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MODERNISM. Islamic modernists advocate flexible, continuous reinterpretation of Islam so that Muslims may develop institutions of education, law, and politics suitable to modern conditions. Modernizing tendencies appeared in the last decades of the nineteenth century in response to westernizing regimes and European rule. Elite Muslim culture was evolving into separate westernized and traditional spheres that modernists sought to unify. To validate their reexamination of Islam’s sources among traditionalists, Muslim modernists declared that modernism constituted a return to true Islam as originally preached and practiced, a claim put forth by many reform movements throughout Islamic history. Modernism’s distinction among such movements lies in the philosophical and political liberalism displayed by its expositors, in contrast to the tendency in late-twentieth-century Islamist discourse to regard liberalism as alien to Islam. To win the support of Muslims attracted to Western culture, modernists argued that the recovery of true Islam would generate the requisite dynamism needed to restore Muslim societies to an honored place in the world. Modernism, then, begins with the assumption widely held by nineteenth- and twentieth-century Muslims that the Muslim world had become backward in relation to the West and that in order to restore equilibrium between the two societies, it was necessary to adapt the practices, institutions, and artifacts associated with European power to an Islamic milieu.

Such adaptation began in Egypt and the Ottoman Empire during the first half of the nineteenth century. In the 1860s, some Muslims objected to the inclusion of manners and customs in the inventory of items borrowed from Europe. Such Muslims anticipated that indiscriminate imitation of Europe would lead to Western culture supplanting Muslim culture and to the erasure of Islam. These Muslims argued for a more judicious selection of features to be adopted, for distinguishing between the kernel of modern practices and the husk of Western culture. They held that the scientific and technological underpinnings of European power were reducible to categories of knowledge and practice that Muslims could learn without damaging Islam’s integrity. Moreover, these modernists asserted that modern European science had developed on the basis of classical Islamic learning transmitted to Europe through Muslim Spain. Therefore, were Muslims to learn modern sciences, they would reclaim their own heritage.

This reference to Islam’s Golden Age of learning is related to another element in modernist thought, namely, the revival of Islam’s rationalist philosophical tradition, which distinguished between knowledge attained from revelation and knowledge acquired through the exercise of reason. Since Islamic beliefs and practices derived from revelation, they could not clash with any conclusions acquired through rational thought. One strain within modernism even asserted that revealed knowledge is essentially rational, that is, it could be attained by the exercise of reason.

Modernists authenticated their ideas with yet another appeal to Islamic history by claiming to return to Islam’s original principles. In this respect they were putting their own stamp on the eighteenth-century tendency to emphasize strict adherence to beliefs and practices as defined by scripture: the Qur’an and the sunnah. Early modern scripturalist movements included the Wahhabis in Arabia, Shah Wall Allah’s circle in India, and reformist Sufi orders throughout the Muslim world. In modernist hands, the scriptural orientation legitimized criticism of current beliefs and practices as deviations from the pristine Islam of al-salaf al-salih (the pious ancestors).

The earliest formulations of Islamic modernism issued from Egypt and the Ottoman Empire, the first Muslim lands to initiate reforms of bureaucratic and military institutions along European lines. In the 1860s Rifa’ah Rafi` al-Tahtawi (1801-1873), a leading Egyptian education official, restated classical Islamic philosophy’s view on the complementary relationship between reason and revelation, thereby giving Islamic sanction to the study of European sciences, the striving for technological progress, and the rationalization of government institutions for the sake of advancing society. Al-Tahtawi also wrote that Muslims who studied modern science and technology would be retrieving knowledge Arabs had imparted to Europe centuries earlier. With respect to Islamic law, he urged religious scholars to exercise ijtihdd (independent reasoning) in order to adapt religious law to changing conditions. Furthermore, al-Tahtawi called for educational reform, in particular the provision of primary education for all boys and girls. He argued that educating girls would benefit society, because educated women would be more suitable wives and better mothers, and they would contribute to economic production.

In North Africa Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi’s (1810-1889) position as a high minister in the reforming autonomous regime of Tunisia during the 1870s was comparable to al-Tahtawi’s in Egypt. In 1875 Khayr al-Din established Sadiqi College, one of the first schools to combine Islamic and modern scientific topics. Its graduates provided the core of Tunisia’s small modernist movement for the next few decades. In addition, Khayr al-Din introduced liberal political thought to modernism by claiming that parliamentary government and a free press accorded with Islam.

