We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more The Oxford History of Islam - European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States - The Modern Muslim State and the Ideological Legacy of Colonialism - Oxford Islamic Studies Online
Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
Chapter: verse lookup What is This? Select one or both translations, then enter a chapter and verse number in the boxes, and click "Go."
:
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result

European Colonialism and the Emergence of Modern Muslim States >
The Modern Muslim State and the Ideological Legacy of Colonialism

Many Muslim states today view the transformation of society, its development and modernization, to be their principal aim. As a result, they have been concerned with such ideals as social change, economic advancement, and industrialization. What distinguishes the Mus-lim state from the modern West, however, is its preoccupation with the central role of Islamic culture in the discussions over modernization and development. The attention to cultural dimensions of change—molding the individual as a prelude to carrying out successful social transformation—has been at the heart of the state's development agenda and is a legacy of the colonial state, which unlike its parent state in Europe was overtly concerned with its subjects' cultural life. Controlling popular culture as a prerequisite for socioeconomic change has been the avowed policy of secular nationalist states from Turkey to pre-revolution Iran, from socialist Indonesia to the revolutionary Arab states. To a lesser extent, this has also been the case in Malay-sia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Arab emirates and monarchies. The state's concerns with music, dress, popular beliefs, and the cultural outlook of Muslims has perforce made the issue of cultural change, and its implications for development, and the extent of state control of society central to politics. This is a legacy of the colonial state, not the consequence of emulating the Western model of the state.

The Modern Muslim State and the Ideological Legacy of Colonialism

European colonialists often believed that they had a paternal responsibility for their subjects. The British spoke of the “white man's burden” and the French “la mission civilatrice,” as shown in this cover from the October 1891 edition of Le Petit Journal. A “friend of France” was assassinated by Moroccan chieftans who thought he had made a secret deal with the colonial rulers.

view larger image

The ideology of colonialism was rooted at some level in the belief that European powers had a paternal responsibility for their subjects. This meant that not only were they obliged to protect and manage them but also to strive to better them. Evelyn Cromer, a British colonial administrator, saw colonialism as an exact process of management of colonial subjects, who were incapable of ruling over themselves. Colonialism provided a “government of subject races,” which managed their affairs and as such also changed them “for the better.” Notions of the “white man's burden” or la mission civilatrice clearly captured the essence of this belief. French colonialism was more attached to such goals than was British colonialism. French colonial administrations sought to change their vassal populations more aggressively, viewing the introduction of the superior French culture to the locals as a noble and necessary objective. But the British accepted cultural diversity more easily and thus operated through local cultural institutions and beliefs, rather than seeking to simply supplant them. Still, to varying degrees all colonial administrations pursued cultural change and charged their policy makers and institutions with the duty to realize this change. These efforts were tied to colonialism's claim to be doing good for the people, as the colonial order tied development and advancement to westernizing cultural change. The postcolonial state, often ruled by those who served in the colonial administrations, remained true to the colonial ethos and its views on cultural change.

The postcolonial Muslim state has therefore modeled itself after the colonial one and thus seeks to change society according to blueprint that leads to its claim to unlimited authority. The Muslim state has been ruled by a westernized elite that has internalized the vision of the colonial state, which is dissociated from local social institutions and values, at least in its public policy choices. The blueprint that is propagated as the state's agenda for progress is thus deeply rooted in colonialism's ideologies, from the volksraad in the Dutch Indies to the Raj in British India and the Bula Matari (literally, “crusher of stones,” a term used to refer to the colonial state in Africa) in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The continuity between the colonial and postcolonial eras has created a disjuncture between what the states have viewed as the proper course of development and the values that Muslim society holds near and dear; between how the state envisions the society and how Muslims view themselves and their goals. Whereas the state followed a secular vision of development, the society has been deeply rooted in Islam. The disjuncture between the secular nationalism of Kemalism in Turkey, Pahlavi rule in Iran, or the National Liberation Front (Front de Liberation Nationale, FLN) in Algeria and popular perceptions of politics attests to this fact. State policies have therefore created social tensions and ultimately political crises. In Iran and Algeria these tensions translated into serious challenges to state authority. In Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Indonesia they have produced significant Islamic opposition to the state.

