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ISLAMIC WORLD & CIVILIZATION Reform, Dependency, and Recovery


Reform, Dependency, and Recovery

(1683 to the present)*

by: Ahmad Y. Samantho, S.IP

( ICAS-Jakarta Student of  Magister Programe on Islamic Philosophy)


The history of the Muslims in modern times has often been explained in terms of the impact and hegemony of “the West.”

From this perspective, the 18th century was a period of degeneration and a prelude to European domination, symbolized by Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt in 1798.

Given the events of the 1980s, however, it is possible to argue that the period of Western domination was an interlude in the ongoing development of indigenous styles of modernization.

In order to examine that hypothesis, it is necessary to begin the “modern” period with the 18th century, when activism and revival were present throughout Islamdom.

The three major Muslim empires did experience a decline during the 18th century, as compared to their own earlier power and to the rising powers in Europe; but most Muslims were not yet aware that Europe was partly to blame. Similar decline had occurred many times before, a product of the inevitable weaknesses of the military conquest state turned into centralized absolutism, overdependence on continuous expansion, weakening of training for rule, the difficulty of maintaining efficiency and loyalty in a large, complex royal household and army, and the difficulty of maintaining sufficient revenues for an increasingly lavish court life. Furthermore, population increased, as it did almost everywhere in the 18th-century world, just as inflation and expensive reform reduced income to central governments. Given the insights of Ibn Khaldun, however, one might have expected a new group with a fresh sense of cohesiveness to restore political strength. Had Muslims remained on a par with all other societies, they might have revived. But by the 18th century one particular set of societies in western Europe had developed an economic and social system capable of transcending the 5,000-year-old limitations of the agrarian-based settled world as defined by the Greeks (who called it Oikoumene). Unlike most of the lands of Islamdom, those societies were rich in natural resources (especially the fossil fuels that could supplement human and animal power) and poor in space for expansion. Cut off by Muslims from controlling land routes from the East, European explorers had built on and surpassed Muslim seafaring technology to compete in the southern seas and discover new sea routes—and, accidentally, a new source of wealth in the Americas. In Europe, centralized absolutism, though an ideal, had not been the success it was in Islamdom. Emerging from the landed classes rather than from the cities, it had benefited from and been constrained by independent urban commercial classes. In Islamdom, the power of merchants had been inhibited by imperial overtaxation of local private enterprise, appropriation of the benefits of trade, and the privileging of foreign traders through agreements known as the Capitulations. In Europe independent financial and social resources promoted an unusual freedom for technological experimentation and, consequently, the technicalization of other areas of society as well. Unlike previous innovations in the Oikoumene, Europe’s technology could not easily be diffused to societies that had not undergone the prerequisite fundamental social and economic changes. Outside of Europe, gradual assimilation of the “new,” which had characterized change and cultural diffusion for 5,000 years, had to be replaced by hurried imitation, which proved enormously disorienting. This combination of innovation and imitation produced an unprecedented and persisting imbalance among various parts of the Oikoumene. Muslims’ responses paralleled those of other “non-Western” peoples but were often filtered through and expressed in peculiarly Islamic or Islamicate symbols and motifs. The power of Islam as a source of public values had already waxed and waned many times; it intensified in the 18th and 19th centuries, receded in the early 20th century, and surged again after the mid-20th century. Thus European colonizers appeared in the midst of an ongoing process that they greatly affected but did not completely transform.

Pre-colonial reform and experimentation (1683–1818)

From the mid-17th century through the 18th and early 19th centuries certain Muslims expressed an awareness of internal weakness. In some areas, Muslims were largely unaware of the rise of Europe; in others, such as India, Sumatra, and Java, the 18th century actually brought European control. Responses to decline, sometimes official and sometimes unofficial, sometimes Islamizing, sometimes Europeanizing, fell into two categories, as the following examples demonstrate.In some areas, leaders attempted to revive existing political systems. In Iran, for example, attempts at restoration combined military and religious reform. Around 1730 a Turk from Khorasan named Nader Qoli Beg reorganized the Safavid army in the name of the Safavid shah, whom he replaced with himself in 1736. Nader Shah extended the borders of the Safavid state further than ever; he even defeated the Ottomans and may have been aspiring to be the leader of all Muslims. To this end he made overtures to neighbouring rulers, seeking their recognition by trying to represent Iranian Shi’ism as a madhhab alongside the Sunnite madhhabs. After he was killed in 1747, however, his reforms did not survive and his house disintegrated. Karim Khan Zand, a general from Shiraz, ruled in the name of the Safavids but did not restore real power to the shah. By the time the Qajars (1779–1925) managed to resecure Iran’s borders, reviving Safavid legitimacy was impossible.In the Ottoman Empire, restoration involved selective imitation of things European. Its first phase, from 1718 to 1730, is known as the Tulip Period, because of the cultivation by the wealthy of a Perso-Turkish flower then popular in Europe. Experimentation with European manners and tastes was matched by experimentation with European military technology. Restoration depended on reinvigorating the military, the key to earlier Ottoman success, and Christian Europeans were hired for the task. After Nader Shah’s defeat of the Ottoman army, this first phase of absolutist restoration ended, but the pursuit of European fashion had become a permanent element in Ottoman life. Meanwhile, central power continued to weaken, especially in the area of international commerce. The certificates of protection that had accompanied the Capitulations arrangements for foreign nationals were extended to non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, who gradually oriented themselves toward their foreign associates. The integration of such groups into the Ottoman state was further weakened by the recognition, in the disastrous Treaty of Kücük Kaynarca (1774), of the Russian tsar as protector of the Ottoman’s Greek Orthodox millet. A second stage of absolutist restoration occurred under Selim III, who became sultan in the first year of the French Revolution and ruled until 1807. His military and political reforms, referred to as the New Order (Nizam-i Cedid), went beyond the Tulip Period in making use of things European; for example, the enlightened monarch, as exemplified by Napoleon himself, became an Ottoman ideal. Here, as in Egypt under Muhammad ‘Ali (reigned 1805–48), the famed core of Janissaries that had been a source of Ottoman strength was destroyed and replaced with European-trained troops.In other areas, leaders envisioned or created new social orders that were self-consciously Islamic. The growing popularity of westernization and a decreasing reliance on Islam as a source of public values was counterbalanced in many parts of Islamdom by all sorts of Islamic activism, ranging from educational reform to jihad. “Islamic” politics often were marked by an oppositional quality that drew on long-standing traditions of skepticism about government. Sufism could play very different roles. In the form of renovated tariqahs it could support reform and stimulate pan-Islamic awareness. Sufis often encouraged the study of hadith so as to establish the Prophet Muhammad as a model for spiritual and moral reconstruction and to invalidate many unacceptable traditional or customary Islamic practices. Sufi tariqahs provided interregional communication and contact and an indigenous form of social organization that could even lead to the founding of a dynasty, as in the case of the Libyan monarchy. Sufism could also be condemned as a source of degeneracy. The most famous and influential militant anti-Sufi movement arose in the Arabian Peninsula and called itself al-Muwahhidun (“the Monotheists”); but it came to be known as Wahhabiyah, after its founder, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (1703–92). Inspired by Ibn Taymiyah (see above Migration and renewal (1041–1405)), Ibn al-Wahhab argued that the Qur’an and sunnah could provide the basis for a reconstruction of Islamic society out of the degenerate form in which it had come to be practiced. Islam itself was not an inhibiting force; “traditional” Islam was. Far from advocating the traditional, the Wahhabis argued that what had become traditional had strayed very far from the fundamental, which can always be found in the Qur’an and sunnah. The traditional they associated with blind imitation (taqlid); reform, with making the pious personal effort (ijtihad) necessary to understand the fundamentals. Within an Islamic context, this type of movement was not conservative, because it sought not to conserve what had been passed down but to renew what had been abandoned. The Wahhabi movement attracted the support of a tribe in the Najd led by Muhammad ibn Sa’ud. Although the first state produced by this alliance did not last, it laid the foundations for the existing Saudi state in Arabia and inspired similar activism elsewhere down to the present day. In West Africa a series of activist movements appeared from the 18th century into the 19th. There as in Arabia, Islamic activism was directed less at non-Muslims than at Muslims who had gone astray. As in many of Islamdom’s outlying areas, emergent groups of indigenous educated, observant Muslims, such as the Tukulor, were finding the casual, syncretistic, opportunistic nature of official Islam to be increasingly intolerable. Such Muslims were inspired by reformist scholars from numerous times and places—al-Ghazali, as-Suyuti, Maghili; by a theory of jihad comparable to that of the Wahhabis; and by expectations of a mujaddid as the Islamic century turned in AH 1200 (AD 1785). In what is now northern Nigeria, the discontent of the 1780s and ’90s erupted in 1804, when Usman dan Fodio declared a jihad against the Hausa rulers. Others followed, among them Muhammad al-Jaylani in Aïr, Shehuh Ahmadu Lobbo in Macina, al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal (a member of the reformist Tijani tariqah) in Fouta Djallon, and Samory in the Malinke (Mandingo) states. Jihad activity continued for a century; it again became millennial near the turn of the next Muslim century in AH 1300 (AD 1882), as the need to resist against European occupation became more urgent. For example, Muhammad Ahmad declared himself to be the mahdi in the Sudan in 1881.In the Indian Ocean area, Islamic activism was more often intellectual and educational. Its best exemplar was Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (1702–62), the spiritual ancestor of many later Indian Muslim reform movements. During his lifetime the collapse of Muslim political power was painfully evident. He tried to unite the Muslims of India, not around Sufism as Akbar had tried to do, but around the Shari’ah. Like Ibn Taymiyah, he understood the Shari’ah to be based on firm sources—Qur’an and sunnah—that could with pious effort be applied to present circumstances. Once again, the study of hadith provided a rich array of precedents and inspired a positive spirit of social reconstruction akin to that of the Prophet Muhammad.

