Emerging issues are a tough cookie to pin down. They are items that exist just below the horizon of tomorrow with the potential of becoming fully-fledged trends. They are the bits you gather from headlines, usually dwelling deep down beneath the home page of your favourite news outlet. To the casual reader, they are blips on the board, most likely outliers, but they have a true potential for changing not just the rules, but the game entirely. Emerging issues are the raw material that shape futures; they have the potential to have a positive or negative effect – and, in some cases, a dramatic impact on the future. They may be thought of as embryonic, fragmented, incomplete, concealed, and inadvertent data that can appear irrelevant at first sight but could have considerable impact on shaping futures – that is why they are also known as ‘weak signals’. The raw data, or signal, can be refined into valuable information and placed in appropriate contexts to yield futures insight. Emerging issues often precede trends, and can be seen as advanced indicators of novel developments in the rate and directions of trends. Some evolve into megatrends, such as social media. Others, such as the Muslim fashion or modest fashion movement, develop into more contextual trends. But not all emerging issues become trends. Some die upon launch to be lost to the obscurity of what may have been, but never was.
Here are ten emerging issues that will play a large role in the tomorrow of Muslims around the world.
1. The End of Oil
The combustion engine was made in the last century and ushered in the era of oil following the retiring of the last horse drawn carriage in 1917. Recent policy suggests that the end of oil dependency may be imminent. While this transition will remain slow due to the power of lobbyists and corporate influence, various governments and individuals around the globe are looking elsewhere for their energy needs. Numerous mayors of cities across the world have pushed to ensure public transport leaves a smaller carbon footprint. Trends in electric trains are seeing a rise of electric powered taxis along with a slew of other carbon limiting policy measures. Oil will not necessarily disappear overnight, since plastics are still a major product used in a variety of ways across the globe, but the impact from oil free transport will be significant to oil-based economies in the Middle East. Limitations in the non-renewable resource and the growing environmentally friendly trends will force oil rich countries to move towards new forms of energy. Many oil rich countries tend to have an abundance of solar and wind energy that can be taken advantage of. In any case, once the oil runs out, the energy and economic landscape of the Middle East will change dramatically.
2. The Descent of Western Dominance
Empires rise. Empires fall. This is the history of human existence in a nutshell. For a long time, the West has dominated the world. This dominance has been seen in strength and power as well as in influence. The key to this dominance has rested in the power to define what is history or even what is thought. Language, culture, society, and civilisation are all at the determination of the West. Thus the rest have had to meet these definitional ideals, lest they remain savage, foreign, other. Survival and success was only attainable in the West and in the reflection of the West. But the West has a dark side of hate and anxiety. Recently this darkness has come out into the light and appears to be the potential downfall for the West. Political and economic power is shifting from the West to China, India, Russia. G7 has become G20. The world has changed, and a new world order is struggling to be born. The question remains, will the West fall like all the empires of history? After all, Lucifer himself was an angel at first.
3. Islamic Blockchain Banking
Since the 2008 global financial crisis, economists and governments have searched for a better way to manage the global economy. But that is not possible given the current status of rampant, naked capitalism, manufactured derivatives and an intrinsic corrupt banking system. Islamic economics has turned out to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor just like the dominant economic system. A potential solution lies in blockchain technology which could provide a new system of accountability in finances. While it is often referenced as cryptocurrency, it is far more than a new standard currency. Blockchain is a simple link of transaction data in a network of computers, which include a piece of the previous block, or receipt, a time stamp, and an encryption of the new block. Thus every transaction can be traced back to its origin as well as its final destination. Islamic financing, that which complies with the Sharia, might just be the perfect fit for a new blockchain economic order. Given that accountability is intrinsic to blockchain technology, it ought to be Sharia complaint. It could diminish the widespread tyranny of usury and interest. Which is exactly what the believers want.
4. Saudi-Iran Wars
It is an issue that cannot be ignored and goes beyond the simple Sunni-Shia divide. It has been seen in the shadows of the Israeli conflicts in the region, the situation in Iraq and the Arab Spring. It is seen most abruptly in the Syrian Civil War and the conflict in Yemen. A series of proxy conflicts fought by agents of Saudi Arabia and Iran. As these two powers vie for dominance in the Middle East, states are decimated, refugees created daily, and lives lost by the hundreds. The wildcards are Turkey, global powers seeking influence in the region (Russia, the United States, Europe, China), and the tribes or extremist groups that are capable of resisting their influence, money, or power. The stakes seem to be by any means necessary, regardless of how much they hold the region back or destroy it along the way. The problem with proxy wars is that they always stand the threat of melting into direct conflict. We should not be surprised if hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Iran turn into direct, intractable, perpetual wars.
5. Reconstitution of the Muslim Family
The most basic unit of social organisation is the family. However, like other structures in postnormal times, the family itself is changing. Greater tendency towards individualism is giving rise to smaller, more spread-out families. Grandparents, aunts and uncles could live in entirely different parts of the world. Traditional roles of fathers and mothers are being challenged. The raising of children is becoming more hands off. Relationships themselves work radically differently with the advent of social technology. Advancements in science are changing the limits of fertility, as multiple mothers and fathers could constitute now a family. War, Islamophobia, and the interconnections of the internet are scattering families far apart and creating new ones out of biologically unrelated peoples. The very concept of family and home are being redefined. It is now possible for a child to have three parents. Grandmothers can give birth to their own grandchild if their daughters are unable to do so. These developments can have impact on Muslim families too. The Muslim families of tomorrow could be unrecognisable in a world transformed through medical innovations.
