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ISLAM. [This entry consists of an overview of the origins and development of the classical Islamic tradition and eight historical surveys that trace the spread of Islam throughout the world:

An Overview

Islam in the Middle East and North Africa Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus Islam in China

Islam in South Asia

Islam in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islam in Europe

Islam in the Americas

For further discussions of classical Islam, see Sunni Islam and Shi i Islam. For further discussion of Muslim religious life in global perspective, see Popular Religion.]


An Overview

Islam is the second largest of the world’s religions. Muslim countries extend from North Africa to Southeast Asia, but the one billion members of the Islamic community stretch across the globe. Muslims constitute a majority in more than forty-eight countries and a significant minority in many others. Though the Arab world is often regarded as the heartland of Islam, the majority of Muslims are in fact to be found in Asia and Africa, homes to the largest Muslim communities: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and Nigeria. Islam has grown significantly in recent years in the West, where it is now the second largest religion in many parts of Europe and the third in the United States.

The term Islam is derived from the Arabic root s-l-m, which means submission or peace. Muslims are those who surrender to God’s will or law and as a result, Muslims believe, are at peace with themselves and with God. To embrace Islam is to become a member of a worldwide faith community (ummah). Thus, believers have both an individual and corporate religious identity and

responsibility or duty to obey and implement God’s will in personal and social life.

Islam stands in a long line of Middle Eastern, prophetic religious traditions that share an uncompromising monotheism, belief in God’s revelation, prophets, ethical responsibility, and accountability, and the Day of Judgment. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are children of Abraham (Ibrahim), although they belong to different branches of the same family. Jews and Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham and his wife, Sarah, through their son Isaac, and Muslims trace their lineage back to Isma’il, Abraham’s first-born son by his Egyptian servant, Hagar. Islamic tradition teaches that Abraham, pressured by Sarah, who feared that Isma’il as first born would overshadow her son, Isaac, took Hagar and Isma’il to the vicinity of Mecca, where Isma’il became the father of the Arabs in Northern Arabia.

Origins and Early Development. Arabia is the heartland of Islam where, in the seventh century CE, Muslims believe, the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad, he preached God’s message, and he established the first Islamic community. Pre-Islamic Arabian society, with its tribal, polytheistic ethos, provided the context for the rise of Islam. Tribal gods and goddesses served as protectors of individual tribes, were feared rather than loved, and were the objects of cultic rituals (sacrifice and pilgrimage). Mecca, the commercial and religious center of Arabia, possessed a central shrine, the Ka’bah, a cube-shaped building that housed the 36o idols of tribal patron deities, the site of a great annual pilgrimage. Arabian polytheism also included belief in a supreme high god. Allah (“the god”) was the creator and sustainer of life, but remote from everyday concerns, and thus not the object of cult or ritual.

The value system or ethical code of Arabian society was not attributed to God, but was the product of a tribal tradition. The key virtue or basis for Arabia’s code of honor, manliness (muruwah), emphasized bravery and the preservation of tribal and family honor. Tribal justice was guaranteed not by God but by the threat of group vengeance or retaliation. Arabian fatalism denied meaning or accountability beyond this lifeno resurrection of the body, divine judgment, eternal punishment or reward.

The monotheistic message of the Qur’an and preaching of Muhammad did not occur in a vacuum. Monotheism had been flourishing in Arab (Judaism and Christianity) and Iranian cultures (Zoroastrianism) for centuries preceding Muhammad’s ministry. Both Jewish and Christian Arab communities had also been present in Arabia itself before Muhammad. Finally, in addition to biblical monotheism, a local or indigenous monotheistic presence existed among pre-Islamic Arab monotheists, called hanifs. The Qur’an (3.17) and Muslim tradition portray them as descendants of Abraham and his son Isma’il. Muhammad’s travels as a caravan leader and his personal relationships brought him into contact with pre-Islamic forms of monotheism.

God, the Qur’an, and the Prophet Muhammad. At the center and foundation of Islam is Allah, the God, whose name appears more than 2,500 times in the Qur’an. In a polytheistic society, Muhammad declared the sole existence of Allah, the transcendent, allpowerful, and all-knowing Creator, Sustainer, Ordainer, and Judge of the universe. The absolute monotheism of Islam is preserved in the doctrine of the unity (tawhid) and sovereignty (rabb, ruler or lord) of God that dominates Islamic belief and practice. As God is one, God’s rule and will or law are comprehensive, extending to all creatures and to all aspects of life. [See Tawhid.]

The Qur’an underscores the awesome power and majesty of God and the Day of judgment, but it also reveals a merciful and just judge. Its initial chapter and subsequent chapters begin with: “In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate”. The Qur’an declares that its author is the Most Merciful (36.5), in it is a Mercy (29.51) and its motivation is the Mercy of God (21.107). The lesson of God’s mercy proclaimed by the Qur’an has been institutionalized by the Muslim practice of beginning important matters, such as a letter, public speech, or book, with the phrase: “In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate.” God’s mercy exists in dialectical tension with his justice. Reward and punishment follow from individual ethical responsibility and accountability before an all-knowing and just judge. Thus, Islamic ethics follows from human beings’ special status and responsibility on earth.

For Muslims, the Qur’an is the Book of God (kitab al-Allah). It is the eternal, uncreated, literal word of God (kalam Allah), sent down from heaven, revealed one final time to the prophet Muhammad as a guidance for humankind (2.185). Islam teaches that God’s revelation has occurred in several forms: in nature, history, and scripture. God revealed his will for humankind through a series of messengers (including Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad): “Indeed, We sent forth among every nation a Messenger, saying: `Serve your God, and shun false gods’ ” (16.36).

Although God had sent a revelation to Moses and Jesus, Muslims believe that the scriptures of the Jewish community (Torah) and of the Christian church (the Evangel or Gospel) are corrupted versions of the original revelation. The current texts of the Torah and the New Testament are regarded as a composite of human fabrications, nonbiblical beliefs that infiltrated the texts, and remnants of the original revelation. Thus, the Qur’an does not abrogate or nullify, but rather corrects the versions of scripture preserved by the Jewish and Christian communities (5.19). From a Muslim viewpoint, Islam is not a new religion with a new scripture. Rather than being the youngest of the major monotheistic world religions, it is considered by Muslims to be the oldest religion. Islam represents the “original” as well as final revelation of the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

History, Muslim belief, and legend portray Muhammad (570-632) as a remarkable man and prophet. Although we know a good deal about Muhammad’s life after his “call” to be God’s messenger, historical records tell us little about Muhammad’s early years prior to becoming a prophet. The Qur’an has served as a major source for information regarding the fife of the Prophet along with Prophetic traditions (sg., hadith; reports about what Muhammad said and did) and biographies that reveal Muhammad’s meaning and significance in early Islam. Muhammad serves as both God’s human instrument in bearing witness to and preaching his revelation and the model or ideal whom all believers are to emulate.

At the age of forty during the month of Ramadan (610), Muhammad the caravan leader became Muhammad the messenger of God. On “The Night of Power and Excellence,” as Muslims call it, he received the first of many divine revelations which would continue over a period of twenty-two years (610-632). These messages were finally collected and written down in the Qur’an (The Recitation), Islam’s sacred scripture.

For the powerful and prosperous Meccan oligarchy, the monotheistic message of this would-be reformer, with its condemnation of the socioeconomic inequities of Meccan life, constituted a direct challenge not only to traditional polytheistic religion but also to the power and prestige of the establishment, threatening their economic, social, and political interests. The Prophet denounced false contracts, usury, the neglect and exploitation of orphans and widows. He defended the rights of the poor and the oppressed, asserting that the rich had an obligation to the poor and dispossessed. Muhammad rejected polytheism, claimed prophetic authority and leadership, and insisted that all true believers belonged to a single universal community (ummah) that transcended tribal bonds.

Creation of the Islamic Community. After ten years of preaching, faced with limited success and mounting persecution, Muhammad and two hundred of his followers emigrated in 622 to Medina. This migration, known as the Hijrah, marked a turning point in Muhammad’s fortunes and a new stage in the history of the Islamic movement. Islam took on political form with the establishment of an Islamic community/state at Medina. The significance of the Hijrah (and of community in Islam) is reflected in its adoption as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muhammad became prophet-head of a religio-political community. He established his leadership in Medina, subdued Mecca, and consolidated Muslim rule over the remainder of Arabia through diplomatic and military means and conversion. [See Hijrah. ]

Muhammad’s impact on Muslim life and history cannot be overestimated. The reformism of the first Islamic movement under the leadership of Muhammad became the reference point and model for later Islamic renewal or revivalist movements. Moreover, his character and personality inspired uncommon confidence and commitment, so much so that the practice of the Prophet, his sunnah or example, became the norm for community life. Muslims observed, remembered, and recounted stories about what the Prophet said and did. These hadiths were preserved and passed on in oral and written form. The corpus of tradition literature reveals the comprehensive scope of Muhammad’s example. Traditions of the Prophet provide guidance for personal hygiene, dress, eating, marriage, treatment of wives, diplomacy, and warfare. [See Hadith.]

The reformist spirit of the Qur’an and of the Prophet’s message affected religious ritual as well as politics and society. A process of adaptation or islamization characterized much of early Islam’s development. Although some pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs and institutions were rejected and others introduced, the more common method was to reformulate or adapt existing practices to Islamic norms and values. Rituals such as pilgrimage (hajj) and prayer (salat) were reformulated and reinterpreted. The Ka’bah in Mecca remained the sacred center for annual pilgrimage. However, it was no longer a shrine associated with tribal idols, which were destroyed, but rather rededicated to Allah, for whom, Muslims believe, Abraham and Isma`il had originally built the Ka’bah or House of God.

Muhammad introduced a new moral order in which the origin and end of all actions was not self or tribal interest but God’s will. Belief in the Day of judgment and resurrection of the body added a dimension of human responsibility and accountability that had been absent in Arabian religion. Tribal vengeance and retaliation were subordinated to belief in a just and merciful creator and judge. A society based on tribal affiliation and manmade tribal law or custom was to be replaced by a religiously bonded community, governed by God’s law.

The Qur’an proclaimed that God “made you into nations and tribes” (49.13). As God had previously called the Jews and then Christians to a covenant relationship, the Qur’an declared that Muslims now constituted the new community of believers who were to be an example to other nations (2.143) with a mission to create a moral social order: “You are the best community evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (3.110). This command has influenced Muslim practice throughout the centuries, providing a rationale for political and moral activism. Government regulations, Islamic laws, the activities of religious officials and police who monitor public morality or behavior have all been justified as expressions of this moral mission to command the good and prohibit evil. [See Ummah. ]

The Paths of Islam: Law and Mysticism. Islam’s message was formulated in the formative centuries of classical Islam, providing a way of life whose letter or duties were delineated by Islamic law and whose spirit was embodied in the emergence of Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Islam emphasizes practice more than belief. As a result, law rather than theology is the central religious discipline and locus for defining the path of Islam and preserving its way of life. Islamic law (shad `ah), and with it a system of Islamic courts and judges (qadis), developed during the first Islamic centuries. Islamic law is a comprehensive law which combines a Muslim’s duties to God and to society, incorporating regulations governing prayer and fasting as well as family, penal, and international law. The Straight Path of Muslim life is set forth in an idealized blueprint. The four sources of law came to be identified in Sunni Islam as the Qur’an, the example (sunnah) of the prophet Muhammad, reason (rules derived from the Qur’an and sunnah by analogy, qiyas) and community consensus (ijma’). Both Sunni and Shi’i Islam accept the Qur’an and sunnah of the Prophet as authoritative textual sources, but the Shi is have maintained their own collections of traditions that also include the sunnah of ‘Ali and the imams. In addition, the Shi’is reject analogy and consensus as legal sources, since they regard the imam as the supreme legal interpreter and authority. In his absence, qualified religious scholars serve as his agents or representatives, interpreters (mujtahids) of the law. Their consensus guides the community and is binding during the interim between the seclusion of the imam and his final messianic return. [See Sunnah; Shari ah; Qadi; Consensus; and Law.]

While God, the Qur’an, and the prophet Muhammad unite all Muslims in their common belief, the Five Pillars of Islam provide a unity of practice in the midst of the community’s rich diversity. The pillars are the common denominator, the five essential obligatory practices that all Muslims must follow: (1) the profession of faith; (2) worship or prayer; (3) almsgiving; (4) fasting; and (5) pilgrimage to Mecca.

1. Profession of Faith. A Muslim is one who proclaims (shahddah, witness or testimony), “There is no God but the God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” This brief yet profound testimony marks a person’s entry into the Islamic community. It affirms Islam’s absolute monotheism and acceptance of Muhammad as the messenger of God, the last and final prophet. [See Shahadah.]

2. Worship or Prayer. Five times each day Muslims throughout the world are called to worship (salat, worship or prayer) God. Facing the holy city of Mecca, Islam’s spiritual homeland, Muslims recall the revelation of the Qur’an and reinforce a sense of belonging to a single, worldwide community of believers. On Friday, the noon prayer is a congregational prayer which usually takes place in a mosque (masjid, place of prostration). Since there is no clergy or priesthood in Islam, any Muslim may lead (imam, leader) the prayer. [See Salat; Imam.]

3. Almsgiving. The third pillar of Islam is the zakat, a religious tithe (or almsgiving) on accumulated wealth and assets, not simply income. Payment of the zakat instills a sense of communal identity and responsibility, the duty to attend to the community’s social welfare. [See Zakat.]

4. Fasting. Once each year, Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan. From dawn to dusk, abstention from food, drink, and sex are required of all healthy

Muslims. The primary emphasis is not so much on abstinence and self-mortification as such but rather on spiritual self-discipline, reflection, and the performance of good works. The month of Ramadan ends with a great celebration, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, `Id al-Fitr, one of the great religious holy days and holidays of the Muslim calendar. Family members come from near and far to feast and exchange gifts in a celebration that lasts for three days. [See Sawm; Ramadan; `Id alFitr. ]

5. Pilgrimage. Ramadan is followed by the beginning of the pilgrimage season. Every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able is expected to perform the pilgrimage (h ajj) to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. In recent years, almost two million Muslims a year from every part of the globe make the physical journey to the spiritual center of Islam, where they again experience the unity, breadth, and diversity of the Islamic community. The pilgrimage ends with the celebration of Great Feast (`Id al-Kabir or `Id al-Adha), the Feast of Sacrifice, which commemorates God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isma`il (Isaac in Jewish and Christian traditions). [See Hajj; `Id alAdha. ]

jihad, “to strive or struggle” in the way of God, is sometimes referred to as the “sixth pillar of Islam,” although it has no such official status. In its most general meaning, jihad refers to the obligation incumbent on all Muslims, as individuals and as a community, to exert (jihad) themselves to realize God’s will-to lead a virtuous life and to spread the Islamic community through preaching, education, and example. However, it also includes the struggle for or defense of Islam, holy war. Despite the fact that jihad is not supposed to include aggressive warfare, this has occurred, as exemplified by early extremists such as the Khawarij and contemporary jihad groups such as Egypt’s Jama`at al-Jihad (which assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981). [See Jihad.]

The development of Islamic law was paralleled in the eighth and ninth centuries by another movement, Sufism or Islamic mysticism. If law is the exterior or outer path of Islam’s duties and obligations, Sufism is the interior or inner path which emphasizes detachment from the distractions and deceptiveness of this world. It focuses more on an interior spiritual life of personal piety, morality, and devotional love of God. By the twelfth century what had been primarily circles of spiritual elites were transformed into a mass, popular movement. A vast network of orders or brotherhoods spread Sufism from the Atlantic to Southeast Asia, as its combination of the esoteric and the ecstatic offered a spirituality that won the hearts of educated and uneducated alike. Its attractiveness to the masses of Muslims and its strength as a missionary vehicle came from its spiritual vision and ritual practices as well as its more inclusive, accommodationist, and syncretist tendencies. As such, Sufism was experienced as a challenge to the law-centered, Islamic orthodoxy of the `ulama’, (religions scholars), many of whom denounced its esoteric claims and accommodation of “foreign, un-Islamic” doctrines and practices. Sufi orders became international in organization and scope, extending from North Africa across Central Asia to Southeast Asia. [See Sufism.]

The Muslim Community in History. The period of Muhammad and the first four caliphs of Islam, the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (632-661), is remembered by Sunni Muslims as the best of times, the normative period to which the community has often returned for guidance and inspiration. During this time, the spread of Islam and conquest of Arabia were completed, and Islamic rule was extended throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa. In successive centuries, two great caliphates, the Umayyad (661-750) in Damascus and the `Abbasid (749-1258) in Baghdad, oversaw the consolidation of Muslim power, the expansion of Islamic empire as a world political force, and the development and flourishing of Islamic civilization. [See Rightly Guided Caliphs; Umayyad Dynasty; `Abbasid Dynasty.]