The ideology and political programs of contemporary Islamist movements across the Muslim world have been shaped in response to this disjuncture. Islamists have questioned the state's agenda and put forth alternative visions of sociopolitical change, which they claim both include Islam and promote development, while anchoring state policy in society's Islamic values. This line of argument is reflected in the programs of diverse Islamic movements from Malaysia's Islamic party (Partai Islam Se-Malaysia, PAS), to the Jamaat-i Islami in Bangladesh and Pakistan, Afghanistan's Hizb-i Islami, Turkey's Welfare (Refah) Party, Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (Hizb-i Nahzat Islami), the Muslim Brotherhood in Sub-Saharan and North Africa and the Arab Near East, Indonesia's Muhammadiyyah movement or its ulama movement (Nahdat al-Ulama), Tunisia's Islamic Tendency Movement (Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique, also known as the Renaissance or Ennahda Party, later known as Hizb al-Nahda), Morocco's Justice and Benevolence party (al-Adl wal-Ihsan), to Algeria's Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique de Salut, FIS). The Islamic Republic of Iran has followed such a policy since 1979, and the state in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sudan, and even Saudi Arabia have incorporated some of the Islamists' demands into their policy making. In this sense Islamism has emerged not as a rejection of development but as a consequence of the disjuncture between the state's vision of society and how it should be developed and the society's perception of itself and its goals.

Similar tensions between state policy and national aspirations have also existed. Colonial administrators generally viewed themselves as the most capable representatives of the aspirations and hopes of the local populations and the most efficient vehicle for the advancement and progress of their subjects. In fact, nationalist liberation struggles often began with challenges to this claim; local elites from Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan, Sad Zaghlul of Egypt, Abu al-Kalam Azad of India, and Onn Jafar and Tunku Abdul-Rahman of Malaysia, or activists from Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ahmad Ben Bella of Algeria, and Sukarno of Indonesia began to question whether colonialism could possibly manifest local aspirations and if indigenous leaders were not clearly better suited to do so. These nationalist figures formed parties from the Istiqlal (Freedom) party in Morocco to the Neo-Destur (Constitution) party in Tunisia, the Wafd (Delegation) in Egypt, the All-India Muslim League in India, and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in Malaysia. Many of these parties continued after independence, forming the basis for politics in the new states.

Still, that the colonial administrations viewed themselves as representing local interests vested colonialism with a mission—however dubious—of serving the development of the local populations. That the nationalist elite challenged this claim of colonialism, and the nationalist struggle was animated by the competition for the right to represent local aspirations, made the task of development central to the mission of the Muslim states that succeeded colonialism. The post colonial Muslim state thus became even more openly tied to the goals of development, which has since independence become the measure of the state's success or failure and the most important determinant of its legitimacy. As a result, undermining colonialism's legitimacy, from Java to Algeria, meant rejecting its claim to serving local interests and proposing a superior agenda for progress. Nationalism and development efforts were therefore joined and became the bedrock of the struggle independence under Sukarno, Nasser, and the Algerian FLN, among others.

The Modern Muslim State and the Ideological Legacy of Colonialism

Colonialists often looked down on local practices. Muslims were seen as prone to violence, and Muslim doctrines such as jihad were used as evidence of Islam's hostility to progress. This French magazine cover from 1906 illustrated the French view of an Algerian urging his followers to wage holy war against the oppressors.

view larger image

Beyond anchoring state function and legitimacy in the goals of development, colonialism affected the state's view of the development process and its concomitant processes of social change. Colonialism was disdainful of local cultural beliefs and practices. It viewed local religions as inferior to Christianity—a belief that undergirded its support of missionary activities and local customs as archaic and harmful to progress. Although colonial administrations tolerated many local beliefs and practices and did not always seek to change them, there was never any doubt that they were not held in high esteem. Whereas the earliest officers of the British East India Company adopted Indian ways in Bengal, with the consolidation of British rule over India all such practices were eventually abandoned, and instead the local recruits into the bureaucracy were made to adopt British ways, at least in the public sphere. At the height of the empire figures such as Thomas Babington Macaulay in India or Evelyn Baring Cromer in Egypt—known for their patronizing attitudes toward the local cultures—set the tone for evaluating and characterizing local customs and mores. Macaulay once said of the cultural worth of the East, “[A] single shelf of European books [is] worth the whole literature of India and Arabia”; and Cromer opined, “The European is a close reasoner…he is a natural logician…The mind of the oriental [Arab], on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His reasoning is of the most slipshod description…[they] are singularly deficient in the logical faculty.”

The Modern Muslim State and the Ideological Legacy of Colonialism

Some European colonialists were interested in local culture. Major Gayer-Anderson, an Englishman who lived in Cairo from 1935 to 1942, for example, joined together two medieval houses that he restored and furnished in traditional style. Known as the Bayt al-Kritliya, the house is now maintained as the Gayer-Anderson Museum by the Islamic section of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.

view larger image

Islam received particularly harsh criticism from colonial rulers. Muslims resisted colonialism in Africa and South and Southeast Asia. For this they were seen as prone to violence and less likely to be controlled, changed, or converted. Islam was therefore viewed as a challenge to both colonial control and efforts to transform the local population's life and thought. Such Islamic doctrines as jihad, polygamy, strict obedience to religious law (shariah), and the tendency to introduce Islamic values to public life were seen as evidence of Islam's hostility to progress. These criticisms shaped colonial attitudes from Morocco to Malaya; they also shaped the broader intellectual and academic interest in Islam through the works of early scholars of Islam who were tied to colonial administrations, such as W. W. Hunter in India or Snouck Hurgronje in the Dutch Indies. In time, their scholarship would become entrenched in Western attitudes toward Islam and in turn would condition Muslim attitudes toward the West and therefore what the West has in store for Islam.

The impact of all this was to instill a sense of inferiority among many local elites and rising bureaucrats. Even those who rejected colonialism were deeply influenced by the persistent denigration of their cultural, religious, and social values. Although reactions varied from accommodation to rejection of the colonial culture, all reactions showed the mark of colonialism's successful assertion of its claim to civilizational superiority. In India, for instance, Sayyid Ahmad Khan's reform movement—which would produce many of Muslim South Asia's future leaders—sought to uplift the Muslims by accepting many precepts of Western thought and social values. Other movements of revival and reform showed to varying degrees, explicitly as well as implicitly, the impact of grappling with colonialism's assertion of its cultural superiority. Most expressions of Islamic thought in the postcolonial period, from Islamic modernism to Islamism, thus in some form were (and still are) concerned with addressing what is seen as the problem of Western cultural superiority.

Various proponents of Islamic modernism—from its earliest exponents of Egypt's Muhammad Abduh to the Young Ottomans in Turkey, the Jadidis in Central Asia, the Aligarh movement in India, to its more recent advocates, the Muhammadiyyah movement in Indonesia, Malaysia's Sisters-in-Islam, Pakistan's Tulu-i Islam (Dawn of Islam), Iran's Ali Shariati or Abdul-Karim Surush, Egypt's Hasan Hanafi, Algeria's Muhammad Arkoun, Pakistan's Fazlur Rahman, Syria's Muhammad Shahrur, Malaysia's Kassim Ahmad, or India's Asghar Ali Engineer—have all sought to grapple with the problem of Islam's decline on the one hand and Islam's accommodation in modern society on the other hand. The two issues are interconnected, and for the modernists these issues involve interpreting Islam in terms of dominant Western values.

Islamists from Mawlana Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi to Sayyid Qutb (1906–66) to the Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–88) have also been animated by the same concerns. Unlike the modernists, the Islamists have not sought to interpret Islam in terms of dominant Western values—at least not explicitly. Rather, they have sought to assert Islam's domination, to interpret modernity according to Islamic values. Discussions of the Islamic state, Islamic economics, or the Islamization of knowledge all have this goal in mind. Both the modernist and Islamist interpretations as intellectual endeavors have failed. Islamism, however, has proved politically potent, whereas modernism has failed on that account as well.

In the political arena those who inherited the colonial state were even more directly influenced by colonialism's ideological vision. The bureaucratic, military, and political elite who constituted the ruling order in Muslim states at the end of the colonial era were often educated in colonial educational institutions, worked for the colonial order, and were deeply influenced by the ideology and vision of the colonial administration. Consequently, this elite core believed that the task of development, to which it was utterly committed, was only possible if those aspects of the local culture that were deemed to be regressive were discarded and replaced with progressive Western ones. Thus, new states—and interestingly also Iran and Turkey, which were not direct colonies but subject to similar ideological pressures—initiated changes in script, dress, and customs and sought to secularize society and culture and to adopt Western mores, laws, and practices. They targeted Islam, its values, institutions, and role in public life, blaming it for the ills of society and promising that secularization would pave the way for modernization. In these efforts they were supported by those segments of the population that had already been affected by colonialism and had to varying degrees adopted Western ways, as well as by those who accepted the state's promise—for the time being at least—that secularization and westernizing cultural change will bring about development. As a result, secularization and westernization became embedded in the developmental ethos of the new states.

The postcolonial Muslim state therefore emerged in the mold of the colonial one—development-oriented in aim, hostile to Islam, and modernizing and westernizing in practice. The ideology that guided the evolution of the postcolonial state, however, was not uniform across the Muslim world. Some Muslim states remained allied with the west and followed capitalist economic policies; others gravitated toward the Soviet Union and the Non-Aligned Movement and adopted socialist practices. Although these ideological positions produced different historical experiences and levels of industrialization and political change, the developmental goal and westernizing direction of state formation was largely the same across the Muslim world. In short, although in foreign and economic policy making, states may have been distinguished according to their commitments to capitalism or socialism, to the West or the Soviet bloc, in domestic politics the fundamental issue was the same: secular development at the cost of Islamic identity of society.

  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Look It Up What is This? Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Next Result
Oxford University Press

© 2020. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice