Muslims today listen to and interpret the divine word of the Quran, and strive to live their lives according to the sharī‘ah and a diverse set of ritual practices. Muslims also follow the model of the Prophet, and some pursue the inward path of Sufi teachings. These are the facets of traditional Islam largely held in common across time and place in the Muslim world. Today in the post-colonial era, the Muslim world is expanding and experiencing the challenges of both resurgence and worldwide migration.
Whereas in the twentieth century Islam had played an important role in the development of nation states in the Islamic world, in the last few decades certain groups have begun interpreting Islam as a transnational ideology in ways that undermine the nation state. Some of these groups such as al- Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) have dominated global headlines with terrorist acts perpetrated against Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They typically conceive of the world in terms of a “clash of civilizations,” in which they serve as the vanguard of Islam against an unjust, corrupting, and materialistic West, although individual reasons for joining such groups vary widely. Their actions have been roundly condemned by governments, religious groups (including most Muslims), and citizens across the globe, though many urge attention to the conditions that have given rise to these groups, including the legacies of colonialism, the lingering tensions between Israel and Palestine, and the negative consequences of globalization.
However, such radical groups only represent one approach within a wide spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum, Sufi orders continue to serve as important social institutions which exert spiritual as well as political influence. In Senegal for example, it has been estimated that 90 percent of the Muslim population (which makes up around 92 percent of the total population) belong to a Sufi order, and leaders of the Murīdiyyah order in particular have a significant, though often indirect, influence in the sphere of government. Additionally, prominent transnational orders, such as the Bā‘Alawiyyah based in Yemen, connect thousands of Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula to Indonesia and the United States with a transnational identity and a message of devotion and love for God and the Prophet.
In the post-colonial context, migration has also reshaped the Islamic world. The number of emigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to Western Europe and the Americas has increased significantly in the past thirty years, with the exodus including highly-educated professionals, laborers, students and political refugees. There are now thriving Muslim communities and magnificent mosques in Paris, London and Rome, as well as New York, Vancouver and Mexico City. Immigrant Muslims, however, have often faced considerable hostility, the product of both racial and religious prejudice in their new homes.
Despite the myriad political, social, cultural, economic and other challenges faced by Muslims today, the “Muslim world” continues to expand; Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. The adage, “Islam is one, Muslims are many” is clearly evident. Muslims of every sect, nationality, and school of jurisprudence are represented in regions throughout the world, together creating the ummah of the faith. In the United States, recent immigrants of all backgrounds mix with second and third generation American Muslims, converts from other faiths, and an African American Muslim community with historic roots that go back to transatlantic slavery. This mixing is encouraging the growth of a uniquely American expression of Islam, which in turn mixes with other expressions as ideas, opinions, and knowledge is exchanged—an experience as true of Islam today as it was in the age of Islamic empires.
Despite the myriad political, social, cultural, economic and other challenges faced by Muslims today, the “Muslim world” continues to expand; Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. The adage, “Islam is one, Muslims are many” is clearly evident. Muslims of every sect, nationality, and school of jurisprudence are represented in regions throughout the world, together creating the ummah of the faith.
Abida Parveen, renowned singer of Muslim devotional poetry, Wikimedia Commons.
A fast-breaking meal (iftar) in North Carolina, 2012. Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, Flickr Creative Commons.