Week 10: Reform, Revival, and Muslim Women Defining Identity

A Changing World

A Changing World

This week, we discussed the reformist and revival Islamic movements during the 18th to 20th centuries. This was the period during which the European imperialists powers were colonizing Africa and Asia – in effect destroying the thriving Muslim Empires. These reformist movements emerged as as a solution to this problem. Some Muslims behind these movements thought that God had abandoned them because they were no longer practicing Islam the “right” way. This “right” way was essentially a strict fundamentalist interpretation of the religion that shunned other denominations. They targeted practices like visiting shrines, music and dancing of the Sufi tradition, emphasizing the principle of tawhid, or the oneness of God. Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb believed that Muslims were living in a state of jahiliyya, which is the time before the Prophet delivered his message to the Arabians, and needed to revert back to the “right” path to regain rule of their lands. We also discussed the rise of Wahabbism, which V. Nasr in the Oxford History of Islam describes as, “possibly the best known of the eighth century movements of Islamic revival” (p. 517). In class, we discussed how this ideology was “as much a product of political and economic considerations as of religious dogma” (Lecture Notes). The founder, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, studied under fundamentalist Hanbali scholars and came to the conclusion that traditions like Shiism and Sufism were not based in Islam. He actually openly declared people like Jews and Christians were kaafir, or non-believers. Tombs and shrines were destroyed. He questioned the ulamas’ authority and made literal translations of Quranic verses. This strict ideology was able to stay put in the Arabian region first by the addition of Abd al-Aziz ib Saud’s military power and the legitimization they got from the Western powers to combat communism. V. Nasr also how movements like these inspired the rise of jihadism and reformism in West Africa and Southeast Asia. There were a variety of other movements in the Islamic world, like those that sought to imitate or replicate Western models, like the establishment of the Turkish nation state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or liberal “back to fundamentals” like Sir Sayyad Ahmad Khan in India who argued that Western and Islamic thought were compatible.

For this blog post and my artpiece above, I wanted to focus on revivalist movements that moved to stricter interpretations and practices of Islam around the world. I use red cones that stick out from the Earth and look like tornadoes as a way to represent the way they disrupted the land and literally divided Muslims in these regions.

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