Islam and the Colonial Experience

Islam and the Colonial
Themes in Islam and Modernity
• What is Modernity? Is it Western?
• Now Major Challenges are from the West
– Political: why/how do unbelievers have control over
us politically/militarily
– Economic: why/how are they so much wealthier than
– Scientific/Technical: why/how are they so much more
advanced than us?
– Social: to what extent do we have to meet the
expectations of social modernity/progress?
How does the truth and greatness of Islam fit
with Muslim failure to achieve parity with the
West in these areas?
• ‘Awakening’, ‘Revival’, ‘Reform’= the idiom
• Islamic heritage vs. Islamic society
What is Modernity?
‘The Great Western Transmutation’: 1780-today
– Economic: Industrial Revolution in England in the late
1700’s  massive capital amassed
– Legal/Political: states emphasize ownership rights as
foundation of international system  respect for
ownership; state becomes vehicle for mercantile
interests; democracy
– Intellectual: scientific explanation, technicalization
(“impersonal efficiency through technical precision”),
rationalization  Positivism
– Social: landed aristocracy loses control to industrial and
mercantile bourgeoisie
Investment encouraged and protected 
innovation prized, progress and enrichment
Modernity is inevitable (Ali Pasha agreed: “It is not
humanly possible to put a stop to the forces of
nationalism and socialism.”
Major Landmarks of West / Islam
1620-1811 Dutch dominant in Java  Brits
1764 British running Bengal and Bihar, collecting taxes
1798-1801 Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt
1830: France annexes Algeria from Ottomans
1838 Treaty of Balta Liman, beginning of major European
political/economic interference in Ottoman realm
1857 ‘Indian Mutiny’ crushed by British
1882 British suzerainty in Egypt
1872 De Reuters Concession – 1892 Tobacco Concessions:
perceived selling of Iran to foreigners
1914-18 WWI  reason cannot give all answers
1945 Indonesia independent, 1957 “British Malaya” too
1979-81 Islamic Revolution in Iran
Common Themes of Colonial
• Nation state: borders defined by colonial holdings and
agreements, not strict cultural, ethnic or religious ties
• Controlling State: Islamist or not (ex. Turkey with
waqfs and schools, Pakistan and national control of
• Massive armies
• Empowered minorities
• Dependence idea: ex. Java as Dutch spice and coffee
plantation - 56% of pop put to work on this
• Development Theme: secular or Islamist
• Transcendent ideas: pan Arabism, Islamism (but
Ikhwan etc. also follow nation state model, UAR fails)
• Socialism, Capitalism and Communism
Knot of Politics, Society and Religion
• For many Muslim intellectuals (and the populace), there
is no real ‘crisis’ until after the 1870’s
– Al-Jabarti’s reaction to Napoleon’s invasion: contempt!
– Tanzimat Period (1839-76): Ottoman reforms,
instituting European schooling, government structure
and legal system… from 1805 on in Egypt under
Mehmet Ali Pasha
– Rifa’at al-Tahtawi (d. 1873): Egyptian sent to Paris;
unqualified admiration; Europeans learned from
Muslims, now we must relearn our greatness
1875 Ottoman Bankruptcy, 1878 Massive defeat of
Ottomans… Ottoman Empire is once again Muslim in
population, Islam important political rallying point under
Sultan Abd al-Hamid (r. 1876-1909). Concessions in Iran
 same
How do we approach the Islamic Heritage?
1. Modernists: scholars like Fatima Mernissa,
“activists” Irshad Manji, Ayaan Hirsi Ali… reject
aspects of Islam that are incompatible with
expectations of modernity with no apology.
2. Modernist Salafis: bypass the Late Sunni
Tradition to go back to the original purity of Islam…
which just happens to meet the expectations of
3. Traditionalist Salafis: like Wahhabis, return to
original sources of the Quran and Sunna but to heck
with what modernity expects.
4. Late Sunni Traditionalists: the institutions of
classical Islam, properly used, will lead us to the
right path (even better than modernity!)
