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Muslim Tenacity Versus Political Disintegration

The tenacity with which Islam has held its own for almost fourteen centuries and continues to do so is just as important as the great speed with which it spread. The period of its scholarly climax is past. Everything open to exploration and conclusions was explored and concluded. It was the Sunnis, especially the Hanifites among them, who managed to imprint their system and insights as the orthodoxy on Islam to its fullest extent. Scholarship turned into defense of tradition; their schools largely lost their earlier relevance; their art collapsed-- but the spirit of Islam continued to govern the emotions with undiminished fervor. Western unbelief penetrated the educated elite in the cities. Their attending European schools and, no less critical, their visiting Paris lead in many cases to a change in spirit. The Young Turks and the young Egyptians even dream of a revolution that will separate state and religion. They want to leave the religion of the people as is but reshape Government into the mould of Western constitutionality. These modern concepts are a mere drop of oil on the water. The ordinary masses of people have not changed and hold tenaciously on to their tradition. In fact, it would take very little to have the flame of the old fanaticism suddenly arise again. This happened repeatedly during the last decades in Egypt, where the European influence was especially advocated by Mehemet Ali.

Islam has definitely weakened. As disunity once broke the back of Christians, so has it also caused the radiance of Islam to grow pale. Even the Caliphate has split time and again. And what especially attacked the nerve of Islam’s power is that the unity of Islam as a ruling world power was broken. Islam was no longer one single world power; ruler attacked ruler. To be sure, the Turks restored that powerful unity for a considerable time. With the exception of Persia, India and Central Asia, they managed to reunite almost all the Muslim people. Even Eastern Europe was threatened with recapture. But after the battle of Lepanto in 1571 this unity was once again broken up. Even though the Sultan of Turkey commands a well disciplined army of more than half a million soldiers, after Turkey lost marine supremacy, a process that started at Lepanto and was completed at Navarino, the Sultan could no longer exert his authority beyond his narrow borders. No power can maintain itself around the Mediterranean Sea unless it controls that Sea itself. The Carthaginians perished when their navy was defeated during the Punic Wars with Rome near Mylae and Ecnomus in 263-265 B.C., just as even earlier the Persians were defeated by the Greeks after the battle of Salamis in 480 B.C. Again as the defeat of Antonius in 31 B.C. at Actium led to his demise, so did defeat of the Turks at Lepanto and Navarino lead to their downfall. The land route is simply too long to rule the distant regions of such an empire. And since the United Kingdom became master of the Mediterranean Sea after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the Sultan does not have sufficient means to resist the pressure that is constantly exerted on him and to which he must constantly succumb. Thereto must be added the consideration that the Muslim is basically a warrior at heart and lacks the capacity for effective administration. Conqueror by birth, he has been deprived of the special qualities needed for civil administration. Even though Islam always reserved its most capable for the higher positions, the Turkish government depended mostly on the Greeks and Armenians and, in Egypt, on the Coptics for financial and general administration as well as for the lower ranks in diplomacy. These distorted relationships caused welfare to reduce, trade to shrink and the country to be impoverished, so that financial crises presented themselves repeatedly.

But none of these developments could disturb the Muslim community in the depth of its soul. Throughout the length and breadth of the entire Muslim world the spirit of the people remained unflinched. Their entire territory everywhere is still fully Muslim. In spite of its tolerance for national traditions, its patience with the residue of previous religions, its recognition of native customary law, it always remained faithful to Allah and His Prophet.

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