Islamic Reformation and the Myth of Westernization


Pradana Boy ZTF


Although the Islamic reformation has been echoed since a long time ago in Indonesia, Muslim’s perception and acceptance upon this movement has never been absolutely positive. An assumption has developed among academicians and common people that Islamic reformation is an attempt to introduce the western values into Islam, or in other words, to infuse the western paradigm into Muslims’ thinking framework and life.

This perception appears out of the fact that in general, the Islamic reformation in Indonesia has advocated several agendas which originated from the west, such as purification and rationalization as initiated by Kiai Ahmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, or Islamic modernization and secularization as promoted by Nurcholis Madjid.

Since it was perceived as the western agenda, they presumed that Islamic reformation is not build on the Islamic epistemological framework, but on the western one. This assumption is ahistoric since the agenda of Islamic reformation aroused when the stagnancy in Muslim scholarship tradition was quite frustrating. Reformation became Muslim’s response toward penetration of western modernism which infiltrated Islamic thinking framework and society without any barrier. On the other hand, Islamic reformation was the result of its encounter with the west.

Many Muslim intellectuals, including Arkoun, viewed that this encounter was inevitable. Arkoun perceived that Islam and west encounter in the academic tradition is inevitable, and it is even a necessity if Muslims want to regain the glory of Islamic scientific tradition. Arkoun (2006) conveyed several reasons for this.

First, in today’s modern academic tradition, the use of vocabularies, thinking framework, comprehension and interpretation, art of argumentation and demonstration, and the historical time and space of knowledge which were related to the American-European paradigm and value is inevitable. Although Islam and Muslims can be the subject of academic studies, it would never be academically sufficient whenever they do not fulfill the academic requirements just as developed and controlled by western intellectual community.

Second, there was no model of scholarship which is comparable with the western thinking framework and knowledge since the 18th and 19th century. Arkoun observed that until now he has not seen any other model which is designed to compete with the western academic achievement.

Third, the historical fact that intellectual revolution of the west has no match in any other thinking tradition in the world. In fact, other non western culture and thinking system could not deny the operative values of the epistemological and intellectual change achieved by Europe by substituting religious reasoning and theology with philosophical and scientific thought.

Fourth, Muslims have neglected Islam as the tradition of thinking and most of them denied the process of building this tradition and also the scientific and intellectual revolution brought by modernity.

Fifth, due to the above reasons we must pose our epistemology to generate several Islamic syntheses. Bringing Islamic synthesis forward without looking at western scientific achievements is equal with pleasing the fundamentalist Muslims who were not aware about the academic debates on the valid or invalid criterions of scholarship.

Although sometimes Arkoun tended to exaggerate the western academic tradition, it is better to consider his suggestion in order to recognize and then adopt the west scientific principles and achievements without prejudice.

The fact that today the west is the main reference is just the matter of history. As a civilization, the west will also undertake natural selection process. According to Ibnu Khaldun, a civilization will undertake the growth, consolidation, golden, rotten and than decline stage. One day the west might not be reference of the universal academic tradition any longer and substituted by new civilization, and therefore Islam must consider this opportunity.

Another historical fact of encounter between Islam and the west took place in the wave of Hellenism as pointed by Montgomery Watt. Watt argued that Islam undertook three waves of Hellenism. The first and second wave of Hellenism struck when Islam interacted with the Greek philosophical ideas. Both waves were categorized as the pure intellectual wave of Hellenism. While the first wave was dominated by “imported” knowledge from Greek in the form of translation, the second one was an excellent synthesis between the atheist Greek philosophy with the monotheist Islamic philosophy.

Meanwhile, the third wave of Hellenism was no longer intellectual interaction, but it penetrated into social, economic, and political scope. In the political and economic context, the third wave of Hellenism generated Islamic marginalization which makes them heavily dependent upon the west in the intellectual, political and economical context.

In the midst of this miserable condition, determination to achieve Islamic independence in the intellectual, social, political and economical field has blown the wave of reformation in the Muslim world. However, the independence must not be understood as reclusion and rejection upon other civilizations. Islamic reformation is the result of incessant dialectic interaction between the Islamic normative doctrines and the surrounding contemporary symptoms.

Thus, reformation is not final. Along with the more complex development of humanitarian sciences and symptoms, reformation must be constantly reformed.



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