Dependency (1818–1962)

The many efforts to revive and resist were largely unsuccessful. By 1818, British hegemony over India was complete; and many other colonies and mandates followed between then and the aftermath of World War I. Not all Muslim territories were colonized, but nearly all experienced some kind of dependency, be it psychological, political, technological, cultural, or economic. Perhaps only the Saudi regime in the central parts of the Arabian Peninsula could be said to have escaped any kind of dependency; but even there oil exploration, begun in the 1930s, brought European interference. In the 19th century westernization and Islamic activism coexisted and competed. By the turn of the 20th century secular ethnic nationalism had become the most common mode of protest in Islamdom; but the spirit of Islamic reconstruction was also kept alive, either in conjunction with secular nationalism or in opposition to it.In the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, selective westernization coexisted with a reconsideration of Islam. The program of reform known as the Tanzimat, which was in effect from 1839 to 1876, aimed to emulate European law and administration by giving all Ottoman subjects, regardless of religious confession, equal legal standing and by limiting the powers of the monarch. In the 1860s a group known as the Young Ottomans tried to identify the basic principles of European liberalism and even love of nation with Islam itself. In Iran, the Qajar shahs brought in a special “Cossack Brigade,” trained and led by Russians, while at the same time the Shi’ite mujtahids viewed the decisions of their spiritual leader as binding on all Iranian Shi’ites and declared themselves to be independent of the shah. (One Shi’ite revolt, that of the Bab [died 1850], led to a whole new religion, Baha’i.) Like the Young Ottomans, Shi’ite religious leaders came to identify with constitutionalism in opposition to the ruler.Islamic protest often took the form of jihad against the Europeans: by Southeast Asians against the Dutch; by the Sanusi tariqah over Italian control in Libya; by the Mahdist movement in the Sudan; or by the Salihi tariqah in Somalia, led by Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah Hasan, who was tellingly nicknamed the Mad Mullah by Europeans. Sometimes religious leaders, like those of the Shi’ites in Iran, took part in constitutional revolutions (1905–11). Underlying much of this activity was a pan-Islamic sentiment that drew on very old conceptions of the ummah as the ultimate solidarity group for Muslims. Three of the most prominent Islamic reconstructionists were Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, his Egyptian disciple Muhammad ‘Abduh, and the Indian poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal. All warned against blind pursuit of Westernization, arguing that the blame for the weaknesses of Muslims lay not with Islam, but rather with Muslims themselves, because they had lost touch with the progressive spirit of social, moral, and intellectual reconstruction that had made early Islamicate civilization one of the greatest in human history. Although al-Afghani, who taught and preached in many parts of Islamdom, acknowledged that organization by nationality might be necessary, he viewed it as inferior to Muslim identity. He further argued that Western technology could advance Muslims only if they retained and cultivated their own spiritual and cultural heritage. He pointed out that at one time Muslims had been intellectual and scientific leaders in the world, identifying a Golden Age under the ‘Abbasid caliphate and pointing to the many contributions Muslims had made to “the West.” Like al-Afghani, Iqbal assumed that without Islam Muslims could never regain the strength they had possessed when they were a vital force in the world, united in a single international community and unaffected by differences of language or ethnos. This aggressive recovery of the past became a permanent theme of Islamic reconstruction. In many regions of Islamdom the movement known as Salafiyah also identified with an ideal time in history, that of the “pious ancestors” (salaf) in the early Muslim state of Muhammad and his companions, and advocated past-oriented change to bring present-day Muslims up to the progressive standards of an earlier ideal. In addition to clearly Islamic thinkers, there were others, such as the Egyptian Mustafa Kamil, whose nationalism was not simply secular. Kamil saw Egypt as simultaneously European, Ottoman, and Muslim. The Young Turk Revolution of 1908 was followed by a period in which similarly complex views of national identity were discussed in the Ottoman Empire.

Recovery (1922 to the present)

Progress of secular nationalism

Despite the ideological appeal of such positions, the need to throw off European control promoted the fortunes of secular nationalism and other narrower forms of loyalty. Especially after Japan’s defeat of Russia in 1905, nationalist fervour increased. Sometimes it was associated with related ideologies, such as pan-Arabism, pan-Turkism, or Arab socialism. Many nationalists enthusiastically admired things European despite the fact that they were committed to resisting or removing European control. Often accepting European assessments of traditional religion as a barrier to modernization, many nationalists sought an identity in the pre-Islamic past. Kemal Atatürk looked to the Turkic past in Central Asia and Anatolia to transform Ottomanism into a Turkish identity not dependent on Islam. “Islamic” dress was discouraged. Muslim males, who prayed with covered heads, were now asked to replace the fez, which could be kept on during prayer, with the brimmed hat, which could not. Arabic script, too closely associated with Islam, was replaced with the Roman, after the Cyrillic (the alphabet of Central Asian Turks) had been considered and rejected. In Iran, Reza Shah Pahlavi argued that the Islamic period was but an accidental interlude in the continuous history, since Achaemenid times, of Iran as a unified entity. The Egyptian Taha Hussein connected his country’s national identity with Pharaonic times and with Mediterranean–European culture; and therefore it could easily partake of modern Western civilization. Christians were thus as much Egyptians as were Muslims; the accompanying development of a standard literary Arabic, fusha, emphasized the unity of all Arabs, regardless of confession. These approaches allowed, indeed required, all religious communities to partake of a single legal and societal system, at the price of denying the public relevance of a primary loyalty for the majority of the population.Other nationalists made more of Islam. In Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, for example, Islam played a primary role in the formation of a national identity. In Pakistan it provided, according to the statesman Mohammed Ali Jinnah, an alternative for Muslims who would otherwise have to share in an identity defined by a Hindu majority. In many Arab countries, especially in the Maghrib, secular nationalism’s downgrading of Islam was muted by a qualified acceptance of Islam as one, but not the only, important source of loyalty. At the same time there were Muslims who opposed nationalism altogether. In India, Mawlana Abu’l-‘Cia’ Mawdudi, who was the founder of the Jama’at-i Islami, opposed both secular and religious nationalism and argued for the Islamization of society and an Islamic alternative to nationalism. In Egypt, Sayyid Qutb and Hasan al-Banna’, who were the mentors of the Muslim Brotherhood, fought for the educational, moral, and social reform of an Islamic Egypt and indeed of all Islamdom.

(OIC) Arabic Munazamat al-Mu’tamir al-Islami an Islamic organization established in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in May 1971, following summits by Muslim heads of state and government in 1969 and by Muslim foreign ministers in 1970. The membership includes Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, The Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.The conference aims at promoting Islamic solidarity by coordinating social, economic, scientific, and cultural activities. Under the banner of strengthening the struggle of Muslims, the conference pledges to eliminate racial segregation and discrimination, especially in regard to the PLO. Projects include the International Islamic News Agency, the Islamic Development Bank, the Islamic Solidarity Fund, and the World Centre for Islamic Education. Egypt was suspended in 1979 after it signed the agreement known as the Camp David Accords with Israel; in 1984 it accepted an offer to rejoin the organization.

Islamic Fundamentalism & Revivalism

The philosophical roots of Islamic fundamentalism are largely the result of a conscious attempt to revive and restate the theoretical relevance of Islam in the modern world. The writings of three twentieth-century Muslim thinkers and activists – Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Khumayni and Abu al-‘Ala al-Mawdudi – provide authoritative guidelines delineating the philosophical discourse of Islamic fundamentalism. However, whereas al-Khumayni and al-Mawdudi made original contributions towards formulating a new Islamic political theory, it was Qutb who offered a coherent exposition of Islam as a philosophical system.

