New Muslim middle class

By Vali NasrProfessor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy The Muslim world is going through a quiet and profound revolution. … Continued

By Vali Nasr
Professor, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

The Muslim world is going through a quiet and profound revolution. Islamic consciousness is on the rise, sweeping over every aspect of public and private life. But it is not the zeal of this turn against secularism that is noteworthy, but the diversity of opinions and new ways of thinking that it embodies.

This rising fervor is led not by the usual authorities–clerics and Islamic activists–but, more prominently, by bloggers, rappers, fashion designers, televangelists, human rights activists and self-styled Islamic gurus and thinkers of all stripes. Theirs is a call to religion, but also interpreting the meaning of piety and its relevance to society and politics in new ways.

There are reformers in this mix, but this is by and large a conservative Islamic resurgence, which celebrates piety while rejecting violence and extremism. There is no one flavor of Islam dominating with some interested in politics while others are content to leave politics alone and focus on matters of personal faith and practice. Just as the separation of church and state in the U.S. supported the flourishing of many different Christian denominations, the loosening of the grip of top-down state control and sponsorship of Islam is making room for many Islams.

This is a hopeful development; it opens new vistas of thinking before Muslims that could facilitate embracing many aspects of modernity and constructive engagement with the West on many fronts. What makes this possible is the rise of a new middle class in the Muslim world that is tied to commerce and trade, is keen to engage the global economy, and therefore favors blending Islam with modernity in ways that prosperous middle classes everywhere blend religious values with commercial interests and demands of operating in the global economy. The impact of this middle class is evident wherever private sectors have been allowed to take flight and reach out to the global economy; most prominently in Southeast Asia and Turkey, but also to a lesser degree in the Arab world, South Asia and Iran. The West should take note; this historic trend offers the best hope for changing mind-sets in the Muslim world, and defeating Islamic extremism.

The Islamic fervor that is rising in Turkey is distinctly globalization-friendly; in fact it is supported by small-town businessmen that have prospered in trade with the world, and now use their wealth to support Islamic causes–but those causes are in tune with their commercial interests. The rising Muslim middle class in Turkey is not keen on Islamic activism and less so extremism. Much like their American counterparts, they too favor religious values blended with capitalism. Nowhere is this blend more clearly at display than in Dubai. The little emirate has become the ideal for the Muslim middle classes, and surprisingly it is far from the Spartan future fundamentalism promises. Dubai is a distinctly Middle Eastern mix of mosques and malls whose attraction lies not in its Muslim identity but that it evokes Disneyland and Las Vegas, a playground for Muslim tourists and a hub for raging business and manic consumerism. The little emirate has already shown that Muslims are ready to engage the world economy eager to excel and prosper in it. Dubai shows that the enthusiasm for Islam need not mean opposition to thriving business, nor is at odds with middle classes values and behavior the world over.

New values will not grow roots in the Muslim world because the West wins its intellectual sparring with Islam, but when those values serve the economic and social interests of people. If those values have not been fully embraced by Muslims as of yet, that is not because of the fundamental nature of Islam, but primarily because the commercial class that must spearhead the process of propagating them is still too small. The good news is that it has arrived and it is rising. If it grows to dominate Muslim societies then those global values will take deep root as Muslim values, paving the way to democracy. As has been the case with so many other world religions, the impetus for transformation will not come from the market. The change agent is all too often businessmen and traders, and market forces they unleash and abide by. It is these forces that will also transform the Muslim world.

Vali Nasr is Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and author of “Forces of Fortune: The Rise of a New Muslim Middle Class and What it Means for Our World.”

About

  • ccnl1

    There will be no worthwhile change in the attitudes of Muslims until the “death to all infidels” and anti-female passages are removed from the koran. Until then, no Muslim can be trusted!!!

  • hsnkhwj

    Modernity means accepting science, technology and equality, peace, and justice based on democratic ideals. It does not mean drinking, dancing, gambling (going to casinos) or females displaying their bodies to attract men by wearing halters or bikinis on the beach.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Dubai. Hilarious. Speechless am I. So tell us…How is Daud Ibrahim doing these days?

