Response to Maxime Rodinson on Orientalism

Response to Maxime Rodinson on Orientalism

 Hasan A. Yahya, Professor of Philosophy

Working on Crescentologism as a philosophical research approach,  Maxim Rodinson critics of Said Orientalism, makes me respond in this article. It is too late now,  but necessary, after both had died in sequent years 2003 and 2004.  Maxime Rodinson, in his thoughts on the future of researches in Islam, advises students not to be too dogmatic about the phenomenon called Orientalism. He goes as far as to point out that, “There is,… no such thing as Orientalism, Sinology, Iranology, and so forth. Rather there are scientific disciplines defined both by the object of their study and by the direction the study takes, such as sociology, demography, political economy, linguistic, anthropology, ethnology or the various branches of general history. (1)

Rodinson did not deny the existence of a particular field of study labeled “Orientalism” as such but is merely stating that this method of study is supposed to be scientific. What makes his statement nullified his recognition that the studies “defined both by the object of their study and by the direction the study takes.” Which opens the door wide for errors in the object of these studies concerning Orientalism and the errors direction which these studies make.

The object and directions of Orientalism were guided reinforced by European dominance over other societies especially the Middle Eastern and African societies. He himself agrees that “the result was a greatly distorted vision of things.” In spite of these errors of object and direction of Orientalism, he criticized Edward Said’s severely. Western scholars self satisfaction does not mean that their studies are completely valid. But he carries his views to attack Said’s militant philosophy and his nationalistic views.  These views in fact, were behind the object and directions of their studies of Arab, Islam and Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. Others, however, consider Said’s Orientalism  as a “counter-attack” against Western Orientalists. (2)

In my opinion, supporting other scholars in the field of sociology and cultureolgy, Said’s work as a serious study has achieved tremendous success among scholars in both East and West, and instigated  enormous debate. The terms used by Said in Orientalism open the eyes toward them such as “ Ethnocentrism, Imperialism and racism and essentialism, etc., Said’s attack on “Foucaultian perspectives” was because these perspectives reflect the desire for power over others. While I accept his ciritics to Said for being one-sided, I deplore his statement that Orientalism studies were pure of errors of object and direction of Orieantalist studies. Even historical analysis of Orientalist studies can be easily seen by beginners in the study of social sciences.  I would respect his analysis more if.  applied the rules of Crescentologism which I termed to include both the East and West in his attacks. There was the point He as well as Said fell into. (3)

In Three Arab Criques of Orientalism, Donald P. Little examines the works of Tibawi, A. Abdul-Malik and Edward Said. For example he did criticizes Tibawi’s view that Orientalism close the door to study Islam by non-Muslims, Abdul-Malik too, was having the same critique, but accepted his Marxist inclination, where colonization goes hand in hand with Orientalism. (4) After all, Said was right, in describing Post Colonialism  domination.  After leaving the Arab and Muslim world Colonialism continues to work through other means, for example through Christian missionaries which was not only supported but initially accompanied colonial powers for the OBJECT  and DIRECTION of studies of the Orient (according to Rodinson use of the terms) to change the language and religion of the colonized people as it was the case in Algeria, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and Egypt.

Before I conclude this part, there was an anecdote, I like readers to know. It is  about one missionary priest in Nigeria, he called  the people in a small village to follow Jesus in his first visit.  The next visit he brought food and western clothes telling the people that Jesus sent for them as his people. The third visit he asked their permission to let Jesus visit their village,  so he built a small church suit Jesus presence. Few days past, a helicopter began to bring wood and irons, and crosses. The church was built. The villagers were invited to celebrate Jesus in his Church on time of Sunset. In the inauguration day, he called for the Chief of the village to open the ceremony. The Chief stood and shouted: Hay Sa’eed:  Go up over the tower and  call Sunset Athan, for prayer.  (5) (861 words)

Apprviations of Journals consulted in this article: MW The Muslim World.,  IJMES  International Journal of Middle East Studies., IQ  Islamic Quarterly


1.M. Rodinson, Europe and the Mystique of Islam. Trans. From the French by R. Veinus (1988), p.117.

2. Hassan . Gai Review of  Said’s Other Work Covering Islam,IQ, Vol.29, No.I (First Quarter, 1985)pp.52-55.

3. Orientalism and its Critics, IJMES, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1993), pp.158.

4. MW, Vol.69, No.2 (April 1979)pp.110-31.

5. Jabal Muhammad Buaben has an excellent book on the subject titled: Image of the Prophet Muhammad in the West: A Study of Muir, Margoliouth, and Watt,  The Islamic Foundation, London 1996.

Source by hasan A. yahya