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Alternative Futures for the Islamic Ummah

Dr. Sohail Inayatullah[1]  

This paper examines the futures of the Islamic Ummah. It does this by reviewing approaches to thinking about the future as well as various global forecasting models. It argues that even as they claim they are value-neutral, in fact, particular value positions are put forth. What is required is for the Islamic world to develop its own long range simulation model using Islamic concepts.  Such a project would help qualitatively envision and quantitatively forecast the future ahead. The paper concludes with three scenarios for the futures of the Islamic Ummah: (1) the Ummah as an Interpretive Community, (2) The Future Without a Name, and (3) Islam as the difference in creating the next century.  

This paper is both a critique of ways of approaching the future as well as a presentation of scenarios of the Islamic world a generation ahead.  The critique covers various global models, including The Club of Rome's classic Limits to Growth (LTG)[2], Mankind at the Turning Point (MTP)[3], as well as World 2000[4] and other approaches to the understanding the future.  Drawing from poststructural theory, we ask: what is missing, who does the analysis privilege, and what epistemological frames or ways of knowing are accentuated, are made primary, by the models used. We also ask what can the Islamic world learn from these models? We attempt to go a step further than merely asking the Marxist-class question who financially benefits. For us, the issue is deeper. We are concerned with what knowledge frames, and more appropriately, from an Islamic perspective, what civilizational frames are privileged, are considered more important.  

However, global models are only one way of understanding the future. There are other ways of approaching the study of the future from which can be derived specific statements about issues, trends and scenarios as to what the future will look and can look like.  We also inquire into the utility of these models for better understanding the future of the Islamic Ummah. We conclude with visions of the future of the Ummah a generation ahead and beyond.  


However, the purpose of this discussion is not a summary of global modelling[5] or futures studies[6], this has been done elsewhere in much more detail. Rather our purpose is to use such a discussion to discuss alternative futures for the Ummah, to help create an interpretive community focused on the futures of the Islamic Ummah.  We are concerned with vision, asking not only what might the futures ahead look like given historical trends and events but also what we want the future to look like.  The challenge becomes how to imagine futures that are different than the present; that take us into the unknown, that force us out of the categories and patterns of the present. A vision then is a break with the present, it is a rupture, and thus, not accessible to modelling. A vision is more than who we are.  In this sense, a vision cannot be rationally planned for. A vision about the future is fundamentally about myth, about the deeper meaning structures that makes people who they are.[7]  Myth is essentially about suffering and transcendence, of a community created through shared journey.  

Does this mean that efforts to imagine the future of the Ummah are a waste of time?  Not at all. But it means that our visioning efforts should not be confined to intellectual analysis. Other ways of knowing and being are equally important; whether poetry, art, architecture, ritual, or community action, all are equally important.  What intellectuals can do is create the contexts for dreams and visions. They can do this by giving them legitimacy, by making visions more real to those who exist in bottom-line economistic worlds.  But more than different ways of knowing, visioning is a process that must be embarked upon by both leadership and mass, dialectically and interactively.[8]  Conferences then become part of the myth creating journey, part of the caravan that creates the desired future.  

Visioning as related to myth does not mean fantasy, however. While fantasy is important in breaking out of current frames of reference it does not touch upon the historical worldview that constitutes Islam. In this sense, the Islamic paradigm as articulated by various Muslims writers[9] is crucial in being a springboard for visioning:   

There are ten such concepts, four standing alone and three opposing pairs. Tawheed (unity), Khalifah (trusteeship), ibadah (worship), ilm (knowledge), halal (praiseworthy) and haram (blameworthy), adl (social justice) and zulm (tyranny) and istislah (public interest) and dhiya (waste).  

Tawheed articulates the larger Islamic unity of thought, action and value across humanity, persons, nature and God. Khalifah asserts that it is God who has ownership of the Earth. Humans function in a stewardship, trustee capacity, taking care of the Earth, not damaging it. The goal of the Islamic worldview is adl, social justice, based on the larger needs of the people, istislah.  To reach these goals, ibadha, worship or contemplation is a beginning and necessary step. From deep reflection, inner and outer observation, ilm or knowledge of self, other and nature will result.  One's action then are halal, praiseworthy and not haram, blameworthy. Moreover with this framework, dhiya (waste) of individual and collective potentials is avoided as is tyranny, the power of a few, or one over many or the power of a narrow ideology over the unity within plurality that the Islamic paradigm advocates.  

The paradigm becomes the context for the vision, for framing the image of the future within general ideals. It thus contours the vision not so much within specific historical events--revenge against a person, nation or civilization--but within the larger meaning system of the civilization in question, in this case, the Islamic Ummah (meaning more then a geographical community but an interpretive community).  A vision within this context is powerful because it touches upon the core of the Muslim experience and, insofar as it is future-oriented, aids in transcending the categories of the present, particularly the nation-state framework of modernity Muslims are ensconced under.  

