Is There An Islamic Problem?

Category: World Affairs Views: 4161

It has become fashionable in some circles after September 11 to excoriate Islam as the source of the problems facing the Islamic world. The air is thick with theories which claim that Islam has been paralyzed by a deadening obscurantism since the twelfth century, and this paralysis will only end when Muslims decide to replace Islam with secular humanism. It is time these theories were deconstructed.

A Matter of Timing

I will turn directly to the thesis of the early demise of Islamic civilization: since the castigation of Islam often hinges on how and when this happened.

First, and this is very important, this thesis is quite wrong about the timing of the decline. It claims that Islam lost its creative power in the twelfth century as a result of the twin blows dealt by orthodox 'Ulama - the religious scholars of Islam - and the Mongols. These ideas have an Orientalist odor.

This canard was first challenged by Marshall Hodgson in The Venture of Islam (1974). He believes that the brilliant works, in architecture, philosophy, and the visual arts, created during the sixteenth century - in Isphahan, Istanbul, Delhi and Agra - were not inferior to the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

The scientific work did not face sudden death either. In fact, George Saliba, in A History of Arabic Astronomy, extends Islam's golden age to the fifteenth century. After the Mongols are supposed to have devastated Eastern Islam, major observatories were being set up as late as the fifteenth century. The astronomical tables computed at these observatories, together with the work of Ibn-Shatir (d. 1375), a time-keeper in the central mosque of Damascus, were passed on to Europe, and are believed to have contributed to the Copernican revolution.

Did Islam Stumble?

If Islam did not suffer a decline in the twelfth century, when did this happen? The beginnings of this process, as well as its sources, must be sought not so much in Islam as in Europe. It wasn't Islam that stumbled. Rather, it was Europe that gathered speed and moved ahead, in gunnery and shipping, starting in the sixteenth century.

Europe employed its maritime strength to plunder the gold and silver of the Americas, create an Atlantic economy, and dominate the commerce of the Indian Ocean. This deepened Europe's commercial and financial capital, while squeezing the trading profits of the major Islamic empires as well as the smaller trading states in the Indian Ocean. Over time, Europe's military advantage became decisive. And by the beginning of the nineteenth century - in India even before that - Europe started its project of dismantling the Islamic polities in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

Why couldn't Islamic - or other - polities resist this growing European thrust? The Euro-centric narratives would have us believe that this was fait accompli: the simple working out of Europe's racial, geographic, climatic, and cultural advantages over others. Asia and Africa could have done little to resist.

A historical narrative tells a different story. Their colonization of the Americas, their growing control over the trade of the Indian Ocean, their mercantilist rivalries and incessant wars - all rooted in the anarchy of nation states - accelerated the dynamic of historical change in Europe, allowing it to outpace the more centralized, mostly land-based empires in Asia and Africa. Europe's advantages were historical - and, in part, accidental.

Thwarted Recovery

This takes us to the troubling question of Islam's failure - unlike India and China - to mount an adequate recovery from the losses of the colonial epoch.

Why has Islam, which commanded several power centers before the rise of Europe, failed to reconstitute its lost power in the post-colonial period? Once again, those who attribute this failure to Islam are inverting the order of causation.

As recently as 1750, Islamic polities stretched from Mauritania and the Balkans in the West to Sinjiang and Mindanao in the East. But this power lacked an adequate social base. In 1800 the Arab population in the Middle East was quite thin. Elsewhere, in the Balkans and India, the Islamic empires ruled over mostly non-Muslim populations. The early collapse of Muslim power in India and the down-sizing of the Ottomans in Europe had much to do with these demographic draw-backs.

The Ottomans, the Maghreb and Egypt faced another handicap: they were only a few day's sail from Europe. This made them tempting targets for European capital and cupidity, mixed with some of the old zeal for eradicating Islam. This mission was taken up successively by France, Britain and Italy. An early and deter-mined Egyptian effort to industrialize - initiated in 1810 - was dismantled by the British and French in 1840. When the Egyptians mobilized again in the 1870s, it led to their colonization in 1882. Britain, France and Israel mounted another invasion of Egypt as recently as 1956.

This suggests some sobering reflections for those who would blame the present troubles on Islam's antipathy to modernity. Imagine if the Egyptian bid to industrialize had not been dismantled by imperialist Britain and France; it is then likely that an industrialized Egypt would eventually have led the entire region to industrial growth, prosperity and power. This thought experiment explains why Egypt's industrial drive had to be aborted. An industrialized Middle East may have renewed the old threat of Islam to Europe.

The disarray of the Arabs in the post-colonial period goes back to two additional factors: the Zionism and oil. The Zionist movement was founded on a confluence of Jewish and Western interests in the Middle East. In time, this led in 1917 to Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, the dismantling of the Ottoman empire in 1919, the vivisection of the former Ottoman territories in the Levant, the British mandate over Palestine, and the creation of Israel in 1948. The Islamic Crescent had been splintered, and part of it occupied by a Jewish colonial-settler state.

In the meanwhile, United States and Britain were making arrangements in the Persian Gulf to ensure Western control over the richest oil reserves in the world. They decided to place the region under archaic, absolutist monarchies whose survival, against the rising tide of nationalism, would depend on United States. As part of this plan, when the Iranians overthrew the monarchy in 1953, United States and Britain instigated a coup to re-instate it. In 1967, with the decisive defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan - leading to the occupation of Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza - Israel cut short the career of secular Arab nationalism. The Middle East straightjacket was now securely in place.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 did not loosen the straightjacket. On the contrary, by raising the specter of Islamist power, this revolution paved the way for an 'Arab' war against Iran, with the blessings of United States. In time, after the collapse of Soviet Union, this led the corrupt Arab regimes to form a grand alliance - under the aegis of United States and Israel - to control and repress their Islamist movements. When foolhardy Iraq dared to challenge this grand alliance, it was bombed back to the stone age and crippled with comprehensive economic sanctions.

A new 'cold war' had descended on the Islamic world in the 1990s. Its rules were clear. The United States would support the Islamic despots - of whatever stripe - so long as they kept the lid on political Islam. If any country dared to depart from the terms of this contract, it faced economic and military sanctions; and, if these did not work, they would be followed by swift and devastating reprisals. Iraq showed to the Islamic world the price it would pay for challenging this new contract. Similarly, Algeria stands as an example of what happens when the democratic process threatens to empower Islamists.

