Friday, August 6, 2010

Islamic Civilization: "The Colossal Loss of the Colonial Period"

Ed. John L. Esposito,
Reviewed by Maryam Jameelah
As the Holy Prophet and the Qur’an were the final culmination and re-affirmation of all the previous religious Traditions, so did the early Muslims regard themselves as the only rightful heirs to all the civilizations of antiquity. This inspired a tremendous love for knowledge and quest for learning wherever it could be found. The translation of the major Greek, Persian, Indian (and much later, Chinese) classics on science and philosophy into Arabic and their gradual Islamization, was one of the most important events in the history of human civilization. No external military or economic pressures were involved to explain this momentous development, but only love of knowledge for its own sake.
Illuminating chapters discuss the rich Islamic heritage in Africa, China and South-East Asia, replying to the often-asked question if culture can be separated from religion? The fact is, one is inseparable from the other as no culture can grow in a void. Hence the traditional Chinese, the African, the Indo-Pak and Malaysian expressions of Islamic culture are all equally valid. Islam was never intended to be a uniform monolith but the embodiment of unity in diversity. Never intended to achieve and earthly utopia, despite all imperfections and failings, traditional Islamic civilization provided maximum stability, equilibrium and collective support for the individual Muslim in his quest for eternal salvation.
In a brilliantly revealing chapter, Dr. Syed Vali Reza Nasr, Professor of Political Science at San Diego University, presents the colonial and post-colonial period as a colossal loss, both to Muslims themselves and to the world at large which may prove beyond repair and irreversible. He shows how the colonial heritage has decisively shaped the present post-colonial Muslim-majority, anti-Islamic national-states with their emphasis on western-style “Development” and top-down state-managed social and cultural transformation in the modern western image, - a direct successor to the colonial “white-man’s burden” and his “civilizing” mission to “improve” the “natives.”
The final chapter on Islam today by Esposito himself shows how Muslims did survive the colonial mayhem, though with terrible spiritual and cultural impoverishment, illustrated by the preceding chapter on Islam in the modern West.
After suffering discontinuity from their heritage by two centuries of alien colonialism, it is hardly surprising when youth today attempt to re-connect, they easily lose their way (see illustration on p. 673)
This book is an eloquent presentation of the incredible richness and depth of traditional Islamic civilization throughout the world from its inception to the present-day.

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