Religion and State

Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics

L. Carl Brown
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 256
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    Religion and State
    Book Description:

    If Westerners know a single Islamic term, it is likely to be jihad, the Arabic word for "holy war." The image of Islam as an inherently aggressive and xenophobic religion has long prevailed in the West and can at times appear to be substantiated by current events. L. Carl Brown challenges this conventional wisdom with a fascinating historical overview of the relationship between religious and political life in the Muslim world ranging from Islam's early centuries to the present day.

    Religion and State examines the commonplace notion -- held by both radical Muslim ideologues and various Western observers alike -- that in Islam there is no separation between religion and politics. By placing this assertion in a broad historical context, the book reveals both the continuities between premodern and modern Islamic political thought as well as the distinctive dimensions of modern Muslim experiences. Brown shows that both the modern-day fundamentalists and their critics have it wrong when they posit an eternally militant, unchanging Islam outside of history. "They are conflating theology and history. They are confusing the oughtand the is," he writes. As the historical record shows, mainstream Muslim political thought in premodern times tended toward political quietism.

    Brown maintains that we can better understand present-day politics among Muslims by accepting the reality of their historical diversity while at the same time seeking to identify what may be distinctive in Muslim thought and action. In order to illuminate the distinguishing characteristics of Islam in relation to politics, Brown compares this religion with its two Semitic sisters, Judaism and Christianity, drawing striking comparisons between Islam today and Christianity during the Reformation. With a wealth of evidence, he recreates a tradition of Islamic diversity every bit as rich as that of Judaism and Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52937-2
    Subjects: History, Religion, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    A few years ago pundits and politicians discovered Islam—yet again. This sister religion of Judaism and Christianity was suddenly seen to determine the politics of the more than one billion Muslims in this world. Indeed, Islam, it was believed, prescribed a particular form of politics: secularism, or the separation of din (religion) from dawla (state), was inconceivable. Nor could there be any opting out of worldly concerns. Muslims must work to achieve the divinely ordained political community in this world, the dunya. Thus, the three ds, din, dawla, and dunya, cohered to provide a distinctly Islamic approach to political...

  4. Part One The Heritage
    • 1. Setting the Stage: Islam and Muslims
      (pp. 9-18)

      Who are the Muslims? Where are they to be found? How many are they? Many people assume that most Muslims are Arabs. In fact, Arabs make up only about one-fifth of the total world Muslim population.

      Others, even if aware that the Middle East contains many inhabitants other than Arabs, are inclined to think that the Muslim world and the Middle East are roughly coterminous. It is true that the Middle Eastern population is about 90 percent Muslim, but all the Muslims of the Middle East still add up to a minority of the world’s Muslim population. Even when defining...

    • 2. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity in Comparative Perspective: An Overview
      (pp. 19-30)

      Paul Bowles’s novel, The Spider’s House, offers the following musings of a long-time resident in Morocco:

      Stenham smiled: unaccountable behavior on the part of Moslems amused him, and he always forgave it, because, as he said, no non-Moslem knows enough about the Moslem mind to dare find fault with it. “They’re far, far away from us,” he would say. “We haven’t an inkling of the things that motivate them.” There was a certain amount of hypocrisy in this attitude of his; the truth was that he hoped principally to convince others of the existence of this almost unbridgeable gulf.... This...

    • 3. Muslim “Church Government”
      (pp. 31-42)

      In Islam, unlike Christianity, there is no tradition of a separation of church and state, of religious organization as contrasted with political organization. At least, this is the oft-repeated statement contrasting the two religions. There will be occasion to suggest important modifications to this assertion, but let it serve as a point of departure.

      One simple reason for this difference between Islam and Christianity is that Islam knows no “church” in the sense of a corporate body whose leadership is clearly defined, hierarchical, and distinct from the state. The organizational arrangement of Muslim religious specialists, or ulama,¹ makes an institutional...

    • 4. The Historical Bases of Traditional Muslim and Christian Political Theory
      (pp. 43-51)

      Most Muslims and most Christians have for centuries lived as majority communities ruled by governments that are at least nominally of the same faith. Even the religio-political struggles within Christendom and Islamdom have usually been intrafaith, such as Protestant versus Catholic or Sunni versus Shi‘i.

