Book Review: The Crisis of Islamic Civilization
47 Osgoode Hall Law Journal 159 (2009)
8 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2013
Date Written: July 4, 2009
Ali A. Allawi's latest work, The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, is a worthy and valuable contribution to the literature on the decline of Islamic civilization and thought. Allawi contends that Islamic civilization has been in a state of crisis that began around the inception of the twentieth century, just as the Muslim caliphate was ending and the colonial period was beginning. According to Allawi, the existential threat to Islamic civilization arose with its replacement by a secularizing and modernizing West. As a result, Islam was relegated to a realm where it could not comfortably lie: solely in the private sphere. It was thereby excluded from setting rules of public order or establishing the bounds and purposes of scientific inquiry. Allawi further regards the very process of secularism as the attempted de-sacralization of religious societies, the destruction of reliance on "all supernatural myths and sacred symbols," and the replacement of God with humanity as the force responsible for dealing with life's challenges.
Deeply dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in the Muslim world, Allawi lets his frustrations fly in every conceivable direction — at the West for its condescending disregard of Islamic values and its messianic attempts to remake Islam in Christianity's image, at a secularizing elite for foolishly "aping" the West and the secular edifices created by them in the Muslim world, and at Islamists for failing to connect the spiritual to the temporal. He is neither sanguine about the future of Islamic civilization, nor does he seem particularly inclined to disguise his bitterness at so much of what he finds distasteful in modern Islam, modern Muslim society, and Western reactions thereto. He does not mince words, nor should he need to.
While I appreciate, and even laud, much of Allawi's perspective on Islam and its civilization, I cannot help but wonder whether his prescriptions for an Islamic civilization are sensible, or entirely complete. Moreover, and equally importantly, although it is relatively easy to see what might be wrong, in the Islamic context, with the adoption of the rather extreme views of secularism that he describes, it is unsatisfying that the author is unwilling to engage with other, more promising possibilities within the secular paradigm that have been promoted by other committed Muslims.
Keywords: Islamic civilization, Islam, shari'a
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