Islam and the West – Internal Cracks and External Conflicts
Nazeer Ahmed is the Director of the American Institute of Islamic History and
Culture, located at 1160 Ridgemont Place, Concord, CA 94521. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is
a thinker, author, writer, legislator and an academician. Professionally he is
an Engineer and holds several Patents in Engineering. He is the author of
several books; prominent among them is "Islam in Global History." He can be
reached by E-mail:
protests against the cartoons of the Prophet show up not so much a conflict of
civilizations but the growing cracks within the Western and Islamic
civilization is all-mind with no heart. Islamic civilization, which at one time
had both a mind and a heart, has lost its mind and is rapidly losing its heart.
shrinks the world and compresses civilizations into shared space, each
civilization is forced to confront the contradictions within itself. Unable to
do so, the protagonists of each project these contradictions upon the others,
blaming their neighbors for their own flaws, and creating chaos that the world
civilization is sometimes projected as Judeo-Christian. This is historically
incorrect. Religion in the West, more so in Europe than in America, is a façade
on a secular core.
appeared in a crumbling Roman world as a monastic order, challenging the
excessive materialism of the day. It shunned involvement with the decrepit
politics of the times and focused instead on spiritual upliftment. As the
Western Roman empire was overrun by the Visigoths, the mantle of temporal power
shifted to the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) empire based in Constantinople. In the
fourth century, Emperor Constantine made an attempt to integrate church and
state. His attempts were unsuccessful and Christianity remained largely a
religious super-layer on the temporal power of medieval monarchs.
In the eleventh
century, at the onset of the Crusades, parts of Muslim Spain fell to the
Christians. With it, the vast libraries of Toledo became available to the Latin
West. The Christian monarchs set up schools of translation and Greek rational
thought, which had been cultivated and polished by Arab scholars, became
accessible to Europe.
The Latins felt
compelled to reconcile their religious dogma with rational thought but they fell
short in this effort. St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest of the medieval
Christian scholars, concluded: what belongs to Caesar belongs to Caesar and what
belongs to the Church belongs to the Church.
The advent of
humanism in the fifteenth century marked a third major intellectual revolution
in Europe. It was partly a rebellion against the excessive arbitrariness of the
Popes and partly an awakening nourished by the migration of Greek scholars
further west after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans (1453).
man squarely in the driver’s seat in his ongoing struggle to create history. It
cast aside any inhibitions imposed by Church dogma and asserted man’s autonomy
in charting out his own destiny. Reason, not dogma, was to be radar for guiding
Humanism was a
factor in the Protestant revolution. Unshackled from religious inhibitions,
Europe spread its mercantile net around the world, focusing more on profit than
proselytizing. In the eighteenth century it launched the industrial revolution.
Europe used the accrued technological and economic advantages to master the
oceans and colonize much of the world. The technological explosion continues to
this day, hammering with its shock waves the entire globe, transforming in its
wake cultures, languages and nations alike.
The Europe of
today is a creation of humanism, of scientific positivism. It is a child of
Descartes, Newton, Nietzsche and Sartre. It is not a product of Christianity or
Judaism. The sacred is confined to the four walls of the church while the world
outside is abandoned to the profane. Nature, sociology, history, politics and
ethics are all subject to the unbridled dance of the ego on the world stage. The
European civilization is all-mind and no heart. How can the European mind grasp
the deep hurt felt by the Muslim psyche by racist cartoons of the Prophet
civilization is itself at odds with its own soul. Islam burst upon the world in
the seventh century offering mankind an integrated worldview wherein all
creation was sacred. This all-embracing worldview included in its fold politics,
sociology, history and nature. Nothing was left outside of it. As the Prophet
said: All of (the vast) earth is a mosque.
challenge to this integrated worldview came from Greek rationalism. In the
eighth and the ninth centuries, the Mu'tazilites tackled many of the issues of
Islamic beliefs in the light of rational analysis. They fell flat on their face
because of their limited understanding of the mystery of time, on the issues of
before and after, and their proposition that the Qur’an was “created in time”.
Reaction set in, the Mu'tazilites were banished from the Islamic intellectual
landscape and history threw up in its wake the strict Hanbali interpretation of
historical challenge was the destruction wrought by the Mongols in the
thirteenth century. The curtain fell on the classical Islamic civilization when
Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad in 1258 and the Mongol Rasa displaced the Shariah as
the law of the land. In its darkest hour, the resilience of Islam asserted
itself. It renewed itself through tasawwuf. The Sufi shaikhs converted the
Mongols and the succeeding centuries saw the magnificence of the Ottomans, the
Safavids and the Great Moguls.
For more than
three hundred years, circa 1260 to 1600, it was the heart that ruled Islamic
civilization. This age gave birth to monarchs like Sulaiman the Magnificent,
Shah Abbas and the Great Mogul Akbar. It produced the sublime poetry of Rumi and
Hafiz, monuments to love like the Taj Mahal and architectural masterpieces like
the Blue Mosque of Istanbul.
largely as a result of political and religious movements in the Indian
subcontinent, the Sufic age went into decline and was replaced by an increasing
emphasis on jurisprudence. The emperor Aurangzeb of India, Shaikh Abdel Wahab of
Arabia and Osman Don Fudio of Nigeria personified this tilt towards
In the eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries, as Europe pressed its technological advantage,
asserting its political dominance and cornering global economic activity,
intellectual activity in Muslim lands went into a decline. Science and culture
decayed, spirituality declined, old institutions frayed, and the Muslims
increasingly withdrew behind a wall of legal rigidity and fatalistic
mumbo-jumbo. In the twentieth century, spiritual Islam came under an incessant
frontal assault from Western positivism and internal sabotage from Wahhabi
absolutism. The resultant Islam was a caricature of its own self, rituals
without spirit, and a passive spectator in the onward march of history.
are a product of this decline. Lacking the political resources to withstand the
pressures of an overbearing West, or the intellectual stamina to confront their
own past, they react to the needling of the West with the ferocity of an injured
tiger. There is a rage in the Islamic world, fostered by wounds inflicted from
without and from within, which manifests itself in occasional outbursts of
abandoned its religious heritage long ago, continues to snipe at Muslims for not
following its path. In response, Muslims ask: Does an egocentric Europe, which
gave birth to destructive nationalism, fascism, Nazism, the holocaust, and
produced two World Wars, have anything spiritual to offer mankind?
Make no mistake
about it. The cartoons were caricatures. They were racist, offensive and
sacrilegious. They were unnecessary in a day and age when the confluence of
civilizations calls for mutual respect and understanding, not insult and
insinuations. But that is the Muslim perspective.
In the European
perspective, born and bred in a secular, anti-religious historical paradigm, no
activity is sacrilegious. It is the economic value of an act that determines its
utility. The European mind respects money and power, which modern Muslims do not
have. The same publishers, who hide behind a mantra of free speech, dare not
publish similar cartoons about other religious traditions which possess far
greater economic and political clout.
Let the cartoon
episode act as a catalyst for Europe and the Islamic world alike to look inward
at the spiritual dislocations that are a legacy of their own historical
experiences. A United Nations protocol for respect across religious and cultural
lines would help. However, it is only when civilizations learn to confront their
own past will they be able to confront their future and engage in a meaningful
dialogue based on a shared spiritual vision for all mankind and become
co-architects of a shared spiritual destiny.