While visions are often framed in personal language or considered to be the realm of the superconscious or unconscious, we use it in the larger collective sense, of a group vision, a group myth of the future.  But a vision is also about action.  Futurist/activist Robert Jungk talks about attending a visioning the year 2000 workshop where a participant said "Let's do something about now and not worry so much about the year 2000."[10] After a sleepless night thinking about this intervention, Jungk responded that he would rather turn around the sentence and say, "Because we worry about the year 2000, let us do something now."[11] The future becomes a force for motivation.  It is because we care for future generations, we must ensure that we do not destroy our environmental and cultural heritage.[12]  

This becomes the key. Humans must think about the future so as to transform the present and past.  Without thinking about the future, history remains dominant and the present remains oppressive.  The future becomes a place that allows for transformation. To do so requires imagination. But not all imagination is imagination. Robert Jungk posits three types. The first is logical imagination.  This is extrapolation of current trends to show their absurdity, thus allowing new ideas to emerge.  For examples, if the growth rate of GNP of China continues at the current rate, it will be at an unbelievable amount in 2050 (that is exponential growth versus linear trends).  

The second is critical imagination. Critical examinations asks us to probe deeper, searching for structural weaknesses in existing state of affairs and thus creating alternative futures.  This is deeper then traditional critique which only shows what is wrong. Critical imagination shows what is wrong and points to desirable futures. The third approach is creative imagination.  

Creative imagination is not content with extending, combining or negating already existing trends. It attempts, by breaking out of the existing systems or countersystems, to strike out on a completely new cause, breaking radically with prevalent concepts. Creative imagination gives birth to a new era whenever and wherever it emerges. And very often it locates a new state of mind beyond the controversies which are characteristic of and apparently an inextricable part of the times it left behind.[13]  

Creative imagination is a jump of consciousness, almost a Kierkegaardian leap of faith. The challenge for the imagination of the future, for the vision of Ummah in generations ahead, is thus not only to create such a jump but find ways to communicate this possible future, this desirable future to others. This is problematic for many reasons. First, within contemporary economistic thinking imagination is considered amathematical and astrategic.  Irrespective of one's religious beliefs, most of us live in segmented, fragmented, and isolated intellectuals spaces. Imagination is fine for children and for religion but not for adults. The real action is either accumulating capital or power. Vision is for daydreamers, it is often argued.  

Second, related to economistic thinking is zero-sum international relations thinking. In this model, reality is about hidden motives, about security, about the enemy. Indeed, the self and nation are not defined by race, language, or territory but by not being the enemy. We are who we hate. Strategic thinking borrows from neo-classical economics and argues that we are but self-interested egoistic individuals. Methodological individualism becomes the guiding sociology.  Following Hobbes, Nations are seen as individuals, living in anarchy. Within this view, visions or imaginations of say an Islamic world community which gives passports, defining a  post national identity that does away with the sovereignty of capital and labor, seems unthinkable. Or, when thought, they are placed in the historical context of empire, of strong vertical relations between a dynastic centre and a colonized periphery. An alternative global Ummah that is horizontally related through trading, direct mutual investment, cultural and genetic interchange, tourism, and a context of deep dialogue appears as fantasy. It is fantasy not because it is impossible but because the modern world view undoes, does not give legitimacy to alternative explorations of identity.[14] Nations are real. Nations give passports, regulate labor, and until recently regulated capital, pollution and identity (of course, all three with globalism have made the nation-state if not an endangered species, certainly, a problematic species). The guiding model then is conflict and dominance.  

Islam placed such, leads to enormous tensions between the State and the individual (with individuals who opt for non-statist versions of Islam seen as threatening) and between States (with each State claiming the mantle of Islam as defined by power, and to some extent fidelity to the Islamic paradigm). The result is a nationalistic, non-universal Islam that is defensive towards the West, that is fragmented and offensive towards its own people.  The deepest cost, of course, is the category of global community, of Ummah, itself as well as the category of future. The imagination of a universal Islam not bounded by nation, leader or strengthened by enemy, by the fear of the other, is the first causality.  The task for visioning the Islamic Ummah is about reversing this process, creating a vision that pulls a civilization forward not draws a people into the glue of greed and fear. As Fred Polak has argued in his The Image of the Future[15] civilizations that have a compelling image of the future (that is essentially optimistic about the nature of humans and positive about what can be created) rise. Those that have no image (who are essentially pessimistic about the nature of humans and negative about the possibility of change over time decline. If we add the vision of the future with the Khaldunian concept of power, we have a rich macrohistory and macrofuture.[16]  

For Khaldun, those outside of power have a more difficult life.  Through struggle they gain unity. They have a vision of community and a desire for power. But once achieved, over four generations the vision disappears, unity is lost and as power declines, new forces with a stronger vision/unity take the mantle of leadership.  

We are thus faced with a historic but not an easy task.  Imaging Ummah decades ahead is problematic because of the predominance of (1) economistic thinking, (2) international relations neo-realist paradigm of self and nation, (3) our rigid training in history and conventional disciplines, and (4) our fear of being ridiculous or controversial.   

But it is possible!  To do so we need to meet the following criteria.[17] A vision (1) must have legitimacy amongst its interpretive community, that is a vision cannot be merely one individual's fantasy, it must have agreement from its members. (2) A vision must touch upon the physical layer of reality (the material world of goods and services). (3) It must have some bearing on conventional views of rationality, even as it contests them. (4) A vision inspire and ennoble a people. (5)  To be realizable, a vision must be neither too far into the future (and thus appear utopian, unreachable) nor too near term (and thus be fraught with emotional ego-politics, with cynicism towards transformative change). Finally, (6) a vision must redefine the role of leadership, the vanguard, and it must be mythical. As mentioned earlier, it must touch some deep unconscious often metaphorical level of what it means to be human and our role as humans--and Muslims--in history and future. Ultimately to succeed, a vision must enable each on of us to transform self and society.  Computer models can aid visionary thinking in being more rigourous, in exploring unanticipated consequences, and in testing assumptions. Efforts to imagine the futures of the Ummah should include strategic planning dimensions as well as longer visionary futures orientations. Quantitative (inviting rigour) and qualitative (inviting vision) methods must be used.   

Fortunately, the framework for Islamic futures studies, visioning, is already in place. As we have learned from Zia Sardar (and others such as Munawar Anees and Syd Hossein Nasr) in his numerous books on Islamic Futures, Islam is a future-oriented worldview. It is so partly because we know from the Prophet's life that a vision, a calling, became a series of strategic plans to realize this vision.  The human capacity to reason, to learn from the past, and to rationally search for alternatives and choose a best course of action was illustrated perfectly by the Prophet's life.  It is also future-oriented in that properly understood it offers and alternative to state-oriented socialism and greed-climaxing capitalism.  While some might argue that Islam is not future-oriented in a temporal sense since the primary relationship of a Muslim is one of submission to Allah (as many say, why be concerned about the future, just trust in Allah), however, Islam should be understood not merely as a religion explicating the relationship between self and God, but Islam also advises how to treat each other, nature, as well as how we should deal with issues of polity and economy, that is, issues of societal design, of the good.    

However, Islam's commitment to an alternative future, a vision of a good society, does not discount history. Indeed, the ideal Medina polity and other Muslim historical successes can be built upon, can be recovered from the overarching paradigm of modernism. History can be used to create the future; history should be seen as part of interpretive space, indeed, as future space. We should thus not commit to particular linear images of the future, specifically, that the future of the non-West will follow that of the West.  There can be alternatives ways out of feudalism, monarchy, and closed-door traditionalism. Indeed, many argue that as the West is in its final fatigue, in a deep crisis of vision, alternatives can only come from those outside the imperium, those who are not beholden to the images and myths of centralized power and technocracy.[18]  

At the same time, history, while often a resource, can be a curse.[19]  Futures studies can help remove the desperate politics of revenge and "blaming the Other" to a hope-generating discourse of the possible.  


What then are ways  of thinking of the future. While human have always had a historical interest in the future (as per astrology) it is only recently that futures studies has become more precise and palatable. Forecasting has become the technique par excellence of planners, economists and social scientists.   Since the 1950s futures studies has grown rapidly in the USA and Europe, primarily as a tool to gain strategic military advantage.  This has ranged from Herman Kahn's Thinking the Unthinkable[20] (post-nuclear war scenarios) to Harold Linstone's efforts to predict who will attack first (deterrence scenarios).[21]  Futures studies then quickly became common place in governmental agencies as well as corporations.  In the former the hidden goal was to appear modern, to rationalize decisionmaking, to increase budgets. In the latter, strategic business advantage was of concern.  

This type of futures studies gained global fame during the 1970's era of global models, such as LTG, where the range of trends creating the future (population, arable land, industrial output, pollution) were interactively related to each other. The solution as you might expect from a politics of fear was that civilization as "we" know it, meaning the West, would collapse unless dramatic changes were made. But the goal was not strategic advantage but system change or so it seemed. Critics argue however the deeper politics of the system, its class, civilizational, gender, imperialistic history were not touched upon.  Fundamentally this was technocratic predictive oriented futures studies, quite different from the imagination based futures studies called for by Jungk.  


In my model of futures studies, I divide epistemological approaches of the future into three areas. The first is predictive, the second is cultural/interpretive and the third critical.[22]  We will use this framework to further explore various world models.  

In the predictive, language is assumed to be neutral, that is, it does not participate in constituting the real. Language merely describes reality serving as an invisible link between theory and data.  Prediction assumes that the universe is deterministic, that is, the future can be known.  By and large this view privileges experts (planners, policy analysts and futurists), economists and astrologers.  The future becomes a site of expertise and a place to colonise.  Linear forecasting is the technique used most.  Scenarios are used more as minor deviations from the norm instead of alternative worldviews. Most global models, whether Limits to Growth, Mankind at the Turning Point or other models use this approach.  They take a Western civilizational view of reality even as these models argue that they are universal.  They are civilizational poor not asking what are the categories other civilizations use to construct their futures. Indeed, population is always seen as a fundamental negative. To Muslims and others this is absurd, more important are children, humans as a resource.  Overpopulation is a symptom of deeper inefficiencies and inequities at world, regional and national levels.  

However, what can be useful in predictive models is that a long-range time horizon is often used, a hundred years for LTG and MTP. Most current models, in the 1990's have shied away from the future (out of fear of critique and also having understood that the future is open not a closed space).  Still LTG and other models served an important purpose by expanding our time horizon, by making time long.  In this sense for the Muslim world computer simulation models which can stretch time would be welcome. The would force Muslim technocrats out of the present and into projected futures.  However, these, as mentioned earlier, should be articulated with categories that come from the Muslim paradigm and framed as such.  

As one might imagine, the strict predictive approach is lacking. It is technocratic, civilizationally impoverished, and avoids issues of values. From an Islamic worldview where holism, an integration of values in science are paramount, it is entirely inappropriate.  

There are other approaches to futures studies though. In the cultural, the goal is not prediction but insight.  Truth is considered relative with language and culture both intimately involved in creating the real.  Through comparison, through examining different national or gender or ethnic images of the future, we gain insight into the human condition.  This type of futures studies is less technical with mythology as important as mathematics.  Learning from each model--in the context of the search for universal narratives that can ensure basic human values--is the central mission for this epistemological approach.   

In the critical, futures studies aims not at prediction or at comparison but seeks to make the units of analysis problematic, to undefine the future.  We are concerned not with population forecasts but with how the category of population has become valorised in discourse, for example, why population instead of community or people, we might ask?  How would Islamic notions of community fit in? Why are growth rates more important then the level of asibya or unity to reconjure Ibn Khaldun? The role of the State and other forms of power in creating authoritative discourses is central to understanding how a particular future has become hegemonic.   

Critical future studies asserts that the present is fragile, merely the victory of one particular discourse, way of knowing, over the other.  The goal of critical research is to disturb present power relations through making problematic our categories and evoking other places, scenarios of the future.  Through this distance, the present becomes less rigid, indeed, remarkable.  The spaces of reality loosen making the new possible.  

Central to cultural and critical is the notion of civilizational futures research. Civilizational research makes problematic current categories since they are often based on the dominant civilization (the West in this case) and it informs us that behind the level of empirical reality is cultural reality and behind that is worldview. Global models to be of use to more than elite think tanks must be able to bridge these civilizational barriers. They often do not because they construct science as value free, as neutral, seeing it as a universal product not a civilizational one. In this the Islamization of knowledge project is crucial in rescuing knowledge from one particular worldview.  Science, and models in particular, can thus be civilizationally diverse.   

Indeed, the Latin American Bariloche model was that. Far more concerned with social justice, with equality, than with issues of growth, the model showed that satisfying basic needs was the key to development. It was however rejected by the Club of Rome.  

Ideally, one should try and interactively use all three types of futures studies.  If one makes a population forecast, for example, one should then ask how different civilisations approach the issue of population. Finally one should deconstruct the idea of population itself, defining it, for example, not only as an ecological problem in the third world but relating it to first world consumption patterns as well.  Empirical research then must be contextualized within the civilisation's science from which it emerges and then historically deconstructed to show what a particular approach is missing and silencing.  

Global models are a particular type of futures studies based on systems analysis. They emerged during a particular time: during the rise of the environmental movement, the beginnings of globalism, the concern for growth, for the negative impacts of technology. They should also as be seen as part of technocracy. The solutions posited by modellers are often those that are State and government focused. Civil society is rarely seen as an independent variable worthy of creating futures.[23] It is the silent variable.  They are also largely Western oriented with only Latin America creating a non-Western based model.  

We will now briefly review various models and then move on to various scenarios of the future.  


Clearly the most significant model in recent history is the Limits to Growth model of the Club of Rome.  LTG was a crude aggregate systems model of world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion.  It uniqueness was that these variables were quantitative, something quite novel then.  Also unique was the critique of growth. It was the call to limits that both inspired environmentalists, and others who felt modernity had gone too far, and caused fear to industrialists. However the model did not disaggregate regions. The overly global nature of LTG was resolved by the much more sensitive Mankind at the Turning Point, where regional models and over 100,000 equations were used to model the human condition, or the global problematique. The main conclusions were that current trends will lead a sudden and uncontrollable decline in population and industrial capacity, most likely after 2015. However, these declines will not impact the entire globe at the same time, they will hit region by region.  

While at the level of systems the LTG model was dynamic at the level of assumptions it was static.  The LTG study "assumes no major change in the physical, economic and social relationship that have historically governed the world system."[24] What this means is that historical situations of inequity are reinscribed--the rise of Islam, the women's movement, and new technologies are factored out.   

Moreover, their alternative scenarios are equally committed to the same variables. For example, in another run, world resources are doubled but this just leads to more industrial output and thus more pollution, leading to a decline in food production, and the eventual decline in resources, and thus to megadeath. Even if population is controlled this just forestalls food production by a decade or two. The result is the same. However, one runs the model, the results are always the same.  Thus, instead of choosing alternative scenarios based on different modelled assumptions, the same politics are re-represented throughout. Industrialism unabated will lead to a global collapse is the conclusion.  

The recent Beyond the Limits uses the same computer model and concludes with the same results: "The world has already overshot some of its limits and, if present trends continue, we face the virtually certain prospect of a global collapse, perhaps within the lifetimes of children today."[25]  

This is in contrast to current models such as Scanning the Future (STF) which believe that prosperity will continue into the next generation.[26]  Like 1970's Herman Kahn and his The Next Two Hundred Years recent reports believe that growth will and can continue.  It is only minor institutional and organizational arrangements that must be dealt with to allow growth. It is a loss of confidence that is the problem, for Kahn and others, not any systems relationship between population, pollution and industrial capacity.  

Kahn calls the current crisis merely part of the great transition began two hundred years ago with the oncome of the industrial revolution.  He believes that the plausible future is that by 2126 the gross world per capital will be 20,000 US$ in 1975 dollars, that the population will be 15 billion people, thus making the gross world product 300 trillion.[27] Of course there will be setbacks but by and large the trend is up. Population should be solved by creating wealth not be family planning and other measures. New technologies will find new sources of energy.  By leaving behind their corrupt and traditional ways and by adopting the East Asian growth miracle, poor Third World nations will join the onward march of capitalism. The future is bright.   

