Reactionary trends in Islam -|- Educational Philosophy Theory

Reactionary trends in Islam

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The development of Islamic culture, however, did not proceed in a straight line, any more than any other. From the beginning there were conflicting tendencies. There was a reactionary strand. Islam, after all, was born as a religion of conquest. The notion of hostility to infidels (gyawurs), the inferiority of women, and the justification of social inequality, were also present -although at that time, no more than among the Christians. Like all religions, Islam is open to a narrow and fanatical interpretation (fundamentalism). At times, there were periods of reaction, which curtailed the advance of rationalist thought and scientific discovery. The destruction of the great Abbasid Caliphate by the Mongols in the 13th century set the whole process back and prepared the way for one of the periodic outbursts of Islamic fundamentalism. Ibn Taymiyya called for believers to rid Islam of all innovations. This is the expression, not of the advance of Islam, but of internal crisis, division and decline. This fundamentalist reaction was a disaster for the development of thought and culture in the Arab world. For a time, the flame passed to Iran.

In the 16th century, the Shi'ite scholars were identified with a philosophy of enlightenment which even found a political expression. As a result new scientific and philosophical advances were made possible. The great period of revival came in the 16th and 17th centuries in Iran under the Safavid dynasty, which established the Shiite brand of Islam as the official state religion, primarily as a defence against the Sunni Ottoman empire. The Safavids provided artists and intellectuals with well-endowed institutions and a liberal atmosphere in which to carry on their work. As in every other period where Islamic scholars have been allowed freedom to live and breathe, brilliant results were achieved by thinkers such as Mir Damad and his pupil Molla Sadra and other luminaries of the school of Isfahan.

All this is sufficient to disprove the Western prejudice that the East in general, and the Islamic world in particular, has produced nothing of note in the field of philosophy. In those periods where Islamic scholars were permitted the freedom to develop, they have proved more than equal to the best that the West has produced. But where Islam has been interpreted in a narrow and fanatical spirit, great harm has been done. The intellectual, resenting the onerous restrictions placed upon him, has reacted against the authority of a religion that appears to be the negation of culture and freedom. Thus, there is an anti-religious strain in Islamic poetry. As the following examples show. In the 17th century Dara Shikoh wrote: "Heaven is where the Muslim priests do not reside and the people do not follow his edicts. In the city where the Muslim priests reside, wise men are never to be found." (Dara Shikoh, 1615-1659.)

Almost a century later the Sufi poet Sachai Sarmast complained bitterly: "It is religion itself which has misled the people of the nation as well as the Sheikhs and peers (the priests) who have gruesomely misled the people. While one is a supplicant in the mosque, the other kneels before a temple. But neither of them is any closer to love of humanity." (Sachal Sarmast, 1731-1829.)

Today the rise of fundamentalism has once again cast a dark shadow over the development of Islamic culture. The victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, supported by the guns and money of Christian America, represents the ultimate triumph of barbarism and the blackest obscurantism that conceals its nakedness behind a religious fig-leaf. Today it is hard to gaze upon the smouldering heap of rubble that once was Kabul and remember that this was once one of the great centres of the culture of Islam in Central Asia. For any person with the slightest knowledge of the history of this culture, the descent into barbarism is all the more painful.

Of one thing we can be sure. Only socialism can provide the antidote to this disease. The peoples of the East, who gave the world such glorious proof of their intellectual and artistic vitality, will not forever be content to slumber in chains of material misery and cultural poverty. And when the day finally dawns when they put an end to capitalist slavery and transform society on socialist lines, they will take a giant broom in their hands, and they will sweep society clean of all the accumulated rubbish of ignorance, obscurantism and communal savagery. The socialist reconstruction of society must be carried out from top to bottom. And when this great work is finally accomplished, they will create such wonders of creation that they will put in the shade all the marvels of Granada and Cordoba. Then the peoples will rediscover their true heritage and tradition, and recover all their lost dignity and pride in themselves. The old will be created anew and placed on an infinitely higher level for the enjoyment and fulfilment of future generations.

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