IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: What ails us, Muslims? By Ayesah Abubakar

As an impact of the US-led “Global War on Terror”, we have been prey to the “divide and rule” tactics that vigorously label our brothers and sisters as “moderates” or “radicals”, “authoritarian” or “democratic”, “madrasah educated” or “secular educated”, and in the case of sectarian violence in Iraq—as  “Shiites” or “Sunnis.” It is no wonder that some of us are becoming more afraid of our own, and thinking that “their practice of Islam is not the same Islam that ‘we’ practice.”

Admittedly, there is a diversity of cultures and practices of Muslims all over the world. However, Islam—the religion and way of life, carry the same fundamental teachings that was given during the time of Prophet Abraham (r.a.s.) until the Last Prophet- Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). And should some Muslims continue to be confused, there is the Holy Quran that remains consistent as it is the book perfected by Allah (s.w.t.) and that which is given to us. At this point, I think it is but proper that I also admit that as a Muslim, I am not as learned with the Quran as might be expected. Therefore, this challenge resonates to me personally than to anyone else.

Another source of the Muslims’ predicament is the impact of capitalism and modernity on societal value systems. The leaps and bounds of economic development and technology that our generation has experienced are tremendously shaping a new value system for our families and the larger global community. For example, wealth has not been as simple as having “a land to toil” or “a cow to milk with” as our forefathers have had. We are now trapped in an economic system where the value of a monetary currency emanates from the economic (and consequently, political) power of a country.

Sheik Imran Hosein and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad rightly point out that this “un-natural” tradition of currency and economic power is inequitable and unfair. In spite of the wealth of natural resources (minerals and oil reserves) that abound in many Muslim areas, Muslims would have to follow this reigning economic practice in which economic values are tied to the US Dollar, and products and technologies being traded are those that have been created or re-created by those from the richer and “intellectually-savvy” countries.

As a consequence, the pervasive capitalism has crept into the mentality of the Muslims, despite their attempts for some resistance. This practice of wealth creation puts the Muslims in a moral dilemma in keeping with the concept of “haram” and “halal” economic endeavors. How can Muslims avoid this situation when we are all now part of this capitalist system? It’s either we sink or swim within this system in order to guarantee our own economic life. Should we continue to be taking part of a “haram” business so long as we religiously pay our “zakat” to cleanse our incomes? Can we actually make “haram” money into “halal”?

Lastly, perhaps, the overarching issue that we constantly grapple with as an “ummah” is the vague directions towards establishing a sense of “unity” amongst us. More particularly, this missing unity can be attributed to a more tangible leadership from the various “ulama.” With the decline of the tradition and hierarchy of the caliphate system, we are in dire need of an “ulama” who can aptly lead us to this 21st century. Again, to borrow Sheik Imran Hosein’s provocation, we have yet to effectively produce an “ulama” that can bring to life the verses from the Quran with the much needed explanations in regard to our present social realities. It is the same “ulama” that, hopefully, shall lead us in effectively evincing the “truths” (as found in the Holy Quran), and that can unite us in faith (iman) and in our deeds (ibadah).

Upon introspection of “what ails us” is by all means a step closer to the journey of “what can rejuvenate us.” Insha Allah, all of us, can find the courage and perseverance to make the change.

To all Muslims, Happy Hariraya Haji! And to all Christians, advance Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (“In the Neighborhood” is Ayesah Abubakar’s column for Mindanews. Ayesah is the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research & Education for Peace Universiti Sains Malaysia or REPUSM in Penang, Malaysia. You may email her at