Islam and the emerging Arab World

With the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, and a series of ongoing protest sweeping across other countries of North Africa and the Middle East, a new Arab world is imminent. The old Arab world is slowly and gradually fading away and ushering in a new era of hope, freedom and progress. But there are uncertainties and anxieties as to what this wind of change holds for the people in the region and the world at large. There is a growing concern as to what would be the role of Islam in the new dispensation particularly in this era of Islamic terrorism. The Arab world and the Islamic world are often seen as identical. North Africa and the Middle East are the world’s political and financial capital of Islam. In fact the Arab League is the Islamic league-it promotes Islam, defends Islam and would want the criticism of Islam criminalized globally. Most of the islamic groups that terrorize the world are headquartered or have strong links in North Africa and the Middle East. One hopes that these changes do not play into the hands of islamic extremists, jihadists and fundamentalists in the regions. But it must be noted that unlike many protests and demonstrations in these countries, the anger-popular anger- is not directed on Israel or on ‘infidels’ or on Western countries and their leaders or on those who ‘insult’ Islam or Prophet Muhammad. The protests are against local leaders and their governments, against prevailing corruption, poverty, unemployment and lack of democracy in these countries. The protests are for radical change and reform. So the revolutions sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East are not Islamic revolutions meant to spread the faith and foist islamic theocracies on the world. From all indications, the ongoing protests in the Arab world are not jihads against unbelievers. They are popular secular democratic revolutions. They are expressions of people’s yearnings and aspirations for progress and good governance. They are popular agitations for freedom, emancipation and change.

Today more than ever the Arab world is in a position to dispel the looming Islamic Dark Age and realize a New Enlightenment. The Arab world is in a position to translate itself into a beacon of civilization and universal human rights. The Arab world is in a position to break away with the past- the past of religious(Islamic) fanaticism, racism, slavery, subordination of women, honor killing and homophobia.

The people of North Africa and the Middle East must strive to preserve the democratic and secular nature of this wind of change and deepen its gains. They should not allow Islamists-Islamic jihadists, terrorists and brotherhoods- to hijack this historic process and rob them of this vital opportunity to realize an Arab civilization with a global dimension.

To this end, the people of new North Africa and the Middle East should stir their ‘new’ governments away from religion particularly Islam. They should ensure a total separation of Mosque and State. In the new Arab world, the states should be religiously neutral-not biased for or against Islam or any religious or non religious outlook. The states should guarantee the equal rights of all individuals in spite of their religious belief or unbelief including the rights of individuals to profess or renounce Islam. The states should protect the rights of all persons to intellectual freedom, the exercise doubt or the entertainment of opinions that are critical of Islam or of prophet Muhammad or of any religious or secular ideas and institution. The states in the new(emerging) Arab world should discard the so called Universal Human Rights Under Islam and abolish sharia law. Human rights are universal. There are no special rights for those who live under Islam. In fact the ‘new’ Arab states should be poised to reform Islam and bring the religion into the 21st century. They should be ready to combat human rights abuses that are committed in the name of Islam.

The states should protect the rights of all religious minorities and abolish all legal provisions that discriminate against anybody on the basis of religious belief or unbelief. The people of the new Arab world should not relent but fight on and use this opportunity to realize cultural renaissance and rebirth.

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