In­ter­fac­ing with West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion

Southasia - - Book review - Re­viewed by Rizwan Zeb

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.

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