Sanam Tiffany: Issues and Solutions of Islam Within European Colonization

When discussing the concept of modernity from an Islamic standpoint, the reference of modernity is usually to the time in the history of Islam during which European colonization and scholastic renaissance was flourishing while the Ottoman Empire was slowly falling. During this time, European powers were beginning to develop great interest and exciting theories in sciences and math, a realm of academic study that had once been overwhelmingly ruled by Muslim scholars. Because of this, Europe underwent a brilliant industrial revolution and a period of revolutionary scientific enlightenment.

This abrupt shift in powers caused Europe to gain heavier traction as a colonizing force while Islamic empires were rethinking their restrictive laws and often conservative social ideals, and this form of celebrated scientific interest throughout Europe drove passion away from religious devotion of Islam and towards academia.

During this time, Europe was producing revolutionary technology, becoming a national figurehead of scientific inquiry, and instilling French as the most common language of the land and the language of the law. Their industrial revolution also provided them with more powerful weapons, making colonization of Muslim lands an unstoppable reality.

European colonialism brought with it a wave of Islamic modernism: gaining traction as a response to the vast amount of social, political, and scholastic changes being brought on my European empowerment. Sharia law was being threatened as the main driving force of ideological purity. Legal issues and courtroom ethics were being reformed under European influence, creating a direct peril for the sanctity and power of Sharia law. Many Muslim conservatives were horrified with these concepts of change, but eventually the Muslim world found that if they resisted these changes so aggressively, their power would soon vanish.

Through careful thought and deliberation, leaders of the Muslim empires of that time agreed that Sharia law, once the all-reigning notion of purity, could possibly serve more useful under European power when considered to be “familial law”. This way, European entities could instill less conservative laws throughout the land while Sharia law was still respected and abided by most individuals, albeit in a less overarching way. This compromise ensured that despite the trending desire to pursue science, people of that time would still practice Islam and be cognizant of it in their most immediate and important reactions (those with family).

Following suite of the aforementioned compromise, leaders of Islam discussed ways in which the religious rules could be reformed or even reinterpreted during this trepid time to ensure a steady maintenance of power and a following. An adoption of the metric system was made almost continentally, and European works coming out of the renaissance were quickly being translated into Arabic so scholars in the Islamic world could stay informed and build upon their theories (a first at a time in which Arabic works were being translated in the hopes of Europe even catching up).

Because of this willingness to adapt, the Muslim powers of the area hoped that by dulling their conservatism through means of social compromise, they could provide the ever-evolving European world with Islamic solutions to new problems arising from the cultural and religious clashes that had begun to take place.


  1. Aldrich, Robert (15 Sep 1996), Greater France: a history of French overseas expansion, European Studies, Basingstoke-London: Palgrave Macmillan

2. (22 June 2006), Islam, Modernity, and Terrorism, Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project.