CONSERVATIVES AND MODERNISTS
The idea of Islamic renewal, which understands Islam as capable not only of educating human beings but also of ordering the world, will always have two types of people as its opponents: conservatives who want the old forms, and modernists who want someone else's form. The former drag Islam back into the past, the latter pushes it towards an alien future.
Despite differences, both categories of people have something in common, both see Islam only as a religion, in the European sense of the word. A certain lack of feeling for the finesses of language and logic, and an even greater failure to grasp the essence of Islam and its role in history and the world, lead them to interpret Islamic belief as religion, which for very special reason is quite erroneous.
Although it may seem a reconfirmation of the fundamental truths on the origin of man and his mission, the Islamic approach is quite new in one aspect - that for its demand for the conjunction of faith and knowledge, morals and politics, ideals and interests. By recognizing the existence of two worlds, the natural and the interior, Islam teaches that it is man who bridges the chasm between them. Without oneness, religion tends towards backwardness (the rejection of any kind of productive life), and knowledge to aethism.
Starting from the viewpoint that Islam is merely a religion, conservatives will conclude that Islam should not, and progressives that it cannot, organize the external world. The practical result is the same.
The main, if not the only, proponent of the conservative idea in the Muslim world today is the class represented by the hajjs and sheikhs who, in contrast to clear dictates on the nonexistence of a clergy in Islam, have emerged as an organized class which has preempted the interpretation of Islam and set itself up as an intermediary between man and the Qur'an. As clergy, they are theologians; as theologians, they are invariably dogmatic and, as the faith has been given once and for all, in their opinion it has also been interpreted once and for all. Therefore the best thi to do is to leave everything as it was handed down and defined a thousand or more years ago. The unavoidable logic of these dogmatists turn theologists into bitter enemies of anything new. Any furhter remodelling of the Sharia as law, in the sense of applying Qu'ranic principles to new situations which continue to emerge from world developments, is equated with an attack on the integrity of the faith. Perhaps even here there is a love of Islam, but it is the pathological love of narrowminded and backward people, whose deathlike embrace has strangled the still living Islamic idea.
It would, however, be wrong to think that Islam has remained a closed book in the hands of the theologists. Increasingly closed to knowledge and ever more open to mysticism, theologists have allowed much that is irrational to be written in this book, things totally foreign to Islamic learning, including sheer superstition. It would be immediately evident to anyone who knows the nature of theology why it has been unable to withstand the temptation of mythology, and why it has seen even in this a certain enrichment of religious thought. The monotheism of Qu'ran, the purest and most perfect in the history of religious learning, has been gradually compromised, while in practice a distasteful trade in belief has emerged. Those who call themselves interpreters and guardians of the faith have made a career out of it - a very agreeable and profitable one - and without many qualms of conscience have come to accept a state of affairs in which its messages have not been implemented at all.
Theologians have turned out to be the wrong people in the wrong place. Now, when the Muslim world is giving all signs of an awakening, this class has become the expression of all that is gloomy and sclerotic in that world. It has shown itself to be quite incapable of taking any kind of constructive step towards making the Islamic world face up to the adversities which press upon it.
As far as the so-called progressives, westerners, modernists and whatever else they are called are concerned, they are the exemplification of real msfortune throughout the Muslim world, as they are quite numerous and influential, notably in government, education and public life. Seeing the hajjs and conservatives as the personification of Islam, and convincing others to do likewise, the modernists raise a front against all that the idea represents. These self-styled reformers in the present-day Muslim countries may be recognized by their pride in what they should rather be ashamed of, and their shame in what they should be proud of. These are usually "daddy's sons", schooled in Europe, from which they return with a deep sense of their own inferiority towards the poverty-striken and backward surroundings from which they spring. Lacking an Islamic upbringing and or any spiritual or moral links with the people, they quickly lose their elemental criteria and imagine that by destroying local ideas, customs and convictions, while introducing alien ones, they will build America - for which they have an exaggerated admiration - overnight on their home soil. Instead of standards, they introduce the cult of a standard; instead of developing the potential of their own world, they develop desires, thus opening the way to corruption, primitivism and moral chaos. They cannot see that the power of the Western world does not lie in how it lives, but in how it works; that its strength is not in fashion, godlessness, night clubs, a younger generation out of control, but in the extraordinary dilligence, persistence, knowledge and responsibility of its people.
