These two types - conservatives and modernists - provide the key to understanding the current state of the Muslim peoples. However, they are not the only cause of this state. Taken further, both facets are the manifestation of a deeper cause: the degradation or rejection of Islamic thought.
The history of Islam is not only, or even mainly, the history of a progressive affirmation of Islam in real life. It is just as much a story of incomprehension, neglect, betrayal and abuse of this idea. Thus the history of each and every Muslim people is simultaneously a chronology of brilliant achievements and victories, of grievous mistakes and defeat. All our successes and failures, political and mora, are only the reflection of our acceptance of Islam and how we have applied it to life. A weakening in the influence of Islam on the practical life of the people has always been accompanied by their degradation and that of social and political institutions.
The entire history of Islam, from its first beginnings to our day, unfolded under the inexorable influence of this coincidence. Something of the unalterable fate of the Muslim peoples and one of the laws of Islamic history is to be found in this parallel.
Two characteristic moments in Islamic history - one from the age of its ascendancy, one from the age of decadence - very cearly illustrate this effect.
Muhammad (peace be upon him) died in 632 A.D. Less than a hundred years later, the spiritual and poltical power of Islam extended over a huge area, from the Atlantic Ocean to the river Indus and to China, from Lake Aral to the lower reaches of the Nile. Syria was conquered in 634, Damascus fell in 635, Ctesiphon in 637, India and Egypt were reached by 641. Carthage in 647, Samarkand in 676, Spain in 710. Muslims were at the gates of Constantinople in 717 and in 720 in southern France. There were mosques in Shantung by 700 and about 830, Islam arrived in Java.
These unique expansion, to which no other can be compared before or since, provided a space for the development of Islamic civilization in three spheres of culture: Spain, Middle East and India, a period of history covering about one thousand years.
What do Muslims mean in the contemporary world?
The question can be phrased another way: how far are we Muslim?
The answers to these questions are linked.
We are enslaved: at one point in 1919, no single independent Muslim country existed, a state of affairs never registered either before or after that date.
We are uneducated: in the period between two world wars, no Muslim country had a literacy rate of over 50 per cent. At independence, 75 per cent of the people of Pakistan, 80 per cent of Algerians and 80 per cent of Nigerians could neither read nor write. (In contrast, no one in Islamic Spain of the tenth and eleventh centuries, according to Draper, was illiterate.)
We are poor: gross national income per capita in 1966 in Iran was 220 dollars, in Turkey 240, in Malaysia 250, in Pakistan 90, in Afghanistan 85, in Indonesia 70, as against 3000 in the USA. The share of industry in the national income of most Muslim countries varies between 10 and 20 per cent. The number of calories in the daily diet is an average 2000, compared to 3000 - 3500 in Western Europe.
We are a divided community: instead of a society without either misery or luxury, Muslim society has turned into the opposite. In contradiction to the Qu'ranic command "...that this wealth should not remain within the circle of the rich among you" (Qur'an 39/7), property gradually passed into the hands of a small number. Prior to the agrarian reform in Iraq in 1958, out of 22 million dunum (about 1/10th of a hectare) of arable land, about 18 million dunum (82 per cent) were held by the great landownders. Meanwhile, 1.4 million peasants had no land at all.
This was the state of affairs which some have called with reason "the night of Islam". In fact, that night began with th twilight of our hearts. All that hasa happened to us or is happening to us today, is only the echo and repetition of what has previously happened within ourselves (Qur'an, 13/12).
We as Muslims cannot be subjugated, uneducated, estranged from one another. We cannot be renegades from Islam. All our defeats, from the first at Uhud to the latest on Sinai, confirm this.
The phenomenon of the abandonment of Islam, most frequently seen in the suppression of Islamic thought from active and vigilant life and its reduction to transience and passivity, can e most clearly observed by taking the Qur'an, the central truth of Islamic ideology and practice.
