Islam and Islamism

By Pipes, Daniel | The National Interest, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Islam and Islamism


Pipes, Daniel, The National Interest


Faith and Ideology

ONE CANNOT emphasize too much the distinction between Islam--plain Islam--and its fundamentalist version. Islam is the religion of about one billion people and is a rapidly growing faith, particularly in Africa but also elsewhere in the world. The United States, for example, boasts almost a million converts to Islam (plus an even larger number of Muslim immigrants).

Islam's adherents find their faith immensely appealing, for the religion possesses an inner strength that is quite extraordinary. As a leading figure in the Islamic Republic of Iran maintains, "Any Westerner who really understands Islam will envy the lives of Muslims." Far from feeling embarrassed about its being temporally the last of the three major Middle Eastern monotheisms, Muslims believe that their faith improves on the earlier ones. In their telling, Judaism and Christianity are but defective variants of Islam, which is God's final, perfect religion.

Contributing to this internal confidence is the memory of outstanding achievements during Islam's first six or so centuries. Its culture was the most advanced, and Muslims enjoyed the best health, lived the longest, had the highest rates of literacy, sponsored the most advanced scientific and technical research, and deployed usually victorious armies. This pattern of success was evident from the beginning: in A.D. 622 the Prophet Muhammad fled Mecca as a refugee, only to return eight years later as its ruler. As early as the year 715, Muslim conquerors had assembled an empire that extended from Spain in the west to India in the east. To be a Muslim meant to belong to a winning civilization. Muslims, not surprisingly, came to assume a correlation between their faith and their worldly success, to assume that they were the favored of God in both spiritual and mundane matters.

And yet, in modern times battlefield victories and prosperity have been notably lacking. Indeed, as early as the thirteenth century, Islam's atrophy and Christendom's advances were already becoming discernible. But, for some five hundred years longer, Muslims remained largely oblivious to the extraordinary developments taking place to their north. Ibn Khaldun, the famous Muslim intellectual, wrote around the year 1400 about Europe, "I hear that many developments are taking place in the land of the Rum, but God only knows what happens there!"

Such willful ignorance rendered Muslims vulnerable when they could no longer ignore what was happening around them. Perhaps the most dramatic alert came in July 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte landed in Egypt--the center of the Muslim world--and conquered it with stunning ease. Other assaults followed over the next century and more, and before long most Muslims were living under European rule. As their power and influence waned, a sense of incomprehension spread among Muslims. What had gone wrong? Why had God seemingly abandoned them?

The trauma of modern Islam results from this sharp and unmistakable contrast between medieval successes and more recent tribulations. Put simply, Muslims have had an exceedingly hard time explaining what went wrong. Nor has the passage of time made this task any easier, for the same unhappy circumstances basically still exist. Whatever index one employs, Muslims can be found clustering toward the bottom--whether measured in terms of their military prowess, political stability, economic development, corruption, human rights, health, longevity or literacy. Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister of Malaysia who now languishes in jail, estimates in The Asian Renaissance (1997) that whereas Muslims make up just one-fifth of the world's total population, they constitute more than half of the 1.2 billion people living in abject poverty. There is thus a pervasive sense of debilitation and encroachment in the Islamic world today. As the imam of a mosque in Jerusalem put it not long ago, "Before, we were mast ers of the world and now we're not even masters of our own mosques.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Islam and Islamism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?