While Khayr al-Din and al-Tahtawi advanced modernist ideas as high officials in modernizing states, the modernist movement known as the Young Ottomans in Istanbul represented lower-level bureaucrats. The Ottoman movement to rationalize bureaucratic and military institutions, known as the Tanzimat (1839-1876), was dominated by h handful of high-ranking officials. The Young Ottomans agreed with the Tanzimat programs designed to rationalize administration in order to enable the Ottoman Empire to fend off European encroachments, but they objected to high officials’ adoption of Western manners. In the late 1860s, the Young Ottomans called for a liberal political regime similar to European constitutional monarchies that limited sovereigns’ powers with elected parliaments. Given their opposition to wholesale adoption of European ways, the Young Ottomans justified the introduction of liberal political principles by claiming that they were part of Islam. Thus, their leading writer, Mehmet Namik Kemal (1840-1888), interpreted the Islamic concepts of shura (consultation) and bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to mean an elected parliament and popular sovereignty. [See also Young Ottomans; Tanzimat; and the biography of Kemal. ]

Modernist ideas were taken up by men outside official circles in the Ottoman Empire’s Arab provinces toward the end of the nineteenth century. In Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad a handful of progressive religious scholars (Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi [1866-1914], Their al-Jaza’iri [1852-1920], `Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi [1867-1956], and Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi [1857-1924]) called for educational and legal reform, upheld the compatibility of Islam and reason, and favored a liberal political system in terms similar to those laid out by the Young Ottomans. The major impetus for modernism in these circles was alarm at the marginalization of religious scholars in the new Ottoman order. Their aim was to demonstrate the relevance of their expertise in Islamic law to a modernizing Ottoman state.

Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1897) brought to modernism a new sense of activism and political resistance to European domination. Born in Iran, he did not belong to any Muslim state’s reformist bureaucracy or to a local corps of religious scholars: rather, he restlessly roamed from India to Istanbul spreading his call for an activist ethos and a positive attitude to modern science. Like al-Tahtawi, al-Afghani drew on classical Islamic philosophy and promoted its revival to open Muslims’ minds to the necessity of acquiring modern knowledge. His chief contribution to modernism was to imbue it with an anti-imperialist strain, because he lived during an era when European armies were conquering Muslim lands from Tunisia to Central Asia. To combat European aggression, Muslims had to shake off fatalistic attitudes and embrace an activist ethos, individually and collectively. This voluntaristic spirit became characteristic of modernism in the assertion that Muslims must take responsibility for their own welfare rather than passively accept foreign domination as a fate decreed by God. Al-Afghani succeeded in spreading his views and reputation through political journalism and teaching, but he failed in his bids to gain influence over Muslim rulers. Without an organized base or institutional backing, his conspiratorial approach to political agitation proved fruitless. [See the biography of Afghdni.]

Islamic modernism underwent its richest development in a Middle Eastern context at the hands of al-Afghani’s Egyptian disciple Muhammad `Abduh (1849-1905). His formulations of modernist thought in the fields of law, education, and theology provided the intellectual bases for modernist trends throughout the Muslim world. `Abduh believed that European wealth and power stemmed from achievements in education and science. Consequently, Muslims could overcome European domination only by promoting a positive attitude to modern learning and its application in society. A few years after Great Britain occupied Egypt in 1882, his gradualist approach gained the support of British authorities, who secured his appointment to official positions to promote educational and legal reform. In his capacity as rector of al-Azhar (the Arab world’s most prestigious center of Islamic learning), `Abduh attempted to bring together customary religious education and modern learning, but his opponents thwarted him. His theological writings asserted the harmony of reason and Islam, demonstrating that all rational knowledge, including modern science, accords with Islam. To substantiate this view, `Abduh’s Qur’anic exegesis claimed that the Qur’an anticipated modern scientific knowledge: for instance, the prohibition of alcohol accords with modern medicine’s conclusions about alcohol’s damaging effects on health. As for such classic Islamic theological issues as the nature of God and His attributes, `Abduh discouraged speculation, because their subject lay beyond the limits of rational comprehension. In the legal sphere, where `Abduh served as chief jurisprudent (mufti) of Egypt, he flexibly interpreted Islamic law to show that Muslims could adapt to modern circumstances and still remain true to their faith. [See the biography of `Abduh.]