Qutb’s philosophical system postulated a qualitative contradiction between Western culture and the religion of Islam. Its emphasis on Islam as a sui generis and transcendental set of beliefs excluded the validity of all other values and concepts. It also marked the differences between the doctrinal foundations of Islam and modern philosophical currents. Consequently Islamic fundamentalism is opposed to the Enlightenment, secularism, democracy, nationalism, Marxism and relativism. Its most original contribution resides in the formulation of the concept of God’s sovereignty or lordship. This cconcept is the keystone of its philosophical structure.

The premises of Islamic fundamentalism are rooted in an essentialist world view whereby innate qualities and attributes apply to individuals and human societies, irrespective of time, historical change or political circumstances. Hence, an immutable substance governs human existence and determines its outward


1 Essentialism and dualism

Paganism (jahiliyya) is the generic designation given to all systems of thought other than Islam, both ancient and modern. According to Islamic fundamentalism, since the dawn of history human society has been a battleground between belief and unbelief, right and wrong, religious faith and idolatry. Individuals and their beliefs may carry different names in different ages, but this duality remains essentially the same.

The definition of paganism is thus stretched to encompass Greek philosophy in the ancient world as well as utilitarianism and existentialism in the modern age. To Sayyid Qutb, for example, paganism is deemed to be present wherever ‘people’s hearts are devoid of a divine doctrine that governs their thought and concomitant legal rules to regulate their lives’ (Qutb 1982: 510). Moreover, although outward manifestations may differ from age to age, the nature and attributes of paganism remain permanent. On the other hand, religion operates throughout the ages within constant perimeters, rotating around a fixed axis. Furthermore, religion and the cosmic order reflect God’s will in its harmonious design (see Cosmology).

In this scheme of things, human nature and the cosmos are substances which retain their identities while undergoing change. A substance generates properties and assigns them a function peculiar to their qualities. Properties inhere in substances and are dependent for their existence and persistence on them. Such properties are not incidental, but form an identifiable structure quite distinct from other structures. These properties are therefore not transferable, in that once transferred they lose their function or significance (see Substance).

According to Islamic fundamentalism, the essential nature of human beings is religious and atheism is an aberration. Throughout human history there have been only two methods of organizing human life: one that declares God to be the sole sovereign and source of legislation, and another that rejects God, either as a force in the universe or as the lord and administrator of society. These two methods are irreconcilable: the first denotes Islam, the second paganism. Once human beings accept legislation to be dependent on the will of an individual, a minority or a Majorit y, and not as the prerogative of God alone, they lapse into a type of paganism, be it a dictatorship, capitalism, theocracy or communism.

However, human history is an emanation of a doctrinal concept that is implanted by God in human beings in their capacity as his designated lieutenants on this earth. The lieutenancy (khilafa) of a human being is to carry out the commands of God. According to this line of reasoning, most human societies in the twentieth century resemble in their way of life the state of affairs that existed before the rise of Islam. In order to re-establish Islam as a system of government, it is thus of primary Importa nce to discover anew the fundamental constituents of its doctrine. Such an honourable task falls to a well-disciplined group of believers. These pioneers, dubbed ‘the vanguard’ by Qutb, ‘the Revolutionary Party’ by Abu al-‘Ala al-Mawdudi and ‘the holy warriors’ by Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Khumayni, are called upon to undertake the reinstatement of Islam in both its doctrinal and political dimensions. The method of struggle is often referred to as jihad, or holy war launched in the path of God.

2 The fundamental principles of Islam

The fundamental principles of Islam and the injunctions of its laws are one seamless garment woven by God for his creatures. Whereas Greek thought, particularly Aristotelian thought, asserted that we are political animals by nature, Islamic fundamentalism contends that the basic instinct of human beings is intrinsically religious. Religion is understood in this context to be Islam itself (see Islamic theology).  Islam has its own constant, immutable and clearly defined nature. Its underlying aim is to change the process of history and create a new  human being, unfettered by subservience to other human beings or institutions. To be a Muslim is to believe in the fundamental principles of Islam in their entirety. Moreover, the doctrinal principles of Islam are not to be studied theologically, metaphysically or philosophically. Their study is primarily a practical endeavour aimed at discovering the base on which an all-embracing system is to be erected for the benefit of humanity. Theory and praxis go hand in hand; knowledge is simply a prelude to social action and political engagement.

For Qutb, al-Mawdudi and al-Khumayni, the doctrine of Islam forms an organic unity. A description of its constituent parts is therefore a mere analytical device, which should under all circumstances indicate the interdependence and complementarity of these parts. Once a part is detached and treated on its own it loses its significance, depriving the harmonious totality of its beauty and truth. The true nature of divinity, for example, cannot be understood apart from its direct efficacy in regulating the movement of the universe and in all its physical and spiritual connotations. Thus God’s divinity ensures the harmonious essence of cosmic laws: God sustains, guards and regulates the universe according to fixed laws. Nevertheless, his absolute will fashions every movement or event without being bound by them. These laws are not self-regulatory in that they persist as a result of the immediate act of God, and are thus c reated anew every moment. The world was created in  time, a fact denoting a temporal beginning rather than an eternal existence.

In classical Islam, God’s attributes were enumerated and discussed by a number of theologians and philosophers, but his essence was deemed to lie beyond human knowledge. Islamic fundamentalism, as represented by Qutb’s system, shifted the debate to Islam’s essence and attributes.  Hence the fundamental principles of Islam were considered by Qutb to consist in their delineation of God’s divinity as well as human servitude in carrying out the tenets of the message as handed down to the seal of the prophets, Muhammad. These fundamentals spell out God’s divinity (uluhiyya) and the servitude of animate and inanimate objects to God (‘ubudiyya), in addition to the true essence of the cosmos, life and humanity (see God, concepts of). Moreover, the visible and invisible worlds are both an integral part of this doctrine and should be present in treating the vicissitudes of human existence.

These fundamentals are not the result of an exertion by the human mind. Rather, the human mind receives them in their entirety once it is freed of its a priori conceptions. One does so by adhering to the sound linguistic or conventional meaning of the text in which such principles are propounded. The human mind has no function other than to understand the exact meaning of the text, irrespective of its conformity to the axioms of reason. Hence, one must accept the existence of angels, jinns, resurrection, hell and paradise without equivocation.

According to Qutb, the principle of divinity is the primary and most efficacious essence in the formation of the Islamic doctrine. The existence of such an essence, being absolute and eternal, does not stand in need of external evidence. The innate nature of human beings recognizes this existence, unless it is encumbered by corrupt beliefs that render it incapable of receiving this single fact. Furthermore, the methodology of the Qur’an itself is not concerned with affirming the existence of divine power. Rather, it concentrates on describing its true quality in order to rectify the distorted views of other creeds. This rectification is not confined to distortions which prevailed before the rise of Islam; its scope covers all deviant beliefs down to the present. It thus shows the aberrance or the negativity of Aristotle’s God (see Aristotle §16), that of Plato’s Forms and their adoption in Schopenhauer’s unconscious will (see Plato; Schopenhauer, A.), and the series of emanations elaborated by Plotinus and taken over by so-called Islamic philosophy (see Neoplatonism in Islamic philosophy). It also rectifies the dualism of Descartes as well as Bergson’s vital power (see Bergson, H.-L. §7), in addition to the materialism of Parmenides in the ancient world and that of Karl Marx in our modern period (see Materialism).

The Qur’anic methodology is first and foremost concerned with the question of monotheism rather than existence (see Monotheism). Its main aim is to show the simple, indivisible and unique essence of God; it also asserts the attributes of God in their utter uniqueness and splendour.

3 Islam’s attributes

Whereas orthodox Islamic philosophy and theology (‘ilm al-kalam) were largely concerned with defining and elaborating God’s attributes, IIslamic fundamentalism shifted its focus to the attributes of Islam itself. In other words, Islam became a substantive quality with certain characteristics which could rival in their structures and functions other modern ideologies, such as fascism and Marxism. This is not to say that the divine attributes were ignored, but their significance was made a function of the predicative characteristics of a new Islamic theory.

It is well known that in mainstream Islamic theology, as propounded in the tenth century AD by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, only those attributes denoting God’s acts are considered to lie within human knowledge (see Islamic theology §§2-3; Ash‘ariyya and Mu‘tazila §1). These acts were held by al-Ash‘ari to be seven in number. It is in this context that Qutb’s doctrinal work, Khasa’is al-tasawwur al-islami (The Characteristics of the Islamic Conception), gains in significance. Although Qutb contended that Islamic theology and philosophy were outdated modes of knowledge, tainted by their reliance on categories derived from classical Greek thought, he aspired to inaugurate a new Islamic vision using an amalgamation of ancient and modern ideas. He claimed, for example, that his new interpretation consisted of a direct act of understanding the Qur’an. This receptivity is said to be unmediated and based on an immediate grasp of Qur’anic verses.

