Islam's Advance Banner

« Previous Post | Next Post »

Lifestyle Islamism

Click here to read this post in Arabic.

The theme of our next guest voice explores two concepts not usually associated with each other: Islamism and consumer culture.

Islamists - those who believe the Koran is a political manifesto as well as moral guide - often chose to live differently than the rest of society, and as an increasing number of enterprising businessmen are now discovering, where there are choices, there's money to be made.

Ursula Lindsey is an American journalist who has spent the past five years in Cairo, the self-styled seat of Middle Eastern culture, and writes a blog on Middle Eastern art and culture. Here she explores this brave new world of Islam as a lifestyle choice.

Moez Masoud is a young Egyptian TV preacher who's getting an increasing amount of attention in Cairo and beyond, offering Islam's version of American televangelism. He started out doing programs for expatriate Muslims, in English - a niche market - but he's now a rising star among Arabic language preachers as well. He is probably the second most popular preacher after super-star Amr Khaled. As you can see from the clips available on YouTube, he has a very heart-felt, enthusiastic delivery, and a progressive (not to say New Age) outlook. He once explained his relationship to God to me during an interview in terms of a Bryan Adams song: "Everything I do, I do it for you. I would die for you. I'd cry for you. Walk the wild for you. etc." He concluded, "That is submission to Allah." The message of someone like Masoud--globalized, pop-culture heavy--isn't anti-Western or anti-modernity. His real message is, "You can have everything the West has, just the Islamic version of it." Masoud is a representative of a larger trend of taking Western trends and concepts and re-branding them as Islamic. (Islamist TV executives who founded an Islamic satellite channel once told me their number one role model was Oprah.) Today you have Islamic fashion, Islamic real estate, Islamic recreation, Islamic soda, Islamic banking of course. You have veiled aerobics instructors that give classes only to women. You have magazine spreads on the latest most fashionable way to pin your hejab. You have tens of thousands of kids going to the concerts of Sami Youssef, who sings pop songs about the Prophet Muhammad and Allah. In today's Cairo, there is a large section of the population who express their religiosity through consumer choices. And there is a growing industry that capitalizes in a myriad ways on the "Islam" brand. This kind of "lifestyle Islam" is mostly devoid of political content. Masoud and Amr Khaled avoid any comment on domestic Egyptian politics--they certainly don't advocate for the overthrow of the state, or for any form of violence. In fact, when I interviewed Masoud I was struck by how naive his political views were--basically, that if everyone were to become "a good Muslim," all the country's problems would be solved. The preachers and the businessmen who support various Islamic ventures also aren't generally anti-Western. They want to beat the West at its own capitalist game--present Islam in a sleek, competitive, appealing package (and make a bit of profit along the way). Of course they are socially conservative by Western standards, and may have aspirations of eventually changing Egyptian society. But it seems to me that the middle class Egyptian who are fans of Masoud and who buy into an Islamic lifestyle just want progress and luxury with an Islamic coating. This movement, which Swiss researcher Patrick Haenni has labelled in his brilliant book as "Market Islam," is strikingly reminiscent of the Christian conservative movement in America, which also has gone into aggressive merchandising, and has its own media, TV stars and motivational literature, and an emphasis on material success.

Email the Author | Email This Post | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

Comments (12)

Observer:

Factual?
I said in an earlier post:
"They (Arabs) back up this claim by enumerating the Arab victories over the mighty empires of Rome and Persia during the early history of Islam."
Factual counters:
“Whoever said that is off by a few hundred years. Even (if) you consider the Byzantine Empire the successor of the Roman Empire, it was the Ottoman Turks, not Arabs, who defeated it;”

Moi:
I am the one who , according to you, is “off by a few hundred years”.
The Arabs brag about their victories against the Romans which took place in the 7th Century, and not about the Turkish victories which do not particularly enhance their self esteem. When the Turks invaded Anatolia, they also invaded the Arab lands. Got that?

muscat friend:

very interesting.

i am currently reading "The World Without Us" which explores the history of mankind, going back 30 million years. From that perspective, it's really hard to take Islam and all relatively new religion's seriously. I appreciate their message, but "word of God"? I think not.

