Modernization of the Islamic World

The historical forces that produced Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, and a look at U.S. involvement in the Muslim world.

Continued from page 1

In the modern period, especially in the 19th century, all of these Empires begin to decline, to weaken, to wane. And one simple manifestation of this decline was the Western colonization of many parts of the Muslim world. The Western world penetrated every aspect of Muslim society in the 19th century to the extent that it is impossible to speak of modern Islamic history without speaking about the West at the same time and all the major movements in the Western world from the Reformation to the Industrial revolution to the Enlightenment and the theories of progress current in European societies in the 19th century.

The Muslim World gets colonized in a major way; the Dutch go to Indonesia, the British to India and later to Malaysia and the Middle East, and the French go to North Africa and West Africa. The colonial presence is a major fact in modern Muslim societies, a fact that has had a major impact on the Muslim faith, practice, and way of life.

The Muslim response to European colonialism took many forms. In the case of the Ottoman Empire, it was Tanzimat, a total modernization of society. This answers your query in part, at least. However, it was too late to modernize and save the Empire.

Another response took the form of nationalism. Nationalism is a limited imagining of the nation, much more limited, let us say, than Christendom or the Muslim ummah. The nationalist movement in the Muslim world led the nation in a struggle against colonialism and led to the creation of several nation-states in the Muslim world. In Indonesia, Sukarno; in Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah; in Turkey, Kemal Ataturk; in Egypt, Jamal Abdul Nasser. Most of these figures were highly charismatic figures, figures who fought for their political independence, but people who were, at the same time, very impressed with the Western notions of democracy, civil society, modernity, etc. Although they fought the political domination of the West, they opted to model their societies according to the Western philosophy of life.


The third major response was Islamic revivalism. One has to consider three types of Islamic revival: Pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. Wahabiyyah in Saudi Arabia is a pre-colonial Islamic movement which reacted to internal Muslim decadence and sought to revive Islamic practices in the light of a strict adherence to Islamic law and theology. To do so, the charismatic figure Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahab allied himself with the Saudi family, which led to the creation of the modern Saudi state as we know it nowadays.

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