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(Reflection for future Relationship) By: Hamid Fahmy Zarkasyi PhD
Introduction One may infer that relations between Islam and the West have never been a model of harmony. However, such an inference is subject to further consideration, since historical facts suggested that Islam-West relationship was filled not only with clashes and confrontation, competition and challenge but also with admiration, acceptance, collaboration and cooperation in diverse areas of interaction resulted in harmonious and peaceful relationship. Therefore, the future relationship should be constructed from historical perspective by learning the positive aspect of mutual respect and understanding and not historical prejudice. Defining the “West” and “Islam” There are number of definitions of what Islam and the West are all about, but comprehensive definition is still required. There are still many who offer inadequate definition and possibly could lead to misunderstanding. The annual report of World Economic Forum, defines the “West” as Europe and lands of significant European settlement, primarily North America, but also Australia and New Zealand. The definition is geographical-historical rather than cultural. While the term “Islam”, refers to a religion that finds diverse cultural expression around the world. In addition, the report defines the “Muslim world” as both Muslim majority countries and a transnational Muslim community that includes growing minorities within Western and other countries. 1 The foregoing definition about the West is somewhat misleading, since geographical definition tells nothing about the essence of Western civilization. In fact, Christianity, Judaism, liberal democracy, liberalism, secularism, free markets, individualism and consumer culture, are all constituted the so-called Western civilization. Moreover, the definition of Islam and Muslim also denigrated the fundamental meaning of Islam as religion and civilization, for it only depict Islam in the sense of cultural expression and community. After all, diverse tones of definition about Islam and the West only reflect that one is not fully conversant if not ignorant of the other. The following research finding shows that the Muslims understanding of the West and vice versa is considerably poor.
World Economic Forum: Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue, January 2008, p.10
Muslim-West Perception There are interesting facts about Muslims and the Western people regarding the important of relationship and interaction, their mutual respect. Gallup Research finding suggest that both Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority nations or majorities of residents in nations around the world say that better interaction between the Muslim and Western worlds is important to them. However, they do not see that the reality is not supportive to this positive idea. Three-in-four US residents say the Muslim world is not committed to improving relations with the West; an identical percentage of Palestinians attribute the same apathy to the West. At least half of respondents in Italy (58%), Denmark (52%), and Spain (50%) agree that the Muslim world is not committed to improving relations. Israelis represent a notable exception; almost two-thirds (64%) believe the Muslim world is committed to improving relations. The same pattern is among the majority-Muslim nations surveyed. Majorities in every Middle Eastern country studied believe the West is not committed to better relations with the Muslim World, while respondents in majorityMuslim Asian countries are about evenly split. Be that as it may, majorities in most nations surveyed in both the Muslim and Western worlds say that the quality of interactions between the two is important to them. In some Western countries, including Denmark, the United States, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Canada and Spain, the percentage who say the issue is important to them is even higher than the percentage who give the Western world credit for commitment to improved relations. In the Middle East, Iranians are most likely to say the interaction between the West and the Muslim world is important, at 70%, followed by Turks at 64%. In 2005, the Gallup Organization asked residents of several Muslim majority countries to explain in their own words what the West could do to improve relations with the Muslim world. The most frequent response, from countries as different as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, can be summed up with this statement : “Show greater respect for Islam and stop regarding Muslims as inferior.” What is interesting point from the Gallup survey is the perception of Muslim on the West and vice versa. Many Muslim populations believe that the Western world lacks respect for the Muslim world. The vast majority of Palestinians (84%) and Egyptians (80%) say this is the case, while the numbers from Turkey (68%), Saudi Arabia (67%) and Iran (62%) are only somewhat lower. The same case is with the perception of Western nation on Islam. Fewer than half of those in Denmark (30 %), the United States (42%), Sweden (32%) and Canada (41%) believe the West respects the Muslim world. In Israel and the Netherlands, the numbers are somewhat higher (45% and 46%, respectively), though still below half. This implies that Western people concede the fact that Western world lacks respect for the Muslim world. In contrast, most residents in all but one majority-Muslim nation believe that the Muslim world respects the Western world. Two-thirds of respondents in Indonesia (65 %), the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, believe that the Muslim world respects the West; similar numbers are seen in Saudi Arabia (72%), the Palestinian
