It has almost been two centuries since the Muslim World engaged itself in the debate about revival which was stimulated by the rise of European Liberalism and the decline in the power and influence of the once mighty ottoman caliphate. It is both ironic and encouraging that the debate continues; ironic because the Muslim World still finds itself in decline and in an abysmal state, encouraging because they haven’t given up on changing their state of affairs.
Although the debate about revival within the Muslim World took many ideological turns in the course of these two centuries, exploring new ideas, testing new notions, looking for new solutions, it was from its very start to the present day, influenced from outside the Muslim World. Infact it was not until liberalism took hold in Europe, radically changing its outlook and political institutions, and the rapid industrialization which strengthened the European Powers of the day both economically and politically, resulting in European expansion around the globe that the Muslim World start to feel its weakness and the need for internal strength.
It was the first time in many centuries that the Muslims had an ideological rival, a group of nations challenging their political and military might based on an intellectual challenge to their way of life. The Muslim World was confronted with a civilization which was organized on the basis of a very different political idea, the separation of state and religion, one at complete odds with their own creed and it was the first time that they witnessed a civilization against whom they can compare their own affairs and calibrate their intellectual, political and economic strength. The rise of European liberalism coincided with a period in Muslim history when the Muslim World was headed by the Ottoman Caliphs; Turks who were extremely skilled fighters and masters of the arts of politics, but who were the weakest in the history of Islam with regards to intellectual strength. Under them the Muslim World had gone in a state of intellectual lethargy after the height of intellectual strength which was witnessed under the Abbasi Caliphs, who being Arabs were well versed in the solutions presented by the Arabic Prophet and the Arabic Quran. Infact it was in the time of the Abbasi Caliphs that the Muslim World successfully faced off the challenge presented by the adherents of Greek philosophy and the intellectual threat presented by the rationalists, or as they are called in history. It was also under the Abbasi Caliphs that the Muslim thinkers engaged in the discussion much similar to the one presented by American philosopher Francis Fukuyama in his famous article “The End of History” in which he proclaimed the eternal triumph of liberalism after the defeat of Soviet Union and the end of the intellectual quest for the perfect political model for humanity. Many centuries earlier, Muslim jurists were debating whether they had answered every question posed by humanity and whether it was time to close the doors of ijtihad.
Just as Francis Fukuyama learned a decade later about the limits of liberalism, with the launch of the war on terror which was an explicit admission by the West of its failure to convince the Muslim World of Western ideals and thus a resort to force to control the affairs of the Muslim World, the Muslims under the Ottoman caliphs found out the cost of the intellectual lethargy which had engulfed the Muslim World when they found themselves unprepared for the challenge posed by European liberalism by the end of eighteenth century.
It was the start of the internal debate within the Muslim World regarding revival which was stimulated by the progress of European powers especially the success of the French revolution. This marked the start of the discussion within the Muslim World about decline and how to avoid it and what was the process which would lead them out of it. It also marked the start of the protracted process of Western colonialism which lies at the heart of the problem faced by the Muslim World as the decline of the Muslim World has its roots in the rise of Western liberalism which dislodged the Islamic caliphate from the international theatre, which was until before the advent of Western liberalism the sole manager and greatest power at the international stage till the end of the eighteenth century. Western colonialism within the Muslim world can be divided in to three phases over the course of the last two centuries:
- Soft Colonialism: An era stretching from the end of eighteenth century till the destruction of the Islamic Caliphate on 3rd March 1924. The colonialists exploited the intellectual weakness of the Muslim World realizing that their material and scientific progress has impressed many amongst the Muslims especially the educated class and led an intellectual struggle within the Muslim World forcing her to reform her political institutions in tune with Western political institutions. This phase could also be called cultural colonialism in which the colonialists prepared Western trained and cultured Muslim elite who would become her ideological agents and spread Western ideals like democracy, freedom, feminism, nationalism, sovereignty of the human mind and the need to separate religion and state. The aim of the colonialists was to internally weaken the ottoman caliphate so that it can be disintegrated and eventually destroyed. The cultural bombardment of ideas from Western civilization was coupled with the ever increasing political pressure which the colonial states like Britain and France brought upon the ottoman caliphate pushing it for political reform and granting autonomy to its provinces which were later to be separated and majority of which were to become colonies of the European Powers. During this phase the Ottoman caliphate saw much of its territory being lost in the Balkan regions, Africa, Middle East and the subcontinent.
- Classical Colonialism: This is the era of physical and direct occupation of Muslim lands by Western colonialists. This occupation started towards the end of eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth century till it reached its pinnacle after the destruction of the ottoman caliphate at the hands of the allies in the First World War on 3rd March 1924. It marked the start of an era of complete domination of Muslim lands by Western Powers when the whole of Muslim land came under the physical control of the colonialists. Apart from plundering the resources of the colonies the Western powers used this era to inculcate in the Muslim mind the Western political thought through the education curriculum and establishment of political forces advocating the reorganization of the Muslim societies based on the separation of state and religion. It was also the era in which the colonialists oversaw the consolidation of Westphalian ideal of national sovereignty in Muslim lands. This was the beginning of the introduction of democracy in Muslim lands, a system imposed by the occupying forces on their subjects. It is no wonder then after the end of physical occupation by the colonialists on Muslim lands these areas inherited the boundaries drawn by the colonialists as agreed between them in the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Treaty of Sevres as well as the constitutions made for them by the colonialists.
- Neo-Colonialism: After the Second World War the European Powers were significantly weakened and could not physically control their colonies. Also the rise in power and influence of the US and Soviet Union meant influence on Muslim lands had new and strong competitors. The colonialists withdrew from Muslim lands and designed the architecture for neo colonialism by institutionalizing what we today know as the international community and international law. International organizations like the IMF, World Bank, United Nations and Commonwealth were formed and their governing structures were designed in a a manner that these institutions were controlled and dominated by the great powers. The Veto wielding Security Council members, the unwritten law that the head of the World Bank would always be an American and that of IMF always a European, the US being the only country to have a super majority in the governing board of the IMF giving it an effective veto, are some examples of how the newly setup international community was designed to serve the colonial powers. Moreover the efficiency and lethargy of these organizations with regards to different global issues speak volumes about these being tools of colonial powers. The quickness with which the United Nations acted to establish the Israeli State and the delay in the resolution of the Palestinian issue, United Nations mandating the attack on Iraq at the time of first Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan while delaying the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the partition of East Taimur from Indonesia on the one hand and failure to stop the genocide of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo in former Yugoslavia on the other, the provision of Civil Nuclear Deal to India while its refusal to Iran are examples of the inherent bias of the international institutions towards Western colonialists. However what served as the pillars of neo-colonialism in Muslim lands, apart from the so called “international community” were two of the major tools which the West nurtured during the era of soft colonialism and classical colonialism; pliant puppet rulers and Western systems (mainly democracy).
It was to this hard fact that the Wikileaks pointed out, as a rude reminder to Muslim masses that although the era of classical colonialism may be over but colonialism persists in Muslim lands in a new shape; agent rulers, western systems and the holy than thou international architecture governing the relations between states. The Muslim world needs to realize that colonialism is the real enemy and if they are to arrest the decline prevalent in their lands they need to viciously target every aspect of the colonialist presence whether it be the agent rulers, democracy and the rejection of the biased international order which has imposed destructive wars and economic stagnation over their lands. It is by returning to re-establishing the ideological Islamic state and resurrecting the institution of the caliphate that they have any hope of ending their abysmal state of affairs. That is the lesson of history for them.