Monday, February 07, 2011

Pan-Islamism, 1883

From  Oriental experience: a selection of essays and addresses delivered on various occasions, by Sir Richard Temple, 1883.

There has been for some years past, and there still is, a stir among the Muhammadan nations of the world. It is called "Pan-islamism" by Europeans: the word "islam" meaning the Muhammadan religion. As is well known, the Slavs of Europe, or their political leaders, have recently been writing and speaking of " Panslavism." This implies a general union among the Slavs living in Russia, in Austria, in European Turkey. In the same way "Pan-islamism" implies a general union among Muhammadans dwelling in the various countries of Asia and in some parts of Africa. This Pan-islamism, then, is a real movement, though perhaps it has not gone very far as yet. But no man can say to what lengths it may go. At all events, it deserves the watchful attention of Englishmen. For England, herself a Christian Power, has now more Muhammadan subjects than any Muhammadan Power in the world. Englishmen may perhaps be surprised to hear that, but it is the case. While Britain has been busy with her fields and her factories, her trade, her ships, and her colonies,—her sons have, within the last generation, raised up for her a dominion among the Asiatic Muhammadans. In the presence of that Anglo-Muhammadan dominion, the Sultan of Turkey, the Shah of Persia, the Grand Sherif of Mecca, must droop their flags. There are in India, Ceylon, and other British possessions, 50 millions of Muhammadan subjects or feudatories of the British Queen. In Afghanistan, Beluchistan, and other places there are 10 millions more under the political control of England. On the whole, then, the Anglo - Muhammadan dominion includes about 60 millions of souls. As compared Math that, the other Muhammadan Powers of Asia have altogether only 32 millions. This is exclusive of China, which has a body of Muhammadan subjects whose numbers are not exactly known. In Egypt and the rest of Africa there may be several millions of Muhammadans.

But it may be said that the mere numbers of the population prove little. What is the power and wealth of the AngloMuhammadan dominion as compared with that of the other Muhammadans? Well, as regards power, it is impossible to distinguish the Anglo-Muhammadan power from that of Britain herself. To describe the effective might of such a power, as compared with other nations, might savour of national vanity. We need not, therefore, dwell upon that. But as regards wealth we may remark that the agriculture of the Muhammadan peasantry of India, the navigation in the hands of her Muhammadan sailors and boatmen, the trade conducted by her Muhammadan traders, greatly exceed anything that can be shown by any other Muhammadan nation—indeed, by all other Muhammadan nations together.

Moreover, the Anglo-Muhammadan population is increasing fast, whereas in Turkey and Persia it is understood to be decreasing.

In all the counsels of political Muhammadanism, then, the British Sovereign is entitled to a place in the very first rank, as representing the dominion over the largest and richest Muhammadan population in the world.

In India the mass of the Muhammadans are peaceful, industrious, and loyal. It is well that Englishmen should realise this great fact. But it is also necessary for them to remember that among these generally sober-minded Muhammadans there are many persons of a different stamp. These are bigoted, even desperate; and nothing that we can offer will pacify them. Therefore Muhammadan troubles have from time to time arisen in India. The assassination of Chief Justice Norman at Calcutta, and of Lord Mayo at Port Blair in 1872-73, are instances fresh in the public memory. Bad as these events were, even worse things might possibly happen if England were to fall asleep. But if she remains wakeful they may, under Providence, be prevented.

It may then be asked, Why are the Muhammadans bestirring themselves in these days, and what is it that they are thinking about?

