Aversion as well As AttractionSocieties are changing everywhere - but the Islamic world must find its own way to modernity
"How to win friends and influence people" is a book that was written by the American author Dale Carnegie and became a bestseller in the 1950s. ‘How to make enemies and lose the hearts and minds of people’ is a drama currently being enacted in many regions of the world. The successful book about making friends has in the past given invaluable advice to millions of readers, who used it to be more successful or popular in life, and to have an influence on other people. It could do with another book like this today to tilt the opinion of political leaders into a more constructive and positive line of thinking and acting! It is the Americans, above all, who should try to understand the mentality of the nations that make up the Islamic world, if they are sincere about wanting to make friends among them and spread freedom and democracy. After all, in an authentic Hadith, Prophet Muhammad has said about choosing friends: And we should stay away from that who is not well mannered and gives no attention to what Islam is about or what pleases or displeases Allah, for he’ll surely affect us negatively.
In his book, Dale Carnegie refers to historical figures to prove his points. For instance, Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), the famous American author, publisher, scientist, politician and philosopher was tactless and full of blunder in his youth, but he worked so hard at himself, that he became extremely adept at handling people and was made American Ambassador to France. Here he was able to negotiate the US-French Treaty of Alliance in 1778, his country’s first foreign alliance. The secret of his success?
"I will speak ill of no man," he said”... and speak all the good I know of everybody. Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – The author Dale Carnegie argues that, in order to be taken seriously, respect for the other man's opinions must be shown, and one should try honestly to see things from the other person's ideas and desires: “Let the other man save his face. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.”
Such understanding and insight into the psyche of human beings has helped millions of people run their lives in a more constructive and successful way.
Societies everywhere are currently undergoing deep changes, as we are turning into a global village with different nationalities becoming our neighbours, whether we fully appreciate their customs and traditions or not. There is attraction as well as aversion between the groups. Understanding these new neighbours, finding out about their needs, and learning about the background of their sometimes so very different reactions, has become vital if societies around the world are to run smoothly and without too much upheaval. Capital, goods, services, information and people travel freely from one country to another and turn us all into global competitors for money and resources. With the easy flow of data via the computer, large sections of society need not limit their loyalty to the country and the people in their surroundings. They can remain loyal to the culture, the relatives and friends far away, with whom they may be in constant and immediate touch. The impact of this new phenomenon can be extreme. Western societies with their growing number of Muslim immigrants must try to convince them of following a different set of laws which places more emphasis on individual rights and choices, rather than on collective or family pressure. However, western societies themselves are also forced to search their conscience and redefine their approach to daily life.
Immigrants therefore have no easy task in finding a balance between their two worlds and dual loyalties. Being forced to - or perhaps voluntarily - living in one place physically, yet feeling culturally loyal to another, forces all the sides in society to find a compromise – based on the values they have in common.
Islam has been present in Europe for a long time – it is here to stay and is at present also becoming more popular. With the world changing at a faster pace than anybody has been able to predict, with values becoming so diverging and uncertain, turning to religion gives the familiar comfort needed and provides support as well as identity. The term “European Muslims” was coined back in the 19th century for those followers of Sunni Islam who follow the legal school of Abu Hanifa. They were to be differentiated from Arab Muslims. The term was therefore applied to those Muslims who live in Turkey - three per cent of its territory lies on the European continent – as well as in Russia and the Balkans.
Statistics say that on the entire European continent – including Poland, the Baltic States and Russia, there are as many as 53 million Muslims. In the European Union the figure hovers around 14 million.
Interest in Islam has become manifest in Germany many decades ago. Back in 1927, a student from Syria, Mohammed Nafi Tschelebi, founded the institute ‘Islam-Archive’ and began to collect valuable documents. He not only wanted to build bridges between the Islamic world and Germany, but also to create a cultural and spiritual centre. The Second World War interrupted this important work, but in 1956 reconstruction began, and in 1982 the headquarters were moved to Soest in Westphalia, and the institute was then directed by Salim Abdullah. Mr Abdullah is the son of a Bosnian Muslim who works as a journalist, specializing on his expert knowledge of Islam. Momentarily the Islam-Archive owns the biggest collection of Islamic texts known to exist in Germany. 600.000 documents and more than 300.000 data on the history of Islam can be found in this archive. 150 daily newspapers, magazines, press releases and material from news agencies are evaluated regularly for this purpose. The institute also owns a valuable collection of Koran editions in the German language. Salim Abdullah has in the past been chosen to head the German section of the Islamic Congress at the United Nations and has been a member of the governing board of the World Islamic Congress.
Besides collecting documents, the Islamic Archive Institute (Zentralinstitut Islam-Archiv e.V.) carries out an annual survey among the approximately three million Muslims in Germany. The survey is sponsored by the Ministry for Home Affairs. For this purpose, the institute has interviewed 1.000 Muslims and 13 Muslim organisations. For 2005 it has ascertained a number of facts: There have been 1.152 conversions to Islam, an increase of 46 % compared to the previous year. There are around 14.352 Muslims of German origin. There have also been more conversions from Islam to Christianity, most of whom are Iranian Shiites. On average, there are around 60 conversions from Islam to Christianity per year. Of the approximately three million Muslims in Germany, twelve per cent are organised in one of the many Islamic communities. It is estimated that around 30 % of all Muslims living in Germany visit a mosque regularly. Others seek representation through other groups, such as political parties or civil initiatives. There is the organisation called “Shura” for instance, which was first established in Hamburg and Lower Saxony, and which is currently enjoying much popularity. These associations are not affiliated to any concrete Muslim organisation and were set up in order to discuss problems together and find solutions. There are around 47 of such Islamic communities and the number is growing.
Landscapes are visibly changing, too. As many as 143 classical mosques have so far been inaugurated in Germany. Another 128 are to be built. Out of the existing mosques, 100 belong to “DITIB”, behind which the Turkish ministry for religion in Ankara is the responsible body. Three are sponsored by the Islamic World League in Mecca. Ten belong to the Turkish group Islamic Community Milli Görüs, IGMG, which, however, seems to prefer to establish a parallel world for its members and is therefore being observed by German authorities; three mosques belong to the Bosnian-Hercegovinian Islamic community; one to the Jama’at-i-Islami; one to the Shia Muslim community; and 24 to the Ahmadiyya-Muslim-Jama’at group. Besides these mosques built in a classical style, there are another 2.600 Muslim prayer rooms.
The German state first of all must understand the needs and wishes of its Muslim communities. The creation of an umbrella organisation representing all Muslim communities at state level is the goal that is being aimed for at present. The plans are for a federal structure, starting from the local level and moving up to state level, with elections taking place in every participating mosque. The principle of a secular state requires that all religious communities be treated as equals - Christians, Muslims, Jews as well as other religious communities. At special ceremonies, representatives from the Christian church as well as the Jewish community are regularly invited. What is missing of course is such a representative from the Muslim communities. This means that the many different Muslim communities in Germany must find out what they have in common and which measures are best suited for the needs of its members. They can then decide on a representative official authority and choose a spokesperson. This organisation will also need to be professional, permanent, unified as well as transparent in its decision-making process, if Muslims want to be treated equally with the Christian and Jewish communities.
The head of the Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, who migrated from Turkey to Germany in 1972, has recently stated: “We Muslims must ask ourselves whether we want to become part of this society, or whether we wish to permanently stay an appendage of the Islamic institutions of our home countries. For the sake of our children, we need to focus more on German society and adapt ourselves. We must find our very own standpoint. We therefore cannot hold on to definitions which have an altogether different meaning over here. We must find a common language.”
In schools around Germany, the percentage of foreigners in classes in some regions has become exceedingly high. There are even a few schools that only have children with a migratory background and no Germans at all! The result is that it is extremely hard to convey knowledge of the German language to these youngsters coming from abroad, as Turkish or Arabic is being spoken in the breaks and after school. This in turn will give the children a big handicap when later trying to find employment. In order to find a remedy for this, a new concept has been worked out, called the “Koala” concept (Koordinierte zweisprachige Alphabetisierung im Anfangsunterricht). It is already being practised in more than a dozen schools in North-Rhine-Westphalia, Berlin and the state of Hesse, three out of the 16 German states, each of which is alone responsible for political decisions taken in matters of education. Every week, several of the lessons are given in two languages – German and Turkish, or German and Arabic. Two teachers are in the class simultaneously conveying their lessons. Those children who did not get a chance to learn German beforehand, hereby no longer feel isolated or excluded. They are being encouraged to participate and learn, instead of mentally just “switching off” because they do not understand the language. The German children realize that they must not discriminate or judge the other children because of their lack of knowledge in the German language. They will also become more interested in other cultures, as they are gradually becoming more familiar with the background of their class mates. Intercultural friendships will arise more easily. Germans have to get used to the fact that it has a number of citizens with perhaps darkish complexions and different cultural backgrounds who are entitled to the same rights and privileges and duties as they are, because they have become “German citizens.”
But Germany is currently undergoing severe economic changes. Unemployment lies at around ten per cent and is higher among migrants and higher in the formerly communist eastern states of Germany. From next year, the Value Added Tax (VAT) is to be increased by an unprecedented three per cent, the largest increase ever since the creation of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the same time, unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed are being cut down. But what about those youths whose parents, grand-parents and all known ancestors have been living in Germany? Should those youngsters, many of whom are with little or no perspective of holding a permanent job, not get preferential treatment over foreigners? The six new federal states of the formerly communist German Democratic Republic, GDR, do not have such a tradition of openness towards other cultures. Their citizens were only allowed to travel abroad if they remained within the communist bloc. Incidents of violence against foreigners have recently occurred in some of these new states. They have been condemned by the government and prominent politicians and citizens alike. The “Neonazi” scene is to be watched closely, and tough measures are being proposed against this development. Germany certainly does not want a repeat of its past when the National Scoialists invented racist theories that ultimately culminated in a world war.
Islamic cultures are probably affected to an even greater extent when it comes to social changes. A Lebanese intellectual and chief editor of a cultural magazine in his country, Abbas Beydoun, speaks of the Arab culture as having collapsed. The article was published in a German magazine called “Kulturaustausch” (Cultural Exchange): "The McDonald's brand is not alone in offering a source of provocation to our Arab farmers and intellectuals. It is, in fact, not the first of the many foreign brands to have effected profound changes, within a few decades, to our eating habits, clothing, furniture, architecture, life-style and leisure time. The trouser revolution is just one example of a western product, whose influence was certainly more far-reaching than that of McDonald's. The change in the way of life was not very hard, but it was accompanied by an increased hatred against the "conquering West", and probably too with a degree of self-loathing for having accepted and nurtured the Western virus and allowed it to spread within us. A whole culture has collapsed within a few decades. The change has also influenced our literature, arts, music and thought. But we have become neither Westerners nor part of the West. It is as if we had been asleep during the process of change, as if it were not our own history, something that does not reflect our own identity.”
Because of this, Abbas Beydoun maintains, the idea and principle of tradition remain alive in the shape of ideology, even though the old conventions have collapsed. To come to terms with reality, ideology is upheld, free, independent and beyond any test of applicability - controlled by its own inclinations and urges. Globalisation to intellectuals in Lebanon, for instance, means an increasing feeling of lagging behind and being unable to keep up. The matter should, in fact, be dealt with on the same symbolic level. Abbas Beydoun is of the opinion that it requires a real alternative answer by the Islamic world through an ideological and political approach.
THE PREFERENCE GIVEN TO ISRAEL MEANS A CONTINUOUS REINFORCEMENT OF THE SUPREMACY WEST AND ITS DENIAL OF ARAB RIGHTS
A solution to the Middle East conflict is also essential for an improvement of relations, Abbas Beydoun argues: “It could be said that aid will remain meaningless as long as the international preference for Israel continues to present an image of continuing colonial aggression and increasing contempt for the Islamic peoples. Strictly speaking, for the peoples of the Orient, Israel is not an oriental country but an instrument of the West. The preference given to Israel means a continuous reinforcement of the supremacy of the West and its denial of Arab rights. The discourse on the equality among different cultures and civilisations makes no sense for those who believe that the preference given to Israel is a daily, tangible declaration of inequality and that this preference is, in a way, a sort of self-preference and a confirmation of supremacy, too."
The popular German weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” has recently argued that the fall of the Berlin Wall also has something to do with America's obvious preference for Israel. During the cold war, America paid much attention to Jordan. Egypt had even been broken out of the Soviet alliance. At the time, America pursued the aim of containing communism. It was high time now a public debate was being held in the USA on this issue, the journal concludes. -
Having partly overcome one hostile ideology, America should avoid building up a new kind of hostility towards its nation and its ideals, and should instead show more considerateness towards Arab and other Islamic countries. The USA should try once more, as in the past, to be a more honest and impartial peace broker in the Middle East conflict. If not, the trend towards a new bipolar world, with all its harsh conflicts and visible or invisible walls, will be unstoppable.
Understanding people’s anger and frustrations, taking a genuine interest in them and showing respect are the basic principles of conducting better relationships in social life. There is good and evil in everyone. A secure income, education, culture and a friendly environment usually brings out the best in us. Poverty, ignorance and a hostile environment may bring out the worst. In other words: If you want to make friends instead of creating new enemies among people it is a good policy to help them and appeal to their good qualities. Then we can find a common language and seek the compromises that are necessary to adapt to the changing societies of our forever changing world.
published in DEFENCE JOURNAL in June 2006