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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."

Adapted from: "Islam, The Modern World And The West"

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