Muslim armies, fired by their new faith and lured by the spoils of war, overran the Eastern (Roman) Byzantine and the Sassanian (Persian) Empires. The purpose of the early wars or jihads was not conversion but conquest, booty, and the spread of Islam’s (God’s) rule. As Islam spread to new territories, inhabitants were offered three choices: (i) conversion to Islam and full membership or citizenship; (2) “protection”-Jews and Christians, known as “People of the Book” (i.e., those who possessed a sacred book) in exchange for payment of a head or poll tax (jizyah) possessed a more limited form of citizenship as “protected people” (dhimmi), by which they were allowed to practice their faith and be ruled in their private lives by their religious leaders and law; or (3) combat or the sword for those who resisted and rejected Muslim rule. Much of Islam’s expansion throughout history was the result of the activities of merchants, traders, and mystics, as well as soldiers, who proved effective missionaries in carrying the message of Islam from Africa to Southeast Asia, from Timbuktu to Sumatra, and from Central Asia to Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy. [See Jizyah; Dhimmi.]

After the destruction of the `Abbasid Empire by the Mongols in 1258, from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century the Islamic world consisted of a string of local states or sultanates. Among the most powerful sultanates or empires were the Ottoman (Turkey and much of the Arab world and Eastern Europe), the Safavid in Persia, and the Mughal in the Indian subcontinent. [See Ottoman Empire; $afavid Dynasty; Mughal Empire.]

Sectarianism: Sunni and Shii Islam. The issue of leadership after the death of Muhammad led to a major split in the Muslim community and gave rise to its two major branches or divisions: the Sunni, who today represent about 85 percent of the world’s Muslims, and the Shi’i, who constitute 15 percent. The Sunni majority believe that Muhammad died without designating a successor. Thus, the elders of the community selected or elected a caliph (khalifah or successor of the prophet Muhammad) to be political leader of the Islamic community-state or caliphate. The Shi’i minority believe that Muhammad did in fact designate the senior male of his family, his son-in-law and cousin, `All ibn Abi Talib, to lead the community. The Shi’is or partisans of `All, maintained that the leader (imam) of the Muslim community should be a descendant of the family of the Prophet. Thus, `All’s followers believed that he, and not the first caliph Abu Bakr, should have succeeded the Prophet.

Shi’i were among the early opposition to the Umayyad caliphs. The founder of the Umayyad dynasty, Mu`awiyah, was a provincial governor who had challenged ‘Ali when he had “finally” succeeded Muhammad and become the fourth caliph of Islam; subsequently he seized power at `All’s death. Husayn, the son of `All, led a small band of followers against the army of Yazid, Mu`awiyah’s son and successor, in 68o in which he and his army were slaughtered at Karbala (in modern-day Iraq). The martyrdom of Husayn and its ritual commemoration became a central religious paradigm for Shi’i Islam and its history as a righteous and aggrieved minority community living under Sunni Muslim rule. Thus the Shi’ l developed their own distinctive vision of leadership and history, centered on the martyred family of the Prophet and based on the belief that leadership of the Islamic community rightfully resided in the imamate, the religiopolitical leaders and descendents of `Ali or his sons Husayn and Hasan. [See Karbala; and the biographies of `All ibn Abi Talib and Husayn ibn `All.]

The fundamental difference between Sunni and Shi`i Islam is their institutions for leadership, the imamate and the caliphate. For Shi’i Islam the Imam is not just the political successor (caliph) of the prophet Muhammad but the religiopolitical leader of the community. Though not a prophet, for Muhammad is the last of the prophets, Shi’ i belief came to regard the Imam as religiously inspired, perfect and sinless. ‘Ali and his wife Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad, along with their children Hasan and Husayn came to constitute a holy family in Shi’i piety; their tombs are the objects of veneration and pilgrimage. Whereas Sunni Islam came to place religious authority for interpreting Islam in the consensus (ijma`) of the `ulama’, who represented the collective judgment of the community, for Shi’i Islam continued divine guidance could be found in the Imam, who is the final religious authority. Thus, the lives and traditions of `All and the other great Imams of Shiism, after the Qur’an and the sunnah of the Prophet, are sources of guidance for Shi’i Islam. Similarly, Sunni and Shi’i Islam developed differing concepts of the meaning of history. For Sunni Muslims, early Islamic success, power, and wealth were the signs of God’s guidance and reward for a faithful community as well as validation of Muslim belief and claims. For Shi’i Muslims, history is the theater for the oppressed and disinherited minority community to restore God’s rule on earth and the authority of the Imam over the entire community of believers. A righteous community was to persist in the struggle, as had ‘Ali against the Sunni caliph Mu`awiyah and Husayn against Yazid, to reestablish God’s will, the righteous rule of the Imam. Realization of a just social order under the Imam was to become a messianic expectation for centuries as Shi’i Muslims continued to struggle and live under Sunni rule.

Historically, Shi`i Islam split into two major branches in the eighth century, dependent on their recognition of either twelve or seven Imams or descendants of Muhammad-the Ithna `Ashari (Twelvers) and the Isma`ilis (sometimes called the Seveners). The numerical designation of each was caused by the death or disappearance of their Imam and disruption of hereditary succession. The Twelvers believe that the twelfth Imam (Muhammad al-Muntazir, or Muhammad the Awaited One) disappeared in 874. His disappearance was theologically resolved by the belief that the imam had gone into hiding or occultation. Shi i were to await his return as the Mahdi (expected one) who would restore the Shi’i community to its rightful place and usher in a reign of justice and peace. [See Ithna `Ashariyah; Isma`iliyah; Mahdi.]

Modern Islam. From the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries the Islamic world has witnessed a protracted period of upheaval and renewal. Muslims struggled with the failures of their societies, the impact of European colonialism, and subsequent superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and responded to the intellectual and moral challenges of a changing world. In the nineteenth century across much of the Muslim world, a series of revivalist movements rose up: the Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, the Mahdists in Sudan, the Sanusi in Libya, the Fulani in Nigeria, and the Padri in Indonesia. Though quite different in many respects, these shared a common concern about the decline of Muslim fortunes and a common conviction that the cure was a purification of their societies and way of life by a more faithful return to pristine Islam, to the teachings of the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet. Many called for the suppression or reform of Sufism, rejected historical assimilation of foreign, un-Islamic “innovations” (beliefs and practices), and claimed the right, to interpret (ijtihad) Islam. However, they did not seek to reinterpret or reformulate Islamic law and practice in light of contemporary needs, but rather to return to and restore the practice of the early Islamic community. These religiomoral movements created communities of like-minded believers, committed to the creation of Islamic societies. They were often transformed into political movements that established Islamic states, forerunners of modern states.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Islamic modernist movements responded to the intellectual and political challenge of Western hegemony. Wishing to bridge the gap between their Islamic heritage and modernity, between traditional religious and modern secular leaders, men such as Jamal al-Din alAfghani and Muhammad `Abduh in the Middle East and Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Muhammad Iqbal in South Asia sought to rejuvenate and restore the pride, identity, and strength of a debilitated Islamic community. They advocated what was essentially a process of Islamic acculturation, emphasizing the compatibility of Islam with reason, science, and technology. All argued for Islamic reform, for the need to reinterpret Islam in light of the new questions and issues which were brought by modern life. Maintaining that Islam and modernity, revelation and reason, were compatible, they advocated religious, legal, educational, and social reforms to revitalize the Muslim community.

Islamic modernism inspired movements for reform and national independence but remained attractive primarily to an intellectual elite. It failed to produce a systematic reinterpretation of Islam or develop effective organizations to preserve, propagate, and implement its message. This limitation contributed to the emergence of Islamic organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Jama’at-i Islam! (Islamic Society) in South Asia. The founders of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hasan al-Banna’) and the Jama’at-i Islam! (Abu al-A’la Mawdudi) criticized secular elites for simply emulating the West and Islamic modernist reformers for westernizing Islam. In particular, they condemned the tendency of most Muslim countries to adapt uncritically Western models of development and thus westernize Muslim societies. Instead they proclaimed the self-sufficiency of Islam as a response to the demands of modern life. Islam, they asserted, offers its own alternative path to capitalism and communism/socialism; it is a total, comprehensive way of life. The objective of these Islamic reformers was to establish effective organizations to implement an Islamic system of government and law through social and political action.

During the post-World War II era, most of the Muslim world regained its independence. Many of the newly emerging independent states, including Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, and Pakistan, were carved out by European colonial powers, who created states with artificial or arbitrarily drawn boundaries and even appointed their rulers. Thus, political legitimacy and national identity/unity compounded the problem of nation building and remained critical issues. Although Turkey chose a secular path and Saudi Arabia emerged as a selfdeclared Islamic state, the majority of Muslim nations, guided by Western-oriented elites, combined Westerninspired political, economic, legal, educational development with a minimal recognition of the role of Islam in public life. Because the West provided the models for modern development, the presupposition and expectation was that modernization and development would necessarily lead to progressive westernization and secularization. Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979-1980 shattered this assumption and for many raised fears of the spread of “militant Islam,” “Khomeineism,” or “Islamic fundamentalism.”

Islamic Revivalism or “Fundamentalism.” Much of the reassertion of religion in politics and society has been subsumed under the term “Islamic fundamentalism.” Although fundamentalism is a common designation, in the press and among many experts, it is used in a variety of ways. For a number of reasons, it tells us everything and yet, at the same time, tells us nothing. First, all those who call for a return to foundational beliefs or the fundamentals of a religion can be called fundamentalist. In a strict sense, this could include all practicing Muslims who accept the Qur’an as the literal word of God and the sunnah of the prophet Muhammad as a normative model for living. Second, understanding and perceptions of fundamentalism are heavily influenced by American Protestantism. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, for example, defines fundamentalism as “a movement in twentieth century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.”

For many liberal or mainline Christians, fundamentalist is a pejorative or derogatory term applied rather indiscriminately to all those who advocate a literalist biblical position and thus are regarded as static, retrogressive, and extremist. As a result, fundamentalism often has been regarded popularly as referring to those who are literalists and wish to return to and replicate the past. In fact, few individuals or organizations in the Middle East fit such a stereotype. Indeed, many fundamentalist leaders have had the best educations, enjoy responsible positions in society, and are adept at harnessing the latest technology to propagate their views and create viable modern institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and social-service agencies. Third, the term fundamentalism is often equated with political activism, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism, and anti-Americanism. While some Islamic activists or Islamists engage in radical religiopolitics, most work within the established order.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the many faces and postures of fundamentalism is to consider the following. Fundamentalism is a term that has been applied to the governments of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. Yet the term fundamentalism reveals little about the nature of governments and of their Islamic character. Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhafi has claimed the right to interpret Islam, questioned the authenticity of the traditions of the prophet Muhammad, silenced the religious establishment as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, and advocated a populist state of the masses. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, by contrast, have aligned themselves with the `ulama’, preached a more literalist brand of Islam, and used religion to legitimate a conservative monarchy. Qadhdhafi’s portrayal as an unpredictable, independent supporter of worldwide terrorism stands in sharp relief against the image of low-key, conservative, proAmerican King Fahd. Similarly, the foreign policy of the clerically run ShN state of Iran contrasted sharply with the military regime which implemented Pakistan’s Islamic system (nizdm-i Islam) under General Zia ulHaq (1977-1988). Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini was highly critical, even condemnatory of the West, often at odds with the international community, and regarded as a radical terrorist state, while Pakistan under the Islamically oriented Zia ul-Haq was a close ally of the United States, had relations with the West and the international community, and was generally regarded as moderate.

Islam reemerged as a potent global force in Muslim politics during the 1970s and 1980s. Contemporary Islamic revivalism embraced much of the Muslim world from Sudan to Indonesia. Governments in the Muslim world as well as opposition groups and political parties increasingly appealed to religion for legitimacy and to mobilize popular support. Islamic activists have held cabinet-level positions in Jordan, Sudan, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Islamic organizations have constituted the leading opposition parties/organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Where permitted, they have participated in elections and served in parliament and in city government. Islam has been a significant ingredient in nationalist struggles and resistance movements in Afghanistan, the Muslim republics of Soviet Central Asia, in Kashmir, and in the communal politics of Lebanon, India, Thailand, China, and the Philippines.

Islamic activist (fundamentalist) organizations have run the spectrum from those who have participated within the system, such as the Muslim Brotherhoods in Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan, the Jama`at-i Islami in South Asia, Tunisia’s Hizb al-Nahdah (Renaissance Party), and Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front. At the same time, radical revolutionaries, such as Egypt’s Society of Muslims (known more popularly as Takfir waal-Hijrah, Excommunication and Flight), al-Jihad (Holy War), and the Jama’at al-Islamiyah (Islamic Group), as well Lebanon’s Hizbullah (Party of God) and Islamic Jihad, have used violence and terrorism in their attempts to destabilize and overthrow prevailing political systems. [See Fundamentalism.]

Roots of the Resurgence. To speak of a contemporary Islamic revival can be deceptive if revivalism is equated with the conclusion that Islam had somehow disappeared or been absent from the Muslim world. It is more correct to view Islamic revivalism as a revitalization movement that has led to a higher profile of Islam in Muslim politics and society. Thus, what had previously seemed to be an increasingly marginalized force in Muslim public life reemerged in the 1970s, often dramatically, as a vibrant sociopolitical reality. Islam’s resurgence in Muslim politics reflected a growing religious revivalism in both personal and public life that swept across much of the Muslim world and had a substantial impact on world politics.

The indices of an Islamic reawakening in personal life are: increased attention to religious observances (mosque attendance, prayer, fasting), proliferation of refigious publications, audio- and videotapes, greater emphasis on Islamic dress and values, and the revitalization of Sufism. This broader-based renewal has also been accompanied by Islam’s reassertion in public life: an increase in Islamically oriented or legitimated governments, organizations, laws, banks, social welfare services, and educational institutions. Both governments and opposition movements have turned to Islam to enhance their authority and to muster popular support. Governmental use of Islam has been illustrated by a cross section of leaders in the Middle East and Asia: Libya’s Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi, Sudan’s Ja’far alNumayri (Nimeiri), Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq, Bangladesh’s Muhammad Ershad (Irshad), Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamed. Most rulers and governments, including more secular states, such as Turkey and Tunisia, aware of the potential strength of Islam, have shown increased sensitivity to and anxiety about Islamic issues and concerns. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 focused attention on “Islamic fundamentalism” and with it the spread and vitality of political Islam in other parts of the Muslim world. However, the contemporary revival has its origins and roots in the late 1960s and early 1970s when events in such disparate areas as Egypt and Libya as well as Pakistan and Malaysia contributed to experiences of crisis/failure as well as power/success that served as catalysts for a more visible reassertion of Islam in both public and private life.

Although political Islam has varied significantly from one country to another, there are recurrent themes: the belief that existing political, economic, and social systems had failed; a disenchantment with and at times rejection of the West; a quest for identity and greater authenticity; and the conviction that Islam provides a self-sufficient ideology for state and society, a valid alternative to secular nationalism, socialism, and capitalism.

The experience of failure triggered an identity crisis that led many to question the path and direction of political and social development and to turn inward for strength and guidance. The Western-oriented policies of governments and elites appeared to have failed. The soul searching and critique of the sociopolitical realities of the Arab and Muslim world, which followed the 196’7 Israeli war and the crises in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Lebanon, extended to other Muslim areas, embraced a broad spectrum of society, and raised many questions about the direction and accomplishments of development. More often than not, despite the hopes and aspirations of independence, the mixed record of several decades existence was a challenge to the legitimacy and effectiveness of modern Muslim states. A crisis mentality fostered by specific events and the general impact and disruption of modernity spawned a growing disillusionment and sense of the failure of modern Muslim states.

Politically, modern secular nationalism was found wanting. Neither liberal nationalism nor Arab nationalism/socialism had fulfilled their promises. Muslim governments seemed less interested and less successful in establishing their political legitimacy and creating an ideology for national unity than in perpetuating autocratic rule. The Muslim world was still dominated by monarchs and military or ex-military rulers; political parties were banned or restricted, elections often rigged. Parliamentary systems of government and political parties existed at the sufferance of rulers, whose legitimacy, like their security, rested on a loyal military and secret police. Many were propped up by and dependent on foreign governments and multinational corporations.

Economically, both Western capitalism and Marxist socialism were judged incapable of effectively stemming the growing tide of poverty and illiteracy. Charges of corruption, concentration of and maldistribution of wealth found ready recipients as one looked at individual countries and the region. The disparity between rich and poor was striking in urban areas where the neighborhoods and new suburbs of the wealthy few stood in stark contrast to the deteriorating dwellings and sprawling shantytowns of the many. Socioculturally and psychologically, modernization was seen as a legacy of European colonialism perpetuated by Western-oriented elites who imposed and fostered the twin processes of westernization and secularization. As dependence on Western models of development was seen as the cause of political and military failures, so too, some Muslims charged, blind imitation of the West, an uncritical westernization of Muslim societies that some called the disease of “Westoxification,” led to a cultural dependence that threatened the loss of Muslim identity. Secular, “valueless,” social change was identified as the cause of sociomoral decline, a major contributor to the breakdown of the Muslim family, more permissive, promiscuous societies, and spiritual malaise. The psychological impact of modernity and, with it, rapid sociocultural change cannot be forgotten. Urban areas had undergone physical and institutional changes so that both the skylines and the infrastructure of cities were judged modern by their Western profile and facade. To be modern was to be Western in dress, language, ideas, education, behavior (from table manners to greetings), architecture, furnishings. Urban areas became the primary locations for work and living. Modern governments and companies as well as foreign advisers and investors focused their attentions and projects on urban areas so that the results of modernization only trickled down to rural areas.

Rapid urbanization led to the migration of many from outlying villages and towns. Their hopes and dreams for a better life were often replaced by the harsh realities of poverty in urban slums and shantytowns. Psychological as well as physical displacement occurred. Loss of village, town, and extended family ties and traditional values were accompanied by the shock and contrast of modern urban life and its westernized culture and mores. Many, swept along in a sea of alienation and marginalization, found an anchor or secure and safe ground for their lives in their religion. Islam offered a sense of identity, fraternity, and cultural values that offset the psychological dislocation and cultural threat of their new environment. Both the poor in their urban neighborhoods, which approximated traditional ghettos in the midst of modern cities, and those in the lower middle class, who were able to take advantage of the new educational and job opportunities of the city and thus experienced culture shock more profoundly and regularly, found a welcome sense of meaning and security in their religious faith and identity. Islamic organizations, their workers and message offered a more familiar alternative and answer which resonated with their experience, identified their problems, and offered a time honored solution.

Ideological Worldview. Contemporary revivalism is rooted in Islam’s time-honored tradition of renewal (tajdid) and reform (islah) embodied in Muhammad’s leadership of the first Islamic movement, seventeenthand eighteenth-century revivalism, and Islamic modernist movements. At the heart of the revivalist worldview is the belief that the Muslim world is in a state of decline owing to Muslims’ departure from the straight path of Islam. The cure is a return to Islam in personal and public life that will ensure the restoration of Islamic identity, values, and power. For Islamic political activists Islam is a total or comprehensive way of life, stipulated in the Qur’an, God’s revelation, mirrored in the example of Muhammad and the nature of the first Muslim community-state, and embodied in the comprehensive nature of shari `ah, God’s revealed law. Islamic activists or Islamists believe that the renewal and revitalization of Muslim governments and societies require the restoration or reimplementation of Islamic law, the blueprint for an Islamically guided and socially just state and society. [See Islah; Revival and Renewal.]

Although the westernization and secularization of society are condemned, modernization as such is not. Science and technology are accepted, but the pace, direction, and extent of change are to be subordinated to Islamic belief and values in order to guard against excessive dependence on Western culture and values.

Radical movements go beyond these principles and often operate on the following assumptions:

1. Islam and the West are locked in an ongoing battle that began during the expansion of Islam, is heavily influenced by the legacy of the Crusades and European colonialism, and is the product today of a JudeoChristian conspiracy. Radical extremists regard the Cold War’s superpower rivalry and neocolonialism and the power of Zionism as the foreign sources of Muslim impotence and Western hegemony. The West (Britain, France, and especially the United States) is blamed for its support of un-Islamic or unjust regimes (Egypt, Iran; Lebanon) and biased support for Israel in the face of Palestinian displacement. Violence against these governments and their representatives as well as Western multinationals is regarded as a legitimate form of selfdefense.

2. Islam is not simply an ideological alternative for Muslim societies but a theological and political imperative. Since it is God’s command, implementation must be immediate, not gradual, and the obligation to do so is incumbent on all true Muslims. Therefore, those who hesitate, are apolitical, or resist-individuals and governments-are no longer to be regarded as Muslims. They are declared atheists or unbelievers, enemies of God, against whom all true Muslims must wage jihad.

From the Periphery to the Center: Mainstream Revivalism. While the exploitation of Islam by governments and by extremist organizations has reinforced the secular orientations of many Muslims and the cynicism of many in the West, a less well-known and yet potentially far-reaching social transformation has also occurred in the Muslim world. In the 19gos Islamic revivalism has ceased to be restricted to small, marginal organizations on the periphery of society but instead has become part of mainstream Muslim society, producing a new class of modern, educated, but Islamically oriented elites who work alongside, and at times in coalitions with, their secular counterparts. Revivalism continues to grow as a broadbased religio-social movement, functioning today in virtually every Muslim country and transnationally. It is a vibrant, multifaceted movement that will embody the major impact of Islamic revivalism for the foreseeable future. Its goal is the transformation of society through the Islamic formation of individuals at the grassroots level. Islamic organizations work in social services (hospitals, clinics, legal aid societies), in economic projects (Islamic banks, investment houses, insurance companies), in education (schools, child-care centers, youth camps), and in religious publishing and broadcasting. Their common programs are aimed at young and old alike.

Islamic ideology and movements are not solely a marginal phenomenon limited to small radical groups or organizations. They have become part and parcel of mainstream religion and society. The presence and appeal of a more pronounced Islamic orientation is to be found among the middle and lower classes, educated and uneducated, professionals and workers, young and old, men, women, and children. A new generation of modern, educated, but Islamically (rather than secularly) oriented leaders can be found in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Jordan, Iran, Malaysia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Islamic activists have become part and parcel of the political process. They have participated in national and local elections; scored impressive victories in Algeria’s municipal and parliamentary elections; emerged as the chief opposition parties or groups in Egypt, Tunisia, and Jordan; served in cabinet level positions in Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia.

Both the implementation of Islam by governments and the track record of Islamic movements have raised many questions about the use or manipulation of religion for political purposes as well as the nature and direction of Islamic reform. Two critical questions are: “Whose Islam?” and “What Islam?” While the `ulamd’ still assert their role as the primary interpreters of Islam, the guardians of Islamic law, both Muslim rulers and an educated lay Islamic leadership have threatened their domain. Libya’s Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi has ignored and even denounced the `ulamd’. The Saudi monarchy, while usually careful to cultivate strong ties with Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment, has in the 19gos increasingly encountered opposition from more independent Wamd’. Pakistan’s Zia ul-Haq, despite a sensitivity to Wamd’ concerns, ultimately was the final arbiter of Pakistan’s Islamic experiment. Only Sh!’! Iran has seen the Wamd’ in power. Moreover, many Muslims increasingly call for greater political participation and democratization, more consensual (parliamentary or assembly) forms of government. The formation of Islamic governments or more Islamically oriented societies raises questions about the nature of the state and society and of its leadership. Who is to determine who shall define the Islamic character of the state and societyrulers (kings, military men, ex-military, the Wamd’, or the people through elected parliaments?

In the latter half of the twentieth century, the proliferation and growth of Islamic movements has witnessed the emergence of a lay Islamic elite leadership-modern, educated, Islamically oriented professionals who have been the founders and key leaders of Islamic movements and organizations. Their role as Islamic actors and their professional expertise have challenged the traditional monopoly of the `ulamd’ (the learned) as religious leaders and interpreters of Islam. Islam in theory knows no clergy and the right of personal interpretation (ijtihdd) technically belongs to all qualified Muslims, but historically the `ulamd’ did constitute themselves as a professional class. The complex nature and the multiple disciplines necessary to address many modern political, economic, and social issues that are beyond the traditional areas of competence of most `ulamd’, have led some to question of the need to broaden the definition of what constitutes a qualified scholar. Is there now a new Wamd’, a new class of `ulamd’? Or should the `ulamd’ retain their authority as religious scholars based on their training in religion (knowledge of the Qur’an, sunnah, shad’ah) but now in complex decision making advise or be advised by “modern experts”?

“What Islam?” Does the reassertion of Islam in Muslim public life mean a process of restoration or reformation? Does the creation of more Islamically oriented societies require the wholesale reintroduction of classical Islamic law, developed in the early centuries of Islam, or will it require a substantial reformulation of Islam? At the heart of contemporary Islamic revivalism are a series of key issues that concern the nature and development of Islam. Whether it be issues of marriage and divorce, the nature of the state and political participation, or the status and role of women and minorities in society, the issue of change in Islam and the role of traditional concepts such as personal interpretation, community consensus, and consultation (shurd) have become pivotal.

Some believe that the Islamic paradigm is fixed in classical Islamic law, but others distinguish between shad`ah and fiqh, human understanding, interpretation, and application of shad `ah. The latter would argue that Muslims must distinguish between those elements of Islamic law which are immutable and those that are the product of human interpretation and thus are capable of change and reform in light of new historical circumstances and social conditions. Similarly, although community consensus traditionally was reduced to the opinion or consensus of the `ulamd’ and consultation referred to the ruler’s consultation with political and religious elites, today many, though certainly not all Muslims, transform or reconceptualize these concepts to support parliamentary systems of government and decision making.

However, the status of non-Muslims and the implications of political pluralism remain significant contemporary Islamic questions. The record of Islamic experiments in Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan raises serious questions about the rights of women and minorities under Islamically oriented governments. The extent to which the growth of Islamic revivalism has been accompanied in some countries by attempts to restrict women’s rights, to separate women and men in public, to enforce veiling, and to restrict women’s public roles in society strikes fear in some segments of Muslim society and challenges the credibility of those who call for islamization of state and society. The record of discrimination against the Baha’Y in Iran and the Ahmadi in Pakistan as “deviant” groups (heretical offshoots of Islam), against Christians in Sudan, and Arab Jews in Syria, as well as increased communal sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians in Egypt and Nigeria, pose similar questions of religious pluralism and tolerance. Without a reinterpretation of classical Islamic law to safeguard the rights of non-Muslim minorities as “protected people,” Islamic states today would have a weak pluralistic profile which would restrict the participation of minorities and limit their rights and opportunities.

Substantive religious/intellectual reform has lagged behind and thus not informed much of Islamic political and social activism. Islamic movements continue to be challenged to move beyond slogans and vague promises to concrete socioeconomic programs, to bridge the gap between traditional Islamic belief/institutions and the sociopolitical realities of the contemporary world. They are increasingly challenged to demonstrate their ability to be effective problem solvers, not just social critics, who can transform ideological commitment and slogans into concrete policies and programs that respond to national and local concerns in diverse sociopolitical contexts. They must do this in a manner that is pluralistic enough in scope to enjoy the support of a broad and diverse constituency, fellow activists, secularists, religious/ethnic minorities, and that broad-based majority of Muslims who, while wishing to be good Muslims, do not want to see the stability of their societies and their lives disrupted.

The history of the Islamic community has spanned more than fourteen centuries. As in the past Islam continues to be a vibrant and dynamic religious tradition, providing guidance for almost one-fifth of the world’s population, continuing to grow and expand geographically, facing new problems and issues. There are often as many differences as similarities in Muslim interpretations of the nature of the state, Islamic law, the status of women and minorities as there are sharp differences regarding implementation of an Islamic order or system of government. For many Muslims, Islamic revivalism is a social rather than a political movement whose goal is a more Islamically minded and oriented society but not necessarily the creation of an Islamic state. For others, the establishment of an Islamic order requires the creation of an Islamic state. Thus, there is today, as in the past, a rich diversity of interpretations and applications of Islam. As with other religions and religious communities, Muslims continue to grapple with the role and relevance of Islam, and, in the process, demonstrate both the unity and diversity of Islam.

[See also Allah; Muhammad; Qur’an; Shi i Islam; and Sunny Islam. In addition, see entries on the figures and organizations mentioned as well as entries on specific countries.]


Ayubi, Nazih. Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World. London and New York, i991.

Esposito, John L., ed. Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics, and Society. New York and Oxford, 1987.

Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. Exp. ed. New York and Oxford, 1991.

Esposito, John L. Islam and Politics. 3d ed. Syracuse, N.Y., 1991. Esposito, John L. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? New York and Oxford, 1992.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck, et al., eds. The Contemporary Islamic Revival: A Critical Survey and Bibliography. New York, 1991. Piscatori, J. P., ed. Islam in the Political Process. Cambridge, 1983. Voll, John Obert. “Renewal and Reform in Islamic History: Tajdid and Islah.” In Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito, pp. 32-47. New York and Oxford, 1983.

Voll, John Obert. Islam, Continuity, and Change in the Modern World. 2d ed. Syracuse, N.Y., 1994


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

  • writerPosted On: May 30, 2014
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