Citation for Islam

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Von Sivers, Peter , Rüdiger Seesemann, John Schoeberlein, Dru C. Gladney, Bruce B. Lawrence, Kamran Bokhari, M. B. Hooker, Fred R. van der Mehden, P. S. Van Koningsveld, Jocelyne Cesari, Frederick Mathewson Denny and Kathleen M. Moore. "Islam." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Apr 16, 2021. <>.


Von Sivers, Peter , Rüdiger Seesemann, John Schoeberlein, Dru C. Gladney, Bruce B. Lawrence, Kamran Bokhari, M. B. Hooker, Fred R. van der Mehden, P. S. Van Koningsveld, Jocelyne Cesari, Frederick Mathewson Denny and Kathleen M. Moore. "Islam." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Apr 16, 2021).


[This entry contains nine subentries:


Islam is the second largest of the world 's religions. Muslim countries extend from North Africa to Southeast Asia, but the one billion members of the Islamic community stretch across the globe. Muslims constitute a majority in more than forty-eight countries and a significant minority in many others. Though the Arab world is often regarded as the heartland of Islam, the majority of Muslims are in fact to be found in Asia and Africa, homes to the largest Muslim communities: Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and Nigeria. Islam has grown significantly in recent years in the West, where it is now the second largest religion in many parts of Europe and the third in the United States.

The Arabic term islām is derived from the root s-l-m, which means submission or peace. Muslims are those who surrender to God 's will or law and as a result, Muslims believe, are at peace with themselves and with God. To embrace Islam is to become a member of a worldwide faith community (ummah). Thus, believers have both an individual and corporate religious identity and responsibility or duty to obey and implement God 's will in personal and social life.

Islam stands in a long line of Middle Eastern, prophetic religious traditions that share an uncompromising monotheism, belief in God 's revelation, prophets, ethical responsibility, and accountability, and the Day of Judgment. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are children of Abraham (Ibrāhīm), although they belong to different branches of the same family. Jews and Christians are spiritual descendants of Abraham and his wife, Sarah, through their son Isaac, and Muslims trace their lineage back to Ismāʿīl, Abraham 's first-born son by his Egyptian servant, Hagar. Islamic tradition teaches that Abraham, pressured by Sarah, who feared that Ismāʿīl as first born would overshadow her son, Isaac, took Hagar and Ismāʿīl to the vicinity of Mecca, where Ismāʿīl became the father of the Arabs in Northern Arabia.

Origins and Early Development.

Arabia is the heartland of Islam where, in the seventh century CE, Muslims believe, the Qurʿān was revealed to Muḥammad, he preached God 's message, and he established the first Islamic community. Pre-Islamic Arabian society, with its tribal, polytheistic ethos, provided the context for the rise of Islam. Tribal gods and goddesses served as protectors of individual tribes, were feared rather than loved, and were the objects of cultic rituals (sacrifice and pilgrimage). Mecca, the commercial and religious center of Arabia, possessed a central shrine, the Kaʿbah, a cube-shaped building that housed the 360 idols of tribal patron deities, the site of a great annual pilgrimage. Arabian polytheism also included belief in a supreme god. Allāh (the god) was the creator and sustainer of life, but remote from everyday concerns, and thus not the object of cult or ritual.

The value system or ethical code of Arabian society was not attributed to God but was the product of a tribal tradition. The key virtue of Arabia 's code of honor was manliness, which emphasized bravery and the preservation of tribal and family honor. Tribal justice was guaranteed not by God but by the threat of group vengeance or retaliation. Arabian fatalism denied meaning or accountability beyond this life—no resurrection of the body, divine judgment, eternal punishment or reward.

The monotheistic message of the Qurʿān and the preaching of Muḥammad did not exist in a vacuum. Monotheism had been flourishing in Arab (Judaism and Christianity) and Iranian cultures (Zoroastrianism) for centuries preceding Muḥammad 's ministry. Both Jewish and Christian Arab communities had also been present in Arabia itself before Muḥammad. Finally, in addition to biblical monotheism, a local or indigenous monotheistic presence existed among pre-Islamic Arab monotheists, called ḥanīfs. The Qurʿān (3:17) and Muslim tradition portray them as descendants of Abraham and his son Ismāʿīl. Muḥammad 's travels as a caravan leader and his personal relationships brought him into contact with pre-Islamic forms of monotheism.

God, the Qurʿān, and Prophet Muh.ammad.

The center and foundation of Islam is Allāh, whose name appears more than 2,500 times in the Qurʿān. In a polytheistic society, Muḥammad declared the sole existence of Allāh, the transcendent, all-powerful, and all-knowing Creator, Sustainer, Ordainer, and Judge of the universe. The monotheism of Islam is preserved in the doctrine of the unity (tawḥīd) and sovereignty (rabb, ruler or lord) of God that dominates Islamic belief and practice. As God is one, God 's rule and will or law are comprehensive, extending to all creatures and to all aspects of life. See TAWḥīD.

The Qurʿān underscores the awesome power and majesty of God and the Day of Judgment, but it also reveals a merciful and just judge. Its initial chapter and subsequent chapters begin with: “In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate.” The Qurʿān declares that its author is the Most Merciful (36:5), in it is a Mercy (29:51), and its motivation is the Mercy of God (21:107). The lesson of God 's mercy proclaimed by the Qurʿān has been institutionalized by the Muslim practice of beginning important matters, such as a letter, public speech, or book, with the phrase: “In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate.” God 's mercy exists in dialectical tension with his justice. Reward and punishment follow from individual ethical responsibility and accountability before an all-knowing and just judge. Thus, Islamic ethics follows from special status and responsibility of human beings  on earth.

For Muslims, the Qurʿān is the Book of God (kitāb al-Allāh). It is the eternal, uncreated, literal word of God (kalām Allāh), sent down from heaven, revealed one final time to the prophet Muḥammad as a guidance for humankind (2:185). Islam teaches that God 's revelation has occurred in several forms: in nature, history, and scripture. God revealed his will for humankind through a series of messengers (including Moses, Jesus, and Muḥammad): “Indeed, We sent forth among every nation a Messenger, saying: ‘ Serve your God, and shun false gods ’ ” (16:36).

Although God had sent a revelation to Moses and Jesus, Muslims believe that the scriptures of the Jewish community (Torah) and of the Christian church (the Evangel or Gospel) are corrupt versions of the original revelation. The current texts of the Torah and the New Testament are regarded as a composite of human fabrications, nonbiblical beliefs that infiltrated the texts, and remnants of the original revelation. Thus, the Qurʿān does not abrogate or nullify, but rather corrects the versions of scripture preserved by the Jewish and Christian communities (5:19). From a Muslim viewpoint, Islam is not a new religion with a new scripture. Rather than being the youngest of the major monotheistic world religions, it is considered by Muslims to be the oldest religion. Islam represents the “original” as well as final revelation of the God of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muḥammad.

History, Muslim belief, and legend portray Muḥammad (570–632 CE) as a remarkable man and prophet. Although we know a good deal about Muḥammad 's life after his “call” to be God 's messenger, historical records tell us little about Muḥammad 's early years before he became a prophet. The Qurʿān has served as a major source for information regarding the life of the Prophet along with Prophetic traditions (e.g., ḥadīths, which are reports about what Muḥammad said and did) and biographies that reveal Muḥammad 's meaning and significance in early Islam.

At the age of forty during the month of Ramadan (610 C.E.), Muḥammad the caravan leader became Muḥammad the messenger of God. On “The Night of Power and Excellence,” (Laylat al-Qadr)as Muslims call it, he received the first of many divine revelations which would continue over a period of twenty-two years (610–632). These messages were finally collected and written down in the Qurʿān (The Recitation), Islam 's sacred scripture.

For the powerful and prosperous Meccan oligarchy, the monotheistic message of this would-be reformer, with its condemnation of the socioeconomic inequities of Meccan life, constituted a direct challenge not only to traditional polytheistic religion but also to the power and prestige of the establishment, threatening their economic, social, and political interests. The Prophet denounced false contracts, usury, and the neglect and exploitation of orphans and widows. He defended the rights of the poor and the oppressed, asserting that the rich had an obligation to the poor and dispossessed. Muḥammad rejected polytheism, claimed prophetic authority and leadership, and insisted that all true believers belonged to a single universal community (ummah) that transcended tribal bonds.

Creation of the Islamic Community.

After ten years of preaching, faced with limited success and mounting persecution, Muḥammad and two hundred of his followers emigrated in 622 to Medina. This migration, known as the Hijrah, marked a turning point in Muḥammad 's fortunes and a new stage in the history of the Islamic movement. Islam took on political form with the establishment of an Islamic community/state at Medina. The significance of the Hijrah (and of community in Islam) is reflected in its adoption as the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Muḥammad became prophet-head of a religio-political community. He established his leadership in Medina, subdued Mecca, and consolidated Muslim rule over the remainder of Arabia through diplomatic and military means and conversion. See HIJRAH.

Muḥammad 's impact on Muslim life and history cannot be overestimated. The reformism of the first Islamic movement under the leadership of Muḥammad became the reference point and model for later Islamic renewal or revivalist movements. Moreover, his character and personality inspired uncommon confidence and commitment, so much so that the practice of the Prophet, his sunnah or example, became the norm for community life. Muslims observed, remembered, and recounted stories about what the Prophet said and did. These ḥadīths were preserved and passed on in oral and written form. The corpus of tradition literature reveals the comprehensive scope of Muḥammad 's example. Traditions of the Prophet provide guidance for personal hygiene, dress, eating, marriage, treatment of wives, diplomacy, and warfare. See ḤADīTH.

The reformist spirit of the Qurʿān and of the Prophet 's message affected religious ritual as well as politics and society. A process of adaptation or Islamization characterized much of early Islam 's development. Although some pre-Islamic Arabian beliefs and institutions were rejected and others introduced, the more common method was to reformulate or adapt existing practices to Islamic norms and values. Rituals such as pilgrimage (ḥajj) and prayer (ṣalāt) were reformulated and reinterpreted. The Kaʿbah in Mecca remained the sacred center for annual pilgrimage. However, it was no longer a shrine associated with tribal idols, which were destroyed, but was rededicated to Allāh, for whom, Muslims believe, Abraham and Ismāʿīl had originally built the Kaʿbah or House of God.

Muḥammad introduced a new moral order in which the origin and end of all actions was not self or tribal interest but God 's will. Belief in the Day of Judgment and resurrection of the body added a dimension of human responsibility and accountability that had been absent in Arabian religion. Tribal vengeance and retaliation were subordinated to belief in a just and merciful creator and judge. A society based on tribal affiliation and manmade tribal law or custom was to be replaced by a religiously bonded community governed by God 's law.

The Qurʿān proclaimed that God “made you into nations and tribes” (49:13). As God had previously called the Jews and then Christians to a covenant relationship, the Qurʿān declared that Muslims now constituted the new community of believers who were to be an example to other nations (2:143) with a mission to create a moral social order: “You are the best community evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (3:110). This command has influenced Muslim practice throughout the centuries, providing a rationale for political and moral activism. Government regulations, Islamic laws, the activities of religious officials and police who monitor public morality or behavior have all been justified as expressions of this moral mission to command the good and prohibit evil. See UMMAH.

The Paths of Islam: Law and Mysticism.

Islam 's message was formulated in the formative centuries of classical Islam, providing a way of life whose letter or duties were delineated by Islamic law and whose spirit was embodied in the emergence of Islamic mysticism or Sufism. Islam emphasizes practice more than belief. As a result, law rather than theology is the central religious discipline and locus for defining the path of Islam and preserving its way of life. Islamic law (sharīʿah), and with it a system of Islamic courts and judges (qāḍīs), developed during the first Islamic centuries. Islamic law is a comprehensive law which combines a Muslim 's duties to God and to society, incorporating regulations governing prayer and fasting as well as family, penal, and international law. The Straight Path (sīrat al-mustaqīm) of Muslim life is set forth in an idealized blueprint. The four sources of law came to be identified in Sunnī Islam as the Qurʿān, the example (sunnah) of the Prophet Muḥammad, reason (rules derived from the Qurʿān and sunnah by analogy, qiyās) and community consensus (ijmāʿ). Both Sunnī and Shīʿī Islam accept the Qurʿān and sunnah of the Prophet as authoritative textual sources, but the Shīʿī have maintained their own collections of traditions that also include the sunnah of ʿAlī and the imam. In addition, the Shīʿī reject analogy and consensus as legal sources, because they regard the imam as the supreme legal interpreter and authority. In his absence, qualified religious scholars serve as his agents or representatives, interpreters (mujtahids) of the law. Their consensus guides the community and is binding during the interim between the seclusion of the imam and his final messianic return. See Consensus; Law; Qādī Sharīʿah; and Sunnah.

While God, the Qurʿān, and the prophet Muḥammad unite all Muslims in their common belief, the Five Pillars of Islam provide a unity of practice in the midst of the community 's rich diversity. The pillars are the common denominator, the five essential obligatory practices that all Muslims must follow: 1. the profession of faith; 2. worship or prayer; 3. almsgiving; 4. fasting; and 5. pilgrimage to Mecca.

  • 1. Profession of Faith. A Muslim is one who proclaims (shahādah, witness or testimony), “There is no God but the God, and Muḥammad is the messenger of God.” This brief yet profound testimony marks a person 's entry into the Islamic community. It affirms Islam 's absolute monotheism and acceptance of Muḥammad as the messenger of God, the last and final prophet. See SHAHāDAH.
  • 2. Worship or Prayer. Five times each day Muslims throughout the world are called to worship (ṣalāt, worship or prayer) God. Facing the holy city of Mecca, Islam 's spiritual homeland, Muslims recall the revelation of the Qurʿān and reinforce a sense of belonging to a single, worldwide community of believers. On Friday, the noon prayer is a congregational prayer which usually takes place in a mosque (masjid, place of prostration). Since there is no clergy or priesthood in Islam, any Muslim may lead (imām, leader) the prayer. See ṢALāT and IMAM.
  • 3. Almsgiving. The third pillar of Islam is the zakāt, a religious tithe (or almsgiving) on accumulated wealth and assets, not simply income. Payment of the zakāt instills a sense of communal identity and responsibility, the duty to attend to the community 's social welfare. See ZAKāT.
  • 4. Fasting. Once each year, Muslims practice fasting (ṣawm) during the month of Ramadan. From dawn to dusk, abstention from food, drink, and sex are required of all healthy Muslims. The primary emphasis is not so much on abstinence and self-mortification as such but rather on spiritual self-discipline, reflection, and the performance of good works. The month of Ramaḍān ends with a great celebration, Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, ʿīd al-Fiṭr, one of the great religious holy days and holidays of the Muslim calendar. Family members come from near and far to feast and exchange gifts in a celebration that lasts for three days. [See ʿId al-Fitr; Ramadan; and Sawm.
  • 5. Pilgrimage. Ramadan is followed by the beginning of the pilgrimage season. Every adult Muslim who is physically and financially able is expected to perform the pilgrimage (ḥajj) to Mecca at least once in his or her lifetime. In recent years, almost two million Muslims a year from every part of the globe make the physical journey to the spiritual center of Islam, where they again experience the unity, breadth, and diversity of the Islamic community. The pilgrimage ends with the celebration of Great Feast (ʿīd al-Kabīr) or the Feast of Sacrifice (ʿīd al-Aḍḥā), which commemorates God 's command to Abraham to sacrifice his son Ismāʿīl (Isaac in Jewish and Christian traditions). See ḤAJJ AND ʿīD AL-AḍḥA.

Jihād, (struggle [in the way of God]) is sometimes referred to as the “sixth pillar of Islam,” although it has no such official status. In its most general meaning, jihād refers to the obligation incumbent on all Muslims, as individuals and as a community, to exert themselves to realize God 's will—to lead a virtuous life and to spread the Islamic community through preaching, education, and example. However, it also includes the struggle for or defense of Islam, holy war. Despite the fact that jihād is not supposed to include aggressive warfare, this has occurred, as exemplified by early extremists such as the Khawārij and more recent jihād groups such as Egypt 's Jamāʿat al-Jihād (which assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981), and al-Qaʿida. See JIHāD.

The development of Islamic law was paralleled in the eighth and ninth centuries by another movement, Sufism or Islamic mysticism. If law is the outer path of Islam 's duties and obligations, Sufism is the inner path which emphasizes detachment from the distractions and deceptiveness of this world. It focuses on an interior spiritual life of personal piety, morality, and devotional love of God. By the twelfth century what had been primarily circles of spiritual elites were transformed into a mass, popular movement. A vast network of orders or brotherhoods spread Sufism from the Atlantic Ocean across Central Asia to Southeast Asia, as its combination of the esoteric and the ecstatic offered a spirituality that won the hearts of educated and uneducated alike. Its attractiveness to the masses of Muslims and its strength as a missionary vehicle came from its spiritual vision and ritual practices as well as its more inclusive, accommodating, and syncretic tendencies. As such, Sufism was experienced as a challenge to the law-centered, Islamic orthodoxy of the ʿulamāʿ (religious scholars), many of whom denounced its esoteric claims and accommodation of “foreign, un-Islamic” doctrines and practices. See SUFISM.

The Muslim Community in History.

The period of Muḥammad and the first four caliphs of Islam, the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs (632–661), is remembered by Sunnī Muslims as the best of times, the normative period to which the community has often returned for guidance and inspiration. During this time, the spread of Islam and conquest of Arabia were completed, and Islamic rule was extended throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa. In successive centuries, two great caliphates, the Umayyad (661–750) in Damascus and the ʿAbbāsid (749–1258) in Baghdad, oversaw the consolidation of Muslim power, the expansion of the Islamic empire as a world political force, and the development and flourishing of Islamic civilization. See Abbāsid Dynasty; RIGHTLY GUIDED CALIPHS; and UMAYYAD CALIPHATE.

Muslim armies, fired by their new faith and lured by the spoils of war, overran the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) and the Sassanian (Persian) Empires. The purpose of the early wars or jihāds was not conversion but conquest, booty, and the spread of Islam 's (God 's) rule. As Islam spread to new territories, inhabitants were offered three choices: 1. conversion to Islam and full membership or citizenship; 2. “protection”—Jews and Christians, known as “People of the Book” (i.e., those who possessed a sacred book) in exchange for payment of a head or poll tax (jizyah) possessed a more limited form of citizenship as “protected people” (dhimmī), by which they were allowed to practice their faith and be ruled in their private lives by their own religious leaders and law; or 3. combat or the sword for those who resisted and rejected Muslim rule. Much of Islam 's expansion throughout history was the result of the activities of merchants, traders, and mystics, as well as soldiers, who proved effective missionaries in carrying the message of Islam from Africa to Southeast Asia, from Timbuktu to Sumatra, and from Central Asia to Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy.See JIZYAH and DHIMMī.

After the destruction of the ʿAbbāsid caliphate by the Mongols in 1258, the Islamic world consisted of local states or sultanates for the next five centuries. Among the most powerful sultanates or empires were the Ottoman (Turkey and much of the Arab world and Eastern Europe), the Ṣafavid in Persia, and the Mughal in the Indian subcontinent. See Mughal Empire; Ottoman Empire; and Safavid Dynasty.

Sectarianism: Sunnī and Shīʿī Islam.

The issue of leadership after the death of Muḥammad led to a major split in the Muslim community and gave rise to its two major branches or divisions: the Sunnī, who today represent about 85 percent of the world 's Muslims, and the Shīʿī, who constitute 15 percent. The Sunnī majority believe that Muḥammad died without designating a successor. Thus, the elders of the community selected or elected a caliph (khalīfah or successor of the prophet Muḥammad) to be political leader of the Islamic community-state or caliphate. The Shīʿī minority believe that Muḥammad did in fact designate the senior male of his family, his son-in-law and cousin, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, to lead the community. The Shīʿīs, or partisans of ʿAlī, maintained that the leader (imām) of the Muslim community should be a descendant of the family of the Prophet. Thus, ʿAlī 's followers believed that ʿAlī, and not the first caliph Abū Bakr, should have succeeded the Prophet.

Shīʿī were among the early opposition to the Umayyad caliphs. The founder of the Umayyad dynasty, Muʿāwiyah, was a provincial governor who had challenged ʿAlī when he had “finally” succeeded Muḥammad and become the fourth caliph of Islam; subsequently he seized power at ʿAlī 's death. Ḥusayn, the son of ʿAlī, led a small band of followers against the army of Yazīd I. Muʿāwiyah 's son and successor, in 680 in which he and his army were slaughtered at Karbala (in modern-day Iraq). The martyrdom of Ḥusayn and its ritual commemoration became a central religious paradigm for Shīʿī Islam and its history as a righteous and aggrieved minority community living under Sunnī Muslim rule. Thus the Shīʿī developed their own distinctive vision of leadership and history, centered on the martyred family of the Prophet and based on the belief that leadership of the Islamic community rightfully resided in the imamate, the religio-political leaders and descendants of ʿAlī or his sons Ḥusayn and Ḥasan. See ʿALī īBN ABī ṬāLIB; Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī and KARBALA.

The fundamental difference between Sunnī and Shīʿī Islam is their institutions for leadership, the imamate and the caliphate. For Shīʿī Islam the imam is not just the political successor (caliph) of the prophet Muḥammad but the religio-political leader of the community. Though not a prophet—for Muḥammad is the last of the prophets— Shīʿī belief came to regard the imam as religiously inspired, perfect, and sinless. ʿAlī and his wife Fāṭimah, the daughter of Muḥammad, along with their children Ḥasan and Ḥusayn came to constitute a holy family in Shīʿī piety; their tombs are the objects of veneration and pilgrimage. Whereas Sunnī Islam came to place religious authority for interpreting Islam in the consensus (ijmāʿ) of the ʿulamāʿ who represented the collective judgment of the community, Shīʿī Islam found continued divine guidance in the imam, who is the final religious authority. Thus, the lives and traditions of ʿAlī and the other great imams of Shīʿīsm, after the Qurʿān and the sunnah of the Prophet, are sources of guidance for Shīʿī Islam. Similarly, Sunnī and Shīʿī Islam developed differing concepts of the meaning of history. For Sunnī Muslims, early Islamic success, power, and wealth were the signs of God 's guidance and reward for a faithful community as well as validation of Muslim belief and claims. For Shīʿī Muslims, history is the theater in which the oppressed and disinherited minority community restore God 's rule on earth and the authority of the imam over the entire community of believers. A righteous community was to persist in the struggle, as had ʿAlī against the Sunnī caliph Muʿāwiyah and Ḥusayn against Yazīd, the second Ummayad caliph, to reestablish God 's will, the righteous rule of the imam. Realization of a just social order under the imam was to become a messianic expectation for centuries as Shīʿī Muslims continued to struggle under Sunnī rule.

Historically, Shīʿī Islam split into three major branches, dependent on their recognition of twelve, seven, or five imams or descendants of Muḥammad—the Ithnā ʿAsharīyah (Twelvers); the Ismāʿīlīs (the Seveners), an offshoot of which are the followers of the Agha Khan; and the Zaydīs (Fivers). The numerical designation of each was caused by the death or disappearance of the last imam they recognized and the disruption of the hereditary succession. The Twelvers believe that the Twelfth Imam (Muḥammad al-Muntaẓir, or Muḥammad the Awaited One) disappeared in 874. His disappearance was resolved theologically by the belief that the imam had gone into hiding or occultation. Shīʿī were to await his return as the Mahdī (expected one) who would restore the Shīʿī community to its rightful place and usher in a reign of justice and peace.

Modern Islam.

From the eighteenth to the twentieth century the Islamic world witnessed a protracted period of upheaval and renewal. Muslims struggled with the failures of their societies, the impact of European colonialism, and subsequent superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, and responded to the intellectual and moral challenges of a changing world. In the nineteenth century, a series of revivalist movements arose across much of the Muslim world: the Wahhābī in Saudi Arabia, the Mahdists in Sudan, the Sanūsī in Libya, the Fulani in Nigeria, and the Padri in Indonesia. Though different in many respects, these shared a common concern about the decline of Muslim fortunes and a common conviction that the cure was a purification of their societies and way of life by a faithful return to pristine Islam, to the teachings of the Qurʿān and the example of the Prophet. Many called for the suppression or reform of Sufism, rejected the assimilation of foreign, un-Islamic “innovations” (beliefs and practices), and claimed the right to practice independent interpretation (ijtihād) of Islam. However, they did not seek to reinterpret or reformulate Islamic law and practice in light of contemporary needs, but rather to restore the practice of the early Islamic community. These movements created communities of like-minded believers, committed to the creation of Islamic societies. They were often transformed into political movements that established Islamic states, forerunners of modern states.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Islamic modernist movements responded to the intellectual and political challenge of Western hegemony. Wishing to bridge the gap between their Islamic heritage and modernity, between traditional religious and modern secular leaders, men such as Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī and Muḥammad ʿAbduh in the Middle East and Sayyid Aḥmad Khān and Muhammad Iqbal in South Asia sought to rejuvenate and restore the pride, identity, and strength of a debilitated Islamic community. They advocated what was essentially a process of Islamic acculturation, emphasizing the compatibility of Islam with reason, science, and technology. All argued for Islamic reform, for the need to reinterpret Islam in light of the new questions and issues which were brought by modern life. Maintaining that Islam and modernity, revelation and reason, were compatible, they advocated religious, legal, educational, and social reforms to revitalize the Muslim community.

Islamic modernism inspired movements for reform and national independence but remained attractive primarily to an intellectual elite. It failed to produce a systematic reinterpretation of Islam or develop effective organizations to preserve, propagate, and implement its message. This limitation contributed to the emergence of Islamic organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī (Islamic Society) in South Asia. The founders of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ḥasan al-Bannāʿ) and the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī (Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī) criticized secular elites for simply emulating the West and Islamic modernist reformers for westernizing Islam. In particular, they condemned the tendency of most Muslim countries to adapt uncritically Western models of development and thus westernize Muslim societies. Instead they proclaimed the self-sufficiency of Islam as a response to the demands of modern life. Islam, they asserted, offers its own alternative path to capitalism and communism/socialism; it is a comprehensive way of life. The objective of these Islamic reformers was to establish effective organizations to implement an Islamic system of government and law through social and political action.

During the post–World War II era, most of the Muslim world regained its independence. Many of the newly emerging independent states, including Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Jordan, Iraq, and Pakistan, were carved out by European colonial powers—which created states with artificial or arbitrarily drawn boundaries—and even appointed their rulers. Thus, political legitimacy and national identity/unity compounded the problem of nation building and remained critical issues. Although Turkey chose a secular path and Saudi Arabia emerged as a self-declared Islamic state, the majority of Muslim nations, guided by Western-oriented elites, combined Western-inspired political, economic, legal, and educational development with a minimal recognition of the role of Islam in public life. Because the West provided the models for modern development, the presupposition and expectation was that modernization and development would necessarily lead to progressive westernization and secularization. Iran 's Islamic Revolution of 1979–1980 shattered this assumption and for many raised fears of the spread of “militant Islam,” “Khomeineism,” or “Islamic fundamentalism.”

Islamic Revivalism or “Fundamentalism.”

Much of the reassertion of religion in politics and society has been subsumed under the term “Islamic fundamentalism.” Although fundamentalism is a common designation, in the press and among many experts, it is used in a variety of ways. For a number of reasons, it tells us everything and yet, at the same time, tells us nothing. First, all those who call for a return to foundational beliefs or the fundamentals of a religion can be called fundamentalist. In a strict sense, this could include all practicing Muslims who accept the Qurʿān as the literal word of God and the sunnah of the prophet Muḥammad as a normative model for living. Second, understanding and perceptions of fundamentalism are heavily influenced by American Protestantism. Merriam-Webster 's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., for example, defines fundamentalism as “a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.”

For many liberal or mainline Christians, “fundamentalist” is a pejorative or derogatory term applied indiscriminately to all those who advocate a literalist biblical position and are thus regarded as static, retrogressive, and extremist. As a result, fundamentalism has often been regarded popularly as referring to those who are literalists and wish to return to and replicate the past. In fact, few individuals or organizations in the Middle East fit such a stereotype. Indeed, many fundamentalist leaders have had the best educations, enjoy responsible positions in society, and are adept at harnessing the latest technology to propagate their views and create viable modern institutions, such as schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. Third, the term fundamentalism is often equated with political activism, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism, and anti-Americanism. While some Islamic activists or Islamists engage in radical religio-politics, most work within the established order.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the many faces and postures of fundamentalism is to consider that the term “fundamentalism” has been applied to the governments of Libya, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Iran. Yet the term “fundamentalism” reveals little about the nature of governments and of their Islamic character. Muʿammar al-Qadhdhāfī has claimed the right to interpret Islam, questioned the authenticity of the traditions of the prophet Muḥammad, silenced the religious establishment and the Muslim Brotherhood, and advocated a populist state of the masses. The rulers of Saudi Arabia, by contrast, have aligned themselves with the ʿulamāʿ(religious scholars), preached a more literal form of Islam, and used religion to legitimate a conservative monarchy. Qadhdhāfī 's earlier portrayal as an unpredictable, independent supporter of worldwide terrorism stands in sharp relief against the image of low-key, conservative, pro-American King Fahd. Similarly, the foreign policy of the theocratic Shīʿī state of Iran contrasted sharply with the military regime that implemented Pakistan 's Islamic system (niẓām-i Islām) under General Zia ul-Haq (1977–1988). Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini was highly critical, even condemnatory of the West, often at odds with the international community, and regarded as a radical terrorist state, while Pakistan under the Islamically oriented Zia ul-Haq was a close ally of the United States, had relations with the West and the international community, and was generally regarded as moderate.

Islam reemerged as a potent global force in Muslim politics during the 1970s and 1980s. Contemporary Islamic revivalism embraced much of the Muslim world from Sudan to Indonesia. Governments in the Muslim world as well as opposition groups and political parties increasingly appealed to religion for legitimacy and to mobilize popular support. Islamic activists have held cabinet-level positions in Jordan, Sudan, Iran, Malaysia, and Pakistan. Islamic organizations have constituted the leading opposition parties/organizations in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Where permitted, they have participated in elections and served in parliament and in city government. Islam has played a significant part in nationalist struggles and resistance movements in Afghanistan, the Muslim republics of Soviet Central Asia, in Kashmir, and in the communal politics of Lebanon, India, Thailand, China, and the Philippines.

Islamic activist (fundamentalist) organizations have run the gamut from those that have participated in the system, such as the Muslim Brotherhoods in Egypt, Jordan, and Sudan, the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī in South Asia, Tunisia 's Ḥizb al-Nahḍah (Renaissance Party), and Algeria 's Islamic Salvation Front, to radical revolutionary groups, such as Egypt 's Society of Muslims (known more popularly as Takfīr wa-al-Hijrah, Excommunication and Flight), al-Jihād (Holy War), and the Jamāʿat al-Islāmīyah (Islamic Group), as well Lebanon 's Ḥizbullāh (Party of God) and Islamic Jihād, that have used violence and terrorism in their attempts to destabilize and overthrow prevailing political systems. See FUNDAMENTALISM.

Roots of the Resurgence.

To speak of a contemporary Islamic revival can be deceptive if revivalism is equated with the disappearance or absence of Islam from the Muslim world. It is more correct to view Islamic revivalism as a revitalization movement that has led to a higher profile of Islam in Muslim politics and society. Thus, what had previously seemed to be an increasingly marginalized force in Muslim public life reemerged in the 1970s, often dramatically, as a vibrant sociopolitical reality. Islam 's resurgence in Muslim politics reflected a growing religious revivalism in both personal and public life that swept across much of the Muslim world and had a substantial impact on world politics.

The indices of an Islamic reawakening in personal life are: increased attention to religious observances (mosque attendance, prayer, fasting), proliferation of religious publications (including audio- and videotapes), greater emphasis on Islamic dress and values, and the revitalization of Sufism. This broader-based renewal has also been accompanied by Islam 's reassertion in public life: an increase in Islamically oriented or legitimated governments, organizations, laws, banks, social welfare services, and educational institutions. Both governments and opposition movements turned to Islam to enhance their authority and to muster popular support. Governmental use of Islam has been illustrated by a cross section of leaders in the Middle East and Asia: Libya 's Muʿammar Qadhdhāfī, Sudan 's Jaʿfar al- Numayrī (Nimeiri), Egypt 's Anwar Sadat, Iran 's Ayatollah Khomeini, Pakistan 's Zia ul-Haq, Bangladesh 's Muhammad Ershad (Irshād), Malaysia 's Mahathir Mohamed. Most rulers and governments, including more secular states, such as Turkey and Tunisia, aware of the potential strength of Islam, showed increased sensitivity to and anxiety about Islamic issues and concerns. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 focused attention on “Islamic fundamentalism” and with it the spread and vitality of political Islam in other parts of the Muslim world. However, the contemporary revival has its origins and roots in the late 1960s and early 1970s when events in such disparate areas as Egypt and Libya as well as Pakistan and Malaysia contributed to experiences of crisis/failure as well as power/success that served as catalysts for a more visible reassertion of Islam in both public and private life.

Although political Islam has varied significantly from one country to another, there are recurrent themes: the belief that existing political, economic, and social systems had failed; a disenchantment with and at times rejection of the West; a quest for identity and greater authenticity; and the conviction that Islam provides a self-sufficient ideology for state and society, a valid alternative to secular nationalism, socialism, and capitalism.

The experience of failure triggered an identity crisis that led many to question the path and direction of political and social development and to turn inward for strength and guidance. The Western-oriented policies of governments and elites appeared to have failed. The soul-searching and critique of the sociopolitical realities of the Arab and Muslim world, which followed the 1967 Israeli war and the crises in Pakistan, Malaysia, and Lebanon, extended to other Muslim areas, embraced a broad spectrum of society, and raised many questions about the direction and accomplishments of development. More often than not, despite the hopes and aspirations of independence, their mixed record of several decades was a challenge to the legitimacy and effectiveness of modern Muslim states. A crisis mentality fostered by specific events and the general impact and disruption of modernity spawned a growing disillusionment and sense of the failure of modern Muslim states.

Politically, modern secular nationalism was found wanting. Neither liberal nationalism nor Arab nationalism/socialism had fulfilled their promises. Muslim governments seemed less interested and less successful in establishing their political legitimacy and creating an ideology for national unity than in perpetuating autocratic rule. The Muslim world was still dominated by monarchs and military or ex-military rulers; political parties were banned or restricted, elections often rigged. Parliamentary systems of government and political parties existed at the sufferance of rulers, whose legitimacy, like their security, rested on a loyal military and secret was police. Many were propped up by and dependent on foreign governments and multinational corporations.

Economically, both Western capitalism and Marxist socialism were judged incapable of effectively stemming the growing tide of poverty and illiteracy. Charges of corruption and of the concentration of and maldistribution of wealth found ready acceptance in individual countries and the region. The disparity between rich and poor was striking in urban areas where the neighborhoods and new suburbs of the wealthy few stood in stark contrast to the deteriorating dwellings and sprawling shantytowns of the many. Socioculturally and psychologically, modernization was seen as a legacy of European colonialism perpetuated by Western-oriented elites who imposed and fostered the twin processes of westernization and secularization. As dependence on Western models of development was seen as the cause of political and military failures, so too, some Muslims charged, blind imitation of the West, an uncritical westernization of Muslim societies that some called “Westoxification,” led to a cultural dependence that threatened the loss of Muslim identity. Secular, “valueless” social change was identified as the cause of sociomoral decline, a major contributor to the breakdown of the Muslim family, more permissive, promiscuous societies, and spiritual malaise. The psychological impact of modernity and the rapid sociocultural change that came with it cannot be forgotten. Urban areas had undergone physical and institutional changes so that both the skylines and the infrastructure of cities were judged modern by their Western facade. To be modern was to be Western in dress, language, ideas, education, behavior (from table manners to greetings), architecture, and furnishings. Urban areas became the primary locations for work and living. Modern governments and companies as well as foreign advisers and investors focused their attentions and projects on urban areas so that the results of modernization only trickled down to rural areas.

Rapid urbanization led to the migration of many from outlying villages and towns. Their hopes and dreams for a better life were often replaced by the harsh realities of poverty in urban slums and shantytowns. Psychological as well as physical displacement occurred. Loss of village or town, and of extended family ties and traditional values was accompanied by the shock and contrast of modern urban life and its westernized culture and mores. Many, swept along in a sea of alienation and marginalization, found security for their lives in their religion. Islam offered a sense of identity, fraternity, and cultural values that offset the psychological dislocation and cultural threat of their new environment. Both the poor in their urban neighborhoods, which approximated traditional ghettos in the midst of modern cities, and those in the lower middle class, who were able to take advantage of the new educational and job opportunities of the city and thus experience culture shock more profoundly and regularly, found a welcome sense of meaning and security in their religious faith and identity. Islamic organizations, their workers, and their message offered a more familiar alternative that resonated with their experience, identified their problems, and offered a time-honored solution.

Ideological Worldview.

Contemporary revivalism is rooted in Islam 's tradition of renewal (tajdīd) and reform (iṣlāḥ) embodied in Muḥammad 's leadership of the first Islamic movement, seventeenth- and eighteenth-century revivalism, and Islamic modernist movements. At the heart of the revivalist worldview is the belief that the Muslim world is in a state of decline because of Muslims ’ departure from the straight path of Islam. The cure is a return to Islam in personal and public life that will ensure the restoration of Islamic identity, values, and power. For Islamic political activists Islam is a comprehensive way of life, stipulated in the Qurʿān, God 's revelation, mirrored in the example of Muḥammad and the nature of the first Muslim community-state, and embodied in the comprehensive nature of sharīʿah, God 's revealed law. Islamic activists (Islamists) believe that the renewal and revitalization of Muslim governments and societies require the restoration of Islamic law, the blueprint for an Islamically guided and socially just state and society. See IṣLāḥ and REVIVAL AND RENEWAL.

Although the westernization and secularization of society are condemned, modernization as such is not. Science and technology are accepted, but the pace, direction, and extent of change are to be subordinated to Islamic belief and values in order to guard against excessive dependence on Western culture and values.

Radical movements go beyond these principles and often operate on the following assumptions:1. Islam and the West are locked in an ongoing battle that began during the expansion of Islam, is heavwily influenced by the legacy of the Crusades and European colonialism, and is the product today of a Judeo-Christian conspiracy. Radical extremists regard the Cold War 's superpower rivalry and neocolonialism and the power of Zionism as the foreign sources of Muslim impotence and Western hegemony. The West (Britain, France, and especially the United States) is blamed for its support of un-Islamic or unjust regimes (Egypt, Iran, Lebanon) and biased support for Israel in the face of Palestinian displacement. Violence against these governments and their representatives as well as against Western multinationals is regarded as a legitimate form of self-defense. 2. Islam is not simply an ideological alternative for Muslim societies but a theological and political imperative. Since it is God 's command, implementation must be immediate, not gradual, and the obligation to work for that implementation is incumbent on all true Muslims. Therefore, those who hesitate, are apolitical, or resist—individuals and governments—are no longer to be regarded as Muslims. They are declared atheists or unbelievers, enemies of God, against whom all true Muslims must wage jihād.

From the Periphery to the Center: Mainstream Revivalism.

While the exploitation of Islam by governments and by extremist organizations has reinforced the secular orientations of many Muslims and the cynicism of many in the West, a less well-known though potentially far-reaching social transformation has also occurred in the Muslim world. Since the 1990s Islamic revivalism has ceased to be restricted to small, marginal organizations on the periphery of society but instead has become part of mainstream Muslim society, producing a new class of modern, educated, but Islamically oriented elites who work alongside, and at times in coalitions with, their secular counterparts. Revivalism continues to grow as a broad-based religio-social movement, functioning today in virtually every Muslim country and transnationally. It is a vibrant, multifaceted movement that will deliver the major impact of Islamic revivalism for the foreseeable future. Its goal is the transformation of society through the Islamic growth of individuals at the grassroots level. Islamic organizations work in social services (hospitals, clinics, legal aid societies), in economic projects (Islamic banks, investment houses, insurance companies), in education (schools, child-care centers, youth camps), and in religious publishing and broadcasting. Their programs are aimed at young and old alike.

Islamic ideology and movements are no longer marginal phenomena limited to small radical groups or organizations. They have become part of mainstream religion and society. A more pronounced Islamic orientation appeals to the middle and lower classes, educated and uneducated, professionals and workers, young and old, men, women, and children. A new generation of modern, educated, but Islamically (rather than secularly) oriented leaders can be found in Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Islamic activists have become part of the political process. In the late 1980s and 1990s, they participated in national and local elections, scored impressive victories in Algeria 's municipal and parliamentary elections, and served in cabinet-level positions in Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, Iran, and Malaysia, and as prime minister of Turkey.

Elections in the early twenty-first century in Pakistan, Turkey, Bahrain, Morocco, Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt reinforced the continued saliency of Islam in Muslim politics. The more contentious aspect of political Islam has been the extent to which militant groups like Ḥizbullāh and Ḥamās have also turned to the ballot box. Ḥizbullāh transformed itself into a Lebanese political party that proved effective in parliamentary elections. At the same time, it remained a militia, fighting and eventually forcing Israeli withdrawal in 2000 after its eighteen-year occupation of southern Lebanon and confronting Israel again in the Israeli-Ḥizbullāh war in Lebanon in 2006. Ḥamās, after refusing to participate in elections, swept parliamentary elections in January 2007, defeating Fatah in democratic elections.

The Globalization of Jihad.

Since the late twentieth century, the word jihād (struggle) has been commonly used by both mainstream and extremist Muslims globally. On the one hand, jihād 's primary Qurʿānic religious and spiritual aspects—the “struggle” or effort to follow God 's path, to lead a good life—remained central to Muslim spirituality. On the other hand, the concept of jihād as armed struggle became more widespread and diverse in application, used across the Muslim world by resistance movements, liberation movements, and extremist and terrorist organizations alike to legitimate, recruit, and motivate their followers. The mujāhidīn in the war against Soviet occupation and subsequently the Taliban in Afghanistan, the struggle of Muslims in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Kosovo, the southern Philippines, and Uzbekistan—all cast their armed struggles as jihāds. Ḥizbullāh, Ḥamās (the Islamic Resistance Movement), and the Palestinian Islamic Jihād Movement characterized military and other forms of opposition to Israel as jihād. Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaʿida and other jihadist movements claim to be waging a global jihād against corrupt Muslim governments and the West. In short, the term jihād has become comprehensive. Resistance and liberation struggles and militant jihāds, holy and unholy wars, are all declared to be jihāds.

September 11, 2001, signaled the extent to which Muslim extremists, in particular Osama bin Laden, the “godfather” of global terrorism and a major funder of extremist groups, and al-Qaʿida have become a global threat. Subsequent terrorist attacks have been directed at Indonesia, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Britain, and Spain, among others. Militants possess a bipolar vision that sees the modern world in mutually exclusive, black and white categories—the world of belief and unbelief, the land of Islam and the land of warfare, the forces of good against the forces of evil. Those who are not with them, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, are the enemy and are to be fought and destroyed in a war with no limits, no proportionality of goal or means. The extremists legitimize their acts of violence and terror by “hijacking” Islam 's norms and values concerning good governance, social justice, and the requirement to defend Islam when under siege.

