The Muslim World as Westernized and Decadent


sunsetPart I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Note: Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadawi’s opinions below do not necessary reflect the opinions of the author or SuhaibWebb.com. To view Andrew Booso’s discussion and review of Shaykh Abdul Hasan’s positions, please be sure to visit the 4th part of the series: Part IV

Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi saw “almost all the Islamic countries, today, are in the grip of an acute intellectual crisis. Or, shall we say, an unrelenting battle of ideas and ideals is taking place throughout the Muslim world. It can aptly be described as a clash between the Islamic and the Western concepts of life, values and traditions.” Moreover, he argued that “the intellectual make-up, education and upbringing and personal and political interests of the ruling classes in Muslim countries require that Western ideals and forms of life should be pushed forward and the Muslim masses made to walk in the foot-steps of the West, changing or brushing aside, as the need be, whatever religious considerations, social attitudes and national customs and law and tradition came in the way or impeded their advance.”

He saw the influence of “the West” over the Muslim world, and he was fearful of its consequences, so much so that he characterised it as “the biggest and most vital problem before the Islamic world at the present time.” The danger was exacerbated by the fact of “the internal weaknesses of the Muslim countries coupled with the unrivalled ascendency of the Western Civilization and the irrefutable material and political superiority of the Western Powers.” Furthermore, whereas “Western Civilization” was seen as possessing “extensiveness, vitality and [an] all-conquering quality,” the “Eastern countries”  were considered “hollow…both materially and spiritually” and suffering from “a crisis of faith and self-confidence.” In fact, “no nation [such as this] can aspire to maintain its individuality which lacks faith in itself and is plagued by inferiority complex and suffers from spiritual decay and degeneration.”

To prove his point about the fragility of the Muslim world in this regard, he used the example of the Gulf Arabs, often seen as the most conservative and thus protected people against such external influences:

“It did not take much time for Western Civilization to break through the fences the Arabs had erected around themselves and force its way triumphantly into the sacred land of Islam. The bazars and homes of Arabia were inundated with latest mechanical contraptions and the so-called luxury goods, the austerity, industriousness, chivalry and large-heartedness and all those other attributes of mind and character which had been the pride of the Arabs from the earliest days were erased out abruptly from their midst.

“The new contact between Arabia and the West was established through the routes of culture, civilization, politics and oil. It was done in a most hurried and haphazard manner…Beginning with outward forms, customs and usages, even the spiritual moorings of the Arabs have now begun to be threatened by the ever-increasing influence of Western Civilization.

“One by one, almost all the Muslim countries have come under the sway of modern Western Civilization. Their surrender has been brought about without much resistance for the simple reason that the Muslim ruling sections everywhere could not bring forth the mental robustness and perspicacity needed for the task…The educational system in the Islamic countries was out-dated and the blue-prints of its reconstruction had not been drawn with an eye on modern experience. Besides, the rejection of the teachings of Islam had created in these lands a state of affairs for which no justification could be found either in reason or in justice and which did not deserve to survive in any age, to speak nothing of the modern fast-changing one.”

In the context of criticising the educational system of the Muslims at this time, the Shaykh offered particular criticism at his own clerical class:

“As long as the Ulema (scholars) of the Islamic countries are devoid of the courage to discharge the religious obligation of speaking out the truth fearlessly in front of unjust and irresponsible rulers and allow selfish struggles for power and futile disputations and controversies over subsidiary and unimportant issues to eat up their time and energies and practical instances of religious training, piety, self-reliance and moral and spiritual strength and resoluteness remain extinct in their midst, and hostile movements and inimical ideologies are left free to invade the Muslim society, both openly and surreptitiously, and to work themselves out to the full – as long as this unnatural and woefully un-Islamic state of affairs is permitted to prevail in the Muslim countries, the World of Islam cannot hope release from its moral and political chaos and disorder. Revolutions are bound to take place in it, upheavals are sure to rock its foundations at regular intervals so long as the conditions there are so ugly and pathetic. The Muslim countries, today, are virtually sitting on the top of a volcano which is ready to erupt at any moment.

