The Crisis of Islamic Civilization

By Silinsky, Mark | Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Crisis of Islamic Civilization


Silinsky, Mark, Middle East Quarterly


The Crisis of Islamic Civilization. By Ali A. Allawi. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009. 304 pp. $27.50.

Allawi, who at various times was Iraqi minister of trade, minister of defense, and minister of finance following Saddam Hussein's overthrow, ends his book with a plausible conclusion - that, by nature, Islamic civilization must either subsume or be subsumed - but only after long swathes of tangents, contradictions, and loaded assumptions.

As for the latter, Islam's purported golden age plagues Allawi, evinced by his obsession over "what went wrong?" He flatly rejects any answer that even remotely involves Islam per se as "patently absurd," arguing that Islamic civilization was at the vanguard of human progress in the medieval era. Of course, the oft-repeated and (overly-dramatized) question of "what went wrong?" is moot. It falsely assumes that if Islamic civilization was at the vanguard of progress in the medieval era, it should be so now.

Begrudging the West's meteoric rise, this position ultimately implies that Islam's birthright was somehow usurped. Yet just because Muslims refined the astrolabe - which, as with most Muslim accomplishments, was in the service of Islam (tofixprayertimes), something even the most radical Muslim happily permits - does not mean Islam was destined to split the atom. Nothing went wrong. This becomes clear when one ceases comparing Islam to the West - ceases comparing apples with oranges - and compares Islam to itself, appreciating the many constants.

Numerous pages are devoted to exploring the thoughts of progressive Islamic thinkers, only to reveal their aberrancy vis-à-vis Shari'a norms and thus their failure to resonate with the Muslim masses. Indeed, Shari'a is the insurmountable wall, the dead-end that repeatedly foils Allawi's strategies or sophistries by his own implicit demonstrations.

Apologetics abound: Allawi minimizes the Islamic conquests; he trivializes the issue of blasphemy and apostasy charges, blaming the Western media for "sensationalizing" them; he portrays the dhimmi-statas (existence as a subjugated religious minority) as something almost admirable; and there is a curious chapter questioning the West's apparently overdeveloped notions of human rights: "Muslims must themselves decide what human rights mean in Islam. …

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