Islamisation: evaluate Islam’s role and influence in society from the past to present.
We often see and can feel as though “Islam is here to take over the world” but what I heard and saw from locals was more like… “I have a personal faith. You choose what you want to believe and it is ‘as Allah wills’ as to those who convert”. Unlike other religions I didn’t hear about missions, evangelism or ‘turn or burn’ conversion practise. Muslims were unashamed in the practise of their faith, unlike the strong secularism in western societies. The affect that Islam has on society was evident, but so is culture, traditions and globalisation. Religion is interwoven in people’s lives as well as the driver of it, but that does not neglect their humanity – influenced by many things.
One of the revelations for myself was the difference between ‘Political Islam’ and ‘Personal Faith’. It was easier to interact with those of a personal faith, than a system with political agendas that used faith values as a tool for advantage (and we can say the same for every religion). A primary example of this is Malaysia’s current Islamisation and influence on society through government. The party is Muslim, as is the national religion with both Sharia law and civil law. Whereas Turkey has a Muslim population with a secular government with citizens focused on a personal relationship with Allah.
Citizens are primarily influenced with Islam through government and community practise. Regarding law, Muslims are bound by Sharia on personal matters while other faiths follow civil law, primarily laws on family, property and religious matters. However it was expressed that government policy infuse Islamic values and enforce their official version of Sunni Islam. Officially, Malaysia sounds overtly Islamic and could instill fear in a Western non-Islamic reader (i.e. me before I studied and still occasionally). Many want Sharia law and Malaysia to pioneer Halal business but when we walked into the hub of Kuala Lumpur, it felt like any western country. For example, for a predominantly strong Muslim country, there were several Christmas trees still standing even into the New Year.
The extravagance of Christmas was visible- even more so than our shopping centres. Hotels combined the two in their restaurant. Malaysia also has public holidays for other religions. While Malaysia is conservative, it is pluralistic with secular and western traditions. By no means did I feel judged walking down the street in shirt and shorts!
But their mosques are a different story with respect for modesty. In Putrajaya Mosque we wore a heavy (and hot) cloak. Men were also clothed along with the Muslim student in our tour group.
One journalist in Malaysia said that she personally felt judged and couldn’t feel ‘Muslim’ without covering up but this may not be reflected throughout all society. She also said Islam has had a strong say in culture regarding drinking and premarital sex. I found the centre of Kuala Lumper quite western, with many drinking and wearing western style clothing. Islam’s practise is strong in Malaysia politically with systematic privileges given to Muslims. Citizens view this as inequitable causing discrimination and harm which doesn’t encourage personal faith. Malaysia has both Islamic, multi-cultural and western influences.
Islam doesn’t just affect personal faith, it is woven into architecture and their history. Each mosque and call to prayer reflects the history, development and the various influences. In Turkey the Blue Mosque was created in competition to the Hagia Sophia. It was originally built in 360AD and for more than a thousand years a Church, then a Mosque and now museum.
Istanbul and Turkey at large is a melting pot of culture and religion. With the ebb and flow of cultural tides and occupations, the most dramatic wave was when Sultan Mehmed invaded the city in 1453 and the cultural makeup of the city directed it to what it is now. Buildings are rich with history, even the floor, but it’s also filled with secular people. It’s a great combination of history and modern.
Turkey has a high Muslim population but with a secular government, the outcome brings a “moderate” expression of Islam highlighting personal relationship rather than political. Unlike Malaysian Mosques, women in Turkey could enter utilising other garments as long as they were respectfully covered. Turkey appeared more inclusive of monotheistic religions, but with less diversity than Malaysia which includes Buddhism or Hinduism faiths. Their architecture and clothing also reflected a strong Islamic culture, despite their previous efforts to ban the headscarf in favour of secularism.
Many people are surprised when I mention that I went to Spain on a Muslim World Study Tour. Although today the major religion is Catholic, it was not always been this way. In 711 Muslims invaded Spain and became part of one of the great Muslim civilisations reaching Ummayad caliphate of Cordovain but declined and ended in 1492 when Granada was conquered. The Alhambra Palace the only surviving Islamic palace in Granada and the Cordoba mosque now a Catholic museum.
Other faiths did coexist during Muslim reign but not as equals. This is different to when the Christians reconquered with Muslims having to convert, leave the country or die (not one of their proudest moments with spreading the “Good News” by sword! This is known as the Spanish Inquisition).
Today, it is a predominately Catholic and a flourishing society and it is slowly recognising rights of Muslims and their presence is increasing. Muslim civilization wasn’t included in educational books, but now is. Menus are beginning to have ‘Halal friendly’. Muslims are wanting rights to pray in the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. Although it is still illegal to pray in the historic mosque, Muslims seam accepted and not discriminated against by government with a local Imam testifying that in Granada, he works together with government to alleviate fears of terrorism and extremism. He also mentioned that he is Spaniard first and Muslim second (this sense of identity differs greatly to Malaysia where it’s associated with power and political gain). They don’t become Arabs in conversion, they are still Spaniards. There is a sense of patriotism that you can be both. This differs to Australia where Muslims can struggle with being Muslim and Australian and be treated that way.
The more attractive practise of Islam for me was represented through this Imam. He hoped the heaters would work for us, a women to cohost and chat through issues, no covering was necessary (I don’t mind wearing one, but it was freeing to be fully us, without changing and welcomed). Islam doesn’t have a strong influence with modern Spain but is an increasing presence and Muslim rights are developing.
Some of the touring students said, ‘there is a difference between being Muslim and an Islamist’. There appeared a healthy balance between Islamisation and other influences in Morocco – a mix between history, modern, young and old having varying opinions of expressing Islam although the clothing was an indication of young people thinking in becoming more “western” than traditional Moroccan clothing (the djellaba, a long lose hooded garment). Whilst Morocco is strong in cultural, there is a high Arab influence and presence. To separate culture and religion can be difficult! A head covering in Mosques was expected, but they are very welcoming of all to participate – even with some non-Muslim students participating in prayer.
It is interesting to note that no country lives in isolation, so the extent of external influences or to what influences they resist can be difficult to analyse. Morocco has a Sufi orientated, moderate way of expressing Islam, which differs to Algeria next door, which also differs to Saudi Arabia (Salafist). Religion is fluid with varying interpretations but is core to their life values. “You can’t take Islam from Morocco or Morocco from Islam”, said a university professor. The dress code is cultural and conservative, yet some wear ripped jeans and Mickey Mouse shirts – a mix of Islam and culture. One of our team members was refused entrance at a bar with the djellaba (not permitted to serve alcohol to Muslims or it could be security issue). Religion is meant to inspire a higher quality of life, but drugs, drinking, smoking was prevalent. Is that Islam? No. Is that culture? Yes.
Many Moroccans also speak French, Arabic, Berber (Amazigh) languages and some English which exposes their worldview even further with more cross-cultural influences. One can expect that Islam influences all aspects of life, like orthodox Islam, but Morocco has shrines and other ritual practises that aren’t “Muslim”.
There are many external influences that shape a country and a person; Islam is one of them.
“No one’s destiny is in isolation” – Rudo.
Feature photo found here.