      Not so for the Jews. Throughout most of their history Jews have lived as tiny vulnerable minorities. Under such circumstances there was little practical need for a specifically Jewish political theory. Questions concerning the extent to which government, or the political community, should be guided by Jewish religious teachings simply had little relevance to the...

    • 5. Unity and Community
      (pp. 52-59)

      A weakness of much cross-cultural scholarship is a tendency to move, often quite unconsciously, from the legitimate inquiry of how “they” are different from “us” to the more dubious question: “Why can’t they be like us?”

      The best antidote to such superciliousness is to study first what the alien culture sought to achieve and did achieve by the choices made. Thereby, the political problems arising from the confrontation between the cultural values adopted and the ongoing historical development can be more clearly seen from within.

      From this internal perspective it is not so much that Muslim societies failed to link...

    • 6. The Roots of Political Pessimism
      (pp. 60-67)

      Islamic political thought or, more precisely, Muslim attitudes toward politics and the state produced a paradox that can be expressed as follows:

      1. Islam emphasizes the religious importance of man’s deeds in this world. Islam decidedly does not turn its back on mundane matters. Islam, moreover, grew up in early political success. Thereafter, the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims usually lived free of political threat from non-Muslims—until modern times. Muslims cling to the ideal of the early umma, which, unlike the early Christian Church, was a this-worldly religio-political community par excellence.

      2 . Yet, this very Islam with...

    • 7. Muslim Attitudes Toward the State: An Impressionist Sketch
      (pp. 68-76)

      A perceptive British diplomat whose long service in the Middle East began early in this century captured the cultural counterpart to the Muslim theological tradition of political quietism in writing:

      The Egyptian man in the street is very quick to recognize the facts of power; he does not have to be blown out of cannons, or even harshly treated to conform. He will support long years of humiliation and, indeed, of ill treatment, buoyed by the golden certainty that somewhere along the road lies a banana-skin on which the object of his dislike is bound one day to put his...

  5. Part Two Convulsions of Modern Times
    • 8. Islam and Politics in Modern Times: The Great Transformation
      (pp. 79-86)

      Among the arguments advanced to this point are the following:

      1. Islam is a sister religion to Judaism and Christianity. A study of Islam and politics in comparison with what has prevailed in Judaism and Christianity is much more likely to yield both empathy and understanding than an approach viewing Islam as sui generis.

      2. Islam and Judaism are similar—and are to be contrasted with Christianity—in the importance placed on religious law (orthopraxy) and in the relatively decentralized, nonhierarchical arrangement of their religious specialists (ulama—rabbinate). There is thus no Muslim (nor Jewish) “church” and nothing quite like...

    • 9. Meeting the Western Challenge: The Early Establishment Response
      (pp. 87-98)

      To present the Muslim confrontation with the West as the principal organizing theme for interpreting modern times in the entire Dar al-Islam is not to embrace the simplication of an unchanging East stirred up by a dynamic West. No, the different parts of the Muslim world had not opted out of history until the West arrived and, depending on your politics, (a) disrupted a society whose many different peoples had formed a coherent organism or (b) played the role of the prince whose kiss awakened the long sleeping princess.

      Major changes were taking place within various parts of the Muslim...

    • 10. The Early Antiestablishment Response to the Western Challenge
      (pp. 99-110)

      What then of the opposition to acccommodationists and the pro-establishmentarians? First, it must be emphasized that the Muslim world never lacked individuals with the courage and the conviction to resist alien domination by force of arms. Abd al-Qadir’s sustained and heroic resistance to the French in Algeria (1832–1847 ), the Mujahidin movement in Muslim India led by Sayyid Ahmad Brelvi and Shah Ismail Shahid in the 1830s, the Indian Mutiny of 1857–1858,¹ the rising of the Sudanese Mahdi and the creation of the Mahdist state (1881–1898 ), the Urabi Pasha revolt in Egypt (1879–1882 ), the...

    • 11. From World War I to the 1960s: The Years of Muted Islamist Politics
      (pp. 111-122)

      The First World War marks a major watershed in history. Restricting our attention to the Muslim world, and treating that vast area with only the broadest of brush strokes, the second decade of this century produced the following developments:

      The last great Muslim empire, that of the Ottoman state, went out of existence. Juridically speaking, this took place in 1923, but in fact the only question following the Ottoman defeat in the First World War was whether there would be a truncated Ottoman remnant or, as turned out to be the case, a nation-state in Anatolia, the Republic of Turkey,...

    • 12. The Return of Islam?
      (pp. 123-133)

      When and why did this change toward Islamist politics occur throughout the Muslim world? Many Arabs and Middle East specialists opt for June 1967 as the turning point. During those six days in June Israeli forces routed the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and occupied the entire Sinai Peninsula, Golan Heights, and all of what had been Mandate Palestine up to the Jordan River. It was a body blow not only to Nasserist Pan-Arabism but to existing regimes throughout the Arab world. As a traumatic event bringing into focus the failures of previous decades of ideology and institution...

    • 13. The Radical Muslim Discourse
      (pp. 134-142)

      The previous chapter sought to explain the shift throughout the Muslim world toward religio-political radicalism by presenting quantifiable data (such as population increase and mobility, education, shortfalls in economic performance, and military defeats) as well as insights incapable of measurement (such as massive disorientation, a search for certainties, and a sense of vulnerability in facing hostile forces). That chapter set out the underlying factors preparing the ground for the religio-political movements thriving today throughout the Muslim world. It did not, however, address why Islamist movements emerged instead of other alternatives, secular or religious. Nor did it introduce the ideas and...

    • 14. Al-Banna, Mawdudi, and Qutb
      (pp. 143-160)

      Hasan al-Banna was born in a small provincial town, Mahmudiyya, some 90 miles northwest of Cairo in October 1906.¹ He was the eldest of five sons. Much of his early religious training came from his father, the imam and teacher at the local mosque who supplemented his income as a watch repairman. Another formative influence was his Qur’anic school (kuttab) teacher. At the age of twelve he moved from the kuttab to the local primary school. During these years he also became involved with the local chapter of the Hasafiyya Sufi brotherhood as well as other religious organizations. The next...

    • 15. Khomeini and Sh‘ite Islamism
      (pp. 161-174)

      The most dramatic example of politics and Islam in this century is the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty, rejected monarchy as un-Islamic, and established an Islamic Republic continuing to this day. This cataclysmic change brought about in 1978–1979 has fueled, more than any other, the American image of radical Islam. The dour visage of that elderly cleric, Ayatullah Khomeini, became in those years following 1978 as recognizable as that of the American president.

      Sustaining the white heat of American-Iranian confrontation was the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran by radical Islamists on November 4,...

  6. Conclusion
    (pp. 175-180)

    After sketching the Islamic heritage in politics and political thought in part 1, this study outlined in part 2 developments over the past two centuries leading to the present-day phenomenon of radical political movements (or, in a few cases, governments) claiming to be based on a true understanding of what Islam requires. The ideological dimension, concentrating on the representative Islamist religio-political thinkers and their ideas, has provided the organizational framework. The actual politics of these Islamist movements has received less attention. Nor have the several contemporary Muslim spokesmen for a more liberal interpretation of Islam in its relations to worldly...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 181-208)
  8. Islam and Politics Past and Present: A Bibliographical Essay
    (pp. 209-224)

    Islamic studies specialists often dismiss the many works on radical Islam as much chaff and little wheat. Yes, there is no lack of the shrill, the sensational, and the superficial. Make no mistake, however. Many well–researched and thoughtful books and articles has been produced. So much has been written on this subject during the past several decades that any attempt at an an exhaustive listing would result in a book–length compilation. Indeed, such a compilation already exists—in two volumes, The Contemporary Islamic Revival (1991) and The Islamic Revival Since 1988 (1997), both edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 225-236)
  10. Index
    (pp. 237-256)