Islam and modernity

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Islam and modernity is a topic of discussion in contemporary sociology of religion. The history of Islam chronicles different interpretations and approaches. Modernity is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon rather than a unified and coherent phenomenon. It has historically had different schools of thought moving in many directions.[1]

Industrial Revolution's impact on Islam[edit]

In the 18th century Europe was undergoing major transformations as the new ideas of the Enlightenment, which stressed the importance of science, rationality, and human reason, and the new technologies of the Industrial Revolution swept across Europe, giving Europeans great power and influence. In the last quarter of the 18th century, the gap widened between the technical skills of some western and northern European countries and those of the rest of the world.[2]

The rise of modern Europe coincided with what many scholars refer to as the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which by the 18th century was facing political, military, and economic breakdown.[3] While prior to the 18th century the Ottomans had regarded themselves to be either of superior or, by the mid-18th century, of equal strength to Europe, by the end of the 18th century the power relationship between the Ottoman Empire and Europe began to shift in Europe’s favor.[4]

French occupation of the Ottoman Empire[edit]

In 1798 Napoleon Bonaparte's army occupied the Ottoman province of Egypt. Although the occupation lasted only three years, it exposed the people of Egypt to Enlightenment ideas and Europe's new technology.[5] The values of the European Enlightenment, which challenged the authority of religion, were alien to the local Muslim population. Al-Jabarti, a Muslim intellectual and theologian who witnessed the occupation, wrote critically of the French calling them "materialists, who deny all God’s attributes."[5]

Ottoman scholars in Europe[edit]

The exposure to European power and ideas would later inspire the new governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to draw on this technology to modernize Egypt, setting an example for the rest of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman government began to open embassies and send officials to study in Europe. This created conditions for the "gradual formation of a group of reformers with a certain knowledge of the modern world and a conviction that the empire must belong to it or perish."[6]

One of the scholars sent by Muhammad Ali to Europe in 1826 was Rifa'a Rafi' al-Tahtawi. The five years he spent in Paris left a permanent mark on him. After his return to Egypt he wrote about his impressions of France and translated numerous European works into Arabic. Tahtawi was impressed with Europe’s technological and scientific advancement and political philosophy.[7] Having studied Islamic Law, he argued that "it was necessary to adapt the Sharia to new circumstances" and that there was not much difference between "the principles of Islamic law and those principles of ‘natural law’ on which the codes of modern Europe were based."[8]

Like Tahtawi, Khayr al-Din was also sent to Paris where he spent four years. After his return from Europe he wrote a book in which he argued that the only way to strengthen the Muslim States was by borrowing ideas and institutions from Europe, and that this did not contradict the spirit of the Sharia.[9]

Modernization reforms in the Ottoman Empire[edit]

In the period between 1839 and 1876 the Ottoman government began instituting large-scale reforms as a way to modernize and strengthen the empire.[clarification needed] Known as the Tanzimat, many of these reforms involved adopting successful European practices. In addition to military and administrative reforms, Ottoman rulers implemented reforms in the sphere of education, law, and the economy:

New universities and curricula were created and modern curricula were introduced to allow students to acquire the knowledge necessary to modernize. European legal codes became the basis for legal reforms, and Islamic law was restricted to personal status or family law (marriage, divorce, inheritance). Modern economic systems and institutions were established."[10]

Some conservative Muslims denounced the Tanzimat reforms for "introducing un-Islamic innovations into state and society."[11]

Definition[edit]

“The reformist spirit of the times was especially evident in the emergence from Egypt to Southeast Asia of an Islamic modernist movement that called for a “reformation” or reinterpretation (ijtihad) of Islam.”[10] Islamic modernism was both an attempt to provide an Islamic response to the challenges presented by European colonial expansion and an effort to reinvigorate and reform Islam from within as a way to counter the perceived weakness and decline of Muslim societies in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Islamic modernists argued that Islam and modernity were compatible and “asserted the need to reinterpret and reapply the principles and ideals of Islam to formulate new responses to the political, scientific, and cultural challenges of the West and of modern life.”[10] The reforms they proposed challenged the status quo maintained by the conservative Muslims scholars (ulama), who saw the established law as the ideal order that had to be followed and upheld the doctrine of taqlid (imitation / blind following). Islamic modernists saw the resistance to change on the part of the conservative ulama as a major cause for the problems the Muslim community was facing as well as its inability to counter western hegemony.

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838–97) is regarded as one of the pioneers of Islamic modernism. He believed that Islam was compatible with science and reason and that in order to counter European power the Muslim world had to embrace progress.[12]

Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) was a disciple and collaborator of al-Afghani. He was even more influential than his master and is often referred to as the founder of Islamic modernism. Abduh was born and raised in Egypt and was a scholar of Islam (alim). He taught at al-Azhar and other institutions and in 1899 became Mufti of Egypt. Abduh believed that the Islamic world was suffering from an inner decay and was in need of a revival.[13] Asserting that “Islam could be the moral basis of a modern and progressive society",[14] he was critical of both secularists and the conservative ulama. He called for a legal reform and the reinterpretation (ijtihad) of Islamic law according to modern conditions. While critical of the West, he believed that it was necessary to borrow or assimilate what was good from it.[15]

Other notable Islamic modernists include Rashid Rida (1869–1935), and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–98) and Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) in the Indian subcontinent (the latter was also the conceiver of the modern state of Pakistan). Like al-Afghani and Abduh, they rejected the doctrine of taqlid and asserted the need for Islam to be reinterpreted according to modern conditions.[10]

Although Islamic modernists were subject to the criticism that the reforms they promoted amounted to westernizing Islam, their legacy was significant and their thought influenced future generations of reformers.[10]

History of Islamic modernism[edit]

Islamic modernists until 1918[edit]

Turkey was the first[citation needed] Muslim country where modernity surfaced, with major shifts in scientific and legal thought.[16] In 1834, Ishak Efendi published Mecmua-i Ulum-i Riyaziye, a four volume text introducing many modern scientific concepts to the Muslim world. Kudsi Efendi also published Asrar al-Malakut in 1846 in an attempt to reconcile Copernican astronomy with Islam. The first modern Turkish chemistry text was published in 1848, and the first modern Biology text in 1865.[17]

Eventually, the Turks adopted the metric system in 1869. These shifts in scientific thought coincided with Tanzimat, a reform policy undertaken by the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire that was inspired by French civil law. This reform confined sharia to family law.[16] The key figure in the Turkish modernist movement was Namik Kemal, the editor of a journal called Freedom. His goal was to promote freedom of the press, the separation of powers, equality before the law, scientific freedom, and a reconciliation between parliamentary democracy and the Qur'an.[16]

In 19th century Iran, Mirza Malkom Khan arrived after being educated in Paris. He created a newspaper called Qanun, where he advocated the separation of powers, secular law, and a bill of rights.[17] Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who was politically active in the Islamic world and published the pamphlet "Al-'Urwa al-Wuthqà" during a brief spell in France, proclaiming that Europe had become successful due to its laws and its science. He became critical of other Muslim scholars for stifling scientific thought,[18] and hoped to encourage scientific inquiry in the Muslim world.

Muhammad Abduh became a leading judge in Egypt after political activities in Paris as al-Afghani's assistant. He pushed for secular law, religious reform, and education for girls.[18] He hoped that Egypt would ultimately become a free republic, much like how France had transformed from an absolute monarchy.[19] Muhammad Rashid Rida also became active in the Egyptian modernization movement as Abduh's disciple, although he was born and educated in Syria. Al-Manar was his journal, through which he initially advocated greater openness to science and foreign influence.[19] He also stated that sharia was relatively silent about agriculture, industry, and trade, and that these areas of knowledge needed renewal.[19] He would eventually evolve to conservative positions close to Wahhabism. Qasim Amin was another reformer in Egypt and Abduh's disciple who was heavily concerned with the rights of women.

Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi was similarly educated in Paris around the same time. He surveyed the political systems of 21 European countries in an effort to reform Tunisia.[17]

Other major Islamic modernists included Mahmud Tarzi of Afghanistan, Chiragh Ali of India, Achmad Dachlan of Java, and Wang Jingshai of China.[17]

Impact of early Islamic modernists[edit]

The influence of modernism in the Islamic world resulted in a cultural revival.[19] Dramatic plays became more common, as did newspapers. Notable European works were analyzed and translated.

Legal reform was attempted in Egypt, Tunisia, the Ottoman Empire, and Iran, and in some cases these reforms were adopted.[20] Efforts were made to restrict the power of government. Polygamy was ended in India.[21] Azerbaijan granted suffrage to women in 1918 (before several European countries).[21]

At the recommendations of reform-minded Islamic scholars, western sciences were taught in new schools.[20] Much of this had to do with the intellectual appeal of social Darwinism, since it led to the conclusion that an old-fashioned Muslim society could not compete in the modern world.[20]

1918–1968[edit]

The aftermath of World War I resulted in the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the domination of the Middle East by European powers such as Britain and France. Intellectual historians such as Peter Watson suggest that World War I marks the end of the main Islamic modernist movements, and that this is the point where many Muslims "lost faith with the culture of science and materialism".[22] He goes on to note that several parallel streams emerged after this historical moment.

Continued modernization[edit]

In some parts of the world, the project of Islamic modernity continued from the same trajectory before World War I. This was especially the case in the new Republic of Turkey, under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

In Egypt, Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was also a prominent Muslim modernist of the twentieth century.[23][24]

Arab socialism[edit]

On the other hand, Arab socialism of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party and Nasserite movement emerged as a stream of thought that played down the role of religion.[22] Its popularity peaked in the 50s and 60s.

As a political ideology based on an amalgamation of Pan-Arabism and socialism, Arab socialism is distinct from the much broader tradition of socialist thought in the Arab world which predates Arab socialism by as much as 50 years. Michel Aflaq, the principal founder of ba'athism and the Ba'ath Party, coined the term in order to distinguish his version of socialist ideology from the Marxist socialism in Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, and social democracy in Western Europe.

1968–present[edit]

The Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbours ended in a decisive loss for the Muslim side. Many in the Islamic world saw this as the failure of socialism. It was at this point that "fundamental and militant Islam began to fill the political vacuum created".[22]

Turkey has continued to be at the forefront of modernising Islam. In 2008 its Department of Religious Affairs launched a review of all the hadiths, the sayings of Mohammed upon which most of Islamic law is based. The School of Theology at Ankara University undertook this forensic examination with the intent of removing centuries of often conservative cultural baggage and rediscovering the spirit of reason in the original message of Islam. One expert at London's Chatham House compared these revisions to the Christian Protestant Reformation. Turkey has also trained hundreds of women as theologians, and sent them senior imams known as vaizes all over the country, away from the relatively liberal capital and coastal cities, to explain these re-interpretations at town hall meetings.[25]

Proliferation of Islamic fundamentalism[edit]

Since the late 20th century Islamic extremist groups have proliferated worldwide. This is most noticeable in the Middle East, where such groups have voiced their displeasure of concepts such as democracy and modernity, which are most commonly associated with accepting Western secular beliefs and values. The spread of secularism has caused great concerns among many Islamic political groups. It has been the reasoning for the Islamization of politics and protest, due to the large Muslim majority in the Middle East as well as the region's imperial past.[26] For Islamic countries in the Middle East, there is not necessarily a problem as such with modernity, however, "the problem is when modernity comes wrapped with westernization, with absolutely and utterly rampant materialism".[27]
In the book, Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World(1994), the author N. Ayubi explained what he believes to be the two main concerns of Islamic political movements and extremist groups in the Middle East; 1) the Western belief in a bureaucratic state and 2) the secular values and beliefs associated with concepts such as modernity.[28]

These concerns were exemplified in an interview with the Islamic fundamentalist, Osama Bin Laden who stated, after being asked about the message he wanted to send to the West:

Their presence [in the Middle East] has no meaning save one and that is to offer support to the Jews in Palestine who are in need of their Christian brothers to achieve full control over the Arab peninsula, which they intend to make an important part of the so called Greater Israel... They rip us of our wealth and of our resources and of our oil. Our religion is under attack. They kill and murder our brothers. They compromise our honor and our dignity and if we dare to utter a single word of protest against the injustice, we are called terrorists.[29]

