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To most people today, religion is a thing of little importance. That is because experience with life teaches them that religion and religious values neither play any useful role in today’s life nor are capable of solving any of its problems. There isn’t a problem today, whether it is of the individual or the community, domestic or international, that religion can solve. “Enough,” they’d say with a sigh, “if religion did not add to the existing problems.”

Accordingly, to most people if religion has any function, it is strictly esoteric, spiritual, personal and private. They see that some individuals are religiously inclined who seem to find solace in prayers, prarthanas, hymns, chants, meditation, asceticism, ritualistic dancing, self-torture, processions, drum beating, Satanic facial painting, etc. They don’t see how these rituals or practices can offer any solace except in people’s imagination. However if they do, then what it amounts to is that religion could be considered as a balm for the wounds inflicted by life.  From the wounds themselves there is no escape. That is, religion cannot solve the problems that man faces. At best, if an individual overburdened with problems were to turn to it, he might find some healing there. As for the problems themselves, well, there is nothing that religion can do about them. It is neither capable of preventing problems from arising, nor can it find a solution to them. The case is similar to diseases. Diseases will be there. Doctors cannot eradicate them. At best they can apply a balm when someone is inflicted. That at best is religion. Nevertheless, granted that it is a balm, it definitely is only for some. Not for all. In fact, to most people religion is a burden: “do this, don’t do that,” and so on, something that robs them of their freedom without ever paying back for the trouble they take.

It is in these terms that the people think of religion in our times. And they are not wrong – considering the religions that they follow. But, influenced by this opinion, popularised through education, literature, media, drawing-room gossip, philosophy, and, not to forget, experience, the Muslims, cut off from Revelation, have also begun to attach the same sentiments to their religion. To most of them today, especially in the non-Arab world, where the distancing from the Revelation is of a much higher order, Islam is no more, no less, than other religions. It is merely “one of the religions” and therefore, endowed with the same merits (if there be any), capable of the same functions, and qualified with the same shortcomings.

They have no idea that theirs being a Revealed religion, (a piece of fact they relegate to the remotest corner of their minds), Islam is not a religion of the same definitions and same functions as others. All the ideas about other religions, found in textbooks, encyclopaedias, philosophical or religious discourses, or newspaper columns, are applicable to every religion except Islam. Islam is neither a religion of rituals, nor a system of taboos, nor a balm for pains of life, nor a burden on the human beings. Indeed, it is nothing if it is not a blessing for mankind: “And We reveal of the Qur’an that which is a cure and a blessing for the believers.” (17: 82)

Islam is not a religion like any other, that, when a wounded soul comes to it, will apply some balm, re invigorate the man and return him endowed with the confidence that he has the strength now to bear some more wounds: hit me if you can! When that happens, that is, inflicted by more wounds, he may come back and get balmed once again. If that was Islam, it would have long been abandoned. Not that Islamic acts of devotion do not have the solacing effect. They do. But Islam does not merely heal. It prevents wounds and eradicates diseases. This is a function that Muslims, or most of them, do not seem to appreciate. And why shouldn’t that be when they read, hear and speak more about other religions than they do about their own? Most of them bear prejudice against religion, all religions, and fail to shed them when they think of Islam. They fail to realise that Islam is different. Islam is no burden. It is no balm to the wounds. Rather, when accepted seriously, it does not allow for problems to arise, for wounds to be inflicted. This is the most significant difference between Islam and other religions or systems of life.

The ills of today’s societies are a case in point. The intractable problems that humanity faces today, across the globe, are non-existent in the Muslim societies, or, if they exist among them, do not to a perceptible degree. Violent crimes, rape, murder, prostitution, stress, schizophrenia, drugs, single-parenthood, hyper activity of children, depression, madness, sexual perversion, juvenile crime, family break-up, divorce, neglect of the old, alienation, suicide, and so on, are problems specific to our age. But from Tunisia to Indonesia, almost all the countries in between that are Islamic (or are influenced by Islam, its values and culture), do not face any of the above problems to unmanageable proportions. To be sure, the Muslims have their own problems: the age-old human problems. But, the problems of this age, typical of the materialistic societies, do not affect them with the same severity. And we don’t have to look far for the causes. Islam is the sole cause. Although badly lived, it still helps the Muslims avoid many modern ills.

And now, at the beginning of the new millennium, the West faces another formidable problem of its own creation: that of population decline and population ageing. Although, not to the same degree of seriousness as in the Western hemisphere, some other regions that have blindly adopted the Western culture and values, also face this problem, such as, Eastern Europe, Russian territories and Republic of Korea. This is the newest problem on the scene, and, like the new strains of bacteria and viruses immune to antibiotics, promises to persist. But, thanks to the Qur’anic commandments and the Prophet’s advice to his followers to increase their numbers, Muslims once again, escape this problem.

A recently published UN report which selected eight countries, (primarily Western), and two regions for study, concludes that in the coming decades these regions will face the serious prospects of population decline and ageing. Not only overall population will decline when compared to the 1995 figures, but will have an unbalanced population of the elderly, as compared to that of the working age people. France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, UK, USA were the countries that were selected for study along with two regions Europe and European Union. It is estimated that by 2050 the problem might acquire such proportions that even immigration might not be a solution, unless, of course fertility can be drastically improved. But, since reversing the trend in fertility is not feasible, the prospect is that despite a variety of measures, these countries will have smaller and older populations in next fifty years. What is alarming is that the number of persons of working age per retired person would be halved when compared to today’s figures, translating into great stress for the young.

Several studies conducted by several people in a number of countries are unanimous in suggesting that one measure by which the problem can be attenuated, although not completely averted, is massive immigration into these countries. But what will be the social, political, and economic consequences of such unprecedented demographic changes is beyond anybody’s guess. The current level of immigration may not be sufficient to avoid catastrophic cut back in health care services, pensions and social support services. Therefore, although in many countries additional large volumes of immigrants are likely to face hostile reaction, the governments in these regions need to urgently review their immigration policies, enhancing the numbers substantially and quickly. United States, for e.g., might have to increase the immigrant numbers to 1.5 millions a year. Europe may need twice as many every year. Already, tens of thousands of skilled jobs are going abegging in Britain, Germany, Sweden and other European countries.

Although the study does not say this, and, there are various possible scenarios, depending on what actions the governments opt for in coming years, rough estimates tell us that perhaps as many as 250-300 million immigrants will have to be taken into Europe and North America during the next 50 years, to avert the problems arising from low fertility.

There are a few other aspects, not in the scope of the study, which we may consider here.

One, increasing the fertility rate in the West from the present rate of 1.2 children per woman, to a healthy 2.1 children per woman, will not be as easy as distribution of condoms on the beaches or in the school clinics was. For, Western culture is anti-motherhood. Bearing and rearing children is considered a pain. Pursuit of happiness, the sole objective of life, leaves children waiting in the loins. How can a crime of today, a large family, become a virtue by tomorrow? Another problem is, increased fertility rates will affect only the lower classes. But West despises them. It would prefer to rather clone the so-called talented people, at the cost of a million dollar a piece, rather than allow the inferior classes to multiply and increase their numbers.

Granted, people can be convinced of better fertility, another question is, who will foot the bill? One way in which people can be persuaded – perhaps – to have more children is by offering a comprehensive child-care programme, entirely free of cost. If couples receive legal assurance (and not the politician’s promises) that the state will bear the entire cost of new children, offering high quality care, both to the mother as well as the child, then, at least some people might think about it. But where will the funds come from? Taxes? They are already overburdening. This is a very important question. Increased economic activity promises better and more evenly spread out services, because that’s the carrot at election time, but the promise does not extend to the added numbers.

Interestingly, increased economic activity will, granted the world economic forces allow an endless expansion, firstly, need larger populations. Secondly, granted that will happen, there is little chance yet that the high costs will be met with. The system that governs the Western way of life is designed for the benefit of the rich. The poor stay where they are. In the USA for instance, as several studies point out, poverty among the lowest has been increasing since last 40 years. The rich-poor ratio is being bettered: in favour of the rich. That is, the rich are now richer when compared to the poor, than they were, say fifty years ago. Although the records are a little better in one or two countries of Western Europe, the trends are the same as across the Atlantic.

Secondly, the problem of population decline and population ageing, and the solutions being suggested, is not related to the quality of life or material development. At least from one angle, it is independent of it. Whether an endless progress is assumed, or a downfall in economic activity in the regions of study, the ratio of aged population against the working population is going to decline anyway. In other words, with increased economic activity, or technological advancements, the ratio cannot be reversed. Immigration, from younger and larger populations seems to be the only solution that promises some remedy.

