Interfacing with Western Civilization
Title: Islam and Contemporary Civilization: Evolving
Ideas, Transforming Relations Author: Halim Rane Publisher: Melbourne University Press, Australia (2010) Pages: 288 pages, Paperback Price: NA ISBN-10: 0522857280 ISBN-13: 978-0522857283
Since 9/ 11, a number of research centers and scholars have focused their research on Islam. In Australia, many research centers focusing on Islam and Muslim studies have been established and various scholars are producing excellent research related to Islamic studies. Griffith Islamic Research Unit of the Griffith University based in Brisbane is one of the prominent centers devoted to the study of Islam and Dr. Halim Rane, who is deputy director of the GIRU, is one of the most prominent experts on Islam in Australia and has produced a number of high quality publications in recent year.
The book under review is Dr. Rane’s most recent and perhaps most important work to date: Islam and Contemporary Civilization: Evolving Ideas, Transforming Relations, published under the Islamic studies of the Melbourne University press in 2010. In a nutshell, in this book, Dr. Rane examines the most complex debates and dilemmas within Islam and its relations with the western civilization.
Prof. Muhammad Hashim Kamali, Chairman of the prestigious International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia aptly stated that “Halim Rane provides a lucid account of Islam’s interfaces with western civilization. He skillfully connects the past with the present and provides critical analysis of some of the most problematic issues the two civiliza- tions have experienced in their relationship in recent times.”
The book is divided into three sections: Foundations, which covers the history, expansion, developments and movements of and within Islam; Debates covers issues in legal thought, human rights and the struggle for democracy and the third and final section Dilemmas, covers important and thorny issues like Israel and the Palestine problem which has become over the years the main problem, to the extent that Al Qaeda and other such groups consider it one of their main grievances against the so-called Judeo-Christian west. Other important issues covered in this section includes, jehad and the relationship with the west.
The book is basically written for the non-Muslim, especially western, readership. Rane believes that it can provide them a better understanding of Islam in the context of modernity as it pertains to the most contentious issues with which Islam and the Muslims have been associated for the past few decades. The reviewer, however, thinks the book is equally useful for many Muslims. Not only those Muslims who in their education and outlook are close to the west but also those who have a certain level of understanding of the subject can benefit from this excellently written book.
Dr. Rane in the very beginning makes a very important point which perhaps is at the root of the problem of perception of Islam in the west. Muslims, around the word, especially those who frequently question the motives of the west for considering Islam a religion supporting violence, must know that in reality their religion emphasizes so much on peace, love and respect for other human beings and tolerance etc. After all, “ religion is what its followers make it.”
The discussion on the pillars of Islam is thorough and educating. The author has successfully kept the language simple and matter of fact when writing on complex issues such as Tawhid and finality of the Prophethood.
The discussion is interesting especially where the author discusses the major themes and chapters of the Quran. The author seems to be quite influenced by the late Dr. Fazalur Rahman. However, had he been familiar with the Farahi school of Quranic studies, this discussion would have been more interesting and would have made it more convincing for the western reader to understand why the Quran holds such a central position in Islam.
The sayings of Prophet Mohammad ( PBUH), Hadith, have been mostly criticized by western experts. However, it is a pleasure to note that Dr. Rane is aware of the importance of sunnah and Hadith and explains convincingly how and why it is important and is linked with the Quran. (pgs 19-20)
Chapter two of the first section - Expansion, developments and movements is perhaps one of the most important chapters in the book. Rane states, “What is referred to today as ’Islam’ includes a religion and multiple cultures, as well as a civilization that encompasses diverse countries and people. It is often difficult to distinguish between orthodox Islamic teachings, morals, ethics and law and the culture of Muslim people. To be more precise, it is difficult to distinguish between the will of God from its human interpretation and manifestation.” (p31)
While scanning through the history of Islam and the historical battles of the Prophet, the author wonders that while the stories of these battles figure prominently in the extremists’ narrative today and are projected as the most effective means of resolving conflict, why so little attention is given to the diplomacy of the Prophet Muhammad and the role it played in establishing Islam in Arabia. He singles out the Treaty of Hudabiyah in 628 AD as a turning point. This is a question Muslims need to ask themselves.
The overview of Muslim history (pp 33-50) is comprehensive and accurate, although there are a few places where further elaboration would have been beneficial, but then it would have made the book a bit complex and a common reader would not have been able to comprehend it. Today a number of religious extremists groups, especially the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and also Al Qaeda claim that the so- lution of all problems faced by Muslims all over the world is the re-establishment of a unified Caliphate or Muslim empire. The author suggests, based on historical facts, that out of 1400-plus years of Muslim history, a unified empire existed for not more than 100 years (the Rashidun and Umayyad eras).
In the chapter, Modern Developments in Muslim Thought, Dr. Rane has discussed the views and works of Muslim scholars such as Hasan alBanna, Qutb, Khomini, Maududi, Fazlur Rahman, Abdul Sulayman, Yusuf Qaradawi and Tariq Ramadan. One most important school missing from this discussion is the Farahi School. Hamiduddin Farahi, Amin Ahsan Islahi and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi are missing from this section. On the one hand, it is not surprising because all of Farahi’s work is in Arabic and is yet to be published and disseminated at a larger level although there are a few who have started working on it. On the other, no work on modern Muslim thought can be considered complete without the mention of these views and ideas.
Overall, Rane’s book is one of the best books written on the subject and must be read by all those having a positive interest in Islam. It should also be included as suggested reading on Islamic studies at the university level. Students and scholars will benefit from this book alike. The reviewer is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Western Australia and a former Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor of Politics, IAS, University of Bristol, UK. He is also a visiting scholar at Brookings Institution and is currently working on a book on the Strategic Culture of Pakistan.