Islam & Globalization

Technology and information sharing has helped to unite Muslims from different cultures.
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The greatest effects from globalization on Islamic society are related to the influx of Western liberalism into conservative Muslim circles, particularly throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. One result is religion becoming more private; another is that information sharing has served to unite culturally different Muslims and inspire debates about social, political and religious reform and improvements to women's rights.

1 The Personal Nature of Religious Experience

Scholars have argued that, just as religious beliefs in the United States and Europe have become less communal and more personal, the same is true in Islamic societies in the Middle East and Central Asia. Muslims are relying less on public sources of Islamic knowledge, they argue, and are instead turning to media such as poetry, art and technology to create personalized religious experiences. A similar phenomenon is occurring at the state-level. Historically, Muslims have had a cultural and religious center in the western Arabian Peninsula that includes both Mecca and Medina, Islam's two holiest cities. Thanks to new localized religious identities emerging around the world, however, alternative centers of Islamic culture are being established in places like Africa, Asia and even the United States.

2 Information Sharing and the Islamic Ummah

Besides more personalized religious experiences, globalization has contrarily brought increased unity between Muslims globally. From the start, Islam has contained the concept of the "ummah," or a global brotherhood of Muslims. The egalitarian philosophy of the ummah was long superseded by nationalistic and ethnic differences, but information sharing in the age of globalization is changing this. Thanks to the introduction of satellite television, the Internet, new books and magazines and international travel, Muslims are exposed to different Islamic cultural and religious traditions from around the world. Conservative support for only one type of Islam has given way to a liberalized celebration of the cultural and religious diversity of Muslims everywhere.

3 Opposition to Globalization

While some Muslims have welcomed the changes of globalization, it has also been met defensively in some conservative circles of the Islamic world. The essence of this defensive stance is a competitive effort to reaffirm local cultural and religious traditions in spite of the influx of Western liberalism as a result of globalization. This competition between new and old traditions is played out in the institutions that produce Islamic knowledge. Prior to globalization, a small number of Islamic jurists held a monopoly over Islamic knowledge and practice. The democratic values of Western liberalism, however, have created a widespread interest in Islamic knowledge across different segments of society. While this has created political and social reformers in Islamic societies, it has also created a sometimes violent backlash by defensive Muslim traditionalists.

4 Globalization and Women's Rights

The processes and opportunities that globalization has created in the Islamic world have not been evenly distributed at the state and individual levels. Women's rights is one area in particular where its effects have been less forthcoming. In general, the status of women in a society depends on their contributions to production relative to men. While globalization has generated jobs in manufacturing and the exporting of goods in the Islamic word, the rate of female employment has remained stagnate. The increased participation of women in politics, society and the economy is a tenet of Western liberalism, but it is also a dramatic societal shift that is deeply opposed by conservative traditionalists throughout the Islamic world.

Ethan Lazuk graduated with high honors and has specializations in cultural anthropology and Asian Studies with emphasis on the Middle East. He has published several academic research papers and editorial articles about world politics and cultural studies that have been featured in publications such as the "Arizona Republic" and the Huffington Post.