After the September 11 attacks, the Western media seemed to focus on personalities such as Osama bin Laden for condemnation, and publicize the activities of unknown terrorists into forerunners of "Islamic jihad." This appeared to create the stereotype of Muslims in the Middle East, granting prominence to Islamic fundamentalists who might otherwise have been insignificant political characters. Such publicity appeared to legitimise extremist opinions and views which might otherwise have been shunned by mainstream Muslims. However, as John Esposito notes:

The tendency to judge the actions of Muslims in splendid isolation, to generalize from the actions of the few to the many, to disregard similar excesses committed in the name of other religions and ideologies... is not new.[30]

Yet the number of militant Islamic movements calling for "an Islamic state and the end of Western influence" is relatively small.[31] Nevertheless, these groups cause great fear among people in the Middle East and in the West. According to polls taken in 2008 and 2010, pluralities of the population in Muslim-majority countries are undecided as to what extent religion (and certain interpretations of) should influence public life, politics, and the legal system. [32][33]

People[edit]

Books[edit]

See also[edit]

Reform movements within Islam:

Nation specific:

Other religions:

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Responsibilities of the Muslim Intellectual in the 21st Century, Abdolkarim Soroush
  2. ^ Hourani, Albert (1991). A History of the Arab Peoples. p. 259. 
  3. ^ Esposito, Jonh L. (2005). Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press. pp. 115–116. 
  4. ^ Hourani, Albert (1991). A History of the Arab Peoples. pp. 258–259. 
  5. ^ a b Rogan, Eugene (2009). The Arabs: A History. Basic Books. p. 62. 
  6. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. 
  7. ^ Rogan, Eugene (2009). The Arabs: A History. Basic Books. pp. 86–88. 
  8. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 75. 
  9. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 88. 
  10. ^ a b c d e Esposito, John L., "Contemporary Islam." In The Oxford History of Islam, edited by John L. Esposito. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed 29-Dec-2010)
  11. ^ Rogan, Eugene (2009). The Arabs: A History. Basic Books. p. 90. 
  12. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. pp. 103–129. 
  13. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 136. 
  14. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 140. 
  15. ^ Hourani, Albert (1983). Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press. p. 156. 
  16. ^ a b c Watson (2001) p. 970
  17. ^ a b c d Watson (2001) p. 971
  18. ^ a b Watson (2001) p. 972
  19. ^ a b c d Watson (2001) p. 973
  20. ^ a b c Watson (2001) p. 974
  21. ^ a b Watson (2001) p. 975
  22. ^ a b c Watson (2001) p. 1096
  23. ^ "Muslim modernism and Jinnah". Dawn. 25 December 2012. 
  24. ^ "Jinnah's vision of Pakistan". Pakistan Army. Retrieved 7 January 2013. 
  25. ^ "Turkey in radical revision of Islamic texts" Robert Pigott, Religious affairs correspondent, BBC News 26 Feb 2008
  26. ^ Fawcett, L (2005) International Relations of the Middle East, UK: Oxford University Press, p 72
  27. ^ BBC News online, Islam and the West, Monday, 12 August 2002, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
  28. ^ Ayubi, N, N,M(1994) Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, London: Routledge p. 48
  29. ^ Khater, A, F (ed.)(2004) Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East US: Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 360-361
  30. ^ Milton-Edwards, B(1999) Islamic Politics in Palestine, UK: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, p. 2
  31. ^ Ayubi, N, N,M(1994) Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, London: Routledge p. 70
  32. ^ "Islam and Democracy""Gallup Poll", February 15, 2008
  33. ^ "Most Embrace a Role for Islam in Politics, Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah" "Pew Research Center", December 2, 2010

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • JL Esposito and JO Voll, Makers of Contemporary Islam, Oxford University Press 2001.
  • John Cooper, Ronald Nettler and Mohamad Mahmoud, Islam and Modernity: Muslim Intellectuals Respond, I. B. Tauris, 2000
  • C Kurzman (ed), Liberal Islam: A Source Book, Oxford University Press 1998.
  • Islam and Modernity, Journal Religion and the Arts, Brill Academic Publishers, Volume 5, Number 4, pp. 495–503