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Islamic identity pre and post-9/11 Islamic identity pre and post-9/11
by Joseph Gatt
2020-02-12 09:35:50
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Pre-9/11 means two things: pre-Internet and pre-9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks were indeed almost simultaneous with the explosion of the Internet. So the Muslims faced a double challenge: how to define their identity in the face of the horrific 9/11 attacks, and how to define their identity in the age of communication, where any idiot can troll around and any idiot can claim expertise in Islam.

Muslims perhaps faced a third challenge: with the explosion of the Internet and the 9/11 attacks, there was an explosion in news network television. So now the Muslims had trolls on the Internet and trolls in widely viewed media news networks.

So in this brief note, I'll discuss how the world viewed Islam pre and post-9/11, and how the Muslims try to define themselves in the pre and post-9/11 era.

Foreign views of Muslims pre-9/11

isl01_400Pre-9/11 Islam was on par with Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, that is a “minority” religion viewed either with curiosity or indifference. The Muslim world controls the vast majority of the world's oil fields, and that gave the Muslims significant power and leverage around the world. But the Muslims in the media were often portrayed as turban-wearing bearded politicians who made scary speeches about raising oil prices if they did not get what they wanted.

Until the 1980s, Muslims often did not move with their families when the immigrated. That is Muslim immigration was often young, single Muslim men who went to North America or Europe to study or work. Muslim men then either settled by marrying a local European, or got married in their village and worked in Europe alone, or moved back to their countries.

Muslim factory workers in Europe often shared apartments with other men, worked all year, then went on vacation to their families in their village where they would bring a lot of goodies with them.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Muslim immigrants in Europe started bringing their families with them to Europe, often encouraged by local European governments. Those families were often unfamiliar with European surroundings and morals which contradicted theirs (electronic ATMs to withdraw cash and couples kissing passionately and cuddling in public) and the culture shock was palpable. While religious Jewish kids for example in Europe had their mothers pack a lunch box with Kosher food, Muslim mothers often told their children to avoid pork at school, and the parents and children were being childish about avoiding pork (or accidentally eating it), rather than opting for the lunchbox option.

The main question about Muslims in Europe and North America pre-9/11 was how to federate all these different perceptions of Islam. Moroccan Islamic traditions are very different from Saudi Arabian or Egyptian Islamic traditions. So now you had those Moroccans going to the mosque and praying with Saudis and Yemenis and Egyptians and what not, and couldn't agree on a preacher to preach an Islam everyone can relate to.

Foreign views of Islam post-9/11

While pre-9/11 Islam was an exotic religion on par with Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism, post-9/11 I would say Islam did consolidate its position as a major global religion, but was vastly perceived as a dangerous one.

Now suddenly those kids who refuse to eat pork at the cafeteria are potential terrorists. Muslims in Europe and North America also had way above-average unemployment figures and way above-average drug use rates, and were starting to be perceived as a serious threat.

But, Islam's weakness is that it failed to federate all its different views and traditions. We looked around to see whether we could find public intellectuals who both understand Islam in all its complexities and who would also preach for coexistence, and unfortunately, we didn't find that pearl. We did find a lot of Muslims who preach coexistence and Muslims who understand Islam in all its complexities, but we didn't find Muslims who could do both.

How the Muslims view themselves, pre and post-9/11

Pre-9/11 let's say you had three categories of Muslims:

-Orthodox Muslims, who apply strictly the laws cited in the Quran and commentaries on the Quran.

-Conservative Muslims, who usually limit themselves to the five pillars of Islam: Faith in Allah and in his prophet Mohamed, Charity and donating 10% of your paycheck to the poor, prayer (in some cases optional), fasting during the month of Ramadan (in some cases optional) and Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca (if possible, and if you win the lottery, because applicants are picked by a lottery system).

-Europeanized Muslims, who tend to be secular, private about their religious faith, and secretive about their degree of faith. They often refuse to answer questions about whether they are fasting during Ramadan or whether they pray. Some fast the entire month of Ramadan, others fast on some days and not others and so on.

Either way, sexuality in any form is taboo in Islamic culture, and there is a paranoia surrounding sexuality.

But pre-9/11 Muslims did not have internet access, often did have access to satellite television, and often spent their days glued to their TVs watching French or British programs.

Now here's what happened post-9/11

-Orthodox Muslims had access to websites and television channels that radicalized their beliefs and rituals, some of them going as far as joining the Jihad fight. Some previously non-Orthodox Muslims discovered the Orthodox faith through internet searches and television viewing.

-Conservative Muslims kept being lectured by Orthodox Muslims. Some gave in and joined the Orthodox movement. Others, who were once warm, fun-loving, and loved social interactions, retreated into social isolation, only interacting with family and close friends to avoid Orthodox preachers.

-Europeanized Muslims either held a fearless attitude or went into hiding, only venturing in their cars, workplace and house, and rarely if ever venturing outside alone.

Finally, here are some problems with post-9/11 Islam

Islamic governments often make social research very difficult, because findings on social problems would make governments look bad in the face of failed policies.

Also, research on contemporary religious practice tends to be discouraged, because the issue is very divisive as Orthodox Muslims believe there is a correct path to religion.

Finally, finding researchers who are articulate, clear, kind, charismatic, and who understand Islam in all its complexities while appreciating coexistence don't exist.

Bonus: Islamic researchers often shift the topic to the Palestinian cause when invited on TV. Islam is a religion where the notion of “face” and “reputation” are very important, so Muslim scholars would tend to rather discuss “the Jews oppressing Muslims” than discuss “problems or questions in Islamic society.”

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