Is globalization a threat to Islam: Bediuzzaman's response
Prof. Dr. Oliver Leaman, University of Kentucky-ABD
Nursi's concern at the imposition of Western values in Turkey and the rest of the Islamic world, at that time very well based, leads to an interesting discussion in his work of how the Islamic world should react to globalization. Even more interesting is his strong belief that this ideological attack would fail. Nursi saw the problem of globalization as largely coming from within not from without. Local Muslim intellectuals become distrustful of their culture and turn to the West. They feel that Islam is old-fashioned and unable to compete in the market for ideas with the sorts of views emanating from the West. To be modern people in a modern world in a modern country implies rejecting religion, or at least demoting it from the leading position which it might have had in the local culture.
Nursi's confidence in the success of Islam is based on sabr and tawakkul, two primary virtues which he sees to reside within Islamic culture . The move from the Old Said to the New Said is from the political to the personal, and these illustrate the significance of patience and trust in God. Relying on political change as the sole means of improving life is precisely not to be patient nor to trust in God, it is to take measures into one's own hands. Nursi is not advocating political quietism. When it is possible for the personal to be converted into the political, then this should be done, and the sorts of ideas about how people ought to live, what sort of social structure should prevail, these are all worth pursuing when it is feasible to do so .
Nursi saw the greatest threat to Islam being in the private and not the public sphere, in the ways in which individuals think. Globalization results in a general scientistic attitude to the world, to the idea that the world is ultimately scientifically explicable and that God does not play a significant part in the workings of the world. This belief in the importance of science is not necessarily antagonistic to Islam, Nursi himself insisted on the significance of science, but what he criticized was the belief that science explained everything . Here it is important to address the personal and not the political. On a political level one might agree that God was the creator of everything and science explained the actual nuts and bolts of his creation, but it is not easy to disentangle these beliefs, so that although one says that God is the creator, one really may not believe in his actual power over the world. One says that one believes it, but this is a formal general belief in a principle, not a real belief which one holds personally, something which infuses one's life with meaning. The danger of globalization is that it encourages people not only to live like Westerners, by which he means non-Muslims, but it encourages people to think like them, and the principles which Nursi thought characterized global culture is atheism and materialism.
Is he right? I shall argue that he has his sights on an interesting point here. Globalization as it has taken place over the last century or so is largely the imposition of materialist ideas on cultures which at least in principle were not materialist. They established within themselves a serious role for God, and within Islam that is illustrated by the lives of Muslims, their practices and beliefs. After globalization the practices and beliefs continue, and yet within a thoroughly changed context, one in which those beliefs and practices no longer have purchase on people's lives. What makes the situation so insidious is that they may well not realize what is happening, since they are behaving in the ways in which they have always behaved, but what that behaviour conceals is more revealing than what it displays. What it conceals is a real lack of trust in God, who has been replaced by a crude belief that the world operates in accordance with scientific principles which serve as the complete explanation of everything which happens. It is not that God and his role are denied, it is just that he is treated as someone who now exists in the background, someone to whom polite reference is appropriate, but no longer a key player in the business of life.
Why has globalization brought about this attitude? After all, the leading engine of the process is the United States, which in many ways is a deeply religious society, and whose inhabitants would be shocked to learn that their main cultural and economic products are believed to lead to the spread of atheism and materialism. It is certainly not the case that the global products include subtle references to Christianity, for example, and so are designed surreptitiously to convert Muslims. They do not also contain any direct anti-religious message or advocacy of atheism, and were they to do any of these things they would be less dangerous. What they do is to present a picture of the world in which God is absent, he does nothing of significance, he is something added on, as it were, and everything can proceed perfectly normally without him . That is the attitude to which Nursi was objecting, and which he thought so dangerous, and surely he has his finger on an important issue here. It is not enough for people to use a word like "God" for that word to have meaning, or at least to have the meaning they think it has. There is a saying that in the early years of Islam there was a reality which came to be called Sufism but it did not have a name. Now there is a name but no reality corresponding to it!