Well, outside India, they feel that they are politically decaying. They are generally disposed to shut their eyes to that which is disagreeable. But they can no longer help seeing the strides which the Christian nations are making in wealth, power, and civilization. Thus they dread the advance of Christendom. The leaders among them look back wistfully to the great days when the Crescent drove back or bore down the Cross in many of the fairest and holiest regions of the earth. When the Cross rallied under Christian warriors, such as Charles Martel of France and John Sobieski of Poland, and stopped the Crescent in its career, they comforted themselves with the thought that South-Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and a goodly part of Asia still remained to Islam. They perceive, however, that within the last hundred years the Christian power has been making inroads upon Muhammadanism in all directions. Yet some of them have been trusting that Allah and their prophet Muhammad would somehow draw once more the flashing scimitar to scatter the unbelievers. Others of them, again, who do not rely upon divine interference, have been dreaming that destiny (Kismet) would at last set all things right. Now, however, they are becoming aroused by the idea that Christian influence and authority are drawing so near as to threaten the very existence of Islam itself. The alarm is gradually growing in their minds. This alarm refers in the first place to their political power, but in the second place to their religion also. Possibly they might view with some sort of patience the loss of mere earthly dominion. But in their minds worldly power cannot be quite separated from religion. They all, from the highest to the humblest, revere their faith as pure and lofty. In fact, like many other faiths, it has in practice been often clouded over with mummery and superstition. Still there remains something of grandeur about it. In the hearts of its followers it is associated with splendid and glorious memories. Its triumphs of war, in politics, and in art, its efforts even in the cause of science, are well known to the upper classes, and are dimly understood by the multitude. It was skilfully contrived by Muhammad, its founder, to appeal forcibly to the notions and sentiments of hot-blooded races dwelling in sunny climes. Though it is really opposed to human progress, though it blights the prospects of civilization, and stunts the growth of society— yet it reigns in the affections of many millions of bright-eyed and strong-handed men. Such men will turn out to fight for it, and in the excitement of action will face death on its behalf. They used in former times to make converts by the sword; indeed, no religion has ever spread itself so much by force and indirect pressure as theirs. Strangely enough they continue to gain men over (though by gentler means) to their faith in Africa and in Eastern Asia.

The question then arises as to whether the Muhammadans have anything like a policy, while raising this movement of Pan-islamism. Is this stir merely a breeze ruffling the surface of the political waters, or does it portend a real storm? The answer depends, no doubt, largely on the conduct of the Western Powers. The Muhammadans have certainly got a general policy, which is this, to resist the further encroachments of the Christian States, to hold at least their own, and to keep what remains to them of the broad regions that submitted to the Prophet of Arabia. We must acknowledge, too, that this is reasonable in theory. In practice, however, a great power, such as theirs once was, does not yield to dangers from without so long as it is solid and prosperous within. It is the canker eating into the vitals of the State that makes them yield to foreign pressure. The Muhammadans probably are well aware of this also. They know that somehow their body politic is becoming feeble; that their lands are becoming less productive, that their cultivation is shrinking, that their flocks and herds are lessening. They see that famines come and decimate the people sadly, and that afterwards the population does not recover. They feel that there is something fatally the matter with them, but cannot make out exactly what it is. The feeling is aggravated by the sight of neighbouring nations in blooming health and vigorous life. All this is enough to make them despair, and at times they must be somewhat downhearted. But at bottom they are brave; and, while preserving an apathetic appearance, they have an enthusiasm burning within them. If common sense were joined to this enthusiasm, they would soon learn to set their social house in order, to give light and liberty to the people, to secure to every man the fruits of his toil whether of brain or of hands, and to spread abroad that sort of useful knowledge which makes people thrifty, self-reliant, and intelligent. If this lesson did not come to them by inspiration, they might gather it from the example of several among the Christian nations. They would doubtless wish to do this if they could, but they do not know how to set about it. So they drift on towards political ruin. Meanwhile they are becoming very uneasy under the prospect, and are thinking that some plunging struggle must be tried. Instead of looking their misfortune quietly in the face, and devising really workable remedies, they seem to believe that the first thing needful is to restore the energies of their religion. Reformations of sorts are thus undertaken. The Wahhabi revival in Arabia, of which the public has heard much, was an attempt of this nature. It is likely that similar movements may arise in various quarters; indeed, they are springing up already.

There might, then, be a rising in the Muhammadan world, outside the Anglo-Muhammadan dominion above described. Such a combined movement would manifestly affect British interests. It would of itself be serious indeed; still England is quite mighty enough to withstand or overcome it, if only she were left to herself. But would she be let alone? Obviously not. Other Christian powers would be naturally jealous of her acting singly. They would lift up their voices and put in their claims. Thus political complications would arise. In the midst of such complications any rash proceedings on the part of one or other of the Christian Powers might bring on a deadly quarrel within Christendom itself about the affairs of the Muhammadan world. That would indeed be an unseemly spectacle to be exhibited by Christianity in the presence of the heathen.

Such is the outline of political Muhammadanism on the whole, or "Pan-islamism," as it is beginning to be called.