An explanation of why the 'democratization' of the 1990s bypassed the Islamic world might be found in this new cold war. Most Western commentators think otherwise: they choose to blame Islam. Their method is classic - damnation by accusation. If Islam is obscurantist, anti-rationalist, fanatical, and misogynist, then, it must also be opposed to democracy. The Orientalist has spoken: the case is closed.

Those who believe that Islam is anti-democratic need a short lesson in the modern history of constitutional movements in Islam. Muhammad Ali of Egypt appointed his first advisory council in 1824, consisting mostly of elected members. In 1881, the Egyptian nationalist movement succeeded in convening an elected parliament, but this was aborted only a year later by British occupation. Tunisia had promulgated a constitution in 1860, setting up a Supreme Council purporting to limit the powers of the monarchy. But this was suspended in 1864 when the French discovered that it interfered with their ambitions. Turkey elected its first parliament in 1877, though it was dissolved a year later by the Caliph; a second parliament was convened in 1908. Iran's progress was more dramatic. It started with protests against a British tobacco monopoly in the 1890s, and quickly led to an elected parliament in 1906, with powers to confirm the cabinet. A year later, however, the British and Russians carved up Iran into their spheres of influence, a development that would lead to the dissolution of the parliament in 1910. Nevertheless, the constitutional movement persisted until it was suppressed in 1931 by a new dynasty brought to power by the British.

Compare these developments with the history of constitutional movements elsewhere, not excluding Europe, during the nineteenth century - and the world of Islam does not suffer from the comparison. Incredible as this appears to minds blinded by Euro-centric prejudice, Tunisia, Egypt and Iran were taking the lead in making the transition to constitutional monarchies. The 'resistance to democracy' in the Arab world even today does not come from their population. Quite the opposite. It comes from neo-colonial surrogates - brutal military dictatorships and absolutist monarchies - imposed by a United States determined to safeguard oil and Israel.

A New Colonial Contract

The US-imposed straightjacket has deepened the contradictions of global capitalism in the Islamic world: a development that is pregnant with consequences which threaten to spin out of control.

During the Cold War, the elite factions in many Third World countries - especially their military elites - competed to win the US contract for repressing their populist movements. As long as they did their job, they enjoyed a degree of autonomy in managing their economies. A few of them in East Asia, the most favored ones, became showcases of capitalist success. When Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, this contract was terminated. It was replaced by the Washington Consensus, enforced by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization. The elites in the periphery would now compete to open up their economies for takeover by multinational corporations.

There are two versions of this new colonial contract. Countries in the non-Islamic periphery are generally encouraged to compete for the contract through the ballot box. In countries that have strong Islamist movements, this option is not available; they are allowed to keep their dictators and monarchs. The excuse for this two-track policy is flimsy. It is charged that the Islamist parties oppose democracy: that they will use the ballot to shut down the ballot. The real reason is Western nervousness over the Islamist's twin goals: introducing an Islamic social order, and reversing the fragmentation of Islam.

This siege of the Islamic world is unlikely to produce the desired results. On the contrary, it has engendered contradictions that will only deepen over time. After the rout of the Arab armies in 1967, the failure of secular, nationalist movements to reverse Arab marginalization was becoming transparent. In 1973, with appropriate offers of American 'aid', Egypt made a separate peace with Israel. In abdicating its leadership of the Arab world, Egypt wrote the obituary of Arab nationalism. From now on, the historic task of liberating the Arab world would be assumed by the Islamists.

Although defeated, the corrupt Arab regimes remained ensconced in power. They owe their survival to the new colonial contract which allowed them to keep their repressive apparatus if they used it to wage war against their own people. The turn around was quick, moving through capitulations at Camp David and Oslo, normalization of ties with Israel, and capitulation to the Washington Consensus. The war against Islam intensified. The Islamist parties were banned, rooted out of professional associations and trade unions, and eventually their leaders were jailed, executed, or hounded out of the country.

This repression of Islamists has produced two results. Nearly everywhere, it immobilized mainstream Islamists who wished to work through the institutions of civil society: through political parties, professional associations, the media, the courts, and charities. The focus now shifted to the extremists willing to engage in violent action to gain their ends. But the extremists too had little crawl space under the repressive Arab regimes. Those who survived were driven underground, or went into exile in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or the Western countries.

At this point, some of them decided to change their strategy. They would target their problems at its source - and inflict damage on United States. They wanted to sting the United States into lifting its siege of Islamic countries. Alternatively, they hoped to start wars - like the one in Afghanistan - on the chance that this would spark rebellions against the American surrogates in the Islamic world.

Giving Up 'False Notions'?

Of late, sagely voices - outside and inside Islam - have been counseling Muslims to give up the 'false notions' of Islam. I hope to have shown that the false notions we need give up are the Orientalist narratives - of an Islam that has been (mis)represented as irrational, misogynist, fatalist and fanatical.

Rational thinking did not begin with the Enlightenment. In fact, several Enlightenment thinkers turned to Islam to advance their own struggle against medieval obscurantism and the intolerance of an organized clergy. It is time for alienated Muslim intellectuals to tear the Orientalist veil that obscures the face of Islam, re-enter the historical currents they have abandoned, create a deeper understanding of the dynamics of derailed Islamic societies, and lead them into an Islamic vision of a world where all communities participate in a race to create works of excellence.

The West too must give up its false notions of Islam as the irreconcilable 'Other', that must forever be battled and besieged. If Islam is a greater threat to the West than India or China, that is because our actions - in large part - have succeeded in preventing it from reconstituting its center, its wholeness and history. More than a fifth of the world's population seek their place in the world within a stream of history that flows from the Qur'an. They want to live by ethical ideals that in the past have produced nobility, magnanimity, sobriety, tolerance, science, mathematics, philosophy, architecture and poetry. Islam may do so again if only we lift the siege - and allow the light, freshness and sweetness at its core to find expression again in a contest of creative minds and soulful hearts, intertwined with reason and mercy.

M. Shahid Alam is a Professor of Economics at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He is also the author of "Poverty from the Wealth of Nations: Integration and Polarization in the Global Economy Since 1760", published by Macmillan in 2000. He can be reached at [email protected]

  Category: World Affairs
Views: 4161
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Older Comments:
The reality is there is an Islamic problem and there will be as far muslim world remains defeated politically, socially and economically. To be frank USA and its European allies are the masters of the world at the present age. They are not bad planners nor ignorants, nor even stupids. They know the conseguences of every action they execute. They do not even mind to sacrifice the lifes of their people and their towers when the impact of their action will cause the gain of more spheres of infuence.

The history of the conquerers has always been to dictate to the conquered the way he lives. What is changing is the identity of the master otherwise the concept of conquering remains the same. Knowing that they defeated the muslim world in all the above mentioned fronts, they need only to defeat their spirits and phsycology. And to do that there is a single firewall that had to be fallen forever which is Islam. Hence msulims shouldn't be frustrated if the Western Authorities perform what others before them had been performing for ages. What has to frustrate the muslim world is whether they should give up. According to my point of view the muslim world needs to learn from the history of jews. It is a fact that jews had always been wining against the church and the western authorities in all ages. The muslim world needs to learn all the policies the jews were following to win.

The muslim world had to attack the western citizens spritually, phsycologically and philosophyically. The weak should not hate if he wishes his word to be heard. Muslims should keep in mind that spreading the message is the most effective weapon they have.

Regarding the current affairs the muslim world needs to go into a low profile situation until such time they can be able to stand for the their ideals, their way of life and their religion.

This is the type of arrogance that will destroy Islam. Those defending Islam are always defensive and full of presuppositions. The fact of the matter is those that preach Islam have the advantages and history of Jusaism and Christianity yet they seem to learn nothing from it.

I am struck by one huge assumption the author of this article makes. I have read repeatedly on this website that confusing Islam and Middle Eastern ancestry frustrates your readers. My frustration comes from the equation of Christianity and European decent. Just as many people commit evil acts in the name of Islam, so many people have committed evil acts in the name of Jesus Christ. True followers of either faith are committed to peace. Christ said that His followers would be known by their love for others. If that love is not evident, then they are not Christian. This world will not be perfect until Our Lord has come again and redeemed mankind. I am glad that God gives me the peace to know that I am His child through faith in Him. My home is in heaven. I don't need the things of this world.

Please make no doubts about islam. Its the only naturally perfected system of life but the problem is with the followers that completely or partially brainwashed by the modern dead clouded culture accopanied by the cultural and desire domination at the expense of the true teaching of islam. To get more light and guidance kindly research more on the islamic gift to the contemporary world.Finally know that islam is a complete force of natural civilisation that cannot be altered or bend to please the unguided, ignorant and confined mind of the contemporary people.

May Allah the most High Give us the best of Guidance and protection from the fitnah of ungrateful people

With regards to all seekers of truth


there is no islamic problem but there is muslim problem, Allah tells us in the Quran that if we are are striaght and fulfilling the obligations of Allaah, then He will bless us, on the contrary as hte Muslims are, some left the true teaching of prophet Mohammed, then we see now what is happening. Had we followed hte path of prophet Mohammed and His companions, surely as THomas cryle put it "barbaric arabs turned to be the torch bearerers of the modern wolrd" Insha'Allaah again We will be the torch bearers of the modern world, only but we are God conscious and patient to the way of Allaah. Sallaamu Aleikum

The problem with Islam is that it thinks having one false god is an improvement over having many false gods. When Muslims stop praying to Mecca, associating Mecca, the Ka'aba and the rock in the Ka'aba with the real God, then I could perhaps give some credence to this faith. Until then, this practice alone shows Islam to be an idolatrous cult.. with a large following to be sure... but an idolatrous cult all the same.

You can keep your stone god!

I think that there is an Islamic problem,even in our own muslim communitys.After what happend on Sep.11 our muslim brothers and sisters are acting as if they were not muslim any more.When the attacks happend these people that were muslims told me to take off my hijab I said no "Iam proud to be a muslim.After that day I started to think that life for muslims in america would get harder but no it was the por suffering muslims of the world that were suffering,I got together in my local mosque an started a fundrasing program called the Penny collection project and on the first day we made about twohundred dollers.So back to my point I think that there is a Islamic problem in this world.

Esther-it is painful for me to read your comments, I was hoping such ignorance did not exist. And Najma-I am Christian, yet I appreciate the religion and beliefs of Muslims. I wish you would refrain from saying Satan led us in our beliefs.

Your essay was excellent, Professor Alam! I have truly missed your lectures and was happy to know your sentiments regarding anti-Islamist views.

It is a pity that Islam needs to be defended against such (lame) criticism, though you do it so eloquently and with such irrefutable arguments that it was a pleasure to read.

Hi ben, don't say all that about islam. If you study history, Muslims are the people who brought all the scientific and doctoring to the west. In the west, they gain a lot from the religoin of islam. All the sciensetific facts that the west are just finding out right now or the 20th century have been mentioned in the quran over 1400 years ago. So if you need evidence or have a doubt about the religion of islam as being true, I think that would satiesfy you if "You are the people who understand". Anyway, I agree with you that satan is everywhere, but beleive me or not satan is the one that misguide, the one that made you believe, that jesus is the son of god, or god. anyway, make sure you get rid of him and flow the true light, the light of islam(submitting to the will of God). Good luck and may Allah or God guide you. AAmeen.

I commend the initiative and the depth of your article. I think you are headed in the right direction. Your article can be summed up by saying that non Islamic (Western and possibly Oriental) countries have an interest in keeping a lid on islamic movement in order to retain their leadership in the world. I think this is a natural phenomenon. Anybody in their position would want to do exactly that. Perhaps the positions were exactly reversed between the 7th to the 16th century and perhaps we did the same believing that we had a better solution.
You have dealt with Part A of an interesting problem - the cause. Part B is then the more interesting question of how are we going to deal with this issue? How are we going to convince the non islamic influences that Islam is not against them and hence should be allowed to come out and flourish? Do we even believe that position is accurately reflected among us or does there need to be a war within Islam between those who want to advance along with the west (and bring out a better modern Islam) and those who want to take us back to the 7th century.
Thank you for doing a good job and I hope i have given you a topic for your next article.

Ahmad, we do not control the price of the oil. We are now buying oil from Russia. Why? Because if we bought it in the Middle East it the price would sky rocked. So I can thank Russia for keeping oil the same price. And the goal of the Persian Gulf War was never to kill Saddam. Sure we have a good amount of control over Iraq, but we don't have that control over the other Middle East oil producers. Also I know there are scans at the White House sometimes, but the Media always broadcast it.

Finally the truth is told!

Ahmad, you do not have to worry about me. History says before the Crusades that Muslims invaded Europe. So when you says they didn't that is incorrect. And say one phase that history says "everyone hates the Jews." Since I am white, I am not a Jew. But I know how much they went through. They were killed by Europeans, and then they were being killed by the Nazis.

this is in reply to the responce, ref #2360.
Esther, it's people like you people should fear of ever getting into postitions of power. your ignorance would be the demise of either your self or of another. you should research the topic before opening your mouth. First of all, muslims never "invaded" europe, and they never "invaded" spain.
on the contrary, in islamic history its called the "futuhat" (arabic for the openings), the spanish of that time were attacking the edges of the islamic empire, which did not have proper defenses. so in responce to their attack, the islamic nation conquered spain, they did not kill and sack the civilions. instead they introduced to them medicine, science, astronomy, physics, math, and islam which they accepted.
Muslims never invaded europe unless provoked by the europeans.
"It is bad enough we have to suck up to corrupt Arab leaders in order to buy oil at cheap prices." what do u want it for free??? and were do you about assuming that the americans are sucking up? do you not know about the deal done by senior Bush? or did you not bother at all?
the deal was that as long as amercans provide protection to the saudi kingdom from sadam's army, the saudi's had to sell oil to them at a certain rate which never went down a certain price. heh why do you think they never "found" sadam and killed him? the real corrupt leaders or living in the white house now. and besides the oil is for arabs, if they choose not to sell then the hell with everyone, no one should force us in selling.
and yes if the arabs had weapons like the west does, then we would use it to defend our selves, just like the americans are, whats wrong with that? are they the only ones allowed to defend them selves? if the jewish army is going to kill a family and buldoze their houses then we have a right to go to their houses and kill them. is the price of our blood not the same of that of an american? what about the 2 million iraqies that died? sala

Thanks mr.Alam for spelling-out the real problem between Islam and the West.

YES THERE IS A PROBLEM! Hence: "I gave a lot of thought to the causes of the sorry state of this ummah, during the years of my captivity in Malta," said Sheikh-ul-Hind Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan. It was 1920, and at 69, he was not only one of the most distinguished scholars of his time, he also had spent a life time in political activism. His audience was a gathering of ulema, eager to hear the lessons of a life time of study, struggle, and reflection. His conclusion: "Our problems are caused by two factors; abandoning the Qur'an and our in-fighting." He spent the few remaining days of his life addressing these causes.
These reasons are valid even today. They are also related, the second being caused by the first. The Qur'an had declared us one brotherhood and had warned us against in-fighting. We have ignored those teachings and the billion-strong ummah has turned into an ummah fragmented into a billion segments.

BEN FROM U.S.A. said:
I am both an American and a Christian, so if that bothers any of you I suppose that you had better not read any further. My opinion is this: Terrorists are destroying Islam not helping it and they are keeping it in the dark ages. And, blaming the west for all of Islams problems is pointless. Contrary to popular belief, Americans don't just sit around all day trying to think of new ways in which to harass Arabs. Most people here in the this country don't have the slightest idea about what Islam really is and they don't really care either. Why should we care? Do any of you really understand anything about our culture? I think that there are many beautiful aspects within the Islamic culture. I love the artwork, personally. I think that the problem here is that on the one hand the Islamic people claim that we here in the west have created the stereotypical Islamic person. But haven't you done the same to Americans? People are people. I personally don't view Islam as a true religion, but I acknowledge your right to practice it. Anybody living here would have to attest to the fact that the United States is not at all interested in harassing people just going about their business. It's only when then make themselves our business that we even turn our face towards them. It's time to acknowledge that satan is not a place. He is a person. And satan can be found everywhere including your own backyard. So when osama bin laden speaks on video tape and calls America the great satan, the real satan is speaking through his servant osama.

Asalaamu Alaykum My brothers and sisters!

ALHAMDU'LILAAH, I'm Agree with our brother, M. Shahid Alam, And there is a Problem within Us, and by looking within ourselfs to solve our problems Will Lead us to a Bright Future, Insha'Allah! I think One of our Biggest problems is the devitions between us and our in fightings! We need to Unite and Hold Tight to the Rope of Allah, and Not Be Devided! Hence, United we Rise, Devided We Fall!

Asalaamu Alaykum!

to yusuf saib

muslims are excelling in education and alhamdulilah muslims have acknowledged the importance of it in this world today! however they, in their home countries are extremely oppressed. So i do not think that is the problem and i hope u will too!

Kaleem, I don't blame Islam. Islam is not the problem. You are.


A very thaughtful and insightful coverage of the history of Islam and the critical remarks, slogans, and trends that are meated out by activists blaming Islam for their demise!

The author covers a range of important issues that highlight that it is not Islam that is to blame, but represseive and barbaric policies of the west which have influenced and manipulated many a politician and diplomat to conform to their ideoligies. This has transcended down into nations, institutions and cultures dispersing, dividing and anihilating the muslim masses from within.

Economic and political objectives in eradicating the "other" or making it conform with the west have been carefully and strategically saught over for many centuries culminating in zionist strategems in Isreal and American foreign and economic policy to utilize the worlds natural resources (oil) for themselves, and if need be to devastate and destroy states in the process to achieve those aims.

In terms of Islamic renaisance, there is no doubt that the west had gained alot of the riches of the peaks of Islamic civilization, where we find today that theoratical, theological knowledge is found in the west. There is the countervailing argument that intellectual Islam arises in the west and spiritual islam in the East, but this demands authencitation and verification.

One should not blame Islam for the present demise or situation, it is the human's who supposed to be adhering to the faith that have let themselves down by being subjugated by the demonic, or hegemonic onslaught of the west and its dictates.

It's only when the muslims start to look at themselves from within as a collective trans-national entitity and rectify our inate deficiencies that we as the embodiments of the true faith and light will re-emerge on to the world stage recapturing the heights and peaks of Islamic civilizations in the past.

There is an Islamic problem, and blaming our problems on colonial powers is a poor excuse. It was our own scholastic ossification that stopped growing and innovating and growing in Islamic thought and its application to science, economy, politics, philosophy, etc., that weakened us. The subsequent colonisation was only a byproduct of our ongoing efforts to suppress dynamic Islamic intellectualism under a tyrannical khilafah dynasty that called itself Islamic.

Secularism is not the means by which we modernize our people and become globally competitive in military, economic and cultural spheres, but neither is a reactionary return to the stifled thought many of our so-called ulama' crave. Instead, we should seek the Islamic intellectual vigor that characterized the flowering of Islamic society for most of our history.

for Mr. Hal Friedman.

I, for one, have not seen one instance where Jews have even for once condemned Baruch Goldstien and Rabbi Meir Kahane.

"Many" Muslims foolishly already condemn assuming that the allegations by the media & the establishment both are enough to assume guilt of Bin Laden. However very "few" do not because he's innocent until proven guilty. If & when he's fairly tried & proven to be guilty, then he stands together with those who inflict crime on inncoent.

Those who continue their search for truth, should include in their list.


I truly believe in what you said. We need to rethink our paths and try to show to everybody (non-Muslims) that glory of Islam is still shining under the ashes of centuries of wars and fighting with Europeans and recently Americans!
Good job and wish all of us success.
May God bless be uppon all of us and lead us to brigter future, when we can make our own ways and be proud of who we are! Ensha-Allah!

I agree with some of what you say about "the Islamic problem" but take exception to what you say about Israel and the "capitulation" at Camp David & Oslo. What was this capitulation, agreeing that Israel has the right to exist? The Jewish people have the right to a homeland; Jews have been in Israel for thousands of years; and Israel occupies a tiny stretch of land, compared with the rest of the Middle East.
Also, don't you think Muslems should take some reponsibility for their actions? Blaming all of Islam's problems on the West is easy because then Muslems don't have to work on self-examination and self-improvement. Muslems don't seem to be able to criticize those among them who act fanatically. Remember than most Jews vociferously condemned the acts of Jewish extremists like Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldman. Why won't Muslims condemn Bin Laden?

Excellent article from an Islamic-Muslim view point that is rare to find in "main stream" Western press. This, of course, is due to both (1) Muslim incompetence, political and intellectual cowardice, and indifference born out of Muslim religious mentality misguided by Sufism and its off shoots, and (2) Western anti-Islamic bias, prejudice, and discrimination.

Hope more scholars like Prof. Alam will come out
to give Islamic-Muslim view points.

S. Waqar Ahmed Husaini
Visiting Scholar, Stanford Univ.(1986-continuing)
Founder-President, IISTD/Institute of Islamic Sciences, Technology, and Development

I loved the article you have written. It's great and we need more of this kind of article in the masjids so that the mass could read and become enlightened. I regret saying this but the common 'Arab' do not think too deeply and see everything on the surface. That is why we can't seem to unite. Again, it was a great and informative article.

What is an "orientalist?"
You make some very far reaching comments. "It was decided." By whom? Where's your proof. It looks to me like you are pointing at Israel and Western powers for the failure of Islam to acheive the dream of a perfect society. Is there no self-reflection or self-criticism in Islam? What is the reason for the dream of a unified Islam? What would that achieve? Whose vision is it?

Mohammed no one is cheering about the Afghan deaths, nor are they laughing about it. To tell you the truth I am mad. I am sure a lot of other people are too. Some Muslim on this board said it was a good thing that the Middle East didn't have the weapons like the West. I would have to agree with them. I am sure they would not ony use those weapons on Jews, but white people too. Look at what Muslims did to Persians. I should point out before the Crusades, Muslims invaded Europe, and invaded Spain. Leave us alone. Right now white people seem to be people used by non-whites to kill those they hate. It is bad enough we have to suck up to corrupt Arab leaders in order to buy oil at cheap prices.

Very enlightening article. I agree with a
previous commentor that the last couple of
paragraphs could use some expansion,
though. Through all that comes to my mind is
one word: Satyagraha (i may have misspelled
that). this is an Indian word quite often
mistranslated as passive resistance. In truth it
means doing whatever is neccessary to
resist. Of course it still retains some of the feel
of passivity for many due to Ghandi's use of it.
One thing that is most neccessary for us as
Americans, at this time, is to slough off the
ages old covering of mysogeney, fatalism, and
irrationalism. These things are not Islamic
and anyone who has ever studied Islam (and
not modern day Muslims) should see this.

It is interesting how the people of such an advanced country can be so ignorant.On one side they are shocked by the loss of innocent people on Septemher 11 and on the other side they cheer the massacre of innocent people in Afghanistan. They are shocked by the video showing Bin Laden smiling as he narrates the distruction of the Twin Towers, but they drink, dance and enjoy while the leaders of their country kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people. They are shocked at how these 'islamic fundamentalists' can kill innocent people to furthur their pupose, but they turn the other ear when Madeline Albright commented on national TV that the loss of life of 500,000 Iraqi children was 'worth it'.They are shocked at how 'islam can condone killing', but they forget the spanish inquisition of the 10th century when the Christian crusaders,for the sake of religion,killed millions of innocent muslims. They are shocked at how any one can follow such a 'violent religion',and yet Hillary Clinton hailed Islam as the fastest growing religion in America.

We have an un-Islamic Problem

The problem is due to our un-Islamic ways. Let us follow the path of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and things will take care of themselves.


- Yusuf


I really enjoyed reading this article and surprised by the facts concerning the 19th century attempts by Tunisia, Iran and Egypt at democratization. My main concern, however, is that much of the post-September 11 literature (more opinioted than literary I'm afraid) misses the point. How do we further peace in the world? The orientalists don't think democracy will bring it because they have this archaic sense that Muslims will only use democracy to further oppress themselves with fundamentalism. The anti-Orientalists are busy writing about the glorious Islamic past and how it differs with the terrorism of today and the poverty of the Middle East. Yet one has to ask themselves, what does the poor Egyptian farmer think of all of this? And how about the veiled woman in Saudi Arabia who has all the money in the world (they are richer than American women) but she can do very little with it since business and life are out of reach in the conservative desert kingdom?

We need to start TALKING about the DOING. Frankly, it isn't Islam that is the problem or the West that is the problem, but misguided notions of FATE. People who study the Middle East or even live in the region have this idea that since its been a bloody mess for the past century, nothing can be done about it. The Orientalists are afraid of Islam and Muslims, forgetting that the vast majority of the region's people and even Islamic activists are peaceful, progressive and modernity-minded, and most of all frustrated. The Islamically-oriented tend to blame everything on the West, forgetting that even anti-western countries such as Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Cuba are still failures.

The Islamic world needs self-empowerment, not box-cutters or B-52s. The Islamic world needs to social order, the return of core Islamic values such as education, gender equality, and tolerance in order to build a civil society that will give way to nation-building. Islam isn't the problem, but Muslims are.

Anyone with an education would see this as propaganda for those without access to differing points of view.

Prof. Alam,

Very insightful piece, though I'm not equipped to comment on your spin of many of the historical events you cite. I find it troubling, however, how quickly you descend into the usual Us vs. Them patterns of reasoning and retread old, tired indictments of the US, Israel, the "West", etc. as a main source of problems in the Islamic world.

Nevertheless, there's reason for hope at the end when you touch on the subjects of reason, tolerance, and the Enlightenment...perhaps you already recognize (but wisely leave unstated) the inevitable conclusion when such behavior becomes the norm rather than the exception as it is among most people, Islamic and non-Islamic alike. ;-)

Some respondents (Amir Raza, Mohammad Qasem, Imran (UK), Steve (US), and others) clearly miss this point as is evident in responses which expose their blind, unquestioning obediance to their own favored set of beliefs. Sadly, they demonstrate how easily even literate and presumably well-educated people fall prey to patterns of lazy and close-minded thinking. One day, their heirs will recognize that the 1st step in making progress towards positive resolutions to the difficult issues which divide us is the admission that each one of us may be wrong, including in our beliefs of God, Allah, in atheism, or whatever.


Masha'Allah, very good article.

May Allah bless you.

Excellent Article by Mr. Alam.

What is even worse in this entire affair is the disturbing practice of combining the events of September 11th with legitimate freedom-fighting struggles around the world. Bin Laden, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islam have absolutely nothing to do with Arafat, Fatah, or the Palestinians. Bin Laden, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Islam have absolutely nothing to do with the Tamil Tigers, the Zapatista movement, Khalistan, or even the struggles of Africans and African-Americans for rights many third-world nations obtained decades ago.

Many victims of democratic-sponsored terrorism worldwide view this international war on terrorism as simply an excuse for police-state governments and violaters of basic human rights worldwide to accept a raincheck rather than address the issues and/or compensate the victims of their brutal, illegal practices in the name of worldwide security and democracy. We all remember how quickly the many issues brought up at the UN Conference on Racism were instantaneously sugar coated by the USA and Europe under the disguise of not wanting to get sidetracked from the issues.

"We're working on it" will simply not be an acceptable statement. If the USA, Israel, and other nations that support Democracy have the right to declare war on terrorism, then innocent victims of democratic terrorism have the same right to take a stand and have their voices heard and their grievances addressed. Too many innocent people in numbers supassing the victims of September 11th have already been killed worldwide. It is time for words of wisdom to be ways of wisdom.

This war on terrorism cannot be selective. Terrorism is terrorism, period.

John, America would support any leader in the Middle East just so they could buy oil. It doesn't matter if they kill their own people. As long as they sell oil to us we won't do anything. What do you want America to do about it? If we fight them they will just not give us oil. Also, I should piont out the white race is decreasing. You are correct that Facism and Communism are evil. But you can't say white people are the only evil people. Muslims killed millions of Persians. That is the reason that there are not many of them left.

this is an interesting article, especially when coupled with this one which i read earlier today:

I myself am of the opinion that the problem with Islamic states is just that; that they are Islamic states, as opposed to one Islamic state.
This in mind, western powers are more than happy to exploit, perhaps even promote, the division, through whatever means, and thus reap the economic and political benefits of the internal divisions of these Islamic nations.
Extremism, in conjunction with the perpetual campaign of fear mongering perpetrated by Western media, has laid the groundwork for Western powers to walk over Islamic nations with the approval of the citizens of said Western powers.
This time last year, few would have approved a large scale military action in Afghanistan. Now, it is in full swing.
Is there a problem with the nations in which Muslims live? Yes, in both the Islamic nations and the Western Nations many muslims call home, but this is not an 'Islamic problem'. The problem is not so much related to Islam itself, as the actions in relation to perceptions of Islam, both by Western powers, and Muslims themselves.

Judging from what I have seen to this point, the problem is not set to get better any time soon.
If large scale military action and imperial conquest have help lay the groundwork for the current situation, I myself fail to see how they can help to better it.

JOHN said:
The problem with the comments made by "Steve" and "MR." is that they believe the 95% of the lies put out by the likes of CNN and FOX news to name a few that they look at the world from a child's perspective.

The average American person would be horrified that their Government sponsored Dictators like Saddam, Pinochit, Devile, Shah of Iran, Maputo of Zaire, Pol Pot (Kam Rough of Cambodia) and many many oppressive governments in order to divide and rule the world.

Democracy is the last thing any world power would promote in the Muslim world. Democracy in the Muslim lands is a threat to American attempts to control their governments and their resources. A government in those Muslim lands for the people by the people would never allow the U.S government a free hand in their lands. The media and the government at home could never make a public case to attack another democratic government. When we use dictators like Saddam and when we don't need them anymore it's quite easy to attack a dictator when they are brushed with the same paint as Hitler. This divide and rule policy is an old practice the British used to rule the world. The world is still recovering from the British failed attempt to rule the world.

The Media have done their best to keep the American people in this matrix of an ALICE IN WONDERLAND state of mind.

The Muslim people are probably the most peace and Democracy loving people in the world. In World War1 who killed 30 million people? and in World War 2 who killed over 55 million people? Which people or continent had the biggest killers of human beings in history (Hitler and Stalin)? The only form of government that is the only form of government is a Democratic form of gov't.

The very few people in those secretive societies that run the U.S policy towards the Middle East need to abandon this futile attempt to control Islam. Islam is like an irresistible force of nature that can't be controlled or contained

Assalaam alaikum,
I liked this article and agree with most of what is said. However, I would like to see a greater development of the last two paragraphs. While this article correctly emphasizes the impact of colonialism, it does not offer a good analysis of the internal forces (within muslim countries) that contributed for the current status quo.
We must admit that although Islam is misrepresented as irrational, misogynist, fatalist and fanatical, there are unfortunately many muslims that behave in that way. And it is our duty, as muslims, to do something to change that.
I would like to hear more propositions, constructive ideas of how to rebuild the muslim world, this time, under the ethical principles described in the last paragraph.

Excellent sceintific analysis our job right now as muslims in the west is to rebuild this lost civilization with hard work and dedication

Excellent piece of thesis. I strongly believe that the present attack and seige on America is not born out of hate for "our liberty and ways of life" as some in America will make us believe. Rather, it is a conglomerate the oppressive monarchies in the middle east enthrenched by the western powers. People from all walks of life should wake-up and face-up to the root of the problems. This is bottled-up vent that is coming home to roost.

I fully support your views in this matter. It seems to me that the world is becoming further and further under the dominance of the few who control the economies. This seems to me because so many cultures now are based on their economies. It would take little more to create one whole culture of the few rich enslaving the many poor. This no more blatant than in the current euro issue. My observation is that there is no example of true democracy in the world today. Secularism has done it's work of creating populations of faithlessness and pride. Only a small actual percentage of populations in "democratic" countries appear to actually vote. The selection of governments only allow for the case of trying to select the best of a bad lot. The hypocrisy of a government in these times posturing their policies to "make a better world" is not lost on a public when it becomes evident that every government's hands are tied because of global economics. Who controls the global economy?
I could only ever forsee a true democracy in force if the culture is based on God's Law. Islam can be the only solution to true peace and prosperity. All those who submit to God's will would give glory to God in His grace and mercy. It is only God who is gracious in His provisions and bounty. It is only God who is righteous and just. Praise be to God. God is the greatest. All thanks to God for His promise that evil will be overcome and all falsehood banished. May peace be upon you.

Islam IS the problem.
The Koran cautions Muslims npt to have Jews or Christians as friends,
NO more garbage about how peace loving Islam is.
If Islam stands by terrorists, it WILL be destroyed like the Taliban.
If Islam choses to live in the seventh century,it will DIE in this century.
Islamic societies have been left behind by time and by God.
Or are you so stupid that you cannot see.
If you refute this, name one highly developed, robust and democratic Islamic society.


Assalalmu Alaikum to one and all:

May Allah reward brother M. Shahid Alam for having tried to expose the anti-Islam propaganda war with the intention of blaming Islam for the backwardness of the Muslims and branding Islam as one against progress and advancement of the humanity. No doubt that all these are done with the intention of preventing or dissuading the Muslims from seeking to make fresher and intellectual look at the ever-enduring dynamics of this Deen of Allah in order to find their respective place in the comity of nations.

No matter how ferocious the propaganda may continue to be, Islam is destined to make its comeback but it needs is Muslims equipped with all the necessary intellect to carry the banner of Islam and engage in fields of human activity and also open friendly discourses with non-Muslims. In short, we need to be more practical and organize ourselves in order to be back on track.




I found your article interesting and well written. As an American convert, I have been one of those who has needed a "re=education" of the facts and realities of the Islamic world and its history.Inshaa allah, those who need to hear the truth will see it in your article. Jazak'Allah.

This article is a bit confusing, because the terminology "siege" is used. Who is besieging whom? Is this another article to pick on the United States as a scapegoat for a people's own mistakes? I don't think the USA is perfect, but folks in the US would not be against freedom of peoples in the Arab world. As far as the implied repression of islam as demonstrated by the crushing of Iraq, since when did Sadam Hussein represent Islam? Also, who in the muslim world has the authority to speak as the true islamist? As for my personal opinion, I do not know that islam has a prophet at this time. So for good government I would turn to either an American-style constitution charged with Islamic laws (the constitution is merely a framework for making laws and could easily accomdate islamic ones), or if Arab countries can always be governed by good kings, perhaps it is expedient that they continue to be governed by kings in lieu of a republic governed by constiution. But I don't see the siege from the US to prevent these things--the US people have nothing against freedom of worship or to have representative government until attacked or held hostage by fanatics, or when a despot attacks another country. (I could say more but I'll stop here).

Thank you for an enlightening article. I have and read 'The Venture of Islam', by Marshall G. S. Hodgson. I'm a middle of the road Muslim and belief that most Muslims are. It's too bad that fringe elements of Islam get more headlines than they deserve. My perspective is that inspite of some us and others Islam will prevail and expand. The Quran has withstood 1400 years of not having 1 dot changed. Thank God for guidence that we don't need to worry about a revised version of the Quran.

Islam has been around since Adam and will continue to exist until the last day. Europeans and Americans will believe in Islam once they are introduced to Islam. Their spiritual needs in light of their secularism testifies to the inevitable. It is the duty of Muslims to behave Islamically in the West to accelerate this process. We have to practice real Islam first. Islam promotes upholding of the rights of the weak and the poor. Secularism, materialism, communism, and fascism follow Darwin's survival of the strong theory. Hence, the killing of hundreds of millions by Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the Colonialists in the last two centuries. Darwin believed that only the fittest deserves to survive, the weak, he held, must die in order not to slow down the process of evolution. Hitler thought of his race as the fittest, as Lenin maintained only the labor forces deserved this honor, and colonialists believed the white race was superior to the yellow, brown or black races. Islam, on the other hand, as practiced by Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad, promoted fairness, justice, humanity, and opposed Darwinian ways long before Darwin. Islam upholds the rights of the weak and the poor unlike the laws of the jungle. Westerners will eventually see this and turn to Islam. Many of them turned to religious websites and books after Sep. 11. This article is an eye-opener for all.


