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Muslim World vs. The West

Muslim World vs. The West

The nature of the relation between the West and the Muslim world raises this central questions: Does Islam really threaten the West? Likewise; does the modernized West endanger Islam and its civilization? What should be done to shift the relation between the two sides from confrontation and conflict to cooperation and peaceful co-existence? Studying the relation between the Muslim world and the West entails examining the relation between Islam and Christianity because the West – ideologically – approaches Islam from a Christian-Judaic perspective.

Also the West, from a historical point of view, dealt with Islam in a different way from that with other cultures and nations. The relations between the two sides were characterized by interactions as well as conflict and reactions.

The Crusades led by the West against the Muslim world is considered as a reaction to Muslim control of Spain (Andalusia) for eight centuries.

Also, Orientalism was mainly geared to distort and weaken the Muslim societies in order to pave the way for Western domination. It was aimed at damaging Islamic culture and civilization more than merely endangering the East at large.

The essence of the relationship between the Muslim world and the West nowadays is well manifested in the ideas of Globalization as preached by such theorists as professor Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” (Huntington 1993).

Huntington warned that the most dangerous of the eight civilizations is Islam. These civilizations threaten the West not only in its material interests but its values as well. This misgiving indicates an implicit confession of the powerful Islamic values and culture against weak Western one.

(I): Background

When Westerners deal with Islam, they lean on philosophical thinking. This philosophical and theological thought is a product of three components: the Greek philosophy the Roman heritage, Christianity and Judaism (Fattah 1996).

Greek philosophy is characterized by its scientific and materialistic nature and heretic trend in explaining the existence; the Roman heritage is famous for creativity in the field of laws, administration, political systems, empirical tradition, and personality (emperor) cult; and finally, Christianity and Judaism which tried to give them spiritual and divine taste.

Christianity – by and large – is a pure oriental spiritual heritage. But it is now envisaged as a Western phenomenon (“Christianity”).

However, the West stripped Christianity from its eastern clothing to fit in with the Western thought. Thus, Christianity had to get rid of its oriental clothes and incarnated the Roman and Greek ones.

This situation has been described by a Muslim scholar by saying: Christianity was Romanized, whereas Rome was not Christianized – indicating the distortion of and deviation from the Jesus’ message.

Thus, the message of Jesus Christ had been reduced to a sacred Church, and theological institutions whose administrative systems were established in accordance with the Roman system (Fattah 1996).

Odd traditions and practices had been fashioned which have nothing to do with the original religion such as baptism, making Sunday a sacred day, canceling of circumcision, praying without ablution and introducing the tradition of monks and nuns (Bigovitch 1994).

A new epoch of history started where religion has been separated from politics, and thought from reality, divine from the natural – producing so many dichotomies; whereas in Islam there converge religion, history, nature, science, the present life and the life after.

Islam strikes a balance between all components of life (Fattah 1996). Thus Christianity deviated from the monolithic roots and, hence, lost the common ground that brings it closer to Islam.

Moreover, the spread of the materialistic philosophy in the West has widened the gap between the Muslim world and the West (Fattah 1989). The same concepts, values and perceptions which originated in Europe were taken to the United States of America whose philosophy was built on that European Machiavelli’s in an American flavor known as pragmatism.

This new philosophy which was founded by William James and developed by John Dewey produced ‘instrumentalism’ – a philosophy of pretexts which explains present US foreign policy and political behavior in international relations.

Thus, the West– whether as represented by the secular-materialistic Europe or pragmatic America – deserted religion, values and ethics. This has widened the gap between the West and other religions particularly Islam. This was the first barrier which emerged between the Muslim world and the West.

Also there is another perception held by the modernized West which maintains that the majority of the modernized Christians, and to some extent western Jews, claim that all civilizations should follow the footsteps of the Western course of history since the renaissance (Nasr 1996).

II: The Barriers

The barriers between the West and Islam could by divided into three phases: 1. The old phase: the medieval ages 2. The second phase is renaissance: which includes the Crusades, Orientalism and colonialism. 3. The modern phase: which is the phase of modernization and globalization.

II- (1): Barriers in The Medieval Ages

It is notable that the West’s theological anathema cast against Islam and the crusades that caused great death and destruction; medieval Europe looked with respect upon the only ‘other’ it knew, that is, Islam – its society and civilization.

Open hatred of Islam, both intellectual and theological, really began with the Renaissance which also deplored its own medieval past. It was during this period that the two sister civilizations parted ways.

A new and much more embracing wave of hatred, based upon the religious opposition to Islam in the Middle Ages, was created against all Islamic things, resulting in an attitude of detestation, an air of superiority and apprehension, which have survived sometimes even unconsciously in mainstream Western attitude toward Islam to this day.

Although there is no comparison between the military and material might of the West and that of the Islamic world today (Nasr 1996).

Nonetheless, there are common grounds between the two namely the divine truth. The two civilizations recognize the existence of each other – despite enmities – each has got its own system of values, ethics, culture, political institutions and military strength.

During the medieval ages there had been reciprocal impact between the two cultures. Islamic and Christian philosophers influenced each other.

St. Thomas Aquinas presents a perfect picture of a philosopher whose works are not only influenced by Greek philosophy but also by Islamic philosophy. He learned much from al Farabi’s logical treatise and borrowed much of Ibn Sina’s ontological scheme.

Although he expressed repeatedly that he detested Islam as a religion with the influence of Islamic philosophical thought on much of Aquinas’s writings, the picture that emerges is that of a person who, despite vast religious differences with Islam, nevertheless shared with it a sacred universe and a common language (Aminrazavi 1996).

The common sacred and the universe of the Islamic-Christian religious universe broke down following the end of the medieval period in Europe.

2. Bariars in The Second Phase: Renaissance

With the Reformation and the Renaissance, Europe marginalized religion and thereby determined the social direction toward which Europe would begin its intellectual journey.

With the renaissance Europe ended its common language with Islam. This marked a return to the Greek intellectual world in which man is the only measure of things -a reliance on the humanistic secularism of the Greeks (Aminrazavi 1996). It was a deviation from religion (Christianity). So following the Renaissance the West chose a different intellectual paradigm.

It also changed the language with which it had communicated with other civilizations as well as with its own past. Therefore, in the post-Renaissance era, Muslims and Westerners find very little to agree upon, a condition that has produced a great deal of tension, as noted by P. S. Huntington in his article “The Clash of Civilizations” (Aminrazavi 1996).

The experiences of Reformation and Renaissance have made the West value-free and, therefore, more accepting of the new “isms” than the Muslim societies. Now the two have taken different directions over the last four centuries.

In fact, “the modern secular West is not any more capable of having a discourse with its own fundamentalists and defenders of God than it is of having a discourse with Muslims (Aminrazavi 1996).


About Abdu Mukhtar Musa, Professor of Political Science

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