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Life on the Edge | Edge of Islam

On the Kenyan island of Lamu, three young Muslim men face a dilemma. Should they work for the rich foreign tourists who sunbathe on their beautiful beaches and buy up their local houses? If they don’t, they won’t be able to pay off the school fees they owe, and the exam certificates they’ve earned will remain locked away in a filing cabinet. But if they do, will they compromise the strict principles of their Islamic faith? Across the world, many other young Muslims face the same dilemma – whether they should take a stake in the globalized world, or stand aside for the sake of their beliefs. The decisions they take could affect us all.

Globalisation is making the rich world even richer, but billions are locked out – they’re living on the edge between the rich world and the poor.

Lamu is a beautiful island off the coast of Kenya. It’s an island that looks East and West, creating dilemmas for its people. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and attracts tourists from all over the western world, which sometimes causes tensions with the conservative Muslim population. Lamu is poor: one ambulance of a sort, one car.

But it has become a haven for discerning tourists, and a playground for globalization’s new elite. For fashionable artists, princesses, racing drivers – Lamu is one of their best-kept secrets. They’re attracted by chic hotels, the beaches and the wildlife. Carol Korschen, of the Peponi Hotel in Lamu, says: “It’s the major income earner for Lamu.”

In this programme, three young Muslim football players face a dilemma. Should they work for the rich foreign tourists who sunbathe on their beautiful beaches and buy up their local houses? If they don’t, they won’t be able to pay off the school fees they owe, and the exam certificates they’ve earned will remain locked away in a filing cabinet. But if they do, will they compromise the strict principles of their Islamic faith?

abdullahEighteen year-old Abdulkarim has been invited back to his old school to be congratulated on his exam results – the best this year. He’s a strict Muslim and, in keeping with his religion, wants to help people by training as a doctor. His success should help him achieve that dream.

But there’s a problem. Abdulkarim owes the school the equivalent of $160 in unpaid fees, a sizeable amount for a poor Kenyan, and until he finds that money he won’t be given the certificate he’s earned and that’s so crucial for his future.

‘I have to first collect my certificate, because you cannot go any place in Kenya without certificate,’ he explains. ‘ So I have to find any means to’¦ to get my certificate.’

The school desperately needs the $32,000 it’s lost because of unpaid school fees. So for decades it’s been withholding certificates from pupils who can’t afford to pay.

Deputy Head‘Without these certificates there is no way you can get employed and there is no way you can go to college because you cannot prove you have gone to school,’ says the Deputy Head.. ‘It is very tough, but it’s tougher for the school because we have debts to clear. We have to pay for the food. If we give them these certificates it means the money will not be paid.’

Abdulkarim is in danger of having his certificate locked away forever. He could start paying off his debts by working as a tour guide but that’s something he’s not prepared to do. ‘According to my faith I will not work with tourists. Some of them are’¦ really bad. So for me I don’t think I work with them. I would rather become a madrassa teacher, to teach students.’

Many of Lamu’s Muslims feel they have to choose between dealing with Westerners and obeying their religion. The local Imam is also a baker, selling cakes to tourists. He believes the dilemma can be resolved if his fellow Muslims are clear what they want from the West. But Abdelkarim refuses to do this. Instead this highly gifted young Muslim serves on a vegetable stall in Lamu’s ancient market, where he earns fifty Kenyan shillings (about 80 cents) a day. He also objects to rich foreigners buying up property in Lamu. But like his friends, Abdulkarim strongly opposes Islamic extremism.

Lamu Lamu is on the edge between spiritual Islam and the Consumer West. In a globalized world the two are bound to meet – and maybe clash – ever more often. As the West moves in, the future of the long-established Islamic community here is in the balance. Young Muslims who live on this idyllic island have to decide how to react.

Abdelkarim has tried to persuade his friends: ‘I’ve told them to have faith in God, trust God. Not engage yourself into activities which you’ll come to regret afterwards.’

Across the world, many other young Muslims face the same dilemma – whether they should take a stake in the globalized world, or stand aside for the sake of their beliefs. The decisions they take could affect us all’¦

FURTHER READING

The Indian Ocean island of Lamu is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Read about its museums here and about its general tourist attractions on the Kenyan Tourist Board website.

Tourism is a major income earner for Lamu, as Carol Korschen of the Peponi Hotel stresses.

The UN Development Programme explains the problems of Achieving Millennium Development Goals in Africa. The UN Development Programme also runs a Millennium Development Goals Monitor.

The World Bank is the largest donor to Africa.

Other organisations concerned with fighting poverty and providing ‘decent work’ are the European Commission andOXFAM-Novib.

And the US National Bureau for Economic Research published a paper on Globalization and poverty.

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