While acknowledging the fact that the impacts of colonialism, whether of positive or of negative implications, on Muslim world are, by the degree of their complexity and more importantly because of the intensity of the involved intricacy, are easy to describe and hard to measure; however, here, it would be a sheer injustice on our part if we deprive the colonists of the credit they deserve for the services that are by and large both impressive and adorable.
Before the advent of the colonialism, Muslims were generally leading a self-contained and conventional life. They had deviated from the path of exploiting the scientific knowledge. Their abrupt contact with West gave them the first knock that helped to awaken them from their medieval slumber. It kindled the intellectual spark that set certain corners of Muslim world on fire.
Today, there are more than fifty Muslim states — almost all the products of decolonization — extending from the shores of the Morocco in the West to the coasts of East Indies in the East, and from the deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa to the steppes of Central Asia. Among them are included countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, that carry in their profile the distinction of being among the most populous countries and also the countries like Maldives and the Comoros with scarce traces of populations.
Maintaining law and order, improving communications, widening areas of cultivation, extending facilities of education, and setting up the framework of a modern government and modernized society are among the most splendid contributions on the part of the colonialists.
The schools established by colonists preceded any modernized government schools and served as models for later institutions, whether public or private. Until the present, the study of foreign languages is emphasized, even in native schools, and either English or French is often the medium of instruction on the higher and professional levels. Native schools, presses, newspapers, magazines and literary societies, following Western patterns, soon began to make their appearance throughout the Muslim world.
Of the numberless novel ideas imported from West, nationalism and political democracy are undoubtedly the most powerful. Nationalism in Muslim lands born largely as a reaction against imperial regimes. As nationalism struggled against foreign powers, political democracy contended with native feudalism. Throughout the Muslim world, feudalism continued to be a dominant social feature with political complications. Therefore, the institution and functioning of a democratic form of government against such a background is not easy. Generally speaking, it would be safe to assume that politically no less than socially and economically, colonialism set the Muslim world by and large in a state of transition. Reconstructing Muslim society on a democratic political basis and reconciling Islam and the modern world remain the greatest tasks confronting the contemporary generation.
Islam has always been a leading force behind political endeavours that hold a prominent value among Muslims. In colonial era too, political Islam took a bold stand against the Imperial Powers. There are splendid contributions on the part of many eminent Muslim scholars like Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1838-97), Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), Sayyid Ahmad Shahid’s (1786–1831) insurrection from the Indian soil in 1826 to the anti-imperialist undertakings of Iran’s Mirza Hasan Shirazi (1815–94) and Shaykh Fadlullah Nuri (1843–1909) or Central Asia’s Imam Shamil (1796–1871), Amir Abd al-Qadir (1808–83) from Algeria, Somaliland’s Muhammad ibn Abdille Hasan (1864–1920), Sudan’s Mahdi (d. 1885), or the Tijani jihads (holy wars) in West Africa between the 1780s and the 1880 and the rebellion of al-Hajj Umar Tal of Futa Toro [c. 1794–1864]. Other “Islamic” movements have included Malaya’s Hizbul Islam, India’s Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Hind, Iran’s Shiite ulema in the 1920s, Libya’s Sanusiyyah (led by Umar Mukhtar, 1858–1931), or Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. These movements led to the successful breaking of scholastic shell which had encased Islam since medieval times. While neither achieved fully what they set out to do, they left an intellectual progeny which counted in it men of pen and of religion that would continue to advocate political revolution and religious awakening. Pan-Islamism is the ideal for which Muslims should thrive.
Contemporary outlook of the Muslim world is marred largely by the forces of schism and also by the battle-cries of new orders. The rise of modernism in its wake coincided with the emergence of anti-West thought among the Muslims. Was the unprecedented rise of the Islamists because of the adverse implications of the colonialism or was it because of the least foreseen consequences of the attendant modernity is the moot point that will continue to draw the attention of the researchers for many decades to come; however, it is within the orbit of rare refutation to state that the deep and systemic penetrations of the divisions whether of sectarian nature or the one that involves the shades of different creeds, among the ranks of the Muslims, that are still actively refusing and opposing every attempt towards reconciliation, owe their instrumentality to the principle of ‘divide and rule’.
While the dark clouds of colonialism receded, its blueprints, however, have not entirely been neglected by the West. Among the multitude of violent ideas, ‘divide and rule’ has brilliantly been acquired from colonialism by the West, particularly by the US, and is faithfully reflected in their policies towards Middle East where West seems convinced that the only way to continue hegemony over Arabians is to stir up strife between Sunni Arabs and Iranian-Arab Shiites, among whom the patterns of cleavage are evidently defined by sectarian lines. This deadly collision decidedly radicalized the Muslims. Sectarian disturbances between Sunni and Shiites that were earlier systematized by the colonial powers, under West’s stimulation have culminated in the massacre of more than 300,000 innocent people within a decade, a decade which will remain infamous in the annals of the land.
There is no denying the fact that US never did colonize a Muslim nation. However, it is also a matter of equal importance to acknowledge the reality that since the conclusion of World War II, US policies in the Middle East – its hegemonic assertions to maintain control by encouraging so blithely a competition between ethnic, linguistic, religious or tribal groupings, its support for the dictatorial regimes in the oil states where masses are generally in a state of unrest and cherishing discontent towards their feudal aristocracy, and its alleged support of Israel made the United States appear to Muslims as a quasi-colonial power. Muslim peoples, especially Arabs, have an understandable and, to a great extent, justifiable reservoir of resentment against the West in general and against the United States in particular.
West’s policies at this time present a seeming paradox; supporting, in Syria, with one arm radical Islamists and encouraging and instigating people of moderate disposition to take up arms (of course accelerating the radicalization), while with the other calling the whole world to unite against the fight with radical Islamists. From the crumbling Syria to the devastated Iraq and from the camps of the countless refugees to the large-scale bloodshed, and massacre of the thousands of innocents, West has to answer for its own crimes.
In fact no value proved too mighty for the West to crush and no human rights too sacred to disrespect. Although countless human lives have been sacrificed, yet their blind faith in their own domination and their untainted loyalty to their own hegemony, know no bounds.