Islam in the Modern World

A brief review of the beginnings of modern Islamic history, and the major historical forces of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is hard to say when modern Islamic history began. Three significant global events took place in the 15th century and had a lasting effect on the status of Islam in the modern period:

  • The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the heart of ancient Byzantium, under the leadership of Sultan Mehmet al-Fatih in 1453.
  • The expulsion of the last Muslim armies from the Iberian Peninsula by 1492.
  • The discovery of the New World by Columbus around 1492.

    Under the Ottoman rule, roughly from the middle of the 15th century to the end of World War I, Islam became the official religion of the Ottoman state. However, in the 19th century, due to the worldwide expansion of European powers, Ottoman hegemony was challenged. To meet this challenge, the Ottoman Empire resorted to Tanzimat, a reorganization program, in order to modernize its army, industry, and economy. Turkish nationalism rose in the wake of Tanzimat (at the end of the 19th century) which proved later on to be a formidable challenge to the Islamic foundations of the Empire. The Turkish Republic, established by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, sought to limit the role of Islam in public life while pursuing a Westernized cultural and political policy.

    In the 19th century, three major forces were present in the Muslim world: Imperialism, nationalism, and Islamic Reform.


    Holland, England, and France played a major role in European colonialism in the 19th century Muslim world. Holland was in control of Indonesia; England was in India, and France began to expand in North and West Africa. Nationalism in the modern Muslim world arose in response to the hegemony of Europe and the decline of the Islamic spirit. Islamic Reform sought to reform Muslim cultural and religious institutions while being open to ideas from both the Islamic past and the Western reality.

    The struggle against Western imperialism in the Muslim world led to the creation of the modern nation-state in several Muslim countries. Indonesia won its independence from the Dutch in 1945 and Pakistan became a state in 1947.

    Islamic Reform led to the rise of the Islamic movement in the 20th century. In Indonesia, the Islamic movement was reflected in 2 major movements arising at the beginning of the 20th century: the Muhammadiyyah Organization and Nahdatul Ulama. In Egypt, Islamic reform led to the rise of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement (1928), which became the largest movement of Islamic revival in the Arab world. In India, Allama Mawdudi established Jama'at al-Islami in 1942, one of the most significant Islamic movements in South Asia.

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