Interviewer: Good afternoon, we are pleased to have here Dr. Karim Crow who is a principal research fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia where he performs policy oriented research into the history of ideas inter faith issues and into Muslim dynamics. His competence includes civilizational implications of globalizing trends within Muslim societies and their reciprocal relations with Euro-American culture. He earned his doctorate cum laude from the Institute of Islamic Studies at Miguel University in Montreal and he’s taught in North America for over 15 years Arabic language in literature and Islamic disciplines in Colombia, NYU, Fordham, The University of Virginia and The University of Maryland. He served in Malaysia as professor of Islamic Thought at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization and in Singapore at the [IB] School of International Studies; and I am pleased to turn the floor over to him.
Karim Crow: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here and I want to thank the Rumi Forum for extending the invitation to share with you some ideas about a topic that is increasingly being raised in different circles and impacts directly on our global reality. The idea that somehow Muslims are not part of the modern scene, that their history, their tradition, their religion in particular has excluded them from what most people understand or interpret to be modernity and that they have somehow walled themselves off or excluded themselves from engaging directly in issues that the rest of the world is busy undertaking whether it’s economic, political or issues relating to faith and mutual relations between groups and civilizations and religions. And if you scan the literature and you see what’s being published and discussed in the last decade especially since 9/11 about the global stance of Muslim societies and peoples across the world you’ll find that there’s a recurrent theme that reappears. That the Muslims have a problem with modernity; that they have never really settled or clarified to themselves whether they want to be part of what the globalized contemporary modern scene engages most societies. Particularly the issue of secularity, whether Muslim societies can accommodate in someway a secular stance, especially also the idea of science and technology at the root of those enterprises is a view of rationality that puts human in charge of their destiny and able to control their natural forces and advance in terms of the technological mastery of forces which allow people to be part of the modern age. And we find this view now amplified. Of course it has a history. There has been a tendency over several centuries especially during the heyday of imperialism when the white man bluntly assumed that Asiatics and dark skinned peoples were just incapable of thinking rationally or of mastering the intricacies of science and technology as it had developed and spread from the time of the enlightenment, 18th Century primarily in Western Europe: France, Germany, England and other major European nations and it was at that time that the suppositions and assumptions which underlie modernity became established and widespread.
Now modernity means the era from the enlightenment until recently; most people think of our age as a post modern age. Modernity represented a break with the authority of religious institutions particularly the Catholic Church with its dogmatism and its monopoly of truth and its uneasy relationship with rationality which led to the undermining of faith based view of the world. And we all know that people like Galileo were tried as heretics because they questioned certain dogmas that the Catholic Church upheld. So the European enterprise which had spread over the globe became a means by which certain assumptions about non European races became accepted without much questioning. Arabs, Indians, Chinese, people of other races were not able to partake of modernity and could not have achieved the same technological and scientific advances that the Europeans did. There was always something unique about Europeans, exceptional; nowadays of course it’s particularly Americans who see themselves as a form of exceptional contribution to world advance economic and financial order and scientific and technological success. And there was undoubtedly a wash off effect.