Where will the future immigrants come from? China, with its policy of strict control is not expected to open its doors for its people to move out into other countries, especially when its own booming economy will require massive labour force. If and when it allows, the destiny is likely to be the Republic of Korea, which, the projected figures say, will perhaps completely lose its demographic identity. India on the other hand is also racing toward economic revival and might not be able to spare skilled manpower for long, without throwing its own programmes into jeopardy. (That in fact might very well happen, if it cannot solve its social problems, especially of the non-adjustability of the upper castes to the rest of the population). Likewise, Philippines and Indonesia are likely to meet with the regional requirements. That leaves a few other Asian countries, notably Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and some Arab and African countries, such as Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan and a few others as sources of fresh immigrants into the Western hemisphere.

A third aspect is the question of availability of the right kind of manpower for intake into the technologically advanced societies. Even at this early stage, countries like Germany and UK are unable to find enough foreign manpower for their IT industries. There is every likelihood that they will be left far behind the USA in this field, which is preferred as a destination by the immigrants. Just as internationalisation of commerce, education will also have to be planned from a central location. The economically developed countries might have to offer interest-free aid to the countries promising emigrant labour for setting up the right kind of institutions. Without this necessary step, today’s projected worst scenarios might still come true.

A fourth aspect of consideration is that traditionally, men have migrated in greater numbers than women. A problem, therefore, though not projected by the UN report, is the likelihood of a large number of single women in the regions of manpower supply. There is already a social problems in some countries. It is likely to exacerbate in the future, with serious social repercussions. In the Muslim world, such Islamic values as staying together of the spouses, the building up of the family, proper upbringing of the children, care of the old, etc., should be firmly implanted so as to work as guidelines and factors of consideration before people start to move.

The above considerations aside, another ramification of the above problems is that although Western ideology promises a comfortable existence, it is increasingly becoming burdensome, more so than in the underdeveloped countries. In fact, compared to present day life in the Muslim countries, that in the West is a torture. Now it threatens to gets worse. One of the solutions being offered to reduce the high ratios of retired people to the working folk, is to increase the working age, from the present 65 to maybe 75. Even as large number of women can be seen in the West at work with trembling hands and empty looks, robotically working on the assembly lines, the extension of working age by another 10 years, would be no less tortuous for the aching bones than life in Siberia was during the communist rule. Again, although employment of minors is considered an unhealthy thing, minors are increasingly put to work in the West. In fact, studies that are now prepared, count the working age as starting from 15 and not 18 years! Perhaps the expression “comfortable life” needs a new definition.

In conclusion we may also add that Muslims are used to ignoring realities of life. True, predictions fail. Just as predictions about over-population have failed. But, there is something called planning for the future. And that requires projections of the most likely scenarios, which is what the UN has done. Barring revolutions, world war or natural catastrophes, these projections can be trusted. Further, there will be life after revolutions, wars and natural disasters. A wise people should be ready to play their part when the time comes. We have seen how rushing headlong into the future, without a detailed planning, has led several Islamic countries to nowhere.  Today, they face problems that are entirely because in the past they refused to look into the nature of things and ignored concrete advice. Hopefully, the Muslim governments will treat these projections with less scepticism, than they have been doing in the past. Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey need to re-look into their educational programmes, as well as into the text books that are being used in schools and colleges: do they have enough Islamic material in them. Men and women well trained in specific fields, and bearing a distinct Islamic character and personality are the need of the time. The days when our educational systems produced men and women without an Islamic character stamped on them should be put behind us.

The scholars and religious leaders too might do well to be in step with the trends of the times. In the past, the Islamic world has sent millions to the West. But they were not Islamically educated and, therefore, created no impact. They got lost in the crowd. Detroit alone for e.g., once had a population of 50,000 Yemenis working in its automobile industries. Who can identify their children today as offspring of Muslims? Further, while people rush for jobs and opportunities, Muslims cannot forget their duty to mankind: lead them to one true God and educate them in the true values of life – not through precept (over the Internet), but through practice. If they kept material advantages alone before their eyes as they step onto foreign soils, then perhaps the world can do without their millions.

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