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CITIZENSHIP. The concept and form of citizenship evolved gradually from the time of the Greek city-state to the formation of nation-states in the nineteenth century. As reflected in the writings of philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Abbe de Mably and Rousseau, the perception of a subject as a passive member of society was slowly transformed to a citizen as an active member, with certain rights and duties within the community. The modern concept of citizenship within democratic principles allows the citizen to participate in public decisions and imposes various duties, most commonly paying taxes and serving in the military. In modern democracies, then, sovereignty belongs to the citizens of a nation as defined by its laws. Both in concept and in practice, however, in the Western tradition full participation in citizenship was often limited to specific groups. Privileges were granted on the basis of such issues as being bom within the limits of a city-state, sex, class, and property ownership. In Islam, sovereignty belongs to God, and in Islamic history the caliph/sultan ruled over the Islamic community in accordance with shari`ah (Islamic law) based on the Qur’an and the sunnah (the traditions of the prophet Muhammad). Muslims, as subjects of the ruler, had duties defined by Islamic concepts rather than rights acquired as members of a political community.

In principle, the members of the Islamic community, the ummah, were all equal without deference to race, color, or ethnic background. In practice, however, from very early in Islamic history, during the rule of the Umayyad dynasty (661-750 CE), for instance, more than one class of subject emerged. The mawdli (singular, mawld), or Muslims who were non-Arabs or not a full member by descent from an Arab tribe, did not receive equal economic and social benefits and were not fully accepted by the Arab aristocracy.

During the rule of the ‘Abbasid caliphs (750-1258), the practical social order of the Muslim ummah was central to the philosophy of the state. Nevertheless, Muslim philosophers and jurists, such as al-Farabi (d. 95o) and al-Mawardi (d. 1058), raised fundamental questions regarding the relations between the ruler and the ruled and their mutual duties. In his Al-madinah al fadilah (The Ideas of the Citizens of theVirtuousCity), alFarabi set the standards by which states should be judged. Later, during the Mamluk period, one of the most important Muslim philosopher/jurists, Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328), defined the criteria for “just” rulers and the political and social obligations of the community. In all these expressions, the position of the ruler and the subjects were placed within Islamic principles as interpreted by the `ulama’, the learned men of religion. Also, the membership in the ummah recognized no geographical boundaries.

In theOttoman Empire(c.1300-1918), from the midfifteenth century the population was organized into millets, legally recognized religious-communal organizations. The four millets, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Jewish, and Muslim, were differentiated according to their ecclesiastical affiliations and not according to their ethnic and linguistic differences. With privileges granted by the ruler, the millets under religious leadership assumed a number of social and economic responsibilities. The leaders of the millets thus also had fairly extensive civil authority over the membership, including matters related to internal organization, education, and personal status.

The millet system continued long into the nineteenth century-a period of intensive educational, military, and administrative reforms commonly referred to as the Tanzimat (Reorganization) era. With two major reform edicts in 1839 and 1856, the Ottoman government recognized and reaffirmed equality among its subjects and their rights to security of life, honor, and property, preconditions to the modern concept of citizenship. The Ottoman subjects, however, at this time still identified themselves as members of the millets. [See Millet; Tanzimat. ]

Ideas dealing with equality of Muslim and nonMuslim subjects and the protection of rights in return for specific obligations to the state were clearly expressed by some Muslim intellectuals, such as Rifa’ah Rafi’ al-Tahtawi and Mehmed Sadik Rifat Pasha. AlTahtawi, in Mandhij al-albab al-Misriyah f mabdhij aladab al-`asriyah (Methods for Egyptian Minds on the Joys of Modern Manners), outlined the citizens’ duties toward their country (Egypt) as well as their rights. He assigned an active role to the members of the political community. Sadik Rifat Pasha, in his monumental book, Muntehabat-i Asar (Selections of Works), made frequent use of the term halk, the people, and discussed the rights of subjects to liberty.

It was during the nineteenth century that various nationalist tendencies emerged in the Ottoman territories. In 1869 the Ottoman government, in its efforts to provide a viable ideology for the unity of the empire and to curb the interference of European powers andRussiain its domestic affairs, issued the law of nationality and naturalization. Article i of the law stated that all individuals born to an Ottoman father and mother, or only to an Ottoman father, are Ottoman subjects. Article 2 provided that all individuals born in Ottoman territories to parents of foreign nationality can, at the age of majority, claim Ottoman nationality. Other aspects of the law were in accordance with the principles of international conventions.