territories (69%) and Egypt (62%). On this question, as on others within the Index, nonArab nations of the Middle East diverge from their Arab neighbours. In Iran, the percentage who say the Muslim world respects the West is somewhat lower at 52%, while Turkey is the only country in which this figure represents less than a majority, at 45%. However, while most respondents in almost all Muslim majority countries say the Muslim world respects the Western world, majorities of those in Western countries – and Israel – disagree. Eighty-two percent of Americans and 73% of Israelis believe that the Muslim world does not respect the West. Similarly high figures are seen in Spain (63%), site of the Madrid terrorist bombing of 2004, Denmark (69%), where the international firestorm over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad originated in 2005, and the Netherlands (55%), where the 2004 killing of a Dutch filmmaker by a young Muslim has sparked controversy. However, the Index reveals that even in the nations studied with no obvious conflicts or significant dysfunction with local Muslim minority communities – such as Italy (70%), Canada (67%) and Sweden (54%) – high percentages of respondents feel the West is disrespected. These findings illustrate that mutual understanding between Islam and the West is practically poor. The survey is not quite different from the perception of both Western and Muslim intellectual. Intellectual Perception The intellectual perceptions on Islam in the West are not quite different from the finding of the survey above. Their analysis mostly refer to religious and political interaction between Muslim and the Western people in the past, two sensitive area that inevitably have a symptom of a conflict. The depiction of Islam-West relation in terms of conflict is manifest in Bernard Lewis’ work What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. From religious perspective Lewis boldly argues that the conflict between Islam and West is between Islamic and Christian civilizations. 2 Lewis assumes Muslim civilization first rejected modernity due to its Christian nature during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which came to produce and embody modernity in the last three hundred years. Lewis also implies that Muslims again turned against the West and modernity in recent decades due to their perennial failures in the emulation of the Christian West. Lewis’s book thus gives scholarly weight to the argument that the cause of Muslim discontent with the international order and the Western world stems from Muslims’ inability to harmonize Islam and modernity. Lewis consistently focuses his depiction of Islam and the West in term of religious conflict between Islam and Christianity. Beginning with Muslim rule in Spain, then passing through the Crusades, the Ottoman conquests of Europe, European imperialism, decolonization, and, finally, recent anti-American ideologies. In his version of a zero-sum game, either the Muslims would be victorious and hegemonic or the
2 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 1).
Christians. Thus, Lewis asserts that since Christians were the winners in the last three hundred years, Muslims could not come to terms with their defeat and so turned against the West, as well as the modernity and international order identified with it. The book concludes that Muslims, instead of blaming themselves for “what went wrong” in their societies, blamed the West and America. The conclusion is considerably untenable, since some of the same critiques of and debates on the “West” that we see among Muslims existed, in similar forms, among intellectuals in non-Muslim societies such as Russia, Japan and other socialist countries also existed. There also anti-Western language of such humanist thinkers and nationalists as Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghose, Okakura Tenshin, Namik Kemal, Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani,W.E.B.DuBois, Ali Shariati, Frantz Fanon, and many others.3 Most of these intellectuals formulated their commitment to the equality and dignity of humanity in the reverse-Orientalist language of a materialist West versus a moral East.4 Moreover, another fact suggest that the sources for non-Western critiques of the West, were fertilized by the West itself—in the form of Counter-Enlightenment and Romantic thought. The anti-modern and anti-Western attitude of Muslims, show affinities and direct borrowings among European Romantics, Hindu Revivalists, Russian Slavophiles, or pre–World War II–era Japanese philosophers. Their visions of the West are gathered under the rubric of “Occidentalism.”5 Occidentalist thought could be deemed as common idea about Counter-Enlightenment thought in Europe, such as criticism of the human costs and excesses of science, technology, rationality, individualism, city life, capitalism, globalization, women’s liberation, mass culture, and so on. It can also include criticism on Western doctrine of dichotomy like profound native spirituality versus shallow and mechanistic Western rationalism; authentic moral tradition versus technological and inhuman modernity; cultural uniqueness versus the homogenizing forces of industrial capitalism; heroic, idealized common folk versus cowardly and calculating bourgeoisie; and, finally, religious purity versus idolatrous materialism. So,
Stephen N. Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West: Tagore and his Critics in Japan, China, and India (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970); Ali Rahnema, An Islamic Utopian: A Political Biography of Ali Shari’ati (New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers, 2000); and Marc Gallicchio, The African American Encounter with Japan & China: Black Internationalism in Asia, 1895–1945 (Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 2000). 4 It was a similar anti-white, “colored” internationalism that prompted W.E.B. DuBois to visit Japan and Manchuria during the late 1930s, praising “Japanese challenge” to the “white hegemony in the world.” Scholars of international history and decolonization have already clarified several key aspects of the antiWestern humanist critiques and the way anti-Western ideas were utilized in the struggle for liberation from Western hegemony. Prasenjit Duara’s research on alternative universalism in China and Japan during the decolonization process, Michael Adas’s examination of the “Afro-Asian Assault on the Civilizing Mission Ideology” before and after World War I, Mark Bradley’s exploration of Vietnamese perceptions of America, and Erez Manela’s research on the non-Western world’s excitement and later disillusionment with the Wilsonian moment demonstrate that anti-Westernism (and its anti-American versions) contains within it an affirmation of universal norms and values. See Cemil Aydin, The Politics of Conceptualizing Islam and the West, Ethics & International Affairs 18, no. 3 (2004). P.93 5 Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit, Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, The Penguin Press, 2004.
