Islam and the Modern World

After independence, some Middle Eastern countries adopted Western-style secular governments. Leaders in Egypt and Syria, for example, saw secular government as a means to modernization. In time, however, many secular leaders became authoritarian rulers. At the same time, Western cultural influences, introduced during the age of imperialism, spread. In cities, people bought goods imported from the West. They wore Western fashions and watched American television shows and movies.

Islamic Revival

Some Muslims claimed that Western culture and capitalism were undermining Islamic society. They called for a return to Sharia, or Islamic law based on the Quran, and to traditional customs and values. These conservative reformers, known as Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists, blamed social and economic ill on the West. Only a renewed commitment to Islam, they declared, could improve conditions for Muslims around the world.

Photo of a group of men, some standing and some bowing, in front of a decorate mural with flowers and Arabic script.

Men worship at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. The mosque is large enough to accommodate more than 40,000 worshipers.

Many Muslims welcomed the Islamic movement as a way to cope with rapid social and economic changes. Moderate Islamists wanted to work toward democratic reforms within Islam. Radical Islamists, or fundamentalist extremists, however, advocated violence to achieve their goal.

Radical Islam

Radical Islamic fundamentalist groups in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere sought to overthrow governments that they saw as too closely allied to the West. They also targeted Israel, which had defeated Arabs in several wars, and the United States. Although many governments cracked down on radical Islamic fundamentalists, these groups survived. In 1979, Islamic fundamentalists welcomed Iran's revolution. Iran became the first modern nation to topple a secular government and replace it with a government based on Sharia.

Islam and the Lives of Women

Conditions for women vary greatly across the Muslim Middle East. In the regions' more secular nations, women won the right to vote earlier than in the regions' less secular nations. For example, Turkey granted women suffrage in 1930. In Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon women have had the right to vote since the 1950s.

Photo of a group of men, some in western dress and some in middle eastern robes, marching on a city street and shouting.

Egyptian supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization, celebrate the election of Muhammed Morsi. Morsi, who won the first election held in Egypt after the “Arab Spring,” was overthrown by the military in 2013.


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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments