17 Jan

(Book Review)


Islam and the West (not in its geographical sense but in the sense of its civilizational contours that are altogether different from Islam) have had a queer historical relationship.

Its origins can be easily traced to the crusades and even much earlier. Islam’s inception and growth coincided with the gradual collapse of the Byzantine Empire, and later culminated in the internecine confrontation called Jihad on one side and crusade on the other where the Muslim armies and Christian forces, chiefly consisting of European kings and princes accompanied by missionary zealots saw each at daggers drawn. This confrontation, that lasted for several hundred years, left its vestiges to be carried by the collective unconscious of the West, giving rise to bitter memories to Westerners that still come to the fore occasionally.

Having remained united against Muslim, Western powers faced a unique problem in the twentieth century. The unity of the West disintegrated, resulting in a fierce conflict among the Western states themselves, divided over sub-nationalities and linguistic lines. Though that conflict is still being referred to as the World War I, but there are various grounds which make it tenable to call it a civil war. The war remained restricted to the European continent. Rest of the world was spared of any serious ramifications, apart from the dismantling of the institution of Khilafat of Turks which meant a lot to Muslims throughout the world.

The mid and late twentieth century still saw the bifurcation of the world in two blocks, one being the representative of orthodox Christianity although within the camouflage of Communism and the other of the Catholic version of it.

The internecine warfare between the two blocks however ended on a whimper with the erstwhile Soviet Union disintegrating without much ado, giving rise to a situation which was termed as a uni-polar world where one power, the USA, wielded all power and influence (whether by hook or by crook).

The stark ruffianism that the USA stands for came to be known as a civilization that had to be the end of the history (refer to Fokoyama’s The End of History and the Last Man).

The Clash of Civilizations should be seen in this context where various theories of international relations were afoot to give new orientation to the American foreign policy. That is why some people look at the Clash of Civilizations as the clash among various political theories of international relations within American intelligentsia in nineties.

Whatever the intent, the book was seen as an epoch-making essay that visualized the future of the world lying in major conflicts amongst seven great civilizations of the world. However, the book foresaw the major conflict to be happening between Islam and the West as two distinct civilizations and systems where each one sees the other as the potential threat to its survival.

 The theory was seen at through multiple angles. Some saw it as the exigency of the West for creating an enemy to survive, while others commented that the spirit of crusades was being resurrected. Muslim response to the theory was varied from lukewarm to hot. While marginal intelligentsia condemned it as aberration that was not going to affect the Muslim–West relationship, the mainstream voice was that the book was a roadmap for the West to shape its relations with Islam in twenty-first century. In fact the book fuelled the already strained relations between the two civilizations. There were some moderate voices also who called for a Dialogue among Civilizations.

A potent answer to this book is a long overdue to Muslims. There have been sporadic responses in the form of articles and monographs from some quarters.

One such attempt is the monograph by Muied-uz-Zafar, a researcher with the Iqbal Institute of Kashmir University who has written a scintillating booklet on the topic, relating it to the thought of Iqbal. Carried out under the supervision of the Director of the Institute, the booklet by the budding scholar of Kashmir, justifiably connects Huntington’s theory of the clash of civilizations with Iqbal’s critique of the West.

Though, like every other genius, Iqbal also has his contextual relevance, his critique of the West seems to have outlasted his epoch. Having had performed autopsy on the soul of the Western Civilization, Iqbal had proclaimed Islam and the West as the two poles apart which had nothing in common.

He could visualize the conflict between Islam and the West when there was no such indication, and could perceive the disintegration of the West at that time. The analysis was based on objective assessment and the sound judgment drawn then by a visionary.

There was a dire need to study Iqbal in the twenty-first century in the backdrop of the accentuated conflict between Islam and the West that has, of late, turned bloody. Muied-uz-Zafar has done this job. The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter profiles the broad thesis of the Islam-West conflict as suggested by Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations. However, the chapter has been enriched by incorporating the ideas of Muslim thinkers like Mawlana Mawdudi , Ibn-i Khaldun, Sayyid Qutub Shaheed and Dr. Muhammad Ali Danawi. The second chapter entitled “Western civilization in the light of history” not only gives a historical account of the Western civilization but also provides an overview of the Islam-West relationship in the historical perspective. Giving a brief account of the crusades in the middle ages, Zafar holds that it was a case of stark aggression of a brutal and barbaric (Western) civilization against the cultured civilization of Islam.

He further holds that historically the relationship between Islam and the West has not been that of clash but of cultural aggression on part of the West.

 The third chapter “Western civilization and the current political scenario” traces the origin and sources of the conflictual relations between Islam and the West. The chapter briefly chronicles the developments that led to the existence of Israel.

The chapter also establishes the connection between the illegal intervention of the West and the erstwhile USSR in Muslim affairs and the consequent mess they have turned them into. The author rightly quips that there emerged two chances where Muslims could unit and take a joint stand – Afghanistan and Palestine. The author gives a detailed account of the two gulf wars and the preceding developments that finally led to these wars.

The fourth chapter named “Oriental response to western civilization” discusses various responses to Western onslaught on part of Muslims ranging from Kemalism and rejectionism to reformation.

The fifth chapter “Western civilization in the light of the thought of Iqbal” discusses Iqbal’s critique of the Western civilization. The author starts the chapter with the justification of having chosen Iqbal for the discussion over other equally important thinkers like Jamal al-Din Afghani, Sheikh Muhammad Abduhu, Rashid Rida, Hasn al-Banna, Syed Qutub etc. The author rightly says that Iqbal was the nearest of all in terms of his thought and intellectual rigour to the Western Civilization. The author mentions various verses of Iqbal, envisaging imminent ideological conflict between Islam and West.

However, the author also mentions Iqbal’s analysis of certain spheres of the West being the offshoots of the Islamic spirit. The author thoroughly discusses Iqbal’s views on democracy, nationalism, universal civilization, Ijtihad, education, League of Nations, the jargon that was coined or used in Iqbal’s era and is still in vogue.

The sixth chapter draws some broad and relevant conclusions out of the discussion. The author says that the conflict between Islam and the West is more of an action and reaction relationship than of any real clash. Similarly, the author says that civilizations are both repulsive as well as attractive. The author rejects Huntington’s argument that intensity of interaction among civilizations necessarily leads to conflict. The author cites the case of medieval India where interaction among various civilizations led to the development and enrichment of culture, ideas and knowledge.

The book, by and large, is a good addition to Iqbal studies and can shape its future course. The book is also an attempt to bring out Iqbal studies out of the dull and drab irrelevant topics to more contextual studies. The book makes the reader realize that Iqbal is all the more relevant in our times and would continue to fascinate people in future as well.

(* The reviewer is the Editor English, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages)

(Courtesy: Daily Greater Kashmir, Srinagar, July 16, 2006)

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Posted by on January 17, 2011 in Articles


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