However, Qutb’s binary division of Islam into ‘characteristics’ and ‘fundamentals’ is reminiscent of orthodox debates on the essence and attributes of God. It is also worth mentioning that in enumerating the characteristics of Islam, Qutb devised a new list which nevertheless, in a manner reminiscent of al-Ash‘ari, included seven attributes: lordship, constancy, comprehensiveness, balance, positivity, realism and absolute unity or monotheism. These attributes of Islam emanate from God’s will and specify certain rules and modes of behaviour incumbent on all believers.

4 Knowledge, causation and faith

In Islamic fundamentalism, the affinity between philosophy and natural science, an axiom of classical and medieval thought (see Natural philosophy, medieval), is ruptured and deemed to be unwarranted. Scientific knowledge is then confined to technical details and superficial alterations, a fact that renders its concepts temporary, relative and liable to change. Science is linked with experimental knowledge rather than the discovery of underlying principles.

Islam continues to be credited with stimulating the promotion of experimental methodologies that were appropriated by European scholars after the Renaissance. Nevertheless, Islamic fundamentalism, while placing the Qur’an outside the scope of modern science and philosophical debates, persists in alluding to the shortcomings of Western theories and trends of thought. Qutb, for example, highlights the fact that life itself is not inherent in the nature of matter or the universe (see Life, origin of); rather, it was infused by God into dead substances. This statement allows him to refute Darwin’s theory of evolution in so far as it leaves aside supernatural factors in explaining the emergence of living beings (See Darwin, C.R.). He also calls Karl Marx’s interpretation of social progress by means of purely economic laws an arbitrary idea; so also is Bergson’s concept of life as a willed or vital creation (see Marx, K. §8; Bergson, H-L. §7).

While Islamic fundamentalism rejects the atomist theory of orthodox Muslim theologians, it retains the idea of God as the real cause of events (see Islamic theology). Thus the connection between a cause and its effect is assumed to be the result of God’s action. The metaphor used by al-Ghazali to show that combustibility, in the case of a flame coming into contact with a piece of cotton, has no other cause but God, is reiterated by Qutb. A piece of cotton is not set alight because of an act performed by a flame, but as a result of God’s will to render the piece of cotton combustible. Moreover, God may decide to suspend the common course of nature, and miracles occur as an indication of the divine interruption of fixed laws. Such a miracle, Qutb points out, is mentioned in the Qur’an in relation to Abraham when a burning flame failed to set him alight. It is for this reason that the use of empirical evidence in order to demonstrate causality becomes an arbitrary human construct.***

Modern Islamic philosophy

There are a number of major trends in modern Islamic philosophy. First, there is the challenge of the West to traditional Islamic philosophical and cultural principles and the desire to establish a form of thought which is distinctive. From the mid-nineteenth century onwards, Islamic philosophers have attempted to redefine Islamic philosophy; some, such as Hasan Hanafi and Ali Mazrui, have sought to give modern Islamic philosophy a global significance and provide an agenda for world unity.

Second, there is a continuing tradition of interest in illuminationist and mystical thought, especially in Iran where the influence of Mulla Sadra and al-Suhrawardi has remained strong. The influence of the latter can be seen in the works of Henry Corbin and Seyyed Hossein Nasr; Mulla Sadra has exercised an influence over figures such as Mahdi Ha’iri Yazdi and the members of Qom School, notably Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The philosopher Abdul Soroush has introduced a number of concepts from Western philosophy into Iran.

Finally, there have been many thinkers who have adapted and employed philosophical ideas which are originally non-Islamic as part of the normal philosophical process of seeking to understand conceptual problems. This is a particularly active area, with a number of philosophers from many parts of the Islamic world investigating the relevance to Islam of concepts such as Hegelianism and existentialism. At the same time, mystical philosophy continues to exercise an important influence. Modern Islamic philosophy is thus quite diverse, employing a wide variety of techniques and approaches to its subject.

1 Reactions to the West

There has been a tendency in the Islamic world since the late nineteenth century to explore the issue of the relative decline or decadence of Arabic intellectual thought and science as compared with its Western equivalent. During the Christian medieval period the Islamic world was in its cultural and political ascendancy, and was at the centre of theoretical work in both science and philosophy. However, by the nineteenth century an enormous gap had opened between the Islamic world and the West. A wide variety of explanations for this decline have since been sought.

The realization that this gap existed led to the Nahda (rebirth or renaissance)  movement between 1850 and 1914. Beginning in Syria but developed largely in Egypt, the movement sought to incorporate the main achievements of modern European civilization while at the same time reviving classical Islamic culture which predated imperialism and the centuries of decadence.

The main problem facing the Nahda thinkers had was how to interpret the Islamic cultural tradition, including philosophy, in an environment dominated by the West. Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad ‘Abduh both argued that Islam is inherently rational and need not be abandoned in the face of the encroachment of Western forms of scientific and cultural thought. The Egyptian philosopher Mustafa ‘Abd al-Raziq also argued that it is possible to demonstrate the authenticity of traditional Islamic philosophical work and its modern relevance within Islamic society. He posits an inseparable link connecting rationalism and revelation in Islam, and he defends the traditional Islamic sciences as compatible with science and rationality. In this he constitutes what might be thought of as a more conservative position than his predecessor ‘Abduh, who was more dubious about the values of some of the Islamic schools of thought, in particular of Sufism (see Mystical philosophy in Islam).

Muhammad ‘Abid al-Jabiri suggests that a viable Arab future can only come about through a deconstruction and critique of the reasons for the decline of the Arab world. He criticizes the dichotomy between the Islamicists, who hark back to a Golden Age in the past, and the liberal Westernizers, who praise the principles of the European Renaissance from which colonialism originated. The solution he offers is the freeing of modern Arabic thought from both the language and the theological limitations of the past. The Arab mind has become very much part and parcel of traditional ways of exploring the world, and is restricted in its potential if it remains too closely wedded to its Islamic heritage.

Fu’ad Zakariyya’ argued that the Arab world declined due to its inability to historicize the past and its dependence on tradition, while Zaki Najib Mahmud brought out the importance of philosophy in taking us from the known to the unknown, and was critical of the a ability of religion to interfere with this movement in thought. Hasan Hanafi presents a form of phenomenology which argues that a new concept of tawhid (divine unity) should be developed which will involve a principle of unity and equality for all people. Hanafi also throws the charge of decadence back at the West, suggesting that the West is now entering a period of decadence and will require an infusion ofideas and energy from the East. He uses the language of liberation theology, which holds that revelation is adaptable to the language of each age (see Liberation theology). The original revelation was suited to the time and place of the Prophet and not necessarily of the current world. Modern Muslims should reinterpret revelation in modern language and in accordance with present demands; fossilized conservatism is a misinterpretation of the true dynamic and dialectical spirit of Islam.

Fazlur Rahman also contends that Islamic conservatism contradicts the essence of Islam. Islam’s aims are economic reform and the establishment of a just social order  (see Islamic theology §6). According to the Qur’an, he argues, moral and economic decline are related events. Therefore Islamic societies should turn away from petrified conservatism and educate their children in the new technologies. Islam should not be limited to communities of the faithful, but should seek a prominent place in the new ethical and social world order.

Another movement in Islamic political philosophy depicts Muslims not as the  antagonists of Western culture, but rather as being in the vanguard of the globalization of peace and social justice. The most popular thinker of this school in the USA is Malcolm X, who began his career as an isolationist minister for the Nation of Islam movement. At first he used Islam to separate African-Americans from white people, but later he preached an internationalized Islam that reaches beyond racial and national differences.

An important African thinker in this tradition is Ali Mazrui, who tries to harmonize several interdependent factors in Islamic theology with current global realities. Mazrui proposes a marriage between the Islamic monotheistic jihad (universal struggle), Islam’s anti-racist and humanist agenda, and the need for global economic cooperation; he employs culture as a vehicle for social change through his integration of multiculturalism, the politics of pan-Islamicism and the need for globalism. He takes Islam to be the first Protestant revolution in Christianity. Moreover, he suggests that Islam’s economic message turns monotheism from isolated spirituality to communitarian humanism – in the form of a Muslim world order among a community of faithful (umma) – through global economic cooperation, social justice and the brotherhood of all. The essence of a multicultural perspective implies the acknowledgement that cultures project their own biases onto their perceptions of other societies. In a world which demands global economic policy-making and increasing interdependency, Mazrui believes that Muslims should see their religion of ‘all is Godism’ as a type of globalism. His innovation (ijtihad) interprets the Islamic jihad as an agenda of global peace and justice, thereby transforming what is taken to be a negative image of Islam into a signal for economic unity and world peace.

2 The Persian approach to philosophy

The area of the Islamic world which continued most forcefully the Islamic tradition in philosophy after the decline of Peripateticism is undoubtedly Persia (see Islam, concept of philosophy in §§3-4). Interestingly, one of the most staunch advocates of the form of thought which might be called neo-Illuminationism, and which stems from the ishraqi principles of al-Suhrawardi, is Henry Corbin (1903-78), a French philosopher who worked in Iran. Corbin was active in translating and interpreting post-Avicennan Islamic philosophy with an emphasis on shi‘ism, ishraqi thought and the mysticism of Ibn al-‘Arabi. He posited the existence of a perennial school of philosophical wisdom, which can be detected through the recurrence of archetypal symbols such as the icon of light. Such icons exist in the works of Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi in the early twelfth century AD, and have their source in Eastern (ishraqi) traditions such as Zoroastrianism, Hermeticism and Manicheism. (The term ishraq, which signifies ‘light’, also means ‘East’ or ‘Orient’.)

For Corbin, ‘ishraq’ designates not only a static spatial direction but a prescriptive invitation for a hermeneutic reorientation, whereby persons scrutinize their spiritual needs and points of return to archetypal origins. Corbin also discusses the role of the imagination, a faculty which exists between the senses and the intellect. While the senses perceive discrete data and the intellect categorizes, imagination is concerned with the world of archetypes (‘alam at-mithal). For example, the notion of the perfect person (al-insan al-kamil) is an icon for the psychic centre. This centre signifies peace and the perfection of the self-realization process. Corbin asserts that by means of a series of epistemic states – which include revelation (kashf) and recollection (or archetypal memory) (dhikr)- one may return to the eternal origin. This process describes a cycle, thereby reasserting the Islamic theme of the unity of being (al-wahdat al-wujud).

Corbin’s followers, such as Hermann Landolt, William Chittick and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, have developed his ideas in a variety of different ways. The latter is the best known contemporary Islamic philosopher. According to him, people share a spiritual component that cannot be actualized by either descriptive or pragmatic accounts of nature. Nasr’s world perspective includes a normative element which integrates people in the same way as earlier religions and cosmologies (Nasr 1993). In the past, everyone considered their religion to be the true religion; today, however, we are confronted with a plurality of religions. How can a Muslim attain a workable relation with the sacred in such an environment? Nasr employs Sufism to refer to the archetypal dimensions common to all religions; it is through the realm of mysticism that different forms of spirituality meet. The contemporary world creates the need for followers of different creeds and cultures to communicate.

Islam must coexist with the Western world, but this does not imply an Islamic   surrender to all the practices of Western society. Nasr’s views on Western scientific progress show his dissatisfaction with many Western perspectives. Citing the ecological disasters of overpopulation and pollution, Nasr criticizes the value of Western technological advances. According to him, the fault lies in the mistaken metascientific presupposition that an innate nature exists which is disconnected from humanity and can be investigated separately and controlled. Moreover, the increasingly pervasive quantitative perspective supplied by units of measurement – like that by which the size of a building might be described – is an incomplete outlook because it does not articulate the qualitative effects of what it describes on the surrounding environment. By contrast, Nasr holds that Islamic and Eastern perspectives on science and technology are integrative and harmonious. They stress unity in their studies of nature, thereby acknowledging the long-term ecological significance of development. Unless religious and spiritual values are embedded in a technological agenda, ecological disasters as well as a general lack of a sense of meaning in life are inevitable. Western science and its technological consequences are of ecological import to modern civilization. Consequently, neither science nor technology can consider itself irrelevant to environmental ethics (see Environmental ethics). Philosophy along Neoplatonic lines should be pursued, since only this form of analysis does justice to the spiritual wholeness of humanity.

The main emphasis in recent Persian philosophy has been on the thought of Mulla Sadra and al-Suhrawardi. Islamic philosophy has moved from the madrasa  (traditional school) system and became an important part of the university curriculum. One of the most interesting thinkers is Mahdi Ha’iri Yazdi, whose work on knowledge by presence (‘ilm al-huduri) provides an example of the fruitful combination of ideas from Western analytical philosophy and the ishraqi tradition in order to elucidate metaphysical and epistemological problems (Ha’iri Yazdi 1992). Recent Shi‘ite theologians, as students of the work of Mulla Sadra, were versed in the dialectics of time and change. ‘Ali Shari‘ati, another student of Corbin, is an important social thinker whose work advocates a social process of Islamization. He rejects both the Peripatetic philosophers and the mystical thinkers, claiming that the existential being of each person contains a determination formed through mutual trust and compassion between them and God as their essence. This presumption is the ground for each person’s being and the very core of eachsubject’s potential for therapeutic unity  (tawhid); its purpose is justice in both the providential and the social contexts. Islamization is achieved through an existential empathy and a phenomenological assimilation of exemplary people – such as the Imam Hossein (the Prophet’s grandson) or Fatima (his daughter and the wife of Imam ‘Ali) – into archetypal memory. The martyrdom of ‘Ali or Hossein is a paradigmatic message, not for sorrow but for the assimilation of their characters into the self. Further, Shari‘ati depicts history as a dialectical process which does not exclude economic and material realities, Islam as a practical religion or people as potentialagents of justice. He replaces the Platonic theory of epistemic recollection with a theory of normative archetypal recollection. One may gain normative knowledge through the archetypal recollection of a religion’s most exemplary mythical figures. Religion provides social ideals, and yet it demands not a withdrawal to a secret realmbut a social revolution in the everyday world.

A creative commentary on Mulla Sadra was produced by Ruhollah Khomeini, who argues that people are primarily social as well as private citizens. Thus religious teachings relate not only to the personal morality of individuals but also to their social responsibilities and political actions (see Social sciences, philosophy of). In practice, these ideas imply a theocracy that does not distinguish between politics and religion. Bringing such a dominion into existence, he claims, requires an internal revolution from the masses directed against the existing ruling class, but this revolution must be guided by the directives of the religious authorities. He modifies Islamic theology with the notion of the religious jurist-ruler’s guardianship (velayat-e-faqih), whose role is to guide the community of faithful in their universal struggle  (jihad). This jihad is not essentially military, but is largely educational and seeks the expansion of monotheistic (that is, Islamic) ethics (see Ethics in Islamic philosophy).

Khomeini was a member of the School of Qom, based on the college in that city,   which also produced Muhammad Hossein Tabataba’i, Murtaza Mutahheri and Muhammad Taqi Misbah Yazdi, all of whom have directed their influential thought at confronting the challenge to Islamic philosophy coming from the West. It should not be thought that this is an essentially reactionary strategy, however; Misbah has encouraged many of his students to study in the West and to take seriously scientific and logical thought as practised in the West. Also, although much of Misbah’s work has been on Mulla Sadra, he has been far from uncritical of the latter. In particular, he criticizes the notion of prime matter, which Mulla Sadra (§§1-2) identifies as the pure potentiality for existents. Hequestions the principle that a potentiality for existents exists prior to existents themselves; after all, there is nothing but existents. Misbah argues further that many relations are not truly essences. For example, in the mind-dependent realm, we may ascribe ‘below’ as a relation between a table and book, but this subject-directed ascription does not imply that below is an essence in the actual world.

An interesting and quite recent controversy in Persian philosophy has been that between Abdul Soroush on the one hand, and the philosophers of the school of Qom, as well as those influenced by the Corbin school, on the other. Soroush introduced a number of concepts from Western philosophy into Iran, in particular the leading ideas of Popper, Moore, Berlin and Wittgenstein. This led him to suggest that we should  se a notion like that of collective reason to understand and interpret religious ideas. Collective reason is the best way of dealing with theoretical and practical problems, and is preferable to relying solely on solutions attainable through the efforts of the jurisprudents and religious authorities. Not surprisingly, this aroused the ire of the school of Qom philosophers, and their representative Sadiq Larijani engaged Soroush in a debate which largely dealt with the correct interpretation of thinkers such as Popper, Watkins and Stalnaker, and in particular Hempel’s paradoxes ofconfirmation (see Hempel, C.G. §2). Soroush was also attacked by the Corbin circle, whose basic philosophical approach relies very much on Heidegger along with traditional Islamic philosophy, and who were quite out of sympathy with the analytical nature of Soroush’s books. This controversy is interesting in that it brings out the fact that philosophers in Iran are generally familiar now not only with traditional forms of Islamic philosophy but also with the current philosophical ideas of the West. Modern philosophers do not entirely reject Western views, but neither are they completely taken over by the West; they are prepared to examine Western views with a critical sympathy.