But for LTG and MTP the future can be bright but only if population pressures are reduced, if pollution is reduced, if recycling is increased, and if there is more global equity. MTP, however, as a more holistic edge and in addition offers these following conclusions: (1) a world consciousness must be developed through which every individual realizes his role as a member of the world community, (2) a new ethic of material resources is needed to deal with the oncoming age of scarcity, (3) an attitude of harmony toward nature must be developed, and (4) humans must develop a sense of identification with future generations.[28]  

For LTG the alternative is a condition of steadystate economics, of ecological and economic stability.  However, the solutions posited often merely reinforce technocracy (such as developing more anti-pollution technologies). This partly explains why LTG sold so well: its solution and critique was what liberal policy makers could handle. After all, the problem is too much population (a third world problem); pollution (again ship it south), bad industrial growth (develop a post-industrial technocratic growth society), and diminishing resources (find new resources). Issues of equity and justice were not part of the problem. Moreover, that study and many others have done well because they are fundamentally compatible with Christian cosmology.[29] From Puritanism, we get the idea of moral restraint; the sinners are the producers of population, pollution and depletion. The sinner can be converted if he repents and is converted (have less children, don't pollute and avoid non-renewable resources). And of course, "each converted sinner saves the system from a much deeper conversion."[30] Finally is the idea of the apocalypse, that a catastrophe is ahead. And the catastrophe is near but too near where it can be empirically tested and far but not too far where it would not mattered.[31]  

From a Third World Muslim perspective, issues of imperialism, colonialism, unequal distribution of resources (within and between nations) were utterly ignored. Instead of worrying about crisis a hundred years from now, the catastrophe the authors describe already exists in many cities. The fear expressed by LTG is that this crisis might now become a middle class First world problematique.  Ultimately, LTG as well Kahn's model and STF are apolitical models that assume a "conflict free world in a world beset by conflict and turmoil."[32]  

One way to deal with this within the doxa of futures studies is to capture deep differences through a range of scenarios. There could be a growth scenario like Kahn's, then a collapse scenarios like LTG, an achievable steadystate scenario like MTP or the Global 2000 project submitted to President Carter by Gerald Barney. And finally, and this is critical, a range of transformative scenarios, where the entire system changes.  This in fact is the real contribution of the more visionary futures studies led by Galtung, Dator, Harmon, Junkg, Boulding and many others.  The assumption behind transformation is that either for (1) technological, (2) civilizational (3) spiritual or other through collective rational means there is a chaotic jump wherein bifurcation results and thus problems are solved. One cannot solve a problem within the framework it is posited. The assumption is that while change is often difficult in most periods of history, during dramatic, plastic times, change is possible, even easy.  The fault with various models is that although they claim globalism, complexity, and interrelatedness, they are unable to understand how transformation from the periphery is possible, how civilizations such as Islam can renew themselves and become, instead of recipients of global trends, creators of global forces.   

Finally, and this becomes the point of entry into our next section, the trends examined are often the most obvious trends, not only are they entirely apolitical but all too common. Hidden trends or emerging issues, that are provocative, indeed ridiculous[33], are not explored.  Issues such as the end of capitalism, the establishment of a world government (with interlocking houses of nations, movements, corporations and individuals, for example), robotics, and space travel all context linear extrapolation, conventional future scenarios.  As dramatic drivers of new futures they allow us to explore alternative scenarios.  


Scenarios are used for many purposes. For some they help predict the future. For others, the clarify alternatives. For us, scenarios are useful in that they give us distance from the present, allowing the present to become peculiar. By opening up the present, they allow the creation of alternative futures as well as alternative histories.  The present, especially in the Islamic case, is believed to be difficult to change: Muslims are either too fixated on the West or have chosen particular histories which they believe are eternal. Islamic metaphysics often takes a Platonic position where the real is considered universal and frozen instead of historically and socially constructed.  Scenarios thus should not only create alternative futures but different histories, to show histories that did not come about, that could have come about if a certain factor had been altered.  

Scenarios also have an important visionary task, allowing us to gain insight into what people want the future to be like--the desired future. These are important in that instead of merely forecasting the future, individuals become eligible to create the future.

Unfortunately, most develop models of the future with very little difference between each run. For example, in the recent European Scanning the Future model, Global shift has a 3.4% growth rate; Global Crisis 2.4% and European Renaissance 2.9%.[34]  

A more useful way is to design scenarios is to change the assumptions by which they are built. For example, we can create scenarios of world politics based on alternative structures of power. The first would be a unipolar world, a continuation of the present.  The second would be a collapse of the inter-state system, leading to anarchy within states and between states. The third would be the creation of a multi-polar system, with numerous hegemons, such as the United States, the European Community, Japan, China, India, and Turkey for the Islamic region, each with their own spheres of influence.  A corollary would be a return to a bio-polar world but with different actors.  A fourth would be a world government structure.  Policies would be created at the global level while implementation would be local.  A fifth possibility would be a fragmented Western civilization in positive interaction with an Islamic Ummah. That is a situation with regional civilizational blocks: an Islamic Ummah, a Buddhist-Confucian Southeast Asia, a Vedic/Tantric India, etc.  Finally, while constructing scenarios it is important to remember that one is not designing perfect places but good places: contradictions within scenarios should not be left out.  


While we have found fault with earlier models for being unaware of their own politics and for not including the possibility of systems transformation, there are models that in fact do allow for debate for transformation. One is World 2000.  This model seeks to define the emerging global system and shape its future. But its framework is an international planning dialogue from a diversity of views. They posit the following supertrends:.[35] (1) a stable population of 10-14 billion people by the 21st century; (2) industrial output increasing by a factor of 5-10 over the next few decades (throughput will increase far less as more efficient means of production are found); (3) a globe linked by telecommunications and other emerging technologies, however, there will remain information rich and poor; (4) a high tech revolution of genetics, robotics and green technologies; (5) global integration in the form of a shared international culture and some form of world governance; (6) more diversity and complexity (in the from of layers of identity and governance); (7) limited crime, terrorism and war; (8) transcendent values; and (9) a universal standard of freedom and human rights.   

What is important here is that the increasing population is accepted, the need for more wealth in poverty areas is also accepted, as is the process of globalism.   

Moreover, they identify critical issues blocking this leap: (1) lack of sustainable development that values future generations; (2) the North-South gap, and (3) managing complexity.  The strategies are all idealistic focusing on green technologies, systems of collaboration, decentralizing institutions, and a focus on human centred enterprises.  This is a model that is in fact a dialogue that attempts to bring in other civilizational perspectives. However, clearly it fails asking for dialogue but remaining within a technocratic model.  Still it is an important beginning and at least a commitment to dialogue that notices albeit not uses non-Western perspectives.  

But the deeper problem and this is central to the issue of imagining alternative futures is that the work is still present based.  As mentioned earlier, we need to discern emerging issues.   

Futurist James Dator[36] believes that we are in a historic transition that will make us all strangers in a strange land. He identifies five tsunamis or tidal waves that promise to change the world.  While the trends are such that they cannot be changed, one can surf the tsunamis. For Dator these trends include changes in world population with Caucasians eventually becoming 5% of the world population by 2050;  the move to outer space, and dramatic new molecular and electronic technologies.  

Certainly these issues will dramatically confront the Islamic world. How will the Islamic Ummah deal with having such a great share of the world's population? Will Islam still be under threat then? Will Islam play a role in globalization beyond merely exporting workers and oil? Will Islamic models of environmental ethics become widespread? Will Muslims create new technologies or will they continue to be recipient of these dramatic new technologies? Will Islamic models of governance remain authoritarian or will they become democratic or will some models be found such as the Singapore Paternal "father knows best" model? How can faith in the univocal ideal of Islam be reconciled with the eclecticism that are Muslims today?  

But perhaps these are even more significant emerging issues. Genetics, robotics, the rise of the feminist movement, postmodern relativism all contest conventional ideas of what is natural, truth, and real. Emerging gene therapy, for example, contests a view that only God can create humans.  

Globalism creates a world culture and economy and at the same time it creates conditions for its own porousness. New information technologies such as the www and cd-rom create possibilities for new words and worlds.  Sovereignty is becoming problematic not only at the economic level but also at the level of self (we are becoming many peoples with many selves) and at the level of text (text cease to belong to one author but are more epistemic in their ownership). Protecting culture, self and history will become increasingly difficult but necessary to ensure a world of pluralism.  But part of a decentred world is that Islamic science, the Islamic Ummah, can finally find space for itself, since ideological hegemony will decrease, the world becoming more of a true marketplace. The space of sovereignty will thus continue its historical decline from God as sovereign, to king as sovereign, to the people as sovereign, and now even to the idea that the self is sovereign. The challenge for a future oriented Islamic Ummah  is to bring legitimacy to a nested model of God, community, family and self in postmodern conditions where even the primacy of the egoist self will be contested.  

These emerging issues and trends certainly threaten any idea of philosophical fundamentalism since reality, the nature, sovereignty, and truth are made porous. They create a postmodern world. While postmodernity destroys the basis for the real, it also opens up the world for new real.  A reconstructed Islam worthy of its original intent can provide that new paradigm.  It would be an Islamic Ummah that allows open discussion, freedom from reprisal, a search for multiple levels of the real; and an understanding of the subjective nature of the objective. We would finally live in a world of civilisations with many ways of knowing, many forms of knowledge, and constantly new arenas of what is known (new epistemologies will create new discoveries).  It might be a world that is dramatically new but, unlike the present, it will not be an unfamiliar world.  


But can we say anything about this unfamiliar world.  While there has been a great deal of thinking in the Western world, save for the work of Zia Sardar and others writing in journals of futures studies and similar places, there is very little in the Islamic world.  Based on the available literature, we examine three scenarios of the future.  

