[Vol. I No. 15] 16 - 31 January 2007
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Bill Gate
Single Parent Family

    THE MUSLIM WORLD AND THE WEST    By Professor Jamil Farooqui   International Islamic University, Malaysia

Relations between the West and the Muslim world have been particularly strained since 9/11. The events that subsequently followed, including the Madrid train bombing in 2004 and the terrorist attack on London in 2005, have worsened the situation. Public intellectuals and others who are deeply concerned about peaceful co-existence between nations and communities are understandably distressed by this unfortunate state of affairs.

In academia, two paradigmatic theories, namely the 'end of history' and 'the clash of civilizations,' have been in circulation for quite a while and a few intellectuals have drawn upon them to provide a rationale for the simmering conflict between the Islamic world and the West. Quite a few theories have been put forth in order to explain the conflict between the two civilizations. Some, for example, have pointed out that there are fundamental ideological differences between the two that are at the root of the conflict through a greater part of history. Some blame Islam itself because, in their view, it preaches fundamentalism and promotes bigotry and obscurantism among its followers. Islam is seen as incompatible with the modern Western tenets of liberalism, secularism and democracy. Some scholars are of the view that the basic cause of the conflict is related to the policies of Western powers, especially of the United States, that alienate and antagonize Muslims.

This paper begins by raising the following questions: Is it possible for contemporary civilizations and nation-states to live in peace and harmony, in spite of their differences and contradictions? Are the ideologies, theories and paradigms of humanism, liberalism, freedom, justice and human rights mere empty slogans? Are they not being manipulated in the service of the economic, political and strategic interests of dominant groups and to the disadvantage of weaker sections of humanity? My view is that the Islamic world and the West can coexist, live in peace and harmony and cooperate with each other in making a meaningful contribution to the establishment of an equitable, just and humane world order. In my view, the root of the conflict between the two worlds is the hubris of the West, particularly of the United States, intoxicated as it is with its military and technological hegemony. The United States thinks that it has the right and the power to shape the international scenario according to its whims and interests. The United States and its allies perceive Muslims as a stumbling bloc in the realization of their hegemonic goals. Naturally, Muslims are left with no alternative but to resist the expansionist and hegemonic designs of the United States and its allies.


The Muslim world and the West represent two distinct civilizations based on different ideologies. By and large, Western civilization is marked by sensate characteristics wherein reality is considered accessible directly through the senses. As a matter of fact, the West concentrated only on the material world. The Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution that took place in Europe in the 18th and early 19th century led to a drastic modification of the socio-political structure, liberated people from the tyranny of dogma and tradition, and developed a distinct worldview based on the primacy of reason. The adoption of the methodology of the natural sciences--observation, experimentation and comparison-played a crucial role in the development of modern technology, which in turn improved the living conditions of millions of people. The worldview of Western societies is characterized by individualism, unfettered freedom, secularism, and liberal democracy.

Islamic civilization, on the other hand, is basically idealist because it is based on a synthesis of the spiritual and temporal aspects of human life. Islam is not merely a system of belief and worship. Rather, it encompasses the whole of human life, and its rules include civil, criminal, and even what we call constitutional law.

The Islamic faith is founded on the doctrine of Tawhid (the unity of God), around which its entire structure revolves. This doctrine unites the global Muslim community regardless of the distinctions of colour, class or caste. Thus egalitarianism is a cardinal principle of Islam. Another salient feature of the Islamic faith is a comprehensive system of morality which governs all aspects of human life. The Islamic faith is also characterized by an attitude of openness and tolerance towards other creeds, traditions and cultures.

During the past few centuries, Muslims have been under the domination of the West due to their own weaknesses and shortcomings and the technological and military superiority of the latter. During the 19th and the early part of the 20th century a large number of Muslim countries were under colonial rule when their resources were plundered and their social and cultural institutions undermined. The colonial rulers set their own administrative set-up and introduced their educational system in order to produce a breed of local people who would act at the behest of their colonial masters and carry out their objectives. The Western system of education created a class of indigenous people who looked down upon their own intellectual and cultural heritage and looked up to Western civilization for inspiration and guidance.


The fairly long interaction between Muslims and the West, the prolonged hostility between the two, the domination and suppression of Muslim societies by the West, the Western strategy of keeping Muslim countries at bay, and the material and technological superiority of the West have played a key role in shaping the perception of Muslims towards the West as well as the Western perception towards Muslims and Islam.

