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Islam, The Modern World And The West

Islam, The Modern World And The West

Many students are shocked when they realize that modern Euro-American culture is the embodiment of a multi-dimensional world view or belief system that is commonly called "modernism." Some of the beliefs of modernism in comparison to Islam are discussed by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor at George Washington University and one of the foremost scholars of Islam.

One of the most significant political dimensions of modernism was modern Euro-American imperialism. A world renown professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University, Said wrote a highly influential, paradigm shifting book Orientalism [at Amazon.com], which deals with Euro-American imperialism and its distorting influence on the writings of Western scholars about non-Western cultures. Subsequently Said wrote Covering Islam [at Amazon.com], which focuses on how Euro-American scholars and journalists slant what they write about Islam. A recent interview with Said originally published on 27 March 1999 in the International Herald Tribune is Roots of the West's Fear of Islam.

Western attitudes to Islam are portrayed in the scholarly article The Utility of Islamic Imagery in the West, written by Prof. J. A. Progler of City University of New York (CUNY), Brooklyn College and in the excellent readings at the site Imaging Islam and Muslims.

The political significance of Islam is certainly the most important reason why Islam has been occupying center stage in the world consciousness at the outset of the 21st century. One essay published after 9/11 that can provide a useful focus in thinking about the political dimensions of Islam today is Theorizing Islam by Professor Richard Bulliet of Columbia University. This work is among the many informative articles published by the Social Science Research Council (an independent NGO which is probably the chief funding agency for all varieties of social science research in the world) on its website After September 11: Perspectives from the Social Sciences.

The on-line journal ISIM Newsletter, which is produced by the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World at Leiden University is an excellent source containing numerous articles.

Unfortunately, in their writings on Islam, many Western non-Muslims have been motivated not merely by an enlightened desire to understand but rather by desires to dominate and control.

Such desires -- based somewhere between the extremes of lust for Western political and economic domination, on the one hand, and fear of Islamic domination, on the other -- may not always take on the obvious polemical overtones found in some "orientalist" discourse or the in hate/scare-literature distributed by certain Western religious or political groups.

Sometimes, in the writings of today's post-orientalists or neo-orientalists, the anti-Islamic polemic is subtly marshalled by innuendo and by ironic comments, the metatext of which is that "We --I, the scholar, and you my Western readers -- are superior to Islam and Muslims."

Among the various polemics flung by non-Muslims toward Islam are that Islam advocates violence and terrorism, restricts basic human rights, oppresses women, and promotes slavery. In other words, non-Muslims often criticize Islam on the grounds that it advocates beliefs and actions that perpetrate injustices. Nevertheless, Muslims base their beliefs primarily on the Qur'an, and the Qur'an states unequivocally that God does not act in unjust manner (as in the following verses: "... and not one will thy Lord treat with injustice" [Surat al-Kahf (the Cave):49], and "Allah is never unjust in the least degree: if there is any good (done), He doubleth it, and gives from His Own Self a great reward" [Surat an-Nisa (Women):40]). Hence, God cannot have revealed Islam as a force which should impose injustice on people, and Muslims must similarly neither act in an unjust manner nor formulate Islam in unjust manner. Dr. Aziza al-Hibri has concisely summed up this principle, "If something is unjust, it is un-Islamic."

by Prof. Ali Abootalebi, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin. Prof. Abootalebi categorizes recent Islamic movements as fundamentalist or Islamist. The key distinction he makes between the two is that the "Islamist" movements involve "progressive" 'ulama (Muslim scholars) and other intellectuals who see freedom and democracy as important dimensions of an Islamic society. The fundamentalist or traditionalist movements, on the other hand, believe that the 'ulama' should control the direction of the society. After touching on the viewpoints of some of the leaders of Islamic movements, Prof. Abootalebi discusses the issue of "Islam and civil society." He concludes by sketching out the process by which "Islamic" democracies may become established. (Linked fixed, October 10, 1999)

an editorial by Prof. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, briefly expresses the optimistic assessment of a number of scholars that Islamists (Muslim activists and fundamentalists) are becoming and capable of becoming "Islamic Democrats." This was published in Civil Society: Democratization in the Arab World, a publication of the Ibn Khaldoun Center For Development Studies, Vol. 5, #56, August, 1996. (Link fixed, July 14, 2000.)

by Martin Gilbraith, explores the concept of "civil society" and discusses the possibilities for democratization in the Arab world as well as the obstacles to it. Published in Civil Society: Democratization in the Arab World, Volume 5, Issue 58, October 1996. (Link fixed, July 14, 2000.)

Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate is a scholarly article by Professor Heiner Bielefeldt of Tubingen University in Germany. This comprehensive article is from the journal Human Rights Quarterly 17.4 (1995) 587-617.

written by Dr. Fathi Osman, a Muslim thinker living in the US, argues that freedom of expression is a basic human right in Islam. (Link fixed 9 June 2001.)

Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights

which was announced at the International Conference on The Prophet Muhammad and his Message, held in London from 12 to 15 April 1980.

Islam, Exclusivism, and Pluralism

On Pluralism, Intolerance, and the Quran

a scholarly but easily grasped and timely article by Dr. Ali Asani, professor at Harvard University, originally published in The American Scholar volume 71, no. 1 (winter 2002), pp. 52-60.

Islam and Women's Rights

Throughout history, the strong have oppressed the weak, and men have oppressed women. Unfortunately, Muslim men have often not been an exception to this rule. Nevertheless, Muslims assert that in such cases the fault lies not with Islam but rather with the inadequacy of Muslim men. The links compiled here--largely written by Muslim women--contradict the popular but mistaken notion held in the West that Islam is oppressive to women.

Written by the scholars of the "The Wisdom Fund," this page contains useful source material. See also my notes on African-American Islam and slavery.

Islam and Ecology

an on-line article from the scholarly journal, Cross Currents, written by Marjorie Hope and James Young. The bulk of this article is the text of the authors' interview with Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In addition, the authors compare Nasr's viewpoint with that of Thomas Berry, one of today's most significant eco-philosophers.

Islam and AIDS Positive Muslims

a South African based website focusing on the issues facing HIV positive Muslims. Among other points noted on the website are that heterosexual transmission is now the main form of HIV transmission in South Africa and that a number of Muslim scholars ('ulama) are HIV positive.

The National Muslims AIDS Initiative

is a website developed at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York through funding from the Ford Foundation. Among other things this site contains information about the Islamic perception of AIDS prevention and Islamic guidance for Muslims afflicted with AIDS.

Islam, Animation, and Money: the Reception of Disney's Aladdin in Southeast Asia

is a well-documented and nuanced article written by Timothy White and J. E. Winn in the on-line journal KINEMA (Spring, 1995).

Islam, Business, and Economics

The Issue of Riba' (charging interest) in Islamic Faith and Law

is a scholarly article by Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia. society, and democratization. Islam is mentioned in various places throughout the article, but is discussed in particular with regard to the relationship between ethnicity and the vision of contemporary Islamists.

A Liberal Islamic Website by Zeeshan Hasan (BA, Oberlin; MDiv, Harvard), a writer and "theologian at large" from Bangladesh. The site contains his spirited articles on subjects such as Islam and non-violence, feminism, human rights, Islam without Islamic law, logic and religion, sexual ethics, and Islamic economics.

Liberal Islam: Prospects and Challenges

written by Charles Kurzman, Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University (Chapel Hill). Professor Kurzman looks at three general categories of the approaches of Muslim advocates of liberal Islam as well as at various Muslim critiques of liberal Islam. The author's own position expressed implicitly in the article is that of advocacy of liberalism. This article was published online in MERIA, vol. 3, no. 3, September, 1999.

Western Orientalism and Liberal Islam

a lecture delivered at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting in Providence, RI by Abdallah Laroui, Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow, and reprinted from the MESA Bulletin, Vol 31, No. 1, July 1997. (Fixed 28 Oct. 1998; and fixed 5 July 2002)

Progressive Muslims Network Islam and Social Justice Page

Dr. Jihad's Text Files About Islam

consist of a number of online articles by Dr. Jeremiah MacAuliffe, an American convert to Islam.

The Coming Transformation of the Muslim World

Written by Professor Dale Eickelman, a well-respected scholar of the Anthropology and Islam at Dartmouth College, this article was originally a talk given as the 1999 Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs.

Islamic Resurgence: Challenges, Directions & Future Perspectives

is an on-line publication of the edited transcripts of discussions between the well-known Muslim activist Professor Khurshid Ahmad and a number of prominent Western scholars of Islam. Edited by the Muslim scholar Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi, editor of the scholarly journal The Muslim World and professor at The Hartford Seminary, this text provides readers with a well-nuanced and first-hand view of the ideology of contemporary Islamic activism.

Islam in the Modern World: Miscellaneous Sites

Islam in the Modern World

Written by the Muslim scholars of ISL Software, this article includes brief discussions of the situation of the Muslim world after the colonial period, Islamic revival, and education and science in the contemporary Muslim world.

Prince Charles on Islamic Spirituality and the Decline of the West

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