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The clash, which exists between Islam and the West has become more evident, in the recent years. It is clear that, since the onset of the 21st century, there has been a general misconception that the practices, institutions, and perspectives of the West have enormously been threatened by Islam and Muslim in many areas. Based on the above argument, this paper will critically evaluate the relationship which has existed between the Muslim and Western world over different times in history, as highlighted in the article “Islam and the West in World History” written by Shahrough Akhavi in 2003.
Trying to understand the ways in which the West is viewed by Muslims in the context of the world history would be complicated as both the West and Islam are abstract concepts having varied experiences and traditions (Akhavi, 2003). Therefore, it is hard for them to be termed as monistic units for the purpose of analysis. However, it is worth noting that, although Muslims highly view the world in regard to their individual internal processes, their vision have enormously been affected by experiences they have had from the West. It is true that Muslims mainly compartmentalize their individual lives in order to maintain religion in a private sphere as well as using non-religious types of behavior in the external world. It is also clear that Islam is an enormously legalistic religion and has a communitarian method of ordinance. This makes it hard for Muslims to fully understand some of the Christian tenets, especially those touching on giving, among other aspects. However, all these do not necessarily indicate that Islam criticizes theology. This is because Muslim society needs people who are well qualified in law in order to educate believers on ways in which they can fulfill God’s desires at all time (Akhavi, 2003).
In the early modern period, the ideas of the West hardly influenced the Muslim society. For instance, although Ottomans, who existed from 1435 to 1683, were formidable threats to countries such as Russia, Austria, and Hungary, their relationship was in no way hostile. However, as a result of series of wars, such as the Vienna siege in 1683, as well as other differences in areas such as trade among others, writers from the West leveled polemical attacks regarding Muslim thought. Some of these writers include Rossini, Mozart, Delacroix, Byron, Ingres, and Fitzgerald (Akhavi, 2003).
The European political influence on the Muslim countries enormously resulted from the French revolution. This can partly be associated with spread of communication as well as increased travels by Europeans to the Muslim world. Further, majority of the rulers in the Muslim world were highly convinced that reforms in line with the Western patterns could enhance survival of their society, without necessarily losing any cultural identity. For instance, as a result of the European powers, the Iranian, Mughal, and Ottoman governments were forced to modernize their political and societal systems. However, this was rejected by some clergy arguing that the reforms would violate the holy law (shari'a). According to the conservative clergy, the reforms would make it hard for Muslims to follow the law, hence not being able to execute God’s commands. This would in turn make the Muslims get into a situation of unbelief and this was against God’s commands. Consequently, the great reform in the Islamic movement, known as salafiyya, between 1880 and 1935 was a point of focus with the West, though within certain limit (Akhavi, 2003). Despite the Western control in the interwar period in the Middle East, various political models from West such as fascists, Marxists and liberals have failed. For instance, the failure of Marxism was due to the identification of the Middle East region with foreign power and atheism, the USSR. However, it should be noted that, despite of all these gains, most of the Western states in the Muslim countries failed to enhance democracy in these countries as they did advocate in their home countries, thus making them unpopular in the Muslim countries (Akhavi, 2003).
Consequently, the European states withdrew from the Muslim societies, thus making them to establish independent states, and different types of authoritarian regimes came into power. Initially, they enjoyed political legitimacy due to the sheer fact that the rulers who took over were the natives, although their despotism and incompetence enormously reduced their supports. In order to save his realm, Ottomam Sultan had raised a banner on the pan-Islamism just prior to the World War I. In 1920s, there was a creation of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in order to expel British rule in this region. However, in the 1970s, Muslim Brotherhood split into various groups and pursued violence, all in an effort to come up with a society which is ruled by the Islamic law. The relationship between the West and Muslim society started to become deplorable during this time. For instance, in 1979, the U.S. and other Western countries accused Iran of opposing peace between Arab countries and Israel as well as encouraging terrorism. Further, Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi expatriate businessman and other admirers of Mawdudi and Qutb gained notoriety. Supporters of Qutb, who fled to Egypt in order to escape arrests, set explosives in New York in 1993. This further deteriorated relationship between the West and the Muslim society (Akhavi, 2003).
Conclusion and Recommendations
As highlighted in this article, it is evident that the relationship between the Muslim society and the West needs to be restored for the benefit of us all. Just like in the eighth as well as ninth centuries, where Muslims coexisted peacefully with non-Muslims and the Islamic philosophy was enormously influenced by the Western thoughts, there is a great need to evaluate ways in which this trust can be restored as a matter of urgency. Therefore, ways in which the relationship between the Western Muslim and worlds can become equal in future should be established. Further, a research should be conducted on ways in which bitterness existing between Western and Muslim worlds, mainly resulting from the radical Islamic movements of 1980s and 1990s, can become a thing of the past. Generally, the need to tolerate one another, despite of our varied economic, religious, and political backgrounds, should be advocated at all times.