Certainly, those in the 19th and early 20th centuries who were the first bearers of new ideas were animated by a desire to be part of a movement that represented not only certain cultures or geographies, but all mankind. Looking at the tableau before me, running from those early modernisers to the blameless mermaid of north London, I have the impression of a long, difficult, but very often joyful negotiation — the same negotiation in which many more have prospered without being noticed, and in which a number, among them the killers of Paris and Copenhagen, have catastrophically failed.
The reform of the Muslim world began in earnest at the turn of the 19th century, when Europe penetrated the Middle East with all the brusqueness you would expect from a rapidly developing civilisation whose constituent parts were in a race for colonies, wealth and glory. The cultural heartlands of Islam, by contrast, were lame, lachrymose, and chronically resistant to novelty. The paradigmatic idea was that society under the prophet Muhammad had attained a perfection from which later generations were condemned to live at an exponentially increasing remove.
The meeting of the two cultures which, for obvious symbolic reasons, is often dated to the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt led to a realisation on the part of Muslim rulers that only by adopting western practices and technologies could they avoid political and economic oblivion. The extraordinarily rapid process of change that this triggered has been summed up by the historian Juan Cole :.
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And so on. In the middle of the century the Ottoman Sultan declared equality between his Muslim and non-Muslim subjects, the slave trade was outlawed and the harem fell gradually into desuetude. The sheikhs and mullahs saw their old prerogatives in the law and public morality arrogated by an expanding government bureaucracy.
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Clerical opposition to dissection was overcome and theatres of anatomy opened. Political consciousness also rose. In the last decades of the 19th century, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, the most populous and culturally influential centres of the Middle East, all experienced movements in favour of representative government — in Turkey and Iran, parliamentary rule came into effect a few years after the turn of the new century, and in Egypt after the first world war. The story of Muslim modernisation has sometimes been depicted as the efforts of a few potentates to enforce alien precepts on resistant populations.
In , for example, the Muslim notables of Piraeus were persuaded by a local divine not to set up quarantine stations to protect themselves from an outbreak of the plague. The population was duly obliterated. The Persian crown prince Abbas Mirza, modernising his fiefdom of Tabriz, in north-west Iran, drilled the soldiers of his new army behind high walls, for fear that they would be spotted by their disapproving families.
The myth that modernisation had no natural constituency — to be contrasted invidiously with the spontaneity of emergent modernity in the west — has been exacerbated by some of its rankly insincere recent apologists. The Mubaraks and Ben Alis of this world paraded modernity like a codpiece; to look at these self-described apostles of secularism and development, one might be forgiven for thinking that modernisation in the Middle East has always been infertile, and always will be.
But if we want to understand the relationship between ideas and change in the Middle East, we must turn to an earlier moment, and to the figures who found themselves mediating between the two. We are limited here by the historical record — which preserves the accounts of a few distinguished figures — but there is no reason to believe the hope and trepidation that they expressed were not also felt by a great many of their lesser-known contemporaries.
Societies changed, as the dialectic of new and old continued, and people lost themselves in the intensity of the transformation of which they were a part. One of the earliest Middle Easterners to appreciate the unavoidable, tentacular qualities of modernity was the Iranian Mirza Muhammad Saleh Shirazi. He was one of five students who were sent to England by Crown Prince Abbas Mirza in to study useful things and bring them home. The travelogue that Mirza Saleh wrote is among the first books written in Persian about a Christian country. Here, in real time, is the literary modernisation of the Middle East.
In the spring of , Mirza Saleh made a trip to the west Country, which forms the most exquisite section of his book. A sense of diligent journalism permeates his writing as his coach quits London on the westward turnpike. In comparison to the potholed and rutted dust roads of Iran, passable only on horseback or on foot, his detailed description of this efficient mode of transport must have struck his readers as a great novelty.
At first he sits inside the coach, with a Spaniard and several farmers for company all equally unintelligible ; after nightfall he takes his place on top, where he remains until Salisbury Cathedral comes ethereally into view at dawn. Amid the tin mines, Mirza Saleh exchanges European clothes for Iranian robes, which causes the daughters of his host much amusement. He seems to have censored himself, for in the descriptions he provides of bucolic musical interludes overlooking the River Dart, mention of cider is suspiciously absent — only tea. For the people back home, used to a strict segregation of the sexes, the outlandishness of such a friendship would not need spelling out.
The anchorage is so extensive a thousand warships could park there, protected by ramparts bristling with cannon — and he explains dry docks and breakwaters for the landlocked Tabrizis, whose only experience of the sea is as poetic metaphor. Several hundred pages of British history and actuality are still to come. Mirza Saleh traces events from the Roman invasions to the Napoleonic Wars, and there is something thrilling about seeing the names of the Saxon Kings transliterated into Persian for the first time.
His account of contemporary London takes in house design, domestic mores not unreasonably, he is surprised that when people enter houses, rather than take off their dirty shoes, they remove their hats , and detailed descriptions of the prerogatives of the king and parliament.
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Mirza Saleh and his fellow students were a small sample of similar contingents that were dispatched from Muslim countries to Europe over the course of the 19th century. In the five Iranians were recalled home, where Mirza Saleh went on to become a teacher, diplomat and pioneering newspaper owner and printer.
The only artisan in the party, the master craftsman Muhammad Ali, became head of the royal foundry; his English wife introduced knives and forks into their household. Thus change entered Iran and the wider region through the cerebral and the banal, and if it was to stand a chance of popular success it would need the endorsement of men of religion.
In the absence of a central ecclesiastical institution capable of bringing people — with the authority, say, of a papal encyclical — over to a new understanding of things, the sheikhs and mullahs would have to be guided by their own consciences. In , he set up a translation bureau that brought new and unfamiliar ideas rushing into Egypt by rendering 2, European and Turkish works into Arabic, ranging from Greek philosophy and ancient history to books about geography and geometry.
The effect of these translations on the engineers, doctors, teachers and military officers who read them can easily be imagined. For this new elite, forerunners of the secular-minded middle classes that dominate public life even now, learning about antiquity expanded the meaning of the instructive past. Translation is an expression of the universality of the intellect, but one Middle Eastern language remained unable to receive the new ideas — arguably the most important of them all, Ottoman Turkish.
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When writing in Ottoman Turkish it was considered a fine thing to approach the subject in as ornamental and long-winded a fashion as possible, executing puns, ransacking the Persian classics and eschewing punctuation. Nine different calligraphic systems were in use, getting to the point was considered facile and functionality was ignorance.
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He returned with a shrewd realisation that the goals of human progress and linguistic development are linked — and applied himself to both. The subjects he wrote about ranged from foreign policy he was a hawk to literature and the importance of good manners. The outlines of the Middle Eastern nation states were coming into view. The government had announced a scheme to introduce street lighting to parts of central Istanbul, opposed by kneejerk conservatives — just as the same innovation had been opposed in London almost years earlier. Sultan Abdulaziz read impertinence and sedition into editorials of this kind, and in January the government introduced censorship following the example of Napoleon III.
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Reference work. Front Matter Pages i-xxvii. Front Matter Pages Pages Islamic Education: Philosophy. Waqf and Financing Islamic Education. Colonialism, Postcolonialism, Islam, and Education. Muslim Orientations and Views on Education.
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Islam and the West: Clashes and Cooperations. Islam, State, Civil Society, and Education.
Women and Education in Muslim Context. Islam, Sexualities, and Education. Islam and Democracy in Muslim Educational Settings. Islam, Globalizations, and Education. Education of Religious Minorities in Muslim Countries. Islamic Fundamentalism, Terrorism, and Education. Migration, Diaspora, Muslim Transnational communities, and Education.
Islamic Education in Iran. Islamic Education in Egypt. Islamic Education in Turkey.
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