3 Modern trends

A very vibrant area in Islamic philosophy is the history of philosophy, in particular the Greek tradition in Islamic philosophy. There exists both in the West and in the Islamic world a large number of scholars who have developed accounts of this close relationship and who continue to edit, translate and work on important texts in order to get some idea of the nature of the philosophical material which was produced in the early centuries of Islam. In addition, many philosophers in the Islamic world have adapted Western philosophy so as to make sense of thephilosophical problems in which they are interested. C.A. Qadir in Pakistan developed an account of Islamic philosophy which he thought was in line with logical positivism, while ‘Abd al-Rahman Badawi applied existentialism to Arab society. Zaki Najib Mahmud followed William James in presenting a pragmatic account of philosophy. Some thinkers applied particular techniques in the Islamic tradition to philosophy, so that ‘Ali Sami al-Nashshar for example based his work on Ash‘arite theology (see Ash‘ariyya and Mu‘tazila), while Muhammad ‘Aziz Lahbabi (1954) used Hegelianism to develop a theory of being which is quite unusual within the context of Islamic ontology. Hichem Djait (1986) combines Hegelianism with existentialism. He argues that only  ialectical epistemology can be used to understand the modern situation of the Arab world, and that the apparent opposites of decadence/renaissance, Arab/non-Arab, orthodox/heterodox, tradition/modernity need to be transcended if we are to understand the present nature of Islamic culture. Abdallah Laroui (1976) and Muhammad Arkoun (1985) both stress the contrast between Islam and modernity, and the former advocates the adoption of Westernization as the appropriate strategy for the Islamic world. In his approach to the Qur’an, Arkoun uses the semiotic ideas current in modern French literature to argue that Islam has always been changing and developing, so that there is no pointin referring to a particular constant orthodoxy.

While many of these thinkers are hostile to mysticism and its Islamic form, Sufism, there can be little doubt that the latter represents a very potent framework for a good deal of present Islamic philosophy. The tradition of Sufism presents both a way of life which avoids many of the rigidities of traditional Islam and also a complex conceptual system which enables the philosopher to develop ideas and arguments which are intellectually satisfying. Modern Islamic philosophy employs a wide variety of different techniques and approaches to the subject.***

Qouted & Adopted  by Ahmad Y. Samantho from:

Marilyn R. Waldman, Britanica Encyclopedia 2002 and


Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Version 1.0, London: Routledge

Note, Additional Reading :


The most visionary general work on Islamic history is Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, 3 vol. (1974), which sets Islam into a world historical context. A similar but shorter work, sumptuously illustrated, is Francis Robinson, Atlas of the Islamic World Since 1500 (1982).

Regions of Islamdom

Peter B. Clarke, West Africa and Islam: A Study of Religious Development from the 8th to the 20th Centuries (1982); Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib, 2nd ed. (1975); Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (1968, reissued 1971); S.M. Ikram, Muslim Rule in India and Pakistan, 711–1858 A.C., rev. ed. (1966); Raphael Israeli, Muslims in China: A Study in Cultural Confrontation (1980); and Nehemia Levtzion (ed.), Conversion to Islam (1979).

Periods and aspects of Islamicate history

On premodern Islamicate social structure, see Roy P. Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society (1980); Ira Lapidus, Muslim Cities in the Later Middle Ages (1967); and S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza, 4 vol. (1967–83). Hamilton A.R. Gibb, Studies on the Civilization of Islam (1962, reissued 1982), is a collection of interpretive articles on history, historiography, literature, and philology. René Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia (1970; originally published in French, 1939); and John J. Saunders, The History of the Mongol Conquests (1971), deal with the Mongol conquests. John J. Saunders (ed.), The Muslim World on the Eve of Europe’s Expansion (1966), combines primary sources on the last three great empires; and the most comprehensive account of modern Islam, with an especially fine treatment of the 18th century, is John Obert Voll, Islam, Continuity and Change in the Modern World (1982). On Muslim women, see, for example, Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie (eds.), Women in the Muslim World (1978); Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan Bezirgan (eds.), Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak (1977, reprinted 1984); and Jane I. Smith (ed.), Women in Contemporary Muslim Societies (1980).

Collections of primary sources in English translation

Eric Schroeder, Muhammad’s People (1955); Arthur Jeffery (ed.), A Reader of Islam (1962, reprinted 1980); John Alden Williams (ed.), Islam (1961, reissued 1967), and Themes of Islamic Civilization (1971, reprinted 1982); William H. Mcneill and Marilyn Robinson Waldman, The Islâmic World (1973, reprinted 1983); James Kritzeck, Anthology of Islamic Literature (1964, reissued 1975); and Bernard Lewis (ed.), Islam: From the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople, 2 vol. (1974, reissued 1976).

Major reference works

The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 5 vol. (1913–36), and a new edition, of which 5 vol. appeared from 1960 to 1986; The Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam (1953, reprinted 1974), with articles culled from the Encyclopaedia of Islam; The Cambridge History of Islam, 2 vol. (1970, reprinted in 4 vol., 1980); Jean Sauvaget, Jean Sauvaget’s Introduction to the History of the Muslim East: A Bibliographical Guide (1965, reprinted 1982; originally published in French, 2nd ed., 1961), a dated but still useful annotated bibliographic guide; and Clifford Edmund Bosworth, The Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, rev. ed. (1980). Jean Jacques Waardenburg, L’Islam dans le miroir de l’Occident, 3rd rev. ed. (1970); and Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978, reissued 1979), are critiques of Western approaches to Islam.

References and further reading

Arkoun, M. (1985) La pensée arabe (Arab Thought), Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.(Account of how

theoretical concepts in the Arab world have changed in response to influences from the West.)

Brown, S., Collinson, D. and Wilkinson, R. (eds) (1995) Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century

Philosophers, London: Routledge.(Contains information on a number of modern Islamic philosophers.

Relevant entries include ‘Arkoun, Mohammed’ (30-1), ‘Corbin, Henry’ (159-60), ‘Hanafi, Hasan’ (305-6),

Lahbabi, Muhammad Aziz’ (431), ‘Nagib Mahmud, Zaki’ (562), ‘Nasr, Seyyed Hossein’ (563-4), ‘Qadir,

C.A.’ (641), ‘Rahman, Fazlur’ (645-6), and ‘Yazdi, Mehdi Hairi’ (859). These and many other thinkers are

also discussed in Nasr and Leaman (1996).)

Corbin, H. (1993) History of Islamic Philosophy, with the collaboration of S.H. Nasr and O. Yahya, trans. P.

Sherrard, London: Kegan Paul International.(Discussion of the links between Islamic philosophy and

Contemporary Persian thought.)

Clarke, J.H. (1993) Malcolm X: The Man and his Times, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.(Study of the Nation

of Islam leader and his thought.)

Djait, H. (1986) Europe and Islam: Cultures and Modernity, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

(Discussion of how the Islamic renaissance came about through contact with the West, and how it has revived Arab culture.)

Ha’iri Yazdi, M. (1992) The Principles of Epistemology in Islamic Philosophy: Knowledge by Presence,

Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.(A combination of modern Western epistemology with

illuminationist philosophy into a creative and interesting synthesis, representing the openness of modern Islamic philosophy to Western thought.)

Khomeini, R. (1981) Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations, trans. H. Algar, Berkeley, CA: Mizan

Press.(An account of the theological and philosophical bases of the Shi‘i notion of the Islamic state.)

Lahbabi, M. (1954) Le personalisme musulman (Muslim Personalism), Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

(The application of Hegelianism and existentialism to Islamic thought, together with the argument that the latter has to develop in accordance with changing cultural and material trends.)

Laroui, A. (1976) The Crisis of the Arab Intelligentsia: Traditionalism or Historicism?, Berkeley, CA:

University of California Press.(Argument for the replacing of traditional Islamic issues with Western ones,

since the Islamic world needs to transcend its past to come into real contact with modernity.)

Morewedge, P. (1990) ‘The Onyx Crescent: Ali A. Mazrui on the Islamic-Africa Axis’, in O.H. Kokole (ed.) The

Global African: A Portrait of Ali A. Mazrui, Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 217-65.(On Mazrui’s

African-Islamic philosophy.)

Morewedge, P. (1995a) Essays in Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism, Oneonta, NY: Oneonta

Philosophy Series.(Interesting account of the basic ideas of Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism.)

Morewedge, P. (1995b) ‘Theology’, in J.L. Esposito (ed.) The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic

World, Oxford: Oxford University Press, vol. 4, 214-24.(Description of modern theological issues, with their underlying assumptions from Islamic philosophy.)

