Published On: Sun, May 25th, 2014

Modernization is not Westernization

According to the latest Arab Youth Survey, 46 percent of respondents believe that traditional values are outdated and wish to embrace modern ideals and beliefs.

This belief has risen steadily over the years- only 17 percent agreed with this sentiment in 2011. The findings of the Arab youth survey became the topic of discussion in Dubai recently to define “what constituted the bases of traditional or modern values.”

Obviously there is no clear definition of traditional values or a comprehensive understanding of modern values. The issue has yet to be settled in our society.

The moment anyone speaks of modernizing society a barrage of criticism is hurled at him or her with no logical explanation to support their argument. Their objection is always based on a false assumption that it is un-Islamic to modernize. Even minor modern acts become under scrutiny and baseless suspicions.

In our society there are those who perceive any act or behavior that does not have deep roots as Westernization, and is thus an aberration.

As Fadi Ghandour, founder of regional logistics firm Aramex has asked, What’s a modern value? Is it being able to surf the net? Is it driving a car? Is it not wearing the scarf? Is it speaking in English?

Not satisfactory

The answers to these questions will not satisfy many people and need a lot of clarifications.

In our society there are those who perceive any act or behavior that does not have deep roots as Westernization

Khaled Almaeena

Opposition to modernization comes mainly from those who are against it because of a perceived Western origin. A lot of people are misled by institutions and people who assert that if we modernize we will be westernized and we will erode our values and compromise our Muslim culture and traditions.

However they fail to realize that modernization and Westernization are two different issues. We can no longer dismiss the need to modernize and fail to compete in the fast moving modern world of the 21st century. We can no longer ignore the presence of women or recognize their role as contributing members in society.

Today it is unacceptable to disrespect the role of women scientists and female nurses who contribute to science and save lives.

It is also unrealistic not to show appreciation towards airhostesses who serve us on our travels, or to ridicule women presenters who often conduct TV interviews to shed light on major issues that affect our lives. How can anyone deny the inclusion of women into the public domain on this day and age!

Contradicting messages

It is unfortunate that many use modern methods of communication and the social media to propagate their criticism of modernization. Some even use foul language on social media to attack modernizers, on Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. They use the most modern tool to attack the basic elements of modernity, what a contradiction!!

Cultures and sub cultures differ in every country and even in ours. For instance our attitude towards women’s roles and their inclusion in society, the upbringing of children or the treatment of employees may differ from one region to another. There are those that have succeeded in acquiring modern principles of communicating and dealing with others and there are those who have yet to find their way.

The world has changed, modern ideas and new methods of education define our relationship with others. Do we by acquiring these values go against our religion? The answer is an emphatic No!

The main focus of our religion is behavior. We have closed the door of “ijtihad,” or logic, a long time ago and thus the power of reasoning and intellectual discourse rarely crops up among our educators and it is frowned upon by our resisting hardline religious scholars.

For many in our society it is easier for them not to accept change and attack any novel idea or theme and label it as Westernization in order to avoid a confrontation with angry religious scholars.

However it is time we all understand that we do not have to compromise our Muslim values or adopt the lifestyle of the West in order to modernize and develop. Modernization is not Westernization.

Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena’s political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena