The Nature of Islamic Civilization

By Fareed, Muneer | Islamic Horizons, March/April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Nature of Islamic Civilization


Fareed, Muneer, Islamic Horizons


Talking to Muslims today or reading literature coming out of the Muslim world gives one the distinct sense of a community finally coming to terms with the idea that violence in the name of Islam is a bad idea. Some go so far as to question not just the gratuitous terror that so randomly targets every living thing, but violence in all shapes and forms. Feelings run particularly strong in areas where victims of violence are local, and it does not matter if they happen to be non-Muslim. Few among us, it seems, want their own turned into cannon fodder, no matter how lofty the goal. All evidence points to an almost tectonic change in Muslim attitudes towards violence, as an instrument of social change. Ordinary Muslims find the wanton use of violence, even in defense of Islam and Muslims, hard to reconcile with common decency. And those ulama who might have been swayed by the injustices around them into relaxing the strict laws that generally regulate the use of violence in Islam now lament the harm their decision has inflicted on Islam's image.

All of this change is heartening, I must admit, but Muslims have yet to recognize an even bigger threat that terrorism is posing to the Islamic civilization. Now, I would be the first to concede that the creative impulse necessary for any cultural efflorescence is rare among Muslims today. But its potential to bloom will always exist in all Muslim societies that take the cultural aspects of their faith seriously. The Islamic civilization is so distinct a feature of this religion that Samuel Huntington, in his otherwise controversial book "The Clash of Civilizations: and the Remaking of World Order" (Free Press: new ed. 2002), considered it central to his thesis that Islam could potentially lock horns with the West. While much has been written challenging the core elements of Huntington's thesis, including his tendency to use history anecdotally rather than systematically, I think it is important to stress two important arguments the book makes. First, "that culture and cultural identities, which at the broadest level are civlizational identities, are shaping the patterns of cohesion, disintegration, and conflict in the post-Cold War world." And second, that Islam as cultural identity has the necessary wherewithal to transform dogma into a viable, alternate civilization.

Not everyone agrees with Huntington on this score, it seems, certainly not those within Islam who wantonly destroy lives because of some higher calling, or those who plunder the cultural artifacts of Baghdad, or those who destroy Buddhist icons in Bamian (Afghanistan), or those who subvert the pluralism of Islam in the name of some newfangled literalism masquerading as sacred knowledge. …

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