اَلحَمدُلِلهِ رَبِ العَلَمِينَ ؕ وَالصَّلَوةُ وَ السَّلَامُ عَلَى سَيِـّـدِ المُرسَلِين
اَمَّا بَعدُ فَاَعُوذُ بِاللهِ مِنَ الشَّيطَنِ الرَّجِيمِ
بِسمِ اللهِ الرَّحمَنِ الرَّحِيم


السلام عليكم ورحمة الله تعالى وبركاته

Asalamu 3alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh







*





Orientalism


(Dar al Ifta Egypt)











Orientalism



There is no doubt that Orientalism has its significant impact on the Western world and the Islamic world alike, even if the reaction is different in each case. In the Western world no one who wants to write a book about the Orient or think of it or even practice an action connected to it is able to ignore the enormous scientific revolution that was shaped by the Orient over the past centuries.

In the contemporary Arab Islamic world no one can hardly find a magazine, a newspaper or a book except with a mention or a reference to something related to Orientalism or something related from near or far to it.

There is no wonder about all this because Orientalism had and will always have the biggest hand in shaping the Western perceptions of Islam as well as forming the Western attitudes towards Islam over many centuries.

Orientalism is an issue surrounded with controversial opinions in the Arab and Islamic world. Some support it eagerly and limitlessly whereas others reject it altogether.

Just to give you a quick example for the latter group, I was giving a lecture titled “Islam & Orientalism” a few years ago in one of the Arab countries. I was thanking the Orientalists for their efforts in saving the Arabic manuscripts which were brought to Europe and for making the process of benefiting from them so easy by indexing them. I mentioned this as one of the memorable things we should thank the Orientalists for.

In the very same hall another lecturer happened to be giving a lecture, just a few months later, about the Arab Islamic heritage. While he was speaking about the Arabic manuscripts that were brought to Europe he said that he wished these manuscripts were burnt to ashes instead of falling into the hands of the Orientalists who used them against the Arabs and the Muslims.

For fact, we have these two contradicting trends; one trend is passionately and limitlessly with the Orientalists whereas the other is so emphatically and unfairly against them. Both trends in fact represent an unscientific and gullible stream! On the one hand, Orientalism is not totally infallible and on the other it is not all bad for Islam and Muslims. The first trend is dazzled by the Western civilization, the scientific and technologic development of the West so they just assume that anything coming from this direction is (from their own standing) correct, scientific and objective.

As for the other trend, those who are totally contra, they refuse the whole Western civilization even though they do not deny striving towards scientific advancement. Yet their refusal for Orientalism is backed by various reasons, among these; 1- The circumstances that led to the immergence of Orientalism, 2- Linking its objectives at some stages with missionary activity, 3- Its hostility to Islam since the Medieval ages, 4- The military conflicts which took place between the West and the Islamic East for many centuries, 5- The modern age Western colonization for the Islamic countries, humiliating their peoples, degrading their faith and civilization and all the ensuing arrogance that characterized the relation of the Westerners with the helpless peoples they colonized.

Orientalism played some considerable roles that helped in realizing the colonization attacks and also helped in establishing the arrogance of the West towards Islam and the Muslims. They utilized their information about Islam and its history in combating Islam and the Muslims. This painful reality is even admitted by the honest Orientalists who are sincere to their mission.

All of this tells us the reason why we have a trend in the Arab and Islamic world that is so fiercely rejecting Orientalism. The undeniable fact will always remain that Orientalism had its powerful impacts on the modern Islamic thought; both positively and negatively whether we should like it or not. Hence we can neither suffice with just ignoring it or rejecting it thinking that by this we solved the problem. That way we will be like ostriches hiding our heads in the sand!

There is no better alternative than confronting the problem, placing it on the research tables, studying it, coming out with results and proposing solutions.

From here arises the need for a serious scientific confrontation for Orientalism. This confrontation must never be satisfied with just a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’! It rather needs to delve in a deep study and a diligent research into the roots of the Arab thought to identify the real causes behind the Western attitude from Islam. The prevailing image of Islam in the West today is not just a temporary or casual image! It is not an image that was just born today! It is an image that was formed by centuries of cultural conflict between Islam and the West.

If we never attempted to study the Western legacy, analyze it or criticize it the way the West did with our legacy then, then at least we must study what they wrote about us so we could realize the causes underlying their unjust campaigns against our religion and our sanctuaries. From here we can realize our dire need to study everything that was written about us and about our religion by the West. These writings are actually directed towards our holiest particularity; our creed which we value mostly, our Prophet (SAWS) whom we love greatly, our Qur’an, our Sunnah and generally speaking our whole history.

Both trends we’re talking about (the pro and the contra) are being totally unfair in their orientation and for this reason a third trend had to emerge in an attempt to form an objective vision about Orientalism, its goals, its works and its scientific publications. This third trend will attempt to criticize what it sees as ‘negative’ from the Islamic stand and at the same time it will not forget to mention the ‘positive’ side which is related to the scientific field of the Arab and Islamic studies.

This third trend, in fact, is the only trend that could be dubbed a true Islamic trend in doing one of the most basic Islamic commands mentioned in the Qur’an, “...Do not let your enmity for others turn you away from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to being God-fearing..." (TMQ, 5:8). This is actually the only trend that can compel the Orientalists into respecting the Islamic point of view. Even if we can’t change the thoughts of the Orientalists in the near future at least they will see this real scientific trend on the Islamic level which they will not be able to deny or ignore. On the other hand this correct scientific path will provide us with the chance to venture into the closed doors of the Western thought.

Undoubtedly, the Orientalist attitudes must contain some positive sides that are so memorable for the Orientalists just the same way there are other negative sides that need to be recorded against them. In order for us to be objective we need to mention both the negatives and the positives so we could see all the dimensions of the problem. There is no harm at all in admitting that your enemy has in fact some advantages and maybe this will be a good motive for us Muslims to get up and ready for accepting the challenges that are forced on us by the circumstances of our age.

As for the positives which will be mentioned here partially I just want to point out that some of them are matters that are closely connected to the Orientalists, the style of their work and how interconnected they are. I just mention these things for the sake of taking them as an example. Other things are connected to their practical production that benefits the Arab students even if the Orientalists primarily mean to benefit themselves from them; but still they did not deny others from this benefit. I will try to give a glimpse the origin and development of Orientalism, and then I will have a look at their various positions (with the pros and the cons). Then I will discuss what the Muslims can do to address the Orientalist movement.