By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
December 23, 2013
In the recent decades, the whole Muslim world has witnessed a great resurgence of Islam in both personal as well as in public life. We notice that in the personal level more outward religious identity or symbols are being in the use; for example, there is a noticeable rise in the number of Muslim men who have started sporting beard and similarly women wearing burqa. In the public sphere, new Islamic governments or republics have been established in Iran, Sudan, and Afghanistan. In the political sphere, Muslim banners are seen a lot.
According to John O Voll, the causes for the “resurgence of Islam” are many. During the 20th century, many, in fact, almost all Islamic empires were destroyed and replaced by modern nation-states. Voll says that between the two Great Wars, most of the newly created states won their independence from European colonial rulers. But, many of the rulers were placed on their thrones by the colonial nations. The situation was such that European culture influenced these societies. There was total dominance of the “Western” society over the so-called “Islamic” society. So national, social, cultural, as well as religious identity remained unresolved.
Vincent J Cornell, in ‘The Fruit of the Tree’ says that “once these modern nation-states were created in the Muslim world”, it was expected of them that they would follow a “modern”, i.e., Western secular path of development.
Most of the Muslim people in these newly established nation-states adopted the “modern” or Western-inspired institutions like parliament, political party systems, insurance companies, banks etc. Yet many of these countries such as Egypt, Syria, Iran, Indonesia etc created Muslim states, in which though the people were Muslims, but they adopted Western institutions.
Much of the 20th century saw that those countries which were more “modern” I.e., Western or secular like Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran were seen as more advanced as compared to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, which were regarded as religious and traditional and hence “backward.”
But the late 1960s and most of the 1970s showed a new picture: “modernity” failed to produce the desired and lasting effects. A series of wars and riots during this period led to introspection among the Muslim masses. They felt that modernity is no solution, it is a mere screen of glamour and glitter but behind the screen it is ugly and ruthless.
The Muslim world was in a state of shock after the Six Day War between the Arabs and Israeli forces. The loss of Jerusalem in the 1967 war led to soul searching reassessment among many Muslims. The poor condition of the Muslims all over the globe led to doubts with regards to modernism and its way of development. There was poverty, failed economies, high unemployment, and inequality of wealth among the people; in short, all the economic disasters struck the Muslims.
The Iranian revolution led to the beginning of the series of profound changes that would occur in the Muslim world and the Muslim masses, in general.
Humans are always in search of a centre, a platform that would give them a base on which they can rely. Loss of faith in modernity led to a new search for a new centre and that centre was Islamic revivalism. It was marked by a quest for self-identity and greater belief in the supremacy of the whole Islamic identity. Everything Islamic was seen as better than the Western, secular world. There was a new sense of pride and power because of oil embargo of 1973, the success of the Afghan (read Muslim) mujahedeen in their war against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the global impact of Iran’s Islamic revolution of 1978-79. All these were seen as a “resurgence of Islam and God’s help to those who fought against overwhelming odds in the name of Islam.”
But again the 21st century has led to a loss of centre; the base of the “resurgence of Islam” is shaking and many Muslims have started searching for a new centre, a ‘meta-narrative’ that would be the answer to their problems.
1. John L. Esposito, “Contemporary Islam: Reformation or Revolution?,” The Oxford History of Islam.
2. John O. Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Muslim World, chapters 6–7
3. Vincent J. Cornell, “The Fruit of the Tree,” The Oxford History of Islam, chp. 2
4. John Alden Williams, The Word of Islam(Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994)
(Note- This article is also inspired by ‘Great World Religions: Islam)