Walter Benjamin claimed that religion persists despite the existence of mass production because the fragmentation brought about by late capitalism produces in us a desire for sources of transcendence to counter modern industry's secularizing impulses. This transcendence may be replicated, albeit in a far weaker way, by entertainment and the mass media, something which Nursi noticed well before these forces took on their omnipresent form at the start of the twenty first century. He points out that in a Europe which has lost its faith the only way in which people can find a reason to live and have confidence in society is through the ubiquity of short-lived pleasure through the entertainment industry and also, more grimly, through force . After all, society is seen as a state of natural conflict, and only force and authority can stop people attacking each other. There is no overwhelming power to which most people give adherence any more, this was the case when Europe was properly Christian, according to Nursi, but in the twentieth century modernity is characterized far more by blunt economic and military power than it is by spirituality. Hence the identification of modernity of the wrong i.e. materialist kind with the dajjal, the Anti-Christ, with his one eye. He is one-dimensional in his concerns, and the materialist state is only interested in matter, in what pleasures it can acquire and pains avoid. Nursi refers to the Qur'an here, 'For the prayer of those without faith is nothing but wandering' (13:14). He contrasts this with the situation of the Muslim, or indeed the sincere Christian, who has confidence in God, and believes that 'To God we belong and to him is our return' (2:156).
This provides an indication of what might be regarded as an authentic version of globalization, the confidence that God is everywhere and as a result we should feel at home anywhere. Tarik, on crossing from Africa to Andalusia in his invasion of the Iberian peninsula, is supposed to have said
Every country is our country because it is the country of God
and got his troops to burn their boats. One of the reasons why Islam has been such a successful global religion is based on its ability to become local. This is called
glocalization, referring to the way in which the global becomes the local . Islam is so different in its various manifestations around the world, and as we know this is often decried as evidence of a basic lack of unity. But in fact it is a sign of strength, that Islam has been able to latch onto the particular individual cultures and interests of the communities which it has affected, and in turn has converted into a different sort of community, the umma, those very diverse collections of individuals. Although what comes about is indeed an umma, the ummat Islam is hardly homogenous, it is rather still marked by the local, by what preceded Islam. In an indication of this, God transmitted the Qur'an in Arabic, in the language of the jahalliya. He adapted his message to the local, as indeed all messengers and prophets do, since to do otherwise is to invite lack of communication. So the contrast between the global and the local is really not a meaningful contrast at all, the global can only spread around the world if it is capable of becoming local, and the local can only survive as local if it is prepared to link up with the global .
The internet is creating another language which is neither written nor oral, a world wide web made of images, sounds and written words . Dawa on the internet has proved to be very effective, so globalization has positive aspects for Islam also. In particular, the possibilities for the development of Islamic education are exciting, excellent teaching materials can be effortlessly acquired and used, and a wide gamut of different sorts of teaching techniques can be explored through this medium. One might worry that the very variety of material which can be accessed by computer makes globalization dangerous, the student who has visited some Islamic sites can also visit other sites which have no religious purpose or even an anti-religious purpose. As Nursi would put it, the forces of modernity have a dark side, the emphasis on materialism and human competition and conflict often gets in the way of the general message of scientific advance and intellectual enquiry, and these forces need to be fought. It is no good ignoring them and hoping that they will go away, if God wanted us to avoid such conflicts he would not have sent us to earth as his khilafa. When the angels are told to bow down to Adam they predict that if human beings are sent to earth and allowed to do as they wish, they will cause all sorts of problems and prove to be poor representatives of the divinity. It is clear from the surat al-baqarah (30-39) that God intends human beings to take charge not only of themselves but also of the world as a whole. The angels quite correctly pointed out that if human beings are allowed to be free this will result in corruption and bloodshed. Yet God still puts humanity in charge since he knew that we had the innate ability to manage our affairs appropriately. He provided guidance to human beings, which they required even more when they were consigned to this world, and their ability to sin became even greater, since in this world they were partially at least under the influence of Satan. We are free but we need to restrain ourself, and if we do not then violence can easily result. In fact, Satan refers to enmity as being something which is going to characterize life in this world. The interesting question which arises is how one can reduce this conflict which seems to arise naturally from life in this world and what it involves. Of course, as we know the angels were right, but God still sent us to earth, taught Adam the names of everything which exists there and sent guidance to humanity so that we might live well and in the right sort of way.