By and large, the West has always projected a negative image of Islam and Muslims. It considers Islam an outdated and fanatical system of beliefs and rituals which is incompatible with modern world-view. Islam is perceived as inimical to change and innovation. It inculcates, according to the prevalent view in the West, obscurantism, bigotry, intolerance, violence and terrorism among its followers. The prevailing view of Muslims in the West portrays the Muslim as the "mullah [who] still stands in the pulpit with Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other". It fosters fundamentalism and poses a grave threat to the power, stability and peace of Western societies. Islam should be kept at bay as Europe did from the medieval period to modern times, otherwise it will pose a grave challenge to Western domination. Western intellectuals, academics, journalists and the media present a distorted and demeaning picture of Muslims and Islam. They consider Islam and Muslims as their "ancient rival against their Judeo-Christian heritage, their secular present, and the world-wide expansion of both". Islam is considered as the most potential candidate for civilizational clash with the West. Shireen T. Hunter projects the Western view and gives certain reasons for Islam being an ideal contestant. She says that Islam is a "communal religion …presents an all encompassing and internally cohesive set of rules…for the organization of collective and individual life and the mechanisms for the implementation." She goes on to mention two other reasons. First, it is a "proselytizing creed with a belief in its own ultimate victory and universal prevalence. Second, historically it "was the main enemy, the hostile "other", of the West." These images of Islam and Muslims still exist in the minds of most people in the West. Consequently, they consider Muslims a threat to their superiority and domination. The West thinks that Muslims are the only hindrance in their design to dominate the world. Muslims are also perceived as a force to reckon with because they can offer effective resistance to Western hegemony. Consequently, according to this logic, it is necessary to keep Muslims under constant surveillance, impose restrictions and controls on them, involve them in conflicting and dangerous situations, divide them and let them fight among themselves so that they may not emerge as a cohesive and powerful force.

The United States, which is in the vanguard of waging the so-called war against terror, enlisted the support and cooperation of other nations in this endeavor with a view to rationalize its acts. It justifies the so-called war on terror-which is in effect state-sponsored terrorism of sorts-in the name of liberty and justice. President Bush declared in his State of the Union message the scope of the fight against terrorism in te following words:

    We have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror. America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere.

Paul Wolfowitz highlights the rationale and finds that it can be achieved through the change of ideas that facilitate the implementation of values that America cherishes. He says:

    Today, we are fighting a war on terror - a war that we will win. The larger war we face is the war of ideas - a challenge to be sure, but that one we must also win. It is a struggle over modernity and secularism, pluralism and democracy, real economic development.


Since the twelfth century Muslims have been the victim of Western hegemony and domination. They faced crusades and violent confrontations initiated by European countries. Consequently, they lost power, their lands were captured and they were colonized and subjugated by the West. Their civilization was placed in a state of siege and they were under great pressure to assimilate themselves into Western culture. Colonization undermined the cultural and moral fibre of Muslim societies. The great Muslim empires, namely the Ottoman, Mughal and Safavid, declined due to internal weaknesses as well as Western machinations. The reform movements in Muslim societies aimed at the revitalization of social, psychological and political life of Muslims were weakened by the colonization of these societies. The institutions and cultural pattern of Muslim societies faced disintegration. The Western-educated elite acted as stooges of imperialism.

According to the perception of Muslims, the West has achieved tremendous progress in the material aspects of human life. It developed science and technology and thereby transformed the lives of millions of people. At the same time, modern Western technology has been responsible for creating weapons of mass destruction. The most horrifying aspect of Western civilization, in the perception of Muslims, is its moral and cultural decadence. This moral and cultural degeneration is reflected in the growing menace of AIDS, the increasing number of illegitimate children and unmarried mothers, the disintegration of family, neighbourhood and community, sexual perversions, violence in the family, and dug addiction. Muslims strongly feel that these trends are extremely dangerous and alarming and they are anxious about the penetration of these influences as a result of globalization.

The role and policies of the West in general and of the United States in particular in the international arena are disturbing and frustrating for Muslims. The policies of the United States seem to be based on unilateralism, hegemony and domination. Ironically, these policies are carried out in the name of liberalism, democracy, human rights, and international peace.

The United States, in the context of its international policies and in dealing with Muslim countries, has two facets: the America of ideals (e.g., of equality and justice) and the America of extremism, which has succumbed to self-interest groups and individuals. The America of ideals has failed in respect of translating its ideals and values while dealing with Muslims while the America of extremism has won by playing a game of manipulation, brinkmanship and unilateral interventionism. The America of extremism projects Muslims and Islam as subversive and dangerous not only to American interests but also to humanity at large. It therefore considers it necessary to keep Muslims under subjugation so that it can fulfill its dream of dominating the global political scenario.

The incidents that followed in the wake of 9/11, including the labeling of Muslims as terrorists, casting aspersions on the loyalty of American Muslim citizens and treating them as criminals, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the brutal treatment of Muslims suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, and the establishment of puppet regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan have in effect added fuel to the fire and have enormously expanded the scope and reach of terrorism. These developments have further alienated Muslims from the West, especially from the United States and Britain. Some Muslim rulers, due to their short-sighted and suicidal policies, have joined the American bandwagon and have adopted repressive measures at the behest of the United States. This has widened the gulf between the rulers and the Muslim masses.

It is heartening to note that despite being faced with formidable obstacles and challenges Muslims continue to offer resistance to the hegemonic designs and oppressive policies of the United States. This is in evidence in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine. The sympathy and solidarity of the entire Muslim community is with them. The victory of Hamas is the glaring example of this fact.