Nasr, S.H. (1993) The Need for a Sacred Science, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.(Defence

of the notion of a firm of knowledge which is thoroughly based on contact with the sacred.)

Nasr, S.H. (1996) ‘Islamic Philosophical Activity in Contemporary Persia: A Survey of Activity in the 50s and

60s’, in M.A. Razavi (ed.) The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia, Richmond, VA: Curzon.(Useful

account of the forms of philosophical thought in Iran during this period.)

Nasr, S.H. and Leaman, O. (eds) (1996) History of Islamic Philosophy, London: Routledge.(See the section

‘The Modern Islamic World’, 1037-1169, in particular M. Aminrazavi, ‘Persia’, 1037-50; M. Suheyl Umar,

‘Pakistan’, 1076-80; I. Abu-Rabi‘, ‘The Arab World’, 1082-1114; M. Campanini, ‘Egypt’, 1115-28; Z. Moris, ‘South-East Asia’, 1134-40; P. Lory, ‘Henry Corbin’, 1149-55; S. Akhtar, ‘The Possibility of a Philosophy of              Islam’, 1162-69. This section contains discussions of all the thinkers mentioned in this entry.)

Rahman, F. (1982) Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, Chicago, IL:

University of Chicago Press.(A defence of modernism and the importance of independent judgment, and an

emphasis on ethics as opposed to metaphysics in philosophy.)

Shari‘ati, A. (1980) Marxism and Other Western Fallacies: An Islamic Critique, trans. H. Algar, Berkeley,

CA: Mizan Press.(An advocate of the significance of the people of the Third World using their culture to

overthrow imperialism, arguing for an Islamic state on different and more liberal principles as compared to



2 comments on “ISLAMIC WORLD & CIVILIZATION Reform, Dependency, and Recovery

  1. Mustapha Kemal explains in his speech to the nation in 1927 why he abolished the Caliphate.

    The misery, poverty , backwardness, darkness and primitivism of the most Mohemmedan nations for 11 centuries only partially be reversed in Turkey after Mustafa Kemal’s revolutions.

    Here I let the great man speak, and let us know of his thought about the Caliphet.

    Mustafa Kemal…

    I must call attention to the fact that Hodja Shukri Effendi, as well as the politicians who pushed forward his person and signature, had intended to substitute the sovereign bearing the title of Sultan or Padishah by a monarch with the title of Caliph.

    The only difference was that, instead of speaking of a monarch of this or that country or nation, they now spoke of a monarch whose authority extended over a population of three hundred million souls belonging to manifold nations and dwelling in different continents of the world. Into the hands of this great monarch, whose authority was to extend over the whole of Islam, they placed as the only power that of the Turkish people, that is to say, only from 10 to 15 millions of these three hundred million subjects.

    The monarch designated under the title of Caliph was to guide the affairs of these Mohamedan peoples and to secure the execution of the religious prescriptions which would best correspond to their worldly interests. He was to defend the rights of all Mohamedans and concentrate all the affairs of the Mohamedan world in his hands with effective authority.

    The sovereign entitled Caliph was to maintain justice among the three hundred million Mohamedans on the terrestrial globe, to safe guard the rights of these peoples, to prevent any event that could encroach upon order and security, and confront every attack which the Mohamedans would be called upon to encounter from the side of other nations. It was to be part of his attributes to preserve by all means the welfare and spiritual development of Islam.

    The absurd ideas which ignorant people like Shukri Hodja and his companions were disseminating about the actual condition prevailing in the world under the power of “religious prescriptions” with the intention of abusing our nation, are not worthy of being repeated here. In the course of centuries there have been people and there are still people to-day in the interior as well as in foreign countries who profited by the ignorance and fanaticism of the nations and try to make use of religion as a tool to help them in their political plans and personal interests. The fact that there are such individuals unfortunately compels us again to go into this question.

    So long as the sentiments and knowledge of mankind with regard to religious questions are not yet freed from myths and purified in the light of true science, we shall find historians everywhere who play a religious comedy. We must actually belong to those “beings who live wholly in God,” like Shukri Hodja, not to be enlightened about the absurdities of the illogical ideas and impracticable prescriptions which they sow broadcast in all directions.

    If the Caliph and Caliphate, as they maintained, were to be in vested with a dignity embracing the whole of Islam, ought they not to have realised in all justice that a crushing burden would be imposed on Turkey, on her existence; her entire resources and all her forces would be placed at the disposal of the Caliph?

    According to their declarations, the Caliph-Monarch would have the right of jurisdiction over all Mohamedans and all Mohamedan countries, that is to say, over China, India, Afganisthan, Persia, Irak, Syria, Palestine, Hedjas, Yemen, Assyr, Egypt, Tripolis, Tunis, Al geria, Morocco, the Sudan.

    It is well known that this Utopia has never been realised. The pamphlet itself signed by Hodja Shukri emphasises that the Mohamedan communities have always separated from one another under the influence of aims that were diametrically opposite to one another; that the Omayades of Andalusia, the Alides of Morocco, the Fatimides of Egypt and the Abbassides of Bagdad have each created a Caliphate, that is to say, a monarchy of their own.

    In Andalusia there were even communities embracing a thousand souls, each of which was “a Commander of the Faithful and a Torch of Faith.” Would it have been logical or reasonable to pretend to be ignorant of this historic truth and to designate under the title of Caliph a ruler destined to govern all the Mohamedan States and nations, some of which were independent, while most of them were under a foreign protectorate?

    Particularly the fact that a mere hand full of men consisting of the population of Turkey, burdened with the anxiety of supporting such a sovereign, would it not have been the surest means for strangling this people?

    Those who say: The attributes of the Caliph are not of a spiritual kind,” and the basis of the Caliphate is material strength, the temporal power of the Government,” proved thereby that for them the Caliphate was the State.

    And thereby it could easily be perceived that they pursued the aim of putting at the head of the Turkish Government some personality bearing the title of Caliph.

    The attempts of Hodja Shukri Effendi and his political colleagues to conceal their political designs and to represent them under the form of a religious question which concerned the entire Mohamedan world had the only result that this puppet representing the Caliphate was still more speedily swept off the stage.

    I made statements everywhere that were necessary to dispel the uncertainty and anxiety of the people concerning this question of the Caliphate.

    I formerly declared: “We cannot allow any person, what ever his title may be, to interfere in questions relating to the destiny, activity and independence of the new State which our nation has now erected. The nation itself watches over the preservation and in dependence of the State which they have created, and will continue to do so for all time.”

    I gave the people to understand that neither Turkey nor the handful of men she possesses could be placed at the disposal of the Caliph so that he might fulfill the mission attributed to him, namely, to found a State comprising the whole of Islam. The Turkish nation is incapable of undertaking such an irrational mission.

    For centuries our nation was guided under the influence of these erroneous ideas. But what has been the result of it? Everywhere they have lost millions of men.

    “Do you know,” I asked, “how many sons of Anatolia have perished in the scorching deserts of the Yemen? Do you know the losses we have suffered in holding Syria and the Irak and Egypt and in maintaining our position in Africa? And do you see what has come out of it? Do you know?”

    Those who favor the idea of placing the means at the disposal of the Caliph to brave the whole world and the power to administer the affairs of the whole of Islam must not appeal to the population of Anatolia alone but to the great Mohamedan agglomerations which are eight or ten times as rich in men.

    New Turkey, the people of New Turkey, have no reason to think of anything else but their own existence and their own welfare. She has nothing more to give away to others.

    To enlighten the people on still another point, I employed these expressions:

    Let us accept for a moment that Turkey would take this mission upon herself and would devote herself to the aim of uniting and leading the whole Islamic world and that she would succeed in achieving this aim.

    Very good, but suppose these nations whom we want to subject and administer would say to us: You have rendered great services and assistance to us for which we are thankful to you, but we want to remain independent. We do not suffer any body else to interfere in our independence and sovereignty. We are capable of leading and administering ourselves.

    In such a case will the efforts and sacrifices made by the people of Turkey result in anything more than earning thanks and a benediction?

    It is evident they intended that the people of Turkey should be sacrificed to a mere caprice, to a fancy, to a phantom. To this effect the idea of attributing functions and authority to a Caliph and a
    Caliphate can be comprehended.

    I asked the people: Will Persia or Afganistan, which are Mohamedan States, recognize the authority of the Caliph in a single matter?

    Can they do so?

    No, and this is quite justifiable, because it would be in contradiction to the independence of the State, to the sovereignty of the people.

    I also warned the people by saying that “the error of looking upon ourselves as masters of the world must cease.”

    Let us put an end to the catastrophes into which the people had been dragged by following those who deceive themselves and misjudge our real rank and position in the world. We cannot conscientiously permit this tragedy to continue.

    The English author Wells has written an historical work which was published two years ago. The last pages of this work contain some contemplations under the heading of “History of Mankind in the Future”.

    These contemplations relate to the question of the establishment by the Governments of a World League.

    In this chapter Wells develops his ideas as to the form the Government of a World League would take, and speaks about the essential fundamental lines of such a State. He depicts what might become of our earth under the Government of justice and a uniform law.

    Wells says: “Unless all the sovereignties amalgamate into one single sovereignty, unless a higher power than nationalities appears, the world will perish,” and he continues as follows:

    The real State could not be anything but the Government of the United States of the World, which are necessarily brought together by the conditions of modern life,” and “it is certain that sooner or later, men will be compelled to unite if they do not want to succumb under the weight of their own inventions.”

    He also says that, “We do not know yet exactly what must be done and what must be prevented finally to attain the realization of the great thought of human solidarity,” and that a world federation of States will only succeed with difficulty in letting those powers join whose external policy has traditionally an aggressive character.

    Let me also quote the following observations made by Wells: “The joint sufferings and needs of Europe and Asia will, perhaps, to a certain degree, contribute to bring the peoples of these two continents nearer to one another,” and “it is possible that a number of individual federations will precede the World Federation.”

    I will by no means deny the beauty of the idea of the “United States of the World” the establishment of which would produce the result that the experience, knowledge and conceptions of mankind at large would be developed and uplifted, that mankind would abandon Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and that a pure, spotless, simplified religion, understood by all and of a universal character, will be established, and that men will understand that they have lived hither to in a place of misery amidst disputes and ignominy, their desires and gross appetites, and that they will decide to eradicate all infectious germs which have hitherto empoisoned both body and soul.

    In our midst also a conception partly equaling this plan has been formed for the purpose of satisfying the adherents of the Caliphate and a Panislam, on the condition, however, that it would not become
    a source of difficulties for Turkey.

    The theory put forward was this: “Mohamedan communities dwelling in Europe, Asia, Africa and in other regions, sooner or later in future will attain the liberty and faculty of acting according to their will and carry out their wishes.

    And then, if they think it expedient and advantageous, they will find certain points of union and concord in accordance with the exigencies of the century.

    Every State, every community undoubtedly has needs that could be satisfied and protected by other States and communities; the
    States have reciprocal interests.

    If the delegates of these hypothetical independent Mohamedan States would unite in a congress and declare that this or that relation ship has been established between certain States, that a committee had been formed for the purpose of maintaining such mutual relations and securing joint action under the conditions established by these relations that the Mohamedan States united in this manner would be represented by the president of this committee, then they will, if so desired, give to these United States of Islam the title of Caliphate and to the person elected to be president of this united assembly the title of Caliph.

    But neither common sense nor reason will ever admit that any individual Mohamedan State will confer on any man the authority of guiding and administering the affairs of the whole of the Mohamedan world.

    Mustafa Kemal analyses his views on the thoughts of involving religion and the Caliphate in the state administration.

    Constitution Act, during the course of long meetings and consultations with journalists from Ismidt and Constantinople, one of my inter wiewers at Ismidt put the following question: “Will the new State have a religion?”

    I must confess that it was most undesirable that I should have to answer this question, because, in the circumstances then prevailing,
    I did not wish to be compelled to give an answer which was evident incidentally, a very short one.

    If a State having amongst its subjects elements professing different religions and being compelled to act justly and impartially towards all of them and allowing justice to prevail in its tribunals equally towards foreigners as well as its own subjects, it is obliged to respect freedom of opinion and conscience. It is surely not justified in making restrictions in this natural authority of the State by attributing other qualities to it which are capable of having an ambiguous meaning.

    When we say that “the official language of the State is Turkish,” everybody understands what this means; everybody understands that it is natural that the Turkish language should be used in official affairs. But will the sentence “The State religion of Turkey is the Mohamedan religion” be accepted and understood in the same way?

    It must naturally be criticized and explained.
    I could not answer the question put to me by the journalist, my interviewer, with: “The State cannot have a religion.” On the contrary, I answered: “It has one the Mohamedan religion.”

    I immediately felt the need of commenting on and qualifying my answer by the following sentence: “The Mohamedan religion includes the freedom of religious opinion.”

    Thereby I wanted to express that the State is obliged to respect freedom of opinion and freedom of conscience.

    Undoubtedly my interviewer did not find my reply reasonable and repeated his question in the following form: “Did you mean to say that the State will identify itself with a particular religion?”

    “I do not know,” I said, “whether this will be the case or not.” I wanted to end the debate, but this was not possible. “Then,” they told me, “the State will prevent me from expressing an opinion that corresponds to my views and thoughts on any question. And if the case should arise I shall be punished for having done so.” “But will everybody discover a way to silence his conscience?”

    At that time I was thinking of two things. The first was: Will not every grown up person in the new Turkish State be free to select his own religion?

    Then I recalled Hodja Shukri s proposal which was: “Some of my colleagues among the Ulema as well as myself, consider it to be our duty to publish our common thoughts, as well the prescriptions of Islam, which are confirmed and set forth in the books of the Sheri . . . to enlighten the minds of the Mohamedans, which have unfortunately been led astray.”

    I also recalled the following sentence: “The Caliphate of Islam has been entrusted by the Prophet to protect and perpetuate the religious prescriptions and to be the representative of the Prophet in the exercise of the Sheriade.”

    But to quote the words of the Hodja would be equivalent to an attempt to abolish the national sovereignty.

    But, on the other hand, we had not to consider the bulk of the knowledge of the Hodjas comprised in formulae which had been dictated in the time of Caliph Yesid* and which had been appropriated to a regime of absolutism.

    Consequently, who would be deceived if the expressions “State” and “Government” were enwrapped in the cloak of religion and the Sheriade? Although the meaning of these expressions, as well as of the authorities of the Assembly, are now clear to everybody, what need is there for this deception?

    Mustafa Kemal is asked to be the Caliph.

    “the Mohamedans in the countries through which he had been travelling demanded that I should become Caliph, and that the competent Mohamedan bodies had commissioned him to inform me of this desire.”

    “…………Certain persons who wrongly believed that it was necessary, for religious and political reasons to maintain the Caliphate, proposed at the last moment when the decisions were to be taken, that I should assume the office of the Caliphate.

    I immediately gave a negative reply to these men.
    Let me emphasize another point which arose: When the Grand National Assembly had abolished the Caliphate, Rassih Effendi, an ecclesiastic and deputy for Adalia, was president of the deputation of the Red Half-Moon, which was in India.

    He came back to Angora via Egypt. After soliciting an interview with me, he made statements to the effect that “the Mohamedans in the countries through which he had been travelling demanded that I should become Caliph, and that the competent Mohamedan bodies had commissioned him to inform me of this desire.”

    In the reply which I gave to Rassih Effendi, I expressed my thanks for the benevolence and affection which the Mohamedans had shown me and said: “You are a Doctor of Religious Right. You know that Caliph signifies Chief of the State. How can I accept the proposals and desires of people who are governed by kings and emperors?

    If I should declare myself ready to accept this office, would the sovereigns of those people consent to it?
    The orders of the Caliph must be obeyed and his interdictions submitted to.
    Are those who want to make me Caliph in a position to execute my orders?

    Consequently, would it not be ridiculous to rig me up with an illusionary role which has neither sense nor right of existence?”

    Gentlemen, I must frankly and categorically declare that those who continue to occupy themselves with the chimera of the Caliphate and thereby mislead the Mohamedan world, are nothing but enemies of the Mohamedan world, and especially of Turkey.
    They are only ignorant or blind men who could attach hopes to such jugglery.

    Is it from love of our faith that such people as Rauf Bey, Tsher- kess Edhem and Reshid, all the “Hundred and Fifty”*), all members of the deposed dynasty of the Sultanate and the Caliphate with their adherents, all enemies of Turkey, are working with so much bitterness?

    Is the aim of those who are working so energetically against us, sheltering themselves under the words “holy revolution,” but who use means such as murderous attempts, and gangs of brigands, and who maintain organization centers at our frontiers, who have always made the destruction of Turkey their aim is this aim actually a holy one?

    Indeed, to believe this would mean that we were possessed of unmitigated ignorance and boundless blindness.

    From now onwards it will not be so easy to suppose that the Mohamedan peoples and the Turkish nation would have fallen to such a low level as to continue in the abuse of the purity of the con science and the tenderness of the sentiments of the Mohamedan world to criminal aims. Impudence has its limits……”

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