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Article

African American Islam  

Herbert Berg

The first Muslims arrived in the American colonies and later in the United States as African slaves. Although a few and noteworthy Muslim American slaves left written records of their lives, Islam was largely extinguished by the white slave owners. Sectarian and racial forms of Islam were introduced into the United States, particularly within urban African American communities, by Ahmadiyya missionaries and the Moorish Science Temple. The rise of the Nation of Islam under Wali Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad and its bifurcation under the latter’s son, Warith Deen Mohammed, and Louis Farrakhan deserve special attention, as do the initial appeal of the Nation of Islam’s racial formulation of Islam and, decades later, the willingness of most of its members to move to Sunni orthodoxy after Elijah Muhammad’s death. The second major, though not entirely separate, strand of Islam in the United States, though often interacting or competing with the first, comes from Muslim immigrants. This group brings unique issues, such as living in a largely Christian society, competing with the Nation of Islam, refuting stereotypes in the media and popular culture, finding a political voice, and coping with post-9/11 Islamophobia, all leading to the consideration of the prospects for a uniquely “American Islam” that reflects U.S. pluralism and (supposed) separation of “church and state.”

Article

The Caliphate  

Carool Kersten

The caliphate as an institution for governing the Muslim community can be traced back to the time immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 ce. With its humble origins in the parochial settings of an Arabian desert oasis, the caliphate provided the structure for the shepherding of a community of believers organized around prophetic teachings calling for return to the true religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets, a religion that came to be known as Islam. Despite internal dissent and even civil war, the caliphate not only survived but even expanded far beyond the Arabian Peninsula. Between the 8th and 10th centuries the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates ruled an empire stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus River. After that, the challenges of sustained political control proved too formidable to be exercised from a single center, leading to political fragmentation. Although it functioned only for a few centuries as an effective form of Islamic governance, for many Sunni Muslims the caliphate’s political and symbolic significance has outlasted its administrative and institutional fragmentation. Its appeal even continued after its formal abolition in 1924 by the founding president of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881–1938). Since then the caliphate has not just remained a nostalgic memory. Throughout the 20th century and into the new millennium, some proponents of political Islam continue to advocate the restoration of a caliphate as a rallying point for Muslims worldwide, in some instances making concrete efforts toward re-establishing the institution or even proclaiming a new caliph.

Article

Constitutions and Islamic Law  

Christie S. Warren

The Constitution of Madinah, written by the Prophet after his flight from Mecca and arrival in Madinah (622 ce/1 ah), is considered by many to be the first written constitution. Nevertheless, and although Islamic law has developed in rich detail since then in a number of other areas, constitutionalism remains a comparatively underdeveloped area of Islamic law. Only recently has this started to change. Since 2011 and in part due to events of the so-called Arab Spring, the topic of Islam and constitutions has been the subject of heightened interest. In recent years, a number of Muslim-majority countries, including Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Palestine, have embarked upon constitutional processes, and the relationship between Islam and the state has been debated in each of them. A variety of models has emerged over time; whereas in Saudi Arabia the Qur’an serves as the constitution itself, in Egypt Shari’ah is the principal source of legislation. Similarly, while the 2012 draft constitution of Libya states that Islam shall be the state religion and Islamic Shari’ah the main source of legislation, the constitution of Iraq provides that no law contradicting established provisions of Islam may be enacted. Language in the Afghan constitution is even more precise and states that Afghanistan is an Islamic republic, that no law shall contravene the tenets and provisions of Islam, and that in the absence of specific constitutional or legislative language governing the disposition of a case, courts shall implement principles of Hanafi jurisprudence. In similar fashion, academic scholarship analyzing the relationship between Islam and constitutionalism has increased in scope and vibrancy in recent years. Historically, scholarship in this field tended to focus on issues relating to governance and administrative structures in Muslim-majority countries—not on normative constitutional principles. More recently, Islamic perspectives on constitutional norms have become the focus of significant scholarship. Some constitutional issues of recent academic interest include state sponsorship of a particular religion to the exclusion of others, freedom to practice Islam and other religions, and options for articulating the role of Shari’ah within constitutional frameworks, including the use of supremacy and repugnancy clauses, the role of Shari’ah as a source of legislation, “Shari’ah checks” to ensure that legislation does not contravene Islamic law, review by Shura Councils, and the role of the judicial branch in interpreting Islamic law. Additional constitutional issues impacted by defined relationships between Shari’ah and the state include human and women’s rights, protection of religious minorities; criminal law and hudud punishments; finance law and restrictions on charging interest; rights of freedom of association, expression, and expression; and provisions governing marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Article

The Evolution of Modern Jihadism  

Nelly Lahoud

Political Islam has generated two ideological strands that use religious ideology to advance their goals, namely, Islamism and jihadism. On the one hand, Islamists have formulated a political paradigm premised on Islamic teachings that are adaptable to the secular framework of the modern state and have, therefore, endured both as domestic and global political actors. On the other hand, jihadis have rejected positive law outright and advanced a global revolutionary paradigm against today’s secular world order. Key to jihadism’s appropriation of Islamic teachings is a quest for a legal code that provides jihadis with both an anti-establishment justification for their violence and a claim to legitimacy in the minds of Muslims whom they wish to enlist as their followers.

Article

Governance in Classical Islamic Thought  

Ovamir Anjum

Governance in Islamic history has taken many different forms. The formative period saw most innovative deployment of the Arab tribal norms under the guidance of Islamic norms and the pressure of the rapid expansion. After the conquests, the ruling elite augmented their Arab tribal form of governance with numerous institutions and practices from the surrounding empires, particularly the Persian empire. The Umayyads ruled as Arab chiefs, whereas the Abbasids ruled as Persian emperors. Local influences further asserted themselves in governance after the Abbasids weakened and as Islamization took root. After the fragmentation of the Abbasid empire by the ah 4th century/10th century ce, a distinctively Islamic society emerged whose regional rulers upheld its law and institutions such as land-grants (iqṭāʿ), taxation (kharāj and jizya), education (legal madhhab, jāmiʿ and madrasah), and judiciary (qaḍāh). A triangle of governmental authority was established, with the caliph as the source of legitimacy, symbol of community unity, and leader of religious rites; the sultan as the territorial king who maintained the army and monopoly over violence; and the scholars (ulama’) as socioreligious leaders of their respective communities. The caliph or the sultan appointed the local qāḍīs from among the ulama’, who served not only as judges and mediators but also as moral guides and administers of endowments and jurisconsults and counselors, and thus played a key role in the self-governance of classical Islamic societies.

Article

History of Muslims in the United States  

Yasmine Flodin-Ali

During the transatlantic slave trade, enslaved Muslims were brought from North and West Africa to what would become the United States. Many of these African Muslims were literate in Arabic. Even in the face of formative obstacles, enslaved people and their descendants continued to observe their faith and to adapt Islamic and Islamically influenced practices in the United States. In the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Muslims began to immigrate to the United States from the Middle East and South Asia. Muslim immigrants used a variety of tactics to establish communities in the United States while navigating segregation, miscegenation, and restrictive citizenship laws. A few small-scale Muslim institutions were established, including mosques and cultural centers. Prominent Muslim and Islamically influenced movements flourished in the early 20th century, such as the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community movement. The MSTA was an African American–majority movement born of the Great Migration. The Thesophist movement was largely white. Both movements were similar in terms of their exploration of the occult and emphasis on bodily control as a means of spiritual purification. The Ahmadiyya produced and translated much of the religious literature that circulated in the United States across Muslim sects in the first half of the 20th century, including the most popular translation of the Qur’an, often without attribution. Sunni and Shi’i communities were also present in this time period. The Nation of Islam (NOI, 1930–1975) surpassed the MSTA and Ahmadiyya to become the largest and most influential Muslim American movement in the secondhalf of the 20th century. The NOI emphasized communal economic empowerment and self-reliance for Black Americans in order to achieve the goal of separation from Whites as a means of achieving racial justice. Prominent figures from the NOI, such as Malcolm X, are frequently invoked by different Muslim American groups in the 21st century. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, NOI members went in different directions. Elijah Muhammad’s son, Warith Deen Muhammad, led a large portion of the community to Sunni Islam. Other members joined Louis Farrakhan’s NOI. The Harter-Celler Act of 1965 opened up non-European immigration, leading to a large increase in Muslim immigrants from the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. Due to the law’s stipulations, these immigrants were largely upper-class and well-educated. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was also a push by many different Muslim American groups toward Sunnism. The 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis increased anti-Muslim hostility in the United States and created the stereotype that all Muslim Americans were immigrants from the Middle East. The 9/11 attacks amplified this backlash, but also led to the creation and strengthening of nationwide Muslim civil rights and advocacy organizations. Advocacy campaigns and heated debates have also taken place within the Muslim American community in the 21st century. Professor of Islamic Studies Amina Wadud has been particularly influential in shaping conversations around gender and Islam, both in the United States and globally. Wadud is also well-known for leading a mixed-gender congregational prayer in New York City in 2005, which sparked a global debate over the permissibility of women leading prayer. In the early 21st century, so-called third spaces proliferated, including art spaces and gatherings facilitated through online groups such as Meetup, where Muslims who felt left out of more traditional mosque spaces found community. This entry ends in 2010, almost a decade after 9/11 and before the rising presidential candidacy of Donald J. Trump.

Article

Islam and the Middle East in the American Imagination  

Brooke Sherrard

Americans have utilized Islam as a rhetorical device for articulating various understandings of American identity from the time of the earliest Anglo-American settlers. In every period, many rejected Islam and Muslims as oppositional to American identity, accusing Islam of inherent despotism that conflicted with American liberty. Others, though, used perceived traits of Islam to critique American behaviors or focused on similarities between Islam and Christianity. Many citizens of the early American republic assumed their country was essentially Protestant, but founding figures such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison indicated their support for a more inclusive polity by listing Muslims among the varieties of people they believed could be good citizens. These men meant this abstractly, as they believed there were no Muslims in the United States at the time and did not know some African slaves were Muslim. American Protestant organizations sent missionaries around the world starting in the early 19th century, including to areas of the Middle East where the Muslim majority was legally protected from proselytization. Therefore, missionaries tended to work with native Christian populations. American missionaries, travelers, and explorers had a great interest in the Holy Land. A frequent theme in their writings was a desire to see this area reclaimed from Islamic rule. They believed the Holy Land could be regenerated through Protestant influence and often suggested Jews could be relocated there. Over time, liberal Protestants moved away from seeking conversions and became more interested in educational and medical aspects of missions. American discussions about Islam intensified again after September 11, 2001. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis argued that Western civilization and Islamic civilization were inherently incompatible. Others, like John L. Esposito and Feisal Abdul Rauf, focused on the historical and theological similarities between Christianity and Islam to suggest common ground.

Article

Islam, Gender, and Sexualities  

Yafa Shanneik

Mapping a discussion on gender and sexualities in Islam needs to move beyond an understanding of Islamic law (shariah) and its interpretations that has traditionally been made by male religious scholars (ulamā). It is important to also pay attention to the lived experiences of people on the ground and move away from a homogeneous universal construct of what gender is and what sexualities are. It should include an examination of various power structures that highlights the experiences and voices of not only women but also other subjected and subaltern groups. What are the intersections and overlapping viewpoints and arguments on gender and sexualities in Islam? Who is talking on behalf of which group? The examination of gender and sexualities within Islam is a complex topic that needs consideration of socioeconomic and political shifts as well as ongoing processes of modernization and globalization. This includes the formation of nation-states, the codification of Islamic law, the shift in family relations and mobility, the increase in level of education and waged labor, and transnational migration. International organizations, such as the United Nations, also exert pressure on governments of Muslim-majority countries to adhere to established international human rights standards. This pressure has played a role in prompting changes in legislations particularly regarding the personal status law that affects women’s and other minority rights. The aftermath of the latest political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since 2011 has placed gender at the heart of not only religious but also political contestations. Displacement and the sociopolitical marginalization of minority groups have contributed to the changing understandings of gender orders within the MENA region and beyond. As a consequence, normative understandings of gender and sexualities have been renegotiated and readjusted and have resulted in new gender power relations. This disruption of conventional gender power relations creates tensions and causes divergences between what, for generations, has been perceived as traditional gender norms. This is primarily evident within familial structures and conjugal relationships where the lived realities do not always reflect current Islamic jurisprudence or the law set by the state.

Article

Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought and History  

Asma Afsaruddin

In both popular and scholarly literature, jihad is primarily assumed to be a monovalent concept referring to “military/armed combat,” and martyrdom (shahada) is inevitably understood to be of the military kind. This assumption facilitates the discussion of jihad and martyrdom as terms with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the varying sociopolitical contexts in which they have been deployed through time. Such a monovalent understanding of these two concepts emerges primarily through consultation of the juridical literature and official histories that were produced after the 2nd century ce (8th century ah) and that are unduly privileged in academic discussions of this subject. In contradistinction to this approach, a more holistic and historical approach to the term jihad can be undertaken by focusing on the changing significations of jihad from the earliest formative period of Islam to the contemporary period, against the backdrop of specific social and political circumstances which have mediated the meanings of this critical term. This larger objective entails canvassing a more varied genre of texts to recreate a more multifaceted understanding of jihad and martyrdom as dynamic discursive terms through time. Such sources include Qurʾan exegetical works (tafsir), early and late works of hadith which purport to contain the sayings of the prophet Muhammad, the excellences of jihad (fadaʾil al-jihad) and the excellences of patience (fadaʾil al-sabr) literatures, which are often not consulted on this topic. Furthermore, the comparison of early and late sources and texts from these genres allows one to chart both the constancies and changes in the spectrum of meanings and repertoire of activities included under the terms jihad and shahada. This recovery of a broader semantic landscape undermines exclusively martial conceptualizations of both these terms and has important implications for the contemporary period.

Article

Muslim-Christian Relations: Historical and Contemporary Realities  

Jane Smith

Throughout the nearly fifteen centuries of Muslim-Christian encounter, individual adherents of both traditions often have lived peaceably with each other. At the same time, Muslim expansion into Christian territories and Christian imperialism in Muslims lands have fostered fear and ill-will on both sides. Repercussions from the Crusades continue to resound in the contemporary rhetoric employed by defenders of both faiths. In recent years relations between Muslims and Christians across the globe have become increasingly polarized, fanned by anti-Islamic rhetoric and fearmongering. While a number of verses in the Qur’an call for treating Christians and Jews with respect as recipients of God’s divine message, in reality many Muslims have found it difficult not to see Christians as polytheists because of their doctrine of the Trinity. Christians, for their part, traditionally have viewed the Qur’an as fraudulent and Muhammad as an imposter. Old sectarian rivalries play out with serious consequences for minority groups, both Christian and Muslim. Conflicts in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere for much of the 20th century were often labeled as ethnic, political, or ideological perpetuations of long-standing struggles over land, power, and influence. These conflicts now tend to be labeled in accord with the specifically religious affiliation of their participants. Understanding the history of Muslim-Christian relations, as well as current political realities such as the dismantling of the political order created by European colonialism, helps give context to current “hot spots” of Muslim-Christian conflict in the world. It is difficult to imagine a time in history at which there is greater need for serious interfaith engagement than now. We need to understand better the history of Muslim-Christian relations so as to give context to current “hot spots” of Muslim-Christian conflict in the world. It is also important to understand the ways in which members of the two communities experience each other in specific areas of the world today, including the United States, taking note of efforts currently underway to advance interfaith understanding and cooperation. The events of September 11, 2001, and the resulting American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, have led to ugly commentary reminiscent of medieval hyperbole. Right-wing evangelical rhetoric in the United States against Islam has been fueled by incidents of international terrorism involving Muslims, while the well-funded Islamophobia industry in the United States has been producing and distributing large amounts of anti-Muslim material. Since the events of September 2011, American Muslims, caught in a painful position, have decried the acts of the 9/11 terrorists and defended Islam as a religion of peace. American Muslims want to exercise their constitutional rights to free speech in expressing their objection to certain American foreign policies, at the same time that they fear the consequences of the Patriot Act and other acts they view as assaults on their civil liberties. Meanwhile other Americans are struggling to understand that the Muslims with whom they interact in businesses, schools, and neighborhoods are different from the Muslim extremists who are calling for ever more dire measures against the United States. This is the general context in which Christian-Muslim dialogue is now taking place and to which it must address itself if it is to be effective.

Article

Muslim-Jewish Relations  

Reuven Firestone

Muslim-Jewish relations began with the emergence of Islam in 7th-century Arabia, but contacts between pre-Jewish Israelites and pre-Muslim Arabs had been common for nearly two millennia previously. These interactions inform the earliest relations between Muslims and Jews and serve as precursors to the social, cultural, religious, political, and institutional relations between Muslims and Jews from the 7th century to the present. Areas and periods of particular importance are 7th-century Arabia with first contacts between Jews and the earliest Muslims, 8th–9th-century Middle East with the establishment of legal and social status of Jews in Islam, the 9th to 14th centuries in many parts of the Muslim world with the development of great Jewish intellectual advances under Islamic influence, the subsequent decline of the Muslim world and its negative impact on Jews and other minorities, the period under colonial powers with the rise of national movements and the subsequent transition to independent nation-states that includes the rise of both Jewish and Palestinian nationalisms, and the current status of Muslim-Jewish relations today. Common issues include language production; cultural production including literature, hermeneutics, and systematic thinking; legal developments, political relations, religious commonalities and differences, and economic relations and partnerships.

Article

Nazism and Religion  

Eric Kurlander

The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) always had a complicated relationship with religion, emblematic of the diverse völkisch movement out of which the NSDAP emerged. This relationship became even more complicated during the later years of the Weimar Republic as the party grew larger and attracted millions of new supporters from Protestant as well as Catholic regions. The NSDAP’s attitude toward the Christian churches was nonetheless ambivalent, swinging from co-optation to outright hostility. This ambivalence was founded in part on a pragmatic recognition of Church power and the influence of Christianity across the German population, but it simultaneously reflected an ideological rejection of Judeo-Christian values that a number of Nazi leaders saw as antithetical to National Socialism. Many Nazis therefore sought religious alternatives, from Nordic paganism and a “religion of nature” to a German Christianity led by a blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus. This complex mélange of Christian and alternative faiths included an abiding interest in “Indo-Aryan” (Eastern) religion, tied to broader ideological assumptions regarding the origins of the Aryan race in South Asia. Ultimately, there was no such thing as an official “Nazi religion.” To the contrary, the regime explored, embraced, and exploited diverse elements of (Germanic) Christianity, Ario-Germanic paganism, and Indo-Aryan religions endemic to the völkisch movement and broader supernatural imaginary of the Wilhelmine and Weimar period.

Article

Religious Foundations of the Last Instructions of 9/11  

Hans G. Kippenberg

An instruction manual consisting of four sheets in Arabic was found with three of the four teams that performed the terror attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The writing conceived of the action as a raid (ghazwa), as we know it from early Islamic history. It instructed the teams how to perform the ghazwa correctly. Purifying their intentions by recitals, rituals, and bodily cleaning, they turn their attack into an act of worship. A part called the “second stage” anticipates the issue of assuring divine protection at the airport. Finally “a third stage” urges the teams to act in the plane according the practice of the Prophet and to achieve martyrdom. To understand the manual and its framing of the violence, six dimensions will be analyzed: (1) Arguments for and against the authenticity of the document are discussed. (2) The attack happened in the wake of a declaration of war by the “World Islamic Front for the Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” in 1998, signed by Osama bin Laden and leaders of other jihadist groups. (3) The message spread across the Internet and was accepted by various groups that regarded the situation of Islam as threatened, among them a group of young Muslim men in Hamburg. A network called al-Qaeda emerged. (4) The present world is dominated by the power of ignorance and hubris (jahiliyya). The manual prescribed an attack in terms of the raids (ghazwa) of the Prophet in Medina. (5) The manual presumes a particular communal form of organizing militant Muslims. (6) It celebrated militancy of Muslims and presupposed a fighter’s ethos in the diaspora. An argument is made that the American concept of terrorism as a manifestation of evil and immorality destined to be eradicated militarily by the United States and their allies ignores the secular character of conflict and accelerates the cycle of violence.

Article

Salafism  

Joas Wagemakers

Salafism is a branch of Sunni Islam whose modern-day adherents claim to emulate “the pious predecessors” (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ; often equated with the first three generations of Muslims) as closely and in as many spheres of life as possible. Different scholars of Islam throughout time have striven to emulate the early Muslim generations in the legal sphere, in theological matters, or in both. The ideas espoused by these scholars have more or less culminated in the Wahhabi movement that started on the Arabian Peninsula in the 18th century, which in turn helped spread a Salafi message to the rest of the Arab and Muslim worlds and even beyond. As such, the trend now referred to as Salafism came about, expressing itself ideologically in teachings that are meant to present the trend as exclusively and meticulously adhering to the example of the salaf, while rejecting all other sources of influence. Practically, Salafism can be divided into three branches: quietist Salafism, whose adherents shun political activism and concentrate on “cleansing” and teaching Islam in all its “purity”; political Salafism, which does concentrate on political commitment as an integral part of Islam through contentious debates, parliamentary participation, and founding political parties; and Jihadi-Salafism, whose followers seek to overthrow supposedly apostate regimes in the Muslim world through violent jihad. Although the term “Salafism” is heavily contested among Salafis—with adherents of one branch often not allowing the application of the label to be applied to the other branches—its various ideas and manifestations show that Salafism is quite a diverse phenomenon.

Article

State and Citizenship in Modern Arab Muslim Thought  

Louay Safi

Intellectual debates and sociopolitical changes in Arab societies have brought about new political outlooks and consciousness, and have resulted in profound political change and restructuring of state institutions. Reform efforts successfully introduced modern political institutions, but failed in effecting a broad and systematic transformation of political culture, as the latter continues to be guided by notions and practices rooted in the premodern models of authoritarian (“sultanic”) governance. The drive to political reform under the rubric of Tanzimat started around the turn of the 19th century as a matter of necessity by both Ottoman rulers (sultans), and their governors in Egypt and Tunisia, in response to European imperial expansion into Africa and Asia. By mid-20th century, political institutions and state bureaucracies were restructured in the mold of modern political ideas. Yet these ideas, and the ethical foundations on which they stood, failed to mature in post-Ottoman Muslim societies. Conservative forces resisted the new ideas. With the increased disenchantment of Muslim youth with postcolonial states, conservative thinkers reintroduced Islamic notions and values into the debate over the proper form of government in contemporary Muslim societies. The push to modernize society has been intense, empowering Muslim modernists to move ahead to reshape societal institutions. The zeal to bring about quick development effected indeed rapid modernization but led to the rise of autocratic governments, and further polarized Muslims societies. Notions of popular sovereignty and equal citizenship were countered by the sovereignty of Shari`ah and the need for religious differentiation and religious autonomy, thereby demanding the revival of the historical institutions of caliphate and dhimmis. The debate gradually moved toward compromise, whereby Muslim intellectuals and scholars attempted a creative synthesis on the common ground found in both traditional Islam and modern democratic liberal ideas. The transformation into a model that aligns Islamic values with the principles of democracy (or shura) and equal rights of citizens, while profound and increasingly broad, is still incomplete, as current struggles in Muslim societies demonstrate; intellectual and practical battles for the soul of Muslim societies continue to rage. The push back in the last two decades against modern notions of state and citizenship, and the rise in popularity of groups that aim at reviving the premodern institution of caliphate underscore the debate between old and modern notions of political organization and allegiance, and require deeper understanding of the nature of the tensions between premodern and contemporary political ideas and institutions.