the major source of anti-Western “Occidentalist” ideas is precisely Eurocentric world order and the claims of an inherent superiority of Western civilization. Therefore, the Western program of globalization to spread secularism, liberalism and other Western ideologies since the first half of the nineteenth century plays a pivotal role in making a qualitative rupture in the relationship between the Muslim world and the West.6 Alastair Crooke clearly stated that : “…what Muslims hate is the West’s monopoly on the socio-economic implementation of values such as justice, freedom, good governance, which all Muslims share. Muslims don’t believe simply that the West is the only model of the implementation of these values, and the only way you can have good governance is to have Western good governance. In fact, they are not sure the West has good governance in many respects.” 7 So, the biased supposition of the West on Islam represented by Lewis’ viewpoint is indicative in his ambiguous analysis that in the Islamic world things are “went wrong” in contrast to the West where thing went right. Perhaps, it was due to Lewis’ position as the intellectual mentor of the current U.S. policy toward the Middle East, closely connected to figures like Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove.8 It is perhaps the reason why their understanding of the Islamic responses to Western ideologies has been marred not only by past historical distortions and prejudices, but also by the contemporary political and ideological mystifications of the realities at the hand. The West has always seen the world into two imaginary sections: the Orient and the Occident. This misconception has existed as a kind of daydream that could often justify western colonial adventure of military conquest. This is based on western fear, desire, and dream of power, and has led to “more detailed ignorance and more ambitions than any other perception of difference”9 Western misunderstanding of Islam is conceded by Mr. Squires as he says: Any open-minded person embarking on a study of Islam, especially if using books written in European languages, should be aware of the seemingly inherent distortions that permeate almost all non-Muslim writings on Islam. At least since the Middle Ages, Islam has been much maligned and severely misunderstood in the West. In the last years of the Twentieth Century, it does not seem that much has changed even though most Muslims would agree that progress is being made.10 This misunderstanding also admitted by Swiss journalist and author, Roger Du Pasquier, in his work The West's ignorance of Islam and the motives of Orientalism as quoted by Mr. Squires
6 7 8 9
Cemil Aydin, “The Politics of Conceptualizing”, p.90 http://www.conflictsforum.org/index.php?s=faliq
Peter Waldman, “A Historian’s Take on Islam Steers U.S. in Terrorism Fight,”Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2004, p.A1.
