Islam in History: Ideas, People, and Events in the Middle East

By Bernard Lewis | Go to book overview

1
The Study
of Islam

During the nineteenth century the forms, language, and to some extent even the structures of public life in the Muslim countries were given a Western and therefore a secular appearance. In those countries which were under European domination, the process was slow, cautious, and incomplete; in those where Muslim rulers retained political independence, they were able to impose Westernizing reforms with greater ruthlessness and fewer fears or inhibitions. By nationalizing the waqf revenues and introducing modern—i.e. Western-style—law and education, they simultaneously deprived the ulema both of their financial independence and of a large part of their functions and influence, and reduced them in effect to a branch of the bureaucracy. The men of the faith now became servants and spokesmen of the state, who successively justified reform, reaction, liberalism, and socialism, from the same texts and by the same methods of exegesis.

The state itself, struggling for survival in a world dominated by the European powers, adopted European forms and procedures and drew increasingly, in the recruitment and promotion of its personnel, on those whose education and aptitudes enabled them to meet the needs of this situation—that is to say, on the minority who knew a Western language, had at least a tincture of Western education, and had therefore acquired some Western habits of behavior and perhaps of thought. From this time onwards, identity is defined and loyalty claimed on national rather than communal lines; criticism and aspiration are formulated in secular, not religious terms. New books replace the sacred and classical texts as the pabulum of the literate and governing elite; journalists, lawyers, and

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