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Idolising Islam

Idolising Islam

Issue 59 August 2009

Do you want to be the next Islamic Idol?

An Egyptian TV programme earlier this year pitted 12 hopefuls against each other in an American Idol-style singing contest in order to achieve that most perplexing of accolades: “Islamic Idol.”  Yup, go ahead with the double take on the title. I did the same, unable to imagine two concepts so diametrically opposed to each other being brought together in a serious manner.

The show aimed to find talent for a new Islamic pop channel in the Arab world, 4shbab, For the Youth, which appears to be a sort of halal MTV for an upcoming generation of young Muslims who are conscious of observing their Islamic faith.  Ahmad Abu Heiba whose idea lies behind the channel says his mission is to spread the message that observant Muslims can also be modern and in touch with today’s world. 

Muslims are not alone in wanting to create alternative choices to the mainstream in order to meet their beliefs. Those who keep kosher, observe a vegetarian diet, or make efforts to live an environmentally friendly life are amongst many others trying to create product options. If by creating “Islamic” options we also create opportunities for Muslims to live their lives at their most spiritually fulfilled level, then this is a good thing. 

However, something still niggles with some of these “Islamic alternatives”. Remember the rise of “Islamic cola” a few years ago? Brands like Mecca Cola, Zamzam Cola and Qibla Cola sprung onto our shelves during a period of great encouragement in the Muslim community to boycott mainstream brands. They sold millions of bottles across the world to a cola-thirsty ummah. The political situation had made Muslims conscious of what they were drinking, so why didn’t Muslim entrepreneurs take the opportunity to introduce different beverages in healthier and more innovative flavours instead of mindlessly aping a high-calorie drink which rots your teeth? 

Not only would boycott-conscious Muslims have been helped to support their efforts, but such new products might have served a wider audience all of whom are looking for new alternatives. The political opportunity would have been the perfect platform to highlight not only the political change Muslims were demanding, but also the social value they were adding to everyone. By thinking only within the confines of the label “Islamic”, products are not necessarily designed to be good from the bottom-up for the benefit of all in the long run. Instead, they focus on a short-term need.

You will tell me that there is nothing wrong in meeting an urgent short term requirement that meets the technical specification of your need, and you would be absolutely right. Except for the following facts: if all you ever do is focus on today, your future can never be any different to your yesterday. If all you ever do is tweak the products and paradigms of others to conform to your technicalities, you will only ever be a follower, never a leader. 

So, whilst we must support the efforts of those who try to help us live more Islamic lives by giving us “Islamic” options, we must at the same time push harder for original thinking in the civic, social and business spheres which will create a better future not just for Muslims, but for everyone. One very obvious example is the eco-industry. Islam at its very core is about maintaining respect and balance with the environment. Whilst we are busy spending all our time on getting the technicalities right, (remembering that they are indeed very important) we forget that other extremely important point: Islam is a big-picture way-of-life, concerned with equilibrium at a cosmic level. Muslims therefore have a great deal to contribute to setting the very parameters of this nascent debate. Muslim thinking and entrepreneurs are well-placed to shape this new paradigm, contribute to its development and then to capitalise commercially. 

There is one bigger, more critical worry when we focus on creating me-too products with the label “Islamic”. When we tick off the list of requirements for something to be “Islamic”, we must be wary of serving “Islam” itself rather than the Creator and that ‘Islam’ itself does not become an idol that must be placated. Is our intent “for the sake of Islam” or is it for the sake of the Creator? When “Islam” or being “Islamic” are the end goals, then we find that titles like “Islamic Idol” are easily created, and that must be a cautionary lesson for all of us.


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