The Crisis of Islamic Civilization

The Crisis of Islamic Civilization

Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Crisis of Islamic Civilization
    Book Description:

    Islam as a religion is central to the lives of over a billion people, but its outer expression as a distinctive civilization has been undergoing a monumental crisis. Buffeted by powerful adverse currents, Islamic civilization today is a shadow of its former self. The most disturbing and possibly fatal of these currents-the imperial expansion of the West into Muslim lands and the blast of modernity that accompanied it-are now compounded by a third giant wave, globalization.

    These forces have increasingly tested Islam and Islamic civilization for validity, adaptability, and the ability to hold on to the loyalty of Muslims, says Ali A. Allawi in his provocative new book. While the faith has proved resilient in the face of these challenges, other aspects of Islamic civilization have atrophied or died, Allawi contends, and Islamic civilization is now undergoing its last crisis.

    The book explores how Islamic civilization began to unravel under colonial rule, as its institutions, laws, and economies were often replaced by inadequate modern equivalents. Allawi also examines the backlash expressed through the increasing religiosity of Muslim societies and the spectacular rise of political Islam and its terrorist offshoots. Assessing the status of each of the building blocks of Islamic civilization, the author concludes that Islamic civilization cannot survive without the vital spirituality that underpinned it in the past. He identifies a key set of principles for moving forward, principles that will surprise some and anger others, yet clearly must be considered.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15885-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. PROLOGUE: The Axes of Islamic Civilization
    (pp. 1-21)

    There is little doubt that the civilization of Islam is undergoing a monumental crisis. In one form or another, this crisis has been going on for well over two hundred years. It still has not worked itself out. Islam as a religion, as a method of worship for millions of believers, is most certainly alive and well. The vitality of the faith is palpable. So is what most people, especially in the West, understand to be Islam nowadays; namely the political and violent manifestations of radical Islam. These are ever present and have caused the rest of the world profound...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Tearing the Fabric
    (pp. 22-40)

    What marks the decline or end of civilization? It is clear that certain civilizations and cultures have irretrievably disappeared from the passage of human history. The Meso-American civilizations of the Maya are a case in point. They collapsed, leaving monuments to their former glory but little else besides.¹ Carthage was physically erased from existence by the punitive acts of a pitiless Rome – ‘Carthago delenda est’, said Cato the Elder, and he meant it.² Most distinct civilizations, however, are either absorbed into more successful ones – frequently through conquest – or continue with their distinct patterns but in a greatly...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Break with the Past
    (pp. 41-62)

    The break from the past experienced in the largest part of the Muslim world led to profound consequences both at the individual and social levels. The challenge of western dominance was not to be met through affirmation of the precepts of traditional civilization, expected to create a gateway into modernity. The weight of apologetic and defensive literature, stressing Islam’s rationality and its support for scientific inquiry, might indicate otherwise. But this was more of an implicit admission of the failures of Islamic civilization to provide an entry into the modern world – as understood in European terms – and therefore...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Counter-Revolt of Islam
    (pp. 63-84)

    The sad dismemberment of Islam’s last universal state, the Ottoman Empire, followed within fifty years by the dissolution of the European colonial empires, completed the transformation of Islam’s political space into nation–states. Even though the mass at large continued to have a powerful affinity with Islam, it was the ruling and mainly secular elites that dominated the new nation–states and their political agendas. Islam was pushed, at least officially, well into the background. By the end of the 1950s, the world of Islam appeared to be well on its way towards entering the final stages of its transformation...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Disenchanting the World
    (pp. 85-108)

    At the beginning of the 1970s, modern urban societies in most Islamic countries had become indistinguishable from their counterparts in other developing countries. Amongst the elites, the wealthy and most of the middle classes, the lifestyles and, increasingly, the mores of the West prevailed. By the end of the decade, however, everything had changed. The world watched the astounding spectacle of hundreds of thousands of men and women, including legions ofchador-wearing women, joining in marches and demonstrations which called for the overthrow of a westernizing shah. Iran under the shah’s autocratic rule was assumed to have joined the irresistible...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Reformations of Islam
    (pp. 109-136)

