Synopses & Reviews
Islam as a religion is central to the lives of over a billion people, but its outer expression as a distinctive civilization has been undergoing a monumental crisis. Buffeted by powerful adverse currents, Islamic civilization today is a shadow of its former self. The most disturbing and possibly fatal of these currents—the imperial expansion of the West into Muslim lands and the blast of modernity that accompanied it—are now compounded by a third giant wave, globalization.
These forces have increasingly tested Islam and Islamic civilization for validity, adaptability, and the ability to hold on to the loyalty of Muslims, says Ali A. Allawi in his provocative new book. While the faith has proved resilient in the face of these challenges, other aspects of Islamic civilization have atrophied or died, Allawi contends, and Islamic civilization is now undergoing its last crisis.
The book explores how Islamic civilization began to unravel under colonial rule, as its institutions, laws, and economies were often replaced by inadequate modern equivalents. Allawi also examines the backlash expressed through the increasing religiosity of Muslim societies and the spectacular rise of political Islam and its terrorist offshoots. Assessing the status of each of the building blocks of Islamic civilization, the author concludes that Islamic civilization cannot survive without the vital spirituality that underpinned it in the past. He identifies a key set of principles for moving forward, principles that will surprise some and anger others, yet clearly must be considered.
"Allawi (The Occupation of Iraq), former minister of defense and minister of finance in Iraq's postwar governments, offers his version of the causes and consequences of the 'decline' of Islamic civilization and proposals for its rejuvenation. The author argues that the West's violent encroachment on the Muslim world in the 19th and 20th centuries shattered local institutions and economies and disrupted any natural evolution of Islamic society; furthermore, current efforts to 'modernize' the faith amount to draping an entire civilization in ill-fitting, inorganic ideas. Allawi calls for a return to the creative and artistic heritage of Islam and a restoration of balance 'between the physical and the spiritual... between men and women; between rights and duties' while suggesting that the time to find balance may soon run out. The writing is erudite and the conclusions fascinating, but Allawi's dismissive attitude toward Western societies and their 'mass rejection... of the cardinal virtues, not least wisdom and moderation,' as well as a reluctance to accommodate anything other than a faith-based understanding of human reality might limit his audience." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
A conversation with Ali Allawi . . .
Q: What drew you to the subject of the past and present of Islamic civilization?
A: I have always been puzzled by the contradictory manner in which people interact with Islamic civilization. In the West, it is often spoken of in the past tense as a civilization once great but now eclipsed by modernity. Most Muslims on the other hand refuse to acknowledge that Islamic civilization no longer defines the world in which they live, and assume that the past glories of the civilization continue today. I wanted to establish whether Islam as a faith demands that the outer world be fashioned according to its world view; and whether the loss of an Islamic "civilizational space" is the reason behind the difficulties that Muslims have encountered with modernity and, now, globalization.
Q: Why has Islamic civilization waned over the last centuries?
A: I believe it was thwarted by a variety of factors, including the wholesale adoption of non-Islamic models, but also by a failure of imagination and leadership on the part of the political, social, and cultural elites. I firmly believe also that the sense of the sacred, which infused all aspects of Islamic civilization, has been greatly diminished in the modern era, making it well-nigh impossible to rejuvenate the wellsprings of the civilization.
Q: Where do you see the roots of resurgence of Islamic civilization?
A: An Islamic civilization can only exist if Muslims choose to shape their world according to the precepts of their religion, both in its inner and outer dimensions. Islam is not simply a matter of obeying a particular set of laws or injunctions. Neither is it defined by the raw elements of power, wealth, and territory. Of equal importance is the ethical dimension of the faith, which obliges Muslims to behave and interact in ways that enhance the public good. This must be revitalized if Islamic civilization is ever to be reconciled with the demands of the modern world without disruption or violence. It can also be the bridge by which Islamic civilization could contribute meaningfully to resolving the immense problems and issues that are confronting the world today.