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FUTUWAH. Based on the word fata (“youth”) as representing an ideal of manhood and chivalry, futuwah is linked to the idealized figure of `Ali ibn Abi Talib, the prophet Muhammad’s cousin and the first youth to convert to Islam. Historically, futuwah has been associated with popular forms of revivalist Islam, Sufi orders, craft guilds, and elite chivalric orders. As an idea, futuwah probably has pre-Islamic roots in the Middle East, which explains the diversity of forms in which futuwah groups have appeared in different locations at different times, notwithstanding basic similarities among them. Thus in Seljuk Anatolia, akhi brotherhood associations extended hospitality and protection to travelers; in medieval `Abbasid Baghdad, however, futuwah groups appeared as ‘ayyarun, described sometimes as “Robin Hood” operations, and other times as criminals and social riffraff who were feared by the wealthier classes. Historical conditions in medieval Baghdad illustrate the close link between socioeconomic conditions and the particular shape in which futuwah groups appear. Central authority was quite lax in the `Abbasid empire from the tenth to twelfth centuries, and poverty and social strife were prevalent. Brotherhood associations among the poorer urban elements of society came in answer to a power vacuum and the lack of real legitimacy for the Buyids and other military usurpers of the caliph’s authority. The same type of phenomenon appeared in late eighteenth-century Egypt, when Mamluk factions fought over control of central authority, and futuwah groups representing the different hdras (quarters) of Cairo formed vigilante brotherhoods that filled a security vacuum and provided the haras with protection.

It was natural that there was a connection between a particular guild corporation and the futuwahs of a hdra dominated by that guild, and also that there was an affiliation to the predominant Sufi order of the quarter. For example, Cairo’s Husaynlyah quarter had one of the more formidable futuwah groups. Like other “guildquarters,” the Husaynlyah, where butchers usually lived, was dominated by the butchers’ guild, and most were affiliated to the Bayumiyah Sufi order, also associated with butchers.

The connection among craft-guilds, Sufi orders, and futuwah is more a function of the historical situation than a constant relationship. Thus there are cases where a caliph became a member or even founder of a futuwah group, for example the thirteenth-century chivalric brotherhood organized by the caliph al-Nasir. Futuwah brotherhoods are also credited with creating dynastic states; for example, the Saffarid state of Iran said to have begun as a futuwah brotherhood.

Futuwah groups have also often acted as thugs, as gangs, and as extortionists. Thus the `ayyarun in Baghdad often forced their “protection” on the wealthier members of their community, established their authority over the local markets, and exacted tribute from merchants and inhabitants of their quarters. Groups like the hardfish in twentieth-century Egypt acted in the same way and had the same type of `asabiyah (esprit de corps), which kept their brotherhoods closely associated. The hardfish, however, are not really recognized as futuwah because of the general acceptance that such orders ceased to exist with the establishment of modern nation-states.

There is a case for historical continuity to be made in regard to the similarities between premodern futuwah groups and contemporary radical Islamic cells. Both phenomena represented elements of popular political resistance, opposition to state authority, and class struggle; they required absolute loyalty from their members, whether or not they administered an oath and held a ceremony of induction; and they demanded obedience to a recognized leader, amir, or qa’id. Their heroes were Muslim “activists” like the prophet Muhammad, `All, Abu Muslim al-Khurasani or, for modern groups, “martyrs” like Hasan al-Banna’. Both groups espoused a purist and righteous Islamic ideology that justified whatever actions were deemed necessary for the good of the group. These actions could include robbing nonMuslims, punishing “bad” Muslims, assassinating enemies, or exacting tribute from merchants, craftsmen, and inhabitants of the quarters and towns they dominated. Both modern and premodern groups have been known to work closely with the police of shurtah, sometimes cooperating with them and working against them at other times, depending on whether their interests coincided. The contemporary reappearance of traditional indigenous forms of social alliances as preferable methods of class struggle partially explains the lack of a viable activist labor movement in Islamic countries. Islamic brotherhoods join together diverse elements of the public, including students, skilled labor, semiskilled labor, professionals, and often police and army officers. In the final analysis, notwithstanding their outward shape, ceremonies, or names, modern Muslim brotherhoods, like their medieval and premodern precedents, draw their members from popular and impoverished social elements; and their associations, however different they may be, represent a historically recurrent form of resistance to the official power of the state.

[See also `Asabiyah; Guilds.]


Raymond, Andre. Artisans et commercants au Caire au XVIIIe siecle. Vol. t. Damascus, 1973.

Staffa, Susan Jane. Conquest and Fusion: The Social Evolution of Cairo, 642-1850. Leiden, 1977.

Taeschner, Fr. “Futuwwa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 2, pp. 961-969. Leiden, 196o-.


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

  • writerPosted On: March 10, 2013
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