The Ideology of Orientalism
Dr Asaf Hussain
Until the arrival of Islam, Christianity had no rival to compete with in the world. After Judaism, its status as a revealed religion was institutionalized through an established church and priesthood. When Islam emerged on the scene in the Middle East, both Judaism and Christianity felt threatened and did not want to accord it the status they enjoyed. But the dynamic message of the new religion soon spread from Arabia to China and various Muslim empires have left their imprint on the history of the world. Christians soon realized that Islam had come to stay.
Why did Christianity and Judaism feel threatened by Islam? It seems it was because Islam had come to complete the message brought by many prophets, including Moses and Jesus. Islam claimed that the revelations of Jesus Christ had not been retained but compromised in the Bible. Judaism and Christianity, however, did not accept this contention. They attacked Islam; and no strategy, including the Crusades, was left untried to destroy the credibility of Islam as a revealed religion. The ferocity of attacks launched against Islam not only exposed the sensitivity of Christians when dethroned from their elitist pedestal but also questioned whether they were really in possession of God's revelation. Their lack of confidence was demonstrated by their dislike towards Muslims who also believed in the same God.
The polemical writings of early Christian religious writers considered that the Prophet of Islam was an imposter and the Qur’an a fabrication. On such literature the Crusaders were nourished and the direct encounter of the Christian West with the Muslim East took place on the battlefields of Palestine.
But even crusading knights full of hatred towards Islam had mixed feelings when confronted with a Muslim general such as Saladin Ayyubi (1137-1193 A.D.) the defender of Islam during his times. His generosity and his kindness towards Christian prisoners, including knights whom he captured, were proverbial. When he captured Jerusalem in 1187 A.D. from the Christians he forbade his troops to massacre and loot Christians. This shocked his Christian enemies, who had considered Saladin a barbarian. The crusaders were "fascinated by a Moslem leader who possessed virtues they assumed were 'Christian.' (1)
Saladin's reputation traveled to the West and captured the imagination of writers from Dante to Sir Walter Scott and Orientalists like H.A.R. Gibb and Stanley Lane-Poole.
The conquest of Spain and Sicily brought Christians and Muslims into close interaction with one another and Christian reconquests of these places evoked an interest in Islam. These relationships widened the sources of knowledge regarding Muslims which Christian theologians, who had greatly distorted Islam,(2) were able to utilize. They had "built up the picture of Islam as an odious and malignant force with its Prophet depicted either as an idol or tribal god and therefore false and spurious, or else equated with Satan or Antichrist." By no stretch of imagination were they concerned with objective truth. One of these polemicists, Guibert de Nogent, freely admitted that he used no written sources for his polemics against Islam, but only hearsay, adding, "It is safe to speak evil of one whose malignity exceeds whatever ill can be spoken.”(3)
Saladin's death however, did not remove the threat posed by Islam to Christianity and Judaism regarding the authenticity of their scriptures. Furthermore, even though Umayyad rule had faded from Spain by the twelfth century, the image of the Muslim warrior with the sword in one hand and the Qur'an in the other haunted the West even as the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and established the foundations of the Ottoman empire. Their empire spread into Eastern Europe and negative images of Islam were reinforced, inflaming once again Christian fanaticism. Fear of Islam and the Ottoman Empire spread in the West. It was assumed that such an empire stood for the perpetuation of Islamic misrule and tyranny. Such assumptions remained unquestioned through- out the nineteenth century.(4)
The discovery of a sea route to India by Vasco da Gama in the 15th century incited the interests of the British, French, Portuguese and the Dutch. Rivalry among them for expansion of their trade across new frontiers necessitated conquests of these new lands. Since the two major empires (the Mughal and Ottoman) were under Muslim rulers, it ignited a renewed interest in Islam. Chairs of Arabic Studies were established in Cambridge (1632) and Oxford (1636). William Bidwell (1561-1632), known as the father of Arabic Studies, wrote that Arabic was "the only language of religion and the chief language of diplomacy from the Fortunate Isles to the China Seas.(5) The university authorities considered that Arabic would prove useful "to the good service of the King and State in our commerce with the Eastern nations, and in God’s good time to the enlargement of the borders of the Church, and the propagation of Christian religion to them who now sit in darkness.(6)
The study of Arabic and other languages of Muslim countries like Persian and Turkish laid the foundations for the study of the literature of those countries. These studies in the initial stages were motivated more by commercial and missionary than political reasons.
Christian missionaries laid the foundation for the development of Orientalism. This interest reached its peak during the first half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries and missionaries from Belgium, France, Britain, Holland, Spain and the United States were all involved. Such names as S. Zwemmer, H. Lammens, D.B. Macdonald, M.A. Palacious, C. De Faucoult, M. Watt to K. Cragg, have all produced studies which created doubts about Islam or relegated it to an inferior status.
Duncan Macdonald believed that Muslim societies were going to suffer from a collapse of Islam from the onslaught of European civilization. So as soon as the "legend of Muhammad" crumbles and "his character be seen in its true light" then the "entire fabric must go," as such Christian schools and preachers should "save these people . . . for Christianity".(7) The most effective way to achieve missionary objectives was not "to attack Muhammadanism directly but to let new ideas eat away its foundation".(8)
Others like Montgomery Watt believed that "Muhammad appears to have tried to mould Islam as the older religion.”(9) The old religion was Judaism and, since the first Qiblah was to face towards Jerusalem, it initiated a desire on the part of the Prophet to be accepted by the Jews. Montgomery Watt speculates that, had the Jews come to terms with the Prophet Muhammad, Islam could have become "a sect of Jewry."(10) In fact the missionary Orientalists had one objective and that was "to deny and disprove the Prophet's status as such and the Qur'an as revelation."(11) In other words, they did not study Islam to understand it but to discredit it.
Side by side with missionary interests, commercial interests had begun to develop during the seventeenth century. Trading companies had been established by a number of European countries like Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Holland and Spain both in Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Muslim countries were of major interest, however, for the whole of India was under Mughal rule, while the Middle East was ruled by the Ottomans. It did not take long for European trading to develop political interests. The untapped resources of these countries soon gave way to exploitation and monopolization over territorial controls for ensuring its continuity and maximization of profits from new materials.
While the economic and political interests of the Europeans in non-Western countries were beginning to make inroads in these far off lands, interests in the culture, literature and religion of these lands had also begun to develop. There was a rapid turnover of such literature by travelers and scholars; the Orient was considered exotic and mysterious and scholars like Abraham-Hyacinthe, Anquetil-Duperron and Sir William Jones translated the Avesta texts of Persian Zoroastranism, the Upanishads of Hinduism and founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1784. What has been labeled as "scientific Orientalism" is considered to have started at this time when Silvestre de Sacy opened the Ecole des Langues Orientales in Paris in 1795.(12) It is not surprising that during his conquest of Egypt Napoleon had taken with him a number of scholars who wrote 23 volumes of studies on Egypt, initiating Egyptology as a field of study in order to "restore a region from its present barbarism to its former classical greatness; to instruct (for its own benefit) the Orient in the ways of the modern West; to subordinate or underplay military power in order to aggrand the project of glorious knowledge acquired in the process of political domination of the Orient; to formulate the Orient, to give it shape, identity, definition with full recognition of its place in memory, its importance to imperial strategy, and its natural role as an appendage to Europe . . .'”(13) Such earlier interests led to the production of a number of translations, dictionaries, travelogues, etc., all designed to explain the Orient or make its study easier through the knowledge of its languages and literature. But by the nineteenth century these haphazard and independent pursuits had given way to more vigorous methods in keeping with the developing scientific consciousness of the times. A general consensus of how to approach Oriental studies was developing among scholars of the Orient.
The status of Orientalism began to be recognized as a discipline. It must also be remembered that in the milieu in which the discipline was born there was a growing demand for it. This demand was generated by the expanding conquests and interests of colonialism. As new colonies were established the colonialists were faced with new cultures, religions and ideas which were alien to them. In order to control these non-Western people more knowledge about their cultures and religions was needed. This need was fulfilled by secular Orientalism. It opened a new front against Islam in which both Christian as well as. Jewish scholars participated. Orientalism was becoming "an integral part of western culture." (14) The scholarly studies of Silvestre de Sacy, Ernest Renan, Edward William Lane "made Orientalism effective and congruent with the interests and political concerns of imperialist rulers.(15) Edward Said therefore offers the most appropriate definition of Orientalism: its function was "To understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, even incorporate, what is a manifestly different world."(16)
Orientalim helped the imperialist to legitimize his conquests. Some Orientalists were directly involved in aiding colonial administrations by providing interpretations of how to dispute the natives’ perceptions of Islam. Louis Massignon worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and for the French administration in Morocco. According to him, "the curve of evolution is inclining more and more towards Paris and it is to it and not to the East that the great mass of North Africans are turning their eyes. “(17) For the French and British colonialists who colonized Muslim countries many times larger than their own, Arabic and Islamic studies became a guide for the "pacification of the colonized territories as a means to achieve their colonial objectives."(18)
It must also be mentioned that Orientalism was not the only direction which had sought to subvert the civilizations of the eastern peoples. Another discipline which worked hand-in-glove with colonial interests was anthropology. It was considered to be another "child of imperialism.”(19) Anthropologists' studies aided colonial administrators as well as others, such as missionaries, in understanding the customs and lifestyles of the peoples. Social anthropology "became important to . . . colonial administration, in the context of direct coercive rule and in the context of reforms from above. (20) The colonialists did not know the different cultures of the various peoples. The cultures of the non- Western peoples were as different from each other as they were from their new ruler's. At any rate the study of the cultures of the non- Western peoples was taken over by anthropologists. In the colonialists’ hands such data was extremely useful. The more the colonialist understood the culture of the ruled, the more he began to comprehend their strong and, weak points, which enabled him to manipulate them. The motive for the study of non-Western peoples was not to produce knowledge for knowledge's sake but to help the colonialists to exploit non-Western nations. Funding was easily available in areas where there was a dearth of studies or the area was difficult to study. Numerous studies were therefore done on Asia, Africa and the Middle East under academic garb and considered objective. But as Talal Asad observes, "it is worth noting that virtually no European anthropologist has been won over personally to the subordinate culture he has studied.”(21) Objectivity was therefore a myth to sanctify the fundings of anthropology.
Orientalism and anthropology both served colonialism but in differ- ent ways. Anthropology evolved much later than the former at a time when colonialism had spread far and wide into the non-Western world and colonialists needed concrete methodologies as to how to bring about political, economic and social changes among the colonialized. Anthropologists provided the imperial countries the relevant theoretical model known as "structural-functionalism." This theory exercised the most powerful influence not only academically through the writings of anthropologists and sociologists like Bronislaw Malinowski and Talcott Parsons but also introduced new theoretical methodologies of political change into non-Western societies. Structural functionalism posited that every society contains structures devised according to the history and traditions of the indigenous people. Functionalism posits these structures have political, economic and social functions to perform. In order to change any society its structures must be altered or demolished and new ones created or substituted. Its functions would then automatically change. The colonialists took full advantage of these ideas and through coercion, appropriation, negotiation, persuasion and education initiated new political and economic structures in colonized societies. In varying degrees resistance was offered to change by different societies, but these attempts were overwhelmed by force or by legal means. Concepts of "culture" and "ethnicity" were put to good political advantage by colonialists. Sometimes imperialist countries did not have to engage in battle with subjugated groups but accomplished their purposes by setting one group against the other, by employing the now famous 'divide and rule' tactics. In these efforts they had local collaborators. In some colonized societies like the Indian subcontinent, it was easy to set two communities, such as Hindus and Muslims, against each other. In the Middle East this proved difficult; structural functionalism faced a strong obstacle in the unifying force of Islam and its political culture.
One of the dynamic pillars of Islamic political culture was ensconced in the concept of ummah (community of believers). The ideal ummah transcended the national, tribal and ethnic boundaries among Muslims. All Muslims were part of this ummah and it was considered the duty of every Muslim to strengthen and consolidate it and not weaken it. But in the contextual realities, Muslim rulers often deviated from Islam and did not prove to be ideal in their rule over their subjects or in their political relationships with other Muslim countries such as that which existed between the Turkish Ottomans and the Safavid Iranians. There were many reasons for this which is beyond the scope of this paper. Suffice it to state that the colonists found such weaknesses easy to exploit by introducing westernized notions of ethnicity and nationalism.
Men like T.E. Lawerence were instrumental, for example, in inciting
the Arabs against the Turks. They could just as well have acted on the
reverse principle, that is, of reconciling the political differences between Arabs and Turks, but this would not have served colonial objectives in the Middle East. Nationalism then became a potent new political force in the Middle East, separating the Arabs from the Turks but dividing the former among them. The irony was that when political consciousness dawned upon them, exposing colonial intrigues and exploitation, nationalist forces threw off the yoke of colonialism. This sometimes entailed a heavy cost in human lives, as in the Algerian struggle against the French.
Another Islamic principle was the inseparability of religion from politics. The selection of Islamic political leadership was directed towards those considered through consensus in the ummah to possess a high degree of commitment to Islam. Each Muslim ruler was considered to be competent to rule the ummah and implement the principles of the Qur’an and Shari'ah in their own societies. But Muslim rulers often fell short of this criteria as dynastic rule was institutionalized in the political systems of Muslim countries. Few members of any dynasty, if any, possessed the degree of Islamic commitment expected of them by their subjects.
The colonialists were quick to take advantage of this opportunity and introduced secularist doctrines which sought to separate the sphere of religion from politics. This approach appealed to the ruling dynasties, for Islam did not legitimize such rule, and they did not want Islamic approval or disapproval of their political and personal behavior. The colonialist secular doctrines reflected norms from their own political culture which had subordinated to the Monarchy of Parliament. Such ideas of secularism found many new advocates not only among Arab, Turkish and Iranian intellectuals but also among the various political leadership groups. The new ideas regarding formulation of a "constitution" and implementation of the liberalized western doctrines of a "democracy" which functioned through elected representatives in "parliaments" reformed and radically altered the political structures in the Middle East. Orientalism therefore became a valuable tool for the subversion of Islam. The main task of such subversion was to pull out the "claws" of Islam which could impede colonial exploitation of Muslim lands. It gave a Westernized interpretation of Islam and distorted the real meaning of Islamic concepts like jihad, ummah, tawhid, etc. Departments of Islamic studies were opened at western universities which conferred doctorates in Islamic studies on Muslims themselves. To be an Islamic scholar was not to be committed to Islam but academically qualified in the theories of Orientalism. In fact, in the oral examinations of post-graduate students in Islamic studies, students were questioned on the theories of Orientalism and "the student, in order to pass has not only to know the theories but to accept them essentially as correct."(22) Such training and interpretations created an Orientalist's Islam parallel to the real Islam.
The colonialists derived enormous benefits from such "Westernized" Islam and ridiculed concepts of ummah as a far-fetched notion or referred to jihad as "holy war" which had faded with the Crusaders and not as an ongoing struggle and individual striving. For example, some Orientalists like Snouck Hurgronje, another Orientalist employed by his government, devised policy guidelines for the Dutch government's colonial rule in Indonesia. Hurgronje articulated the objectives of Orientalism very well in serving colonialism for he considered that "the more intimate the relations of Europe with the Muslim East became, the more Muslim countries fall under European suzerainty, the more important it is for us Europeans to become acquainted with the intellectual life, the religious law and the conceptual background of Islam."(23) A number of studies were produced by the Orientalists and their motives were merely reflections of Hurgronje's view. In the political dimensions of Islam, "the Orientalist image" of repressive relations between Islamic rulers and their subjects was "rooted not only in the historic Christian experience of aggressive Islam. . . but more importantly, in the bourgeoisie European evaluation of 'progressive’ and 'fanatical' Islam that required to be directly controlled for reasons of empire. As rulers of vast Muslim populations, the imperialists could attempt to legitimize their own governing position with arguments supplied by Orientalists that Islamic rule (colonial rule is by contrast humane), that Islamic political theory recognizes, the legitimacy of the effective de facto ruler (colonial rule is manifestly better than the corruption, inefficiency and disorder of pre-colonial rule), that political domination in Muslim lands is typically external to essential articulation of Islamic social and religious life (therefore no radical damage has been done to Islam by conquering it as its central political tradition remains unbroken)."(24) Such deductions from Orientalism reinforced the ideology of colonialism.
But such studies contained a serious flaw which misperceived Islam. Muslim history was considered as a projection of Islam. Dynastic and patrimonial leadership was taken as political behavior. Islam was confused with folk culture. These were not expressions of Islamic political behavior. In fact, Muslims themselves identified with Islamic history as only that which was practiced during the lifetime of the Prophet. His discussions and judgements were emulated by his four companions (who later became caliphs of the Islamic government) after which Islamic was usurped by dynastic considerations in which individual and not Islam power became the prime consideration.
Orientalists did not make such fine distinctions between Islamic history of the Rashidun period (the first four Caliphs) and Muslim history dating from the ascension to power of the Umayyad dynasty in 661 A.D. Orientalists perceived history on a single time continuum. Muslims, however, regarded the Rashidun period as the proof that an Islamic state could be established based on the principles of the political system established during this period. The Karbala tragedy in 680 A.D. in which the grandson (Husayn) of the Prophet tried to defy the un-Islamic regime established by the Umayyad rulers was another event from history singled out by Muslims. The principle of jihad in action against an un-Islamic ruler legitimized revolt against tyranny. The effect of this incident on Muslims is still evident, as it was a strong mobilizing factor in the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Orientalists created history according to western concepts which totally ignored Islamic history and how it was meaningful to Muslims themselves. In order to diffuse and distort the meaning of divine history through which, as Muslims believe, God tried to demonstrate the Sirat al-Mustaqim (the straight path), they found fault. Their common targets were the life of the Prophet, the Qur'an and the Hadith (traditions) of the Prophet.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, a number of major Orientalists wrote books on the Prophet's life. Some of the major contributions were Muir's The Life of Mohamet (in 4 volumes 1858); Sprengler’s Das Leben und die Lehre des Muhammed's (in 3 volumes 1861-1865); Noldeke’s Das Leben Muhammed's (1863); Wellhausen's Muhammed in Medina (1882); Krehi's Das Leben des Muhammed (1884); Grimme's Mohammed (in 2 volumes 1892-95); Buhl's Muhammed (1903); Margoliouth's Mohammed and the Rise of Islam (1905); Caetani's Annali dell' Islam (1905); Tor Andrae's Mohammed, the Man and His Faith (1936); Blachere's Le Probleme de Mahomet (1952); and Watt's Muhammad at Mecca (1953) and Muhammad at Medina (1956). Most of these books focused on some common themes concerning the Prophet's life. Some considered that he came from humble origins, suffered from epileptic fits, doubted his divine mission, behaved like a Prophet at Mecca and a politician at Medina; that he was worshipped by the Muslims as an idol; that he had knowledge of the Bible; that he tried to mould Islam from imitating other religions like Judaism and Christianity.(25) The aim of all this was the character assassination of the Prophet Muhammad. If this could be achieved, the validity of the Prophet would be discredited. Such unsubstantiated generalizations were believed in the West and used by missionaries.
It is not surprising to find, as among anthropologists, hardly any Orientalist who was sympathetic to Islam. Scholars looked down upon 'subjective' attitudes and pretended to be 'objective'. But in spite of such a facade their deep-seated prejudices could not remain hidden. It could often be easily detected by questions the Orientalists posed and in the selection of methodology utilized in their studies. On studies of the Qur’an, quite often it is noticeable that the main preoccupation of the Orientalists was either to prove that it had borrowed ideas or that it was a forgery from pre-Islamic Arab ideas and customs, or evolved from Judaism or Christianity. A translator of the Qur’an in the eighteenth century commented that the Prophet "was really the author and chief contriver of the Qur'an is beyond dispute."(26) This unsubstantiated assumption was upheld by a number of other Orientalists except that different reasons were attributed to it. Some considered that it was "nothing else but a pure creation and concoction" and that it was the "fire of his genius” and a "reflection of his energy.”(27)
Other Orientalists, like J.W. Stobard, considered that the Prophet possessed some "poetic fire and fancy." Stobart reinforced the views of Robert Bell and of Maxime Rodinson, who considered the Qur’an as a poem of the Prophet's unconscious mind.(28) Some Orientalists were not convinced by such reasons and assumed that the Qur'an was the "result of wishful thinking" which was expressed by his subconscious mind.(29) On the other hand, others, like Montgomery Watt, were more subtle and considered that Muhammad may have been mistaken, for "what seems to a man to come from outside himself may actually come from his unconsciousness" and as such the Qur'an was "the product of creative imagination.”(30)
But the Qur'an still remained a puzzle for many Orientalists who considered that no creative imagination could put together such a work. Many Orientalists remained convinced that it was composed with the help of Jewish and Christian sources. The Prophet, it was contended, was a widely traveled man from his youthful days when he used to go on trips with his uncle. In these travels he is considered to have met some Christian monks. Some considered that he met some bishops and monks in Mecca while others consider that he met a Christian convert to Islam.(31) They argued that he must have learned about Judaism from some unnamed teacher because the "long rambling accounts of Jewish patriarchs and prophets (in the Qur'an) corresponded in so much detail with the Talmud that of their essentially Jewish origin there can be no doubt. “(32) Some even considered that the Qur'an had been put together by Jews and Christians "especially employed for this purpose . . . in order to satisfy popular demands.' (33) But an even more ludicrous assertion was the belief that the Prophet was possessed of demons and the Qur'an was expressed through him.(34) The important point to note is that the Orientalist was not ready at any cost to believe that the Prophet was the messenger of God and the Qur'an was a revelation. At the same time they acceded that there was a God and that Moses and Jesus were sent by Him.
Studies of Hadith fared no better at the hands of the Orientalists, who considered them to suffer from serious defects. Muslim scholars, however, were aware of those defects and had already established three categories of Hadith: sahih which were considered genuine after verification procedures had been applied; hasan which were acceptable but considered inferior in authenticity to the former and, lastly, da'if which were considered weak and not reliable. The latter were subdivided further into categories according to their continuity or discontinuity of their isnad (chain of transmitters).
Orientalists, however, tried to prove that the Hadith literature in general was considered to have been arbitrarily devised, influenced by history and carelessly put together. Studies in this area done by Ignaz Goidziher and Joseph Schacht created a number of doubts regarding their authenticity.(35)
As stated earlier, the objectivity of the Orientalists was deceptive. It started with an a priori assumption that the Qur'an was not revealed by God but was a work of a man. But any scientific method must take the claim of the subject of study, for example that the Qur'an is a revelation of God, and then try to prove that it is not. In other cases, the analogy of Christianity in Western civilization was applied to Islam. They argued that if there was reform in Christianity then there should be reform in Islam and, if not, why not? The answer supplied was that, since Islam does not lend itself to change with the times, it is primitive. Such false assumptions are again described through the use of Western terminology of what is 'progressive' or 'reactionary,’ what is 'holy war’ or who is ‘fundamentalist.’ All these words have meanings in the Western historical experience and if applied to non-Western civilizations impose meanings not relevant in their context or deliberately distorting, as in the Islamic context.
Through such studies the Orientalists had posited the inferiority of the Muslims and the superiority of the West. Furthermore, Muslim civilizations were considered to be decadent while Western civilization was considered dynamic. In this sense colonization was considered necessary to 'civilize these people and their institutions. In fact, as Albert Hourani correctly states, "there was a tendency to view Islamic history in terms of 'rise’ and 'decline’: Muhammad plants a seed, which grows to its full height under the early Abbasids, in terms both of political power and cultural renaissance; after that, political fragmentation and cultural stagnation lead to a long decline from which the Muslim world does not begin to awaken until the nineteenth century, with the impact of Western civilization and the stirrings of national spirit.”(36)
With the fading of colonialism in the Middle East, Orientalism started falling from its high pedestal because its utility to the colonial powers lessened. But its influence did not diminish entirely, for after World War II, United States imperialism emerged as the new force in the Middle East and the knowledge of the Orientalists regained importance. A new generation of scholars was created to fulfill this need. Numerous departments in United States universities became authoritative centers of what was labeled as Middle Eastern or Islamic Studies. Apart from the universities, many American foundations (Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller), Councils (American Council of Learned Studies) and corporations (Rand), etc. provided funds for research. The United States government itself was the largest surveyor of such research as the State Department and Defense Department required such data for policy making. The Middle East Institute was founded in 1947 in Washington and its quarterly publication, The Middle East Journal became the main channel for communication for scholars.
In 1951 the Social Science Research Council set up a 'Near and Middle East Committee’ which later merged with the Joint Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies and encouraged research in the Middle East. A survey of its work over the past two decades indicated that their purposes in serving United States national interests in the Middle East were not different from the old school of Orientalists who had served colonialism. The survey revealed that in the initial stages it had depended on the Orientalists who saw in it a new opportunity to work for neo-colonial United States interests while at the same time it recruited new scholars who also envisaged a new role for their discipline which related to the power of the United States to maintain its political and economic hegemony in the region.
As these political and economic interests increased, the powerful Middle East Studies Association was founded in 1966 and built a network of scholars in Middle Eastern Studies. Its statement of purpose in 1967 stated that the Middle East Studies Association was organized to "promote high standards of scholarship and instruction in the area, to facilitate communication among scholars through meetings and publications and to foster cooperation among persons and organizations concerned with the scholarly study of the Middle East. “(37)
Such linkages were not only created within the United States but extended abroad in association with the American University of Beirut, the American University of Cairo, the American Research Center in Egypt, and American Research Institute in Turkey and the American Institute of Iranian Studies in Iran before the Islamic Republic was established.
In these new developments, the Orientalists were not left behind but quickly adjusted themselves to the new area studies programs. Orientalists like Bernard Lewis joined Princeton University while H.A.R. Gibb went to Harvard. The latter soon promoted area studies by pointing out its four functions of providing knowledge to undergraduates, training graduate students with a scholarly understanding of complex cultural factors, the necessity of taking a multicultural approach and coordinating various disciplines within a given area to stimulate interest in these areas of study. This was necessary because "in the increasingly close interrelations of the modern world and the insistent need for Western man to live with and to communicate with men of non-western societies and traditions, it has become necessary to enlist the cooperation of the social scientist in the task of interpreting the structure and motivations of contemporary Asian and African societies. It is a well established maxim that economics is much too serious a matter to be left to the economists, and we too have to admit, with whatever misgivings, that the Orient is much too important to be left to the Orientalists."(38)
People like Gibb and his generation may have faded but were farsighted enough to lay the foundations of contemporary Middle East Studies. Social and political scientists have drawn from their work and the misconceptions and misperceptions are evident in their studies of Islam and the Middle East. These studies, despite claims to be objective, still project Western centered approaches which distort reality as it is in the context and fail to perceive the point of view of the subjects of the study. The result is that such studies have covered the political and economic realities of the subjects under study with Western ideologies. In fact, "Modem day Orientalists who write about Islam have shed the overt hostility of the 19th century missionary scholar who viewed Islam as a heathen religion, unworthy of respect. Tolerance and intercultural understanding have been actively cultivated in Islamic studies in keeping with the accommodation and avoidance of conflict that characterized U.S. actions in its first ventures in the Middle East, but beneath the facade of understanding, most orientialists basically view Islam as an under-developed religion, just as the Middle East is an underdeveloped area.”(39) The ideology of the Orientalists has not changed and still persists and functions in the same manner but under new labels.
Such flaws were evident in studies done on Iran. None could detect the revolutionary potential of Islam. When the Islamic forces erupted in 1978 and established the Islamic Republic in 1979, the whole field of Islamic studies received a rude shock. Particularly the United States was taken by surprise as it suffered heavy political and economic losses. The revolution stimulated much rethinking about what has been labeled as "resurgent" or "fundamentalist" Islam, but hardly any new ground has been broken in terms of the real nature of Islam. Western scholars are still groping to understand the complex facets of Islam and its political potential. But they are aware that Islam is a force to be reckoned with and can impede the extension of Western imperial interests in the Muslim countries.
1. Philip H. Newby, Saladin in His Time (London: Faber and Faber. 1983), p. 212.
2. Norman Daniel. Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh, 1960); also see, R. W. Southern. Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962).
3. C.E. Bosworth, "Orientalism and Orientalists," in D. Grimwood, Arab Islamic Bibliography (Sussex: Harvester Press, 1977), p. 148.
4. Norman Daniel, Islam, Europe and Empire (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1966).
5. A.J. Arberry, British Orientalists (London: William Collins, 1933), p. 16.
6. Quoted in A.J. Arberry, The Cambridge School of Arabic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1948), p. 8.
7. Duncan B. Macdonald, Aspect of Islam (New York: 1911), pp. 12-13.
8. Ibid., p. 13. For a comprehensive exposition of Macdonald's views see Gordon Pruett's chapter in this book.
9. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956), p. 199.
10. Ibid., p. 219.
11. Muhammad Benaboud, "Orientalism and the Arab Elite," The Islamic Quarterly, XXVI:1 (1982). p.7.
12. Bosworth, "Orientalism and Orientalists," p. 150.
13. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978). p. 86.
14. Stuart Schaar, "Orientalism at the Service of Imperialism," Race and Class, XXI:1 (1979), p. 68.
15. Ibid., p. 69.
16. Said, Orientalism, p. 12.
17. Benaboud, "Orientalism and the Arab Elite," p. 6.
18. Ibid., p. 9.
19. K. Gough, "Anthropology: Child of Imperialism, "Monthly Review (April 1968).
20. S. Feuchtwang, "The Colonial Formation of British Social Anthropology," in Talal Asad, ed.. Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (London: Ithaca Press, 1975), p. 93.
21. Talal Asad, "Introduction," in Talal Adad, ed. Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, p. 17.
22. Hamid Algar, "The Problem of Orientalists." Islamic Literature, XVII:2 (1971), p. 35.
23. Said, Orientalism, p. 256.
24. Talal Asad, "Two European Images of Non-European Rule," in Talal Asad. ed., Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter, p. 117.
25. M. Siddigi, "The Holy Prophet and the Orientalists," Islamic Studies, XIX:3 (1980). pp. 143-165.
26. George Sale, The Koran (London: Frederick Warne, 1899).
27. F.J.L. Menezes, The Life and Religion of Mohammed, the Prophet of Arabia Sands(London: 1911); G. N. Draycott, Mohemet: Founder of Islam (London: Martin Seeker. 1916).
28. J.W. Stobard. Islam and is founder (London: SPCK. 1876). p. 108; Robert Bell. The Origin of Islam in its Christian Environment (London: Macmillan, 1926); Maxime Rodinson. Mohammad (Hammondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977.
29. J.N. Anderson. ed.. The World Religions (London: Frank Cass, 1965), p. 56.30.
30. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961). p. 15.
31. Muhammad Khalifa. The Sublime Quran and Orientalism (London: Longman Group Ltd., 1982). p. 14.
32. Anderson. The World Religions, p. 57.
33. Khalifa. The Sublime Quran, p. 10.
34. Ibid., p. 12.
35. M.M. Azmi, Studies in Early Hadith Literature (Indianapolis, Indiana: American Trust Publications, 1978).
36. Albert Hourani, Europe and the Middle East (London: The Macmillan Press, 1980), p. 18-22.
37. Lynne Barbec et al, "Middle East Studies Network," MERIP Reports, 38 (1975). p.11.
38. Ibid., pp. 6-7.
39. Ibid., p. 19.