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   Conferences / The Twelfth General Conference:Islam and Mutations of the Epoch
 
Establishing a Strategy for Technology Conforming to the Needs of the Muslim World

Establishing a Strategy for Technology
Conforming to the Needs of the Muslim World
BY
Aly R. Abuzaakouk
Executive Director
American Muslim Council
When we reflect on the developments in information technology
within our lifetimes, we can easily see that we are in a new phase of world
civilization. As Muslims we want the technology to be the servant of our
values. We would like to resolve the problems that prevail throughout the
Muslim world by suing a technology that is somehow value-oriented. Yet
knowing the obstacles that we face: the absence of technological
infrastructure, illiteracy, underdeveloped markets, centralized and
authoritarian forms of governments, the neglect of human rights and the
general pall of backwardness, one wonders if it is possible to meet the
challenge at all, let alone in a morally satisfying manner.
I would like to float a few ideas, a vision, if you will, of an Islamic
Renaissance intertwined with a technological development.
Analysis of practices in cyberspace offers us an understanding of how
people interact within virtual spaces, and how the hyper-space of the
Internet makes us aware of the limitations and barriers of physical space.
Henry David Thoreau correctly remarked that "no amount of motion of the
legs ever brought two minds closer together." Yet the public spaces
provided by the Internet, which are structural expressions of human needs
for socialization, provide revolutionary forums for interactions among
individuals and the outside world. They provide a lens through which to
identify the mutations taking place a rapidly evolving society.
The overheated discourse over the revolutionary mediums of the
Internet and computer mediated communications falls within a long
tradition of utopian optimism. This optimism (i) functions through a pro
active impetus, a mechanism that understands the barriers and necessities
that fuel the process for designing and implementing practices in virtual
space.
Barriers to access to the information age are profusely entrenched in
our global environment. Perhaps the most damaging is fear of the cultural
trespass associated with globalization. If Muslim governments do not
recognize that their own economic gain fuels cultural trespass, then similar
to Barber's (1995) contentions, "with a few global conglomerates
controlling what is created, ... the very idea of a genuinely competitive
market in ideas of images disappears and the singular virtue that markets
indisputably have over democratic command structures-the virtue of that
cohort of values associated with pluralism and variety; and... diversity...is
vitiated" (Barber, 1995, 88). (ii) Cultural trespass tends to mediate itself
more through media like television, where its impact is "immense and
totally pervasive. " (iii)
The Internet, however, is an accessible network community for all,
comprising a multi-cultural medium for communication more than the
television or radio. It enables the expression of all cultures and civilizations
through accessible and accelerated ways. The Internet as a computer-
mediated communication medium "begets a vast array of virtual
communities" (Castellas, 1996, 22). (iv) A positive perspective is that the
Internet is capable of communicating local, ethnic, religious, and national
cultures to a worldwide audience. However, considering that the United
States dominates cyberspace, the Internet is also capable of diffusing
dominant cultures similar to videos, movies and television.
In implementing systems analysis and design methods within the
context of developing and Islamic renaissance, a simple systems
Development Life Cycle FAST methodology is a useful analytic tool for
managing strategically the analysis, design, implementation and
maintenance of an online Islamic renaissance. The second axis concerning
this general conference is to define the stages of technology implantation,
establish a strategy for technology that conforms to the needs of the Muslim
world, coordinate and integrate the scientific establishments concerned with
the Muslim world, and support the scientific establishments concerned with
research and progress of technology in the Muslim states.
In FAST, the following processing needs explicit attention:
1. Survey and plan the project
2. Study and analyze the existing system
3. Define and prioritize the requirements
4. Configure a feasibly system solution
5. Procure any new hardware and software
6. Design and integrate the target system
7. Construct and test the target system
8. Deliver the production system
In surveying the existing methods to consign the process of converging
Islamic knowledge with technology, let us examine the process of acquiring
knowledge of the Qur'an as Tadhakkur and Tadhabbur. The guidance of the
Qur' an is central to implementing the resurgent renaissance of a new
Islamic civilization. One cannot garner the real blessings and treasures of
the Qur' an unless they understand it clearly, and its impetus as a guide to
every human being on an island is as much entitled to receive its guidance
as the human being immersed in scholarship. By accommodating the
process of the ritual of knowledge as related to the Qur'an and learning
about the Islamic Ummah's civilization is to accept that understanding the
Qur'an is a vast multi-dimensional process, comprising many types, aspects,
degrees, and levels, to free islands. This enlightening perception functions
through the lens of the revolution of digitization of print and manuscript,
and the revolution of society.
By understanding these objectives, we can create categories of
understanding like Tadhakkur and Tadhabbur. The former consists of
receiving admonition, advice, taking to heart; and the latter consists of a
category for understanding without and knowledge of sophisticated tools of
scholarship. It is in this sense of Tadhakkur that the Qur'an categorically
states that it is easy to understand and available to every sincere inquirer if
s/he only comprehends what s/he is reading and ponders over it. Through
Tadhakkur the Qur'an invites everyone who can hear, see, and think to be
guided by it. It operates on the intuitive level. Tadabbur, the other category
of understanding, signifies the semantic and hermeneutic understanding of
every meaning of every word, ayah, and Surah as one explores their
metaphors and parables discovers their textual cohesion and undertakes the
lexical intricacies, tanzil, historical background, and comparative study of
tafsir. It operates at the cerebral level.
We understand that the Qur'an operates at various levels. Knowledge
of the simple overt meaning of the Qur'anic imagery creates a social capital
that effuses the capacity for Tadabbur. Developing inquiring minds is the
key to acquiring a deeper understanding of the knowledge of the Qur'an.
Thus, technology whether in the form of the Internet, CD-ROMS, etc.
have the ability to provide diverse translated copies of the Qur'an in
various languages. Each copy should contain commentaries. Providing
more than one translation in each language is also crucial. More than
one detailed tafsir in multiple languages' provision of a standard Arabic
and Qur'anic dictionary to look deeper into the meanings of words,
meanwhile to create and concord a community with others. A strategy
for technology that conforms to the needs of the Muslim world adopts the
factors of technology, the Qur'an and the diversity of Muslims throughout
the world. Recognizing this diversity requires its celebration, exhibited by
diversifying and making the Tadhakkur and Tadabbur learning process as
accessible as possible by incorporating different translations of different
credible versions of the Qur' an, and tafsir works and by collecting a
myriad of commentaries, transliterations, and translations available in
Arabic, English, Urdu, and other European languages.
What are the objectives of utilizing the new technology? Do we want
to create a future Muslim Civilization? Do we want to inspire ourselves with
learning of the Muslim contributions to civilization? Perhaps the most
important element to consider in determining the stages of technology for
educating, assimilating and innovating is to create a model based on diverse
inputs from diverse individuals and communities about what they expect
this Islamic portal to manifest. Diversity is at the core of a global Islamic
community, and utilizing it for futuristic planning is crucial.
Various tools are useful for future research; an excellent resourceful
criterion for designing and manifesting the purpose of the implantation of
the Islamic renaissance through technology is the simulation model. Not
only can we use it to forecast, but also as a learning and educational tool.
The type of simulation I consider here is computer-assisted gaming- an
ingenious and highly interactive interface teaching users while testing them
on the extent of their knowledge. The process is based on an inter active
simulation teaching its players, while at the same time learning greatly from
their interaction for future simulations.
Before simulations of this scope are conducted, it is necessary to
involve key and leadership personnel from government, education, and
business in intensive workshops in order to accommodate the differing
perspectives into a standardized model for the development of a new
Islamic renaissance. These participants should engage in several weeks of
intensive study, where the process of reaching their own carefully reasoned
decisions regarding choices made from the plethora of alternative
procedures studied and evaluated in the last few days of the compressed
experience is facilitated.
Similarly, we can also assess the effects on society that can occur when
technology is introduced, extended, modified. Participants in all such survey
projects should represent balanced views from all levels of society, and
credible institutions from the non-governmental organizations, business
community, and government agencies.
Strategic vision is religious in nature. We need to understand and
employ the current technology to plan for the integration of religion
with technology. The collection of data and the purpose for its use must
consider the environment in which the system will be implemented. For
example, will we decide on community-centered instrumentalization for
technology for education, and community building? Will this take place in
Mosques, libraries, universities, community centers, homes, hospitals, and
hotels?
After determining the environment, ownership must be considered,
encompassing the system of end-users, designers, and builders. Throughout
the process we must keep in mind the network model. Then, the data
collection constrains the feasible system solutions. When the medium is
considered in the framework of the system requirements, the hardware,
software, networks, PCs, servers, data warehouses, databases, may be
specified.
Other elements that need to be incorporated are the construction and
testing of the target system, end-user training, educating in an entertaining
fashion.
How should we coordinate and integrate the scientific establishments
concerned with the Muslim world?
Comprehending that our current institutions interact as systems of
networks will help answer this question. As we continue to multiply and
evolve our networks, the Islamic renaissance can leap forward as ideas are
disseminated and developed among the participating nodes. Our existing
social and communication networks can be made network hubs within the
new technology. Within physical topologies, they act as central points of
control.
The value-added advantage of integrating physical networks into
technology is that when two factors of production enter into a production
relationship, they develop a degree of specificity with respect to each other
and to the choice of technology, in the sense that their value within this
arrangement is greater than their value outside" (Caballero, 2000, 12). This
is our argument. Technology is a catalyst that has instigated an inherent
restructuring of institutions into transparent, responsible, functional,
and accountable systems.
Can the Muslim world support the scientific establishments concerned
with research and progress of technology in the Muslim countries by
supporting the networks sustaining it? The problem of support for these
crucial networks is that in most Muslim countries, the Public
Telecommunications Operators (PTO' s) are governing the Internet content
distribution and dissemination market. These legal monopolies have
hindered the growth of the Internet because they charge local telephone
costs by minute. These PTO's are insufficiently competitive to invest in the
Internet industry. Thus, by keeping maintaining these PTO's, developing
countries hurt themselves and impede development. How do we advance the
Islamic renaissance with these current institutional barriers? Collier
(2000) insists that lack of transparency, accountability, and
responsibility make for dysfunctional policymaking institutions, where
bottlenecks quell the flow of the information economy, usually
contributing to the autonomous control of the technology network.
According to Garcia, "bottlenecks are also a source of network power and
control" (Garcia, 19,1999). Only the removal of monopoly status, opening
the market to competing service providers can provide less expensive and
more flexible services, eliminating the bottlenecks of constraints that they
currently hold on the networks of Muslim civil society.
The era we live in has been dubbed the "information age" not be
cause information is more important to people today than it was a hundred
years ago, but because of the invention of technology that has
a) facilitated the conversion of data into information and
b) allowed for greater speed in the delivery of information over larger
distances. The information age is construed as a revolution caused by
new communication technologies that will radically reshape and
restructure social patterns. The term is far from neutral. Being a modern
Western construct, it basically puts those who do not have the electronic
technology to access vast pools of data in cyberspace at the bottom of the
food chain. The information have-nots are now the know-nots.
Not only individuals, but whole societies are interacting through
networks via online transactions and computer-related media. Technology
affects not only our personal interface with information but affect our
everyday existence and common chores. The digitization of society serves
people's interests differently, and has become more beneficial to the
younger generation. Our children will grow up in corporating the computer
in their lives just as we found television or the telephone to be a natural
technology. They differ from those of us in an older generation who are not
only daunted by the difficulties of relearning techniques, but to whom
embracing this new age seems futile when we do not feel that we will be
around much longer to use it. Granted, it has the possibility of representing
everyone's interests, from the young to the old, but in actuality, truly is
more useful for our younger generations.
