Modernization is not Westernization


By : Khaled Al Maeena



According to the latest Arab Youth Survey, 46 percent of Arab youth believe that traditional values are outdated and wish to embrace modern values and beliefs. This belief has risen steadily over the years – only 17percent agreed with this sentiment in 2011. The findings of the Arab Youth Survey became the topic of discussion in Dubai recently to define “what constituted the bases of traditional or modern values”.

Obviously, there is no clear definition of traditional values or a comprehensive understanding of modern values. The issue has yet to be settled in our society.

The moment anyone speaks of modernizing society a barrage of criticism is hurled at him or her with no logical explanation to support their argument. Their objection is always based on a false assumption that it is un-Islamic to modernize. Even minor modern acts are subject to scrutiny and baseless suspicions.

In our society there are those who perceive any act or behavior that does not have deep roots as Westernization. And thus an aberration.

Fadi Ghandour founder of Aramex asks: “What’s a modern value? Is it being able to surf the net? Is it driving a car? Is it not wearing the scarf? Is it speaking in English?”

The answers to these questions will not satisfy many people and need a lot of clarification.

Opposition to modernization comes mainly from those who are against it because of its perceived Western origin. A lot of people are misled by institutions and people who assert that if we modernize we will be Westernized and we will erode our values and compromise our Muslim culture and traditions.

However, they fail to realize that modernization and Westernization are two different issues. We can no longer dismiss the need to modernize and to compete in the fast moving modern world of the 21st century. We can no longer ignore the presence of women or recognize their role as contributing members in society. Today, it is unacceptable to disrespect the role of women scientists and female nurses who contribute to science and save lives.
It is also unrealistic not to show appreciation for air hostesses who serve us on our travels, or to ridicule women presenters who often conduct TV interviews to shed light on major issues that affect our lives. How can anyone deny women’s inclusion in the public domain in this day and age!

It is unfortunate that many use modern methods of communication and the social media to propagate their criticism of modernization. Some even use foul language on social media to attack modernizers on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. They use the most modern tools to attack the basic elements of modernity, what a contradiction!!

Cultures and subcultures differ in every country and even in ours. For instance, our attitude toward women’s roles and their inclusion in society, the upbringing of children or the treatment of employees may differ from one region to another. There are those who have succeeded in acquiring modern principles of communicating and dealing with others and there are those who have yet to find their way. The world has changed, modern ideas and new methods of education define our relationship with others. Do we by acquiring these values go against our religion?! The answer is an emphatic No!!

The main focus of our religion is behavior. We have closed the door of “ijtihad” or logic a long time ago and thus the power of reasoning and intellectual discourse rarely crops up among our educators and it is frowned upon by our resisting hardline religious scholars.

For many in our society, it is easier for them not to accept change and to attack any novel idea or theme and label it as Westernization in order to avoid a confrontation with angry religious scholars.

However, it is time that we all understood that we do not have to compromise our Muslim values or adopt the lifestyle of the West in order to modernize and develop. Modernization is not Westernization.

– The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena





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