We’ve spent much of the past year covering troubling events throughout the Muslim world – increased conflict in the Middle East, civil rights struggles in the US, and most recently the Iranian earthquake that may have killed up to 30,000 people. However, at the end of each year we try to reflect on some of the hopeful and positive things that happened. Some of these events are major events that we’ve all read about, such as the fall of Saddam Hussein or the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, but behind the headlines there are glimpses into trends and hard work that happen in the background, that few of us may know about. Economic empowerment, social justice, conflict resolution, and people-to-people diplomacy are occuring outside the spotlight of the media, but their impact on society is still significant. In all things big and small, we can find inspiration and direction that we can use to make 2004 an even better year. Let’s take a look at some of these points of light.
Muslims have been very vocal about this year’s war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Much time has been focused, and rightly so, on troubling aspects of it – the extension of US military hegemony over the region, the rejection of international cooperation in the war’s aftermath, and the price paid in terms of human suffering of Iraq’s civilian population. But no matter what your stance on the war or the method by which it occured, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power is a turning point for Iraq that put an end to one of the region’s bloodiest dictators and marks the beginning of justice for his victims. We can only pray that in the future Muslims will have the strength and forebearance to remove their own tyrants – assuming, of course, that the West does its part by pulling their support from them.
Drug companies consider him a thief, but Yusuf Hamied and his Bombay, India based company Cipla is a savior to many around the world who are suffering from diseases such as AIDS. Hamied single-handedly broke the cartel of multinational drug companies by creating generic AIDS drugs that cost 1/10th of their brand name counterparts. “I don’t want to make money on Aids drugs,” he says. “I make enough money on other things.” Hamied runs a free cancer hospital in India and is working to see that AIDS drugs are tailored to meet the needs of the vast majority of sufferers by being cheap and simple. He is launching the world’s first once-a-day AIDS treatment, and is offering free doses of nevirapine (which prevents babies from being infected when born to an HIV+ mother), but governments have so far been uncooperative because of pressure from the research-based pharmaceutical industry.
Few Muslims outside of Iran had heard of Shirin Ebadi before her nomination and unexpected win of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work defending the rights of women and children in Iran. But the significance of her award goes far beyond highlighting the role of Muslim women in fostering positive change in their communities. It was a message to all Muslims that we cannot depend on our governments and leaders to make things better, and that each one of us can stand up and make a difference. Imagine how much better things would be if there were 100 Shirin Ebadis (male or female) in every Muslim country. She is an example of how it is possible, and in her dignified yet strong acceptance speech in Oslo, she also showed the importance of speaking truth to power, whether that power be in Washington or Tehran. There’s less to be afraid of in the post-Ebadi world.
On the face of it, these upstart cola brands released in Europe and the Middle East are no match for sugar-water behemoths Coke and Pepsi. But their introduction marks a trend where developing countries (and minority communities in developed ones) are breaking the stranglehold of large corporations and creating an indigineous economy in its place. First introduced in Europe, these colas have moved into the Middle East and have already made a significant dent in the market. Now if only the Muslim world could wean itself off of unhealthy colas and move on to something healthier. There’s a market opportunity for you.
While people on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the conflict are complaining about this unofficial agreement, signed this year after two years of secret negotiations, there is much to be hopeful about. First of all, polls show over 50% of each side’s population agree with it and want to see it implemented. No other proposed solution from any involved party comes even close. Second, it shows that even in the midst of some of the worst violence and accelerated settlement and wall building the area has seen, there is still the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Geneva was a message to the world from the “moderate majority” in both camps: Solve this conflict now, or we’ll do it for you. Sounds like a good strategy – not just for the Middle East, but for a host of other social and political issues.
Exaggerated fears of a Muslim reconquista aside, the opening of Granada’s first new mosque since 1492, in the shadow of the Alhambra, was of great significance to Spanish and European Muslims. It signifies the reassertion of European Muslim identity as part and parcel of the European continent; both sharing in its historical achievements and responsible for helping create a better future for all its inhabitants.
On February 15th, a voice was heard around the world, one of the largest of its kind. Even though the voice was defied by US and British leaders, the organization of between 10-15 million peace marchers was unprecedented and represented the cooperation of many disparate groups uniting for one purpose – to assert the role of the international community to resolve world conflicts and deny the validity of unilateral military action in Iraq. It was a shared vision of a better world that, although it did not see fruition this time, will be the seed that brings more international cooperation and government accountability to its citizenry.
Another very significant news story that went largely unreported this year was the dramatic reduction in hostilities in Sudan’s bloody civil war, one of the longest running wars in history. The march toward a negotiated settlement between the mostly Muslim north and Christian/Animist south appears to be nearly unstoppable, with peace talks in Kenya reaching the final stages and rebels this week arriving in the capital Khartoum for the first time in 20 years. “The peace negotiations have reached a point from which there is no turning back,” said ice President Ali Osman Mohammed Taha as he welcomed the rebel delegation. “But we need the backing of all Sudanese people. That is why we are here today.” The US government is throwing its support behind the negotiations as well.
Nobody thought that the seeds of reconciliation would grow so quickly so soon after the devastating anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat that killed thousands. But the election of Aneesa Mirza, a senior member of the Congress Party who defeated a candidate from the powerful Hindu-nationalist BJP party, was a clear sign of a turnaround. “My election will definitely build confidence amongst the people – both the Hindus and Muslims,” she said. Mirza is India’s first Muslim woman mayor and has pledged to work toward an end to communal violence.
It was a small legal victory – one person acquitted amid an onslaught of ill-considered, merciless, and simplistic shari’a laws in Nigeria. But the world (Muslim and others) rallied behind single-mother Amina Lawal, who was accused of adultery after giving birth to a child long after her divorce from her former husband. There is a long road ahead – after all, the same courts that brought on the international uproar still exist and are handing down rulings. But the Lawal case has caused Muslims to re-examine shari’a law and bring forth more compassionate and practical applications that counter those of Nigeria’s shari’a courts. There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but Amina Lawal symbolizes the first step toward that goal.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.