The main problem, therefore, is not that our westerners used alien forms, but that they did not know how to use them, or - to put it better - that they did not have a sufficiently developed sense of what was right. They failed to choose the useful product and took over instead the harmful, suffocating byproduct of another civilization.
Among the props of doubtful value which our westerner takes home with him are to be found various "revolutionary" ideas, reform programmes and similar "rescue doctrines" which will "solve all problems". Among these "reforms" are examples of unbelievable shortsightedness and improvization.
Thus, for example, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk, who was obviously a greater military leader than a cultural reformer and whose services to Turkey should be reduced to their proper measure, in on e of his reforms prohibited the wearing of the fez. It soon became evident that changing the shape of their caps cannot change what is in people's heads or habits.
Many nations outside the Western sphere have been facing the problem of how to relate to this civilization for over a century: whether to opt for outright rejection, cautious adjustment or total unselective acceptance. The tragedy or truimph or many of them has hung on how they have responded to this fateful question. There are reforms which reflect the wisdom of a particular nation and others which signify betrayal of itself. The examples of Japan and Turkey are classics of modern history in this resepect.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both countries provided a picture of very similar "comparable" countries. Both were ancient empires, each with its own physiognomy and place in history. Both found themselves at approximately the same level of development; both had a glorious past, which indicated both great privilege and a heavy burden. In a word, their chances for the future were about equal.
Then followed the well-known reforms in both countries. In order to continue to live in its own way and not in another, Japan tried to unite tradition and progress. Turkey's modernists chose the opposite path. Today, Turkey is a third-rate country, while Japan has climbed to a pinnacle among the nations of the world.
The difference in the philosophy of Japanese and Turkish reformers is nowhere more evident than in the question of the alphabet.
While Turkey abolished Arabic writing, which because of its simplicity and just twenty-eight characters is one of the most perfect and widespread of alphabets, Japan rejected demands by its Romaya to introduce the Roman script. It retained its complicated system which subsequent to the reforms, contained 880 Chinese ideograms in addition to 46 characters. No one is illiterate in modern-day Japan, while in Turkey - forty years after the introduction of Roman letters - over half the population cannot read or write, a result which should cause the blind to regain their sight.
And that is not all. It soon became evident that what was at issue was not simply the alphabet as a means of register. The true reasons, and thus the consequences, were much deeper and more significant. The essence of all human civilization and progress lies in (unreadable, continuation?), not destruction and negation. Its way of writing is the way in which the nation "remembers" and endures in history. By abolishing the Arabic alphabet, all the wealth of the past, preserved in the written word, was largely lost to Turkey, and by this single act the country was levelled to the brink of barbarianism. With a serious of "parallel" reforms, the new Turkish generation found itself with no spiritual prop, in a kind of spiritual vacuum. Turkey has lost the remembrance of its past. Whom did this profit?
The supporters of modernism in the Islamic world, then, were not wise men who sprang from the people, who would know how to implement in a novel way the old ideals and values under changed circumstances. They rose up against the values themselves and often with icy cynicism and staounding shortsightedness, trampled on what the people held sacred, destroying life and transplanting an imitation in its stead. As a consequence of such barbarity in Turkey and elsewhere, plagiary nations emerged or are in process of emerging, countries where spritual confusion reigns, featureless and with no sense of where they are going. Everything in them is derivative and artificial, lacking in force and enthusiasm, like the false glamour of their Europeanized cities.
Can a country unsure of its identity, of where its roots lie, have a clear picture of where it is bound or what it should be striving for?
The example of some of Attaturk's reforms may seem drastic. At the same time, they represent a pattern for the western approach to problems of the Islamic world and the way in which westerners think to "correct" it. This invariably means alienation, fleeing from real problems, from painstaking work on the true moral and educational elevation of the people, an orientation towards the external and the superficial.
What was meant by the independence of a Muslim country in which the administration of public life fell into the hands of this type of person? How did they make use of that freedom?
By accepting foreign modes of thought and by seeking political support from foreigners, whether East or West, each of these countries, voluntarily, through the mouths of their new administrators, acquiesced to re-enslavement. A spiritual and material independence was created, embracing an alien philosophy, an alien way of life, alien aid, alien capital and alien support. These countries formally achieved independence, but they did not achieve real freedom, since freedom of any kind is primarily sprirtual. The independence of a people which has not first won this is soon reduced to an anthem and a flag, two very minor factors for true independence.
The struggle for true independence of the Muslim peoples, then, must begin anew everywhere.