header image
HOME arrow RESEARCH ARTICLES arrow Islam and Modernity arrow Islam arrow The Creative Mission of Muslim Minorities in the West
The Creative Mission of Muslim Minorities in the West PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 31
Written by Louay Safi   
Feb 20, 2004 at 07:00 PM
Article Index
The Creative Mission of Muslim Minorities in the West
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6
Page 7

These two worlds were brought into a remarkable harmony for the first time under the principles of Islam. It was in the state of Medina that we first encounter a clear example of a polity where universally proclaimed moral values formed the criteria of political judgment. Political leaders and statesmen were expected to recognize not only the value of efficiency, but also the values of justice, dignity, equality, and freedom. This important transformation was observed by Hegel (1770-1831), a leading European philo-sopher of history. In his Philosophy of History [New York: Dove Publica-tions, 1956], Hegel recognized that the unity between the secular and spiritual took place in Islamic society and civilization long before it did so in the modern West:

We must therefore regard [the reconciliation between the secular and spiritual] as commencing rather in the enormous contrast between the spiritual, religious principles, and the barbarian Real World. For spirit as the consciousness of an inner world is, at the commencement, itself still in an abstract form. All that is secular is consequently given over to rudeness and capricious violence. The Mohammedan principle, the enlightenment of the oriental world, is the first to contravene this barbarism and caprice. We find it developing itself later and more rapidly than Christianity; for the latter needed eight centuries to grow up into a political form.[21]

The modern West followed the example of the historical Islamic world in demanding that holders of political power operate under a set of moral rules. But as the modern West harmonized the secular and religious only nationally, the international realm was free to operate under the dynamics of power politics and secular rudeness. This failure was a source for the senseless violence that claimed well over 100 million war victims in the twentieth century, including over 80 million in two world wars. Recognizing the danger of keeping international politics under a purely secular evaluation, the United States led the effort that culminated in formalizing international law and creating the United Nations after World War II. Yet this effort was effectively undermined and compromised by political realists who enjoyed a disproportionate sway over American foreign policy and who were always ready to justify American violations of international covenants and treaties in the name of national security.

Ironically, contemporary Muslim societies have exceeded all others in decoupling the secular and the religious and now find themselves entangled in a crisis of legitimacy. Many Muslim regimes operate outside the realm of moral correctness and follow only to the logic of power politics. Even more alarming is that this decoupling has reached deep into religiously inspired movements, which seem to succumb to the logic of power and are ready to employ amoral – even immoral – strategies in their fight against political corruption and oppression.

The decoupling of the secular and religio-moral spheres and the rise of political rudeness in western democracy should be a source of concern. The strengthening of ultra-nationalist sentiments in Austria, Germany, and most recently in France, and the return of religious and ethnic profiling in the United States in the wake of September 11, are quite disturbing trends and point to a process of secular-moral decoupling.

It is worth noting that this process advances despite the religious reassertion occurring throughout the world. This is because the coupling and decoupling of the secular and the religious must be judged by whether moral values limit individual and collective behavior, and whether a profound commitment to moral principles restrain the political actions of social groups and group leaders. An exclusivist religious community that permits rudeness and capricious violence outside ethnic and religious bonds can be as brutal as – or even more brutal than – groups purely defined on the basis of secular criteria.

That has led to the resurgence of religion and its encroachment of the public sphere. But the brand of religiosity we hear expressed in the public sphere is the bigoted and divisive one the remind us of that prevailed in the pre-modern West. The recent attacks by Evangelical ministers, like of Robertson and Falwell, is indicative of the type of the political desecularization we are facing. It is evident the attacks are political in nature and are a prelude to violation of Muslim rights and to violence.

Muslims can provide an alternative model of society in which religion is reconciled with the modern society. In so doing, Muslim can provide new vision of how Islam can be lived in modern society to the full extent, and how religion can be reconciled with social living without relapsing into the medieval way of life. 

But for that to happen Muslims need to meet two conditions. They need to liberate themselves from traditionalism by deepening the commitment to the universal values of Islam. And they need to forge ahead with a lot of courage and confidence that the Islam they love and embrace has a lot to offer to future humanity.




    [1] Abd al-Wahab Khalaf, ‘Jim Usul al-Fiqh, 8th ed. (Dar al-Kuwaitiyah, 1388/1978); Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 84.

[2] For further elaboration on this point, see Louay M. Safi “Islamic Law and Society”, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences.

[3] Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi‘i, Al-Risala (Beirut, lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, n.d), pp. 401-76.

[4] Ibid. p.

[5] For elaboration of Hanbali Principles of Jurisprudence see Ibn al-Qayim, A‘lam al-Muaqi ‘in (Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1991 A.C. 1411 A.H.), Vol. 1, pp. 24-6.

[6] Shi‘a jurists imposed, by far, fewer restrictions on ijtihad.

[7] Majid Khadduri, The Islamic Concept of Justice (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), P. 135.

[8] For an excellent commentary of the Patriot Act, see Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent: How the USA Patriot Act Undermines the Constitution (New York: Center for Constitutional Rights, 2002).

[9] Lawrence Rosen, Anthropology of Justice: Law as Culture in Islamic Society (Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 61.


[11] Rodinson, as quoted in Birch, ibid., p. 6.

[12] M. E. Yapp, The Making of the Modern Near East (London: Longman, 1987), 93.

[13]     See Ann Belinda S. Prais, “Human Rights as Cultural Practice”, Human Rights Quarterly 18 (1996) 288; Also Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, p. 109-12.

[14]     See Max Weber, Economy and Society (University of California press, 1978) , Vol. 1, pp. 1121-1156; also Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose JusticeWhich Rationality? (London: Duckworth), 1990.

[15]     Donnelly, Universal Human Rights, p. 110.

[16]     See Ibid, pp. 117-8; also Abdullahi An-Na’im, “Toward a Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights,” in A. An-Na’im (ed.), Human Rights in Cross Cultural Perspective (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), p. 25.

[17]     Richard Falk, “Cultural Foundation for the International protection of Human Rights,” in Abdullahi An-Na’im (ed.), Human Rights in Cross Cultural perspectives (University of Pennsylvania, 1992), p. 44.

[18]     The unilinear conception of history derives its intellectual force from Hegel’s Philosophy of History.

[19]     RhodaHaward, “Dignity, Community, and Human Rights,” in Abdullahi An-Na’im (ed.), Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspective, p. 99.

[20]     For an excellent discussion on the impact of social context on the implementation of human rights, see Daniel A. Bell, “The East Asian Challenge to Human Rights: Reflection on an East West Dialogue, “Human Rights Quarterly” 18 (1996) 641-667.

[21] Georg W. H. Hegel, Philosophy of History (New York: Dove Books, 1956), 109.

Presented at
Fiqh Today: Muslim as Minorities, organized by AMSS UK and Muslim College, Westminister University, London, England, February 21, 2004.



User Comments

Please login or register to add comments


The Qur'anic Narrative
The Qur'anic Narrative

Leading with Compassion
Leading with Compassion


Tensions and Transitions
in the Muslim World

Peace and the Limits of War

The Challenge of Modernity 


Blaming Islam

Foundation of Knowledge

Creative Commons License