Moeflich Hasbullah: Antologi Pemikiran

Assessment on Orientalist Contributions to the Islamic World

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Moeflich Hasbullah
HARMONI, Jurnal Multikultural & Multireligius,
Volume IV, Nomor 13, Januari-Maret 2005, Puslitbang Kehidupan Beragama,
Badan Litbang Agama & Diklat Keagamaan Departemen Agama RI.

“You may dislike a thing, yet it may be good for you;
or a thing may haply please you, but may be bad for you.
Only God has knowledge and you don’t know.”
The Holy Qur’an (2:216)

“Anything that I say about Islam as a living faith
is valid only in so far as Muslims can say ‘amen’ to it”.
Wilfred Cantwell Smith


Is there anything from Orientalism but negative meaning? To a greater extent, it is vastly felt by Muslims throughout the world and it could be true. This paper tries to discover an uncoverable side from the so-called Orientalism. For the majority of Muslims, the term Orientalism has by and large a pejorative connotation. This is related to the unfavourable relation between Muslims and Christians for hundreds of years:  their  early contacts when Islam spread to Europe, two hundred years of Crusades, and lastly, European colonialization of Muslim countries. Their long historical contacts –sometimes spent in harmony and sometimes in disputes– have led to  the forming of an image where each  suspects the other. On the Christians’ side, Islam is not only historically admired but also viewed as a dangerous religion and a frightening word which evokes a threat to Christian, Western hegemony. And in the Muslims’ view, Orientalism is an ‘intellectual weapon’ of Christianity and the West for weakening Islam by way of blurring Islamic doctrines and disconnecting Muslims from Islam. According to Lewis, the very long Muslim-Christian relation has been coloured by peace and dispute.

For more than 1,400 years, since the advent of Islam in Arabia and the incorporation into the Islamic empire and civilization of the formerly Christian eastern and southern shores of the Mediterranean, Islam and Christendom have lived side by side –always as  neighbors, often as rivals, sometimes as enemies.[1]

In  another place he argues that, “for centuries, indeed for millennia, relations between the two have shown a pattern of conquest and reconquest, attack and counterattack.”[2] In addition, myths and misperceptions have coloured the history of Muslim-Christian encounters, many of which are still seen today. One of these can be found in the term Orientalism. Generally speaking, both according to Muslims and non-Muslim scholars, Orientalists have created –to quote Lewis term—“intellectual pollution” in Islamic thought on account of their motives or their limited capability of understanding Islam. However, on the other hand, there are advantages or positive impacts from the so-called Orientalism for the Islamic World. Given that such a topic has been so far rarely studied by scholars, this short paper examines the “unacknowledged” contributions of Orientalism to the world of Islam in the fields of thought, resources, institutions and even the process of the resurgence of Islam. It is necessary to first discuss Orientalism concisely.

Orientalism: Its Origin and Brief  Discourse

The birth of Orientalism[3] can not be separated from the greatness of Islam in history, particularly when its glory was faced with other communities, especially Christianity. Gustave Le Bon notes in his The World of Islamic Civilization  that when Islamic Arabs were luxuriating in the supremacy of creative civilization, their influences on other nations had no precedence and equality.[4] In the ninth and tenth centuries, when Islamic hegemony in Spain was at its peak of eminence, the intellectual centres in the West were only great buildings settled by quasi-barbarian nobility who were proud of their inability to read.[5] In Egypt and Syria, there were only a few minority Christians who still believed in the Church. And in Northern Africa, St. Augustine’s home, the Churchs had been totally destroyed.

The author was accessing Menzies Library, ANU Canberra (1999)

As a consequence of its spread, Islam unavoidably experienced several conflicts with other communities outside the Arabian peninsula. One of them was Christianity.[6] The existence of Christianity had been threatened by growing Islamic political predominance. Sociologically and politically, the more Islam enlarged its political territory the worse conditions were for Christians. Hence, Christians should face the growing power of Islam. They then created “an image” that was clear –but certainly inaccurate– about Islam and Muslims.[7] Since then, a lot of myths denigrating Islam and Muslims have been spread throughout Christians and Jewish communities. In turn, these myths were mixed with some reasonable impressions which emerged on account of the direct contacts with Muslims.[8]

The emergence of Orientalism is strongly related to this image creation. In the eleventh century, the Western image of the Islamic world found its clear formation. Meanwhile, Christianity grew stronger in Europe and did something more than defend itself. It was prepared to fight and go to war.  The most crucial event of the Muslim-Christian conflict was the Crusades.[9] Their long dispute reached a peak in the two hundred years war (1096-1291). The Crusades, according to Rodinson, “had created a very huge market for the complete, integral, passionate and satisfying image formation of a foe’s ideology”.[10]

This happened because the Crusades had been the gate through which a great deal of information about the Middle East and Islam entered Europe, more than before. Prior to the Crusades, information had been received by Christians by way of the Christian Byzantine Kingdom. Therefore, the information had been full of  negative stories  and blasphemies regarding Islam and the prophet Muhammad. Such negative descriptions were specially prepared as psychological tools in welcoming and supporting the Crusades.

Subsequently, false and  suspicious descriptions and slander about Islam according to the Western views found definitive form in this period of the Crusades. Between 1100 and 1300, the European world standardized its outlook on Islam.[11] According to Daniel, suspicion and misunderstanding which had been shaped in that period, basically, still remains in place for the majority of Europeans. He notes:

The earliest Christian reactions to Islam were much the same as they have been until quite recently. The tradition has been continuous and it is still alive. Naturally, there has been variety within the wider unity of tradition, and the European (and American)  West has long had  its own characteristic  view, which was formed in the two centuries or so after 1100, and which has been modified only slowly since.[12]

Despite such suspicion and misunderstanding still remaining in place, however, better perceptions did form to some extent. 1120 up to 1291 were years where some Western scholars started to produce a better picture of Islam and Muslims.[13] In entering the age of the Enlightenment, human history was signed by the development of humanism, rationalism and specialization  that subsequently became foundations of modern science. Along with this tendency, the European view of Islam gradually improved, particularly from the 18th century, supported by curiosity to perceive Eastern Islam from a more balanced point of view. European curiosity had led to the discovery of the romantic exoticism of the Orient in the 19th century. This, which had hold great appeal for Westerners, occurred not only because of some changes in the West-East relationship but also the internal transformation of Western society itself which was receptive to anything strange.