`Abduh’s thought contained a tension between scrupulous adherence to the authority of religion and a willingness to accommodate to the demands of modernity. The generation of Muslims in Egypt influenced by `Abduh tended to emphasize one or another of these elements. Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935), who came to Egypt from Syria in 1897 to join `Abduh’s reformist circle, developed the religious element in his influential journal, Al-manor. In the first three decades of the twentieth century, Egypt’s political and cultural elites leaned toward secularism, as they sought to separate religion from politics. Rashid Rida reacted by reinforcing scriptural authority, thereby safeguarding the integrity of Islam. He particularly sought to demonstrate the suitability of Islamic law to modern government, and he stressed the reform of religious practices and beliefs. Most of `Abduh’s disciples (lawyers, teachers, and government officials), however, traveled down the path to secularism, bending their interpretation of Islam to demonstrate its compatibility with modern life. It seems as though this split stemmed from opposing sources of authority: Islamic scripture and the exigencies of modern life. A second source for this split lay in modernists’ call for a return to the way of the first generation of Muslims, the salaf. Modernists validated their views by calling for a return to Islam’s scriptural sources, the Qur’an and the sunnah. For Rashid Rida, this meant close study of those sources to define a core of concepts that would safeguard Islam’s integrity. This method, however, gave secularists license to interpret the sources to suit their liberal temperament. Hence, in 1925 `Ali `Abd al-Raziq (1888-1966) cited scripture to justify Turkey’s abolition of the caliphate and the separation of religion and politics. Islamic scripture contains enough general statements and ambiguities to allow for both secular and religious interpretations. [See the biographies of Rashid Rida and `Abd al-Raziq.]

As in the Middle East, Muslims in India confronted European domination, which became virtually complete when Great Britain abolished the Mughal dynasty following the 1857 Revolt. A second impetus to modernism in India lay in missionaries’ criticisms of Islam, which led to a tradition of public debates between missionaries and Muslim scholars. Indian modernism emerged in full bloom in the works of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), who aimed to convince the British to overcome their distrust of Muslims in the wake of the 1857 Revolt and to persuade Muslims to open their minds to Western ideas. Ahmad Khan argued that Islam’s teachings concerning God, the Prophet, and the Qur’an are compatible with modern science, which involves discovery of “the work of God” in natural laws. Since God is the author of both natural laws and the Qur’an, the two exist in harmony. In general, Ahmad Khan would bend the meaning of scripture to suit the conclusions of reason to a greater extent than `Abduh, who often declared that only God knows the truth when reason and revelation appeared to conflict.

Ahmad Khan’s major achievement was the establishment in 1875 of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, which was intended to train Muslims for government service, thereby restoring them to the roles they filled in Mughal times as administrators and officials. Because Ahmad Khan’s religious ideas were so controversial, however, the task of teaching Islamic subjects was entrusted to more orthodox scholars, and the desired blend of modern learning with a modernist religious orientation did not emerge. Other Aligarh modernists introduced `Abduh’s and Rashid Rida’s writings to the curriculum, worked for the flexible interpretation of Islamic law, and advocated improvements in women’s status in matters of education, veiling, seclusion, and marriage. [See Aligarh and the biography of Ahmad Khan.]

In the first half of the twentieth century, Indian modernists had to face the question of how to sustain the Muslim community under a non-Muslim regime, be it the existing British one or an envisioned Hindu majority state. One group, led by Muhammad Iqbal (18751938), argued that Indian Muslims comprise a distinct nation and must live in a Muslim state. Followers of this view struggled for the creation of Pakistan as a separate Muslim polity. The other group, whose spokesman was Abu al-Kalam Azad (1888-1958), held that Muslims should join with Hindus to combat British rule and struggle for a unified, composite nation. Although this fundamental issue divided them, both groups interpreted the juridical concept of ijma` (consensus) to indicate that whether Muslims form a separate state or live in a Hindu majority state, they should live under a democracy. [See the biographies of Iqbal and Azad.]

Indonesia, at the eastern end of the Muslim world, gradually came under Dutch rule during the nineteenth century. Once again European domination and missionary activities stimulated rethinking among Muslims, and a modernist movement emerged. In addition, more regular steamship service to the Middle East increased the flow of Indonesian Muslims traveling for pilgrimage and study. On their return, many Indonesians brought with them the new reformist teachings circulating in Cairo and Mecca. Indonesia’s most important modernist movement, the Muhammadiyah, was founded in 1912 in Jogjakarta by Hadji Ahmad Dahlan (1868-1923), who had resided in Egypt during the 1890s and met Muhammad `Abduh. He resembled `Abduh and Ahmad Khan in avoiding involvement in nationalist politics in order to avoid suppression by colonial authorities. The Muhammadiyah established a network of modernist schools to combine instruction in religion and modern sciences. To demonstrate support for improving women’s status, it set up schools for girls. The Muhammadiyah also advocated legal reform through a return to the Qur’an and the sunnah and the exercise of ijtihad. Because Indonesian Islam confronted local animist and

Hindu traditions that survived among nominal Muslims, the Muhammadiyah tended over time to focus more on purifying religious practices and beliefs than on spreading modernist interpretations. [See Muhammadiyah.]

Around the turn of the twentieth century, modernists in Egypt, India, and Indonesia accommodated themselves to European rule because of their conviction that it was futile to seek independence until Muslims had thoroughly assimilated true Islam. Nationalists in each land would accuse the modernists of compromising with European powers and thereby prolonging foreign rule. This criticism cost the modernists dearly in the contest to influence popular opinion. In the first half of the twentieth century, nationalist forces grew stronger and eclipsed modernist influence. In large measure, modernism’s limitations stemmed from its character as an elitist intellectual response to Western power, whereas nationalists used symbols and rhetoric designed to appeal to a broader spectrum of society.

After the achievement of independence, fundamentalism emerged to pose yet another challenge to modernism, because, like nationalism, fundamentalist ideas have greater popular appeal than those of modernism. This problem for modernism has appeared in Iran quite vividly in recent years. In the nineteenth century, Iran experienced neither a modernizing state nor direct European rule, the main stimuli to modernism in other Muslim lands. Rather, modernism emerged in the twentieth century in response to a despotic secularizing regime bent on importing Western culture. Iran’s leading modernist is Mehdi Bazargan (b. 1907), who founded the Liberation Movement of Iran in 1963. He tried to reconcile his nation’s westernized and traditional religious cultures by bringing the former back to Islam and introducing the latter to modern science. Like modernists elsewhere, Bazargan and his associate Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani (1912-1979) called for a return to the Qur’an, sought to demonstrate Islam’s compatibility with modern science, and tried to inculcate the activist ethos. In response to the Pahlavi dynasty’s despotism, the Liberation Movement of Iran argued for a liberal polity with an Islamic character. In the tumult of the Iranian revolution of 1978-1979 Bazargan and his allies tried to provide a bridge between the religious-minded followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the secular nationalist opponents of the Pahlavi dynasty. In the revolutionary regime’s second year, however, the clerical fundamentalists toppled Bazargan and thereafter relegated the modernists to the margins of Iranian politics. [See Liberation Movement of Iran and the biographies of Bazargan and Taleqani.]

Modernism, then, has failed to extend its appeal beyond intellectual elites, whose advocacy of liberal ideas is portrayed by fundamentalists as a sign of infatuation with the West. By contrast, fundamentalists hold that Muslims need not look to the West for solutions to their problems. Nonetheless, modernist ideas survive among contemporary thinkers who hold that exercising independent reasoning in legal matters would lend Islamic law to flexible interpretation according to changing circumstances. Another enduring modernist notion is that public maslahah (public welfare) is the general principle that guides the evolution of Islamic law. Legal reform along lines advocated by the modernists has achieved modest results in laws affecting the status of women in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The educational strain in modernism has prevailed in gradually bringing a degree of modern learning to some religious schools, such as Egypt’s prestigious al-Azhar. However, the modernist education agenda in Pakistan succumbed to pressures from conservative quarters. In the view of Fazlur Rahman (1919-1988), a leading contemporary modernist who lost the battle for educational modernism in Pakistan, the integration of Islam with modern scientific education has not yet taken place. Rahman also believed that Islamic theology required a new formulation. Perhaps theological modernism has received less emphasis in recent years because of a decline in missionary attacks on Islam and because of a decline in fatalistic attitudes that nineteenth-century modernists felt compelled to combat. Rahman’s work indicates that in the last decade of the twentieth century modernism is alive among Muslim thinkers but not widely influential in Muslim societies. [See the biography of Rahman.]


Adams, Charles C. Islam and Modernism in Egypt. Reprint, New York, 1968. Classic study of the lives, work, and thought of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad `Abduh, Rashid Rida, and Egyptian modernists of the 1920s. Originally published in 1933, its account of al-Afghani’s early years has been revised by later scholarship.

Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan, 1857-196¢. London, 1967. Outstanding survey; examines the thought of Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, Abu al-Kalam Azad, and other leading modernists.

Boullata, Kemal. Trends and Issues in Contemporary Arab Thought. Albany, N.Y., 1990. Although not specifically devoted to Islamic modernism, its discussion of debates over the Arab heritage, Islam, and women’s status reveals the continued relevance of modernists’ ideas and the problems they confronted.

Chehabi, H. E. Iranian Politics and Religious-Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca, N.Y., 1990. Study of Mehdi Bazargan and Mahmud Taleqani’s movement for a liberal, modern application of Islam in contemporary Iran. Briefly describes the movement’s intellectual positions and dwells at length on its political activities.

Commins, David. Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria. New York, 1990. Study of the modernist trend in Damascus, its political fortunes, and its traditionalist opponents.

Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin, 1982. Excellent work. Considers both Sunni and Shi`i thinkers who have grappled with nationalism, democracy, socialism, and the nature of the Islamic state. Encompasses both modernist and fundamentalist trends.

Gibb, H. A. R. Modern Trends in Islam. Chicago, 1947. Engaged, critical analysis of al-Afghani, `Abduh, Ahmad Khan, Iqbal, and others from an avowedly Christian perspective.

Green, Arnold H. The Tunisian Ulama, 1873-1915: Social Structure and Responses to Ideological Currents. Leiden, 1978. Outstanding English-language monograph on religious trends during this period in a North African setting.

Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939 Rev. ed. London, 1967. The best single examination of religious, nationalist, and secularist trends. Includes sections on Tahtawi, Khayr alDin al-Tunisi, al-Afghani, `Abduh, and Rashid Rida.

Keddie, Nikki R. An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din “al-Afghani.” Rev. ed. Berkeley, 1983. The best introduction to al-Afghani’s life and thought by the author of his definitive biography. Translations of four Persian texts, an Arabic text, and a French text.

Kerr, Malcolm H. Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Rida. Berkeley, 1966. For those interested in a detailed and critical examination of theological, political, and legal doctrines. Difficult for the general reader.

Lelyveld, David. Aligarh’s First Generation. Princeton, 1978. Rich and engaging study of India’s leading modernist Muslim institution of higher learning. Integrates social, cultural, and intellectual history.

Mardin, Serif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought. Princeton, 1962. Classic work on this small but highly influential circle. Noer, Deliar. The Modernist Muslim Movement in Indonesia, 1900-1942. London, 1973. Comprehensive study of the social, intellectual, and political dimensions of modernism, and the reactions to it of traditional Muslims and the Dutch.

Peacock, James L. Purifying the Faith: The Muhammadijah Movement in Indonesian Islam. Menlo Park, Calif., 1978. Social anthropologist’s account of the movement’s history, current activities, and cultural significance.

Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition. Chicago, 1982. The best recent survey of Islamic modernism by an engaged participant who not only criticizes the movement’s shortcomings but advances a methodology for modernist education and legal reform.

Troll, Christian W. Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology. New Delhi, 1978. Briefly reviews Ahmad Khan’s life and provides a detailed discussion of his thought. Includes translations of sixteen texts from the Urdu.


MODERNIZATION AND DEVELOPMENT. Contemporary intellectual concepts with roots in the Western Enlightenment and denoting both ideological and socioeconomic processes, the concepts “modernization” and “development” have been subject to critique by theorists and scholars of the Islamic revival as part of an anti-imperialist project. The underlying assumptions of modernization-secularism, materialism, individualism, and a commitment to progress through science and technology-formed the core of Western intellectual polemic against Islam and the intellectual justification for Western political domination of Muslims. Likewise, development, defined as the control of nature for the benefit of man, proceeded according to principles of liberal market forces, leading inevitably to secular and individualist political outcomes.

Decolonization and the post-1945 political independence of Muslim countries has been characterized by the replacement of this fairly overt liberal economic and political agenda by either the equally overt one of Western socialism, or the implicit one of Western social science. The ideas of Western socialism have been variously reconceived as Arab or Islamic socialism, or Ba’thism. The tenets of these reformulations are derived from the European Enlightenment principles of materialism and rationalism, as well as the Marxist concept of class consciousness. Islamic development is here argued to be superior to Western forms of capitalism and socialism because it attends to both spiritual and material needs, and more effectively addresses the problem of equity (Kurshid Ahmad, “Economic Development in an Islamic Framework,” in Ahmad, 1980).

Western social science has codified liberal Enlightenment principles in the technocratic discourse of modernization and development, and, until the 1970s, unquestioningly assumed the objectivity of its methods and universality of its application. An economic model of development, in which the increasing concentration of capital, investment, and productivity would improve the condition of all classes, was combined with a pluralist model of political enfranchisement, in which individuals would speak through the formal apparatus of liberal bourgeois democracy. Islamic societies were thus analyzed by Westerners through this economistic lens and their “needs” judged accordingly.

The social science literature has had important policy implications for both foreign economic assistance and development planning in Muslim countries. The materialist and individualist assumptions of the Enlightenment-derived “science of economics” governed the allocation of foreign aid until the 1970s. At that time, following on the radical upheavals of the sixties and in the face of a profound challenge to, among other things, notions of corporatism and scientific expertise, Western elites were forced to reevaluate economic and social policies vis-a-vis the domestic populations of their own countries and those deployed in their relations with the Third World. This is reflected in the shift from technocratic economism to “basic needs” policies, in which attention was directed toward greater economic benefits for lower-income groups and attempts were made to foster more inclusive political participation. But this interlude in the domination of Western classical economics has been followed in the 1980s and 1990s by a return to laissez-faire doctrine. The new orthodoxy, with its reverence for market forces, economic competition, and individual decision making, has been accompanied by an ideological commitment to democratization. However, “democracy,” as envisioned by the new technocrats, may be criticized as an effort to substitute political equality in the Western liberal mode for economic equity through the management of the more dislocating effects of market forces.

The earlier, implicit, normative judgments of Western “scientific” social science regarding political pluralism, individual political participation, and government accountability, have now become explicit. Whereas the former, mutually enforcing relationship between scholarly and public policy approaches to modernization and development was covert and even denied, in the 1980s and 1990s it has become explicit and acknowledged, even celebrated. Intellectual efforts are now directed to the examination of what is termed “civil society,” in order to determine the potential for democracy in Middle Eastern states (Norton, 1993). Scholars and U.S. foreign policy makers alike now collaborate in a common endeavor to identify and encourage the democratization of Muslim societies within the framework of marketdriven capitalism.

The foregoing constitutes a critical view of a generally acknowledged phenomenon. What has not been sufficiently recognized is that, beginning in the 1970s, Western social science has begun to be modified and adapted to the realities of Middle Eastern society by an intellectually sophisticated and talented generation of indigenous scholars and researchers. (See, for instance, Mustapha Kamal al-Sayyid, “A Civil Society in Egypt,” and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Crises, Elites, and Democratization in the Arab World,” in Norton, 1993, and Binder, 1988). The dominant social science interpretations of modernization and development, however, have been subjected to an even more powerful challenge from indigenous Islamic forces, coinciding with the Islamic revival from the mid-1960s onward. The contemporary Islamic response to Western intrusion is not without historical precedent. From the time of the French Expedition to Egypt in the early 1800s, Muslims have resisted political, economic, and intellectual penetration by the West. These earlier struggles were, however, defensive in character, intended literally to safeguard and maintain the social and political positions of the `ulama’, or they assumed an apologetic tone, arguing that Islam had anticipated modernity and development. The recent revival of Islam may be traced, in part, to the 1967 military defeat of Egypt, which was viewed as a message from God and galvanized Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Because the Egyptian `ulama’, were virtually exhausted by the 1960s, the Islamic revival took on a populist character from its inception.

The contemporary Islamic revival has both majoritarian centrist and minority radical-oppositional factions. Advocates of an Islamic approach to development are now almost entirely identified with the former position, even though at one time some of them, including Sayyid Qutb, Sayyid Abu al-A’la Mawdudi, and Hasan alTurabi, were counted among the opposition. Their presence in the contemporary mainstream is an indication of the ideological success of the Islamic revival, even though its political agenda remains to be played out.

The revival has had two effects on the conceptualization of modernization and development. The first, and more significant, one has been a general claim by Islamic theorists as varied as Mawdudi (Pakistan), `Ali Shari’ati (Iran), and Qutb (Egypt) that modernization and development, or at least the latter, are in fact universal concepts that belong in effect to the age, not to the West alone. The ideas of the Islamic theorists are, consequently, less revolutionary than reformist. Structurally, the Islamic revival has occurred within already established nominally Muslim states, with the single exception of Iran. It is therefore not so much regime transforming as it is regime reforming. Moreover, in the theoretical writings of the revival related to issues of development, the criticism of the West is less polemical. This is both a reflection of the purpose of such writings-guiding fellow Muslims to religious awarenessand an intellectual self-confidence that is contributing to the creation of dialogue rather than confrontation. This dialogue is occurring between Islamic theorists and more secular Middle Eastern leaderships, as well as between Islamic and Western theorists.

In general, however, Islamic scholars dismiss the concept of modernization as being intrinsically Western ethnocentric. Thus it is argued that the criteria of modernization, particularly secularism, are peculiar to Western advanced industrial societies. In other words, modernization is equivalent to westernization itself, therefore politically and culturally unacceptable in an Islamic context (Al-Buraey, 1985). The tendency of Western theorists to emphasize the criteria of modernization further exacerbates the negative view of the concept.

Development, on the other hand, is considered a more flexible concept, containing within it a teleological dimension that permits an Islamist reformulation (Ahmad, 198o). But the Western definition of development is also treated critically, for reasons given by an American Muslim: “By concerning itself with `process’ and denying every teleological representation of reality, Western `development’ has turned man into a `moment’ of and within the cosmic process, rootless, anchorless, and destinationless. Development created a narcissistic exercise and invented an epistemology and science theory to explain and justify his predicament” (Isma’il R. al-Faruqi, Foreword to Islam and Development, 1977).

In their reconceptions of development, Islamic theorists have stressed the linkage between spiritual development and material improvement. The Qur’an provides support in such passages as: “God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own inner selves” (surah 13.11; see Chapra, 1992, p. 197). Development is God’s work, and His reward for spiritual improvement. Qutb makes this point generally when he lays out a three-phase process of development, beginning with the spiritual cultivation (tazkiyah) of the good side of man, which simultaneously creates self-discipline against evil. This contributes to his wellbeing, or falah (Chapra, 1992). Development then proceeds on a political front, to build the community of believers (ummah) within which good is pursued and evil is forbidden. Finally, since man lives in family and social networks, social reform is required. Qutb then specifically begins to approach material development when he quotes the Qur’an to the effect that, although the “earth is subservient to you,” a balance must be sought between individual gain and the welfare of society (Sayyid Qutb, “The Islamic Stages of Development,” in Islam and Development, 1977).

These themes are supported by other scholars writing from a more technical perspective. Chapra notes that the teleology of Islamic development begins with the goals of revealed religious law (maqasid al-shad `ah), that is, the goals of God as expressed concretely in legal form (Chapra, 1992). It is the recognition of this relation between development and revelation that lies behind the insistent demand for the institution of shari`ah law: there can be no economic progress until religious goals are institutionalized.

Development is also related to the theological imperative of unity, or tawhid. The term refers to the belief in the oneness of God as well as the oneness of existence with God, which suggests the organic solidarity, or corporatism (takafuliyah), of Islamic society (Cantori, 1990. The identification of God and society means that the needs of society must take precedence over those of the individual, that the collectivity of man is represented by the community of believers (ummah). Individuals are related to the organic whole by the concept of khilafah, or the vicegerency of the individual as the expression of God on earth, constituting the brotherhood of man in the sharing of this vicegerency. Accordingly, man is the custodian (amin) of God’s resources, meaning, in development terms, economic resources. Thus, individuals may acquire wealth in a capitalist fashion, but only with the understanding that such wealth does not belong to them, but to God.