We often talk of globalization as though it were something very new, but it is not at all, the process of increasing in knowledge inevitably brings with it the possibility of acquiring knowledge which is not really worth having, knowledge which in fact may interfere with the primary process of acquiring knowledge, which is to know God, in so far as we can. This is not a novel problem but something which has characterized Islamic culture right from the beginning. Every generation thinks that the problems which confront it are unique and have never been seen before, but their predecessors knew this was not the case, the precise nature of the problems may be distinct but their presence and general form is all too familiar. God expects us to resolve these problems, with his guidance, and there is no reason to think that we are unable to do so. It is worth recalling here a Qur'anic passage of which Nursi was very fond,
'God is enough for us, and how excellent a guardian he is' (3:173)
This might be regarded as being unduly optimistic. After all, globalization is linked with hegemony and homogenization.And perhaps what has so far been argued is based on globalization as part of modernity, not postmodernity. Yet as Canlini argues, there is a big difference between modernity and postmodernity. The former is territorial and usually monolinguistic, while the latter is transterritorial and multilinguistic . Nursi clearly has in mind modern forms of globalization, not the postmodern. Postmodern forms of globalization are even more persistent and irresistible than the modern varieties. But there is no reason to think that the local has lost its significance even within postmodern society, unless the media images of globalization make sense to the local context, they will fail to have purchase in any case. When in the documentary film Runaway, Mrs Shirazi threatens a man that if he fails to treat a girl properly, and she runs away, she will take him to the International Court in the Hague  , the fact that Mrs Shirazi knows that there are other forms of legislation apart from the Islamic law of Iran is a result of globalization, but it is not essentially threatening to Islam. It is only threatening if adherence to Islam is so fragile that it is maintained through ignorance of any alternatives, and that is hardly a form of adherence which one would want to defend. Nursi is quite right to be confident of the ability of Islam to resist the forces of globalization, and indeed were he to be alive today he would welcome the role which Islam is now playing in presenting itself globally to a wide range of audiences. In fact, the culture of postmodernity is precisely appropriate to Islam, given its universal and inclusivist message, and Nursi would see globalization as presenting the Islamic world with more possibilities than problems.
 Yvonne Haddad (1999) ' Ghurba as a paradigm for Muslim life: A Risale-I Nur Worldview', The Muslim World (LXXXIX) 297-313
 One of the interesting aspects of globalization is that if Turkey joins the EC it will make the position of religion within Turkey more powerful, since many of the measures presently taken to restrict Islam will be judged anticonstitutional at the European Court when challenged. This is an example of globalization being the very opposite of a threat and another example where Nursi's confidence in the ability of Islam to survive the secular critique appears to be justified.
 Oliver Leaman (1999) 'Nursi's place in the Ihya` tradition', The Muslim World (LXXXIX), 314-24
 Oliver Leaman (1999) Brief Introduction to Islamic Philosophy, Oxford: Polity
 Nursi, Risale-I Nur, Seventeenth Flash, Fifth Note
 John Short (2001) Global Dimensions; Space, Place and the Contemporary World, London: Reaktion Books
 This is perhaps one of the reasons why we should be wary of the label salafi. It implies that there is something especially important about a particular set of local conditions, which of course there is, but what is important about those local conditions is really that they can be made global. 24Muslim World, tradition'oteotto & Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Women Make Moviesy_________________________________________________
 Naomi Sakr (2001) Satellite Realms: Transnational Television, Globalization and the Middle East, London: I.B. Tauris
 Consumers and Citizens, N.G. Canclini,(2001) trans.G. Yudice, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
 Runaway, directed by Kim Longnotto & Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Women Make Movies, London, 2001