Traveling on Grace Street... - The Great Light of the Morning
I am reading Karen Armstrong's book on Islam in which she seems to be making exactly those same points about Islam in the Ottoman Empire in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Perhaps i should not be trying to compare an agrarian society which is resisting modernization with a modern society which is resisting the coming of post-modernism. The materialist in me insists that such different economies cannot be usefully compared. However, it is tempting to look for similarities between the most powerful agrarian state and the most powerful modern state.
Both 18th century Ottomans and 21st century Americans inherited an excellent higher education system and both societies destroyed those systems in an attempt to make them more "efficient" and "relevant" Islamic culture had produced the best education system the world had seen which emphasized literature, poetry, history, and science along with the Quran and the Shariah. Most of Islam had come to an acceptance of a highly spiritual, if not mystical, interpretation of Islam. The Ottoman rulers totally shifted the emphasis away from the arts and sciences to law and the Quran plus martial arts for the Janesarries. Today in the United States there is a similar emphasis on "practical" education. A mere sixty years ago a college student would have to take half his or her credits in fields unrelated to the major and was encouraged to take mathematics, languages, logic, and courses in scientific theory and methods. Today one can get a "bachelor's degree" in Construction Management or Criminal Justice Administration by taking a minimal number of "distribution requirements." The typical student in the 1960s wanted to learn for learning;s sake and develop a philosophy of life, The typical student in the 1980s wanted to get a well paying job. The dull, violent march toward domination turned off many subjects of the Ottoman Empire just as it is turning off many young people today.
Religion, which should at least throw some color on to that dullness has shrunk into a system of rules and defensive gestures both now and then. Study of the Quran and the Sariah became more and more limited and traditional with less and less room for creativity and imagination. The same is true today morality, ritual and defense against religion;s "enemies" are crowding out spirituality and compassion.
The Ottomans looked back at the flowering of Islamic culture as an evil time; that's how many of us look at the 1960s.
Deprived of light and nourishment the Ottoman Empire eventually lost its will to live. Will that also happen to us?