This was indeed a landmark in the development of the concept and form of citizenship among Muslims. The law provided a new legal concept regarding the status of Ottoman subjects. Ottomans were no longer merely members of a millet but Ottoman nationals. An individual’s relation to the state was now more direct, and his or her obligations to it went beyond those to a millet. The central government, however, did assume certain social and economic responsibilities which previously fell under the purview of the millet administrations. Moreover, by recognizing the right of individuals born in the empire, even to foreign parents, to become Ottoman subjects, the Porte came closer to establishing a modern concept of citizenship related to territorial boundaries of national states.

During the remainder of the nineteenth century, Ottoman intellectuals, notably Nanuk Kemal (1840-1881), discussed the nature of the political system and the individual’s role within it. They recognized certain natural rights for citizens and argued for their preservation. Within the Western liberal political tradition, these writers emphasized “people’s will” and the people’s rights to exercise sovereignty. At the beginning of the twentieth century, similar arguments were heard among Egyptian intellectuals, the nationalist Young Tunisians, and members of the Young Algerian movement.

From the early decades of the twentieth century, as modern nation-states emerged among Muslim populations, governments defined the rights and duties of their citizens. InTurkey, the National Assembly, established in I 92o during the war of independence by the nationalist government under Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk), declared that “sovereignty unconditionally belongs to the people,” thus establishing de facto a republic before its official declaration in 1923. The deposition of the last Ottoman sultan in 1922 and the abolition of the caliphate in 1924 eliminated any legal basis for a challenge to a people’s exercise of political will. The extension of full and equal franchise to women in 1934, permitting them to vote and stand for election and giving them full political rights and duties, allowed all Turkish citizens to become active participants in the political process.

The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 recognizedEgypt’s independence. As other Muslim countries gained their independence-for instance,Indonesia(1945) Transjordan (1946),Libya(1951),TunisiaandMorocco(1956),Algeria(1962)-each country established its own criteria for citizenship, based on its own political ideology, historical experience, and social customs. Although some countries provided their citizens, men and women, Muslim or non-Muslim, with extensive political and social rights (e.g.,Egypt,Iraq, andIndonesia), others (e.g.,KuwaitandSaudi Arabia) limited the privileges of citizenship. InKuwait, two classes of citizenship are still in effect: first-class citizens, whose forebears lived inKuwaitbefore 1922; and second-class citizens, who belong to families that came toKuwaitbetween 1922 and 1945. Those who arrived after 1945 are not considered for citizenship at all. Also, women who are Kuwaiti citizens are disfranchised. In all instances, however, citizenship in Muslim countries is now defined in specific reference to national boundaries, not in view of general membership within the ummah.


Berkes, Niyazi. The Development of Secularism inTurkey.Montreal, 1964. Penetrating study of intellectual currents in late Ottoman and early Turkish history.

Davison, Roderic. Reform in theOttoman Empire, 1856-1876.Princeton, 1963. Detailed study of the Tanzimat reforms. Hourani, Albert. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939.London, 1962. Impressive work on Arab intellectual history. Hourani, Albert. A History of the Arab Peoples.Cambridge, 1992. Eloquently written work dealing with the Arab world from the rise of Islam to the present, with very helpful maps.

Keddie, Nikkie R., and Beth Baron, eds. Women in Middle Eastern History.New Haven, 1992. Articles dealing with important issues related to Muslim women.

Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies.Cambridge, 1989. Particularly enlightening on issues dealing with the social history of Muslim peoples.

Lewis, Bernard. The Emergence of ModernTurkey. 2d ed.LondonandNew   York, 1968. Classic work on modern Turkish history. Lewis, Bernard. The Arabs in History. New ed.OxfordandNew York, 1993. Excellent work covering Islamic history and civilization from the days of Muhammad to modern times.

Mardin, Serif. The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas.Princeton, 1962. Stands alone, particularly in the discussion of the works of leading Young Ottomans (1856-1876).

Riesenberg, Peter. Citizenship in the Western Tradition.Chapel Hill,N.C., andLondon, 1992. Important survey of Western concepts of citizenship, from Greek antiquity to the French Revolution.

Voll, John Obert. Islam, Continuity, and Change in the Modern World. 2d ed.Syracuse,N.Y., 1994. Important work on the influence of Islam in modernizing Muslim societies.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/citizenship/

  • writerPosted On: November 5, 2012
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