Islam and modernism II – Islam is not a religion of warrior nomadic tribes

By Mohammad Reza Shalguni

Historic evidence refutes the view that Islam is a religion of warrior nomadic tribes

In second of an eight-part series Mohammad Reza Shalguni rejects the widespread notion that Islam arose among warrior nomadic tribes with few roots in urban cultures. Such a viewpoint tends to downplay the important influence of urban civilisations on the development of Islamic thought. 

ii. General history of Islam

Even more problematic than Ibn Khaldun’s explanation of the birth of Islam is the use of his views to explain the general history of Islam and Islamic countries.
The part played by nomadic warrior tribes in the history of Islamic countries is but half the truth. It is difficult to ignore the role of cities in this history. Indeed, in the absence of rich towns and fertile agriultural lands there would be little to induce nomadic tribes to invade.
Compared to the history of Christianity, towns have an obviously greater role in Islamic history. A comparison of the two in the millenium after the appearance of Islam in the 7th Century AD is instructive. In this period Christianity is the dominant religion in much of Europe while Islam dominates most of North Africa, parts of Europe and the whole of Middle East and South West Asia. In virtually the whole of this period, cities played a greater role in Islamic lands than European Christian ones.
It followes that urban life had a greater influence on the social life of the people of these lands. Those who occupied such wealthy cities as Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Samarkand, Neishabur, Granada, Aghra, Lahore, Isfahan, and Istanbul were not nomadic tribes. Thinkers of the caliber of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Roshd (Averroes), al-Biruni, al-Farabi, Ibn ‘Arabi, Sahrvardi could not have been educated among nomadic tribes. The fabled musical world of “Arabian Nights”1 , the amazing arcitecture of the Al-Jameh mosque in Damascus, Alhambra (Grenada), Taj Mahal (Agra), the phenomenal accuracy of the solar calender of Omar Khayam, the imaginative evocations of poetry by Abu Novas, Abol Ala’, al-Ma’ara, Molavi, Hafiz among hundreds of others are not creations taking shape in the world of nomadic tribes.
The life of Ibn Khaldun himself is an example of the importance of urban life in these countries. He came from a family with long cultural antecedents, and deep roots in the privillaged urban sections. His family cam from Hazarmout (South Yemen) and lived for generations in the Andalucian town of Seville and in privillage in Tunisia. When Ibn Khaldun harks back 20 generations to refer to his ancestor as an urban rich, when he himself is appointed to be a scribe of the Sultan when only twenty years old, and then goes on to occupy important posts in many of the most important towns of North Africa who throughout a lifetime2 he testifies to the importance of cities which connect – both in space and time – a huge world.
Doubtless this huge world in not the result of the thoughts or teachings of Islam. Indeed there are obvious conflicts with the teachings of early Islam. Yet this world was connected by communication systems among which religious and lingusitic links played a major role. Islam as a religion developed with the develpoments of this world. Indeed a major part of Islamic religious order took shape at the time of these empires.
For example all four main “schools” of Sunnism 3, the founder of the most important branch of Shi’ite jurisprudence (Ja’afar Sadegh) and the major sources for the Sunni and Shi’ite hadith4 all lived at the peak of the Abassid caliphate (749-1258 AD). All were produced in urban settings as were the the most influential interpretations of the Qur’an4
In the same period kalam or Islamic theology, and the most influential currents among it, was taking shape, with far reaching influence on the evolution of Islamic religious thought. It is no accident that for example in the interpretations of Fakhr al-Din al-Razi on the Qur’an or Nahjel Balagheh (gathered by Sharif Razi), the most important book after the Qur’an in the Shi’its cannon, the picture of God offered is far more complex than appears in the Qur’an. All these confirm that “Islam was, and continues to be, an urban religion of merchants and state officials; many of its key concepts reflect the urban life of a mercantile society in opposition to the values of the desert and the warrior” 5 .