Thus the term, "the information age" is not neutral or value-free. It
calls upon many associations with history and progress, perhaps escalating
the importance of this era to unwarranted heights by comparing it with
previous periods that took place over many hundreds and thou sands of
years. Let's then assume that "technology" refers only to in formation
technology; and "technology-society relationship" only to human's
dependence on technology to obtain information. Would "information age"
then be a useful term to help us understand this relationship? Advanced
communications technology transfers force globalization on the rest of the
world, yet so does the cultural and political transfer, or more like
transmission, a metaphor of the transportation of geography through
communication, a culture dominating the "imparting", "sending", and
"giving information to others" (Carey, 1993, 15) the rest of the world and at
the same time strengthens the bonds of language, culture, customs and
tradition between people.
As an ideology, the "information age" has come to symbolize the rise
of a networked society and with it a global society. As a process, the
"information age" is defined by experience and knowledge, which, together,
are valuable commodities. The Internet and World Wide Web (WWW)
have rendered geographic boundaries that used to identify people (city
council districts, counties, states, countries, even continents) less and less
relevant. First of all, I do agree with one aspect of the term-that the
transformation of all kinds of human expression into data-in other words,
into codes that can be transmitted and manipulated at nearly the speed of
light-is a change so important as to warrant the heavy label of "an Age" in
human history.
The "information age" as an era of data collection, mining, and
dissemination is the new paradigm we have entered. However, "in
formation" is by no means a neutral term. Those who have the access to
translate information into digital data are able to perpetuate, guide, and
dictate the ideology of this new age. They are also able to define the
processes by which information is received. The values embedded in the
"information age" are not all-inclusive but are projected as global (hence
the Westernization of many developing countries). The "information age"
represents the interests of those who have the knowledge, experience, and
access to data and communication technologies. Furthermore, by defining
this era as the "information age," one is able to incorporate plethora of
factors that have come to illustrate our relationship between technology and
society.
It would be wise of us to remember the distinctions between data,
information, knowledge, and wisdom. At a crude level, the technology is a
means of data mining. As Muslims it should be our desire to be in the
forefront of devising software technology at a higher level, to take access to
an even greater and wider database and to empower our community, our
ummah, to obtain from that data meaningful information that can improve
our lives in accordance with Islamic values. Our objective must not be to
shrink the existing database by purging it "Western" or allegedly "Un-
Islamic" content, but to, on the one hand, expand it to include the data from
our own heritage and current concerns and conceptions and to enhance the
ability of Muslims to sort through that data "hurling truth against error."
At yet a higher level of abstraction this information must be turned
into knowledge and then wisdom. These are still the province of the human
intellect. Technology may be called for aid, but we must do the job.


References
Barber, Benjamin. Jihad vs. Mcworld: How Globalism and Tribalism
are Reshaping the World. (NY: Times Book, 1995).
Carey, J.W. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society.
(New York, London: Routledge, 1992).
Johnson, Steven. Interface Culture: How New Technology Trans
forms the Way We Create and Communicate. (Basic Books, 1997). Manual
Castellas, The Rise of the Network Society (The Information Age:
Economy, Society and Culture, (Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK: Blackwell,
1996).
Mitchell, William I. "Recombinant Architecture," in City of Bits:
Space, Place, and the Infoban (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995), pp.46-
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Mowlana, Hamid. Global Information and World Communication,
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(i) Shery Turkle. Winter 1996. http://www.prospect.org/ achieves/ 24/
24turk .html
(ii) Benjamin Barber, Jihad "5. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism
are Reshaping the World. NY:Times Book, 1995.
(iii) Hamid Mowlana, Global Information and World Communication,
(Thousand Oaks. CA: Sage, 1997), pp. 66-130.
(iv) Manual Castellas, The Rise of the Network Society (The information
Age: Economy, Society and Culture, I) Cambridge, MA; Oxford, UK:
Blackwell, 1996).


 
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