Mirza Sahib’s new book on Diversity and Unity in Islamic



Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization


Islamic civilization, from its origin in the sixth century to the present day, is recognized by its rich, varied, abundant literature, and unique culture, based on a vast variety of traditions from diverse regions of the world. As an independent research scholar of philosophy, in this work I have tried to present Islam not only as a world religion, but as an impulse that obtained its remarkable hold over the conscience and intellectual development of billions of its believers. My endeavor in the presentation of Islamic civilization, which is today a subject of great concern for the whole world, is based on the analysis of its religious, political, and cultural aspects. Researching and preparing articles and lectures on Islam has been an intellectual odyssey, as new events happening every day in the Islamic regions and their impact all over the world, are revealing many intriguing aspects of this civilization.

Generally, a civilization is an area of cultural space in which a vast collection of cultural characteristics, phenomena, and creativity makes up the work of a particular people. For the sociopolitical scientists, it is a kind of moral milieu encompassing a certain number of nations, each national culture being only a particular form of the whole that appears as a civilization after getting organized through the passage of time. But regarding Islam, Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy argues that the “Mohammedans developed an important civilization of their own. Mohammedan civilization in its great days was admirable in the arts and many technical ways, but it showed no capacity for independent speculation in theoretical matters.” However, today, in spite of its lack of the kind of “independent speculation,” that is the characteristic of a modern civilization, all major scholars in sociopolitical sciences recognize the existence of a distinct Islamic civilization comprised of a unity within a vast diversity of traditions, cultures, and races. Samuel Huntington, in his work The Clash of Civilization, argues, “we identify a civilization as a highest cultural grouping of people defined both by common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, custom, and institutions; and by subjective self-identification of people.” Overall, rather than “independent speculation” culture is the common theme in virtually every definition of civilization, but to a very large degree, the major civilizations in human history have been closely identified with the world’s great religions.

Modern concept of civilization founded on “independent speculation” was developed for the first time in Europe in eighteenth century by the French thinkers to provide a standard representing the opposite of barbarism. But Islamic civilization, emerging in the seventh century, had established a civilized society during its glorious period from the eighth to the thirteenth century. Thus, almost a millennium after the Islamic civilization, the Europeans in the seventeenth century, spreading to nearly every corner of the world, laid the foundation of a Western civilization promoting humanism and “independent speculation.” It provided a standard by which societies were to be judged during their colonial rule. Today, whatever the Western world interprets and implements its cultural values, norms, faiths, institutions, and modern scientific modes, means Western civilization. However, the West did not win the world by the superiority of its idea of a civilization or moral and religious values, but rather on the basis of its superiority in applying organized violence: a fact Westerners often try to ignore, whereas the non-Westerners never forget.

The message of Islam, revealed to Prophet Muhammad as a religion, enshrined in the Qur’an and supplemented by his tradition, developed into a political discipline, that evolved into a state instituted by the successors of the Prophet known as caliphs. Originating in the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, it rapidly spread across North Africa and Spain in the west and eastward into Central Asia, the subcontinent of India, Southwest China, and Southeast Asia, developing into the concept of a borderless dar-al-Islam or the abode of peace. As a result, many distinct cultures or subcivilizations, including the Arabian, Greek, European, Persian, Turkic, Indian, Chinese, and Malay, corresponded to exist within the dynamic of Islam that still exist within the unity of its civilization. Later on Islamic world broke up into empires, but was seen as one civilizational unity. During the expansion of the West, the Islamic world became colonies of the Europeans that ended after World War I. Islamic civilization which had remained dormant, surviving political, social, economic, ideological, and even colonization upheavals, resurfaced. Today, it is being seen posing a challenge to other civilizations, particularly to the Western.