Even Ibn Khaldun himself did not claim that Islam was a religion of warriors and the desert. He believed desert dwellers disturbed the process of construction and were incapable of running the country. He devoted a chapter to the notion that whenever desert living Arabs laid hands on a country, they ruined it. Nomadic life, which is fundamentally opposed to urban life and to creation, did not value the product of artisans and craftsmen whose work “formed the foundation and capital of living and the livelihood of people” and if people abandon work and art and denounce urban life, building and society is destroyed.6 Another chapter is devoted to explaining how Arabs (meaning nomadic Arabs) “are further away from the politics of runing a country than all other nations” 7.

iii Radical or puritan Islam

The assertion that all or most radical or puritan movements in the history of Islamic countries rose from among desert dwellers in also innacurate. On the contrary the majority of radical Islamic movments either were urban or the core of their leadership rose among urban dwellers.

End Game by ©Ardeshir Mohassess

EndGame by Ardeshir Mohassess

It should be noted that throughout the history of Islam there was no fixed relationship between radicalism and puritanism in uprisings and movements. Every movement, which from the point of view of society was radical and aimed at overthrowing the dominant power structures, was not necesarilly (or even predominantly) an uprising favouring early or puritanical Islam. Moreover the social base of the vast majority of radical movements were the under-privilaged urban or peasant layers.
Moreover not all puritan movements rose from the desert. A major part – if not the majority – were urban. One of the forst and most important Islamic puritan movements was the Khavarej (or Kharijis). This took shape during the reign of the fourth Caliph, and the Prophet Mohammad’s son-in-law, Ali (656-61 AD) after the latter had agreed to a disastrous arbitration in a battle with Moavieh 8. Its first leaders actively involved in the first movement against political power in Islam – the uprising and killing of Othman (the third Caliph). This was in those early days when Islamic government was taking shape.
The Khavarej movement, which survived two or three centuries, believed that governmnet was in the realm of God and the formation of government and the chosing of a Caliph was not an Islamic essential. Even more fervently it opposed any hereditary rule 9. The Khavarej believed that where it was possible to practice religious duties without government there was no need to resort to a ruler. Where needed a legitimate caliph can be chosen from the most deserving of believers, and could be an Arab or a non-Arab, slave or freeman10. The main backing for a movement of such scope and persistence, which occupied many of the Umayyid and Abbasid caliphs, was essentially urban. It could not be otherwise. Even Ibn Khaldun indirectly acknowledges this where he refers to the Khavarej as “sacrificing their lives in the service of their innovation (beda’at) [yet] their movement was not for the creation of a kingdom or authority and their aims failed to progress”12.
Many later puritan movements were also born, or at least their leadership was formed, in urban settings. The Hanbali movement, one of the main Sunni religions (madhhabs), preached at every stage some degree of puritanism and belief in pure “original” Islam. Yet it had a significant popular following in many Islamic lands. It was no accident that the leaders of this Sunni branch often had little influence in centres of power, and during certain periods, came into conflict with the overseers of political power. Its founder, Ahmad ibn-Hanbal, suffered imprisonment and torture during the reign of three Abbasid caliphs (Ma’mun, Mu’tasim and Mutawakkil). Later ibn-Taymiyya, one of the main authorities in Hanbali religious law, pronounced it a religious duty to revolt against any sultan who does not obey sharia’a laws. He openly opposed the Mogul kings while at the same time considering himself true to Chingiz Khan’s Yasai (which represented a primitive egalitarianism). He was persecuted for years and died in prison. His students, ibn-Khatir and ibn-Quayem al-Jawzieh were also persecuted and impisoned. All came from an urban setting as did Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahab the founder of the Wahabi movement, who many Western Islamic scholars consider as a modern example of the cyclic nomadic uprisings against urban powers. Abd al-Wahab was a Hanabali religious jurisprudence influenced by the thoughts of ibn-Taymiyya and educated mainly in the cities of Syria and Iraq13 .

As for radical movements, they either rose in towns or were of peasant origin. They were usually not after pure Islam. Some, like those great uprisings which took place in the Eastern Caliphates (the Abbasids) were either anti Islam – like the Red Cloaks led by Babak Javidan, al-Moqanne’e in Khorasan or Mazyar in Mazendaran – or appeared under the guise of one or othre urban-formed Islamic sect or current. Such were the Qaramitia (Carmathians) and Sarbedaran (those prepared to punt their head on the noose).
Among the movements opposing the official power the movements related to the various Shi’ite and Sufi currents were significant for their endurance. Both were urban phenomena.

Shi’ism

In lands under the control of the Abbasid caliphs a number of Shi’ite tendencies gave birth to powerful movements. The Twelve Imam Shi’ites” 14 under the leadership of the Al-e Buyeh kings cbecame strong enough to conquer Baghdad in 945 AD. Later in 1501 the Twelve Imami Shi’ites created the Safavid empire in Iran, as a counter to the Ottomans. This had a decisive role in the shaping of modern Iran.
The Ismaili section of Shi’ism also nurtured powerful movements. In North Africa the Fatemid caliphates (909) lasted for two and a half centuries as a major rival to the Abbasids. In Iran and Syria, the Nazari Ismailis, led by Hassan Sabbah, created a predominatly urban movement, nicknamed “the Hashashin”, instilled fear in the hearts of centres of power.15

Sufism

Sufism, a twin and rival to Islamic shari’a, also gave birth to numerous movements against official powers. This too was an urban phenomenon. In order to understand the importance of the clash between Sufism (tariq’a) and shari’a it is enough to remember that the intellectual sources of Sufism were mainly non-Islamic with litthle or no relation to original Islam. The leaning towards “unity of existence” (wahdat al-wujud) was powerful in all its branches. Not surprisingly official Islam saw Sufism usually as a threat.
Many Sufi thinkers were killed accused of apostacy and irreligion, even those who did not openly oppose ruling political institutions. Thus was the fate of Mansur al-Hallaj, one of the greatest sheikhs and sufi martyrs, killed in Baghdad for preaching the unity of existence. His call for “I am the truth [or God]” was an open threat to the legitimacy of the Abbassid caliphs who presented themselves as the “heirs” of the Prophet.16

The foregoing makes clear that to present the history of Islamic countries through the cyclic uprisings of desert dwellers and the polar conflict of urban and nomadic life has little to do with historic reality. The urban-nomadic confrontation was one of several contradictions between the landowning and tributary modes of production in some Islamic lands – and not necessarilly the most important at all times.

iv Invasions by pagans

The majority of nomadic revolts and attacks on cities were not even under the flag of Islam, and could scarcely be blamed for attempting to cleanse Islam from beda’at (innovations) and deviations. The most prominent among these were the various invasions by Turkish speaking tribes, mainly from central Asia. It is no accident that after the 10th Century, the armies of most Islamic governments were made up of Turks who also formed many of the governments: Ghaznavis and Saljuks on the eastern half, Mamelukes in north Africa and the Turkish dynasty in the Indian subcontinent. Turkish language occupies a pride of place alongside Arabic (the official language of religion) and Farsi (in most of western Asia the main literary language). This situation lasted until the decline of Islamic culture and the encroachment of European powers into the area.
In the 16th Century the three major dynasties rling the world of Islam, the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mongols in India were Turkish. None of these Turkish tribes were Muslim before entering the realm of Islam and becoming absorbed in “Islamic civilisation”. To pretend that Islam is the religion of “desert warriors” is like calling Christianity the religion of Germanic tribes.

D. The historic-materialist perspective

If Ibn Khaldun’s views is cannot explain the birth and evolution of Islam, it can throw light on some aspects of history in many Islamic lands. In order to appreciate the stronger elements in Ibn Khaldun’s views we must redefine our question. The real question is not why Islam has behaved as the ideological flag of cyclical attacks by nomadic tribes on cities and agricultural commumities. As explained above these were neither confined to Islamic lands, were not particularly cyclic nor did Islam act as their ideological flag.

Nation by ©Ardeshir Mohassess

Nation by Ardeshir Mohassess

The question that should be posed is why in large areas of Islamic history, many of the dynaties that ruled over Islamic lands initially originated from among pagan tribes? The irony is that, despite the eroneous beliefs of many western scholars, Islam was not the exclusive religion of warriors (nomad or non-nomad). Indeed in most of its long history it was the religion of societies governed by dynasties who (at the onset) were pagan. It is in answer to this question that Ibn Khaldun’s views can be in part – an only in part – useful. I will emphasise three theses which relates to the present discussion.
First, and most important thesis of Ibn Khaldun can be paraphrased in words more direct than he himself used: power and military organisation, which is normally consolidated through tribal loyalties, rather than religious legitimacy are the main bulwarks of government. Singificantly, Ibn Khaldun does not see government as necessarilly the realisation of right or virtue and even argues that government is the product of earthly realities rather than supernatural will.17
Ibn Khaldun’s second thesis is that nomads attack and conquer towns only after the organisation and military power of the latter has weakened. Otherwise “desert tribes and communities are subservient to the town dwellers”18.
Ibn Khaldun’s third thesis is that peasants cannot govern since they lack the necessary asabyya for this task19
Through these theses Ibn Khaldun shows that he also posed the above question and made attempts to answer them. His answers are illuminating even if somewhat one sided.20 Its importance, as well as its onesidedness, becomes clearer if we examine them from the viewpoint of Historic Materialism. In most of these countries, until not long ago, a tributary mode of production dominated.21 Here peasants made up the main producers whose unpaid surplus labour was extracted from them through non-economic means. Thus the power of the ruling class was directly related to its ability to organise its forces of coercion.
The importance of organising coercion was dictated by other necessities. Foremost was the need to protect trade routes, particularly as the most important of these routes which linked East and West passed through the lands of Islam. Moreover, despite its variety, the Islamic world was linked through important religious, cultural and trade ties. Next was the need to counter the risks of nomadic invasions. The third necessity was more complex: the need to find sources which gave these regimes ideological legitimacy. The most important Islamic rites transend ethnic groups and are even shared by the various major Islamic religions (mdhabs) – Q’uran, tradition of the Prophet etc, as well as customs and ceremonies such as the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (haj). Thus in most Islamic lands the ruling classes, regardless of the breadth of their rule, had to have access to sources of ideological legitimacy in order to survive – or at least neutraise any potential use of such sources to undermine their rule. It was the combination of these elements which:
Firstly on the political level the tendency toward centralising power operated and the kings or caliphs tried to keep an ever greater military force in readiness under their direct command.
Secondly, the political powers neglected cities at their peril. These were usually on the main trade routes, and were places where miltary power was concentrated, and state officials, merchants and religious leaders converged.
Third, in the absence of a hereditary landed aristocracy, the honour and survival of the aristocracy was in many ways linked to the sultan or caliph. In such conditions the rulers would be advised to keep the military force away from political influence so as to assure their loyalty. They built up the central core of their armed forces out of tribes and ethinic groups on the edge of the empire. Thus the Abbasids came to power on the back of the uprising of the Khorasanis (presently in north east Iran) under the leadership of abu-Muslim, but after taking root quickly purged the Khorasanies from the sensitive levers of power. They then went to the central Asian Turkish tribes to form the core of their armed forces. The Fatemi caliphs also used Turks, Kurds and negro slaves for the same purpose.
Through this practice pastural (and mostly nomadic) communitis on the periphery of the Islamic empire were transformed into the most important reserves of military power for these regimes. These communities, among whome the Turkish speaking tribes were the most prominent, already had a semi-military and actively militant structure irreplacable among agricultural communities.
Turkish influence increased gradually in the centres of power until, during major cracks in the power structure, they became the deciding arbitrator.22 It was in this way that the Ghaznavid or Seljuk Turks found independent dynasties and even subordinated the Abbasid caliphs to their will. This was one of the two common ways by which Turkish-speaking nomadic tribes rose to power in Islamic countries.
The other route was direct invasion. From the begining of the 13th century, in the longest and worst onslaught by nomadic tribes lasting for about two centuries, large tracts of Islamic lands were occupied and devastated by successive waves of Mogul invaders. The population mix of these countries was totally overturned. It was after these invasions that in many Islamic lands, even as far afield as north Africa, a “political class” rose from among Turkish tribes.
In trying to understand the invasions, Both the internal contradictions within agricultural communities and the factors that provoked the pastural tribes to invade have to be taken into account. Since the first half of the 11th century both the caliphates – Abbassid and Fatemid – were on the down slope. At this time the assault by pastural nomadic tribes on the eastern and western edges of the empires begins. Ughur Turks in the central Asia and Berbers in the Atlas mountains and the Sahara on Morocco and Andelus.23 This was only one side of the story.
From the 11th to the beginning of the 15th century,24 the steppes of central asia dispatched waves of nomads to the agricultural lands of East, West and South Asia. The invasions of these nomadic tribes, shattered not only the eastern and western Islamic empires but also the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia; conquered India to the South and even opened up China to the east. This implies that, regardless of the weaknesses of the eastern and western caliphates, we face a long period of migration and invasion by nomadic tribes and a massive displacement of populations. Of course the largest component of these waves poured into Islamic lands, perhaps because it was easier to open them than China.25

