Special Reports

Lecture on civilizing Islam

Aligarh: "Civilization is more than a shibboleth for religious claims or cultural irredentism; it is also an inescapable part of the efforts to forge a ranking of cultures, and even to claim the superiority of one over rival others," said Prof. Bruce Lawrence of Duke University, USA. He was delivering a University Extension Lecture on "Civilizing Islam across Time and Space: From Ibn-e-Khaldun to Marshall Hodgson" at AMU's Centre for Advanced Study at the Department of History, on 17 September.

Prof. Lawrence said that civilization rested on a taxonomic contrast that pitted dyadic opposite against one another. He said that even before the civilizing mission of British and French and, more recently, even American, missionaries in Asia and Africa, there was a distinction between civilized folk and barbarian "others", just as there was also a ternary division of time into corresponding social units.

He said that desert tribes or agrarian communities were deemed to be primitive, major pre-modern empires; classical, while modern was reserved for democratic.

What characterized the superiority of modern civilization, that is Euro-American and Japanese, from earlier stages of social development was a society of civility in the sense of gentle manners, opposed not merely to the wildness and violence of primitive or warlike people, but also to the great volatility caused by the passions of military aristocrats or conquering rulers.

Prof. Lawrence said that a more robust analysis of civilizational discourse requires not just a look at the present but also a review of the past. One must explore routes not taken, meanings not explored and also pioneers not acknowledged, especially in the realm of Islam and Muslim subjects. He said that his lecture followed the route via two major historians of Islamic civilization Ibn Khaldun and Marshall G. S. Hodgson.

In his presidential remarks, AMU Pro-Vice Chancellor, Brigadier S. Ahmad Ali highlighted the achievements of Muslims and said that most of the discoveries and inventions were made by Muslims. He said that 600 years before Galileo, Al-Biruni discussed the theory of Earth rotating on its own axis. During the 9th century, Al-Kindi and the great mathematician, Thabit Ibn Qurra, working in Baghdad, were among the first scientists to develop the spherical geometry, which greatly helped astronomers to predict Moon's phases.

Prof. Bruce Lawrence is a Professor of Islamic Studies Emeritus at Duke University, USA. He has also taught at Darmouth College and University of Chicago. Presently he is teaching at the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakf University, Istanbul. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2014 on page no. 13

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