Islamic civilization, which is now distinguished by its roots of synthetic cultures with varied Semitic, Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Greco-Roman, Indian, and many other elements, is interpreted through the interconnection of the Qur’an, its Arabic language, and common faith. From the very beginning Muslim societies have been pluralist, open to diversity as well as capable of culturally embracing it. For the past fourteen centuries, in spite of many sectarian differences in religious interpretation and differences in domestic socio-political matters, the “Way of Islam” is still a powerful notion within its friendly as well as conflicting nations, self-assertive ethnic groups, and religious factions, holding them together in the common bonds of a shared tradition and an Islamic way of life. Since there is no single world of Islam, how does its civilization act in today’s world, and in regard to its combination of diversity and unity, what challenges does it face, Islamic civilization needs to be understood and argued within its religious, political, and cultural aspects. In Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization: A Religious, Political, Cultural, and Historical Analysis, I have collected articles published, and lectures delivered by me on different occasions and at many institutions. As the reader goes through this book, it will become clear that now, as in the past, due to the strain of cataclysmic events, attention is focused on Islam as a religion, while its political, cultural, and historical aspects, which are uniquely the core of its civilizational speculum, are being ignored. This book argues that Islamic civilization is much more than just a religion.

Mirza Iqbal Ashraf, February 10, 2017







CHAPTER 1– Islam: A Faith of Peace.

CHAPTER 2– The Islamic Philosophy of Jihad.

CHAPTER 3– Jihad as Justified War.

CHAPTER 4– Islamic Political Philosophy.

CHAPTER 5– The Philosophical Tradition of Muslim Thinkers.

CHAPTER 6– The Role of Muslim Thinkers in European Renaissance.


CHAPTER 7– Diversity and Unity in Islamic Civilization.

CHAPTER 8– Democracy and Islam.

CHAPTER 9– The Myth of Arab Spring and Undefined Liberal Democracy.

CHAPTER 10– The Muslim Tide in Europe and America.

CHAPTER 11– Western Muslims and Conflicts in the Muslim World.


CHAPTER 12–What Made Muslims Violent Terrorists, When They Believe

Islam is a Faith of Peace?

CHAPTER 13–What Went Wrong With Islam, and What Is Wrong Now?

CHAPTER 14–In Search of a Modern Ummah.

CHAPTER 15–Globalization and Islamic Civilization.

CHAPTER 16–The Middle Path of Moderation and Islamic Civilization.



“We Committed Intellectual Suicide After 9/11” Pankraj Mishra

Did Osama Bin Laden’s 9/11 attack set in motion dominoes that is leading to destruction in the Muslim world and self destruction in the West? Worth reading interview on Pankraj Mishra’s book, Age of Anger. f.sheikh 

Historian and intellectual Pankaj Mishra’s latest book Age of Anger: A History of the Present, published earlier this month, presents what Mishra calls “an emotional history” at a time of “worldwide emergency” when rage fills the global political sphere. Mishra locates the core of our chaotic condition in the Nietzchean concept of “ressentiment,” a creative force that animates the rebellion of the poorest and most disenfranchised against the ruling class. It is this very force, Mishra argues, that is animating those most marginalized, its power whetted by the contradiction between the equality promised in prose and exalted in rhetoric but never delivered in reality.

Mishra recently traveled to the United States, during the pause between President Trump’s first travel ban on the citizens of seven Muslim countries, and all refugees, and the striking down of his new one. A few days after we spoke, the President’s new budget pledged to do away with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. The budget for the U.S. State Department is to be slashed while the U.S. Defense budget will be augmented by billions of dollars. It certainly seems that the world is at the brink of even more war, more destruction, more displacement, and more turning away. In our conversation, Mishra and I spoke about the prescience of Age of Anger and his framing of our bleak and divided global moment.

Rafia Zakaria: The very first page of your book describes its stages of production: beginning at Modi, writing through Brexit and published with the election of Donald Trump. When you were at the beginning of this intellectual journey, did you foresee how it would proceed, both in terms of the books and the politics it aspires to explain?

Pankaj Mishra: I wish I could claim that kind of prescience. I knew that things were going very wrong in Europe and that inequality was an issue in the U.S. I did not know Brexit would happen or that Donald Trump would be elected. I just thought that there would be very large number of people who would vote for him, but I hoped that not enough would go as far as actually electing a maniac and a troll to the White House. I wrote my book obviously taking into account the state of dissatisfaction, but I could not predict the political outcome.

RZ: A dominant theme in your book is dislodging the post 9/11 assumption that terrorism as a phenomenon must be pinned on Islam and Muslims. You write: “The experts on Islam who opened for business following 9/11 peddle their wares more feverishly after every terror attack.” Who are these “experts,” and to what extent do you see their cultivation as a threat to those they seek to represent? 

