May 2023
30 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 1 2 3


A.S.A. Santoe: A Muslim Perspective on Globalization

Essay written for Dialogue and Alliance
A journal of the Universal Peace Federation
promoting interreligious understanding and cooperation

International trade and commerce were dynamics in the rise of Islam as the last of the world religions 14 centuries ago. Overseas trade goods between China, India, and East Africa were unloaded along the southern coast of the Arabian peninsula (presently Yemen) and found their way to the northern and western shores of the Mediterranean. Most of the trade goods were first carried to the centrally-situated city of Mecca, which served as a main distribution center. As a result, amidst the barren Bedouin deserts of the peninsula the city flourished for centuries and fed by the feudal system the rich elites became richer and richer whereas the general population remained deprived of the wealth brought about by this form of global trade.

Another attraction of the city as a distribution center was the House of Ka’bah, which gave shelter to 360 idols representing the number of tribes and clans profiting from the flourishing commerce. The polytheism of the elite was, therefore, an important factor in the city’s fame as a center of world trade.

History tells us that neither Judaism nor the then six-centuries-old Christianity, present in adequate numbers in the area, was able to restore the belief in the unity of the Divine or implement social justice in the communities.

J.H. Denison writes in his Emotions as the Basis of Civilization: “In the fifth and sixth centuries, the world stood at the verge of chaos. The old emotional cultures that had made civilization possible, since they had given to men a sense of unity and of reference to their rulers, had broken down, and nothing had been found adequate to take their place….” He writes further that the great civilization that had taken 4,000 years to construct was on the verge of disintegration. Writing about the Arabia of that time he continues: “It was among these people that a man was born who was to unite the whole known world….”

Islam as a world religion


“O, mankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female and made you tribes, families and nations that you may know each other….” (49:13) In this Quranic verse, peaceful coexistence is prescribed not only to Muslims but also to the global community as a whole. Under the specific circumstances of the time and the existing culture, one would expect a system destined to improve the conditions of only the Bedouin tribes in their desolate habitat. The Quranic revelations, however, contain not only expressions on themes of local trade, commerce, and the concerns of the simple communities in those barren areas but also invocations of exalted spiritual and global values directed to all of mankind. The message of Islam also included the then existing religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and others:

“Surely those who believe and those who are Jews and the Christians and the Sabians, whoever believes in God and the Last Day and does good, they have their reward with their Lord and there is no fear for them nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

Islam went so far as to acknowledge previous revelations from God Almighty, naming Jews and Christians as People of the Book (Ahl Al-Kitaab) and accepting all nations and all prophets through all the times as children of one God. “And for every nation there is a messenger…” (10:47) and “And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them….”

European global hegemony

Having gained complete control over the Asian silk route as well as the sea routes across the Indian Ocean, Muslim empires were able to dominate international trade from the 6th to 16th centuries CE. But when European seafaring nations discovered other sea routes and explored the new world, the monopoly shifted dramatically to Spain, Portugal, France, Belgium, Holland, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, these countries became the new rulers not only of global trade but also as colonizers of large parts of the five continents.

The globalization of the economy was further enhanced by following developments:

  • Colonization and exploitation of natural resources in major areas of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia
  • Introduction of large-scale agricultural production replaced to a large extent the traditional self-supporting culture of local populace. These small-scale multi-produce cultures providing in many ways for the daily needs of local people had to give way to gigantic plantations engaged in monocultures (coffee, tea, cocoa, etc.). As a result, even small shifts in market prices could lead to devastating famine and social disruption in the so-called third world.
  • Introduction of slavery as a means of cheap labor throughout the Americas
  • After the abolition of slavery in the 19th century, Asian indentured laborers were conscripted and transported to overseas colonies replacing African slaves, who were rather reluctant to remain on the plantations even as free citizens.
  • With the full support of colonial regimes in Europe, Christian missionary activities deployed their institutions in the third world, erecting impressive churches and cathedrals. (Today, Muslims in Holland encounter many obstacles to building their own mosques with own resources.) With the gradual secularization in the “civilized” world, churches have found rewarding spiritual markets in the third world, and the continuation of the Church was thus guaranteed. Europe has become so secularized that chaplains and pastors are now being imported from Africa and Asia.
  • For the efficient and profitable exploitation of the colonies, companies were established with main offices in the motherlands. With full financial and political support from colonial regimes, the first multinationals thus entered the stage of the global economy.
  • After World War II, large numbers of so-called guest laborers were attracted from Turkey and North Africa to make up for the huge labor shortage resulting from the enormous industrial growth in western Europe.

Islam and ecology

It is only in the past decades that the Western world has started to be attentive to the pollution of the earth. The massive and impressive industrialization after World War II has taken its toll. Although scientists have been issuing warnings for some time, only recently have governments decided to combine forces to deal with the problem worldwide. Public attitude generally is that the social costs of production should be placed on public account, on the principle that “the polluter pays.” But it is always difficult to find the ones who are guilty.

In Islam, God, being the sole proprietor of nature, has granted the earth on loan to man, who is responsible only to Him. Behold, the Lord said to the Angels: I will create a vicegerent on earth….” (2:30) As a sanction the Lord God Almighty also issued a warning to those who do not live up to their responsibility: “Do no mischief on the earth after it had been set in order….” (7:56)


Despite these strict ethical rules, we can also observe large-scale pollution in Islamic societies. The more prosperous a nation is, the greater its onslaught on resources. Energy consumption per capita in the US and other advanced countries is many times that of third-world countries. Here the holy Book also warns: “… but waste not by excess for Allah does not love the wasters….” (6:141) In the poorest countries, recycling has become an important source of income. Except for the extensive measures countries in Europe are taking against pollution, international cooperation may prove to be the most effective approach. It is perhaps not too late to save the world. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “When doomsday comes, if someone has a palm shoot in his hand, he should plant it….”

My globalization

Born and raised in Surinam, a former Dutch colony on the northern coast of South America, I have been living with my family in the Netherlands for the past 38 years. Having enjoyed a Dutch education in the former Dutch colony along with some experience in the civil service, I have also sought to infuse my life with the spirit and requirements of my religion as a Muslim. Since the Surinam population consists of descendants of African slaves and Indians as well as Indonesian and Chinese indentured laborers, I have always been quite comfortable in such multicultural surroundings.

The post-war import of immigrants from all over the world into Western Europe has changed the composition of the populations of many cities, resulting in a mix of cultural, religious, and ethnic heritages. The greying of the indigenous population and the ever-increasing stream of asylum seekers from Africa and Asia are also factors contributing to the amalgamation of cultures in Europe.

These developments are not free from social friction. From 9/11 on, antagonistic feelings have been widespread all over the European continent. In Holland, a political party mainly targeting the religion of Islam has gained considerable popularity, and the chance of its becoming the biggest political party in Holland in the next election seems rather real.

Despite such threats to the future and the present economic and financial crisis plaguing the entire planet, I am still confident of the sensible reasoning of mankind.

Even while I held a full-time position at Rotterdam University and now more so during the past eight years of retirement, I have devoted myself to contributing to the mutual understanding among the diverse people in our society. Out of my Muslim conviction, not only as an imam but also from a scholarly viewpoint, I give lectures, presentations, and workshops not only to help people understand Islam’s teachings about peace and harmony but also to promote understanding, respect, and tolerance among people of different religions. In response to complaints about arrogant Muslim youngsters in secondary schools, I convene workshops and presentations to teach them the Islamic principles of respect and tolerance. A highly appreciated reward for my family and me came some six years ago when I was knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands.

Making new friends

During my frequent visits to Berlin, Germany, I used to deliver Friday sermons in a relatively old mosque in the township of Wilmersdorf. Some five years ago, word got around of my preaching and I was approached by local members of the Berlin branch of the Universal Peace Federation and invited to make a presentation to their members and invitees. Over time I have become more familiar with the aims of this great worldwide family.

At a UPF European leadership conference in Germany, I was confronted by a Jewish gentleman who seemed openly hostile towards Muslims and Palestinians. I sat down at his table for dinner, and our conversation continued long after dinner until 1:00 in the morning. After more than three years, this conversation and friendship is still going on, sometimes by hour-long telephone conversations and e-mails. This is an example of a fulfilment of the words of the Holy Book: “…..repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo!  He, between whom and thee was enmity (will become) as though he was a bosom friend.”