  • ccnl1

    From answers.com”Dawood Ibrahim (Urdu: داوود ابراهيم), b. December 26, 1956, also known as Dawood Ebrahim, and Sheikh Dawood Hassan, birth name Sheikh Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, is the head of the organized crime syndicate D-Company in Mumbai. He is currently on the wanted list of Interpol for organised crime and counterfeiting.[1] He was No. 4 on the Forbes’ World’s Top 10 most dreaded criminals list of 2008.[2]“”Dawood Ibrahim, the son of a police constable Ibrahim Kaskar, was born in Mumkaa village in Ratnagiri in the Indian state of Maharashtra on December 26, 1955.[10] He is of Konkani descent.[11] He is said to have begun his career in Mumbai working for the Karim Lala gang exploiting the rapid expansion in the Bombay (now Mumbai) textiles industry to his advantage.[10]He soon moved his residence to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates where he has business interests alongside India and Pakistan.”

  • THE-REVELATOR

    …..O…….……………………,/////////////…………………….,/..DEAR “C.oncerned C.hristian N.ow L.iberated” I could’nt resist.

  • THE-REVELATOR

    ^ .^. ^ AND: Don’t Worry KEEP BUSY:IMPORTANT: Rich, Middle-class or Poor, If YE hath All these “4-Tetra-Needs“ then Ye hath No Worry’s on this Blesseth Holy Cosmic Miraculous, & zero biblical Sineth, S.pace-S.hip Planet EARTH, of manymanymany aka S.S. GAiA, S.S. GEOiD, S.S. TELLUSng something!Complements from the “Union Proletriate Internationals Team” (UP IT) and from locals comradhood Movement U.S.A. and elswhere. WE will takeover this this blog and this Planet et al. WE ARE HERE: TO LIBERATE OUR PEOPLE in Bondage on EARTH first, Then….

  • ccnl1

    Well, Friday evening is here and our “new” “gibberisher” is hard at work knowing that the moderators are off for the weekend. Adding a bit of free space got the moderators early attention last week. Let see how it works this week. .

  • THE-REVELATOR

    CCNL1 & CO., Pleazzza; Take the Weekends Off. And Let the “PROFESSIONALS” handle the Local/international Politic/Religion issues/Matters via this Blogg and manage the “WAR-EFFERT” at Hand; Aye (little boy)!?PS: Dear mr. “WAPO-COP”, WARNING: Stop Stalking Me (or snitching outrite on others), or WE [i] will Sue WAPO & CO.. for $100,000,000 Dollars, or All rights/ownership for This NeewsWeek Blog will Revert To US via a Federal Court Oder. so Last Warning! Note: OUR attorneys and FBI & CIA & HLS are watching closely.Note: You do not Help WAPO; only make matters Worse. Hence WAPO is digging a hole deeper & deeper as long as they keep your CCNL1 name alive.PS: WE [i] have David Waters personal Cell Pjone #. And Sally Quinn’s # Too et al. Would you like to call Them? [i] WE could make it Public but that would be unprofessional aye chap?

  • ccnl1

    Well, the weekend is here and our “new” “gibberisher” is hard at work knowing that the moderators are off for the weekend. Adding a bit of free space got the moderators early attention last week. Let see how it works this week. Apparently, this “gibberisher” is the same person who simply gets another email address for registration purposes (there are ~1500 email providers on the net). You would think said person would get tired of all this subterfuge and being banned every week. Apparently re-registering does not bother said odd and strange individual

  • wlockhar

    So the middle income class are Muslims who make $3,000 a year, instead of the $1 or $2 dollars a day they used to.Yep, that is something to post proudly in the news.

  • Kingofkings1

    Any attempt at “modernity” to please the west will be useless. The answer is found in the Quran itself, which says others won’t be pleased until the muslims have totally (or substantially) abandoned their faith.

  • matahari2

    So is the author saying that Islamic countries will now allow diversity and give non-Muslims the freedom of worship and have them build temples, churches etc?Will women be allowed to uncover their faces as well? Will terrorism stop?

  • ripvanwinkleincollege

    To CCNL1.

  • ravitchn

    Mohammed was middle class, a merchant from a prominent family. That didn’t stop him or his followers from being murderous fanatics.

  • Kingofkings1

    if the turn toward “modernity” is to please its enemies, refer back to the Quran where it warns the faithful that its enemies will not be satisfied until you have deserted your faith ; nothing less will please Islam’s enemies

  • safapechenart

    Many thanks for Dr. Nasr’s wise and judicious observations and analysis. It is indeed distressing, however, to read so many deragotary comments to his piece. What blindness. Please do not be discouraged and keep heart.

  • treetopflyer

    In a perverse way this reminds me of the creed espoused in the Godfather:”I’m a businessman, Tom. Blood is a big expense!”

  • mk4dx

    Muslims especially in middle east and south Asia especially are still living in 16th century mentality.They have not gone through the knowledge explosion sweeping the west after printing press invention as some said they are “mentally frozen in time”. There has not been any single article/monograph ever published in any Islamic language which challenges the existence of God or Quran as a divine script.Most at fault are the western educated muslims who so far did not have the courage to say so. Muslims can not improve unless they have a core group which can speak up their mind and work for seperation of religion and state and adopting the message of universal brotherhood rejecting Muslim brotherhood.All religions have contributed greatly but their time is over.Let people run their own affairs with out interference of God or those who claim to speak on his behalf.

  • vinceporter

    Why are 21st century humans still enslaved to the rubbish written by Middle East desert tribes thousands of years ago? The Bible and the Koran are nonsense and the people who believe in it are fools and trouble makers.

  • terrykingvt

    >>[QUOTE]There will be no worthwhile change in the attitudes of Muslims until the “death to all infidels” and anti-female passages are removed from the koran.There are equally stupid and out-dated passages in the Bible and other religious books.What works is when humans decide to interpret their religion and it’s books in the light of reason. THAT’S “Modernity”. I am from Vermont. Now, I live in Saudi Arabia. There are a wide variety of opinions and voices here, like in the USA. But often the conservative forces use the connection of State and Religion to overpower attempts at reason and compromise. I really now appreciate what the Writers of the US Constitution had in mind, when they reflected on the bad things that had happened in their Old World when Religion and State were combined. Like, say, the Spanish Inquisition. Or the Crusades and their sponsors.I’m at a large University where the fact that men and women working on a Doctorate degree can be in the same classroom enrages some Muslims. But the King of this country says otherwise. And the King, um.. Rules! I am optimistic that in the long run reason and diversity and tolerance will prevail. Jimmy Carter was here a couple of days ago. He had something to say that I think we all should reflect on:Jimmy Carter: ““The balance is between the constant and the evolving. If only constant, nothing happens and if only evolving, then there will be chaos. Balance is what brings them together. Change will give us diversity and constancy will give us unity,” he said.He added that diversity exists within unity and unity accommodates diversity and this was what brought us together as mankind.Carter said that his return to Saudi Arabia reminded him that the Kingdom represented the common aspirations of many human beings.“Peace, cooperation, forgiveness and ability to work together for common goals that are also common to all the major religions,” he said. OK. I love Vermont, but I’m glad I’ve had the chance to live in some other countries and to try to figure this stuff out…Regards, Terry King ..On the Red Sea at KAUST

  • shewholives

    That’s nice to hear that more Muslims are middle class. Will that make them more moderate? But as the saying goes, a moderate Muslim is one who has run out of ammunition.

  • shewholives

    Jimmy Carter is bought and paid for by the Saudis.

  • ccnl1

    test

  • ccnl1

    And the new “gibberisher” ONWAPO continues to make the rounds using a new email address wallowing in his/her sadness and strangeness!!!

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