Women and Islam the Western Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Esposito finds that the premodernist revival movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries contributed to the pattern of Islamic politics that developed and left a legacy for the twentieth century. These movements were motivated primarily in response to internal decay rather than external, colonial threat (Esposito 40-41).

At the same time, many areas of the Islamic world experienced the impact of the economic and military challenge of an emerging and modernizing West beginning in the eighteenth century. Declining Muslim fortunes also reversed the relationship of the Islamic world to the West, from that of an expanding offensive movement to a defensive posture. Muslim responses to these changes ranged from rejection to adaptation, from Islamic withdrawal to acculturation and reform. Some responded by secular reform, and by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Islamic modernist movements had also developed in an attempt to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity by offering an Islamic rationale for modern political, legal, and social change (Esposito 42-43).

Esposito finds that the modern Muslim response to modernization saw the emergence of Islamic modernist movements in the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent. Islamic conservatives wanted to revive Islam, but so did Islamic modernists. They merely had a different approach, seeing the need to revive the Muslim community through a process of reinterpretation or reformulation of their Islamic heritage in light of the contemporary world. Islamic modernists were not trying merely to restore the past but instead wanted to show the compatibility of Islam with modern ideas and institutions.

The man who was a major catalyst for reform was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, who in the nineteenth century was the Father of Muslim nationalism. He called on Muslims to unite in order to regenerate their community and culture. He appealed to Islamic faith and pride and reminded the people of Islam's divinely revealed mandate and mission and stressed its past Islamic historical and cultural accomplishments, such as the conquests and expansion of Islam, the establishment of the Islamic Empire, and the flourishing of Islamic civilization. He did not advocate the rejectionist position of many conservative religious leaders, but his call for a return to Islam and for Muslim unity made him acceptable to them. He appealed to the younger generation with his call for acceptance of modern science and for Muslim unity, solidarity, and political action, and he made his appeal at a critical juncture in Muslim history. He identified the major concerns and issues facing the Islamic world, the causes of its growing weakness, and the major challenge to its survival. He saw the internal weakness of the Muslim community along with the external political and cultural threat of European imperialism posed a serious threat to the Islamic community. He saw the weakness of Muslim society as deriving from its stagnation and tendency to follow blindly and cling to past authority. Afghani emphasizes the dynamic, creative, and progressive character of Islam and the fact that Islam was more than a religion in the Western sense -- it was a religion and a civilization. It was the reason for being for the Muslim people both as individuals and as a socio-political community. He also saw Muslim renewal as having the political purpose of liberation from colonial rule. He said that Islam provided the common, more fundamental bond and basis for Muslim solidarity (Esposito 48-49).

Another important leader was Muhammad Abduh, a religious scholar who rejected the blind following of tradition and who called for a new interpretation of Islam that would demonstrate its relevance to contemporary thought and life in the modern world. He saw no inherent conflict between religion and scientific reason: "The renewal of Islam and Muslim society should be based not simply on Western secular modernization. Abduh sought to provide the rationale for the selective integration of Islam with modern ideas and institutions" (Esposito 50).

Esposito concludes that Islamic modernists were pioneers who did not simply seek to return to the straight path of Islam but to chart its future direction: "They were pioneers who planted the seeds for the acceptance of change, a struggle that has continued" (Esposito 56). The movement toward fundamentalism and a return to the past has also continued. Binder says that Islamic fundamentalism is a relatively modern movement with doctrinal roots in the earliest period of Muslim history: "It shares with many historical Islamic movements the recurring impulse to renew the faith, to return to pristine origins, to shed the accretions of time and clime, and to recapture the vigor and simplicity of prophetic times" (Binder 170). Binder points out that modern fundamentalism owes much to Islamic modernism as well as to earlier fundamentalist and religious impulses.

Binder finds that in this century, the younger generation was offered a choice between Western cultural ideals and an even more rigid reaffirmation of a tarnished tradition. The appeal of modernism in the form of a synthesis of reason and tradition, science and faith, was strong, particularly in Egypt and pre-independence India and Pakistan. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hasan al-Banna as a reaction to the growing influence of Western cultural and religious influence, and it and the Jama'at-i-Islami in Pakistan constituted the two most successful and influential fundamentalist movements of modern times. The latter organization was founded by Abu'l-'Ala al-Mawdudi who was highly influential in Egypt. Al-Banna was eloquent and had organizational skill, but his influence was not as great in his writings when compared to the charismatic appeal of his personality (Binder 171).

Binder describes the different levels of fundamentalist belief, from moderate to extreme. While many in the West may believe otherwise from their too-distant observation point, fanatic fundamentalism is not a necessary consequence of Islam, and Islam, says Binder, is only the ground upon which some special theory has been constructed, one that touches on the personality characteristics of a small group of believers: "The expansion of this small group of true believers into a movement of political significance depends upon many and varied factors, possibly including some kind of exemplary individual action demonstrating a devotion that goes beyond life itself" (Binder 173). Acts of terror and martyrdom are therefore not merely aimed at terrorizing or demoralizing the enemy but also at proving that the impossible is possible.

Binder notes that the more moderate wing of the Muslim Brotherhood was highly successful though it failed to win certification as a legalized political party in the elections of 1984 and won seats in 1987 still without achieving legalization: "The more moderate wing has gained wide respect among the Egyptian middle classes, as it has emphasized its preference for peaceful political methods, even if it has not ruled out all use of violence" (Binder 173).

Mawdudi and Qutb (a native writer of Arabic) share the belief that Islam is engaged in a cultural war with the West, and they feel that the ultimate goal of modernization under whatever designation is to complete the material colonization of the Muslim world by means of a moral and cultural takeover. They thus see the reassertion of Islam as a rejection of Western dominance, of Western culture, and of the identity which the West is purportedly trying to impose on the Muslim world: "Hence the improvement of the material condition of Muslims is not conditioned on their becoming more westernized but rather less westernized, and there are important implications in this doctrine for the political relationships between technocrats, bureaucrats, and professionals (including the military) and cultural elites" (Binder 175).

The modernist and the fundamentalist movements both derive from the same two forces, the one internal and the other external. The internal includes both the strength of past traditions and the growing weaknesses of Islamic society, and the external involves Western influence and Western imperialism, which are not always the same thing. The responses are different, of course with modernism accepting certain ideas and accommodating them and fundamentalism rejecting Western concepts to the point of outright war against cultural imperialism in some instances. The form taken by each is different in different parts of the Muslim world, and each has its strong proponents and its strong enemies.

Women in Islam

The main source for laws concerning women is the Quran, believed by the faithful to have been revealed and dictated by Allah to Muhammad.

Islam changd the status of women, as Anwar Hekmat notes when he writes,

The women of the pre-Islamic era were much freer in their movements than they were subsequently allowed to be. They showed hospitality to their husband's friends. They were regarded as equals to their men and their companionship was sought by men of all ranks. Women attended public gatherings, took part in the armed campaigns against the enemy, nursed the wounded, encouraged the warriors by reciting verses of songs and lyric poems, and held high…

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