## Islam in the turbulent world order ##
The environmental, climatic, economic and structural changes brought about by coronavirus has disturbed global order with disastrous consequences. The world is gradually waking up to readjust with the changing circumstances around. Ironically, in this backdrop, the strategic objectives and targets have remained, by and large, unalterable. It should be a noteworthy to gauge the strength of a unit in determining the course of events in societies.
Islam as a geographical and social unit of a large global entity provides a thought providing and representative case in point to comprehend the functioning of a unit in different aspects within the larger entity perceived as ‘world’.
Islam is the world’s second largest religion with over 1.8 billion followers or 24.1% of the world’s population known as Muslims. Muslims are diffused in almost every part of the world; however, their varying numbers accord a particular political and social status to them. This status, along with their tracts of lands known as countries bestows upon them a particular religious and cultural identity. Muslims are 91% in the Middle East-North Africa, 89% in Central Asia, 40% in South East Asia, 31% in South Asia, 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 25% in Asia-Oceania, around 6% in Europe and one percent in America.
Islam emerged in 6th Century A.D. in the decadent lands of Arabian Peninsula which had turned a habitat of warring tribes and warlords. Islam initiated the processes of teaching/learning and stimulating people to lead a decent and cultured life. Illim’ (knowledge) is the cornerstone of Islam. In the first revelations of Quran ‘It is ordained upon every Muslim man and woman to acquire (Talab) knowledge.
There is a vast historical context to this emphasis on acquiring knowledge. In fact, Arab Peninsula, well before it fell to the vagaries of invaders and was disintegrated into parts, had produced great philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, biologists and surgeons. When Europe fell in the abyss of darkness and lost all their treasures of knowledge, Arabs who were great translators, preserved these treasures for which Europeans remain still beholden to them. Therefore, acquiring knowledge remains focal point in Islam. There are other aspects to this acquisition of edifice of Islam. These may be aspects of life but these are essentially structures of existence which converge on what is described as ‘world order’.
Interestingly, a large portion of Quran depicts the horrors of devastations, destruction of civilizations and stories of rise and fall of empires in which palaces and mansions were reduced to dust. The objective appears for human beings to learn a lesson in not following a righteous path. The issue remains that the lessons to be drawn from these verses should lead the followers of Islam to lay down the social and economic structures based on equality and righteousness. This postulation has generated a great deal of debate and led to divisions and vivisection of Muslim societies across ideological, social and territorial lines.
Islam remained peaceful during Prophet Muhammad’s time and subsequently during the time of his two distinguished Caliphs, Abu Bakar and Omar. However, dissensions had started gradually emerging which took the form of a group known as ‘khawarij’ (Dissenters). This development later led to the assassination of two other prominent Caliphs and close associates of Prophet Muhammad, Hadrat Uthman and Hadrat Ali. This evolution gradually resulted in the formation of two major sects of Islam; Sunni and Shia. The sectarian division among Muslims has resulted in rebellion, massacre and territorial divisions with international political ramifications.
In Pakistan, a Muslim majority state, Shia-Sunni clashes and gory confrontations is an order of the day consuming thousands of people on regular basis. One of the sects known as ‘Bahayees’ has been declared ‘non-Muslims’ by the Pakistan state. It is an irony that a scientist who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine has been declared a non-Muslim for being a Bahayee.
This sectarian division of Islam has interesting customary and traditional dimensions which strengthens their identities. However, what has emerged as their independent entities is their diplomatic and strategic ties. This dimension has enabled them to be a part of chess game of global order and play the game as it suits them. It needs to be recognized that Islam has remained a cohesive force in the formation of empires in the different parts of world at different parts of time.