If there is nothing inherent in Islam to impede modernization, why has no Muslim country fully modernized?If there is nothing inherent in Islam to impede modernization, why has no Muslim country...

If there is nothing inherent in Islam to impede modernization, why has no Muslim country fully modernized?

If there is nothing inherent in Islam to impede modernization, why has no Muslim country fully modernized?

Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One book you may want to consult on this matter is Modernization, Democracy, Islam, by Huma Malick and Shireen T. Hunter. It consists of 19 essays and a bibliography and would be a good starting point for research on this topic. It was published by a very reputable publisher (Greenwood) which routinely published the work of respected academics.

In 1994 Praeger Publishing (affiliated with Greenwood) published a book titled Islam and Modernization, by Javaid Saeed.  The publisher described the book as follows:

This study examines and clarifies the relationship between Islam and modernization in the Muslim world. Through a comparative analysis of Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey, the author analyzes the ideas and conceptions which are inculcated and propagated in Islamic countries as Islamic religious thought, practice, orientation, tradition, and ways-of-life. Saeed explains that the chaotic conditions existing in the Muslim world are largely a result of a crisis of thought, that the grossly distorted and misunderstood Islam, as presently practiced, is a major obstacle to the development of Muslim countries--but that Muslim countries can develop and progress only through Islam.


A 2011 updating of Islam in the Modern World, by Sayyed Nasr (HarperOne), received the following praise in Booklist:

Nasr, one of the world's foremost scholars of Islam, here updates one of his classic works in response to the major changes in the Islamic world (and its relationship with the non-Islamic world) that have occurred since the text was last revised in 1990. At its core is the tension between traditional Islam, the worldview defined by the equilibrium promulgated by the Shariah and the serenity of Islamic spirituality and expressed through traditional Islamic philosophy, science, art, and architecture, and the disunities and profanities of secular modernism that are the norm in the Western world and now pervade much of the Islamic world as well. In rejecting and critiquing modernism, Nasr argues, traditional Islam retains its rich spiritual vitality despite the challenges it faces from within and without. Among the greatest of these challenges is that presented by Islamic fundamentalism and violent radicalism, which, says Nasr, claim to reflect traditional Islam but have actually been profoundly corrupted by some of the modern West's ugliest attributes. Though passionately argued, this book is essentially an argument for the primacy of a particularly orthodox approach to Islamic faith and as such may not resonate with those inclined toward other Islamic beliefs. It does, however, provide an erudite and unusually accessible look into the ongoing struggle for the heart of Islam. --Brendan Driscoll


Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that there are a couple of points here that probably need to be fully addressed.  The first issue is that "modernization" has to be defined in more clear terms.  I think that what exactly defines "modernization" needs to be defined in a clearer and more focused manner.  For example, would Saudi Arabia be considered "modernized?"  Would Malaysia be considered "modernized?"  I think that what exactly defines "modernization" needs to be clearly established.  It can be argued that given the proliferation of social networking and information technology, many nations where Muslims are present are modernized.  For example, when Iranian students were dissatisfied with their Presidential election two years ago, they took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their discontent.  When the government tried to block these sites, the students downloaded and file shared anti- blocking software to continue taking their message to cyberspace.  This sounds fairly "modern" to me.  Even the most recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya feature protestors taking to the internet to spread their message and network with followers and supporters across the world.  This sounds modernized in my mind.  Additionally, I would say that the implication of the question that nations where Muslim followers are the majority are backwards or "pre modern" might not be true.  Lebanon is a nation where the Islamic faith is highly evident.  It is also one of the few nations currently avoiding the economic crisis of the last half decade, seeing 9% economic growth within the last two years at a time when so many nations, including the United States, are experiencing contraction.  The final point here is that in the global economy and the globalized setting in which we are, I think that the concept of "fully modernized" has to be reevaluated.  Modernization looks different in the globalized setting.  Defining how this looks and how all nations, not simply nations where Muslims are predominant, meet these standards is a discussion worth having.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with the previous post about the idea that it is hard to define what modernization really means.  However, I would propose another way to think about this.

I would argue that there are variables that are completely unrelated to religion that determine which countries modernize and which countries do not.  Looked at this way, it is not Islam that is preventing the countries from modernizing.  Instead, there is something else that does cause them not to modernize.

I tend to agree with Jared Diamond's arguments in Guns, Germs, and Steel where he talks about the importance of geographical factors in determining which countries end up as the "haves" and which countries end up as the "have nots."  I would argue that the Muslim nations of the world have simply, by chance, been ones that exist in areas of the world that were not geographically suited to growing large populations that could create the sorts of technologies that allowed for full modernization.

So, I would argue that it is not Islam at all that makes these countries have difficulty modernizing.  Instead, their inability to modernize has come from the fact that they were not the countries that were luckiest in terms of their geographical location.

I would invite you also to think of it in this way: there are many countries that are not Muslim and have failed to modernize.  Essentially all of the countries of South America can be seen in this way.  So what is it about those countries that makes them unable to modernize?  We would be better served looking at what all the countries that have not modernized have in common instead of looking at a few of them and saying that a characteristic that a few of them share is incompatible with modernization.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I once had the opportunity to spend 12 hours in Abu Dhabi airport on the way to Indonesia. Both experiences of Islamic countries were very interesting. Firstly, Abu Dhabi was incredible for its conspicuous consumption of wealth. The amount of gold that was visible and available was truly outstanding, and the level of technological sophistication easily was equal to that of any Western city in a number of areas. However, Indonesia, and in particular Borneo, where I was working for a while, was completely different and seemed to be locked into a different era. I guess this points towards problems in identifying precisely what you mean by modernisation, because Abu Dhabi, based on what I saw, certainly has many of the trappings of modernisation.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Walk down the street in Tehran, Iran, and there is little doubt that it is a modern city.  Baghdad and Beirut were also at one time, before war came.  Cairo and Riyadh are modern cities.

I think what you mean is that since Islam is socially quite conservative and in some of the more traditional Muslim countries, the civil law reflects religious ideals, it appears to an outsider that they are not modern.

We should also differentiate between country and people.  There are more than 6 million Muslims in the US, a fully modernized country, yet these Muslims have found a way to function in this society without compromising their religious beliefs or living under Sharia.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Muslim countries are controlled by factions of fundamentalists. They do not want to lose the control they exercise over their subjects, so they impede modernization. They inform their followers that modern conveniences are Western or American and evil. If they allow a higher quality of life and access to information, they will lose their tight grip.
karimjessa | Student

What I thought I'd say, I find has been said by the previous respondents. They've all touched on some aspect of the overall picture.

To combine, briefly, the salient points:

1: Islam is not to blame. For that matter, anywhere there is any impediment to progress, it is never the belief system that is to blame.

2: The reasons are predominantly political and economic. Geographical also, as was said in a previous reply, is a contributing factor.

3: In the case of Third World countries, the effects of colonialism have to be taken into account.

4: Most of all, the human factor; the greed and the desire for power of the rulers.