“The religious scepticism and waywardness of the modern-educated classes of the Muslim World is, to a certain extent, due also to the intellectual decadence and inertia that has taken hold of the Islamic educational and literary institutions and their representatives. On account of it, the Islamic sciences, in spite of their innate vitality and dynamism, have not been successful in giving a convincing proof of their richness and ability to offer guidance to the ever-evolving life, particularly during the modern days of ruthless competition and struggle. The syllabi of Islamic studies kept pace with life and went on developing with it in the earlier days when revolutionary upheavals were few and far between and almost of an identical nature. By and large, these convulsions were of a personal nature involving little more than a change of the ruler or the ruling dynasty. The formulators of the Islamic syllabi and other Muslim educationalists, till then, remained active and alert and through making suitable changes in the courses prescribed for study they furnished a steady proof of their social awareness and keenness of mind. When, however, with the dawn of the 18th century a new era opened in the history of mankind and revolutions assumed a much wider social significance as clashes between different ideologies and programmes of life, the Islamic educational system, including the syllabi, grew cumbrous and became fossilised. In the prescribing of subjects, in the choice of books and in the methods of instruction, the line chalked down by Mulla Nizamuddin in India, or the eighteenth century Deans of Al-Azhar in the Middle East, was religiously adhered to by all as something sacrosanct and inviolable. The principle of Ijtihad was, for all practical purposes, forgotten. It was not employed any more to re-examine the structure of Islamic Jurisprudence and to revise and enlarge it in light of the advancements made in human knowledge and from the point of view of the multitudinous problems thrown up by the new social and economic experiences. Though hedged around by a number of highly important and delicate conditions, Ijtihad constituted a permanent duty of Islamic theologists, and since it embodied the principle of movement in Islam it was the most valuable instrument for keeping pace with time. As an eminent Arab scholar, Mustafa Ahmad el-Zarqa, has remarked, “Though the ulema did not regard it as legally prohibited to open the door of Ijtihad, the key by which it could be opened had been lost long ago.””

Nevertheless, he saw the “greatest vacuum” of the Muslim world to be “leadership.” Such that “not one man is to be found anywhere – earnest, zealous and deep-hearted – who can face the challenge of Western Civilization with faith, courage and imagination and chalk out a new course of thought and action which may be free from the intellectual and cultural servility as well as extremism, and who without getting involved aimlessly in the superficial manifestations of the Western way of life.”

Yet for all these points of criticism, he wrote with hope:

“In spite of all their faults and shortcomings, the vital religious feeling, the readiness to suffer in the cause of God and the spirit of earnestness, fidelity and love that have become extinct among the materialistic nations of the West can still be seen in the Islamic countries. The Muslim peoples, their appalling ignorance and backwardness notwithstanding, are the raw material from which the finest models of humanity can be made. Their greatest asset is their faith and their simplicity, earnestness and enthusiasm…But, thanks to the all-pervading curse of Westernization, the Muslim masses are being robbed of their spiritual vitality and are developing a moral cancer against which nothing can avail.”

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12 Comments

  1. Accepting Reality says:

    As Sallaamu Alaikum,
    I am torn reading this. As an American Muslim, I see the picture from the so called “Western” side of things. If you are talking about preserving your cultural heritage, I guess I can somewhat relate to the point of view expressed. But if you are suggesting that Islamic values and principles cannot survive in a “Western” dominated culture, then I have to disagree. Islam is spreading quickly throughout Western lands. There are reverts from every ethnic, social, and economic background accross America. Being one of those reverts, and having met hundreds of other reverts in my 13 years as a muslim, I can attest that living Islamically is relatively easy and accomplished by almost every revert I have met here in America. From Canada to the USA to Mexico to South America there are millions of revert muslims who are living in an Islamic manner and seem not to be deterred by being in the “cursed West”. We wear Islamic clothing, we work in halal jobs, as more masajid are built we are able to pray dailing in jamaat, we conduct ourselves in a halal manner, etc. Often I am amazed at the number of Middle Eastern muslim families who are here in Visa or immigration status who seem eager to discard their Islamic identities. There is no one forcing them to do so. Having travelled to Dubai, I was amazed at how hard they seemed to be in some sort of competition to prove that they could do anything and everything better than the USA. It was so over the top. Normal mainstream America is nothing like it. Watching this huge clock tower being built over the Kabba personally breaks my heart and it is not something that even my Western culture can identify with. I think that the Middle East has to accept some responisibility for themselves and admit that they are responsible for their own actions. They cannot say that the West forced its culture upon them. They must admit that if American reverts living in the Western countries seem to have no problems adopting an Islamic identity and lifestyle, then they should have no excuses while they are living in so called Islamic countries.

    • n says:

      Mashaa’Allah very maturely put ” Middle East has to accept some responisibility for themselves and admit that they are responsible for their own actions”

      I find the article very interesting and muslims must take responsibility for each action. Really we must obey Allah and follow the prophet SAW for success. Our hearts are our responsibilities we have to purify them by submitting to Allah. There is too much corruption from following what the west follows i.e. tv dramas, films, music, overeating oversleeping ect
      May Allah forgive and guide the muslims to the straight path.

    • Talut says:

      Absolutely spot on,laser guided comment and befitting reply,cant get any better.

      Being in a South Asian country i am fed up with peoples hatred and cursing of West,but when talk about real islam,they fall away and say its too extreme.Just take out their frustration at west when they dont know that Allah sends the conditions down on people as we sent actions(amals) up there

      The Prophet PBUH and Sahabas never bad mouthed or criticized the enemies,romans,persians etc but they kept on Perfecting themselves,being obedient to Allah command and being beneficial to public in general.And the rest was done by Allah

      I am sad,how many sacrificng revert brothers/sisters went through all this trauma when they hear such stories.

      Allah made US,Europe,white people,English,etc… its up to them how they use it and accordingly they will be rewarded and punished.

      Thanks for your detaield comment,i will copy it and use it when confronting such people.

      Love All Reverts For Life

      LARFL !!!! lol

    • Abdul says:

      mA! It can’t be better put. We need to wake up and connect!
      Take the good and leave the bad!

  2. Adiba says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum,

    All is not lost. I understand where the writer is coming from, but in the Holy Quran 49:13 –

    O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.

    As a revert myself, I see in that ayat that knowing one another is possibility of revitalization, helping one another, old and new to do our duty and have good conduct. Things change, but the basic, principles are eternal. There is one Allah and Mohammed (PBUH) was his Prophet. Follow the Quran and the Sunna.

    There are Muslims everywhere and many reverts. Get to know us, let us revitalize you and you vitalize us. Do not let culture separate us because in that space of separation, all that is bad about the West creeps in. I was recently in Egypt and a Pharmacist there, he was surprised that there were Muslims in the United States. He thought that we all thought that they were terrorists. I was in turn surprised about how little people knew how wide spread the Ummah was.

  3. saad says:

    @Accepting Reality : The response seems to have directly come from Sheikh Hamza yusuf’s Pen :)

  4. Sithara says:

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Thank you for the article. It really helped me think through my thoughts on the whole ‘Islam versus the West/Clash of Civilizations’ issue.

    I find the whole ‘west versus east’ dichotomy presented (even with all the caveats) not convincing.

    While I agree that Western influence has not always been good for Muslim societies, perhaps positive influence of the west, ie, the emphasis on critical thinking, rational discourse, can serve as in impetus to ‘refresh’ the current state of Islamic thought, jurisprudence, educational systems, etc today.

    Furthermore, the while the West has its problems, it also has done a fair amount of thinking about these issues. For example, the West has been the major polluter (although that is now changing with China and India gain ascendency), but also has done the most thinking on how to solve problems related to pollution.

    Many Westerners also today recognize the problem of rank materialism; there is no shortage of ideas on how to simplify one’s life, reconnect with oneself and others, etc. Muslims can (and are) playing a positive role in this discourse. As mentioned by ‘Accepting Reality’, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West.

    So, perhaps idea is not to curse ‘Westernization’, but to learn from it, to take what is good, and leave what is bad, always keeping the Quran and Sunnah foremost in mind.