The gap between the West in general and the United States in particular and the Muslim world is steadily increasing largely due the policies of the United States and its allies and cronies. The anger and resentment against the United States is steadily building up and is sometimes manifested in violent reactions. The invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and its allies has brought the country on the brink of civil war and disintegration. People who are deeply concerned with human rights, equity, justice and peaceful coexistence realize the urgent need to bridge the gap between the West and the Muslim world because the future of humanity seems to be at stake. Thus Wolfowitz has observed:

    There is a dangerous gap between the West and the Muslim world. We must bridge this gap, and we must begin now - the gap is wide and there is no time for delay. Whether we are successful in narrowing the critical divide between East and West will be a major factor in shaping the future.


Many people think that ideological differences between the West and the Muslim world are the major source of conflict between them. The most important and pertinent question here is: Can two different and distinct civilizations or ideologies coexist in today's globalizing world? They can certainly coexist peacefully if they respect each other, if they display sufficient tolerance, sensitivity and magnanimity towards each other, if they are genuinely committed to peaceful coexistence, human rights, freedom and justice. Unfortunately, despite paying lip service to these ideals the West has failed to respect other civilizations, particularly the Islamic civilization. Three factors are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. First, the Western perception of Islam and Muslims is based on distortion and misrepresentation. Secondly, many people in the Western world believe that Western civilization is far more superior to all other civilizations and therefore the latter should emulate it. Thirdly, by virtue of the fact that the Western world enjoys military and technological superiority vis-ŕ-vis the rest of the world many people in the West believe that it has a right to dominate the world and to dictate terms to non-Western countries.

The gap between the Muslim world and the West can be bridged if we take into consideration the following facts and act on them with all sincerity:

  1. It needs to be emphasized that military or technological supremacy cannot be maintained or retained by force, aggression or war. It is possible, in the short run, to crush a group, overthrow a legitimate government, establish alien rule, and set up a puppet regime, but one cannot win the hearts of the people. On the contrary, this will create hatred and animosity. This is what is being witnessed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  2. The West need not consider Muslims as a threat or danger to its survival or its power. Muslims appreciate the cultivation of science and technology, effective institutions and the efficient administrative set-up of Western countries. Many Muslim thinkers and intellectuals tried to follow and implement these institutions in their own societies If the West abandons its hegemonic ambitions and agrees to deal with Muslim world with equity and justice, the latter will respond in a positive and cordial spirit.

  3. The United States needs to put an end to its unconditional and blind support of Israel. It should use its influence to bring the concerned parties to the negotiating table, invite the representative of the OIC and try to settle the Palestinian issue in the light of justice and fairplay.

  4. The West, particularly the United States, should avoid interfering in the internal affairs of Muslim nations. It should not support and promote those elements that act against the wishes and aspirations of the Muslim masses and divide them. In the past, the West supported the heads of Muslim states who betrayed the general will of the Muslim masses and acted at the behest of the West. This has been a major reason for the Muslims' resentment of the West.

  5. The West in general and the United States in particular should stop pursuing discriminatory policies against the Muslim world. It should not work on a strategic plan to dominate the weaker nations but function as the champion of the values of freedom, human rights and justice. If it acts according to these universal principles, its influence will automatically increase and it will be acknowledged as a global leader. Otherwise, it will result in resentment. It should not adopt double standards in dealing with the Muslim world and with other nations.

  6. Foreign forces should be withdrawn from the soils of Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as possible. The West in general and the United States in particular should play an active role in holding fresh, free and fair elections in both places under the auspices of the OIC because the Muslims have lost their faith in the West as well as in the UN. Justice requires that people actually feel and experiencethat justice has been done to them.

  7. The West in general and the United States in particular should forthwith put a stop to the so-called war on terror. Instead, they should invite aggrieved Muslims and their organizations with the representatives of the OIC to the negotiating table, understand their grievances and try to solve them amicably in the light of natural justice and in a spirit of dialogue and reconciliation. This will help to establish enduring peace in the region as well as across the globe.

  8. Muslims should leave animosity, hatred and resentment of the West behind. They should divert all their energies and efforts in facing the challenges of globalization and of the global scenario. They should interact with the West in a meaningful way. They should learn from the experiences of the West in developing science and technology as well as in revitalizing their administrative and political set-up to deliver maximum good to the masses.

  9. Some Muslims tend to express their resentment through violent activities. This should immediately stop. Muslims should persuade and convince the radical groups among them to be patient and to express their resentment grievances through peaceful means. They should unite, emerge as a cohesive group and influence their own governments as well as the world for the furtherance of their rights, freedom and natural justice.

  10. Muslims should concentrate all their efforts on economic, technological, political and strategic development. They should amicably settle their internal differences and forge a spirit of cohesion and unity.

  11. Muslims should revitalize their social institutions, particularly educational institutions, so as to develop a mindset that can effectively cope with the challenges of modern times. An uncritical imitation of Western civilization tends to create imbalance and disequilibrium. They should develop proper infrastructure and adequate facilities for research, development of knowledge and technology.

  12. Muslims should make their administrative set-up more efficient to provide the best services to the people, make their lives comfortable, and achieve national goals and deliver the maximum good.

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