The Coming Arab Renaissance
In Appreciation of Entrepreneurs in the Arab World
As Profiled on the WAMDA website: www.wamda.com
(scroll down for additional video)
Women Entrepreneurs in Gaza
Develop New App for the Blind
by Mariam Hamed, July 30, 2013
“This is the beginning of a shift to smartphones and tablets in Gaza,” says entrepreneur Nidaa Wishah. Taking advantage of the growing market, Wishah and her cofounder Manal Khamis, launched AS7AB, a mobile startup that is designing apps for those with special needs.
The Vibrant Arab City
It takes much more than gyms, malls, movie theatres, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife to retain intellectual and creative high lifers who want to be intrigued more than they want to be entertained.
Learning from Jazz
But how do we create environments that promote vibrant interplay? Especially when building lean startups?
Creative Local Communities
In the paragraphs below please find a description of "healthy local communities" as understood in process-relational philosophy. These are the kinds of communities that young enterpreneurs in the Arab world want to help build. Process-relational philosophy invites us to see the world, not simply as an aggregate of nations and states, but as a community of communities of communities. Local communities are the nodes in the nexus where community can truly flourish.
Local communities will have their relatively self-sufficient economies, but there will be economic issues that require cooperation with their neighbors. Those that only compete will not survive, and they will destroy others along with themselves. Healthy communities will participate in communities of communities. Although each will have considerable autonomy, any effort to be completely independent will misfire. Communities of communities will also need the authority to make decisions. And the same is true of communities of communities of communities. Even in a world in which the focus is on the local, there will be need for some governance at the global level as well.
The Coming Arab Renaissance
A New Generation of Techies, Social Media Types,
and Digitally Savvy Professionals
The coming Arab renaissance will emerge in coffee shops, art galleries, small businesses, and universities. It will be catalyzed, not only by intellectuals and artists steeped in traditional wisdom, but also by social entrepreneurs like Nidaa Wishaa and Manal Khamis, featured in the video above and described on the left. They are developing an app designed to help the blind by transforming colors into sounds. As they marshal their creative energies in service to people in need, they are also renewing and advancing the rich history of Arab peoples in world history.
The urban theorist, Richard Florida, speaks of people like Nidaa and Manal as part of the creative class and says that they played an important role in the Arab spring uprisings of 2011. In his words:
The uprisings of 2011, however, owe much of their impetus to the working class and labor movements as well as young people and students, according to the Middle East expert Juan Cole. Rising unemployment rates, stagnant wages and falling living standards prompted blue-collar workers to return to the barricades.
Creativity in Islam
Let's say, then, that an Arab renaissance is indeed emerging, that creative entrepreneurs are among those at the vanguard, and that many of them will be nourished by the wisdom of Islam. For them as for most Muslims, Islam will be a way of life and a culture, not simply a set of private beliefs or personal practices. This culture will not be premodern or deconstructively postmodern but rather, as it were, constructively postmodern. It will be postmodern in that it moves beyond the shallow materialism of modern, western culture; but it will be constructively postmodern because it integrates traditional wisdom with fresh possibilities. We might simply call it the Islam of the emerging Arab renaissance.
What might it look like? Below I offer an image that I glean from the writings of some young entrepreneurs who are writing in blogs such as WAMDA: a social platform for inspiring, empowering, and connecting entrepreneurs in the North Africa and the Middle East. It seems to me that, as they see things, the Islam of the emerging Arab renaissance will be as follows:
It will include an appreciation of science, technology, engineering and math and also an appreciation of poetry and the arts. It will remember and reclaim the oceans of possibility that lie within traditional Islam, so often shunted by the stunted vision of western modernity; but it will freely criticize aspects of historical Islam that fall short of the vibrant peace to which Islam truly calls. It will reject violence and find the heart of Islam in love, not power. It will see Islam itself, not as an already realized achievement in the past but rather as a hope, a promise, an ideal, which beckons from the future through the rhythms of the Qur'an, the signs of creation, and the voice of the neighbor. It will affirm that Allah is always more than anyone's concept of God and also that Islam is more than anyone's concept of Islam. Thus it will refuse to let anyone fully define Islam and reduce it to a particular set of rules and regulations. It will combine a healthy hope for paradise in the afterlife with practical efforts aimed at creating communities on earth which are creative, compassionate, participatory, respectful of diversity, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. It will find its identity in a oneness that is deeper than any religion and all religions, but in which, at their best, all religions are rooted. It will be grateful for the Prophet who reminds of the oneness, and grateful for so many other Prophets of other religions who do the same. At the end of each prayer it will say peace upon them, and peace upon us, too.
This Islam will be found, not so much in abstract teachings from the mouths of pundits, but in the hospitable hearts and qualities of character -- the adab (أدب) -- of people who embody the renaissance in their daily lives. Their humility, their creativity, their modesty, their hospitality, their customs, their wisdom, will be a light among lights in a world that needs light.
And what of the creativity in this 21st century Islam? It will not emphasize a Promethean creativity that seeks to render the world into a service of the ego; instead it will seek to embody a kind of creativity that is rooted in the will of Allah and the originating impulses which flow from Allah's compassion. It will enjoy novelty and innovation, but not for the sake of novelty alone. It will enjoy them when they are means to helping develop local communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, and ecologically wise, with no one left behind.
If I am right in this image, then such an Islam is good news for the world and not for Muslims alone. For my part, I think that process theology can help Muslims articulate this vision of Islam in a deep way, as indicated in my own essay: A Process Appreciation of Islam. But it is clear to me that such a vision of Islam can also be articulated in other ways. And it is clear that as it is articulated, it will not be conceived as a new vision of Islam, but rather as a vision of what Islam always has been in its innermost essence.
Islam is not simply a social and historical movement on earth; it is a dream, a hope, that is nested within the very heart of Allah and within each human heart. It is the fitra -- the inner disposition -- which inclines each human heart toward oneness. This fitra is so often forgotten in the hubbub and sometimes the hubris of daily life. The purpose of Islam is to help us remember what is forgotten in a creative way.
The wisdom of Islam is to know that a creative heart is a surrendered heart, and that a surrendered heart is a creative heart. In moments of genuine creativity, the heart had surrendered to a font of creativity that far transcends human life, but that can animate human life. What does that animation look like? It looks like two women entrepreneurs in Gaza who are creating apps for the blind.
-- Jay McDaniel
* Oubai Elkerdi is a graduate student in Mechanical Engineering at McGill University. He is interested in crowd-driven innovation and multidisciplinary collaborations. His main passion is human-design interaction and the role design plays in shaping society and culture. Oubai is also the cofounder of the Arab Development Initiative. You can reach him @obeikurdy.