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Muslims’ perceptions of the West and Islam that fascinated Europe


The “International Occidentalism Symposium” was held at the Faculty of Sharia (Theology) at the University of “Siirte” for two days, and it was a scientific and intellectual ceremony. This seminar is the first of its kind in Türkiye. He put on the agenda the dimensions of admiration for the Islamic world without the general negative perceptions about Orientalism.

In this context, the first knowledge of the West about the Islamic world was through Andalusia, and in later periods the Islamic civilization in Baghdad and other Islamic cities attracted the West.

And the feelings that existed about these civilizations in the West created mythical images of Muslims. The Crusades aroused the ambitions of those who seek to discover and seize the riches upon which these mythical images are based. Orientalism had very different tasks, and some kind of development occurred during the period of the Crusades.

The French orientalist Maxime Rodinson says in his book “Europe and the Magic of Islam”: Westerners’ knowledge of the Orient is not knowledge that includes forgery, denial, insult, and marginalization in a simple and regular way. Conversely, if Orientalism were similar to these ideas, it would not be permanent and strong. Note that Orientalism emerged as a result of the meetings between the parties.

Each encounter creates visions and impressions from those who have met each other. This impression varies according to the situation of each of the parties.

Every meeting has at least two parties. The Crusades are a meeting and confrontation, and the Islamic-Arab-Turkish-Kurdish-Persian side created an impression on the Franks who participated in these campaigns. Perhaps the essence of the surprise was formed by the literature that revealed these views and impressions.

The works of the Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf are among the examples that support this view, especially his book “The Crusades as Seen by the Arabs.”

This is quite similar to the initial perception and view taken by Muslims on the European side, where they described the Franks as “barbarians” and were seen as barbarian regiments who came to destroy the civilization that Muslims had established and to seize the wealth of the Islamic world.

Occidentalism here is similar to Orientalism, as it is not a developed discipline, the boundaries of which are deliberately or knowingly drawn. In fact, Muslims did not consider the Crusaders to be “Western” and did not see them as such.

Perceptions and identity about the West have not been shaped to create a discourse called Occidentalism. Accordingly, Orientalism is a whole set of perceptions and problems. This is a letter posed by those problems.

There is such a thing as Orientalism, and if Orientalism constitutes a kind of force, then it cannot be said that the way to confront this force is to do the opposite, i.e. produce “Occidentalism” and if we follow this path we will not reach a solution.

Orientalism emerged as a problem, and this is not limited to a mere discourse. Orientalism is an accumulation of discourse that is accompanied by an accumulation of power. During the first levels of the accumulation of this discourse, situations such as an inferiority complex, a kind of admiration, and an attempt to understand emerged, instead of a systematic descriptive study and the establishment of an authority directed at Muslims.

By ignoring these matters, we would have made a futile effort, if we were to restart our race against the West and start from the rhetorical level. If settling scores is necessary with the West, it must first begin by challenging the power of Western hegemony. Of course, this challenge requires us to have strength. As power accumulates, discourse builds up automatically.

When it comes to defining the historical foundations, we can say that the first perceptions of the Crusades constituted the first real facts about “Occidentalism”. Then, during the periods when Muslims were motivated by the “conquests”, they had no conception of the east-west direction of the world.

The Islamic conquests also shaped dynamic perceptions of that period. The sound Islamic discourse has a comprehensive nature in its nature, so it is not limited to the East-West axis by limiting itself to geography.

Andalusia is a region in the far west, but Muslims wrote most of the pages of the brightest civilization in their history in this geographical region.

And if the Islamic discourse was confined to geography, the perception of the other that was expressed in the East-West axis would have created limited and narrow perceptions for Muslims for several centuries.

On the other hand, what is remarkable is that Westerners, whom Muslims met from the beginning, had an interest in the heritage of civilizations, which had no meaning to its companions at that time.

Because of the extensive translation activities that began in that period, many Greek classics of Aristotle and Plato were translated into Arabic and acquired a new scope of meaning in the Arab world.

During the period of the Ottoman Empire, the Turks on Europe’s borders continued to collect necessary information about Europe. At the same time, the accounts of government officials and (the few) travelers to Europe contributed to creating a picture of Frankish European life.

The journey of the Ottoman traveler Evliya Celebi can be considered one of the most important sources for travel literature. When you read carefully what he said about some European cities, especially Vienna, you will not find pejorative or insulting language in his words, but on the contrary, you will read pleasant expressions.

If we consider that Occidentalism is a systematic Western system, what we say about it will certainly be different. For once, such a Western scientific discipline has not yet been formed.

Examples of Occidentalism develop as a reaction based on the way the West is confronted and the position taken against it, which is represented either by responding to imperialism, confrontation, and its hostility or admiring and loving it and looking at it as an existing reality without looking at its evils.

All of these situations are possible, and all of them create comprehensive perceptions of the West, but the Western perception is the asymmetric opposite of Orientalism and it is still continuing to create Orientalism. There are those who adopt this perception as a means of understanding revenge.

The Egyptian philosopher and thinker Hassan Hanafi has notable works illustrating this subject, especially his book “Introduction to the Science of Occidentalism,” which also offers nothing but a reproduction of Orientalism.

All criticism of the Muslim world calls for the assimilation of some Western values, and “Occidentalism” as a movement for freedom or independence is a vengeful rivalry to Orientalism, and it is unlikely that there will be any other consequences for these suggestions.

Yasin Aktay
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