Colliding or Converging Civilizations?

  • Aaron Tyler


Wherever one turns, the world is at odds with itself. If differences in civilization are not responsible for these conflicts, what is?” So states Samuel Huntington in response to critics of his “Clash of Civilizations” hypothesis. “History has not ended,” and “the world is not one,” Huntington declares. And if it is civilizations that “unite and divide humankind,” then “in a world of different civilizations … each will have to learn to coexist with the other.”1 From this viewpoint, a cultural-comparative paradigm becomes one useful framework for exploring the conflicts that are occurring between Islamic and Western cultures and how coexistence may be effectively conceived.


Western Civilization Terrorist Attack Muslim Community Religious Freedom Muslim World 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Samuel Huntington, “If Not Civilizations, What?: Paradigms of the Post-Cold War,” Foreign Affairs 72 (November/December 1993): 194.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    W. Cole Durham, Jr., “Perspectives on Religious Liberty: A Comparative Framework,” in Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective: Legal Perspectives, ed. Johan D. van der Vyver and John Witte, Jr. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1996), 4.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Khaled Abou El Fadl, “The Culture of Ugliness in Modern Islam and Reengaging Morality,” UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law 2, no. 1 (2002/2003): 38.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Ibid. The Jewish and Christian embrace of Muslim philosophy and science in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods was, in general, not reciprocated by the Muslim world. Muslims continued, in large part, to view Europe as backward and of limited usefulness. Reluctantly, the Ottoman Empire, out of necessity, began to draw from Western ideas (military science, etc.). For an insightful study on the dynamics of intercultural exchange between Islam and the West, see Bernard Lewis’s, The Muslim Discovery of Europe (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001).Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    Fred Halliday, “West Encountering Islam: Islamophobia Reconsidered,” in Islam Encountering Globalization, ed. Ali Mohammadi (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002), 14.Google Scholar
  6. 14.
    Abou El Fadl, 48–49. See also Anders Jerichow, “Civilizations: Clash or Cooperation?” in Islam in a Changing World: Europe and the Middle East, ed. Anders Jerichow and Jørgen Baek Simonsen (Richmond, Surrey, UK: Curzon, 1997), 144–56.Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    Mahboob A. Khawaja, Muslims and the West: Quest for “Change” and Conflict Resolution (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), 135–36.Google Scholar
  8. 17.
    See, for instance, A Jerichow and J. Baek Simonsen, eds., Islam in a Changing World: Europe and the Middle East (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 1997);Google Scholar
  9. Colin Chapman, Islam and the West: Conflict, Coexistence or Conversion? (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 1998);Google Scholar
  10. Fred Halliday, Islam and the Myth of Confrontation (New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 1999);Google Scholar
  11. Shireen T. Hunter, The Future of Islam and the West: Clash of Civilizations or Peaceful Coexistence (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998);Google Scholar
  12. Jorgen S. Nielsen, ed., The Christian-Muslim Frontier: Chaos, Clash or Dialogue (New York: I. B. Tauris, 1998.);Google Scholar
  13. Dieter Senghaas, The Clash Within Civilizations: Coming to Terms with Cultural Conflicts (London: Routledge, 2001); Edward Said, “The Clash of Ignorance,” The Nation 273, no. 12 (2001);Google Scholar
  14. Jonathan Sacks, Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, 2nd ed. (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003);Google Scholar
  15. Mark David Gismondi, “Civilisation as Paradigm: An Inquiry into the Hermeneutics of Conflict,” Geopolitics 9, no. 2 (Summer 2004): 402–25;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. and Michael Novak, The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable (New York: Basic Books, 2004).Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    See Oliver Roy, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 332.Google Scholar
  18. 28.
    Olivier Roy, “Europe’s Response to Radical Islam,” Current History 104, no. 685 (November 2005): 360.Google Scholar
  19. 31.
    Muhammad Talbi, “Possibilities and Conditions for a Better Understanding between Islam and the West,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 25 (Spring 1988): 177.Google Scholar
  20. 32.
    Mahmoud Ayoub, “Christian-Muslim Dialogue: Goals and Obstacles,” The Muslim World 94 (July 2004): 317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 33.
    Lalsangkima Pachau, “Engaging the ‘Other’ in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Subaltern Hermeneutics of Christian Mission,” in Studies in World Christianity vol. 8, no. 1 (2002): 68.Google Scholar
  22. 34.
    Gören Larsson, “The Impact of Global Conflicts on Local Contexts: Muslims in Sweden after 9/11—the Rise of Islamophobia, or New Possibilities,” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 16 (January 2005): 30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 36.
    Ibid., 34. See also A. S. Roald, “Islamofobi,” in Jalla! Nu Kär vi granen. Möte med den muslimska kultursfären (Stockholm: Regeringskansliet, Utrikes departmentet, 2002), 53;Google Scholar
  24. and A. S. Roald, “From ‘People’s Home’ to ‘Multiculturalism’: Muslims in Sweden,” in Muslims in the West: From Sojourners to Citizens, ed. Z. Y. Haddad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).Google Scholar
  25. 38.
    Quoted in Ian Buruma, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (New York: Penguin, 2006), 7.Google Scholar
  26. 43.
    See, for example, Khaled Abou El Fadl, “The Place of Tolerance in Islam,” in The Place of Tolerance in Islam, ed. Joshua Cohen and Ian Lague (Boston: Beacon, 2002);Google Scholar
  27. Khaled Abou El Fadl, “Islam and the Challenge of Democracy,” in Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, ed. Joshua Cohen and Deborah Chasman (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004);CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1990);Google Scholar
  29. and David Little, John Kelsay, and Abdulaziz A. Sachedina, eds., Human Rights and the Conflict of Cultures: Western and Islamic Perspectives on Religious Liberty (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  30. 47.
    Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islam: Religion, History, and Civilization (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003), 178–79. Nasr laments the Western tendency to label these various Islamic resurgence movements in the Muslim world as fundamentalism—a word derived from an “American Protestant context,” later conferred upon Islam. Such a term is misleading and adds confusion by dismissing many variations of Islamic revivalism taking place in Muslim societies. In fact, he argues that a “great majority of Muslims” are expressing the desire to reassert their religiocultural identity. Such Islamic revivalism should not be indiscriminately labeled “fundamentalism,” Nasr cautions, because “most people who share these ideals are traditional Muslims.” Fundamentalism will be addressed in further detail in chapter four. It is a term that essentially represents only those puritanical movements that seek to reform wayward Muslim societies through a more narrowly-defined interpretation and “strict application” of Islamic law that not only contests the invasion of Western ideas but also dismisses the “intellectual, artistic, and mystical traditions of Islam” as historical aberrations, antithetical to the Islamic way of life. See ibid., 179–80.Google Scholar
  31. 58.
    Stanley Kurtz, “Text and Context,” in The Place of Tolerance in Islam, ed. Joshua Cohen and Ian Lague (Boston: Beacon, 2002), 53–54.Google Scholar
  32. 60.
    Akbar Ahmed, Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Washington, DC: Brookings, 2007), 225.Google Scholar
  33. 63.
    Richard K. Betts, “The Soft Underbelly of American Primacy: Tactical Advantages of Terror,” Political Science Quarterly 11, no. 1 (Spring 2002); also in Conflicts after the Cold War: Arguments on Causes of War and Peace, 2nd ed., ed. Richard K. Betts (New York: PearsonLongman, 2005), 536.Google Scholar
  34. 64.
    Samuel P. Huntington, “The West: Unique, Not Universal,” Foreign Affairs 75 (November/December 1996), 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 65.
    Akbar S. Ahmed, Postmodernism and Islam: Predicament and Promise (New York: Routledge, 1992), 98.Google Scholar
  36. 68.
    Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World (New York: Times Books, 1995).Google Scholar
  37. 73.
    Abdullah Saeed and Hassan Saeed, Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), 13.Google Scholar
  38. 74.
    See Youssef K. El-Hage, “Human Rights: A Western Christian Invention?” in The Near East School of Theology Theological Review vol. 25, no. 2 (November 2004): 12–14. While the UDHR was approved with a unanimous vote by the General Assembly, Saudi Arabia abstained from voting, and Egypt officially objected to Article 18’s freedom to change one’s religion. U.N. Doc. A/PV.183, at 913 (1948); see also El-Hage, 14.Google Scholar
  39. 78.
    Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 5. Bernard Lewis states: “It is now a commonplace that the term ‘Islam’ is the counterpart not only of‘Christianity’ but also of‘Christendom’—not only a religion in the narrow Western sense but of a whole civilization which grew up under the aegis ofthat religion.” Ibid., 4.Google Scholar
  40. 81.
    Simon Jargy, Islam et Chrétienté (Geneva: Lavor et Fides, 1981), 10; quoted in Talbi, “Possibilities and Conditions for a Better Understanding Between Islam and the West,” 162.Google Scholar
  41. 84.
    For example, history and religious studies professor Phillip Jenkins predicts that six nations (Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, Nigeria, D. R. Congo, and the United States) each may have 100 million Christians or greater by 2050, with only one of those countries (United States) coming from the developed West. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 104–5. What is more, he shows how those countries that currently have the highest birth rates are “neatly divided between mainly Christian states, such as Uganda and Bolivia, and solidly Muslim nations, such as Yemen and Afghanistan.” Ibid., 191.Google Scholar
  42. 85.
    Madeline Albright, “Faith and Diplomacy,” The Review of Faith & International Affairs (Fall 2006): 3–9. The former U.S. Secretary of State writes: “Studies indicate that wars with a religious component last longer and are fought more savagely than other conflicts.” In her assessment of religion and conflict, Albright calls on U.S. diplomats to develop a greater understanding (expertise) and appreciation of religion’s role in numerous conflicts around the world. Only then can policy makers and conflict negotiators “anticipate events rather than respond to them.” Her analysis concludes by asserting religion’s immutable place in contemporary international relations, and, while remaining wary of a manipulated religion’s propensity to justify violence, she encourages policy makers to welcome religion’s role in reinforcing the “core values necessary for people from different cultures to live together in some degree of harmony.” See ibid., 3, 4, and 9. See also Madeline Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007).Google Scholar
  43. 87.
    Seyyed Hossein Nasr, “Metaphysical Roots of Tolerance and Intolerance: An Islamic Interpretation,” in Philosophy, Religion, and the Question of Intolerance, ed. Mehdi Amin Razavi and David Ambuel (New York: State University of New York Press, 1997), 50.Google Scholar
  44. 88.
    Mohammed Arkoun, “Is Islam Threatened by Christianity,” Cross Currents 45, no. 4 (1995/1996): 470.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Aaron Tyler 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron Tyler

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations