The response of the Muslim world to the warnings and admissions of Western intellectuals and scholars with regard to the strengths of Islam in the face of a declining Europe has been crass materialism, crude consumerism and suicidal fatalism, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.
By the end of the seventeenth century, it was in the air in Europe that the Western civilization was unsustainable. Its moral and intellectual decline was worrying the thinkers. Several thinkers began to look into other systems and cultures. A cursory study led them to believe that the Indian (Hindu), the Japanese (Buddhist), the Chinese (Confucius Han Dynasty) cultures did not meet the material, moral, intellectual and ecclesiastic needs and demands of the human mind and soul. If any, it was the Islamic system which appeared to be the most promising. This is the reason why leading thinkers, statesmen and philosophers of the West began to take up studying Islam, and occasionally made pro-Islamic statements, or passing remarks on Islam. Here are some examples:
Voltaire (d. 1778)
Fresh from the memories and injuries of the seventeenth century 30-year pan-European War, and the excesses of the Roman Church (50 million ordered killed during the Middle ages), it was Voltaire who steadily allied himself with Islam and its Prophet Muhammad (saws) to criticize the Church, and suggest separation of Church and State.
A French thinker of the Enlightenment times, historian, philosopher and critic, Voltaire’s writings did not please everyone. He had to balance out his assessments by concealing his admiration, while yet criticizing the Prophet. His thoughts and criticisms, and the popularity he gained, tell clearly that his hopes in the resurrection of Western Civilization were fading.
The dissatisfaction with the Western way of life was growing. The intellectuals were, with the weakening of the Church’s influence and political powers, speaking out with lesser fear. The influential French writer, philosopher and composer, Rousseau, did not conceal his approval of Prophet Muhammad(saws). He wrote:
“Mahomet had very sane views, he fastened his political system well, and as long as his form of government lasted under his successors, the Caliphs, the government was wholly unified and, to that extent, good. But once the Arabs flourished and became lettered, polite, sot and cowardly, they were subjugated by Barbarians.”
Napoleon (d. 1821)
Napoleon was no fiendish warrior. He was an intellectual person too. He had realized the diminishing power of the Judeo-Christian order and the degeneration of the souls. When he was told that such and such a person was a charlatan, he quipped back: “Who is not a charlatan?” He characterized history produced by Western historians as, “lies agreed upon.”
His effort to conquer Egypt, which lay thousands of miles away from France, seems to be guided by faith in Islamic sources of light. He wished to carry back with him to France five hundred learned men, obviously to reinvigorate the Western world with morals and wisdom. He unveiled his admiration of Islam when he said in a speech delivered before the elites in Egypt:
“O you judges, Sheikhs, Imams and Shorbadjis! Tell the people that we, too, are real Muslims. Are we not the ones who destroyed the Pope, who said that war must be made on Muslim? Did we not destroy the knights of Malta, those madmen who thought that God commanded them to wage war against Muslims?”
It was in that atmosphere of restive dissatisfaction that Islamic wisdom-writings were being brought out. The title of one of the books produced then read:
Thomas Carlyle (d. 1881)
Across the strait in Britain, intellectuals were no less conscious of the fact that influences of the Renaissance were fading fast. Thomas Carlyle found it necessary to educate the public on historical figures who had shown the path to moral, material and spiritual development. He pointed out that, as against the propaganda of the Church, Prophet Muhammad (saws) had exerted a huge influence on the civilizational development of humanity. Speaking on the most influential personalities in history, during his famous six lectures, to an elite audience in London, he chose to place Prophet Muhammad (saws) as the most influential human ever. He said:
“Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to anyone. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only.”
Goethe (d. 1832)
In neighbouring Germany, the feelings about the feared failure of the Western Civilization were no different. Goethe, the most famous German of his time was a polymath who expressed his ideas through poetry, novel and drama while at the same time writing treatises on scientific subjects. He also served the State in various capacities. In an unfinished work, he placed a poem called ‘Song of Mohammed,’ one of whose stanza reads:
Young and fresh,
From the clouds he danceth;
Down upon the marble rocks.
Then tow’rd heaven,
Lamartine (d. 1869)
Another leading French intellectual, Lamartine, was a politician who expressed his ideas through poetry. He signaled the warning about the possibility of Islam emerging as a contender in Europe. He was quite open in his admiration of Prophet Muhammad(saws). He said, what has become a historical statement:
“If the grandeur of the aim, the smallness of the means, the immensity of the results are the three measures of a man’s genius, who would dare humanly compare a great man of modern history with Muhammad?”
Oswald Spengler (d. 1936)
Then came the open admission of the failure of the Western Civilization. It was from a German scholar, Oswald Spengler, who produced an eye-opening book called The Decline of the West. Perhaps, it is the most popular philosophical book of modern times. Read widely, initially it was labelled as pessimistic. But events and developments since then have proven it as an unsavory predictive truth.
Michael H. Hart (b. 1932)
The concealed warnings have continued. The most prominent is from USA. Michael Hart shocked the renewed hate-bearing leaders and public of the world by writing a book entitled, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, in which he placed Prophet Muhammad (saws) at the top as the most influential person in history.
The fear of demise of Western Civilization in Michael Hart, who is Jewish and still alive, can be guessed from the fact that he appears to believe that this is the result of the West accepting non-Caucasian races into its fold. In 1996, addressing a conference organized by a white separatist party, he suggested that the United States be partitioned into four states: a white state, a black state, a Hispanic state, and a mixed-race state.
Samuel P. Huntington
In response, and, as if to show the direction the Western states should take, Samuel P. Huntington produced a predictive book called, ‘The Clash of Civilization,’ disguising, it appears, his ‘suggestions and plan of action’ as ‘warnings.’ It is surely the product of a mind pessimistic about Western Civilization.
What has been the response of the Muslim world?
By and large, it has been – on the part of its in different common people, unproductive scholars, faith-corrupting Ahl al-Bid`ah, inter-bickering religious groups and activists, and its parasitic clergy– on the part of them all, it has been: crass materialism, crude consumerism and suicidal fatalism.