Chapter 7



The West and Islamic Civilization



The interaction of the Christian west with the Islamic countries and Islam is of profound importance to the future of India, Hindus, Indic traditions and the entire Indian civilization. The events of September 11 and after have made us aware of another perception, of a religion subdivided into nations rather than a nation subdivided into religions, and this has induced some of us to think of ourselves and of our relations with others in ways that had become unfamiliar. The confrontation with a force that defines itself as Islam has given a new relevance, indeed urgency, to the theme of the "clash of civilizations."


Quote from Bernard Lewis( expert on Islamic civilization): Not until a comparatively late stage in history did the idea emerge that there are different civilizations, that these civilizations meet and interact, and—even more interesting—that a civilization has a life-span: it is born, grows, matures, declines, and dies. One can perhaps trace that latter idea to the medieval Arab historian-philosopher Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), who spoke in precisely those terms, though what he discussed was not civilizations but states—or, rather, regimes. The concept wasn't really adapted to civilizations until the twentieth century. Only two civilizations have been defined by religion. Others have had religions but are identified primarily by region and ethnicity. A consequence of the similarity between Christianity and Islam in background and approach is the long conflict between the two civilizations they defined. When two religions met in the Mediterranean area, each claiming to be the recipient of God's final revelation, conflict was inevitable. The conflict, in fact, was almost continuous: the first Arab-Islamic invasions took Islam by conquest to the then Christian lands of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, North Africa, Spain and, for a while, to Southern Europe; the Tartars took it into Russia and Eastern Europe; and the Turks took it into the Balkans. To each advance came a Christian rejoinder: the Reconquista in Spain, the Crusades in the Levant, the throwing off of what the Russians call the Tartar yoke in the history of their country, and, finally, the great European counterattack into the lands of Islam including the Mogul India, which is usually called imperialism. Due to this counterattack the Europeans conquered India and discovered the Indic civilization and Indic philosophy. During this long period of conflict, of jihad and crusade, of conquest and re-conquest, Christianity and Islam nevertheless maintained a level of communication, because the two are basically the same kind of religion. They could argue. They could hold disputations and debates. Even their screams of rage were mutually intelligible. When Christians and Muslims said to each other, "You are an infidel and you will burn in hell," each understood exactly what the other meant, because they both meant the same thing. (Their heavens are differently appointed, but their hells are much the same.) Such assertions and accusations would have conveyed little or no meaning to a Hindu, a Buddhist, or a Confucian. India and Indians with its Indic traditions such Hinduism, Buddhism etc. was not aware much about the dialogue and confrontation between the Islam and Christianity for many centuries until it was colonized by the Europeans. The west as well as Islamic world has noted this and they refer to this even in this century. They also note that the other civilizations are not politically conscious of their own government. When the British came to the subcontinent they looked at the Indian Muslims as the foreigner in India different from the native population. When the British who were the winners in conquering both the Islamic civilization and the Indic civilization left the subcontinent they had developed relationship with both of them in different ways. There is a order of hierarchy with different religions in the eyes of the western and Islamic policymakers. For Muslims it is first the Ashrafs, the Rajput Ashraf and then the Ajlaf (local convert). The Hindu kafir is below all Muslims. For the British the Muslim Ashrafs comes first and then the non-Muslims of the sub-continent. Western interpretation of the Indic philosophy by the end of 19th century created a new enlightenment in Europe which convinced them that to advance their civilization they need to look at what they called Aryan free spirit and identified themselves with the Aryan concept. This brought goodwill to the Indic culture and Indian people during the liberal period of the world history. The British after the first war created leverage with the Arabs, Shia and Sunni in the middle east and developed a special relationship in the region by the second world war and when their economy became dependent on the oil wealth. This special relationship with the Arabs and also close relationship with the ashrafs and Muslims of sub-continent by the 1930-40s defined the Anglo-American relationship with the non-Muslims (Hindus) of the sub-continent. This resulted in the partition of India to create a homeland for Muslims. The west became the sponsors of the Islamic countries but became caught with communist revolution, which was about to engulf the whole world. The west by the late 80s was changing to become more religious with the experience in confronting the communists. The deep relationship between the Ashrafs and the Anglo-Americans for 150 years was increased after 1979 when Shia Muslims in Iran revolted against the Americans and in 1980 the Soviet communists occupied Afghanistan. Increasingly after 1980, India and its religions were more defined by the relationship between the Anglo-Saxons (Christians) and Muslims/ashrafs of the sub-continent ( as unbelievers ). They share the same view of Indian culture (Non-Muslim culture) and perception of the non- Muslims of the sub-continent. This aspect is not deeply studied by the Indian intellectuals. After the fall of Soviet Union the relationship with Islam and the west changed when the pan-Islamic ideology swept through the world with globalization. With attacks during 9/11 in 2001 the relationship is again going through a substantial adjustment. The western commentators became aware of the intense aspiration for recognition of the Islamic civilization and reflected that “ Islam was one of the world's great empires' which had 'never reconciled to the loss of power and dominion”. Muslims have a unique qnd a highly developed sense of the world Muslim community like no other religious population. Among the Muslims of the world, the South Asian Muslims have always looked to outside influences and cultures rather than look inward into the subcontinental milieu of Indic cultures. A pan-Islamic sense has always pervaded their worldview, and Pakistan, after emerging as a nation-state, had to acknowledge it as a part of its ideology. The ‘transnational’ feeling is integral to the idea of the grand Muslim Diaspora after the seventh century. It emerged from the pattern of the spread of Islam through hijrah (migration) and conversion. During the days of subjugation to foreign empires, the transnational feeling contributed to the organization of resistance among local Muslim populations. In India, Muslim existence was deemed a kind of permanent emergency (Dar-ul-Harb) and migration was considered an option in  defiance of British raj.



During the last quarter of the last century, increasingly Islam and Christianity started categorizing the world into believers (who believe in Semitic religion) and unbelievers (infidels, heathens, kafirs - the rest of the world). With a population of 2.5B Christians and 1.2B Muslims the world for the first time in a total population of 6B had more believers than the unbelievers. There is a new paradigm of transforming the entire world into believers with the unbelievers as the field of target to be poached by Islam and Christians.


The British strongly supported the Ottoman Turks when they campaigned against the Wahhabis 1811-1818. In fact the young officer they sent to encourage the Pasha to complete his mission was the first European to travel across the Arabian Peninsula. They supported the Turks against Ibn Saud’s expansion in to al-Hausa in 1911, and continued to support Turkish sovereignty even after he conquered the province in 1913. In 1924 Ibn-Saud managed to get his tame ulema to declare the Sharif of Mecca unfit after the latter tried to claim the Caliphate. He then sent the pronouncement to Muslim communities all over the world. Sharif was a British ally, but they were in the middle of a spat over signing a treaty. Between that, the Wahhabi fatwa, the then unknown 'turning' of the British liaison officer (Jack Philby) assigned to Sa'ud's tribe from the India Office, and the ferocity of the Ikhwan, the Hijaz was lost.


Iran was a major American ally in the region for a quarter of century. Until the Carter administration came to power there was very little the Shah was ever denied. Appendix F gives a synopsis of the chronology of interaction of the west with Islamic civilization Only recent history is considered since the rise of the west.


1453 Ottoman Turks capture Constantinople and bring the Byzantine Empire to an end.

1492 The Reconquista completed - Christians capture Granada, capital of last of the Muslim states in Spain. Those Muslims who chose to remain behind were reconverted to Christianity and the rest were awarded severe punishments during the Spanish Inquisition.

1517 Ottoman Turks conquer Syria and Egypt and end Mameluk Sultanate.

1520-66 Reign of Sultan Suleiman "the Magnificent"; Ottoman rule extended along the coast of North Africa;  by the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire included present-day Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Yugoslavia and parts of Hungary and the Ukraine. 1639 Ottomans take Iraq (from Persia).

First Arabic department established. at Oxford and Cambridge.

1683 - Siege of Vienna - Turks are turned back and henceforth the Ottoman threat to Europe ebbs.

1798 Napoleon Bonaparte launches an Egyptian expedition and brings Egypt under French rule.

1805 The Ottomans appoint an Albanian officer, Mohammed Ali, as viceroy or pasha of Egypt; he finally breaks the power of the Mameluk.

1820 Britain signs treaty with Gulf sheiks to protect its shipping.

1830 France begins the conquest of Algeria.

1834 British establish steamship service to India via Suez. (This is why annexing Aden soon after was vital)

1839 The British take the port of Aden.

1869 Suez Canal opened (A joint Egyptian/French concern)

1882 British captured Suez Canal and assumed sole control.

1912 Morocco becomes a French protectorate; Arab Nationalism  and opposition to Ottoman rule begin to develop.

1914 Ottoman Empire enters World War One as an ally of Germany.

1916 Arab revolt against the Ottomans in Hijaz; Sharif Hussein of Mecca had agreed to enter World War One on the side of the Allies, in return for British promises of independence of what is now Syria, Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula; Britain signs a secret pact (the Sykes-Picot Agreement) with France dividing the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire between them.

1917 The British oust the Ottomans from Jerusalem and Baghdad; in the Balfour Declaration, Britain declares its support for the establishment of a 'national home for the Jewish people' in Palestine.

1918 End of Ottoman rule in Arab lands.

1920 The League of Nations awards mandates for Syria and Lebanon to France and for Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq to Britain.

1926 Having conquered Hijaz, Ibn Saud proclaims himself its king.

1932 Iraq becomes independent; Ibn-Saud proclaims kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

1934 Independence of North Yemen recognized.

1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty ends British occupation except in Suez Canal Zone.

1946 Syria becomes an independent republic; Britain recognizes the independence of Transjordan.

1948 End of British mandate in Palestine; Israel is established; first Arab-Israeli war. 750,000 Palestinians become refugees

1951 Libya becomes an independent kingdom.

1952 Military coup in Cairo; King Farouk abdicates; King Hussein takes over in Jordan.

1953 Egypt becomes a republic.

1958 Formation of United Arab Republic by Egypt and Syria; civil war in Lebanon; Iraq proclaimed a republic following revolution and shortly after leaves Baghdad Pact.

1961 Kuwait becomes independent; Syria secedes from the United Arab Republic.

1971 Britain leaves the Gulf. United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Bahrain become independent.

1973 Arab-Israeli war of Ramadan/Yom Kippur.

1974 Arab summit recognizes PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people

1970s - Ascendancy of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and coming together of Wahhabi and Deobandi school.


The Middle East, ever since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, has shown a pattern of nations trying to enlist the aid of outside powers. For Israel, American involvement was indispensable, first as a source of arms to guarantee its survival, then as the mediator uniquely able to create a "peace process" of negotiations with its Arab adversaries, and in the 1980s, through the quiet pressure of Secretary of State George Shultz, a guide for ridding itself of much of its socialistic economic system. When the collapse of the Soviet Union left the Palestinians without a patron, the Israelis and Palestinians decided to go it alone in the "Oslo process" aimed at a final peace agreement. When that effort went awry, President Clinton roared back into the Arab-Israeli scene, and then not only "Oslo" but the peace process itself jumped the tracks. Now the "keep America in" pressure comes from the Arab side and is working well for it through a "cease-fire" created by former senator George Mitchell. The Palestinians have now drawn the United States into an approach that expects Israel to make concessions that would endanger its security, focuses on Jewish settlements in a way certain to split the Israeli government, and has Europeans charging not only the Israeli prime minister but ordinary Israeli officials as war crimes violators. "Keeping the Americans in" continues to be a popular Middle East game.


It is fair to say that the Islamists have kept up a steady barrage of pressure using a mixture of terrorism and diplomacy to  counterbalance their lack of military and geopolitical superiority. They have made substantial advances in convincing the world of their victimhood and have created selective amnesia amongst the world population with respect to their own considerable complicity in various genocides through the decades and centuries, some even  occurring in the twentieth century. The world has completely ignored almost the complete absence of the modern signs of a civilized society within the Islamic Ummah namely democracy, access to equal treatment under the law for non-Muslims living under Islam, and the pressing need for a more humane and enlightened treatment of women.