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (d. 1897)
• Originally Iranian/Afghan, possibly Shiite,
became Pan-Islamic activist, intellectual,
and eventually political trouble-maker
• His goal was essentially political = Islamic
unity against West, while learning from them
and eventually matching them
• The Means = Revival of rationalism in Islam:
Mu’tazilite and Islamic philosophical tradition
– Anti-Fatalism
– Anti-superstition (and thus Sufism)
Muhammad ‘Abduh (d. 1905)
• Azhar trained Egyptian, worked as
journalist and editor in Cairo
• Supported revolt against British/Khedive
government of Egypt in 1882
• Studied with Afghani, then went to Paris
and Beirut with him to publish their
journal, al-Urwa al-wuthqa.
• Became Mufti of Egypt
• Modernist Salafi: anti-accretion in
• Maslaha = public interest, outweighs
revealed text; reason outweighs revelation
Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (d. 1999)
• Albanian immigrant to Syria
• Rejected father’s Hanafi school when
he read issue of Abduh’s Manar
magazine  Traditionalist Salafi
• Turned to Hadith as the only real
means to understand the pure Islam of
the early Muslim community
• Became one of the most influential
Traditionalist Salafis and modern
Hadith scholars
The Big Questions
• What is Modernity? Is it Western?
• Major Challenges from West
– Political: why/how do unbelievers have control over
us politically/militarily
– Economical: why/how are they so much wealthier
than us?
– Scientific/Technical: why/how are they so much more
advanced than us?
– Social: why do we feel like we have to meet their
expectations of social modernity/progress?
How does Truth and Greatness of Islam Fit with
Muslim Failure to Achieve Parity with the West
in these areas?
• Islamic heritage vs. Islamic society
Answer #1
The West has attained material success, but
Islam possesses the keys to spiritual and
moral success (ex. Ahmad Faris Shadyaq
(d. 1887)
• Western society is corrupt at heart
• Western society is destined for moral and
spiritual ruin
• Or… is Modernity is inherently wrong for
mankind?(‘Perennialist’ Sufi school)
Answer #2
The West IS Real Islam: we need to learn
Western sciences, political systems,
• The Renaissance derived from Muslim
• Tension: how can we adopt positive
elements of Western culture without
adopting negative ones?
Answer #3
Don’t be deceived by what you see,
prosperity and technology have
nothing to do with what God wants
from us… focus on purifying your
practice and belief
• Al-Hasan al-Banna and the Muslim
• Salafi/Wahhabi movement
Finding the Answers
Find the West in Islamic Sources:
• Young Ottomans, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani,
Muhammad ‘Abduh, Sayyid Ahmad Khan
• Spectrum of Criticism of Islamic Tradition: ex.
do we reject hadith if they contradict reason or
try to contextualize them?
Following the Late Sunni Tradition is the
key (can this be done in a vacuum?)
• Shaykh ‘Ali Jum’a, Muhammad al-Ghazali (d.
Ignore the West, we cause our own problems
on our own (taqlid, bid’a…)
• Traditionalist Salafis like al-Albani
Modern Political Islam – The Islamic
Islam vs. the West/Nationalism:
• Afghani, Shaqib Arslan (d. 1946) and the 1930
Berber ‘Dahir’ Law
Fundamentalist Resistance to Local Regimes:
• Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966)
• Ayatollah Khomeini (d. 1989)
The Goal = Islamic Law (why?)
• Islamic law means society has chosen Islam over
Westernism/Western modernity… a just society
• Islamic law means the victory of native culture of
foreign interference
• Islamic law is the necessary step to regaining
• Marxist Islam?
Islamic Law in Modern Period
Turkey: 1924-36 Shariah law totally abolished
Egypt: 1955 Shariah courts abolished, but
modified Shariah still governs family law
• Lawyer Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanhuri in 1947 says
that Egyptian law is based on 1) customary law
2) principles of Shariah 3) natural law
• Using talfiq (picking and choosing) from
different schools, “Shariah” rulings meeting
expectations of Modernity are found (ex. 1923
marriage for girls at 16)
Saudi Arabia: Shariah law still applied in full

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