The New Colossus

Whether Islam is a “world system” in and of itself, or whether Islam is merely a transformative force within the existing world system is a question which boggles the minds of many scholars and wonks. What is reasonable to believe, however, is that in terms of economic matters, Islam supports some sort of management and regulation over capitalism and the division of labor, given Islam’s social welfare dimensions. Islam is not against capitalism or the division of labor, but on the other hand, Islam recommends some sort of management and regulation over capitalism and the division of labor due to the aforementioned social welfare dimensions of Islam.

In terms of social issues, however, Islam is largely laissez-faire in its approach. Islam was founded and started at a time when Arabia was a global commercial hub where prostitution was normal and permitted, art and music were manifest, alcohol was rampant and freely available, and while homosexuality and transsexuality were not things that were common, they were not criminalized either. Also, Jews, Christians, and Pagan Arabs were living in relative harmony with one another in 7th century Arabia. The Prophet Muhammad’s in-laws from his first marriage were Christians, and Jews often took an interest in engaging with the Prophet Muhammad on intellectual and scholarly issues. The city of Medina – where the locals gave refuge and supported the Prophet Muhammad when he began his political struggle against the elites of Mecca – was a resort town matched perhaps only by the likes of Las Vegas or Amsterdam in terms of openness and laxness.

But in terms of governance and politics, Islam is largely a “quietist” tradition. “Democracy” or “Authoritarianism” are irrelevant to an Islamic outlook, as long as the authorities and politicians are rightly guided by the intellectual and spiritual elites of their society. Also, contrary to what many folks might believe, Islam is not a revolutionary or revisionist force. Maintaining the status quo takes priority over revolution and upheaval in Islam, given that revolution and upheaval often leads to a situation that is much worse than the status quo.

Thus, the change and reform which Islam calls for is distinct from revolution and upheaval, which is why Islamic scholars like Ali Shariati and others concluded that Marxism does not fit within the Islamic mold and is perhaps even a logical fallacy. Although Marx conveyed many truths, Marxism and Islam do not arrive at the same basic conclusion regarding the essence and nature of change and reform.

Rather than limiting itself to economic, political, and social issues, Islam is largely an ideal which transcends these aforementioned issues and in turn is anthropological and unitive in its approach towards knowledge and information. Aside from the main texts of Islam, the life of the Prophet Muhammad – a man who was loved and revered by people from many different racial and religious backgrounds – is a focal point in the understanding of the transcendent nature of Islam. Because the life of the Prophet Muhammad is the sole focal point of Islam aside from the main texts of Islam, and given that the life of the Prophet Muhammad was defined by numerous sacrifices and tragedies, one of the core beliefs of a Muslim is that if a man with the stature of the Prophet Muhammad had to go through such sacrifices and tragedies, then it is incumbent upon the rest of humanity to experience some sort of sacrifice and tragedy as well.

Hence, rather than being an anomaly or aberration, grief, sacrifice, and suffering are at the heart of the mental and spiritual dispositions of a Muslim. Yet, while grief and sacrifice are held close to the heart and mind of a Muslim, the paradox is that one of the core tasks of a Muslim is to help others overcome such grief and suffering. The lowly, poor, and oppressed take precedence over the powerful, famous and wealthy, because grief and suffering is a focal point of the basic transcendence of Islam over economic, political, and social matters. Hence, the misconceptions and misunderstandings towards Islam on the part of many people, even on the part of many people who deem themselves to be Muslim or are born in Muslim households.

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