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Part 2

Gaza: Rejecting Western Concept of “Civilization”

  • West created concept of civilization, using it as objective and instrument of colonization.
  • How Gaza remained steadfast and perennially free by refusing to be “civilized.”

Check Part I: Gaza: The Only “Free” Muslim Territory

Creation of the Concept of “Civilization”

This begs the question of how Muslims have come to this nadir?

The origins of the predicament can be traced to two persons: first, Adam Ferguson (d. 1816) – a Scottish philosopher and historian of the Scottish Enlightenment – who in 1767 published a book titled “An Essay on the History of Civil Society”; and second, Victor de Riqueti Marquis de Mirabeau (d. 1789) – a French economist – who in 1763 published a book titled “Philosophie Rurale.”

What is special about these two individuals and their seminal books is that they were the first in history to coin and articulate the concept of “civilization”. They did so in English and French respectively. 

The new concept of “civilization” signified not only the description of an advanced stage of Western one-dimensional material development but also a direction toward the future. Representing the advancement of Western inclusive social and cultural development as well as organization, civilization became synonymous with material progress, corresponding state of mind, comfort, convenience, and the overall dynamics of the Western standards of living.

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To the West, that was the pinnacle of human evolution. It was the threshold of a terrestrial “promised land” of which all visionaries-cum-romanticists have ever dreamed.

People stood on the verge of the end of history. Whatever the West did was avant-garde, and whatever it said was a revelation. 

Hence, one of Adam Ferguson’s epoch-making statements was these words: “Not only the individual advances from infancy to manhood but the species itself from rudeness to civilization.”

Gaza: Rejecting Western Concept of "Civilization" - About Islam

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Colonization & Civilization

No sooner had the concept of “civilization” been created, than the West started to use it both as an objective and instrument of colonization, which towards the end of the 18th century was in full swing.

The West felt “morally” obliged to take the rest of the world from the abyss of primitiveness and barbarism to the light of “civilization” (i.e., Western values and ways of life). 

Thus, a new concept, the “mission to civilize”, was born. It quickly morphed into the pillar of the “legitimacy” of colonization. In many ways, colonization was civilization and civilization colonization.

They were virtually indistinguishable, oozing the same essence and performing identical functions. To be more precise, though, colonization facilitated the spread of civilization, which in turn, validated colonization.

One of the fathers of the concept of “civilization”, Adam Ferguson, said about this subtle relationship between civilization and colonization: “We are ourselves the supposed standards of politeness and civilization, and where our own features do not appear, we apprehend, that there is nothing which deserves to be known.” 

Also: “And if our rule in measuring degrees of politeness and civilization is to be taken from hence, or from the advancement of commercial arts, we shall be found to have greatly excelled any of the celebrated nations of antiquity.”

The objective of the marriage between colonization and civilization was to force the colonized to embrace – in the name of civilization – the laws, ideas, education, values, culture, socio-political systems, economic systems, language, art, and architecture, of the colonizers, to render the colonized nations predictable and controllable.

The lives of the colonized victims had to be shaped in such a way that the colonizers could know everything about them: how and what they thought, what and how much they had of material and immaterial assets, the level of their expertise plus readiness, and generally all their strengths and weaknesses. 

The colonizers could not afford to be taken by surprise, or to be outdone, concerning any aspect of either colonization or civilization. It goes without saying that colonization spelled physical bondage and civilization its psychological and spiritual equivalents. 

Gaza: Rejecting Western Concept of "Civilization" - About Islam
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About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].