ABSTRACT

For diverse reasons the three great Islamic empires, the Ottoman, the Persian and the Mughal were in decline by the eighteenth century. After Sulayman the Magnificent in Turkey, Shah ‘Abbas among the Safavids in Iran and Aurangzib in India, the political and cultural life in these dynasties went into decline: meanwhile Europe was becoming technically powerful and culturally dynamic. In due course, India was conquered by the British in the nineteenth century, and somewhat earlier the Dutch established dominance in Indonesia, itself a relatively recent convert to Islam; by the nineteenth century the whole area was under Dutch control. At the end of the nineteenth century France came to dominate most of North Africa, and the Italians took Libya (1911). Egypt meanwhile had succumbed to British domination, and later the Sudan. World War I saw the collapse of the remainder of the Ottoman empire, and protectorates were established by the British and French over much of the Arab areas east of the Mediterranean. Iran was eyed by the Russians and the British and partially penetrated. There was little of the Islamic world which was not directly or indirectly controlled by the West. It was after World War II that the whole crescent from Indonesia to West Africa was liberated, though economically the West remained dominant, especially in the oil-rich regions of the Middle East. The penetration of outsiders and infidels into the region led to a revival of Islamic thought and culture, but in a somewhat new form. By reaction to the West, nationalism of various sorts was stimulated. Sometimes this was highly regionalized and somewhat identified with colonial boundaries, such as Algerian and Sudanese nationalism. Sometimes it took on a Pan-Arab character – this in part because it was nationalism on the main European model, based on language and

therefore literary culture. Sometimes it was Pan-Islamic, based for instance after the fall of the Ottomans on the vision of a restored Caliphate. These aspirations in very recent times maintain an existence through such organizations as the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.