"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How Colonialism Influenced Islam

In the next to the last chapter of No God but God, Reza Aslan briefly discusses the Muslim response to colonialism by sharing stories from India, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  I found this chapter highly interesting and informative and immediately thought how I want others that I know to read this chapter especially! 

The chapter begins with the Indian Revolt.  Can I just say how disgusted I am when a "Christianizing mission" under the guise of "civilizing" a nation takes place so the so-called civilized society can, in reality, steal natural resources from a land and control people?  Yes, there are some practices that are barbaric - that God can change.  And if your heartfelt intention is to share the love of Jesus with people so they can experience the joy and peace of relationship with God, that's one thing.  But do not, do NOT, DO NOT go in with your nation's military, steal the other country's resources, punish the natives harshly for revolting because they don't want you there or force conversions! This is NOT following Christ!  Do not take God's name in vain by calling yourself a Christian and cheapen Jesus' teachings like this! This is why I sometimes separate myself from the Christian label because stealing from others, revenge for revolts and forced conversions are not Christ-like!  At.  All.

Aslan notes, "the violence with which colonial control was reasserted in India forever shattered any illusions of British moral superiority."  This reminded me of talks I've had with my Syrian friend. He admitted how hurt he was when he saw Americans coming into Iraq supposedly to help liberate the people from evil Saddam Hussein only to see them bring in the big bombs which destroyed much in the nation and killed and maimed many thousands of innocent women and children. He said he always thought the Americans were nice people. He'd see our TV shows and he found us likable, funny and friendly so he could not understand why we'd have such a harsh hand amongst his people.  His image of any American evenhandedness and nicety was shattered. He would expect this of their enemy Israel which never makes any pretenses for liking Arabs, but Americans were supposed to be fair and balanced.. and nice, weren't they? 

The author spoke of men such as Sayyid Ahmed Khan who founded the Aligarh School, "the primary goal of which was the revitalization of Islamic glory through modern European education."  Khan wanted to use European rationalism and scientific thought to modernize the Sharia.  He taught his students "to throw off the shackles of the Ulama and their blind imitation (taqlid) of Islamic doctrine, for none of the problems facing Muslims in the modern world could be solved through their antiquated theology."

Chiragh Ali hated how Europeans thought Islamic law was "'essentially rigid and inaccessible to change'" because of how the Ulama had influenced Islam. Chiragh argued the only law was the Quran which "'does not interfere in political questions, nor does it lay down specific rules of conduct.'"

You can image how this kind of thinking went over with the Ulama who were charged with being incompetent and irrelevant!  Essentially these "learned men of God" were being blamed for keeping Muslims from advancing.

The author introduced me to Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani born and raised in Iran.  Al-Afghani had a lifelong hatred of the British and wanted to free Muslim lands from "the yoke of European colonialism, which he considered to be the gravest threat to Islam." For al-Afghani, Islam with it's egalitarian message was the superior civilization and he wanted to unite the Muslim world under its banner.  He also considered the Ulama as having become "the true enemies of Islam." 

Afghani's ideas met with success when he got to know some Turkish reformers.  The Young Ottomans "developed an intriguing reformist agenda based on fusing Western democratic ideals with traditional Islamic principles.  The result was a supernationalist project, commonly referred to as Pan-Islamism."  Its goal was to unite the Ummah under a single caliphate.  The problem with this, however, was Islam was divided along sectarian lines so unity wasn't as easy to come by.  Instead a more "secular countermovement that would replace the ... aspirations of religious unity with the more pragmatic goal of racial unity" was developed - Pan-Arabism.  Pan-Arabism wasn't entirely secular as noted the best pages of Arab history included the rise of Islam from the Arab world with an Arab prophet.  The problem with this Arab unity was... that there is "no such thing as a single Arab ethnicity."  Arabs sometimes cannot even understand other Arabs based on how different their dialects are so this unification was going nowhere fast.

