Muslim Enlightenment and Revitalization
Author: Waardenburg, Jacques
Source: Die Welt des Islams, Volume 28, Numbers 1-4, 1988 , pp. 569-584(16)
Muslim reform movements have been the subject of scholarly research for some time. Studies have been devoted to the Wahhabis, 'Uthman Dan Fodio and the Sanusis, and many more to the modern reform movements in India and Egypt, North Africa, Iran and of course Ottoman and Republican Turkey. Less attention has been paid, however, to such movements as have occurred on the periphery, partly because of the relative inaccessibility of direct sources for some regions. The aim of this contribution is to demonstrate the fact that there were important reform movements in Tsarist Russia from the middle of the 19th century on, and in the formerly Dutch East Indies from the beginning of this century, and to discuss the question how we should study such movements.
Since George Antonius and others we tend to connect the awakening of Muslim societies primarily with rising political resistance, and since Hamilton Gibb we are inclined to interpret the awakening of Muslim minds primarily in terms of modern trends in Islam.
As a result we run the risk of reading back into what took place before World War I and even World War II much of those ideological movements of nationalism and Islamism which have established their grasp on both Muslim and Western minds during the last forty or fifty years. Present-day ideological concerns can very well prevent us first from accurately observing what really went on, and second from offering adequate interpretations of what took place in Muslim societies.
Islamicists professionally concentrate on Islam; on closer consideration, however, the Muslim awakening before World War I was not always a concentration on what Islam was like. It rather seems to have been a growing awareness of the sad condition in which Muslims and Muslim societies found themselves, especially when compared to the West, and of the obvious fact that this poor condition was not up to the norms and ideals of Islam. It was in part with the help of the notion of Islam and the values and norms they derived from it that Muslim thinkers acquired awareness of this condition and looked for ways to improve it. As a result they arrived at a new world view and life orientation, and they arrived at new ways of action. If Islamicists somehow tend to be fascinated by Islam-whatever the Islam they perceive-, our research into 19th and early 20th century Muslim awakening must try to escape that fascination. Such research must be cleared of ideological biases on our part as much as possible, and certainly of any ideologization of Islam, by either taking it as an entity in itself or, on the contrary, explaining away Islamic qualities by a belief only in the working of infrastructural factors and overlooking the human responses to them.
The following data are taken precisely from Muslim societies on the periphery, which we do not tend to identify with "Islam" as we tend to do in the study of the heartlands of Islam or in general studies of Islamic religion and civilization. Studying Muslim societies in Tsarist Russia and the Dutch East Indies with special reference to modern reform movements may shed some light on how we should study phenomena of Muslim reawakening and enlightenment in general without putting them into negative or positive ideological frameworks. It may also make us aware of the immensity of the task of dealing with the modern and contemporary history of a world religion like Islam, precisely if we want to go beyond the external facts of history to the intentions of the people who made it and are making it nowadays. Apart from such methodological concerns we may detect some features common to modern reform movements in regions which had no historical contacts with each other. There may be resemblances between the leaders with vision who brought about an emancipation of so many Muslims from seemingly fixed patterns and traditions. Even some common problems of policy towards Islam may show up among Russian and Dutch policy makers and administrators. And perhaps our inquiry may be able to conclude something about certain preconditions for reform movements of the liberal type as described here.