Paul N. Siegel


The Meek and the Militant


Part III: The Social Roots of the Chief Religions of Asia and the Middle East


Chapter 9


The Social Origins of Islam

Islam was born in Arabia in the 7th century AD; it was a religion that had its genesis in Mecca, an important urban centre on the existing trade routes.

A complex relationship existed between the town dwellers and the nomads, who, since pasturage was scarce in the desert, went in groups from one spot to another on camels, which were able to travel great distances with little food and water. The swift camels of the warlike Bedouins enabled them to make raids on the trade routes and to exact protection from the town dwellers in the form of what is still in parts of Arabia today wryly referred to as the ‘brotherhood tax’. [1] At the same time townspeople often bought herds, which were privately owned but with collective access to pasture, to be taken care of by the nomads, who frequently became indebted to the rich merchants. Conversely, Bedouin families which had grown wealthy bought property in the towns, from which some of the chieftains ruled their wandering tribesmen.

Theoretically, all members of a tribe were equal, with chieftains elected by the tribe. But by the time of Muhammad, tribal society had begun to disintegrate, with a nomadic nobility having been established and individual clans or subtribes being ranked in accordance with the closeness of their kinship to the nobility within their tribe. Moreover, not all tribes were the same. Small tribes were dependent on large tribes and acted as buffers between them in inter-tribal conflicts. [2]

The power of both the towns and the Bedouin tribes was related to the power of the outlying states which vied for the control of the Arabian peninsula. It was the mutual exhaustion of the Persian and Byzantine empires in their struggle with each other that brought Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad, to the fore as a trading centre.

The decline of Al-Yaman [in South Arabia] as the dominant commercial power in the peninsula, the northern migration of nomads and the rise of Mecca as a trade centre must be seen both within the context of international state relations and in the setting of town and desert relations. . . The lengthy wars between Persia and Byzantium had, in addition to weakening their economies, made trade routes in the Gulf and Red Sea unsafe. The result was that coastal trade through Mecca and Yathrib [later renamed Medina] became increasingly important. This influx of wealth into Mecca brought about fundamental changes in its social, political and cultural life. [3]

These changes effected an undermining of Bedouin egalitarianism and other Bedouin values. The wealthy merchant might be the chief of a clan, but his wealth came not from tribal raids but from his own enterprise. He did not, therefore, feel the traditional obligation to take care of the poorer members of the clan. His business came before his clan solidarity.

The Effect of Its Social Origins on Islam

Muhammad, who began life as an orphan of a declining clan, became a moderately prosperous trader after his marriage to a widow of substance. The first followers of Muhammad shared his social position. ‘The simplest way of describing the main body of Muhammad’s followers,’ says W. Montgomery Watt,

is to say that they were the strata of society immediately below this topmost stratum [of ‘the leading, richest and most powerful merchants,] ... The younger brothers and cousins of the chief merchants must have been wealthy young men [but lacking great influence in their families and clans], while the men from other clans, like Abu-Bakr, were probably struggling to retain such independence as still remained to them. [4]

The Koran reflects Muhammad’s outlook as a trader but a trader who had been a poor orphan and was not a member of the inner circle of great merchants. It is, as Maxime Rodinson says, citing a study by Charles C. Torrey, ‘spontaneously studded with commercial expressions’.

It will suffice here to give Torrey’s summary of the practical theology of the Koran, which concludes his precise study of its vocabulary and concepts: ‘The mutual relations between God and man are of a strictly commercial nature. Allah is the ideal merchant... the pattern of honest dealing. Life is a business, for gain or loss. He who does a good or evil work (‘earns’ good or evil), receives his pay for it, even in this life. Some debts are forgiven, for Allah is not a hard creditor. The Muslim makes a loan to Allah; pays in advance for paradise; sells his own soul to him, a bargain that prospers. The unbeliever has sold the divine truth for a paltry price, and is bankrupt ... At the resurrection, Allah holds a final reckoning with all men.’ [5]

The individual thus has value in himself as one who can attain salvation, not merely as the member of a clan, and his value increases as he grows in wealth justly earned. This is a religion of merchants, and Allah himself, in accordance with the predilection that humanity has for making God in its own image, is appropriately the idealized merchant, just-dealing but also compassionate, not like the mighty mercantile chiefs.

Thus the Koran counsels men not to inveigh against inequality as such, but it denounces the arrogant rich who do not live just lives, thinking only of amassing more money and not giving anything to the poor.

Nay, nay! But ye/ Honour not the orphans!/ Nor do ye encourage/ One another/ To feed the poor! –/ And ye devour Inheritance [of women, minors, and other weak clan members] –/ All with greed,/ And ye love wealth/ With inordinate love! (Koran, lxxxix, 17-20)

The denunciation of the rich who paid no heed to the poor as well as other aspects of Islam made it congenial to the Bedouins after it had established itself in the oasis settlement of Medina and had triumphed over Mecca, whose ruling tribe dominated by great merchants had originally rejected the Prophet. Islam, ‘a temporary fusion of urban skills and leadership with nomad power’ [6], answered to the needs of the Arab people generally. The great empires of Persia and Byzantium had played the different tribes against each other for their own advantage and used the Bedouin warriors as mercenaries to buttress themselves. Islam acted as a cohesive force which served to protect from tribal raids the commerce that had grown up and turned the restless Bedouin energy outward.

After Muhammad’s death, the nomad chiefs of the confederation he had effected, for whom their profession of faith was an insignificant article of a treaty by which they no longer felt bound, rebelled. They were, however, reconquered by the zealous band that had a genuine religious fervour and were welded together into a community with a common faith and a common interest in booty.

Islam and the Tribal Ethics and Religion of the Arabs

The religion of the Bedouins, like that of the ancient nomadic ancestors of the Hebrews, consisted of belief in local deities, spirits inhabiting sacred places, and fetishistic objects of various kinds. Muhammad, who knew the monotheism of the Christians and the Jews, representatives of civilizations superior to that of the Arab tribes contending against each other, proclaimed to his fellow Arabs that there is but one God – and that this God is Allah. Allah, the creator of heaven and earth, was the god of the shrine of Mecca. Just as the Israelites made the tribal god Jehovah into a universal God, so did Muhammad do the same for Allah. But Allah, the one God, the Lord of the universe, had a special connection with the Arabs, as Jehovah had with the Israelites.

Muhammad denounced the local idols and fetishes of the Arabs, but he did n6t do away with all of them. Just as the Jews had their fetish in the temple of Jerusalem’s sacred ‘Covenant Box’ that supposedly contained the tablets Moses received from Jehovah, so the followers of Muhammad continued to regard with reverence the sacred Black Stone, probably a meteorite, in the great shrine in Mecca, the Prophet himself kissing it whenever he approached it. One reason that Mecca had become a trading centre was that pilgrimages were made to visit the shrine, and on four months of the year the blood vengeance of the desert was forbidden in the city. Muhammad made the pilgrimage to Mecca a basic part of the Islamic religion, to be undertaken if possible at least once in one’s life.

But Islam modified the values of the nomads. Vengeance should as much as possible be left to Allah, who would punish transgressions in the next world. Various rules were laid down that cut the amount of feuding among believers. At the same time Islam provided for mutual aid and a solid front against unbelievers. One believer in Allah could not kill another believer to avenge a related unbeliever, and in war believers could not make individual peace with the enemy. There had before this been alliances of tribes, but now there was a sense of community based on religious belief.

So too the careless generosity of the nomadic nobility, which was considered a mark of honour, and the hospitality which each tribesman was expected to practise were in good part absorbed by the organized charity run by the religious community. Very early on this community began to build a political structure in the stateless tribal society. The head of this structure – first the Prophet and then his successors, the caliphs – was the religious guide as well. Basic tribal characteristics were preserved in this rudimentary state, in which administrators were few, the repressive apparatus limited, and the state treasury, used to pay for the standing army, by no means clearly differentiated from the private wealth of the leader.

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity

Islam was in large part an Arabization of elements of Judeo-Christian belief. Just as the Jews regarded the Old Testament as the Word of God and Christians regarded the New Testament as a sequel to the Old Testament, Muslims regarded the Koran as the recording of God’s voice, as transmitted by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Muhammad. That Muhammad was indeed the messenger of God was ‘proven’ by the fact that his coming had been predicted in the Bible, as Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had ‘proved’ in the same way that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah.

Zealous Christians before our own time considered Muhammad to be a madman, for of course it was lunacy to assert that one was the messenger of God’s word since that word was contained for all time in the Bible. The Western Enlightenment thinkers, on the other hand, with their propensity to regard religion as an upper-class conspiracy, considered him to be a clever imposter who practised upon the credulousness of his people. It is far more likely, however, that, although he may have occasionally purposefully heard what he wanted to hear in making immediate practical decisions, he really believed that he received messages from Above.

His hallucinations were of the same kind as those of Saint Teresa and others certified by the Catholic Church as having been in communication with God. They were induced by periods of solitude and intense meditation and prayer in a cave in the barren uplands outside Mecca, a practice in which Muhammad, like other Arabs of the time, was following the Christian hermits of the desert. What he heard and saw in these hallucinations was, unknown to him, the product of his unconscious working on his ruminations on the Arab condition and on what he had picked up from Christians and Jews in Mecca and in his caravan journeys.

But Muhammad was not unique. Just as the Essenes had anticipated much of the teaching of Jesus, so Arab seekers of a new faith preceded Muhammad. Just as there were other self-proclaimed messiahs in the time of Jesus, so in Muhammad’s time there were other prophets among the Arabs. One of them, Maslama of Yamama, also received revelations in the rhymed prose used in the Koran, formulated prayer rituals, and preached of a god called Rahman, meaning ‘merciful’, the name given by the South Arabians to the Jewish and Christian God. Muhammad also called Allah ‘the merciful’ at the same time that he was saying, as the Jews and Christians said of their God, that his justice was rigorous and dire. The ‘revelation’ Muhammad received was in short not confined to him: others were voicing similar ideas.

Abraham, according to this revelation, was the forefather of the Arabs, whose line was descended from his son Ishmail, as the Jews were descended from Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham was a prophet, as was Jesus, whom the Jews wrongly rejected. But so too were the Christians wrong in regarding Jesus as the son of God. To regard God as having children was to bring the incredibly awesome and distant deity down to earth. In the words of the Koran (iv, 171), ‘Far exalted is He above/ Having a son.’ The Christian Trinity was, Muhammad pointed out, a rejection of the idea of one God. Moreover, the widespread Christian veneration of icons and relics was really the worship of idols. In proclaiming that there is but one God, the Muslims were harking back, they believed, as numerous other faiths have believed, to an originally pure religion. In their case it was the alleged monotheism of Abraham, who was discovered to have a special relationship with Arabs.

However, Islam retained the heaven, hell, resurrection, and day of judgment of Christianity. As the Christian church fathers had pictured the blessed in heaven looking down mockingly upon the tormented in hell, so did the Koran exultantly contrast heaven and hell, each of which is given an Arab colouration. All that the damned have to relieve the parching thirst of the desert is boiling water. Heaven, however, is like a delightful oasis with cool springs and shady orchards of palms and fruit trees, where the blessed, reclining on rich carpets, are served delicious food. In these Gardens of Bliss there will be maidens (Koran, Iv, 56-58), ‘Chaste, restraining their glances,/ Whom no man or Jinn [a spirit or genie]/ Before them has touched; –/ Then which of the favours/ Of your Lord will ye deny? –/ Like unto rubies and coral.’

Modern Muslim commentators state that this passage has nothing to do with sex and is to be interpreted allegorically, just as Christian modernists seek to explain away as allegorical those passages in the Bible embarrassing to them. They overlook the statement that the young, demure virgins have not been touched by any one ‘before them’, that is, before the blessed of the Lord, indicating that the blessed indeed will touch them. As the Koranic scholars Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad point out, the hadiths, the traditions about Muhammad, supposedly derived ultimately from his companions, which have been accepted in Islam as second only to the Koran in authority, show that in the centuries immediately after Muhammad the passage was taken to refer to sexual enjoyment:

References [in the hadiths] to the increased sexual prowess of those male believers for whose pleasure the hur [the houri, the beautiful ‘gazelle-eyed’ virgins] are intended are numerous; the reports make it clear that the hur are created specifically as a reward for males of the Muslim community who have been faithful to God. [7]

This picture of paradise, which has shocked Christians who prefer sexless angels strumming on harps, undoubtedly owed greatly to the view of life of the Bedouins, whose values were assimilated in modified form into Islam. Bedouin poets, who sang, ‘You are mortal; therefore enjoy life’, traditionally celebrated the joys of sex with women like gazelles. [8] But the Islamic picture of paradise was probably also indebted to ‘a very old and deep-rooted strain in popular Judaism and Christianity’ [9] which regarded the delights of heaven as quite physical, including sexual. So strong was this current of belief that some Christian theologians sought to assimilate it by permitting sex after death until the resurrection on the day of judgment, after which pleasures would be entirely spiritual – an odd restriction upon the body reunited with the soul.

Bedouin belief also included the idea of fate, the acceptance of drought and sandstorms as part of the harshness of life to which humanity was consigned, a harshness from which it could escape only through transitory pleasures. The idea of everything being preordained was incorporated into Islam although it contradicted Islam’s emphasis on moral responsibility. This doctrine of predestination imbued Islamic warriors with the religious fervour of those who knew they were chosen by God, as it was to do for Cromwell’s army.

The rituals of Islam, apart from those of Meccan origin, were borrowed from Christianity and Judaism. Religious devotions were performed while prostrating one’s self and bowing from the waist in the fashion of the eastern Christians. They were held at sunrise and sunset, as were those of the Christians of the Nestorian heresy, who, driven out of Constantinople, were evangelizing in Persia. Later this was changed to an obligatory five times a day.

Initially, prayers were uttered while the worshippers turned towards Jerusalem, as the Jews did, and the Jewish fast day of atonement was adopted. Special prayers were held on Friday, the day when Jews were making preparations for the Sabbath on the following day, even though Muhammad rejected as ridiculous the Biblical idea of the Sabbath that almighty God had to rest after his six days labour of creating the universe. Although Muhammad, like the Christians, regarded the dietary restrictions of the Jews as God’s punishment upon them for their transgressions, he did adopt them to a limited degree, forbidding the eating of pork. The Jewish practice of circumcision was an ancient tribal ritual that was continued.

After Muhammad gave up his efforts to have the Jews acknowledge him as a prophet like Abraham and Moses (the Jews of Medina perceived the errors and distortions of his references to the Old Testament and, moreover, regarded him as a menace to their own attempt to extend their political influence), he abandoned much Jewish ritual. Instead of turning toward Jerusalem, Muslims were now to turn toward Mecca. Instead of observing the Jewish day of fast, they were now to fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan, probably in commemoration of the victory over the Meccan army in that month.

The Expansion of Islam

Through political negotiation and religious proselytizing, through military might and bribery of chieftains, Islam spread throughout Arabia. Muhammad used the customary methods of tribal chiefs, but beyond this he offered the power of Allah, to which he attributed his triumphs, as the ancient Israelites had attributed their triumphs to Jehovah. With this he offered the idea of a united Arabia no longer dominated by foreigners but held together by an Arab religion. ‘Become Muslims,/ And cease to dress after the fashion of strangers’, his poet Hassan ibn Thabit told a delegation of tribesmen come to parley with the new power. [10]

The Muslims now turned their gaze toward the rich lands of the Fertile Crescent, the countries of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt, where some Arabs were already living. The increasing aridity of their own country with the resulting paucity of grazing land had driven the Bedouins to attack these peoples before without success, but now they had the mighty and unifying force of the new religion behind them.

The Arab conquests were not the realization of ideas conceived by the Muslim leaders. On the contrary, the roving Arab tribes on the border of Babylonia began the invasion and later applied for help to the Muslim leaders at Medina ... Although hunger and avarice were the driving forces, the new religion was the rallying factor. [11]

Beyond these countries Islam expanded like a compressed force that had been released. Within a century of Muhammad’s death (AD 632) it conquered the vast expanse between the Himalayas and the Pyrenees, an empire larger than the Roman Empire at its height. The great cities of Damascus, Jerusalem, Aleppo, and Antioch were taken. Alexandria, the foremost commercial city in all the world, fell after a siege lasting over a year. The border of China was reached; North Africa was added to the Islamic empire; Spain was acquired; Europe itself seemed threatened, as it was for centuries. Nothing had ever been seen like this amazing series of victories.

How was it achieved? Religious zeal contributed greatly to the victories. But beyond this there was the inner decay of existing empires that made them fall like overripe fruit.

There was every reason why the Arabs should be hailed as deliverers by the older populations of the Semitic World of Syria and Mesopotamia and by the Egyptians ... [T]hey had long been in subjection to Rome, then to Byzantium in the West, and to the Persian Sassanid Empire in the east. They were in a state of permanent revolt ... and this revolt ... had a religious tinge and a social basis. [12]

The Christianity brought by the Byzantine Empire to these peoples was bubbling with the ferment of many heresies, as was the Zoroastrianism brought by the Persian Empire. The denunciations of the arrogant powerful that appealed to the Arab Bedouins also appealed to them. Moreover, the urban centres of these countries were quite willing to turn to any power that would promise them protection from depredations and war.

The Islamic power absorbed these and many other peoples at first as subjects, then as Muslims who in theory (but not in actuality) had the same rights as earlier Muslims. This was in accordance with the Bedouins’ strategy of accepting less powerful tribes as clients.

Arab customs accepted and encouraged the adoption, by every clan, of peoples of all kinds and every nationality, who then became wholly Arab. The tide of conversions swelled slowly and then became an irresistible torrent. Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, Berbers, Goths, Greeks and a host of others joined the Arabs, considered themselves as Arabs and really became Arabs. But still greater numbers became Muslims. [13]

The Islamic army took these peoples into its ranks as new forces which carried its drive further. Syrians and Egyptians took North Africa, North African Berbers took Spain and Sicily, and Persians invaded central Asia. Thus Islam expanded from its centre in Arabia in a series of concentric circles, as new peoples became avid for booty.

Contrary to the view of Islam widely held in Europe and the United States since the 19th century that it is an inherently fanatical religion that is committed to enforced conversion at the point of the sword [14], there were no religious persecutions or forced conversions during this period. [15] Jews found life much easier under Islamic rule than under Christian rule, for the Muslims had the tolerance of enlightened people who did not care particularly if the benighted remained in their ignorance.

The conquerors insisted on only one thing, the payment of a special tax to be levied by the notables of the conquered communities upon their people. In return for this ‘the religious authorities guaranteed ... freedom of worship and freedom to engage in economic activity’. [16] Escaping this tax and raising oneself up in society were reasons for seeing the light and embracing the true belief. So far were the Muslims from forcing conversions that in the early period of Islam ‘some Christians, Jews or Mazdeans [Zoroastrians] who wanted to be converted to Islam were flogged’ [17], a rather severe means of protecting the purity – and the revenues – of the faith. But Arab custom and the recognition of the need for strengthening the base of the empire precluded the continuance of this exclusiveness.

The Zenith of Islamic Civilization

As the Hellenistic provinces of the Roman Empire contributed to Roman civilization, so did the conquered portions of the Byzantine Empire, with their cultural heritage of ancient Greek science and philosophy, contribute to Islamic civilization. Persia contributed more sophisticated (and more autocratic) methods of political organization. India contributed its knowledge of medicine and mathematics. Finally, the Arabs, who absorbed the superior culture they had conquered and at the same time left their stamp on it, contributed their share to this civilization.

Islamic civilization was the richest and foremost in the world in the early Middle Ages, particularly from the mid-8th to the mid-11th centuries, perhaps reaching its highest point in the 9th century. Compared to it, the commerce and culture of Europe crept far behind. Beside the fabled opulence of the great cities of the ‘East’ such as Baghdad, Cairo, Palermo, and Cordoba the towns of the European Dark Ages were small and squalid indeed. [18]

The Islamic Empire was, in the words of Perry Anderson, ‘a vast, catenary system of cities separated by a neglected or despised countryside’ [19] or, in the words of Maurice Lombard, a ‘superb urban organization’ consisting of ‘a series of urban islands linked by trade routes’. [20] So sophisticated was the commercial and financial network that a letter of credit drawn in Baghdad could be cashed in Morocco.

The extremely rapid growth of great cities was largely based on the monopoly of trade between the Far East and the West. The desert Arabs not only used and improved overland routes but assumed command of the seas with amazing speed. For the first time since the Hellenistic period the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean were joined together in commerce as parts of a maritime system, and Muslim ships plied their way between the Atlantic Ocean and the China Sea. The wealth realized in these transactions stimulated an extensive trade in luxury goods (spices, jewellery, silk) and the manufacture of textiles, paper, and pottery.

During this flowering of culture, Greek philosophy was highly influential and affected religious thinking among the cultural elite. The celebrated philosopher and physician Avicenna, who recognized that disease could be spread by drinking water and whose Canon ‘remained a medical bible’ in Europe ‘for a longer period than any other work’ [21], and the equally celebrated philosopher and physician Averroes were among many who ‘felt that the truth learned from rational study and philosophy was also revealed to less sophisticated people through the symbolic language of religion’. [22] As sophisticated Christians were to learn to do with the Bible, they interpreted the Koran ‘allegorically’ when they found it to be in conflict with reason.

Some members of the cultural elite went beyond this. Rhazes, also a philosopher and physician (he was the first to use mercurial ointments and sutures of animal gut) opposed the acceptance of miracles and prophets. Although he was a deist, he ‘maintained that all misfortunes came from tradition and custom, that religion was the cause of wars and was hostile to philosophy and science. He believed in the progress of science and he considered Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates much greater than the holy books.’ [23] Here the halfway house of the compatibility of religion and science is destroyed, the concept of fate and the authority of tradition is denied, and the validity of the Koran is rejected. Such thinking was inconceivable in 10th century Europe.

Rhazes and others like him were able to get away with their free thinking because of their social position and academicism. ‘It should be noted,’ says Rodinson, ‘that the people who wrote such blasphemous things about the Muslim religion died in their beds, some even held important positions in government and played an important role despite their extremely unorthodox ideas.’ [24]

The Development and Decline of Islamic Civilization

Brilliant as was the Islamic culture, the development of Islamic civilization soon reached its limits.

Despite the soaring commercial prosperity of the 8th and 9th centuries, few productive innovations in manufactures were registered, and little technological progress was yielded by the introduction of scientific studies... The very volume and fever of mercantile activity, outstripping any impetus from production proper, appears to have led to a series of explosive social and political tensions in the Caliphate. Corruption and mercenarization of the administration went hand in hand with increased fiscal exploitation of the peasantry ... While the internal security of the regime deteriorated, professional Turkic guards increasingly usurped power at the centre, as the military rampart against the rising tide of diverse social revolts from below. [25]

This state of affairs in the 10th century inaugurated a long-range process in which waves of expansion followed periods of recession, with the centre of gravity shifting from one part of the Islamic world to another. The military might of Islam, for a long time superior to that of the rest of the world, gradually weakened, as its economic strength became less. The chief blows that it received in this long-range process were the overruning of Persia and Mesopotamia by Turcoman nomads in the middle of the 11th century; the Crusades, which were a vital thrust into the Middle East, in the 12th century; [26] the European voyages of discovery in the 16th century, which gave Europe direct access to the East and outflanked the Islamic world.

The Islamic society of the Middle East was a tribute-paying society which in relation to India and China had a small internal surplus, but it was what Amin calls a ‘tribute-paying and trading formation’, that is, its prosperity was dependent on a surplus transferred from outside, first through booty and then through its monopoly control over long-distance trade circuits. With the loss of this monopoly control, it declined, although this decline was at first masked by continuing military expansion.

Turkish, Mongolian, and other nomads invaded the core areas of Islam, became overlords, were assimiliated into Islam, and became soldiers of Muhammad against Christendom or Hindustan. Economic life in the core areas was damaged, but Islam in the middle of the 16th century took most of the Balkans and threatened Vienna. These conquests, however, were only preliminary to what seemed to be a sharp reversal of the course of history that set in with the loss of most of Hungary at the end of the 17th century. But from the inception of the period of the three empires (Ottoman Turkey, Safavid Persia, and Mogul India), 1500-1800, these Islamic states had been subject to the economic pressure of Europe before European imperialism triumphed in the 19th century.

As a result of shrinking trade and the further militarization of Islamic society in the 12th and 13th centuries, it could no longer afford the luxury of tolerance that characterized the previous centuries. Schools for the official interpretation of religion and the law based on it were established, free philosophical and theological inquiry was not permitted, and a more hierarchical religious structure was constructed. Earlier theologians had ‘endorsed the secularization of politics in return for a pact of mutual assistance between the government and the Ulema [scholars of Islamic law]’. [27] Now al-Ghazali, Islam’s Thomas Aquinas, and his successor Ibn Jamaa propounded the Doctrine of Necessity, which stated that even the worst of rulers is better than civil strife.

As with brahmahical literature of the same period, scientific compendia replaced the search for new knowledge. The spirit of intellectual curiosity was renewed in the courts of the new empire-builders of the 15th and 16th centuries, but it soon flickered out.

Something like the spirit of the Italian Renaissance had been abroad in the courts of Mohammed the Conqueror [Ottoman sultan, reigned 1451-81] and Akbar [Mogul emperor, reigned 1556-1605]; but Selim the Grim [reigned 1512-20] and Suleiman the Lawgiver [reigned 1520-66] undertook to suppress dangerous thoughts in the Ottoman empire; and Aurangzeb [reigned 1658-1707] attempted to do the same in India. Suleiman was so far successful that no revival of the inquiring, innovative spirit which in seventeenth-century Europe gave birth to modern literature and science ever occurred in the Ottoman empire (or in any other Moslem state). [28]

Imperialist apologists attribute the failure of the Islamic world to develop into capitalism to the intellectual sterility of Islam. [29] But this sterility was an effect, not a cause. Islam had produced a culture far surpassing that of Europe during the Dark Ages and a commercial market that was only surpassed by the world market of modern capitalism. Indeed it gave Europe such devices for the advancement of capitalism as Arabic numerals, which facilitated arithmetical computations, including the use of percentages for the taking of interest [30], and double-entry bookkeeping. That the brilliant Arab civilization at its zenith did not develop into capitalism is to be attributed to its structure as a tribute-paying and trading society, not to the religion of Islam.

Islamic Sects

Before its ossification, Islam was marked by a proliferation of sects which split off from the orthodox Sunni religion or from previous sects. These sects were the religious expression of rebellious social movements against the existing order.

Shiism began as a political grouping of the followers of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, who were opposed to the Meccan tribal chiefs. The Kharidjites, who objected to Ali’s allowing himself to be pressured into giving up the caliphate, were a split-off from the Shiites. They represented the pre-Islamic egalitarian tribal tradition, declaring ‘every believer who is morally and religiously irreproachable to be capable of being raised to the supreme dignity of the imamate [the leadership of the Shiite Moslem community], “even if he were a black slave”.’ [31] They won a wide popular following, particularly among the Berbers of North Africa, and for three centuries the caliphs sought to exterminate them. Today they survive as the Ibadite sect in southern Algeria. Known as ‘the Puritans of Islam’, they maintain themselves as a minority which has turned to trading, often acquiring substantial wealth.

The victorious Abbasid movement of the 8th century included Shiites, who gained the support of the discontented Bedouin masses and of the Mawali, the newly converted Moslems of Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Egypt. The Abbasid revolution was made by a coalition of Arabs, particularly southern Arabs, outside of the inner circle of the tribal aristocracy, and of Mawalis, whose ‘driving force’ were ‘the Mawali merchants and artisans who throve in the garrison cities established by the Arabs’. [32] The Abbasid rulers on coming to power turned against their radical followers and suppressed many Shiite groups.

Under the Abbasid dynasty the main divisions of the Shiites came into being – the ‘Fivers’, the ‘Seveners’, and the ‘Twelvers’. The ‘Fivers’ hold in special reverence the Fifth Imam in the line of Ali. The ‘Seveners’ and ‘Twelvers’ differ on the line of succession after the Sixth Imam.

The imam was a necessary mediator between Allah and the unlettered masses, who could not study the Koran. The imam, who increasingly became regarded as ‘divinely protected ... against all error and sin’[33], was a guide through the mystery of life, making his pronouncements not so much on the basis of sophisticated legalistic reasoning about the Koran as of direct apprehension of the revelation that it contains.

Sunni doctrine, on the other hand, stressed that it was the Koran and not divinely inspired men which was a guide for all areas of life. Fine points of law not explicitly dealt with in it could be interpreted from it by the learned in accordance with its fundamental principles – rather like an Orthodox rabbi determining in moot instances whether a food or a plate is ritually unclean or like the United States Supreme Court determining whether a 20th century law is in accordance with the 200-year-old constitution. ‘When, at any time, its [Sunni Islam’s] qualified scholars ... have come to an agreement’ on ‘any point of Islam’, ‘that point is assured and the acceptance of it as faith is binding on all [Sunni] Muslems.’ [34] Since the qualified scholars were more or less manipulated by the caliphs, Sunni doctrine was a buttress for the social order, as Shiite doctrine tended to be a challenge to it.

Some Shiite sects, however, were more accommodationist and others were more militant. The ‘Fivers’ or Zaidis, who are nowadays the dominant religion only in North Yemen, did not regard their imams as infallible and were able to cooperate with the caliphs. The ‘Twelvers’ or Imamis believed that the infant son of the eleventh imam went into ‘occultation’ (or suspension outside of the realm of material being) in the 9th century, from which he would some time re-emerge to institute the justice which the Koran demands but Islamic countries have been unable to attain. This doctrine, which was popular among the Shiites in the Abbasid government, was an excuse for taking the caliph’s orders while waiting for the Twelfth Imam to materialize in the indefinite future. However, in later times it also acted as a challenge to the legitimacy of the existing government.

The most radical of the Shiite sects in the 9th and 10th centuries were the ‘Seveners’ or Ismailis, who constituted a serious threat to the Abbasid empire. The Ismailis appealed to different kinds of people, including dissident intellectuals, who developed the doctrine that the Koran has two meanings, the obvious one suited for ordinary people and the subtle one suited for the learned. For them Ismailism was ‘Greek philosophy with a religious veneer.’ [35] But primarily Ismailism was a movement of the oppressed, in its early period the peasants and then the artisans of the towns. [36]

But the Ismailis, on gaining power in Tunisia and Egypt, came to an accommodation with the Sunni monarchies. The ‘great struggle to overthrow the old order and establish a new millennium ... dwindled into border-squabbles and cattle-raids’. [37] Like so many radical religious sects in Islam and in the West, the Ismailis lost their anti-establishment dynamism and survived as an ossified sect. In our time the leader of one of the Ismaili branches is the Aga Khan, the jet-setting potentate and familiar of movie actresses.

In Persia the militant Safavid warriors came to power in 1501 following a popularized Twelver Shiism. Their leaders soon turned to a more conservative doctrine, sending for official Twelver theologians from Arab countries to instruct the turbulent tribesmen in the true religion. Shiism, calling upon Persian traditions of hereditary monarchy, was transformed from a messianic ideology into a means of solidifying Safavid rule and into a weapon against the rival Sunni Ottoman Empire. This is a pattern that, as Engels noted [38], is repeated again and again in Islamic states: there is a revolt against the wealthy elite, but then the dynasty that is established itself becomes rich and conservative.

In addition to Shiism there was another movement in opposition to Sunni legalism, that of the Sufis. The Sufis resembled the Hasidic Jews who rebelled against the legalism of the Talmud-studying Orthodox Jews. Both originated among the illiterate or barely literate outside of the urban areas and followed popular leaders of a religion of ecstacy. The Sufi sheikh engaged in a variety of mystic rituals through which he sought to attain ecstatic union with Allah. All sorts of magical powers were attributed to him. So revered was he that one of them himself recorded that once, when his horse dropped faeces, his followers, eager to receive anything somehow emanating from him, picked it up and smeared their faces with it. [39]

Politically quietist and not formally declared heretical, although it was initially regarded by the orthodox with suspicion or contempt, Sufism came to contribute to the revival of Sunnism. It influenced the teaching in the schools and, organized in Dervish brotherhoods, took root in the cities, where it ministered to the social life of the artisans. Absorbed into the orthodox institutions, it gave them a new means of social control.

One idea taken from the Ismailis by various Shiit’e sects and by popular Sunnism was that of the Mahdi. The Mahdi, the divinely guided one, will appear just before the end of time, when the world will have gone completely to rack and ruin, ‘to fill, as it was said, the world with justice and equity as it is now filled with injustice and oppression’. [40] This doctrine, which was derived from the messianism of Judaism and Christianity, animated religious radical movements of Islam as it did such movements in Christianity.

With the beginning of modern imperialism, Mahdism became an anti-imperialist phenomenon, and ‘there was an eruption of Mahdist movements at the turn of the [18th] century, which continued on into the early, and middle, colonial period’. [41] The most well known of these Mahdis is the one who led the insurrection against General Gordon in the Sudan. As late as the early 1920s the British colonial administrators of northern Nigeria stated, indignant that his majesty’s Christian government be identified with the anti-Christ: ‘It has been the practice of agitators of late to identify the European conquerors of Muslim countries with Dajja [the anti-Christ who precedes the second coming of Nebi Isa (Jesus Christ), sometimes, as here, identified with the Mahdi in Islamic doctrine].’ [42]

The doctrine of the Mahdi, however, is not, according to Maxime Rodinson, a significant factor in the Muslim world today. [43] The Mahdi means as little to most Muslims as the second coming of Christ means to most Christians in the West. The idea of the liberating Mahdi has been superseded by the idea of struggle for national liberation from the dominance of Western imperialism, but national liberation itself has generally spoken in Islamic terms.

Islam and the Anti-Imperialist Struggle

National oppression, as in Hindu India and the Buddhist countries of Asia, caused a more firm adherence to a religion that was despised by the oppressor. As De Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, said of the Algerians, ‘Fanaticism had not nearly so much to do with the resistance of the Algerians as patriotism. Religion was the only flag around which they could rally.’ [44] The struggle against European imperialism was a source of renewed vigour for Islam. The village sheikhs provided local leadership in the struggle against European imperialism and its Christian missionary agents, of whom Jansen says, ‘How these missionaries from Holland, Britain and France, dedicated and sincere men of God, could have entered into what was basically an unholy alliance with Caesar, is not easy for us to understand.’ [45]

The princes, aristocrats, and landlords who worked together with imperialism in Muslim countries of the Middle East, Africa, and Asia were inveighed against not only for their immorality and impiety, as the wealthy rulers of former times had been attacked by rebellious Bedouin movements in the name of Islam, but for their association with foreigners and for the influence of Westernism upon them. Ironically, the Christian West, which had caricatured Muhammad as an old lecher, and Islam, particularly the Islam of Turkey, as a religion of voluptuaries, was seen by Muslims as given over to a materialistic hedonism and sensuality. Even after their countries have attained formal independence, the Muslim poor have continued to see the drinking and high living of the wealthy foreigners in their midst and of their own upper classes as scorn for the national religion.

Islam and Modernization

At the same time many intellectuals have seen science and technology as the means for the Muslim world to emerge from its dependence on Western imperialism. They argue that it is only in its decadence that Islam is opposed to rationalism and science and that it is necessary to go back to the Islam of the golden age before it turned to obscurantism and to ‘rethink Islam in modern terms’. Muslim society must remain Muslim, but it must become modern. This is in general the position of the radical bourgeois nationalists.

Other intellectuals are either indifferent to religion or ideologically opposed to it. A portion of these, together with members of the national minorities and advanced workers, have formed communist parties which are perceived as threats by the governments of the Muslim world but which are weakened by their ties with the Soviet bureaucracy.

The founders of the new Muslim nations were either Muslim modernists or secularists making use of the outward forms of Islam for political purposes. They include Ataturk of Turkey, Jinnah of Pakistan, Sukarno of Indonesia, Nasser of Egypt, and Bourguiba of Tunisia. They either effected ‘semi-revolutions from above’ or at any rate were able to institute some reforms.

Ataturk, who established a republic under his authoritarian leadership after World War I, was the first of the ‘modernizers’, and modernization meant coming into conflict with the religious authorities, who were closely bound to the old Ottoman Empire. Ataturk therefore dissolved the religious orders, instituted a Western-derived legal code that was free of the encumbrances of Islamic religious law, abolished many ancient customs incompatible with the modern world, and deleted the clause in the constitution that declared Islam the state religion. However, he insisted that he had ‘liberated and rediscovered true Islam’, ‘essentially a progressive religion’, freeing it from the ‘bigoted, reactionary clergy who exploited the people, debauched the government, and misinterpreted the faith’. [46]

Subsequent leaders proceeded along his path although many did not go so far. Jinnah, whose country’s reason for being was its religion, was quoted as saying after he came to power that ‘Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic state ruled by priests with a divine mission.’ [47] Sukarno’s policy was ‘to tolerate Islam as a religion but to curb it as a political force’. [48] Nasser restricted polygamy, suppressed religious courts, and instituted votes for women; however, his aim was ‘not ... to knock down Islam but to transform it’, ‘to “neutralize” Islam in internal politics, while “utilizing” it in foreign politics’. [49] Bourguiba, ‘the most iconoclastic of contemporary Muslim rulers while instituting modernist reforms... allowed the Ulema a certain visibility and status as religious leaders.’ [50] In short, these Muslim rulers, like the Buddhist rulers of Sri Lanka and Burma, sought to use religion as a unifying ideology while adapting it for the purposes of modernization. [51]

Islam and Reaction

The theological specialists have long been accustomed to giving obedience to temporal authority, and the radical bourgeois nationalist governments have attempted to co-opt them at the same time that they have taken measures against them. To some extent they have succeeded.