I tell you, Ottoman achievements or what the people built in Iran and Baghdad were NOT any measures of success for Islam nor muslims at large. And I am an engineer and I believe that we should build non-stop. But...

The major problem we face today is the very definition of SUCCESS and as you know SUCCESS IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT IT SEEMS.

Lets not go to 12th century Islam lets talk about Boston last 10 years.

You see people flocking to the Masjid to WRITE CHECKS for Afghan refugees, just few months back the woman in charge of Roca in Chelsea who oversees the muslims refugees was not able to convince anybody to even say salaam to Afghan refugees in Boston prior to 9-11. The same last year and the year before and the year before. The same I am sure right this moment in Jan 2002. The same for Balkans refugees still coming to Boston the same for Somalian refugees ...

Measure of success for muslims in Boston is "DID THEY TAKE CARE OF THEIR OWN"? Widows and Orhpans and refugees? No they did not. why? not because they are bad people, but because they are not TAUGHT that taking care of MASAKIN, WABNI SABIL and BAES AL-FAGHIR is the fundamentals of their faith!!

But they are TAUGHT that nuclear weapons, large buildings, huge amounts of capital and lots of media coverage is indeed measure of success.

We love to be like the Americans, and if we have their wealth and armies and weapons we will destroy this planet by our ignorance and misguided personal desires.

Sometimes Allah may makes a nation poor and weak, in order to save them from destroying themselves and others. I think we are at that point. Lets be poor and destitude but share our food with our neighbors. Lets be meek but not have bloods of innocent people on our hands.

But meanwhile lets BUILD, lets create a culture of TEAMWORK and BUILDING from early childhood. Lets teach our people that we can build in Boston an infrastrucutre that any re

I actually gave a standing ovation to my computer! This article says it all. May Allah give us strength to break free from the "straight-jacket" of the "west" and prosper as our noble ancestors of Islam had once prospered and paved the way for todays "civilization" - if you want to call it that.

This is one of the best article I have read in recent times. Great information. It is our belief that sooner or later Islam will get it's glory back and by the grace of God no one can stop it.

The things we have to do:

1. Re-affirm our belief and stick to the teachings and practice. We all should remember that there is no other way by Allah. Either you are will Allah or against him.
2. Help ourselves in promoting the brootherhood. There is no concept of Nationalism in Islam. We are all one.
3. Work relentlessly to oppose the zionist media.
This media promotes evil in ourselves.

How can we do it ?

1. Promoting political awareness in the Muslim World.
2. Establishing our own media outlets.
3. Creating our own financial institutions.

But the great hurdle is the West and it's puppets in the Islamic world. First we have to get rid of all those corrupt leaders from Algeria to Saudi-Arabia from Turkey to Indonesia and from Pakistan to Kazakistan.

Lets pray to God because if he accepts our prayers for the change No super-power can change his intensions. I pray to the end of the wicked empires and unity among all the Muslims and Muslims states (57 + states) in all my prayer.
Insha'Allah that day would come soon in our lives. Ameen.

I'm citing three Ayat from the Qur'n that can enlighten our path and might explain why this is happening to Muslims:
- Or do you think that you shall enter the heavens without such trials as came to those who passed away before you? they encountered suffering and adversity, and were so struck shaken that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: "When the help of Allah will come." Verily, the help of Allah is near (AlBaqara, The Cow:214).
- Did you think that you would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard and remained steadfast? (Al Imran, Family of Imran: 142).
- Or do you think you shall be spared, without Allah knowing those among you who strive with might and main, and take none for friends and protectors except Allah, His Messenger, and the Believers? But Allah is well acquainted with all that you do. (Repentence, Atawba: 16).
Nothing happens without the leave of Allah. It has been written for us to go through all this. Our great trial is still to come. We have to get ready.
They want to extinguish Allah's light with their mouths, but Allah is perfecting and completing His light, even though the Unbelievers may detest it.
Have no fear fellow Muslims, Islam is coming, in the most powerful and prevailing way. We just have to rebuild ourselves with knowledge, learning our religion, teaching it to our children, try to be close to Allah with our worship. We have to work hard and invite to Islam, by our acts, our behavior, and our good intentions. It may sound childish and dreamy, but I bellieve in my heart that this should be our way, at least for now to prepare ourselves. Then when the time comes, we'll be ready, either us or the next generations.

May Allah make us grateful for His favors, which He has bestowed upon us and help us to work the righteousness that will please Him and admit us, by His mercy to the ranks of His righteous servants.

Great article,

Someone once told me that Muslims cannot be good humans without Islam. Let us work with Taqwa and be steadfast in what we believe and things will take care of themselves.


- Yusuf


Our Prophet Muhammad Sallallah-o-Alai Wassalam said, Muslims will not divert from the right path if they follow Quaran and my Sunnah, but problem in Islamic World is that Rulers don't want to give up their thrones despite of failures. If Muslims can fight with Makkans at Badr in only 313 numbers against 1000, so situation is same everywhere now in the world, but we do not have that spirit and devotion to Islam that could trigger us to struggle. Quran says, Yahood and Nasara are your enemies and we admit them to be our leaders and tie our friendship with them.
Mr. Shahid Alam Sahib, your colums is extremely precious, but it is need to wake rulers of the Islamic Countries and their unity. They are in such numbers they can establish Muslim United Nations, Islamic World Bank, Islamic International Sheria Court, Islamic Internaitonal Peace Keeping Force comprising every member country.

Allah aap ka hami aur nasar ho (May Allah agree & assist you)

Allah Hafiz

Absolutely excellent. Thank you, for it is articles like these that allow muslims to understand the real causes and solutions to the current problems. After reading that article suggesting it is time muslims reform their religion i was much relieved to learn about the truth not lies. thank you and may Allah reward you.

Excellent article, im absolutely sick of seeing Islam demonized, Islam is the most perfect way of life.

Great conclusions and analysis. All those experiments and attempts to create a good democrtatic models were not aborted by the colonial occupation. The models were born to die, due to the ignorant society were they were presented.
Yes their was great thinkers, but you can count all of them on one hand, in any Muslim country at that time.
Jazak Allah Khayran