The challenge of Islamic extremism (2)

This weekend, I attended a one-day course entitled “Hope And History: A Short Introduction To Contemporary Issues In Muslim Contexts” run by a lecturer called Dr Farid Panjwani.

A major theme of the course was the clash between the historical experience of Islam and the colonial take-over of Muslim societies:

  • Christianity was not a state religion until the Roman Emperor Constantine adopted the religion in the early 4th century.
  • However, in the Muslim context, religion and politics came together immediately with Mecca as a mini state ruled by Muhammed.
  • During the period of Muslim empires, there were great cultural achievements which made these societies the most advanced in the world at the time.
  • But the decline of the political power of Muslim societies in the face of European colonialism led to a decline in religious power.
  • Colonialism meant not just that another empire was in control, but that a more advanced or modern empire was dominant.
  • Among Muslim societies, there are difference responses to modernity and different attitudes to the West.

Dr Panjwani explained the major consequences of colonialism and modernity for Muslim societies:

  • A displacement from political power with the fall of old, long-standing  empires
  • The marginalisation of the Islamic legal tradition  governing largely personal matters (sharia law)
  • A challenge to social structures with new occupations and new gender roles
  • Social conditions such as the power of political elites and high levels of unemployment that nurture rage and a sense of injustice

He defined modernity as involving the following:

  • A belief in science and the power to control nature
  • The privatisation of religion leading to secularisation
  • An economic system based on free markets and growth
  • A theoretical emphasis on equality
  • The notion of the nation state and the supra-state
  • An emphasis on individuality

Dr Panjwani explained that a key question for most Muslims around the world is: “How does one remain true to one’s religion while living a successful modern life?


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