Ummah as Interpretive Community  

This plausible future is derived from an outstanding essay by Anwar Ibrahim[37] in a special issue of Futures on Islam and the Future. Ibrahim argues that we need to go beyond the three world thinking of first, second and third worlds and begin to think of the future in terms of an Islamic Ummah.  He spells out what this means. (1) The Ummah is a dynamic concept, reinterpreting the past, meeting new challenges and (2) the Ummah must meet global problems such as the environmental problem. "The Ummah as a community is required to acknowledge moral and practical responsibility for the Earth as a Trust and its members are trustees answerable for the condition of the Earth. This makes ecological concerns a vital element in our thinking and action, a prime arena where we must actively engage in changing things." [38] (3) The Ummah should be seen a critical tool, as a process of reasoning itself and (4) Equity and justice are prerequisites and imperatives of the Ummah. This means a commitment to eradicating poverty. It means going beyond the development debate since that merely framed the issue in apolitical, amoral, acritical language. To begin this means rethinking trade, developing south-south trade  as well as "new instruments of financial accounting and transacting ...and the financing of new routes and transportation infrastructure."[39] (6) But perhaps most significant is a commitment to literacy for all.  As Ibrahim writes: "Only with access to appropriate education can Ummah consciousness take room and make possible the Ummah of tomorrow as a personification of the pristine morality of Islam endowed with creative, constructive, critical thought." [40]  

Thus what is called for is not modernism but a critical and open traditionalism that uses the historic past to create a bright future. But Ummah should not becomes an imperialistic concept rather it requires that Muslims work with other civilizations in dialogue to find agreed upon principles (and be ready to collectively defend those principles as did not occur in Bosnia). We need to recover that historically the Ummah meant models of multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and pluralist societies.  A true Ummah respects the rights of non-Muslims as with the original Medina state.  

The Future Without a Name  

In the same special issue, Gulzar Haider takes us to an Islamic future with no name.[41] In his effort to imagine such an Ummah, he cannot. He says after falling asleep and waking in 2020. "I have seen a landscape of Muslim Futures and it looks fragmented, bounded, a controlled city of discrete tends. There are some who are alive and awake but are cast out of the city. They continue their search for the Madinah, and till then they keep reading, writing and speaking without fear except of their God and His Prophet. But none of them has a name." [42].   

Thus, given current geo-political trends, unfortunately, a possible future is the cannibalisation of Islam internally and externally. Internally largely due to external pressures but still nonetheless from sectarian infighting, from deep Sunni/Shia divisions and from irreconcilable models of what it means to be Muslim. Many of these battles are issues of revenge and history instead of the imagination of desired futures.  External forces are such that changes in technology, globalism, and world politics question whether Muslims can meet the challenges faced by a world undergoing dramatic transformation.  Islam, of course, will continue but will there be worthy Muslims?   

Islam as the Difference  

Conversely, through human action, Islam could become the difference in world science and politics. In this scenario, Zia Sardar writes that while we are uncertain about the nature of the next century, we know that Islam cannot be ignored. "Wether it is seen as a force for liberation or as an authoritarian step back to the middle ages, Islam cannot be ignored."[43] For Sardar Islam is the difference, the force of order and disorder, the attractors that will create the next century. Galtung, for example, has argued that Islam and the West are in a expansion/contraction relationship with each other, as one contracts, the other expands.[44] As the West loses its ability to maintain hyper expansion, exploitation of nature and other, Islam will come in and either continue the project as the Japanese have done, or transform the project. As Sardar writes: "At the beginning the 20th century, Islam--colonized, defeated, stagnant--could have easily been written off from history and the future. At the dawn of the 21st century, Islam--resurgent, confident, 'militant', 'fundamentalist', is very much alive."[45]  

But which Islam will it be? This then becomes the task of activists and intellectuals engaged in Islamic science, in Islamic futures, to imagine and create an Islam that creates the future; that is not burdened by advances in genetics, information technologies, and globalism. Such an Islam must engage in the global science and technology revolution but within the values and terms of Islamic science.  

In these times of civilization transformation when chaos is ever present, there is one thing that leads to something else: a sense of direction, of inner purpose, of deep morality. If Islam can provide that, the Ummah of the future will be alive and vibrant.  




[1].       Dr. Sohail Inayatullah is a political scientist at the Communication Centre Queensland University of Technology. Box 2434, Brisbane 4001, Australia. Fax: 61-7-3864-1813. Email:  This is greatly revised version of a paper presented to the Islamic Development Conference Meeting on the Islamic Ummah 2025 held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 26-28, 1996.


Dr. Inayatullah is a member of the executive council of the World Futures Studies Federation. He is also on the advisory board of the journal Futures and Futures Studies. He is the author/editor of numerous books (most recently forthcoming is Macrohistory and Macrohistorians with Praeger and Islam, Science, Postmodernism and and the Future with Grey Seal) and over 100 professional journal and popular magazine articles. Dr. Inayatullah was born in Lahore, Pakistan.

[2].       Donella Meadows et al., The Limits to Growth, London, Pan Books, 1974.

[3].       Mihajlo Mesarovic and Eduard Pestel, Mankind at the Turning Point. New York, E.P. Dutton, 1974.

[4].       William Halal, "World 2000: An international planning dialogue to help shape the new global system," Futures (Vol. 25, No. 1, January 1993), 5-21.

[5].       See Sam Cole, "Global Models--a review," Futures (Vol. 19, No. 4, August 1987), 403-430. and Sam Cole, "Global Models, Data Bases and Geographic Information Systems," in Richard Slaughter, ed., The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. Melbourne, DDM and Future Study Centre, 1996.

[6].       See, for example, Rick Slaughter, ed., The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. Melbourne, DDM and Future Study Centre, 1996.

[7].       For more on this, see William Irwin Thompson,  Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1989.