In summary consideration of the general history of Islamic lands suggests that Ibn Khaldun’s views on the relations between agricultural and nomadic pastural communities is illuminating. Indeed without attention to this point much of the history of Islamic lands and also other areas such as Europe, cannot be understood. Yet the more prevalent interpretations of his views are incorrect. A cursory study of Islamic history shows that:

a. Invasion by nomadic tribes on cities and important agricultural centres in Islamic lands was not cyclic and required certain pre-conditions
b. Before they invaded Islamic lands, most of these nomaic tribes were either non-Muslim, or did not have strong Muslim traditions. In fact what Ibn Khaldun generalised was true only in a finite historic period and limited to the western Islamic zones – what Perry Anderson called the “wild west” lands of Islamic.26
c. The main nomadic invaders were from central Asia. These took place even before Islam and were not confined to attacks on Islamic lands.27
d. Nomadic tribes were not always at the helm of political power. Indeed in the period when the Islamic empires were powerful, they served these powers and made up the core of their military force.
Mohammad Reza Shalguni

To be continued

References

1. To gain an idea of this amazing world see Abol-Faraj Esfahani’s Alalghafi
2 Mohammad Parvin Gonabadi. Preface to the Farsi translation of Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction
3 Madhhabs: Hanafis, Malekis, Shafi’is, Hanbalis
4 Hadith = traditional tales used as adjunct to the Qur’an and other authenticated books. These include the six Sunni Sahihs, and the four main books referred to by Shiites. The most influential Qur’anic interpreters include al-Tabrasi among Shi’ites, Beizadio and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi among Sunni Muslims.
5 Bryan S Turner. Weber and Islam, 1974, London p 172
6 Ibn Khaldun Introduction, Book two, chapter 26 page 285 of the Farsi translation ibid
7 ibid Chapter 28
8 The founder of the Umayyid Caliphate.
9 The Shi’ites believe in the hereditary imamate through decendents of Mohammad. The Umayyid and Abbassid caliphates were hereditary.
10 Reuben Leuy, The social structure of Islam. Cambridge University Press 1969 p 289 and Ibn Khaldun Introduction Farsi translation p 367.
12 Ibn Khaldun ibid pp563-4
13 For a review of the influence of ibn-Taymiyya on Islamic fundamentalist movements see Emmanuel Sivan. Radical Islam: Mediaeval theology and modern politics. London 1990; and Olivier Carre L’Islam laique. Paris 1993.
14 Athna Ashar Shi’ism: The dominant Shi’i religion centered on Iran. They believe that the rightful heirs to Mohammad was his son-in law Ali followed by eleven of his direct disecndents, the last of whom, Mehdi, was occulted in the 9th century and his reappearance heralds the end of injustice on earth.
15 The word assassin is said to have been deribved from this group who used hashish-fed believers to assassinate important political figures and opponents of the sect.
16 En-al hagh. Taghi Arani the Iranian Marxist philosopher has expanded on this point in Erfan and materialism, Teheran
17 He distinguishes between calipahate, which is based on sharia’a and for the implementation of sharia’a laws, and monarchy. He considers that the nature of monarchy is “violence and conquest which are signs of anger and of bestiality. For this reason the majority of kings deviate from rightiousness and truth and impose cruelty on their subjects in worldly matters..” Introduction Book 3, chapter 25 page 363 Farsi translation (emphasis by MRS). On the othe hand he questions the “necessity of prophetship” and writes that God does not always, and for all peoples, send his messenger (ibid p 367). Moreover he believes that in his own era the right conditions for caliphate – that is a government based on religion – does not exist “but now such conditions do not pertain and for this reason, in these times, the question of calipahte and imamate in each country and region belongs to whoever has the most powerful asabyya and can take other asabyya under its tutalage and control” (p 375). Yet he does not deny that Islam “rebukes asabyya and invited people to throw it aside and discard it“ ibid chapter 28 p387. Yet he goes on to remind that “sharia’a has not denounced the act of monarchy in its essence and not prohibited its occupation. It only censures the corruptions that arise from kingship such as violence, cruelty, pleasure seeking and lust” ibid chapter 28, p 368. If we place these quotations alongside one another it becomes clear that in his view government is nor necessarilly equated with legitimacy.
18 Introduction Book 2, chapter 29 p 292.
19 He quotes a tale from Mohammad when “he saw a plough in the house of a he follower invoked him: these tools did not enter anyone’s house without misery finding a road to it…more than that one must add the results which follow the misery of paying tributes… such that …. the Prophet appeals to God against tributes and tax”. Ibn Khaldun concludes that those who succumb to “misery and ignobility” from paying tributes and tax can never lay their hands on kingship. ibid p271.
20 Two factors probably effected Ibn Khaldun’s one-sidedness: Firstly his information was mostly limited to the western Islamic lands and, secondly, he lived in one of the darkest periods of Islamic history. He himself noted “In this book I … describe events in this part of western lands…without mentioning other lands, because I have no knowledge of the east and its nations and recounted news is not enough to allow me to reach the depths [of understanding] that I desire”. He also wrote “in this era, at the end of the eighth century, conditions in the west… is subject to deep transformations and is being completely changed”. He alludes to the horrendous cholera epidemic of the mid-fourth century which everywhere destroyed life. See Introduction pp59-61 ibid. It must be noted that Ibn Khaldun lived at the time of the most ruinous attacks by the Moguls under Tamurlane.
21 This is preferabe to the more commonly used term Feudal mode of production. See Semir Amin: Class and nation, historically and in the current crisis. Monthly Review Press, 1980, Chapter 3.
22 Sultans and caliphs used a number of stratagems to avoid this fate. They used different ethnic groups to cancel one another, or created a confederative alliance among different tribes so that none could dominate the whole. One example of the latter is the unity of Ghezelbash tribes (so called because they wore red tunics) orchestrated by the Safavid empire. A more radical solution was to create a central core of highly trained troops who were selected from among slaves and trained from when young. The Egyptian Ayyubid dynasty used the Turkish Mamelukes and the Circassians thus. The Mamelukes later formed their own dynasty. A more advanced form were the YENICHERI which fromed the backbone of the Ottoman armies.
23 Albert Hourani. A history of the Arab peoples. Faber and Faber London 1991
24 Starting with the ascention to power of the Saljuk king Tughrul and ending with the death of Tamerlane
25 Bearnard Lewis believes that from the military point of view the relative strength of China in East Asia was responsible for driving the nomads eastwards. B Lewis The Middle East: 2000 years of history from the rise of Christianity to the present day. London 1996. The Chinese wall was rebuo]ilt during this period essentaiily to counter the Moguls.
26 Terry Anderson. A zone of engagement. Verso, London 1992. Anderson was writing a critique of the views of Max Weber and Ernst Gellner.
27 Fear of invasion by central Asian nomadic hoards before Islam was so great as to be reflected in the mythologies of these agricultural communities. Pre-Islamic Iranian religious myths, especially Zoroastrianism, the Qur’an and the myths of the Israelites all allude to these attacks. See the Book of Ezekiel verses 38/2 and 39/6 which speaks of Gog and the land of Magog or the Book of Revelation (JOHANA) veses 20/8 speaks of Gog and Magog as misled nations who in the end of the millenium will join Satan and their number resembles the grains of sand and seas. In the Qur’an the story is transformed at length into Ya’jouj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog), a tribe in the far east against whose attacks Dhol-Qaranain errects a huge damn betwen two mountains. At the end of time this damn will break and Ya’juj and Ma’juj are “let loose and rush headlong down every hill” and will “come in tumultuous throngs” to invade the west. See Qur’an Chapter 18 (Kahaf, the Cave) veses 90 on and Chapter 21 (The prophets, al-Anbiya’) verse 96

1 To gain an idea of this amazing world see Abol-Faraj Esfahani’s Alalghafi
2 Mohammad Parvin Gonabadi. Preface to the Farsi translation of Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction
3 Madhhabs: Hanafis, Malekis, Shafi’is, Hanbalis
4 Hadith = traditional tales used as adjunct to the Qur’an and other authenticated books. These include the six Sunni Sahihs, and the four main books referred to by Shiites. The most influential Qur’anic interpreters include al-Tabrasi among Shi’ites, Beizadio and Fakhr al-Din al-Razi among Sunni Muslims.

5 Bryan S Turner. Weber and Islam, 1974, London p 172
6 Ibn Khaldun Introduction, Book two, chapter 26 page 285 of the Farsi translation ibid
7 ibid Chapter 28
8 The founder of the Umayyid Caliphate.
9 The Shi’ites believe in the hereditary imamate through decendents of Mohammad. The Umayyid and Abbassid caliphates were hereditary.
10 Reuben Leuy, The social structure of Islam. Cambridge University Press 1969 p 289 and Ibn Khaldun Introduction Farsi translation p 367.
12 Ibn Khaldun ibid pp563-4
13 For a review of the influence of ibn-Taymiyya on Islamic fundamentalist movements see Emmanuel Sivan. Radical Islam: Mediaeval theology and modern politics. London 1990; and Olivier Carre L’Islam laique. Paris 1993.
14 Athna Ashar Shi’ism: The dominant Shi’i religion centered on Iran. They believe that the rightful heirs to Mohammad was his son-in law Ali followed by eleven of his direct disecndents, the last of whom, Mehdi, was occulted in the 9th century and his reappearance heralds the end of injustice on earth.
15 The word assassin is said to have been deribved from this group who used hashish-fed believers to assassinate important political figures and opponents of the sect.
16 En-al hagh. Taghi Arani the Iranian Marxist philosopher has expanded on this point in Erfan and materialism, Teheran
17 He distinguishes between calipahate, which is based on sharia’a and for the implementation of sharia’a laws, and monarchy. He considers that the nature of monarchy is “violence and conquest which are signs of anger and of bestiality. For this reason the majority of kings deviate from rightiousness and truth and impose cruelty on their subjects in worldly matters..” Introduction Book 3, chapter 25 page 363 Farsi translation (emphasis by MRS). On the othe hand he questions the “necessity of prophetship” and writes that God does not always, and for all peoples, send his messenger (ibid p 367). Moreover he believes that in his own era the right conditions for caliphate – that is a government based on religion – does not exist “but now such conditions do not pertain and for this reason, in these times, the question of calipahte and imamate in each country and region belongs to whoever has the most powerful asabyya and can take other asabyya under its tutalage and control” (p 375). Yet he does not deny that Islam “rebukes asabyya and invited people to throw it aside and discard it“ ibid chapter 28 p387. Yet he goes on to remind that “sharia’a has not denounced the act of monarchy in its essence and not prohibited its occupation. It only censures the corruptions that arise from kingship such as violence, cruelty, pleasure seeking and lust” ibid chapter 28, p 368. If we place these quotations alongside one another it becomes clear that in his view government is nor necessarilly equated with legitimacy.
18 Introduction Book 2, chapter 29 p 292.
19 He quotes a tale from Mohammad when “he saw a plough in the house of a he follower invoked him: these tools did not enter anyone’s house without misery finding a road to it…more than that one must add the results which follow the misery of paying tributes… such that …. the Prophet appeals to God against tributes and tax”. Ibn Khaldun concludes that those who succumb to “misery and ignobility” from paying tributes and tax can never lay their hands on kingship. ibid p271.
20 Two factors probably effected Ibn Khaldun’s one-sidedness: Firstly his information was mostly limited to the western Islamic lands and, secondly, he lived in one of the darkest periods of Islamic history. He himself noted “In this book I … describe events in this part of western lands…without mentioning other lands, because I have no knowledge of the east and its nations and recounted news is not enough to allow me to reach the depths [of understanding] that I desire”. He also wrote “in this era, at the end of the eighth century, conditions in the west… is subject to deep transformations and is being completely changed”. He alludes to the horrendous cholera epidemic of the mid-fourth century which everywhere destroyed life. See Introduction pp59-61 ibid. It must be noted that Ibn Khaldun lived at the time of the most ruinous attacks by the Moguls under Tamurlane.
21 This is preferabe to the more commonly used term Feudal mode of production. See Semir Amin: Class and nation, historically and in the current crisis. Monthly Review Press, 1980, Chapter 3.
22 Sultans and caliphs used a number of stratagems to avoid this fate. They used different ethnic groups to cancel one another, or created a confederative alliance among different tribes so that none could dominate the whole. One example of the latter is the unity of Ghezelbash tribes (so called because they wore red tunics) orchestrated by the Safavid empire. A more radical solution was to create a central core of highly trained troops who were selected from among slaves and trained from when young. The Egyptian Ayyubid dynasty used the Turkish Mamelukes and the Circassians thus. The Mamelukes later formed their own dynasty. A more advanced form were the YENICHERI which fromed the backbone of the Ottoman armies.
23 Albert Hourani. A history of the Arab peoples. Faber and Faber London 1991
24 Starting with the ascention to power of the Saljuk king Tughrul and ending with the death of Tamerlane
25 Bearnard Lewis believes that from the military point of view the relative strength of China in East Asia was responsible for driving the nomads eastwards. B Lewis The Middle East: 2000 years of history from the rise of Christianity to the present day. London 1996. The Chinese wall was rebuo]ilt during this period essentaiily to counter the Moguls.
26 Terry Anderson. A zone of engagement. Verso, London 1992. Anderson was writing a critique of the views of Max Weber and Ernst Gellner.
27 Fear of invasion by central Asian nomadic hoards before Islam was so great as to be reflected in the mythologies of these agricultural communities. Pre-Islamic Iranian religious myths, especially Zoroastrianism, the Qur’an and the myths of the Israelites all allude to these attacks. See the Book of Ezekiel verses 38/2 and 39/6 which speaks of Gog and the land of Magog or the Book of Revelation (JOHANA) veses 20/8 speaks of Gog and Magog as misled nations who in the end of the millenium will join Satan and their number resembles the grains of sand and seas. In the Qur’an the story is transformed at length into Ya’jouj and Ma’juj (Gog and Magog), a tribe in the far east against whose attacks Dhol-Qaranain errects a huge damn betwen two mountains. At the end of time this damn will break and Ya’juj and Ma’juj are “let loose and rush headlong down every hill” and will “come in tumultuous throngs” to invade the west. See Qur’an Chapter 18 (Kahaf, the Cave) veses 90 on and Chapter 21 (The prophets, al-Anbiya’) verse 96

 

Islam and modernism by Mohammad Reza Shalguni – overview

Part I  Discusses how Islam is no more incompatible with modernisation or even modern culture than  other religions.
Part II continues with a critique of Ibn-Khaldun’s influential historic views:
q Islamic civilisation is not principally that of desert tribes.
q The steppe or the desert was not the birthplace of many radical Islamic revolts.
q Many nomadic uprisings were non-Islamic, and many in fact came to the aid of monarchies in wealthy urban lands.
n The historical materialist perspective on Ibn-Khaldun’s and related views on history
Part III Examines Islamic teachings and compares them to other religions to demonstrate they are no more, or less, rigid and immutable.
Part IV Uses the relation of Islam to women to argue that the mechanisms through which modernisation was introduced to Islamic lands caused the current crisis rather than the innate resistance of Islam as a religion.
Part V Reviews racist-imperialist, anti-democratic and radical ways of confronting the question of modernisation in Muslim lands.
Part VI Argues that despite some views Islam is open to modernity.
Part VII Is a discussion of Ernest Gellner and his thinly disguised historic idealism
Part VIII Is dedicated to a critique of the positions of the left

 

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