Lesson, Life

Clash of Civilizations


BY ; Mugheerah Luqman 


The title is taken from the famous book “Clash of Civilizations” by Samuel P. Huntington and is a short commentary. The idea relates to how West plays with terms and creates misconceptions and stereotypes.

Terms are Technical

  • Terms are sensitive to use as they misguide masses when inappropriately used.
  • In Logic, the TERM is defined as: “When a concept is expressed in words, that is called a ‘term’.” (Introduction to Logic) For example, can we Islamize democracy or not? The one who understands the basic concept behind democracy would know that the very base of democracy is anti-Islamic; therefore the term ‘Islamic Democracy’ is not appropriate.

The Term ‘civilization’ in Huntington’s Book

  • Huntington uses the term ‘civilization’ but refers to ‘culture’ throughout which is why the translated version of this book is entitled as تهذيبون كا تصادم (clash of the cultures)
  • In Urdu Language, ‘Tehzeeb’ refers to culture and ‘’ refers to civilization which is usually not differentiated and used interchangeably.

The meaning of Civilization

  • Interestingly, the Arabic word Civilization is حضارة which is from حضر or حاضر meaning ‘present’.
  • It mainly refers to the present and modern stage of man. The term emphasizes on the advancement or modernity by referring to the urban development.
  • The word in Urdu language for civilization is تمدن. Similarly, in Arabic language the word is used for similar meaning that is ‘to urbanize’.
  • Now the root of the word تمدن is مدن from which we have مدينة in Arabic, meaning ‘city’. Even the word Civilization refers to city; civil (related to city) ize like urban-ize.
  • So the point is civilization refers to modernity or scientific or urban development.

The meaning of Culture

  • The words used in Arabic language are notable. As Arabs are peculiar to their choice of words and considerate of subtleties, therefore the word they use for ‘culture’ is ثقافة which is حذق اي اتقن (to master), or the training of mind.
  • The word is used with Fat’ha (zabar) not Kasrah (zair). The word with kasrah having the same root word means الملاعبة بالسيف (to play with swords) which refers to the idea of cultures having this natural tendency of causing clashes. Huntington presents the same idea: “The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”
  • Now the problem with the word culture is, there is not a single universally accepted definition of ‘culture’. Two of the American Anthropologists Kroeber and Kluckhohn established 6 categories and 161 separate definitions of culture.
  • However, one can say, “the way of life of a specific group.” Or الدلالة على علوم الإنسانية من دين ولغة وأدب (In particular to Roman tradition, it refers to the sciences of man that relates to Deen (religion), language, literature and art.)

The Difference between the Civilization and Culture

  • So ‘culture’ and ‘civilization’ have totally separate meanings; the former relates to scientific advancements whereas the latter refers to religion, language, literature and art or the way of living in general.
  • Or we can say ‘civilization’ refers to more material, technical, economic and social facts whereas ‘culture’ refers to mainly spiritual, intellectual and artistic phenomenon.
  • Islam is the way of Living for Muslims and is a foundation of Muslim Culture that is beyond any country line or border. For example, Hijab, beard, etc.

Why the Distinction is Important?

  • This distinction is important because by the twist and interchangeable usage of the terms, the world is given an image of Muslims that they are against civilization, especially the western Civilization i.e. development as they often say these orthodox groups want to take the world back to 14th Century.
  • Mohammad Qutub states in his Book “Islam the Misunderstood Religion”: One English man, a member of UNO sent to Egypt to help the Egyptian Government raise the standard of living for the Egyptian peasants. He met him and talked to him about their civilization and the Islamic culture. After a long conversation, he said to Muhammad: “Maybe that what you tell me about Islam is correct but … I like traveling in planes and enjoy listening to radio. I would not like to forego all these pleasures.” end quote
  • Islam has no problem with the Western Civilization or its science, Islam has problem with the Western culture, especially religion and ideology which acts as a spring board for the whole of their culture.

The relation between Religion and Culture

  • In the English language, the word ‘culture’ is from the Latin word cultura which means cultivation and it was tended to be understood by Christian authors as ‘worship’.
  • This tradition also leads us to the Greek Mythology where we have Demeter the goddess of agriculture and the protector of marriage.
  • There is a connection between marriage and cultivation as Qur’an says: نسائكم حرث لكم فأتوا حرثكم انا شئتم (Your women are your fields of cultivation so approach them from wherever you wish.)
  • Marriage is also considered an important part of culture from which the West is completely deprived of especially France. The family is an important cultural component.
  • The connection is necessary to prove because some people do not add religion to the culture or they argue that religion is only one component of culture and not the whole. I would argue that it is true but it is the major component of culture and in fact the base or spring board of any culture as discussed above therefore, anthropologists say religion is the very foundation or the basic component of any culture.

The reason of insignificance importance given to the differentiation in the Western Culture

  • The first reason is that we Muslims are the people of one solid culture but the West is not. We thrived on our culture and on the contrary West thrived on its civilization. West ran away from religion in reaction to the oppression they suffered in the hands of Church (referring back to the pre-democratic history of West). So they hated any cultural value especially religion. They wanted Science, they wanted civilization and that is what Allah gave them in form of Industrial revolution and others. That is the reason Beard Charles says in Towards Civilization: “What is called Western Civilization, as distinguished from other cultures, is in reality a technological civilization, resting at bottom on Science and machinery.”
  • Islam influenced the world by its culture that is why:

                “And you see people entering in the Deen of Allah in massive numbers.”[1]

  • The second reason is, by removing the distinction between Civilization and Culture the West could now submit Islamic Culture to the scientific standards and evaluate Culture and religion on scientific grounds. That is why we have Scientists today in front line against Islam and are promoted as the strongest opponents against religious communities.



[1] An-Nasr, ch ; 110. Verse ; 2

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