The development of Oriental romantic exoticism encouraged the increase of Oriental Studies.[14] Rodinson writes that whoever in Europe seriously wanted to undertake preliminary study of Near Eastern languages and civilizations had to go to Ecole des langues orientales vivantes in Paris. This was the most remarkable Oriental Studies centre at the time, says Rodinson, having been built in 1795 on Louis Mathieu Langles initiative (1758-1838).[15]

With this tendency towards objectivity, specialization and scientific research were seriously pursued along with an increase in the number of institutions of Oriental studies in the 19th century,[16] the term Orientalism was coined. The word Orientalist first appeared in English in 1799.  A special discipline of learning about the Orient had been formed.[17] A study that is said by William and Chrisman to have “focused on what could be called colonial discourse –the variety of textual forms in which the West produced and codified knowledge about non-metropolitan areas and cultures, especially those under colonial control.”[18] However, as Daniel showed, suspicion and misunderstanding of the Orient still continued until recent times because Orientalism, more than a study of an object, had been created as a Western project[19] dealing with how to maintain hegemony over the Orient, particularly, the Islamic world. Generally speaking, in the global context, the concern of the West in the world of Islam and Muslims was not merely motivated by science, scholarship, curiosity about strange oriental stories peppered by exotic reasons, but also for religious, economic, and political reasons.

Modern Orientalism

However, the face of Orientalism has now changed. These changes have taken place since the eighteenth century caused by many socio-political and technological changes in the modern period. Modern orientalist learning about the Orient is no longer motivated by hostility but mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians, and attempts to renew their encounters and relationships.[20] The changes have taken place as a consequence of modern political and economic developments.

University Club Library – New York City, United States

Montgomery Watt argues that the changes occurred due to four factors:[21] First, was the wider occupation of the Ottoman Empire. From the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the Ottoman Empire continued to expand Islam until its decline, when it was called “the sickman of Europe”. The Ottoman victories in many battles increased the  interest in and new attention to the study of Islam. Second, was European colonialism. This was started by Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the East Indies in 1498. Then, the Portuguese, British, French and Dutch came to East India and Southeast Asia to trade, followed by colonialization, in order to gain access  to spices, luxuries and other goods brought to Europe through Muslim territory. Third, was the new intellectual movement in Europe. With the Renaissance, Europe entered a new era which became the background of modern science. The renaissance, on the other hand, is also viewed as a recovery of  the European heritage of Greek and Roman learning. Consequently, in searching  past achievements, European came in contact with Arabic resources which they learnt from. Fourth, was the effect of modern science on the development of technology. These four factors drove Muslim-Christian encounters to new nuances of relationship. Christian works were then motivated by the search for truth. This more rational approach seems to have been less emotional and prejudiced. Many works appreciated the Prophet Muhammad and Qur’anic teachings.[22]

In the twentieth century, Orientalism was characterised by the Orientalists’ scientific works on Islam. Orientalism in this period was used to understand deeply the Oriental world which proved an exotic world for study. The deeper the study of the Orient the more exotic it was for the orientalist. In this new tradition, Arabic and Islamic classical texts had a special place. In terms of these studies, there emerged the well-known great names both in the Western world and Muslim society such as Goldziher, Louis Massignon, Sir Hamilton A.R Gibb, William Montgomery Watt, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Frithjof Schuon, Annemarie Schimmel and many others prolific writers. (For some of their works, see appendix).

Sir Hamilton A.R. Gibb mastered Arabic writing and speech. He was appointed to be a member of  Majma’ al-‘Ilm al-‘Arabi (Institute of Arabic Science) in Damascus and Majma’ al-Lughah al-‘Arabiyyah (Institute of Arabic Language) in Cairo, Egypt. He discerned Islam as a dynamic religion and treated the Prophet Muhammad with due respect. Gibb wrote around 20 works on Islam and was considered as one of the great Orientalists. As well as Gibb, Massignon (1883-1962) spoke and wrote Arabic excellently. Besides being a member of Majma’ al-‘Arabi and Majma’ al-Lughaw, he had also been a lecturer of Philosophy of Islam at Cairo University. He says that it was because of tasawwuf (sufism), that Islam became an international religion with hundreds of millions of followers throughout the world.[23] Other great names are W.C Smith, Schimmel, Lewis and so forth. Because of their many works, Islamic literature has appeared in various world languages, particularly Arabic and European languages (English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, etc) and therefore can be studied by various people from various nations.

It is here that Orientalism’s contribution might be seen, though it is believed that Islam would have continued to develop without Orientalism. However, the role of Orientalism was very strategic in this development due to the enormous number of readable resources the Orientalists produced and the deeply serious study they undertook on Islam. While the principles of Islamic doctrines themselves never change, orientalists, in fact, found Islam a dynamic, rational, and flexible religion in confronting challenges of modern social, political and cultural changes.

Assessment  of Contributions

It should be noted before that it is actually difficult to assess the orientalist contributions to the Islamic world in an essay of this length. Apart from the subject being very vast, and there being a great deal of literature, to examine orientalist positive contribution remains unacceptable to many in the Islamic world. This is due to Orientalism, in the common view of Muslims, being considered as nothing but negative. It is seen as an expression of hatred of Islam. However, the orientalist contribution is actually undeniable as will be elaborated in the following items.

First, The Tremendous  Literature  of Islam.

It can be apologetically argued that Islamic literature would have developed without orientalist work as had been achieved by Muslims in Medieval Islam. In that period, the great works of al-Kindi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Farabi, al-Khawarizmi, Ibn Taimiyya, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Al-Mawardi, Ibn Khaldn and so forth remain unchallenged even by modern Muslim thinkers. Nonetheless, the growing quantity of Islamic literature in the modern world is amazing and an immense collection of these works have been produced by the so-called Orientalists. In medieval Islam, the magnum opus (the greatest works) were made by Muslims, but in the modern period, equivalent works, to my knowledge, have been produced by Orientalists. As the result of learning the Orient (Islam), Said recorded, between 1800 and 1950, around 60.000 books were launched.[24] The works were written in various world languages such as English, Arabic, French, Italian, Dutch, and also in Islamic languages. In the 1995 edition of his Orientalism, Said does not give further information on how many books were released  into the 1990s. It could be double or more.

Suzzalo Library at the University of Washington – Seattle, Washington

Despite some negative views of Islam still remaining, such a huge corpus of orientalist studies is are too valuable to be neglected. Steenbrink says that their works should be learned by Muslims. He gives two reasons why this should be done. First, text books in all fields of science such as the economy, sociology, psychology, technology, medical etc, “come from the West”. If Islamic studies does not want to be left behind other disciplines, therefore it should maintain dialogue with religious works developed by Western scholars, particularly with what they have so far developed on Islamic studies. Second, In collecting, keeping, recording and releasing the old books and manuscripts, Orientalism has a very long and rich tradition. It is often the case that rare Islamic literature is easily able to be found in Western Libraries rather than in old Islamic Mosques.[25]

From such a huge literature, there is no doubt that many Muslims may derive so much advantage. Muslims are provided with various, complete, academic and rare Islamic studies written by Orientalists found in libraries of the Western world. Undoubtedly, many Muslims would prefer owning and reading such books rather than Muslims’ works. This is because they find Islam has been analysed by more “scientific”, rational, academic and even liberal approaches.

Second, The Mushrooming of Islamic Studies and Institutions

In the golden age of Islam, Muslims hardly ever established non-Muslim institutions of study of religion. If these existed, such as the Bayt al-Hikmah, an institution of translation of Greek philosophy into Arabic, built by the caliph Harun al-Rashid and continued by his successor al-Makmun, they did so only in terms of transformation of science and philosophy into the Islamic world.[26] In the modern period, Muslims can find many Islamic studies centres (and religious studies centres, covering Islam) in the Western world even since the Medieval centuries. Regardless of interests, Islamic studies and Institutions in the West have had a significant role in the development of Islam and its society.

When Christian Europe first realized that Islam had left behind a highly evolved civilization particularly in science and philosophy in the Medieval Age, Christians then found that Arabic was an important philosophical and scientific language to be learned. They then put Arabic teaching into curriculums of European universities such as in Bologna, Italy in 1076, Chartres, France in 1117, Oxford, Britain in 1167 and Paris in 1170.[27] This was then extended in the 13th and 14th centuries. In Italy Arabic teaching was held in Rome (1303), Florencia (1321), Padua (1362), and Gregoria ((1553). In France, it was conducted in Toulouse (1217), Montpellier (1221), and Bordeaux (1209). The first generation of Arabic translators were Constantinus Africanus (d.1087) and Gerald Cremonia (d.1187).

SOAS Library of London, UK

This medieval institutionalization, among other things, had become the root of area studies of the Orient in many modern Western universities in the modern era. Orientalist Congress, for instance, changed its name to be International Congress on Asia and North Africa and the congress had built centres of oriental studies such as Ecole des Langues Orientalis Vivantes (1975) in Paris. Area studies and religious studies have now emerged vividly in Western university institutions. Some of these are The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University established in 1917; Oosters Instituut, Leiden University (1917); Institut voor het Moderne Nabije Oosten, Amsterdam University (1956). Others are oriental institutions such as Societe Asiatique (1822) in Paris; American Oriental Society in The United States (1842); Royal Asiatic Society in Britain and Oosters Genootschap in Nederland, Leiden (1929). Having said that, orientalists also launched a number of journals and magazines on the Orient, namely, the Journal Asiatique (1822) in Paris;  the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1899) in London; the Journal of the American Oriental Society (1849) in The United States; the Revue de Monde Musulman (1907) in France; Der Islam-Zeitschrift fur Geschichte und Kultur des Islamischen (1910) in Germany; The Muslim World  (1917) in The United Stated, and the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1917) in London. Almost all of these journals are still published up to now.

A lot of remarkable American universities such as Harvard University, Columbia University, Ohio State of University, UCLA, Wisconsin University, University of Boston, Syracuse University, Yale University and so forth have religious studies in which books regarding Islam and Muslims are launched, studied and well-kept. In his endeavour to achieve harmonious relation amongst religions, Sir Wilfred Cantwell Smith initiated a faculty of Islamic Studies at McGill University which has now become the well-known faculty of the study of Islam. All Universities, faculties and institutions mentioned have high zeal to produce serious, deep and scientific studies on Islam. Again, whether based on interest such as new colonialization or purely scientific development, the West in general or Orientalists in particular, have undeniably taken a very big role in developing Islamic studies scientifically. And, partly because of their works, Islam plays an extensive role in discourse on modernism and its problems.

Third, Augmentation of the Scientific Approach to Understanding Islam

One weakness or common trend of Muslims in studying Islam is the idealization of Islam. Muslims believe that Islam is the only true religion which came from God to Muhammad by way of revelations. This often means Muslims only perceive Islam as belief and a basic principle instead of from the historical point of view. Consequently, rather than rationally, to some extent, Muslims talk apologetically about Islam. Macdonald and H.A.R Gibb are Orientalists who were interested in life of Muslim society historically. Macdonald in The Religious Attitude and Life in Early Islam (1909) and Gibb in Modern Trends in Islam (1949), warn that studying Islam only from the “normative side” and ignoring the history of Muslim life, as it had been formulated by ’Ulama, is “dangerous.”[28]

Conference on Islam in America at Harvard University

Western scholars in general, on the other hand, have been studying Islam only from historical approach. Even though this has been problematic,[29] Western scholars or Orientalists have made a large  impact in studying Islam by providing an historical explanation to Muslims. The historical explanation of Islam has driven Muslims to view Islam rationally and empirically, supported by theories of social science. This has inevitably influenced and directed Muslim scholars to think and analyse empirically even to some extent liberally. In other words, in an academic context, Islam has experienced “objectivization” and “historicization” in the hands of Muslims. If Muslim criticism of orientalist works is that Western scholars have so far always neglected “the true Islam” or normative Islam as written in the Qur’an, Muslim themselves, through their works, have now completed this unbalance. This process tends to play a significant role in improving Islamic studies amongst Muslims communities. Islam even has now some liberal thinkers such as Fazlur Rahman, Hassan Hanafi, Akbar S. Ahmed, Aziz Azmeh, Zaki Najib Mahmud, Abdellahi Ahmed, Bassam Tibi and so forth. In their hands, Islam has been involved extensively, among other things, in modern and postmodern discourse.

Fourth, Unpredictable Positive Impact  on Islamic Resurgence

Can the root of Islamic resurgence be traced to the tradition of Orientalism? One of the meanings of Islamic resurgence is that Islam is involved in offering conceptual answers to modern social changes. There is no way to do this except Muslim intellectuals should think hard to catch the eternal meaning of the Qur’an and dynamically perceive the Qur’anic verses as valid in whatever social changes and situations. This work needs other requirements. Muslims should liberally approach the Qur’anic with radical, historical and empirical views.  Modern Muslims have done this since the 19th century –allegedly said to be the dawn of Islamic resurgence– by way of Muhammad ‘Abduh and Rash”d Rida in Egypt or Sayyid Ahmad Khan in India, and Muhammad Iqbal in Indo-Pakistan.

Aware of the need for more Muslim scholars, al-Azhar University of Cairo has pioneered the project of promoting students to Western Universities (“the cage of Orientalism”) since 1932, and even Muhammad ‘Ali II of the Ottoman Empire since the 18th century. The project is still going on until recent times and has resulted in many modern Muslim thinkers. The project has involved access and transmission of Muslim scholars to the Western world in which immense resources are available. As a result, there have emerged many other Muslim scholars with various and different concerns who place themselves as spokesmen of the modern Islamic world –due to their study in the West, their moving into the West, or their access to the West– such as Fazlur Rahman, Ismaصil al-Faruqi, Syed Hossen Nasr, Akbar S. Ahmed, Fatima Mernissi, Aziz Azmeh, Bassam Tibi, Hassan Hanafi, Riffat Hassan and so forth. In their hands, the echo of the Islamic resurgence can be sustained and tends to come true. This is because they seem to be more academic and capable of formulating answers to the crisis of modernity and human universal problems elaborated from Islamic doctrine and tradition.[30]

Fifth, Enhancing Objective Understanding on Islam

As has been described, turning to the twentieth century, especially post World War II, Orientalism has changed, becoming more “sympathetic.” The change has resulted in two groups of Orientalists: First, those who continue their assault on Islam and Muslims, and persist in their misunderstanding to Islam. This group tends to view the rise of Islam and the decline of the West as nothing but politics. The rise of non-Western religions is nothing except the rise of “fundamentalism” and “terrorism”. The resurgence of religious consciousness of humankind in various nations will result in nothing but the clash of civilizations. Second, are those who are sympathetic to Islam. They discern that Islam has been for a long-time a misunderstood religion. This latter group, more than expressing sympathy, has begun to look at Islam neutrally and even in a friendly way as said by Ahmed,

…the work of the older orientalists [Ahmed means here are Louis Massignon, Montgomery Watt, W.C. Smith, Bernard Lewis, Schimmel and so forth] was marked by many positive features. These included a lifetime’s scholarship, a majestic command of languages, a wide vision and breadth of learning and an association with the estabilished universities.[31]

In addition, by the rise of the recent younger generation scholars –Ahmed called it as post-orientalists– such as Lois Beck, John Esposito, Barbara Metcalf, William Chittick and Michael Gilsenan, Ahmed is optimistic that their work will be better appriciated by Muslim academics for its balance and neutrality. Supporting Ahmed, Turner argues, “The new scholarship may create the condition whereby the old confrontations of orientalism and occidentalism will disappear.”[32]

The masterpiece of Massignon was on Mansur al-Hallaj (858-922) entitled La Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur Hallaj  (French, 1975 and English, 1982). He collected various manuscripts from Cairo, Istanbul, Teheran, Mosul, Kazan and so forth to write a history of al-Hallajs life and poetry from the original Arabic. After showing his sympathy for the Prophet Abraham as a very important figure in three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Massignon once said that Islam now invites all nations to participate in realizing the Abrahamic legacy. Islam wants to unify all humankind by way of his call and duty, namely to spread Abrahamic monotheism throughout the world.[33]

Merve Kavakci, Member of Turkish Parliament, prevented from serving because of her refusal to remove her headscarf, particpated in panel discussion.

When Montgomery Watt wrote a biography of Muhammad, he did not only consider evidence of Muhammadصs everyday life but finally arrived at a sceptical question, “was Muhammad a prophet?” While rejecting his colleague’s criticism of what he had questioned, he said that he wanted to answer a challenge given by Muhammad, and research on Muhammad would never be completed unless the answer was given.[34] This, in other words, certainly suggests other Orientalists should be more neutral and leave hatred of Islam because they will never arrive at reasonable and acceptable conclusions. As well as Massignon and Watt, W. Cantwell Smith arrived at conclusions which are acceptable by common Muslims.[35]

Sir. Hamilton A.R. Gibb is another example. He has been considered as one of the great Orientalists who showed his sympathy to Islam. As an expert he had written around 20 books on Islam and the Orient. He concluded in his Wither Islam?, “Islam is indeed much more than a system of theology, it is a complete civilization.” Esposito, one of the Western world’s foremost modern scholars on Islam, has often taken the side of Islam. In his book The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (1995), he argues that, rather than a threat to the West, Islam is a challenge. Islam can be considered as a threat to spiritual, social and political West self-satisfaction, not to Western hegemony. Islam is a challenge  to Western materialism, liberalism and individualism, or to what in the West is called tolerance and freedom of speech.[36]

When Huntington’s idea of the clash of civilization surfaced, Esposito countered, “In contrast to South Asia, Islam in Southeast Asia is far more multireligious and multicultural and projects a more moderate and pluralistic profile.” After explaining Indonesian scholars and professionals’ most creative thinking on religious and social reform, democratization, pluralism and woman’s rights in the Muslim world, he further said: “If some have questioned whether Islam and modernization are compatible and warned of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, Malaysia deflates such facile stereotypes. It has simultaneously emphasized its Muslim identity and promoted pluralism.”[37]

Undoubtedly, these Orientalist-produced encounters will be more effective in balancing understanding of Islam rather than Muslim responses. Muslim responses to Orientalist attacks, to some extent, could be considered as apologetic because it is something about their religion, their inseparable belief. Orientalist responses to other orientalists, on the other hand, are more likely to be less subjective and more objective. In turn, Islam is viewed more and more sympathetically from Western people as there is persistently growing religious conversions to Islam. Some Orientalists themselves have confessed their belief in Islam and become Muslims such as Martin Ling (Alberry), Leopold Weiss (Muhammad As’ad), Thomas Irving, John Webster, Fritjof Schuon, Martin van Bruinessen and so on.


Orientalism has been for long assessed in pejorative terms  by Muslims. This is due to how Muslims have perceived the works of Western scholars. Islam has been for hundreds years described inaccurately and even falsely compared with real Muslim conditions, Qur’anic teaching and the Prophet Muhammad’s life. On the one hand, historically, as evidenced by some Western scholars themselves such as Edward Said, the false pictures of Islam have been intentionally produced as a Western project to maintain its political and cultural hegemony over Muslims. On the other hand, huge collections on Islam written by Orientalists have advantageous impact for Islam behind Western scholars’ endeavours to weaken Islam and Muslims as has been examined by this essays. It is something like a boomerang. As can be seen from this essay, Orientalism has unpredictably taken a role and given support to contemporary Islamic resurgence. Wallahu ‘alam!!.


The works of Louis Massignon (1883-1962) on Islam are 17 titles:

1. Akhbar al-Hallaj: recueil d’oraisons et d’exortations du martyr mystique de 1’Islam
2. Akhbar al-Hallaj, texte ancient relatif a la predication et au supplice di mysti (1936)
3. Cours dصhistoire des termes philosophiques arabes (du 25 novembre 1912 au 24 av (1983)
4. Les entretiens de Lahore (entre le Prince Imperial Dara Shikuh et’1’ascete Hindo
5. Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulamane./Nouvell
6. Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulamane. English (1994)
7. Essay. English. Selection (!989)
8. Etude sur les زisnadس,ou, Chaines de temoignages fondamentales dans la tradition.
9. Kitab al tawasin, par Abou al moghith al Hosayn ibn Mansour al Hallaj al Baydhaw.
10. Melanges Louis Massignon (1956-58).
11. La Mubahala: etude sur la proposition dصordalie faite par le prophete Muhammad.
12. Opera minora/textes recueillis, classes et presentes avec une bibliographie pa (1963).
13. Parole donnee (1983)
14. Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj. English (1982).
15. La Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur Hallaj: martyr mystique de lصIslam, execute a B (1975).
16. Presence de Louis Massignon: hommages et temoignages/ textes reunis par Daniel (1987).
17. La revelation d’Hermes Trismegiste…/Paris, J. Gabalda, 1949-54 [v.1. 1950] 4.


The Works of William Montgomery Watt on Islam are 34 titles:

1. Der Islam / von W. Montgomery Watt, Alford T. Welch; [von d (1980).
2. Islam and Christianity Today: A Contribution to dialogue (1983).
3. Islam and Christianity Today: A Contribution to dialogue 1 (1991).
4. Muslim-Christian Encounters: Perception and Misperceptions (1991).
5. Early Islam: Collected articles (1990).
6. Islamic Creeds / translated by Montgomery Watt (1994).
7. Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity, (1988).
8. Islamic Philosophy and Theology: An Extended Survey (1985).
9. Muhammadصs Mecca: History in the Qurصan (1988).
10. The Authenticity of the Works Attributed to al-Ghazali.
11. Companion to the Qurصan, based in the Arberry translation.
12. The dating of the Qurصan: A Review of Richard Bellصs Theory.
13. A Forgery in al-Ghazaliصs Mishkat? / London, Royal Asiatic.
14. Pemikiran Teologi dan Filsafat Islam (1987). [Translation from English].
15. Politik Islam dalam Lintasan Sejarah (1988). [Translation from English].
16. The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (1973).
17. A History of Islamic Spain (with additional sections on lite) 1965.
18. The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe.
19. Introduction to the Qurصan / completely revised and enlarged (1970).
20. Islam and the Integration of Society. London, Routledge, (1961).
21. Islam, past Influence and Future Challenge/ Edited by Alfor (1979).
22. Islamic Philosophy and Theology (1962).
23. Islamic Political Thought: The Basic Concepts (1968).
24. Islamic Revelation in the Modern World (1969).
25. The Majesty that was Islam (The Islamic World 661-1100./Lo.)
26.  Muhammad at Mecca (1953).
28. Muhammad at Medina (1956).
29. Muhammad: Prophet and Stateman (1976).
30. Muslim Intellectual: A Study of al-Ghazali (1963)
31. The Political Attitudes of the Muصtazilah.
32. Shiصism Under the Umayyads.
33. Truth in the Religions: A Sociological and Philosophical Approach (1963).
34. What is Islam? (1979).


The Works of Wilfred Cantwell Smith are 15 titles:

1. Belief and History (1977).
2. Faith and Belief (1979).
3. The Faith and Other Man ((1972).
4. Islam in Modern History, Book I (1957).
5. Islam in Modern History, Book II (1959).
6. The Meaning and End of Religion, foreword by John Hick (1978).
7. The Meaning and End of Religion, A New Approach to the Religion.
8. Modern Islam in India: A Social Analyses (1946).
9. Modernization of a Traditional Society.
10. The Muslim League 1942-45 (1945).
11. On Understanding Islam: Selected Studies (1981).
12. Religious Diversity: Essays/ Edited by W.G. Oxtoby (1976).
13. Towards a World Theology: Faith and the Comparative History (1981).
14. What is Scripture?: A Comparative Approach (1993).
15. The Worldصs Religious Traditions: Current Perspectives (1984).


The Works of Bernard Lewis on Islam are 30 titles:

1. The Arab in History, London, Hutchinson University Library, 1960. (Reprinted in 1950 and 1993).
2. The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam, Weidenfold&Nicolson, 1967.
3. The Cambridge History of Islam, edited by P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton (1970).
4. Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: the Functioning of a Plural Society (1982).
5. Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews, in the Age of Discovery (1995).
6. The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961). [Reprinted in 1962 and 1968].
7. History: Remembered, Recovered and Invented (1975).
8. Islam and Liberal Democracy.
9. Islam and the Arab World: Faith, People, Culture (1976).
10. Islam and the West (1993).
11. Islam, from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople (1974).
12. Islam in History: Ideas and Events in Middle East.
13. The Islamic World from Classical to Modern Times: Essays in Honor of B. Lewis (1989).
14. Istanbul and the Civilization of the Ottoman Empire (1963).
15. Istanbul wal hazarat al-Imbaraturiyah al-Uthmaniyah (1973).
16. The Jews and Islam (1984).
17. The Middle East and the West (1964).
18. The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982).
19. Muslims in Europe / Edited by Lewis and Dominique Schnapper (1994).
20. The Origins of Ismailism: A Study of the Historical Background of the Fatimid (1975).
21. The Political Language of Islam (1988).
22. Population and Revenue in the Town of Palestine in the Sixteenth Century (1978).
23. Race in Color in Islam (1971). [Reprinted in 1990].
24. Race and Slavery in the Middle East: A Historical Enquiry (1990).
25. The Roots of Muslim Rage.
26. Semites and anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (1986).
27. The Shaping of the Modern Middle East (1994).
28. Studies in Classical and Ottoman Islam, Seventh-Sixteenth Centuries (1976).
29.The World of Islam: Faith, People and Culture (1976).
30. The Middle East: 2000 years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day (1996)


The Works of Annemarie Schimmel are 29 titles:

1. Anvariصs Divan, A Pocket Book for Akbar: A Divan of Auhaduddin Anvari (1983).
2. As through  a Veil: Mystical Poetry in Islam (1982).
3. Celebrating  Muhammad: Images of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry (1995).
4. Classical Urdu Literature from Beginning to Iqbal (1975).
5. A Dance of Sparks: Imagery of fire in Ghalibصs Poetry (1979).
6. Deciphering the signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam (1994).
7. Diwan-i-Shams-i-Tabriz (German Selection).
8. Gabrielصs Wing: A Study into the Religious Ideas of Sir Muhammad Iqbal.
9. Islam (1992).
10. Islam in India and Pakistan (1982).
11. Islam in the Indian Subcontinent (1980).
12. Islamic Caligraphy (1970).
13. Islamic Literature of India (1973).
14. Lahore: the City Within / Samina Quraeshi, with an essays by A. Schimmel (1988).
15. Liebe zu dem Einen: Texte aus der mystischen Tradition des indischen Islam (1986).
16. [Maqamat al-Hariri./German]. Die Verwandlungen des Abu Seid von serug: vier und.
17. Marchen aus Pakistan/aus dem Sindhi ubersetzt und herausgegeben von Annemarie (1980).
18. Das Mysterium der Zahl: Zahllensymbolik im Kulturverbleich/ Franch carl Endres (1984).
19. The Mystery of Number (1993).
20. Mystical Dimensions of Islam (1975).
21. Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth Century Muslim (1976).
22. Poems/ English Selection (1993).
23. Sindhi  Literature (1974).
24. Stern und Blume: die Bilderwelt der persischen Poesie (1984).
25. Stern und Blume. /English version (1992).
26. The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi (1980).
27. Und Muhammad ist sein Prophet: die Verehrung der Propheten in der islamischen (1981).
28. Und Muhammad ist sein Prophet./English (1985).
29. We Believe in One God: The Experience of God in Christianiti and Islam (1979).



[1] Lewis, Bernard, Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, 1993, vii.

[2] Ibid, p. 102.

[3] Ihsan Ali Fauzi, in his writing, “Orientalisme di Mata Orientalis: Maxime Rodinson tentang Citra dan Studi Barat atas Islam [Orientalism in the Eyes of Orientalists: Maxime Rodinson on Image and Western Study of Islam]”, examines the history of Orientalism by reviewing two of Maxime Rodinson’s works: ‘The Western Image and Western Studies on Islam’ in Joseph Schacht and C.E Bosworth, eds., The Legacy of Islam, Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 9-62. and, Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam, trans. by Roger Veinus (Seattle & London: University of Washington Press, 1987.p.3-82. All mention of Rodinson in this essay come from  that  writing. See Jurnal Ulumul Qur’an, Volume III, No. 2 Th. 1992. pp. 4 – 22.

[4] Le Bon, Gustave, The World of Islamic Civilization, 1974, p. 138.

[5] Ibid, p. 139.

[6] According to Maxime Rodinson, the Christians had recognised Saracen, or Arabics, long before the Islamic period. A description of the fourth century, for instance, informed that the Saracen had anything for their life from occupying and stealing others’ stuff. Scholars theorize that Saracen is from the word شSarahص, Abraham prophetصs wife. Rodinson says that the only one who need to recognize them is Christians who live amongst Moor Muslim in Spain. The reason is clear: their existence is being threated. Fauzi, Orientalisme … p.6.

[7] Rodinson, at least as found in Fauzi’s review, does not mention what sort of images were created by the Christians.

[8] Ibid, p. 6

[9] As history recorded, the Crusades was a war concerned with occupying Palestine viewed as a sacred place by Islam, Christianity and the Jewish. The Crusades are divided into several wars. First war, took place in the years of 1096-1099 when Jerussalem fell to European troops.  In the year of 1187, the city was taken over by Saladin, the King of Seljuk. Between 1204 and 1261, West European troops occupied Istanbul (Byzantium). The war ended in 1291 when the European army had been expelled from  the land of  Palestine.

[10] Ibid. p. 8.

[11] Norman Daniel writes about this establishment in one of the chapters of his book. See, Islam and the West, The Making of an Image, Oneworld Publications Ltd, Third Edition, 1993, p. 267- 301. In addition, Watt clearly reveals that there are four European standardizations towards Islam: First, Islam is a false and deliberate perversion of truth. Second, Islam is a religion which spreads by violence and the sword. Third, Islam is a religion of self-indulgence. Fourth, Muhammad is the Anti-christ. See, William Montgomery Watt, Muslim-Christian Encounters, Perceptions and Misperceptions, Routledge, London and New York, 1991. pp. 85-86.

[12] Daniel, Islam and the West, p. 11.

[13] An English philosopher, Roger Bacon (1214-1292) for instance, wrote: “In Greek, philosophy was to be established by Aristotle; and in Arab it was by Avicenna.” Fauzan, Orientalisme….. p.12.

[14] The romantic exoticism of the Orient not only provided something strange, appealing, and addictive to be learned but also spiritual. The spiritual life of the Orient had been established for long period. It seems to me that this phenomenon encouraged German Romanticism to realize that the West should learn from the East. Mahdi notes, “There was something fundamentally wrong with the excesses of scientism or rationalism or philosophy in the modern West and that it was necessary to supplement it with the poetic, religious, and spiritual dimension of human life , which can be found in the East. The West was incomplete and needed to complete itself with what it had somehow lost during its recent development. It needed to unify the shattered pieces of human experience; and the way to achieve this unity was to learn about it from the East where it continued to exist and where the missing part –the poetic– had survived.” See Muhsin Mahdi, ‘Orientalism and the Study of Islam Philosophy’, Journal of Islam Studies 1 (1990) pp. 73-98.

[15] Fauzan, Orientalisme…. p. 13.

[16] To mention some of them, in 1821, Society Asiatique Paris was founded, and in 1823, launched Journal Asiatique. In 1834, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland was released. The institution established in 1823. In 1839, launched Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal. And in 1814, its branch in Bombay was established. A year later,   The American Oriental Society was founded. And in 1847, Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft was launched in Leipzig by the German Oriental Society, established in 1845. See, Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Patrick William and Laura Chrisman (ed.), Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, A Reader, Prentice Hall/Harverster Wheatsheaf, 1993, p. 5.

[19] See Edward Said, Orientalism, Penguin Books, 1995, p. 4 – 9. Started from Vico’s great observation that men make their own history, that what they can know is what they have made, and extend it to geography: as both geographical and cultural entities –to say nothing of historical entities– such locales, regions, geographical sectors as ‘Orient’ and ‘Occident’ are man made, Said then goes on to state a number of reasonable qualifications: First, it would be wrong to conclude that the Orient was essentially an idea, or a creation with corresponding reality. Second, that ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood and studied without their force , or more precisely their configuration of power, also being studied. Third, one ought never to assume that the structure of Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or of myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow away. “I myself believe,” Said notes, “that Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of European-Atlantic power over the Orient than it is a veridic discourse about the Orient. (which is what, in its academic or scholarly form, it claims to be).”

[20] For those pains, see for instance, Mohammed Abdou Yamami, ‘Islam and the West: The Need  for Mutual Understanding’, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences (AJISS), Volume 14, Spring 1997, Number 1; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, شIslam and the West: Yesterday and Todayص, AJISS, Volume 13, Winter 1996, Number 4; Watt, Muslim-Christian Encounters, 1991; Norman Daniel, Islam and the West, 1993, and so forth.

[21] See, Muslim-Christian Encounters, Perceptions and Misperceptions, pp. 89-99.

[22] Nonetheless, this was done virtually in the sense of Colonialism. The post-enlightenment era was inseparable from European colonialization of Muslim countries. Islam was studied as objectively as possible in order to get proper information in paving the way for colonialization, even Christianisation.

[23] Ensiklopedi Islam, PT Ichtiar Baru van Hoeve, Jakarta, cet 3. 1994. p. 57.

[24] Edward Said, Orientalism…p.204.

[25] Karel Steenbrink, ‘Berdialog dengan Karya-karya kaum Orientalis [Dialogue with Orientalist works]’, Jurnal ‘Ulumul Qur’an Volume III, No. 2 Th. 1992.

[26] To study how scientific revolution had been transformed from Greek to Islamic and then to Latin in the Middle Age, see Edward Grant, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Age, Their religious, institutional, and intellectual context, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

[27] Ensiklopedi Islam….. p. 56. Apart from the gate of the Islamic scientific heritage, three main reasons why Arabic, or “Arabick”, was so important at the time: First, there was the religious interest. Second, there was definitely a commercial interest, and third, there were the secular, scientific reasons to pursue Arabic and other Islamic languages, such as Persian and Turkish. See, George Saliba’s review of book edited by Russell entitled “The Arabick” Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 117, Number 1, January-March  1997, pp. 175-177. For additional information about the significance of Arabic in the Middle Age, see Edward Grant, The Foundation …… p. 172-173.

[28] Azyumardi Azra, ‘Studi Islam di Timur dan di Barat: Pengalaman Selintas [Studying Islam in the East and the West: A Short Experience]’, Jurnal ‘Ulumul Qur’an No. 3, vol. V, Tahun 1994.

[29] The problem is that Western conclusions of studies on Islam so far could never be accepted by Muslims except their historical, critical and empirical approaches. Things that have relation with basic norms (Qur’an and Muhammad for instance) which described negatively will never have place in Islam. Understandably, Muslims will always by critical of, in other words, distorted Orientalist conclusions on Islam. There are three Muslim critics of the Orientalist approaches: First, Islamic studies in the West tend to generalize a local Muslim phenomenon in a certain period as a general description of all Muslim culture. A good example of this, Middle Eastern radicalism has been considered as valid as in other Muslim places. Second, Islamic studies in the West –this is the most strident criticism– has been under political interest how the West maintains its hegemony towards Islam. Third, Islamic studies in the West is held attempt to maintain the truth of Western conclusions in the name of intellectual and academic life. In fact, this have no relation with the real Muslim life. They  use European categories which are incompatible with Muslim conditions.

[30] The scholars mentioned above have different concerns with modernity. Form his works, Fazlur Rahman claimed himself as the spokesman of Neo-modernist thinker. Among Muslim scholars, he pioneered “the ethical approach” to the Qur’an or suggested to capture “the essence” of the Qur’anic messages. Faruqi initiated the project of Islamization of science. Nasr emphasizes spirituality of Islam and established Neo-traditionalism. Ahmed, Mernissi and Azmeh concern with modern and postmodern issues. Hanafi has allegedly established Islamic-Left, his method in approaching Qur’anic exegesis. Riffat Hassan deals with new interpretation on women (feminism) in Islam.

[31] Ahmed, Akbar S, Postmodernism and Islam, London, Routledge, 1992, p. 180.

[32] Turner, Bryan S, Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism, London and New York, Routledge, 1994, p. 13.

[33] Steenbrink, Dialog…., p.30.

[34] Ibid.

[35] See Smith’s words in the opening of this essay. It is interesting to note that, according to Steenbrink, those Orientalists who view Islam objectively and try to convert religion, experienced isolation from their circumstance and followers. Massignon, Watt and Smith, Steenbrink says, besides having critics from Christians themselves as has been out from their belief, they experienced isolation though had a lot of followers. They had been considered as out from Christianity but still does not accepted yet by Muslims.

[36] John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, Oxford University Press, Second edition, 1995, pp. 3-6.

[37] John L. Esposito, ‘Islam’s Southeast Asia Shift’, Asiaweek, April 4, 1997, p. 64.



Said, Edward, Orientalism, Western Conceptions of the Orient, Penguin Book, 1995.
___________, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage, 1993.
___________, Covering Islam, How the Media and Experts Determine How We See the Rest of The World, Vintage, 1997.
Turner, Brian S. Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism, Routledge, London and New York, 1994.
Breckenridge and van den Veer, Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament, University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia, 1993.
Lewis, Bernard, Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, 1993.
Bon, Gustave Le, The World of Islamic Civilization, 1974.
Daniel, Norman, Islam and the West, the Making  of  an Image, Oneworld Publications Ltd, 1993.
Watt, W. Montgomery, Muslim-Christian Encounters, Perceptions  and  Misperceptions, Routledge, London and New York, 1991.
Crocker, Lester G, (ed.,), The Age of Enlightenment, Selected Documents, Mcmillan, London and Melbourne, 1969.
Davis, R.H.C.A, A History of  Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis, 1971.
Grant, Edward, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Age, Their Religious, Institutional, and Intellectual Context, Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Esposito, John, L, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, Oxford University Press, New York, Second Edition, 1995.
Ensiklopedi Islam, PT. Ichtiar Baru van Hoeve, Jakarta, 1994, pp. 55-58.
Mahdi, Muhsin, ‘Orientalism and the Study  of Islamic Philosophy’, Journal of Islamic Studies 1, 1990, pp. 73-98.
Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 117, Number 1, Jan-March 1997, pp. 175-177.
The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, Number 4, Volume 13, Winter 1996, pp. 551-562.
The American Journal of Islamic Social Science, Number 1, Volume 14, Spring 1997, pp. 89-98.
Jurnal ‘Ulumul Qur’an, 1992, No. 2 Vol. III, pp. 4-22 and 24-33.
Jurnal ‘Ulumul Qur’an, 1994, No. 3, Vol. V, pp. 4 – 12.
Asiaweek, April 4, 1997, p.64.
Lewis, Bernard, Islam and the West, Oxford University Press, 1993, vii.
Ibid, p. 102.


Written by Moeflich

01/01/2011 at 10:27 am

Posted in Orientalisme

One Response

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  1. Peace be upon you and May Allah’s blessings be upon you all!

    Of course, we should appreciate Orientalists for their Contributions to the Islamic World especially in their role explaining Islam to the western world.

    But domestically for Indonesia, I detect some of the Muslim scholars who got Islamic education from the Orientalist professors in the western Universities when they returned to Indonesia, it seems that they are making some efforts to liberalize Islamic teaching based on western points of views. One of the products of their works is JIL (Jaringan Islam Liberal). This is very dangerous to Islam because Islam as a religion doesn’t need improvement or modification. Allah SWT has perfected this religion.

    In the Name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful!
    “Forbidden to you (for food) are: dead meat, blood, the flesh of swine, and that on which hath been invoked the name of other than Allah; that which hath been killed by strangling, or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall, or by being gored to death; that which hath been (partly) eaten by a wild animal; unless ye are able to slaughter it (in due form); that which is sacrificed on stone (altars); (forbidden) also is the division (of meat) by raffling with arrows: that is impiety. This day have those who reject Faith given up all hope of your religion: yet fear them not but fear Me. This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. But if any is forced by hunger, with no inclination to transgression, Allah is indeed Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”(Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Maidah, Verse 3).


    KInd Regards
    Syarif Hidayat

    Syarif Hidayat

    23/08/2012 at 1:04 am

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