Apr 202011
Authors: Emily Johnson

Muslims are breaking through stereotypical barriers to embrace modernity while maintaining allegiance to their culture and faith, according to Nabil Echchaibi.

Echchaibi, assistant professor of Journalism and Media Studies at CU-Boulder, gave a lecture Wednesday called “Formations of the Muslim Modern: Media, Islam and Alternative Modernity,” which focused on the rise of new media and culture shifts in Muslim culture.­­­­

Echchaibi opened the lecture with a video produced by the Halal World Forum that addressed the growing need for Muslim-friendly food and consumable products like cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Halal means lawful and wholesome, and refers to the humane slaughter of animals and the organic preparation of food and also extends to everyday matters of life.
Echchaibi explained that there is a global demand for Muslim-friendly food, entertainment, clothing, business, social relationships and overall quality of life.

As a result, the global Halal industry is going mainstream and worth $500 billion.
Halal products and services market strict adherence to Islamic rules and are gaining appeal to the non-Muslim market.

“From farm to fork,” the video said, “We’re bringing the world to a better quality of life. Halal is for everyone.”

But this does not mean that Muslims are taking over, Echchaibi said. “They are trying to insert themselves in the modern global marketplace.”

In case studies in London, Cairo, Dubai, Washington D.C. and San Francisco, Echchaibi observed behavioral trends of Muslims embracing modernity. Instead of shunning Western culture, Muslims are developing their own versions of acceptable emulations.

“Muslims are occupying a space and giving it their own rules,” he said.

Echchaibi explained that cultural Islam is not concerned so much with state issues like political Islam. Cultural Islam is about faith and philosophy, borrowing from the Western movement of self-making. Yet Muslim modernity is based upon Islamic values, distinguished from typical Western behaviors and practices.

Take Muslim reality shows, for example. The format is similar to shows like “The Apprentice,” but the winning prize is a mosque or a position of leadership for a charitable project.

A talent show called “Your Voice is Heard” mimics American Idol, but the lyrics of the songs need to be clean, raise homage to the prophet or have some kind of moral value attached to them.

Another space affected by Muslim modernity is the music industry. 4SHABAB TV — a Saudi-funded, 24-hour music TV station — plays only moral and religious music videos, but much of the music incorporates Western rhythms, instruments and artistic videos similar the American music videos.

There are many identity categories, Echchaibi said.

“Instead of being antagonistic and oppositional,” he said, “it’s about defining what it means to be Muslim today.”

He went on to say that modernity is not to denounce. It’s providing an alternative that was not normally there before. It’s a slow process and a learning process.

Echchaibi told a story about how his young niece has a Barbie doll and a Muslim garbed alternative — “Fullah, the better doll.” She makes them have conversations together, her uncle said.

“‘You are overdressed, Fullah,’” his niece makes Barbie say. “‘Morroco is very hot.’”
“You can imagine how it goes from there,” Echchaibi laughed.

The story represented a bigger concept of two different cultures desiring to be part of one another, yet longing to remain faithful to their own identity and the complexity of co-existing together in the world.

Among others, CSU’s Department of the Foreign Languages and Literatures sponsored Echaibi’s presentation, which was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop programs that strengthen and improve undergraduate instruction in international studies and foreign languages.

Paola Malpezzi Price, chair of Foreign Languages and Literatures Department, said students should be exposed to different languages and cultures.

“It will enrich them personally and professionally,” she said. “I hope students will come away with a different image of Muslims. We don’t always associate them with modernity. Education is a way to change prejudices.”

Staff writer Emily Johnson can be reached at news@collegian.com.

The Peace and Reconciliation Board and the Student Peace Alliance present:

“Teach-In: The Turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East”

  • Tuesday, April 26
  • 7-9 p.m.
  • TILT Building, Rm 221
 Posted by at 5:12 pm

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