Friday, 1 December 2017

The Making Of The 21st Century Muslim Kid

By Adamu Tilde

“Wisdom is to have both the courage and modesty to look into the mirror to see the ugly spots on your face, accepting your imperfections and deal with them.” Abubakar Gimba, paraphrased.

One of the biggest challenge the Muslim world is yet to sufficiently appreciate and understand is the dynamics of the modern world. The Muslim world could not keep up with the pace at which the world is changing, at least for now. The Muslim world is stunned and perplexed by the rate at which old and known frame of references are becoming obsolete while new and unfathomable ones are emerging. Today, a new type of discursive space – one that will foster a very different set of ideas – is burgeoning in the Muslim world. So, confusion is palpable albeit not excusable and justifiable.

The shrinkage and collapse of border where virtually there exists, relatively speaking, free movement among culturally distinct and socially different group of people has led to a cultural shock which the Muslim world is yet to comprehend and come to term with. The melting of cultures and invasion of alien traditions have led to a devastating effect where what was once considered a taboo has become fashion, and what was once fashionable has become out of place. The pervasiveness of the virtual world, by their nature, give marginalized social and political groups a space to organize, mobilize, and ultimately challenge the status quo.

Our problem, in my opinion, lies in our insistence on using old methods that worked well at other times, but are totally unsuitable for new and modern times, in all times. In effect, we are using methods suitable for a ‘closed society’ in what is clearly now an ‘open society’. We live in a world where time is shrinking, distance is ‘dying’ and almost all intermediation mechanisms between people, institutions and nature are daily being eliminated. Information on everything is available to just anyone and no special skill— or, even, literacy— is required to access it. And this, seemingly, set to continue unabated. In the following subheadings, I will try to discuss what the above description portends to the Muslim world:

Information Glut, Ignorance Glut
“In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the 21st century censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. People just don’t know what to pay attention to, and they often waste their time investigating and debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore. So of everything that happens in our chaotic world, what should we focus on?” Yuval Noah Harari.

Information is the cheapest and commonest means of empowerment and, as it is, requires no policy intervention to be obtained and used, at least as things are now. Much of this information offers appealing and refreshing alternative viewpoint together with evidence that rationalizes behavior(s). It is of little wonder, then, that it is the main weapon of change. But instead of confronting this fact and use the opportunity the Information Age presents by creating and communicating our own suitable alternatives, we are wasting time sermonizing, condemning, pointing accusing fingers and all. We have continued to say the same thing, do the same thing and expect change. And we are offended when charged with hypocrisy. Astonishing!

We have to find better and more effective, pragmatic and practical ways to manage information and use it to create the society we want. Once we are done, we must also have the capacity to enforce it. It is that simple. We cannot pretend to want a solution by failing to teach our kids morals and allowing someone else to do it and then feel content to lament the outcome.

The Death of Dogmatism
Given the breakthrough in the fields of Medicine, Genetic Engineering and Information Technology; and our penchant for empirical evidence, increasing curiosity to unravel the mystery of Nature, accepting information, pronouncements and (sometimes even) religious texts at face value is no longer tenable. Unquestionable belief and passive acceptance is a thing of the past. This is the reality an intending parent must come to term with in the 21st century and, perhaps, beyond. For instance, to think that your kid would accept hook, line and sinker the rational legality of killing a “gecko”, “magana da Aljanu”, “killing of apostate or blasphemer” for no other justifiable and comprehensible reason is to misconstrue “MTN Group” as a charity organization. Dogmatism is busy preparing its farewell speech, tell anyone.

Those in denial of this visible reality are potential victims of backhanded compliment. This was the case of Dr. Zaghloul al-Naggar, a founding member of the World Commission of Scientific Miracles in the Qur’an and Sunnah, who was recently assailed by a group of young Moroccan students headed by Najib Mokhtari for expounding theories of scientific bases for Islam and the Qur’an. In an interview on Al-Jazeera, Dr. Zaghloul al-Naggar claimed that Mecca is located at the center of the earth. Najib Mokhtari and other Moroccan students challenged this claim with empirical scientific evidence which proves that the earth is spherical and therefore all land is earth’s centers, meaning not only the Kaaba can be considered the world’s center since planet earth is actually round. 21st century parent should be prepared to deliver 21st century answers to the imminent salvos of questions from the 21st century kid who will be less appealed to the cultural-intrinsic apothegm “since the Imam said so, therefore Ma gana Ya kare.”

And the mention of reform due to the inevitable influence of time dynamics is been frown at or worse misconstrued to being apologetic. The need for rethinking our methodology of teaching Islam especially to our kids is critical to the survival of our religion. The privilege of being an accidental Muslim is gradually disappearing and the current system is not packaged in a way that will produce a Muslim by conviction particularly with the literalists occupying the driver’s sit in a world that is increasingly becoming more reasonable.

The impossible has now become a routine and yet most Muslims are associating faithfulness to their delusion of strict adherence to the ways of the past in practicing a religion that claims universality and timelessness. We are in an era of democratization of scholarship and the paradox in this case is that the voices that seems loudest are the less informed.

Resurgence and Rejuvenation of Rational Thinking
Perhaps, given the absolute power the Muslim leaders of the past commanded, and given the existence of central leadership, limited access to information or its deliberate suppression, or both, rational thinking as represented by the Mu’tazilite school of Islamic theology might have been forcefully suppressed or totally abolished in the Muslim world. What we are witnessing today in the Muslim world is the rejuvenation of such thought. Rational thinking is taking the centre stage. The 21st century kids are busy asking, probing, interrogating, searching and mapping the limit of faith and revelation and the boundary of rationality and reason.

Literalism would be worse hit in this millennium for its static, limited and non-malleable interpretation of text. To survive the tsunami of the 21st century, Muslims should get themselves prepared to answer earthshaking and nerve-shattering questions. “Why should I not eat Christmas food?”, “Where does fate end and freewill begin?”, “Does the destiny of a Muslim differ from that of a non-Muslim?”, “What is the scope, boundary and limit of preordainment and predestination?”, “For what reason should I hate non-Muslim even though it has been stated, clearly, that there is no compulsion in religion?”. With time, concepts like “Al wala wal bara” would become obsolete.

Battling Emergent Frame of Reference
The great scientist, Sir Isaac Newton in his magnum opus, ‘Principia Mathematica’, proposed later proven laws regarding motions of objects, and I, approvingly, quote the one termed as the Third Law: ” To every action, there is always equal and opposite reaction”.
A mere physical law, right? Well, not quite. The statement cuts across, virtually, all fields of knowledge contextually. That we (the Muslim world) cannot live in isolation, and neither immune to the menacing and penetrating effect(s) of globalization, this conscious (and even forced) choice of dancing to the allurement of the 21st century goodies comes with a price. Therefore, we should be ready to accept (willingly or not) the consequence of doing so. Parts of such consequences include the appealing and refreshing alternative viewpoints. A 21st century kid might just wake up one cool morning and declare to his father that “I am gay”, “Dad, I am a freethinker, I cannot hold on to that your belief system”, “I cannot make sense of this your faith, Dad. I think I am an Agnostic, maybe an Atheist”. Shockingly, you ask, “why?” He would reply, “It sounds cool”. Cool, huh?! It might happen, at the moment, that it is the coolest thing to do/be. A certain musician, author, actor, footballer said so. Blah, blah, blah.

Internet Boom and The Coming Culture War
Gone were the days when censorship of information was the norm and modus operandi in the Muslim world. The era of censorship has eloped with the Iron Cage of Policing Thought to a land of no return. The internet boom is here to amplify discourses that will challenge those rigidly conceived orthodox thoughts and traditions. The rise of these religion-critical discourses will in turn trigger a backlash from conservative forces who fear an uprooting of traditional beliefs and identities. The coming Tsunami of culture war should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for. Access to internet is now growing rapidly in the Muslim world. Internet penetration rates in Muslim-majority countries have long lagged behind but this state of affairs is changing. Internet boom is occurring in some of the most conservative societies on Earth, where ideas contrary to or critical of a strict interpretation of Islam are often stigmatized or even punished.

For instance, in Nigeria, conservative religious authorities have played a critical role in shaping public attitudes and establishing social norms. The growth in Internet penetration is gradually changing the monopoly once wielded solely by the conservative religious authorities. 21st century kids are hounded with information that bestow upon them the chutzpah to offer critical appraisal of thorny issues like blasphemy, apostasy, atheism et al and they are not voicing their perspectives from behind the shadows anymore. The Internet allows likeminded people from disparate corners of the world to find one another and create virtual communities. From Hadejia to Rabat to Brussels to Sydney, all it takes is a single click from 50-naira data. But is the virtual world the only safe refuge? No. The virtual world connects people who then proceed, in most cases, to establish offline connections and build social cohesion. The Iron Cage can no longer trap the 21st century kid. He is a citizen of a world that extends beyond his visual ambience. When he/she is stigmatized and ostracized in his native community for being intransigent towards the Iron Cage, there are now available tickets that can fly him/her to the other side of the Atlantic.

The Way Forward

Dear parent (experienced and intending ones), I am not a Prophet of Doom. These are just some of the uncomfortable truths that we may not wish to read or hear. It has always been our habit to dismiss anything we cannot comprehend with a wave of the hand as a heresy or taking the lazy route: finding consolation in exercise that would prevent us from thinking and taking the needed precaution, resorting to prayer like “God forbid, it is not my portion, I reject it, Allah kar kasa naga wannan lokaci”, and their cousins in illogicality. We are no stranger to complacency and indolence. Well, for your information, God does not work according to our whims. This needs no elucidation, I suppose.

What are ahead of us, if we really want to see our kids in our own image (to be and remain Muslims in the truest sense of the word), are two suggestions:

First of all, to embark on a journey to, and delve into, the muddle water of modern knowledge, no matter how ‘dirty’ we think it is. We should be part of knowledge producers not just mere consumers. We have to thoroughly study, understand and appreciate science. What is it? What does it seek to address or achieve? What are its limits? What are its truths and contradictions? How does it arrive at its conclusion?

Secondly, there is an exigent need to go back to our inherited tradition, re-read and re-interpret it and thoroughly understand and appreciate its essence— we can then come up with mechanisms and methodologies that do NOT work against science, but seek to harmonize the two for the benefits of our shared humanity. John F. Kennedy was quoted to have said: ” The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. We all know that the metaphorical ‘roof’ is getting damaged by the day, and the sun is still shining so favorably.



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