minorities in the Islamic State of Pakistan
Minority rights are constitutionally guaranteed and protected, political rights are guaranteed, seats in all levels of government are reserved for minorities from the local to district to provincial and right up to the parliament. Many MPs, senators, ministers and counselors are those from a minority group and fully participate in the political process of Pakistan.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Cornelius was a practicing Catholic Christian. There are also many army generals belonging to minorities and many minority members can be found in executive departments in the country.
There is no ban, no barrier, and no condition disabling the minorities to hold government offices. They can freely build their churches, hold their religious or cultural activities, and enjoy their festivals.
Many Christian missionary schools, colleges, and institutions are operating in the country. There exist open dialogue forums such as the MCDF (Muslim Christian dialogue forum), of which I am the elected chairman and Bishop Azraya is the vice-chairman. MCDF, PAT and Minhaj-ul-Quran International Movement have announced a joint peace walk between Muslims and Christians on the biggest road in Pakistan, “Mall Road”, to raise slogans and protection of minority rights.
The practical answers to various questions on cultural diversity and lack of real integration do not lie on ethnocentrism – the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s own. Nor do they lie in uni-culturalism – absorbing all ethnic cultures into one.
On the 23rd of April, ’99 there was a conference held in Berlin on different cultures and the future of relations on Western and Islamic societies. A declaration on this agenda for future action was announced known as the Berlin Declaration. I endorse this agenda and declaration.
We have to come towards global wholesome, global unity but it is only possible through global mutuality.
We need to take steps at the education and research level at primary and secondary education. At the same time at higher education and scholarly levels, there should be inter-cultural teacher training courses and intercultural research should be initiated at graduate levels in various colleges, universities and institutions. There should be academic interaction between various cultures, which would lead to practical interaction and practical integration. They should be designed on a media level and an ethical code of conduct on media and journalists should be established. Democracy does not give one right to paint a false picture of anyone. There should be a law placing a ban on the assassination of anyone’s character. There should be multi-national dialogues so that people may have direct access and direct information regarding various cultures and ethnic minorities and their religious and cultural backgrounds.
In the light of UN’s declaration of human rights and the Counsel of Europe on Minority Affairs, there should be a declaration on this particular point of ethnic minorities, the treatment of cultural and ethnic minorities so that we may work in the right direction to achieve the process of globalization.
I hope that we work upon these basic outlines, by which we will finally be able to remove the unhealthy feelings, and are able to create a healthy environment of practical interaction at academic and social levels.
(Mr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri is a prominent Pakistani scholar and politician.)