[8].       For more on this, see, Robert Jungk and Norbert Muller,  Future Workshops: How to Create Desirable Futures. London, Institute for Social Inventions, 1987. Also see, James Dator, "From Future Workshops to Envisioning Alternative Futures,"  Futures Research Quarterly (Winter 1993).

[9].       Muslim scientists at the Stockholm Seminar in 1981 identified a set of fundamental concepts which define the Islamic paradigm.  See Zia Sardar, Islamic Science: the Way Ahead (booklet). Islamabad, OIC/COMSTECH, 1995, 39.

[10].      Robert Jungk, "Three Modes of Future Thinking," in George Chaplin and Glenn Paige, eds., Hawaii 2000. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 103.

[11].      Ibid.

[12].      See Tae-Chang Kim and James Dator, eds., Creating a New History for Future Generations. Kyoto, Institute for the Integrated Study of Future Generations, 1994.

[13].      Robert Jungk, "Three Modes of Future Thinking," 116.

[14].      Among other books, see RBJ Walker and Saul Mendlovitz, Contending Sovereignties. Boulder, Lynee Rienner Publishers, 1990. Also, James Der Derian and Michael Shapiro, International and Intertextual Relations: Postmodern readings of world politics. Toronto, Lexington Books, 1989. And, Zia Sardar, "Islamic State in a Post-industrial Age," in Islamic Futures: the shape of ideas to come. London, Mansell, 1985.  For an alternative reading that argues that Islam can easily cohabit in a range of political spaces. One can be loyal to community, nation, region and the larger Ummah. See Abdelwahab El-Affendi, Who Needs an Islamic State. London Grey Seal, 1992.

[15].      Fred Polak, The Image of the Future. Trans. Elise Boulding. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1973.

[16].      Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Trans. Franz Rosenthal. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1967.

[17].      Sohail Inayatullah, ed., Reader in Futures Studies. Lismore, Australia, Southern Cross University, 1995. Available on the worldwideweb.

[18].      See the works of Johan Galtung, Essays in Peace Research. Vol. 1-6. Copenhagen, Christian Ejlers, 1988. Also, Ashis Nandy, Traditions, Tyranny and Utopias. Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1987.

[19].      See S.P. Udayakumar, "Accursed Futures and Redemptive Fantasies," Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii, 1996. Unpublished research paper.

[20].      Herman Kahn, Thinking the Unthinkable. New York, Horizon Press, 1962.

[21].      Harold Linstone, "What I have Learned: The Need for Multiple Perspectives," Futures Research Quarterly (Spring 1985), 47-61.

[22].      For an elaboration of this theme, see Sohail Inayatullah "Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future", Futures, (Vol. 22, No. 2, March 1990), 115-141 and Richard Slaughter, Recovering the Future. Clayton, Australia, Monash, 1985. For a more conservative position, see Roy Amara, "The Futures Field," The Futurist, (Vol. 15, No. 1, 2 and 3, February, April and June, 1981).

[23].      See Johan Galtung, "Beyond Bruntland: Linking Global Problems and Local Solutions," Department of Political Science, University of Hawaii. Research Paper. Undated. 8 pages.

[24].      LTG, 124.

[25].      Sam Cole, "Learning to Love Limits, Futures (Vol. 25, No. 7, September 1993), 814-818. A review of Donella Meadows, Denis Meadows and Jorgen Randers,. Beyond the Limits: Global Collapse or a Sustainable Future. London, Earthscan, 1992.

[26].      Central Planning Bureau, Scanning the Future, A long term Scenario Study of the World Economy 1990-2015. The Hague, SDU Publishers, 1992. Evaluated in the excellent, Bart van Steenbergen, "Global Modelling in the 1990's," Futures (Vol. 26, No. 1, January, 1994), 44-56.

[27].      Kahn, 7.

[28].      MTP, 147.

[29].      Johan Galtung, "'The Limits to Growth' and Class Politics," in Johan Galtung, Essays in Peace Research: Vol. 5. Copenhagen, Christian Ejlers, 1988, 325-342.

[30].      Ibid., 327.

[31].      Ibid., 328.

[32].      Ibid., 331.

[33].      Jim Dator, Emerging Issues Analysis in the Hawaii Judiciary. Honolulu, Hawaii Judiciary, 1980.

[34].      Steenbergen, 53.

[35].      Halal, 8-9.

[36].      James Dator, "American State Courts, Five Tsunamis and Four Alternative Futures," Futures Research Quarterly (Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter 1993), 9-30.

[37].      "The Ummah and Tomorrow's World," Futures (Vol. 23, No. 3, April 1991), 302-310.

[38].      Ibid., 307.

[39].      Ibid., 308.

[40].      Ibid., 309.

[41].      Gulzar Haider, "An 'Islamic Future' without a name," Futures (Vol. 23, No. 3, April 1991), 311-316.

[42].      Ibid, 316.

[43].      Zia Sardar, "Islam and the Future," Futures (Vol. 23, No. 3, April 1991), 223.

[44].      Johan Galtung, Tore Heiestad Eric Rudeng, "On the last 2500 Years in Western History: And Some Remarks on the Coming 500," in Peter Burke, ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol 13. Companion Volume, London, Cambridge University Press, 1979.

[45].      Sardar, "Islam and the Future," 223