Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje: History Of Orientalist Manipulation Of Islam
“According to Snouck the fundamental problem with Islam was the fact that Muslims believed in the need for Unity of State, with a Khalifah governing over all of them according to Sharia law. In a letter to Goldziher in 1886, one year after his journey to Mecca, Snouck said: “… I never had any objections to the religious elements of this institute [Islam]. Only its political influence is, in my opinion, deplorable. And as a Dutchmen especially I feel a strong need to warn against this.”
Although dead for over half a century, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje remains a highly controversial figure in both the western and the Muslim world.
In his time he was a world-famous orientalist, because he had travelled to Mecca and studied and documented Muslim life there. For many years also he lived and worked amongst the Muslims in Indonesia, making him an expert in the traditions, languages and religion of the various tribes in Indonesia.
To the people and governments of the west he always presented himself as a scientist. And as a scientist he advised various western governments on “Muslim affairs”. At the same time he presented himself as a sincere Muslim – and not as a scientist – to the people of the Muslim world that he lived with and studied. Amongst them he went by the name of “Abdul Ghaffaar”. As an Islamic scholar he even counseled the Muslims on religious and political affairs.
Because he played this dual role throughout his life, today, both in the western and in the Muslim world, he is held in great esteem by some and doubted by others. This article intends to set out the facts regarding Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje.
During Snouck’s time, just as now, the “Issue of Islam” was high on the political agenda. And clearly, Snouck Hurgronje was not a scientist who remained on the sidelines of the issue. As a spy and advisor to the Dutch government he actively worked on solutions for the problems the Dutch were facing. Wherever In Indonesia there was a fire to be put out, there Snouck would be sent to ensure the Dutch regained control over the Muslims. But Snouck also worked on longer term solutions to the problems of the Dutch in Indonesia.
According to Snouck the fundamental problem with Islam was the fact that Muslims believed in the need for Unity of State, with a Khalifah governing over all of them according to Sharia law. In a letter to Goldziher in 1886, one year after his journey to Mecca, Snouck said: “… I never had any objections to the religious elements of this institute [Islam]. Only its political influence is, in my opinion, deplorable. And as a Dutchmen especially I feel a strong need to warn against this.”
According to Snouck it was the political side of Islam that caused all the problems for the Dutch in Indonesia – because it motivated the Indonesians to resist the Dutch occupation. But, according to Snouck the political side of Islam was a problem for the Muslims themselves also. According to him the belief of the Muslims in the Islamic State Al Khilafah with Islamic Law is what kept them backward. Snouck was of the opinion that the Shariah laws were not really revealed laws, but were laws invented by the Muslims of the Middle Ages. Because the Muslims believed they were revealed laws, and hence did not want to distance themselves from these laws, the Muslims were stuck in the Middle Ages, Snouck argued. Colonialism was really a blessing, Snouck therefore said, because it introduced the Muslims to the modern ideas of the Enlightenment, secularism, personal freedom and democracy. Snouck said: “The approximately 230.000.000 Mohammedans that live under non-Muslim rule very often do not have sufficient awareness of history to be able to recognize that the change in governance has meant an improvement for them. They look at the political history of Islam through the veil of a legend. And if and when this legend gives reason to complain, they usually belief that all these complaints would be resolved if the Emir al Mu’umineen would manage their affairs.”