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Arab Awakening

March 17, 2011 by  


By Prof. Kancha Ilaiah

The Arab world is on an earth-shaking course of revolutionary transformation. No political pundit could anticipate such a turn of events since they underestimated the revolutionary potential of Islam. All of them thought that Islamic political thought has no rejuvenating energy. But they have been proved wrong.

In this context, there is a need to re-visit the socio-political discourse of Prophet Mohammed (s) and develop a new understanding of his spiritual politics.

The Islamic concept of God became universally understandable and acceptable only after the Prophet made it philosophically valid following his struggle against the idol worshippers among Arab tribes.

The Prophet (s) dismantled the structures of idol worship and instituted the practice of praying to an abstract God among the Arabic tribes that were warring against one another over their idols. For them, a God creating all human beings equal was unthinkable.

That was the primary democratic principle — in the eyes of God all human beings are absolutely equal — that the Prophet established among those warring tribes. This established the notion of spiritual democracy among backward and self-destructive tribes. By doing so the Prophet  (s) changed the route of social change in the Arabic world, which otherwise would have slipped into caste brutalism as it happened in India. Or it would have followed the African path.

But by inspiring the tribes to pray to Allah, the Prophet (s) transformed the men and women of the Arab world into philosophically more advanced people than the other Asians, who were struggling between animism and idol worshipping cultures.

Though Christianity took its followers out of the idol worshipping ethic, the Church did encourage the worship of Jesus Christ and Mary. Ironically, though born as an Asian (Israelite) religion, Christianity attracted the Europeans more than the Asians in its early days.

But Islam expanded into the Asian continent very rapidly. Within 200 years of the Prophet’s (s) death it had spread far and wide.

While Jesus tried to separate the political realm from the spiritual, the Prophet combined political and spiritual theory into one in a much more nuanced and moral way. That seems to be developing into a democracy of its own model.

The present democratic revolutions in the Arab world are more spiritual-political than what Europe had seen in the 19th and 20th centuries. They might result in a re-interpretation of the Islamic notion of democracy on the one hand and change the meaning of secularism on the other. Though the notion of God was very much part of the Euro-American revolutions, secularism was made the core anchor of those revolutions.

The Arab revolutions seem to be evolving a different language of political science. How these revolutions negotiate with the notion of secularism is yet to be seen.

The European mode of secularism does not disconnect itself from the notion of God. This is very clear from many Euro-American constitutions, which use the notion of God in their preamble.

Islam seems to be re-negotiating its relationship to politics and democracy differently. The Prophet (s) has more substantial claim to be a political philosopher than Jesus, as he led the community and his sons-in-law became the initial rulers as Khalifs.

There is an attempt to belittle the Arab revolutions by describing them as “Jasmine Revolutions”. On the contrary they have the potential to re-position not only the Islamic world but the whole world.
In the Asian continent the implications of these revolutions would be huge. China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even India and Sri Lanka have not evolved their democratic cultures through mass revolutions.

In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the British-imposed systems of democracy survive. They sustain inequalities, unemployment, illiteracy, and so on. China evolved a communist culture through a revolution but that culture is very fragile and cannot be compared with the Islamic cultures, which have a cementing commonality across nations rooted in one God, one Book and one Prophet (s).

If that cultural commonality is used for transforming the political systems of nations, no civilisation would match the Islamic civilisation.

If the present trend is any indication, Samuel Huntington’s thesis of Clash of Civilisations would not only fall apart but possibly be turned on its head —to “Collusion of Civilisations.” The same Arab world that the West once thought had no imagination of its own would make that collusion possible.

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