PM: We, and by that I mean “the intelligentsia,” made a catastrophic mistake after 9/11 when we located the roots of terror in Islam, saying that there is something peculiar in their political tradition that explains an eruption of violence. That perspective looked past the mixed history of terrorism, and we now see that regardless of whether it is in Burma or Thailand or India, militancy and terrorism emerge out of a confluence of socio-economic factors. It is a sign of desperation and despair. This idea that it belongs to Islam in particular is a very dangerous idea; it was made mainstream and it was legitimated not just by the far right who are in charge of policy today (and have been engaging in this puerile debate), but also by the liberal intelligentsia.

Francis Fukuyama, for instance, said there is something intrinsic about Islam which is just not compatible with modernity. Then there is Salman Rushdie and even Martin Amis, talking about mass deportation as part of a thought experiment that he offered to a journalist. In sum, all sorts of mainstream figures were advancing this Islamophobic discourse in very holistic and dangerous ways, and in the guise of teaching Islam or understanding Islam or helping the Muslim moderates. This is why we are where we are today.


Now we see that when bigotry leads the West, and the leading bigot in the U.S. is President, it becomes impossible to explain it in relation to Islam or Christianity. So we are looking at the dislodging of a whole interpretive paradigm that has proven an utterly useless way of understanding the world. We need an analysis that compares the fundamentalists of today, whether they are Muslim or Christian or Jewish supremacists; their misogyny, their antipathy to multiculturalism, is markedly similar.  It is what links them that needs to be explored, the shared experience of disruptive social change, psychological disorientation, scorn, and humiliation.

I just returned from Myanmar where Buddhist monks have become ethnic cleansers. I would challenge anyone to explain their violence from the content of Buddhism. None can be found; it is socio-economic. A large number of the monks feel their power is being in a globalized capitalist economy, and you have to understand that to explain how Buddhists are becoming terrorists. We committed intellectual suicide soon after 9/11 when we started thinking of Islam as a generator of violence.

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“Night Swimmers-a voyage through geometry, mysticism and the female figure” By Rachel Spence

Antonello_da_Messina_-_Virgin_Annunciate_-_Galleria_Regionale_della_Sicilia,_Palermo 40

L’Annunziata: Antonella da Messina, Galleria Regionale della Sicilia

It’s often said that the measure of a great work of art is that it stands the test of time. But perhaps another criteria is that it stands the test of space. Not just then and now but also here and there. Would it be too estoric to say that Nasreen Mohamedi and Antonello da Messina are not only products of their time and place but also of each other’s? That this is the territory which Nasreen was seeking when she once enjoined herself to “See and feel primeval order”? [19]

She came from the east, he from the west, yet the geometry they share is universal. When the Roman Empire fell, so much of its knowledge would have been crushed in the rubble had not certain key classical texts been preserved in the Islamic world. For example, the great 10th- century mathematician from Baghdad, Ibrahim Ibn Sinan, translated Archimedes. Travelling through North Africa in the 12th century, the Italian mathematician Fibonacci discovered the Arabic numerals which he then introduced to the western world. Start to investigate and a myriad east-west synergies come to light; for example, the revolutionary cycle of numbers known now as the Fibonacci sequence actually originated in 6th century India.

Let’s recall too that Euclid lived and died in Alexandria, Egypt and Archimedes may have been educated there. The North African territory was part of the Greek and then Roman empires. How often do we find the borders between east and west so frail as to complicate such identities until they are barely holding?

As for me, I am still sitting on the floor. Looking. Writing. Outside my window is a world where women are still enjoined either turn themselves into objects of the gaze, or to retreat from sight as if exposure equals dishonour. Caught between the Scylla of Make Yourself Beautiful and the Charybdis of Cover Yourself Up. Still, too often, we are situated between the rock of motherhood and the hard places of spinsterhood or whoredom. But here in my room, Nasreen and Antonello – or the figure he created – quietly urge me to continue that inward turn.

“I cannot seek from without. It has to come from within.” [20]

That self-reflexive curve is, essentially, a non-objective gesture. Detaching itself from the figure – which is so often bonded with its historical and geographical moment – abstraction can take us to that state of origin which is close to rebirth. Or as Nasreen Mohamedi put it so acutely. “Out of chaos – form – silence.’ [21]

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posted by f.sheikh