Ram Madhav
June 8, 2020

The Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World

Completed another very interesting course by Dr. Ebrahim Afsah of the Copenhagen University on “The Constitutional Struggles in the Muslim World”. This 10-week course deals with the recent histories of almost all the Muslim countries in the world including those in the Middle East, North Africa, South East Asia and the Indian Sub-continent.

Certainly a very informative course for understanding the transition of many of these countries from colonial past to quasi-democratic independence to finally Islamism in the last few centuries. Dr. Afsah talks about the history of each country from the colonial period or the period around that time in case of countries like Turkey and Iran which were not colonised, and traces their journeys after they were freed from the colonial or monarchical yoke.

Majority of the countries have had dysfunctional democracies inherited from their colonial masters initially in the 20th century. But eventually, except for countries in S E Asia like Malaysia and Indonesia, most of them have fallen prey to Islamist forces. Dr. Afsah attributes this fall to the failure to build proper political and administrative institutions in those countries. Only institutions that remained strong in many of these countries were the military institutions, leading to repeated coups. Multi-ethnic and multi-racial nature also had led to Islam emerging as the only binding force.

History of the transition of countries like the Ottaman Turkey, Shah’s Iran, Afghanistan and Malayan Dutch colonies of Malaysia and Indonesia is fascinating to hear, as also the story of three North African countries. The course has two problems. One is that the teacher, Dr Afsah’s narrative is slow and not fluent. The lecture gets tedious sometimes. Also, he tried to cover a large number of countries in a 10-week period, leading to some aspects in some countries being rushed through. And the good thing is that Dr. Afsah has good opinion about India, which he conveys on a couple of occasions during his narrative about Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Overall, an interesting course to have a peep into the recent political and constitutional history of the Muslim world.

Published by Ram Madhav

Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation

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