    The global concern with Islam’s reformation began to emerge at the end of the 1980s. Almost on cue, Islam arose to take the place of the communist bloc in the demonology of the former cold war warriors. The decade of the 1990s was dominated by a growing sense of alarm in most of the world about the threat from politically radical Islam. The return of thousands of Arab fighters to their homelands from the Afghan war set the stage for violent challenges to the status quo in a number of Muslim countries. This was only slightly counter-balanced by concern for...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Territory and Power
    (pp. 137-156)

    The famous ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis glossed over an issue of singular importance. Of all the great civilizations of the world, it was only Islam that had no state ‘champions’ who could act out their role on the global stage. The West was amply championed by the United States as well as by the countries of western Europe, directly or through the EU. The Hindu world was practically contiguous with the sub-continental state of India. Confucianism was coterminous with China. Even orthodoxy was championed by the new Russian state built on the debris of the former Soviet Union. Each of...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Where Next for the Islamic State?
    (pp. 157-185)

    The countries which make up the Muslim world embrace a dizzying variety of governments and state structures – ranging from virtual western democracy to the outer reaches of ideological despotisms and theocratic rule. Nearly all these countries claim allegiance to, or at least respect for, Islam. Some states have enshrined Islam as the sole source of legitimacy and authority of the state; others have assigned Islam a privileged role in the law; while others affirm some religious or cultural affinity to it. With the exception of Turkey and a few central Asian republics, none of these countries has sought to...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Human Rights and Human Duties
    (pp. 186-205)

    The tensions and crises that have punctuated the relationships between Islam and the West in the modern era are between two entirely unequal parties. In the past two decades, Islam has been in the dock of world opinion. It has been obliged to respond to a questioning, and even an indictment, of its values and principles. Islam has been challenged over its contribution to, or encouragement of, the instability, violence and mayhem caused by a few of its adherents. Muslims have been put on the defensive and feel besieged by accusations and obloquy from all quarters. Age-old charges which might...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Wealth and Poverty
    (pp. 206-228)

    The contrast between Islam’s self-image as a historical civilization of fabulous cities, material prosperity and technical sophistication and the bleak impoverishment and backwardness of its present economic realities could not have been starker. The arts of commerce and enterprise were honoured and celebrated in a religion founded by a Prophet who had been a merchant. They centred at first around the mercantile communities of Arabia. Long-distance trade, the commercial partnership, the mutual assurance against merchandise losses, even an original form of the bill of exchange, were all features of Islamic commerce and trade, well before their appearance in medieval Europe....

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Decline of Creativity
    (pp. 229-248)

    Islamic civilization was the preserver and then transmitter of the sciences and philosophies of the ancient Greeks to pre-Renaissance Europe. Many works of the ancient Greek philosophers and natural scientists were translated by scholars, often Arabic-speaking non-Muslims, and absorbed into Islamic civilization. It was in this Arabized and Islamized form that they were then translated in the early Middle Ages into the Latin of Christendom, mainly through the Muslim-dominated but cosmopolitan centres of learning in Spain such as Toledo and Cordoba. The Muslims themselves had independently developed an advanced understanding of the physical and life sciences; they were versed in...

  15. CHAPTER 11 The Last Crisis
    (pp. 249-273)

    For centuries, the civilization of Islam has been buffeted by powerful adverse currents which have succeeded in draining its vitality and have gradually whittled it down to a shadow of its former self. The most disturbing, far-reaching, and possibly fatal of these currents have been the panoply of disruptive forces associated with the imperial expansion of the West into Muslim lands and with the blast of modernity that accompanied it. A third giant wave, that of globalization, different in form from the mainly political and military challenges of the past, is now cresting over the world of Islam. The global...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 274-291)
  17. Index
    (pp. 292-306)