It should be remarked that every advance of the Islamic peoples, every age of refinement, began with the affirmation of the Qu'ran. The expansion of early Islam, whose miraculous course I have already mentioned and which in the course of two generations brought it to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in the West and to the outer reaches of China in the East, is not the only but is the most glorious example. All major swings in the course of Islamic history confirm this parallel.
What was the position of the Qu'ran at the time preceding the age of stagnation and retreat?
Devotion to the Book did not cease, but it lost its active character while retaining what was irrational and mystic. The Qu'ran lost its authority as law while gaining in sanctity as an object. In study and interpretation, wisdom yielded to hairsplitting, essence to form and grandeur of thought to the skill of recitation. Under the constant influence of theological formalism, the Qu'ran was read less and "learned" (recited) more, while commandments on struggle, uprightness, personal and material sacrifice - harsh and repellant to our inertia - dissolved and vanished in the pleasant sound of the Qu'ranic text learnt off by heart. This unnatural state of affairs came to be accepted as the norm, because it suited an ever more numerous group of Muslims who could neither break with the Qu'ran nor summon the strength to order their lives according to its dictates.
The psychological explanation of the exaggerated importance given to recital of the Qu'ran may be found in this fact. The Qu'ran is recited, interpreted and recited, then studied and recited again. One sentence is repeated thousands of times in order not to have to apply it once. An extensive and pedantic science has been established on how the Qu'ran should be pronounced so as to avoid the issue of how to practice it in daily life. Ultimately, the Qu'ran has been turned into the naked sound without visible sense or meaning.
All the reality of the Muslim world, with its discrepancy between word and deed: its debauchery, dirt, injustice and cowardice: its monumental, empty mosques; its great white turbans, devoid of ideals or courage: its hypocritical Islamic catchphrases and religious posing: this faith without belief is but the external reflection of the fundamental contradiction in which the Qu'ran found itself, in which burning allegiance to the Book was gradually combined with total neglect of its principles in practice.
The situation of the Qu'ran is the first and most important cause of backwardness and helplessness among the Muslim peoples. Another cause of universal importance is education, or rather the system of upbringing in the broadest sense.
For centuries now, our people have been deprived of educated people. Instead, they have two other types, equally detestable: the uneducated and the wrongly educated. In no Muslim country do we have a system of education sufficiently developed and thus capable of responding to the moral understanding of Islam and the needs of the people. Our rulers either neglected this most sensitive institution of any society, or left it up to strangers. The schools to which foreigners donated money and personnel, and thereby curricula and ideology, did not educate Muslims, not even nationalists. In them, our budding intellectuals were injected with the "virtues" of obedience, submission and admiration for the might and wealth of the foreigner: in them foreign tutors fostered a vassal mentality in the intelligentsia, which would in the future replace them with extraordinary success, because the latter would feel themselves to be foreigners in their won country and behave accordingly. It would be most informative to discover the number of schools and colleges which are held, directly or indirectly, by foreigners, and to reflect on the reasons for this extraordinary generosity. The curricula of these institutions should be gone into in depth and examined for content, perhaps even more so for what they fail to contain. It would soon be clear that the real question is not whether our intelligentsia wishes to find a path to its p people, to their real inclinations and interests, but whether, constituted as it is, it can find that path at all. What is at stake are the values and ideals which have been imposed on it, and the psychological gap which has been created. Iron chains are no longer necessary to keep our peoples in submission. The silken cords of this alien "education" have the same power, paralyzing the minds and will of the educated.
While education is so conceived, foreign wielders of power and their vassals in Muslim countries need have no fear for their positions. Instead of being a source of rebellion and resistance, this system of education is their best ally.
The tragic gap between the intellegentsia and the people, which is one of the darkest features of our overall position, is re-entrenched from the other side. Sensing the alien and the non-Islamic character of the schools on offer, the people instinctively reject them, so that the estrangemet becomes mutual. Absurd accusations are constructed as to the disinclination of Muslim environments towards school and education. In fact, it is clear that this is not a question of rejecting schools as such, but of rejecting alien schools, which have lost every spiritual link with Islam and the people.