But tensions and conflicts have continued as a result of the theologians’ ties to classes opposed to the new bourgeoisie. In Libya, Qadafi called the established religious leaders, who had been one of the main supports of the monarchy, ‘a class of superfluous priests’. [52] In Syria, as in Egypt, the military government was opposed by the big-city bazaar merchants and the professional men of religion traditionally allied with them, who ‘were offended both by its socialist pretensions and by the fact that the men in control’, like those of Nasser’s regime, ‘were provincial upstarts, many of whom took to feathering their own and their family’s nests with little attempt at concealment’. [53]

But the professional men of religion have often outlasted the radical bourgeois nationalist governments. Although, says Jansen, they ‘have not played a very activist or dynamic role in militant Islam’, they are ‘of great importance as a strong, silent pressure group waiting and watching in the wings’. [54] The limited and ephemeral gains of the ‘semi-revolutions from above’ have brought disillusionment. There have then been reactions under the banner of Islam, varying in degree, against the uncompleted revolutions. Although these reactions have generally been led by laymen or military men, the men of religion have played a contributory role.

Turkey, which after World War I had conducted under Ataturk a war of national liberation against Allied occupation with the aid of the Soviet Union, after World War II joined NATO and became increasingly penetrated by foreign capital. Fearful of communism, the ruling class felt the need for ‘a moral and social force to strengthen the community against external attack and internal disruption’. [55] Accordingly, it resumed the teaching of Islamic religion in the public schools, opened state schools for the training of religious functionaries, and took such measures for the promotion of religion as putting religious programmes on the state radio.

In Indonesia, Sukarno’s dictatorship, which balanced itself between the powerful Communist party and the army, was overthrown in 1965 by the army, which carried on for four months one of the most extensive slaughters in history and instituted a brutal reaction that nullified Sukarno’s modest land reforms but made Indonesia ‘a paradise for investors’. In the massacre ‘lists compiled by the military were given to right-wing Muslim groups, who were armed with parangs [large, heavy knives] and transported in army trucks to villages, where they killed with bloody mutilation’. The head of the state security system told a Dutch television station that more than 50,000 had been killed, but Amnesty International estimated the dead at ‘many more than one million’. [56]

In Egypt the reaction came under Sadat, who on coming to power proclaimed a ‘revolution of rectification’ and proceeded to come to terms with Israel and United States imperialism. He declared the time of Nasser to have been one of religious unbelief which he was going to change and released imprisoned members of the Muslim Brotherhood [57] on condition that they did not join the outlawed organization. Although he had to keep changing course in response to the attacks of the reactionary Muslims, ‘he first encouraged Islamic movements as an ally against the leftist opposition and by so doing opened a Pandora’s box which proved difficult to control’. [58] How difficult to control were the forces he released was shown by his assassination, which occurred after this statement was written. The Muslim Sadat’s assassination by a Muslim zealot parallels the assassination of the Hindu Gandhi by a Hindu communalist and the assassination of the Buddhist Bandaranaike by a Buddhist monk.

Pakistan did not have a ‘semi-revolution from above’, but Bhutto, in the wake of the defeat of 1971 in the war with India, was voted into power on a promise of ‘Islamic socialism’ despite the opposition of the professional men of religion. After the big landlords became increasingly influential in his Pakistan People’s Party, Bhutto abandoned his timorous reformism, instituted ‘Islamic’ measures, and dropped the word ‘socialism’ for ‘the equality of Mohammed’.

As happened with Sadat, Bhutto’s ‘exploitation of Islam for political propaganda’ served ‘to strengthen the credibility of Islamic opposition groups, since it made him more vulnerable to their charges of hypocrisy’. [59] When General Zia seized power, he ‘praised the “spirit of Islam” that inspired the opposition movement’ and declared: ‘Pakistan ... will continue to survive only if it sticks to Islam.’ His regime, however, has been, ‘to many of the peasants and workers’, not the Order of the Prophet it has proclaimed itself to be but ‘a regime of landlords and exploiters ... who are using Islam as a transparent veil for their crimes’. [60]

Algeria and Iran have also had their reactions under forces flying the banner of Islam, but they differ markedly from the other countries we have discussed, having undergone what Löwy calls ‘interrupted popular revolutions’. These occur ‘where the popular masses, workers and/or peasants, burst onto the scene of history, smash the old political structures, but are eventually neutralized by bourgeois or petty-bourgeois forces who usurp the leadership and “institutionalize” the revolution’. [61]

After the victory of the Algerian revolution, workers and peasants expropriated the industries and farms abandoned by the French and put into power a radical wing of the FLN under Ben Bella. However, the leadership, untrained in Marxism, did not follow a consistent course and, the victim of its own contradictions, was finally overthrown in a military coup.

The Boumedienne government, after the coup against Ben Bella, while continuing in many respects Ben Bella’s agrarian reforms and anti-imperialist measures, took the direction of ‘a guided maximization of private enterprise’. [62] Ben Bella had sought to join Marxism and Islam: ‘We adopt the Marxist economic analysis because we believe that it is the only one valid for the economic development of our country; but we do not espouse the Marxist ideology because we Algerians are Moslems and Arabs.’ [63] Boumedienne’s opposition to Ben Bella was carried on in conjunction with the opposition of Islamic leaders. ‘What had begun as a crusade for the revival of Islam on the part of a small group of religious leaders was easily turned into an anti-Communist and xenophobic movement on the part of the army.’ [64]

Anti-communism has also been used by the Iranian Khomeini regime against its erstwhile allies, both the socialist left and the bourgeois nationalist modernizers, but whereas the Boumedienne regime is undemocratic the Khomeini regime is savagely repressive. In the first stage of the revolution the shoras (workers’ and peasants’ councils), which raised radical demands, gained great power. This power was first gradually eroded and then almost entirely crushed by the Khomeini regime. Women, who had played a vital part in the revolution, have also been turned against. Religious obscurantism is stiflingly all-pervasive, and the traditionalist bourgeoisie of the bazaars, the chief patrons of the professional men of religion, remains entrenched. The anti-capitalist direction of the revolution has been halted. It is only through a ‘permanent revolution’, that is, a socialist revolution growing out of the bourgeois-democratic phase of the revolution, that, as the history of the ‘semi-revolutions from above’ and of the interrupted popular revolutions shows, progressive gains and democratic rights can be maintained and extended.




1. Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980), pp.12-13.

2. Cf. Bryan S. Turner, Marx and the End of Orientalism (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1978), pp.51-2.

3. Bryan S. Turner, Weber and Islam: A Critical Study (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p.29.

4. W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), p.39.

5. Maxime Rodinson, Islam and Capitalism, tr. Brian Pearce (London; Allen Lane, 1974), p.14.

6. Turner, Weber and Islam, p.35.

7. Jane Idleman Smith and Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981), p.164.

8. Turner, Weber and Islam, p.35.

9. Rodinson, Muhammad, p.244.

10. Ibid., p.267.

11. E. Ashtor, A Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages (London: Collins, 1976), p.11.

12. Maurice Lombard, The Golden Age of Islam (New York: American Elsevier, 1975), p.3.

13. Rodinson, Muhammad, p.297.

14. Maxime Rodinson points out (Marxism and the Muslim World, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981, p.316, n.19) that the Koran actually says (x, 99-100), ‘Would thou compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe save by the permission of Allah.’ This, he says, is only one of a number of such statements, but he adds that there are contradictory passages. In later centuries Islam became increasingly less flexible, but as late as 1697 the philosopher Pierre Bayle wrote (Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, p.316, n.19): ‘There are the Turks who tolerate all sorts of religions although the Koran orders them to persecute the infidels; and there are the Christians who do nothing but persecute although the Scriptures prohibit persecution.’

15. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1950), p.140. Christians, on the other hand, were engaging in forcible baptism. The thinking of many of the time is illustrated by the story of the Elizabethan mariner who, observing forcibly baptized captured Moors turning to Mecca to pray, remarked naively that the poor fools did not know that they were now Christians.

16. Lombard, p.4.

17. Rodinson, Muhammad, p.294.

18. It is salutary for the intellectual representatives of a dominant civilization, arrogant in its ascendancy, to see how it was regarded when positions were the reverse of what they are today. The 10th century geographer Masudi said (Lewis, p.164) of the western Europeans that ‘their bodies are large, their natures gross, their manners harsh, their understanding dull and their tongues heavy ... [T]heir religious beliefs lack solidity ... [T]hose of them who are farthest to the north are most subject to stupidity, grossness and brutishness.’

19. Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (London: New Left Books, 1974), p.502.

20. Lombard, p.10.

21. William Osier, The Evolution of Modern Medicine (New Haven, 1922), p.98, quoted by Philip K. Hitti, America and the Arab Heritage, The Arab Heritage, ed. Nalub Amin Paris (Princeton University Press, 1946), p.3.

22. Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, p.64.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Anderson, p.509.

26. The Crusades were the Christian counterpart of the Islamic jihads or ‘holy wars’ and brought the same kind of booty, which was likewise attributed to the beneficence of God. Lewis (pp. 150-51) quotes Fulcher of Chartres, a chronicler of the First Crusade: ‘For those who were poor there [in Europe] has God made rich here. Those who had a few pence there, have numberless gold pieces here; he who had not a village there possesses, with God as giver, a whole town here.’ Cf. John L. La Monte, Crusade and Jihad, The Arab Heritage, ed. Paris, p.196: ‘In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in the age of the crusades and of the jihads, religion ... was an important and valuable stimulant; it was seldom a prime cause or dominant motive.’ In fact, not infrequently it was so far from being the dominant motive that both Christian crusaders against the heathen and the Muslim warriors against the unbelievers were, where the promise of plunder was greater, diverted from their holy wars to fight against their own coreligionists even making unholy alliances with their religious antagonists for that purpose.

27. Anwar H. Syed, Islam and the Dialectic of National Solidarity in Pakistan, (New York: Praeger, 1983), ch.2, quoted by Eqbal Ahmad, Islam and Politics, The Islamic Impact, ed. Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad et al. (Syracuse University Press, 1984), p.16.

28. William H. McNeill, The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (University of Chicago Press, 1963), p.632.

29. For a study of scholarly apologetics for imperialism, see Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978) and the review-article of Said’s book by Stuart Schaar, Orientalists in the Service of Imperialism, Race and Class, 21 (1979), 67-80.

30. Rodinson shows (Islam and Capitalism, pp.35-46 and 261, n.52) that the Islamic prohibition of interest was circumvented from the very beginning and that there were similar prohibitions of interest by Judaism and Christianity, which were likewise circumvented.

31. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam (Cornell University Press, 1953), I, 248.

32. Lewis, p.81.

33. Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, I, 311.

34. Ibid.

35. Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, p.66.

36. Cf. Lewis, pp.107-10.

37. Bernard Lewis, The Assassins (New York: Octagon Books, 1980), p.70. The word ‘assassin’ comes from the word ‘hashish’, which an underground, terroristic branch of the Ismailis was said to use before undertaking its terroristic acts.

38. Marx and Engels on Religion, p.317n. Possibly Engels got this idea from the 14th century Arab historian ibn Khaldun, part of whose history was translated into French in 1862.

39. Turner, Weber and Islam, p.66.

40. Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, pp.170-71.

41. Thomas Hodgkin, The Revolutionary Tradition in Islam, Race & Class, 21 (1980), 228.

42. Hodgkin, 229.

43. Rodinson, Marxism and the Muslim World, pp.170-71.

44. G.H. Jansen, Militant Islam (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), p.97.

45. Jansen, p.51.

46. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History (Princeton University Press, 1957), p.176.

47. Jansen, p.136.

48. Ibid., p.190.

49. Jean and Simonne Lacouture, Egypt in Transition (London: Methuen, 1958), p.441.

50. Ahmad, p.16.

51. So too for Qadafi’s regime in Libya and the Ba’athist regimes in Syria and Iraq. Cf. Omar I. El Fathaly and Monte Palmer, Political Development and Social Change in Libya (Lexington, Mass: D.C. Heath, 1980), pp.58-9 and John Obert Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World, (Boulder, Col: Westview Press, 1982), p.319.

52. Fathaly and Palmer, p.59.

53. Edward Mortimer, Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam (New York: Random House, 1982), p.264.

54. Jansen, p.147.

55. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, p.187.

56. Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (Boston: South End Press, 1979), pp.207-209.

57. The Muslim Brotherhood, which exists in many countries, is a fundamentalist reactionary organization based on the traders and artisans who suffered from the changes in commerce and industry, white collar professionals, lower-level bureaucrats in the state apparatus, students, and a section of the peasantry. It first supported Nasser and then turned against him.

58. Derek Hopwood, Egypt: Politics and Society 1945-1981 (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1983), p.117.

59. Mortimer, p.219.

60. Ibid., pp.221, 229.

61. Lowy, p.164.

62. Eric Wolf, Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century (London, 1973), p.297, quoted by Löwy, p.174.

63. David and Marina Ottaway, Algeria: The Politics of a Socialist Revolution, (Berekeley: University of California Press, 1979), p.179.

64. Ibid., p.179.


Last updated on 2.2.2005