Edward W Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books, New York, 1979. As quoted in http://www.answering-Islam.org, on 1 May 2009
The West whether Christian or dechristianised, has never really known Islam. Ever since they watched it appeared on the world stage, Christians never ceased to insult and slander it in order to find justification for waging war on it. It has been subjected to grotesque distortions the traces of which still endure in the European mind. Even today there are many Westerners for whom Islam can be reduced to three ideas: fanaticism, fatalism and polygamy. 11 Nevertheless, it is to admit that the Islamic world also has many misconceptions about the West in general and Christianity in particular. The Western world also observe and accuse that many Muslim websites contain intentional misrepresentations of Christian beliefs, most of which the Muslims borrowed from atheists and Jehovah's Witnesses! Despite, experiencing harmonious life for several centuries in Baghdad, Spain and other places Muslim-Christian relation, there were also a moment when each group has a distorted view of the other. Completely blaming the West for the misunderstandings between these two civilizations is intellectually dishonest and will never bring about mutual understanding and respect. The two modern ideologies of progress, liberalism and Marxism, are strongly secular and predisposed therefore to view any religious manifestation with disdain. The work like When Religion Become Evil, by Charles Kimball12 or Is Religion Killing Us, by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer13 and the likes shows only negative side of religion in secular society, including Islam. If the relation between Islam and the West is seen from such a secular viewpoint, Islam and the West would see each other as threat. The West seems to forget modernity began with theocratic regimes in Britain with Henry VIII, who declared himself the Head of the Church of England, and in Geneva with Calvin. British and Japanese monarchies are to this day theocracies of sorts with the head of the state serving also as head of the dominant religion, Anglican Protestantism and Shintoism respectively. If we blame religion or denigrate its role in this postmodern era we become hostage to historical prejudices without gaining historical perspective. Not only has Muslim civilization fundamental difference from the Western civilization regarding the concept of religion, but also other related concept constituting at whole as worldview. David D Newsome has clearly delineated those differences as the following: There is no doubt that the Muslim worldview is fundamentally different from that of the average American and therefore require an effort to comprehend. In its original form, Islam combined government and religion – strong contrast to the US secularist tradition of separating church and state. Another area of cultural discrepancy is the notion of the political legitimacy of nation state – a concept of foreign to traditional Islam. Instead, in Islam, the worldwide religious community (ummah) take precedence. Attitudes towards one’s fellow man and non-Muslim states or societies are determined by their perceived relationship to
Ibid. Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil, Harper SanFransisco, 2203. 13 Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Is Religion Killing Us, The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005.
this global religious community. The United States by contrast, is a multiethnic, multireligious, secular society – albeit with strong Judo-Christian overtones.14 It was because of different worldview that Islam and the West have been thus caught up in a fourfold vicious circle of misunderstanding: Western misunderstandings of Islam, Islamic misunderstandings of the West, Western misunderstandings of the West, and Islamic misunderstanding of Islam. The roots of these misunderstandings are historical as well as contemporary. The historical sides relate to religious conflict in the past, while the contemporary aspects refer to the present political interaction, but still with strong religious overtones as David remarked above. In the United State, for example, their negative view of Islam spring primarily from two perceptions. “One is that Islam, particularly fundamentalist Islam, represent a threat to the interest of the United States. The other is that Islam is basically an inhumane religion”. This assumption refers to many cases, like in Libya and the Philippines where Islam is identified with direct attack on strategic US interest. Another source of Americans’ negative image of Islam is a distorted view of Islamic social customs. Islam as described by popular media lends itself to sensationalism especially on the practice of Islamic law penalties. It was also from the Western worldview, where cultural background, belief, ideology and other factor plays fundamental role, that Western media attitude towards Islam is considerably biased. Cultural background of Western journalists reflects the societies in which they are born. The question of terminology and of defining specific discourses is of fundamental importance. Recurring metaphors such as: fifth column, bridgehead, enclave, Trojan Horse and enemy within, can be used in reference to Muslims by some tabloids. The use of terms such as “cruel”, “fanatical”, and “barbaric” are not unusual. Islamic “fundamentalism”, “extremism”, the Muslim “terrorist”, the Muslim “threat”, the “Islamic Bomb”, have become key buzzwords used freely by the main news agencies and followed by the rest. The words ‘Islam’, ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’ are often used interchangeably even by some respectable and serious news organizations. So, the source of tension between Islam and the West stems from misunderstanding. In the case of Western civilization, this misunderstanding result in the enforcement of various concepts and values to the Muslim worlds such as human liberties, rule of law, equal opportunity, independent media, secularism and the likes. While the West claimed that those concepts and values are universal, the Muslim resist with reference to their basic teaching of religion. The two, in fact, have different worldview. The Western people in general continue to demonstrate a widespread lack of basic knowledge about Islam. That lack is compounded in the West by social secularization and the accompanying death of religious value, which decreases interest in and empathy with non–Western religions. Similarly, many Westerners view Islam as a monolith, and indeed the demonstrations that took place in the wake of the cartoons controversy were regarded as confirmation of this.
David D Newsom, “Islam in Asia, Ally of Adversary?” in John L Esposito, (ed) Islam in Asia, Religion, Politic and Society, Oxford University Press, 1987, p.4
Conclusion It is our task to promote mutual understanding first among the Western and Muslim society and it is not wise enough to enforce one understanding upon the other. Therefore Muslim should understand Western civilization from the first hand knowledge, and similarly the West should be conversant of Islamic civilization from original source. From religious perspective Islam and the West, in this case Islam-Christianity, should agree that religious identities should not be regarded as big hindrance of future relationship. For in fact, there never was a solid and unified front dividing Islam from Christianity. Longstanding historical process of Muslim-Christian dialogue during the Umayyad Dynasty, scientific collaboration in the Abbasid era and harmonious life of Muslim, Jew and Christian in Spain are religious as well as cultural tolerance for diversity by which cultural exchange become possible are all lesson that should be taken into consideration.15 Those harmonious relationship could be taken as good model for cultural tolerance during which Muslims, Christians, Jews as well as Arabs, Persians, Greeks, and Turks worked together. They produced an Islamic synthesis and renaissance that served as a bridge between classical Greek, Roman, and Persian cultures and the modern European Renaissance. This was principally accomplished by the establishment of a Dar al-Hikmah by the Khalifa Mamun operating during the third and fourth centuries of the Islamic era (8th to 9th centuries of the Christian era). Subsequent development suggested that Ottoman leaders, as well as the leaders of other Muslim societies, willingly aimed to join the Eurocentric international society, despite the Christian identity of European societies. This was also an indication that religious identity for Muslim was not and is not hindrance for having interaction with others in peaceful life. The West should not worry about Islamic resurgence or Islamic unity, for it is not directed against any country or any bloc. Islam is religion of peace that preaches tolerance and universal brotherhood. The rapid and spectacular expansion beyond Arabic peninsula in the first century of the Islamic era (622-722 AD), took place peacefully not in the form of colonial or revolutionary expansion. It was not through war but largely through conversions prompted by trade and cultural contact.16 Islam does not permit its ideology to be imposed on other by force, just as it does not want other ideologies to be imposed on Muslims. Islam believes in the principle of peaceful coexistence. The late Zia ul Haq, former President of Pakistan once said: ”We do not wish to impose our ideology on others and similarly we would not tolerate others imposing their ideologies on us”17 In fact, there should not be any conflict or contradiction between Islam and Western values and tradition as far as they are bond to their religious values. Islam, as religion and civilization, rooted in certain basic values which are not alien to the Christian tradition.
Sir Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, Low Price Publications, India Binding, 2004, p729 Arnold is in the opinion that non-Muslim inhabitant in the Muslim world enjoyed full peace and tolerance which never happen in pre-Modern Europe…. The violence was due mostly to the internal Christian conflict. 16 The whole story of Islamic preaching in almost all territory beyond Arabic peninsula was delineated very well by Sir Thomas W. Arnold. See Sir Thomas W. Arnold, Preaching of Islam. 17 Dawn, Karachi, 24-30 November, 1979
With reference to the above historical cases the relations between Islam and the West have to be understood therefore in the light of historical perspectives, not historical prejudice, broader than the current short-sighted interests or their ideological rationalizations. From historical perspective Islam-West relations may be viewed as the passing of the torch of human civilization from hand to hand. The torch was transferred from ancient Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Persian civilizations to the Greeks, Romans, and the Semites from whom the Muslims learned their science, technology, and theology. Islamic civilization, in turn, served as a bridge to the European Renaissance which recaptured the classical philosophy and sciences from Muslim translations and commentaries. Reflection and dialogue between Western and Muslim intellectual communities is necessary. The dialogue should be based on mutual understanding that each of the parties has some cardinal belief and principles that cannot be changed and that there are area that can agreed upon as a common platform. The dialogue between Islam and the West should be separated conceptually from the dialogue between Islam and Christianity, since former deal with inter-civilization, while the latter concerns about inter-religious matters. In the case of Islam-West dialogue should begin with intensive communication between the criticizers, the Muslim, and the targets of the criticism, the West, by which constructive and positive outcome could be produced.
Gontor, 1 May 2009