The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito. A few things are worth noting:
- I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material. You can do that on The Great Courses website. My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
- These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course. As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
- There is no third thing. I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.
Lecture 8: Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Note: This lecture is an extremely boiled-down version of the history of the 20th century Middle East and very informationally dense even before I try to summarize it. As such, the reader is encouraged strongly to seek out the source material directly. This is the most currently relevant and interesting lecture to date but I cannot really seek to do it justice.
The current political states of the Middle East were created, for the most part, by European colonial powers after World War I. These states were put together with little regard for history or demographics of the area and so it should come as little surprise that decades later they rebelled to form their own governments that more accurately reflect the people being governed.
Historically, these states have fallen into two basic groups
- More secular governments were favored by the West and looked upon as more ‘Modern’ and easier to deal with. As is typical, the West confuses “better” with “more like us”
- Muslim governments are looked down upon as backwards or antiquated and fall out of favor with the west unless there’s some direct economic benefit to be had by dealing with them.
In 1967 the third Arab-Israeli War, or Six-Day War, tripled the size of Israeli-held territory while Arab forces from Egypt, Jordan and Syria were soundly defeated. Even more importantly, Jerusalem, the third holiest city in Islam was no longer under Arab control.
In the Muslim community this set up a bit of an identify crisis. Why had Allah abandoned the faithful? This war become the rallying cry for a massive movement to reject Western identity and replace it with a stronger affirmation of the Islamic past and traditional values.
Over the ensuing decades, a quiet non-military revolution ensued in many countries in which educated Muslims rose to political power and replaced their previously secular governments. Those old governments had been supported by the Western powers that had helped established them in the first place and met with resistance from their own militaries as well as old allies.
Despite being legitimate democratically elected governments, they also came under fire from Muslim extremist groups who considered them still too liberal. Meanwhile Western powers feared them simply because of their religious backgrounds and resorted to a sort of secular fundamentalism. Western governments seemed all too willing to support governments of any sort as long as it’s economically beneficial to do so.
View back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam