Notes on the Sociology of Religion: Islamic Societies (25)

John C. Rankin (2010)


  1. Nature of Islam + five pillars + nature of jihad + role of ulema + Sunnis, Shi’a and Sufis.
  2. Four responses to modernity – reaction, secularize, cocooning, reform.
  3. Egypt (reaction) – Islam v. diminishing Coptic population (now 9 to 1 ratio) since seventh century; secular elite from Nasser to Sadat to Mubarak v. reaction of Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Azhar University in Cairo: intellectual hub of Arab world.
  4. Turkey (secularize) – 98 percent Muslim; straddling Bosporus straits; end of Ottoman empire w/Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, totalitarian military secular power; banning hijabs + fez; banning Islam in politics; EU + NATO entreaties; now Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his planned return to Islamic pre-Ataturk identity.
  5. Pakistan (cocooning) – 95 percentMuslim, majority Sunni, minority Shi’a; British colonial influence in education + hospitals; history of split from India in 1947 and 1971 secession of Bangladesh to give Muslim identity separate from Hindu. Political leaders (e.g. Bhuttos), Islamicizing tensions + corruption; military leaders about half the time ( Zia + de-Islamicizing while using Wahabiism for legitimization).
  6. Indonesia (reform); 88 percent of 210 million formally Muslim; syncretistic reality; history of 300 ethnic and tribal groups, four hundred languages, almost 14,000 islands (70 percent on Java); part Hindu, part Buddhist, part Christian, part abangan (animist) in soul; moderate Islam; settled by Austronesians over many years in many waves, Islamic missionization in 12th century ff; Western-oriented secularist Sukarno until bloody coup in 1965 by Javanese Suharto – pretense of Communist takeover + Islamist reaction; through 1988; claimed Islam but being more of a Javanese animist; Chinese merchants, Christian “boat-rockers”; six acceptable religions (Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Animist), increasingly managed by government; heavy handed oppression of East Timor following sham election; allowing Aceh to have measure of Shari’a law; moderate Muslim Addurrahman Walid.
  1. India: two models – secular dynastic approach of Nehru’s family v. Hindu nationalism of BJP. Largest percentage Hundu; large Muslim enclaves; large and long indigenous Christian population in the south; Mohandas Gandhi as an “action” karma yogi; use of satyagraha (“truth force”) to oppose British; “traditional Hindu tolerance for all religions.”Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, 1940 stated “it is a dream that Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality” for they equal “different and distinct social orders.” Gandhi’s assassinated by extreme Hindu in 1948. British colonial scientific administrative rationalism v. Gandhian “inner spirit” comunitarianists. Endemic corruption. 2002 Manmohan Singh as prime minister, “The election proved a triumph for multicultural, multilingual, multicaste, and multireligious politics.” Atomic bomb competition w/Muslim Pakistan (backdrop of wars of 1947, 1965, 1971).
  2. Afghanistan: Islamic by law, 99 percent Muslim; passes into central Asia bordering six nations; Mujahidin + Russia + Taliban; Mullah Muhammad Omar; destruction of Buddhist monuments + “Department for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.”
  3. Iran: Shiite politics – organizational strength through religious ayatollahs; Khomeini and revolution of 1978/9; rejection of secular Pahavis (back to 1953), “God has formed the Islamic Republic.” President Mohammad Khatami in 1998, but Ayatollah Ali Khameini prevailed – controls armed forces, intelligence + security, judiciary, radio + television + internet – more power than president.
  4. Iraq war w/Iran; “godless” Saddam Hussein; fabricated nation after Ottomans in 1921 by Brittish – Mosul (Turkey + Syria); Baghdad (with Najaf + Karbala towards Syria); Shiite Basra toward sea + India; Kurdish north; cleric Moktada al-Sadr – religious influence; Al-Sistani + three Grand Ayatollahs = Shiite political-religious view; “The Shiite-Sunni split remains crucial everywhere in the region.”
  5. Israel: Jewish and Islamic politics: assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by extreme right winger; signed Oslo Accords w/Arafat in 1993. Likud’s Begin + Netanyahu; 20 percent highly observant Jews, half of whom are ultra-orthodox; 60 percent traditional; secular Zionists founded state; modern orthodox saw God’s sign in 1967 war + land of West Bank – control state rabbinate. Ehud Barak in 1999. Palestinian – PLO v. Hamas; Arafat v. Nasrallah. After 1992, Rabin preferred secular PLO; Hamas always interfering; final failure of Oslo accord in 2000; Abbas’ Fatah v. Hamas.
  6. Saudi Arabia: Wahhabi creed theologically (Islamic reformer-warrior Abdul Wahhab, 1703-92); political house/tribe of Sa’ud, from 1929ff w/chief ‘Abd al-‘Aziz; 1932 Aramco reaity; home to Mecca + Medina; “played the fundamentalist game without being fundamentalist.” Fahd today. Usama bin Laden’s “Coalition Against Crusaders, Christians and Jews.” Saudis caught in middle.
  7. Syria: Hafiz al-Assad to Bashar al-Assad; from minority Allowite religion, considered heretical by Sunnis + Kurds, Christians and some Jews. Massacre of 10,000 members of Muslim Brotherhood in 1982; Soviet client state. Lebanese civil war 1975-1991 – six religious groups: Maronite Catholic, Sunni Muslim, Shiite Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Druze; apportionment in parliament; president = Maronite; premier = Sunni; speaker = Shiite. Damascus interference w/Lebanon.
  8. Morocco (personality cult of King Hassan II claiming to be a descendant of Muhammad, “Commander of the Faithful”) and Libya (Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi’s little “Green Book” personality cult, contract w/Mao’s little red book).
  9. “In Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, authoritarian states have controlled religious fundamentalists, despite, and partly because of, the states’ use of Islamic symbols, co-optation of the clergy, and maintenance of the control of at least some of the mosques.” Shura v. authoritarian regimes. Assads each as “tribal chief, brutal autocrat, modernizing president.”
  10. Islamist politics in face of globalization: 1) pure Islamic minority; 2) confront adversaries, not merely disagree; 3) secondary-level male elites w/charismatic interpretation of Qur’an to modern world; 4) own technical vocabulary; 5) can only emerge in Muslim majority states; Muslim Brotherhood: “Islam is the solution.” Malaysia: Islam and democracy.
  11. Worldwide Islamic umma; nationalism v. ethnicity (Taliban, Berbers, Kurds); diversity v. Qur’an, Sunnah, Shari’a; empires from seventh century in pre-existing centers of Baghdad, Cairo, Istanbul, Delhi + Istefan.
  12. Islam best understood in communication system of political + EMC; jihad uses it – no united Islamic political world in offing; Jerusalem dynamic.