The principle of `adalah, or justice, conditions the acquisition of wealth. Not only is the accumulation of capital part of the management of God’s resources, but the individual must also be committed to the elimination of zulm, or inequity. Wealth must be produced from a respectable source with the employment of skill and as a reward for risk taking, but such accumulation is accompanied by a requirement to attend to the basic needs of those less fortunate. These needs are met through the provision of zakdt, or alms, dispensed by individuals through the family and neighborhood, rather than the state. The individual is thus free to pursue wealth and hence develop society because of his service to or representativeness of God and his responsibility to Him. Family and neighborhood are the basis of the social solidarity, or corporativeness, of Islamic society, achieved via two concepts that, taken together, bind society to the state. These concepts, in turn, are related to an Islamic view of political development, or what might be termed Islamic democracy. The first is that of shura, or consultation. Political authority is to be exercised through a consultative process with those governed. In theory, and to a significant extent in practice, consultation is accomplished by representatives of constituent groups such as the `ulama’, professionals, businessmen, landowners, and leaders of trade unions (Javid Iqbal, “Democracy and the Modern Islamic State,” in Esposito, 1983). Consultation may be extended more popularly through an elected parliament, but deliberation and consultation must characterize its proceedings, not divisiveness and contestation (Hasan al-Turabi, “The Islamic State,” and Javid Iqbal, “Democracy and the Modern Islamic State,” in Esposito, 1983).

The second concept binding society to the state is that of bay’ah. While the term essentially means allegiance, or even obedience, it also connotes agreement in the selection of a leader and a contract between leaders and followers (Osman, 1986). As a rhetorical device, bay`ah, in its latter connotations, may serve to legitimize a leader or a regime. More speculatively, it suggests that elections, especially presidential, are really plebiscitary in nature and not a matter of exercising political choice. What is being sought in elections is legitimacy and approval, with less consideration given to removing one political leader or expressing preference for another. Democratic practice in the Muslim world is characterized less by contentious competition among groups seeking to capture the citadels of political power, as in Western civil societies, than by disciplined deliberations within the framework of Islamic development. Sovereignty in Islamic democracy rests with God and not the individual.

All of this suggests that the role of the state in Islamic development is a minimal one. Traditionally, the state was responsible for the maintenance of order and the collection of taxes. The state (dawlah) and the ruler are also the khilafah, or vicegerency, of God on earth. Thus, maintaining order involves upholding and enforcing His law and in general supporting and assisting the ummah in meeting its spiritual needs. But although the limited role of the state accords with the ethos of Islamic capitalism, it is also the case that the state is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of social and economic justice (`adalah). The Islamic theory of development is thus a conservative theory in its greater priority given to the revelations of God, yet is progressive in its recognition of the desirability of economic growth accompanied by attention to the problem of equity. At a minimum, the Islamic theory of development in the contemporary Islamic revival represents a set of modernized ethical standards by which the economic policy of Muslim states may be judged. Whether in the matter of interestfree Islamic investment companies in Egypt, the government policy of zakat in Pakistan, or general economic policy in Malaysia, it appears that Islamic development theory is fast becoming practice.

[See also Economic Development.]


Ahmad, Kurshid, ed. Studies in Islamic Economics. Leicester, 198o. Association of Muslim Social Scientists. Islam and Development: Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Convention of the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. Plainfield, Ind., 1977.

Binder, Leonard. Islamic Liberalism: A Critique of Development Ideologies. Chicago, 1988.

Buraey, Muhammad al-. Administrative Development: An Islamic Perspective. London, 1985.

Cantori, Louis J. “Islamic Revivalism, Conservatism, and Progress in Contemporary Egypt.” In Religious Resurgence and Politics Worldwide, edited by Emile F. Sahliyeh, pp. 183-194. Albany, N.Y., 1990.

Chapra, Mohammed Umer. Islam and the Economic Challenge. Leicester, 1992.

Choudhury, Masudul Alam, and Uzir Abdul Malik. The Foundations of Islamic Political Economy. New York, 1992.

Donohue, John J., and John L. Esposito, eds. Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. New York, 1982.

Esposito, John L., ed. Islam and Development: Religion and Sociopolitical Change. Syracuse, N.Y., 1982.

Middle East Journal 47.2 (Spring 1993). Special issue entitled “The Future of Civil Society in the Middle East,” edited by Augustus Richard Norton.

Osman, Fathi. “The Contract for the Appointment of the Head of an Islamic State: Bai’at al-Imam.” In State, Politics, and Islam, edited by Mumtaz Ahmad, pp. 51-85. Washington, D.C., 1986.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/modernism/

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