Is Islam an accomplice of the West?

Up to the nineteenth century Islam has never raised any objection to making money hence the socio-economic formation of the current developed nations economies cannot be considered in isolation of Islams place in the world.

Is Islam an accomplice of the West?

Akif Emre

The G20 summit, hosted by Turkey has begun. Twenty of the world's most developed countries' leaders, the global chiefs have come together in Antalya. As the name implies, the term developed in this context equates to wealth. Countries like China, where a labourer works an entire month for a sack of rice, and India, where poverty is equally widespread, are a part of this development and wealth.  Western countries remain responsible for the bulk of the world’s resource consumption and are the most brilliant representatives of this development. On the other hand we also have the wealthy oil-rich nations - who produce next to nothing when it comes to science, knowledge and technology - that make up another significant constituent of developed nations.

I am curious to see if Turkey will speak up against this world system, one in which social justice is disregarded?  Those who take to the streets in the cities where the G20 summits are held, cannot lay claim to the world that they demand. In fact, while protesting the world's wealthiest, the system and the underlying values are not questioned. This does not go beyond a symbolic act of extending an olive branch to capitalism.

Where are the Muslim countries - who are nothing more than guardians at the gas pump serving global capitalism - in terms of this development? With which qualifications do these countries, who are clueless about the usage, distribution, and gain of wealth, end up in this list? And where does Turkey, who was added to the list at the last minute of a global integration sytem, stand on the social values scale which displays the distribution of wealth, justice and consumption?

An orientalist and brief answer to this question would surely satisfy those who claim that Muslims are far behind or as a matter of fact, that Islam itself is the source of the deficiency.

Why we have fallen behind, is a 200-year-old question. A progressive understanding of history, which accepts development as an answer for these questions, or even sees this as an absolute destiny for humanity, lies beneath this.However, the reality that backwardness and development cannot be evaluated independently from values has been overlooked.

 If our backwardness is a reality, the only explanation for this must be our religion and culture! The argument that counters against this is based on the thesis that Islam does not prevent development. Both of these answers are based on the modern West's level of economic, technological and social development, and discuss how this can be achieved. The argument overlooks the modern west's “development” level and the values system and civilization envisioned behind it.

With the world's developed countries due to gather in Turkey, an article on development caught my eye: Cultural revival's historical roots are in Islamic history. (Republic, Science-Technology supplement, 13 November 2015.) Seeing Doğan Kuban's signature below one of the articles under this title, and taking into account the media it was published in into consideration, makes it all the more interesting. In his article, Kuban, with reference to Jack Goody's book Renaissances, attempts to write an interpretive essay. Goody examines the European example in association with renaissances that have taken place in Islamic, Chinese and Indian cultures. He mentions that Europe is indebted to these cultures.

Goody argues in his book that the philosophical and scientific endeavors in the Islamic world of the Abbasid period are Islamic renaissances, and claims that these Islamic renaissances have affected the formation of the European renaissance. Although this thesis is not new, it is one of the only examples that digress from a western-centered world history reading.

While Kuban argues that what the Abbasid Renaissance wanted to accomplish was the equivalent to what the Turkish Republic wanted to achieve, he lays blame on the Ottomans: “The Ottoman Empire, dominating the near east in the 16th century, lived in an ignorance hole. Today the Turks are struggling to survive in that same hole.”

This minimalist approach reminded me of a dispute that took place in Boğaziçi University years ago. Seyyid Hüseyn Nasr, an important figure in Islamic science history, was giving a lecture on Ottoman science in the university. During his speech, an academic in the lecture objected to his speech saying, “How can you lecture about science understanding in the Ottomans, when they didn't even have science?” Being familiar with the attitude of westernized intellectuals in Muslim countries, Nasr stepped in with a question: “Have you ever read a piece of work written in the Ottoman language?” The answer was no. “Well how can you speak so precisely about a culture you have never acquainted yourself with?”

Kuban seems more merciful in his article, and concludes it, saying: “The Abbasid renaissance does not give the opportunity for us to base our ignorance on Islam.” It is indeterminate how a connection will be established between the Islamic civilization and the Ottomans, who are degraded to a looting, ignorant empire who wins wars through their swords. It is a mystery how the intellectual population, who cannot make healthy relationships with the Ottomans and cannot read them correctly, can skip them and come into contact with the Abbasids. Another question that needs answering is, how can an empire that ruled for 600 hundred years and played a paramount role in world history, stand so steady if it were ignorant? Those who sing the praises of the Ottomans should also question where the Ottoman civilization made mistakes as well as remembering at which point what it had lost, especially considering the fact that up to a certain time, mathematics was a compulsory subject in Islamic seminaries.

And those who tie Islam with the West's rise should also question why Islam could not be claimed to be an accomplice to the West's developed and literate paradigm and values system. One specific example is that it is worthy questioning why they consciously resisted capitalism until the start of the 19th century.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Kasım 2015, 14:59