    Also, Muslims in the West can continue to play a critical role in shaping the Western tradition in a positive manner.

  5. noor says:

    Salamu Aleykum

    Very true br.accepting we should blame ourselves and take responsibility but what I think the article is trying to say is we need to acknowledge the existence of the problem so we can fix it..cultural imperialization is a fact and I really think that we as a muslim nation are morphing our identity into something we think is internationally acceptable we’re taking the worst of the western culture.. while we should take whats in thier brains and leave whats in thier souls we are reversing the formula hence the example you’ve given Dubai a country of arab origin no longer represents anything arabian or islamic for that matter… I just wish we knew how to approach a problem like this because sometimes it feels like ur one person against a wave and you come out feeling a stranger an outsider someone who’s backward… but yea in the end it’s us who are responsible for allowing it to happen…

  6. HM says:

    “He saw the influence of “the West” over the Muslim world, and he was fearful of its consequences, so much so that he characterised it as “the biggest and most vital problem before the Islamic world at the present time.”

    To each his own I guess, but I think that the biggest and most vital problem of Muslims is not that which is stated in the above quote, but is “their appalling ignorance and backwardness”, which promotes the acceptance of “Western culture” in all its forms. I think not that “the West” would have the strength to “break through the fences the Arabs had erected around themselves and force its way triumphantly into the sacred land of Islam” if the Muslims had not brought upon themselves “a state of affairs for which no justification could be found either in reason or in justice and which did not deserve to survive in any age, to speak nothing of the modern fast-changing one.” And ignorance and backwardness, coupled with tacit acceptance of “Western traditions” (though they have changed rapidly over the course of the last few centuries, so it would be problematic to define accurately that which is “Western”)is a force against there is little to be done against.

    With this part “spirit of earnestness, fidelity and love that have become extinct among the materialistic nations of the West can still be seen in the Islamic countries.” I would only partially agree, but I shall not discuss it.

    Indeed, it seems to me that Muslims in general, especially those in predominantly Muslim countries, have made little effort to adapt themselves to the currents of change, and have decided to (from my experience at least) instead merely justify their passivity with various reasons and arguments.

  7. anthony says:

    “Raw material from which the finest models of humanity can be found ”
    The Arab scholar,Mustafa Ahmad el-Zarqa has not lost sight of the prism of beauty within Islam.
    The prism of reflection is within time,place and space.
    A common compass points in all directions and yet Allah has given reflection from sunrise in the east, to sunset in the west.
    Prayer times is not bias to direction let alone raw material when energy is to be circumvented by mercy, grace
    and forgiveness throughout the day thus embellishing all direction.
    The Hijab will always set a precedence to the wings of the human spirit and the ruh or metamorphose of beauty in time and place, unfolds, as the butterfly fills the space with sanctity seeking the finest providential care.

  8. Hyde says:

    Assalaamu Alaikum, Brother Sir Andrew
    Your articles are always so refreshing and poignant to the topic. I feel good reading articles like these; especially after commenting twenty times on ludicrous issues like sodomy and Muslim acceptance/ acquiescence.

    S.AHA Nadwi was very illuminating in fearing the consequences that the West has on the Muslims. For example, not a single so-called Muslim country (in-itself an innovation) has any sort of real Islamic form of governance. They all have secular constitution and amalgamation of “Muhammaden-Islamic” law, which may work well for the Westerns, but does not do justice for the Muslims. (Of course the sharia is well reserved for the poor and those who do not have assets in oversea banks.)

    Muslim “informality complex” gave way to a mix-match of half-Islamic & half-western ideals (I can’t give names) and “buying & selling” of western ideas and western technologies. His preciouses foretelling of the Gulf Arabs is all too true. Spending millions on cars, and hotels and horses hardly seems “Islamic” when juxtaposed to millions dying in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

    The Islamic education is an issue that would take too long to comment, but the absolute vulgar way Muslims seeks secular education to enhance their lives is enough to make anybody take heed of what exactly it means to be an educated Muslim.

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