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Guest Lectures

Future of Muslims: Negotiating between perceptions and reality

By: Professor Adnan Zulfiqar
April 12, 2011 - Islamabad

Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center organized a lecture on April 12, 2011, on the future of Muslims and the notion of perception and reality, by Professor Adnan Zulfiqar.

Mr. Adnan Zulfiqar, who is a Law and Public Policy advisor at the Annenberg Center for Global Communication in Philadelphia, delivered the guest lecture. At present, he is pursuing his doctorate in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the Department of Middle Eastern Languages & Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania. In the past, he has been the President of Salzburg Global Seminar, Austria, and a visiting scholar for human rights in Tehran. He is, also, an adjunct professor for religious studies at Arcadia University. He holds a Juris Doctor from University of Pennsylvania, MLS in International Law from Georgetown University, and bachelors in religion and anthropology from Emory University.

A fine line divides perception and reality. In Pakistan, and often the entire Muslim World, stereotypes plague policymaking, higher education, and public opinion. Our society often fails to differentiate reality from perceptions and stereotypes. It has been noticed that we have freedom of media, and expression, but we don’t have expression of freedom.

Mr. Adnan Zulfiqar is an expert on Muslims rights, and delivered a very deep guest lecture on the future of Muslim society. According to Mr. Zulfiqar, the future of Muslims is taking shape right before of our eyes, as witnessed by the Arab revolution. Muslims have taken their future in their own hands, such that desires of young Muslims are met adequately.

According Mr. Zulfiqar, four important factors would decide the future of Muslims around the globe: Egalitarianism, Education, Representative Governments, and Civil Discourse. These factors are equally important, and there exists no hierarchy; however, the notion of egalitarianism weighs heavier than the rest.

A better future for Muslims rests on the narrowing social divide among Muslims: our societies are severely stratified. The common courtesies of humanity fail to trickle down to very bottom strata of Muslim societies: migrant workers in Dubai, house servants in Pakistan. In addition, the unequal distribution of resources makes the situation debilitating. This unbalance is attributed, by the elites, to therrelative abilities and intelligence, as opposed to the circumstances of their birth. The concept of upward mobility is absent in many parts of the Muslim World.

There is, also, a dire need for investment in the education sector:“The future of the Muslim community will be determined by the extent to which the education becomes a priority”. Pakistanhas invested less than 3% of its GDP towards education. Education is a prerequisite for upward mobility, breaking the cycle of poverty, and the elevation of social classes.

In addition to egalitarianism and education, representative governments are also necessary for a bright future of Muslim societies. Representative government allowfor the proliferation of views and grievances of all factions of the society. Freedom in our societies, particularly in dictatorships and monarchies, is very important because it bearsthe ability to determine one’s own future.

The notion of civil discourse, in addition to the three factors outlined above, is absolutely necessary to the future of Muslims. Civil discourse refers to the opportunity to be able to disagree, and to be able to appreciate differences and adversity within the society. In today’s modern world, Muslims around the world are unable to engage in public discourage civilly. Various factions are dismissive of others, without just cause. In many Muslim countries, elites have marginalized the working class and poor factions of the population, and have stripped them of their voice in the public discourse. In doing so, the elites they have created a monopoly with regards to the ideas that will shape the future of Muslim societies.

A compromise between perceptions and reality will help determine the future of Muslims. Our own perceptions of ourselves matter more than perceptions of others about us. Factionsof the global society treat the Muslim community based on Muslims perceive and manage their own societies.

Discussion pertaining to the guest lecture mostly tackled the notion of secularity: do Muslims need secular education? How do we set up educational systems, such that secular education and religion are never at crossroads? Other questions addressed the lack of democratic history in Pakistan: Can democratically elected, representative governments lead Muslims of Pakistan to development and prosperity? Another important question dealt with the notion of secularity in Pakistan: Is Pakistan a secular state?