Farah :

I wrote about "market Islam" on my blog two days ago http://farahnobleman.blogspot.com/2008/07/closet-islam.html
But while I may have wrote it using a rather critical tone (as a Muslim speaking to largely - other Muslims)I would reiterate my optimism in the Muslim community's success in conciling their Muslim and global identity; a classic post-colonial, post-imperial quandary.

center:

Wow: He once explained his relationship to God to me during an interview in terms of a Bryan Adams song: "Everything I do, I do it for you. I would die for you. I'd cry for you. Walk the wild for you. etc

Bryan song is emotive, sympolic. The islamists are literal in what they will do for God.

The message (ideology) has not changed...

Jeff:

Steve: "Bottom line is that Islam is evil and the only major world religion that is today intolerant of the other world religions..."
--------------------------------------

Steve: your religion must also be intolerant of the other world religions, or you would not be stereotyping Islam as you do. Ever hear the expression that "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"?

Islam:

the most intolerant religion in the world. They have more than 50 nations exclusively for Muslims where minorities are disappearing and openly discriminated, including land of prophet Saudi Arabia

charlie:

It's all materialistic consumerism no matter what label you put on it. Money, money, money and greed is what it is all about. That's the road that the world is heading down.

L.Kurt Engelhart:

"if everyone were to become 'a good Muslim,' all the country's problems would be solved"

This is an obsolete goal of all religions. World history shows us that this goal cannot be obtained. A larger community will always exist that does not share your religion. Communities with this goal will always create a ghetto for themselves. These ghettos will always be targets for destruction by the outside community. All religions need to find ways that they can connect productively and peacefully with other communities. The alternative is destruction.

JBE:

Great. Just what the world needs. More televangelists.

Televangelists - regardless of their creed - are EVIL. They are in it FOR THE MONEY. They will say ANYTHING to make you send in cash or raise their ratings.

Masoud is dragging Islam into the gutter JUST like the fundamentalist evagelical christian televangelists dragged christianity into the gutter.

Nice job.

Factual:

"They back up this claim by enumerating the Arab victories over the mighty empires of Rome and Persia during the early history of Islam."

Whoever said that is off by a few hundred years... Even is you consider the Byzantine Empire the successor of the Roman Empire, it was the Ottoman Turks, not Arabs, who defeated it and conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul).

Georgiason:

I'm not quite sure what the purpose of this article is, but it offers an opportunity to discuss Islam in Egypt.

Before we are subjected to more brainless messages about the positive aspects of Islam, please do a search on the NEWS section of the POST July 7 and read this article in full:

"Egypt's Coptic Christians Are Choosing Isolation - Violent Clashes With Majority Muslims and an Increase in Separate Institutions Help Sever Centuries-Old Ties

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 7, 2008; A08

CAIRO -- Under pressure from fundamentalist forms of Islam and bursts of sectarian violence, the most populous Christian community in the Middle East is seeking safety by turning inward, cutting day-to-day social ties that have bound Muslim to Christian in Egypt for centuries, members of both communities say.
Attacks this summer on monks and shopkeepers belonging to Egypt's Coptic Christian minority, and scattered clashes between Muslims and Christians, have compelled many of Egypt's estimated 6 million to 8 million Copts to isolate themselves in a nation with more than 70 million Muslims..."

I am one of those Americans who has pointed out the monumental hypocrisy at work when Muslims harp on the alleged ignorance of Americans about Islam, while ignoring the fact that Muslim countries refuse to grant Christians in their midst the freedoms enjoyed every day by Muslims in America. I rest my case.

Observer:

Mr.Fairweather says:
"when I interviewed Masoud I was struck by how naive his political views were--basically, that if everyone were to become "a good Muslim," all the country's (Egypt) problems would be solved."

When the Arab armies were decimated in six days by tiny Israel during the 1967 war, the blanket explanation by many Arabs was that ” it was Allah’s punishment to the Arabs because many strayed away from the true teachings of Islam“. They back up this claim by enumerating the Arab victories over the mighty empires of Rome and Persia during the early history of Islam when faith was more entrenched. This is the argument that is used today by those who recruit for the Islamist parties in the Arab countries.
Some off course blame the West in general and the United States in particular for all their shortcomings. When once in a long while some thinking Arab ventures to do a bit of self criticism he or she would be run out of town if not worse.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.