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Quotes from A History of the Arab Peoples

By Albert Hourani, 2002


Pg. 257, 2nd para: ..One wave of change (in Islam) came from the far east of the Muslim world, from northern India, where the other great Sunni dynasty, the Moghuls, ruled Muslims and Hindus. Here a number of thinkers, of whom the most famous was Shah Waliullah of Delhi (1703-62), were teaching that rules should rule in accordance with the precepts of Islam, and that Islam should be purified by teachers using their ijtihad on the basis of the Qur’an and Hadith; the different madhhabas should be merged in a single system of morality and law, and the devotions of the Sufis should be kept within its bounds. Scholars and ideas moving westwards from India met and mingled with others in the great schools and in the holy cities at the time of pilgrimage, and from this mingling there came a strengthening of that kind of Sufism which laid its emphasis on strict observance of the shari’a, no matter how far advanced a Muslim might be on the road which led to experience of God.


Pg. 259, 2nd para: .. In the seventeenth century the Ottomans made their last great conquest, the island of Crete, taken from Venetians. By the early eighteenth, they were dealing with European states on a level of diplomatic equality, instead of the superiority which they had been able to maintain at an earlier time, and their army was regarded as having fallen behind others in organization, tactics and use of weapons, although not so far behind that efforts could not be made to strengthen it within the existing system of institutions. Trade was still carried on within the bounds of the Capitulations.


            In the last quarter of the century, however, the situation began to change rapidly and dramatically, as the gap between the technical skills of some western and northern European countries and those of the rest of the world grew wider. During the centuries of Ottoman rule there had been no advance in technology and a decline in the level of scientific knowledge and understanding. Apart from the few Greeks and others educated in Italy, there was little knowledge of the languages of western Europe or of the scientific and technical advances being made there. The astronomical theories associated with the name of Copernicus were mentioned for the first time, and even then only briefly, in Turkish at the end of the seventeenth century, and the advances in European medicine were only slowly coming to be known in the eighteenth.


Pg. 340, para 2: .. The revolt against the past could go as far as the total rejection expressed in the writing of one of the most original of them, the Tunisia Abu’l-Qasim al-Shabbi (1909-34): ‘Everything the Arab mind has produced in all the periods of its history is monotonous and utterly lacking in poetic inspiration.’


Pg 397, last para: .. the Egyptian Khalid Muhammad Khalid (b.1920), whose formulation carried with it a sharp rejection of the religion taught in the Azhar. The Islam of the ‘priesthood’ he asserted, was a religion of reaction, attacking the freedom of the human intellect, supporting the interests of the powerful and rich, and justifying poverty.


Pg. 444, para 2: Much of the contemporary Arab thought revolved around this dilemma of past and present, and some writers made bold attempts to resolve it. The answer given by the Syrian philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-‘Azm (b. 1934) sprang from a total rejection of religious thought. It was false in itself, he claimed, and incompatible with authentic scientific thought in its view of what knowledge was and its methods of arriving at truth. There was no way of reconciling them; it was impossible to believe in the literal truth of the Qur’an, and if parts of it were discarded then the claim that it was the Word of God would have to be rejected. Religious thought was not only false, it was also dangerous. It supported the existing order of society and those who controlled it, and so prevented a genuine movement of social and political liberation.


Pg 445, Line 13 from bottom: .. In a work published earlier, in 1964, Ma’alim fi’l-tariq (Signposts on the Path), Sayyid Qutb had defined the true Islamic society in uncompromising terms. It was one which accepted the sovereign authority of God; that is to say, which regarded the Qur’an as the source of all guidance for human life, because it alone could give rise to a system of morality and law which corresponded to the nature of reality. All other societies were societies of jihiliyya (ignorance of religious truth), whichever their principles: whether they were communist, capitalist, nationalist, based upon other, false religions, or claimed to be Muslims but did not obey the shari’a:


The leadership of western man in the human world is coming to an end, not because western civilization is materially bankrupt or has its economic or military strength, but because the western order has played its part, and no longer possesses that stock of ‘values’ which gave its predominance … The scientific revolution has finished its role, as have ‘nationalism, and the territorially limited communities which grew up in its age … The turn of Islam has come.


                The path of creation of truly Muslim society, Sayyid Qutb had declared, began with individual conviction, transformed into a living image of the heart and embodied in a programme of action. Those who accepted this programme would form a vanguard of dedicated fighters, using every means, including jihad, which should not be undertaken until the fighters had achieved inner purity, but should then be pursued, if necessary, not for defense only, but to destroy all worship of false gods and remove all the obstacles which prevented men from accepting Islam. The struggle should aim at creating a universal Muslim society in which here were no distinctions of race, and one which was worldwide. ‘The western age is finished’: it could not provide the values which were needed to support the new material civilization. Only Islam offered hope for the world.



Jai Sri Krishna.


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