6. Islam with Chinese Characters
China has played a careful game to increase its position in international politics. Entering the global game just as the age of conquest and empire was waning, the People’s Republic sought a different mode to establishing its name around the world. Economics. Flexing of soft power in East Asia and foreign investment in Africa has gained China great wealth. This wealth is currently being used to forge a strong partnership in Europe, including opening doors post Brexit, and to combat its rivalry with the United States and Russia. The current constitutional plan that Xi Jinping is seeing out is called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Essentially, BRI is a series of economic partnerships that build a strong economic and political bond between China and the rest of the world and its next target is the Middle East. China’s recent propaganda against its own Muslim population, the Uyghurs, could threaten the ties it wishes to make in the region. Though just as the communist government has managed to manipulate capitalism to its own working, could it not do the same to Islam if profit could be made? The question then remains if China’s efforts will go the way of Africa, where a rivalry with the United States left the battleground a mess for the locals? Or will China attempt to lord over MENA as it does Eastern Asia and the South China Sea? Perhaps China will co-opt Islam just as it has embraced European culture. And Muslim societies could embrace Chinese culture and characters just as they cuddled western norms and values.
7. The End of Disciplines
The traditional categorical breakdown of knowledge into discipline fields has exhausted its benefit to knowledge production. Certain disciplines are increasingly being questioned for their viability. Can economics continue, given its colossal failure in recent times? Does development studies still make sense? What is the significance of geography in the time of Google maps? Can anthropology ever shake off its colonial roots? What is the difference between physical chemistry and chemical physics? When does biology and physics cease to be distinguished or at what point does philosophy become art and art the only possible portrayal of philosophical thought? A staunch dependence on old disciplines is beginning to limit human ability to understand and pursue truth. Moreover, the conventional approach to problem solving, which required problems to be isolated and then studied for potential solutions, is proving inadequate in complex contexts where everything is interconnected. Hence, the emergence, and proliferation, of programmes in multi-, trans-, and interdisciplinary studies. Educational institutions are merging departments or getting rid of old disciplinary boundaries altogether. Indeed, disciplines are being reorganised and restructured within all fields of knowledge; and a movement towards new paradigms, with trans- and interdisciplinarity as their foundations, is clearly discernible. The lines between natural sciences, the humanities, business, medicine, and the arts are blurring; and a more holistic approach to education and integration of knowledge production is emerging.
8. Eugenics Strikes Back
Designer babies were the premise of the 1997 science fiction film Gattaca, but advances in the manipulation of the human genome are making this more than a possibility. CRISPR-Cas9 is a genome editing system that when fed a sequence of RNA will target its corresponding DNA sequence within the human genome to edit it. While this technique is relatively new, it provides a multiplicity of options ranging from treatment of genetic disorders to manipulating phenotypic or displayed characteristics in human embryos. Mixed with the capitalistic market system, it will quickly become a game for the wealthy and favour the traits of the affluent as well. While many countries have banned this sort of research, there are pressures in a number of western countries for the research to proceed unabated. A rogue scientist in China has already edited the genes of an embryo. Thus, we are set for a Brave New World of frightening inequality. Populism and nationality being an increasing trend in the West, it is not hard to see eugenics being used through CRISPR-Cas9’s system to either proliferate a master race of beings or target others based on their genetic make up for horrors.
9. VR Communities
Two recent developments have increased the probability of the emergence of virtual reality (VR) communities, important phenomena that have prompted this potentiality. First, in 2016, Pokemon Go was launched as the first major augmented reality (AR) gaming platform. This fad swept the globe and even disrupted reality to the extent of people causing great harm to themselves in pursuit of digital fantasies. Second, in yet another example of the rapidly continuing automation of the contemporary world, Japan introduced ‘care-bots’ to assist with its rapidly aging population. Soon these care-bots will be on their way to Muslim societies where they would have endless application, be that the care of the old, the new-born, even the sick. Virtual reality (VR) technology has also been used to attempt to assist with dementia by putting patients into scenes that evoke nostalgia and increased brain activity, whether that is taking them to enchanted worlds of high stimulus or back in time to places lost to their own history. The combinations of these trends and fads opens up the opportunity for the formation of new social institutions. VR could spiral into a new form of escape for people of all ages. Maybe we will even have a VR Caliphate!
10. Modest Goes Global
Trends leaning towards more modest forms of fashion as well as moves in the film industry for equal and fair representations provide the groundwork for a revival of Muslim art and culture in the West. Major Western designers such as Dolce and Gabbana have embraced such articles as the hijab and the abaya. In 2017, London hosted the first Modest Fashion Week which has accompanied the elevation of less revealing and more ornately decorated garments in the eyes of fashionistas as being ‘in vogue’. No doubt this move comes largely at the realisation of a major missed marketing opportunity in the Middle East, India, and South East Asia by fashion companies. But perhaps this is a response wave waning from the hyper suggestive and revealing fashions of the last decade or so. Since fashion after all waxes at the rate of the moon and increasingly so these days. Just as the heavier fashion of the 80s and 90s stood as a response to the open styles of the 60s and 70s in the West, the modest fashion of Muslim couture might continue to be the big thing. Meanwhile, the #MeToo and fight for equal and fair representation in filmmaking might partner up to make for a full artistic renaissance for Muslims. Respect of difference in gender, sex, culture, and religious creed provides an opportunity for Muslim artists to play a major role in the future. A new ‘Riz’ test, similar to the Bechdel Test for film, may emerge to evaluate stereotyping of Muslims in film. As art has always been a response to the times, perhaps the chaos and complexity that has ruled the last few years will bring a little modesty. It is certainly long overdue.