Next on the scene was a young socialist Hasan al-Banna who came to Cairo for higher education.  He noticed the vast difference in the mostly poor common folks as opposed to the country's elite members.  He decided to work for what he referred to as "'the Islamization of society,'" basically bringing equality and social justice.  His Muslim Brothers group dealt with such matters "as the increase of Christian missionary activity in the Muslim world, the rise of Zionism in Palestine, the poverty and political inferiority of Muslim peoples, and the opulence and autocracy of Arab monarchies."  This was not a political movement as much as it was seeking to "reconcile hearts and minds to God so as to alleviate human suffering."  Al-Banna "was convinced that the state could be reformed only by reforming the self."

However when al-Banna's followers were later imprisoned by Colonel Gamal Abd al-Nasser whose "authoritarian rule began to clash with the egalitarian values preached by the Muslim Brothers," al-Banna's movement changed. Instead of changing society by changing self, it became society must be changed by force.

Aslan then talks about Sayyid Qutb who would "come to be known as the father of Islamic radicalism."  Qutb, an Egyptian, came to the United States for a brief time and was "disgusted by what he saw as the country's 'materialistic attitude' and its 'evil and fanatical racial discrimination,' both of which he blamed on the West's compulsion to pull 'religion apart from common life.'"  He came back to Cairo, joined the Muslim Brothers and quickly became a leader who was tortured and imprisoned by his country. There he wrote a book which argued, "'setting up the kingdom of God on earth, and eliminating the kingdom of man, means taking power from the hands of its human usurpers and restoring it to God alone.'"  His views gave rise to a new ideology, Islamism, which "called for the creation of an Islamic state in which the sociopolitical order would be defined solely according to Muslim values."  All secular governments in Muslim lands had to be replaced. If necessary, by force.  Qutb was rearrested and hanged for treason a year after Milestones was published. His followers fled the country for the only place offering refuge to them:  Saudi Arabia.

The brief history shared about Saudi Arabia was intriguing!  Aslan noted how the religious zealot al-Wahhab came to know ibn Saud of the Najd region of  Arabia.  I was amazed to read that the Wahhabis went throughout the land destroying graves - even of their beloved prophet and his family -, looting from the treasury, burning books, outlawing coffee, banning music and flowers from the sacred cities and forcing men to grow beards and women to veil under the penalty of death!  The Ottomans were able to stop these guys, however, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, these nuts regained power thanks to ... the British!!!!!!!! 

Hold your ears while I scream!

So now we have Wahhabi - a horrid strain of Islam - controlling newly formed Saudi Arabia which soon becomes super-wealthy thanks to a gift from God, oil. They export not only oil, but their brand of Islam which has influenced many of those the West is now fighting.

You reap what you sow.

At the end, Aslan declares this current conflict is not between Muslims and the West, rather it's internal. It's Muslims fighting for control of Islam. Just as Christianity took fifteen centuries to decide what it would become, Islam is now entering its fifteenth century.

And since the world now is smaller and more connected, I think we are all along for the ride.


Joni said...

Thanks for sharing Susie, that was really interesting.

I weep for the imperialism of our past. To have an attitude that says that people are not equal, that they are too "primitive" that we'd rape their land of resources. And then wonder why they'd not want to embrace Christ? Sigh.

Susanne said...

Exactly! It's so NOT Jesus.

Thanks for reading and replying. :)

Lat said...

I've read about the peronars you've mentioned along with many others under Muslim Thinkers and Contemporary Political Thouthts.

I remembered once reading a qoute from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu,"When the missionaries came to Africa,they had the Bible and we the land.They said,'let us close our eyes and pray.'when we opened them,we had the Bible and the had the land."

This is what colonialism is about whether it's Islam,Christianity or the secular government.

Suroor said...

Interesting summary, Susie!

Also loved that quote from Lat :)


Susanne said...

Lat, that is so heartbreaking because of its truth! Blah!

Suroor, thanks.

I appreciate your feedback.

Amber said...

I've been enjoying these posts Susanne. It's been such a long time since I read this book I didn't realize how much I've forgotten.

Susanne said...

Oh, thanks, Amber. I was afraid I'd bored you. I like making notes on some things that way I can go back and reread them if needed. I have really learned a lot from this book which I didn't expect to do. (bad me)

Hope you had a very nice weekend!