Bin Laden and others, who attack civilian populations, reject Islamic law 's regulations governing a valid jihād: violence must be proportional, meaning that only the amount of force necessary to repel the enemy should be used; civilians should not be targeted; jihād must be declared by a ruler or head of state.

Islamic scholars and religious leaders across the Muslim world—including the Islamic Research Council at al-Azhar University, regarded by many as the highest moral authority in Islam, have issued strong, authoritative declarations against bin Laden 's actions. In November 2001, the al-Azhar council released the following statement: “Islam provides clear rules and ethical norms that forbid the killing of non-combatants, as well as women, children, and the elderly, and also forbids the pursuit of the enemy in defeat, the execution of those who surrender, the infliction of harm on prisoners of war, and the destruction of property that is not being used in the hostilities.”

Issues of Authority and Interpretation.

The record of Islamic experiments in Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and the Taliban 's Afghanistan, the policies of some Islamic movements and the violence of religious extremists and terrorists raise serious questions about the rights of women, non-Muslims, and minorities under Islamic governments. The extent to which the growth of Islamic revivalism has been accompanied in some countries by attempts to restrict women's rights, to separate women and men in public, to enforce veiling, and to restrict women's public roles in society strikes fear in some segments of Muslim society and challenges the credibility of those who call for Islamization of state and society. The record of discrimination against the Bahāʿī in Iran and the Aḥmadī in Pakistan as “deviant” groups (heretical offshoots of Islam), against Christians in Sudan, and Arab Jews in Syria, as well as increased sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians in Egypt and Nigeria, and Sunnī and Shīʿī in Pakistan and Iraq pose similar questions of religious pluralism and tolerance.

Two fundamental questions facing Muslims in the twenty-first century are: “Whose Islam?” and “What Islam?” Who is to determine or define the Islamic character of the state and society—rulers (kings, military men, ex-military), the ʿulamāʿ, or the people through elected parliaments? While the ʿulamāʿ still assert their role as the primary interpreters of Islam, the guardians of Islamic law, both Muslim rulers and an educated lay Islamic leadership have threatened their domain.

The proliferation and growth of Islamic movements has witnessed the emergence of a lay Islamic elite leadership who have been the founders and key leaders of Islamic movements and organizations. Islam in theory knows no clergy, and the right of personal interpretation (ijtihād) technically belongs to all qualified Muslims, but historically the ʿulamāʿ did constitute themselves as a professional class. The complex nature and the multiple disciplines necessary to address many modern political, economic, and social issues that are beyond the traditional areas of competence of most ʿulamāʿ, have led some to suggest the need to broaden the definition of a qualified scholar. Is there now, a new class of ʿulamāʿ? Or should the ʿulamāʿ retain their authority as religious scholars based on their training in religion (knowledge of the Qurʿān, sunnah, sharīʿah) but now in complex decision-making advise or be advised by “modern experts”?

“What Islam?” Does the reassertion of Islam in Muslim public life mean a process of restoration or reformation? Does the creation of more Islamically oriented societies require the wholesale reintroduction of classical Islamic law, developed in the early centuries of Islam, or will it require a substantial reformulation of Islam? The contrasting visions and interpretations of conservatives, fundamentalists, and liberal reformers can be seen among Iran 's reform-minded intellectuals and leaders, such as former President Ayatollah Muhammad Khātamī and Abdolkarim Soroush, and militant hardliners, such as those who follow Iran 's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Alī Khameneʿi of Iran, and in Afghanistan 's interpretation of Islam under the Taliban or Saudi Arabia 's Wahhābī ideology regarding the relationship of Islam to state and society versus that of Turkey 's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party.

The Struggle for Islam.

Multiple interpretations, or, reinterpretations, of Islam exist and are at times in contention. Another struggle for Islam today is between the competing voices and visions of an extremist and violent minority with its theology of hate and the majority of mainstream Muslims who, like believers worldwide, pursue the everyday goals of the majority of humankind.

The process of reexamination, reformation, and revitalization is made more urgent by the threat from religious extremists. Islamic reformers, traditionalists and modernists, from North Africa to Southeast Asia, from Europe to America, articulate a progressive, constructive Islamic framework in response to the realities of Muslim societies. As intellectual activists, these academics, lawyers, physicians, journalists, and religious scholars represent voices of reform. They respond to the realities of diverse Muslim societies, the challenges of authoritarian regimes, secularism, the dangers of religious extremism, and the fossilized views of well-meaning but often intransigent conservative religious scholars and leaders.

While many conservatives believe that the Islamic paradigm is fixed in classical Islamic law, more reform-minded Muslims distinguish between the revealed or divine principles and values (sharīʿah) and fiqh, the human understanding, interpretation, and application of sharīʿah. The latter argue that Muslims must distinguish between those elements of Islamic law which are immutable and those that are the product of human interpretation and thus are capable of change and reform in light of new historical circumstances and social conditions. Similarly, although community consensus traditionally was reduced to the opinion or consensus of the ʿulamāʿ and “consultation” referred to the ruler 's consultation with political and religious elites, today many, though not all Muslims, transform or reconceptualize these concepts to support parliamentary systems of government and decision making.

Today 's reformers represent a diverse collection of Muslims and religious messages: men and women; laity and clergy, physicians, lawyers, businessmen, teachers; popular preachers and televangelists; conservative, traditionalist, Islamist, and modernist in orientation. Modern technology has enabled Muslim, like Christian, scholars and preachers or televangelists to go global. Their messages are distributed and accessed through media (satellite television, DVD, audio and videotape) and Internet globally. Popular today Muslim scholars and televangelists like Shaykh Yūsuf Qaradāwī, Tarif Ramadān, Amr Khaled, and Abdullah Gymnastiar (Aa Gym) can fill auditoriums and sports stadiums or clog internet sites.

Muslims increasingly engage in interreligious and intercivilizational dialogue, building upon a common ground of shared beliefs and values and developing new interpretations of their Islamic tradition. Many advocate change through the peaceful transformation of society, gender equality, and full citizenship rights for non-Muslims in Muslim societies, and denounce the use of violence by religious extremists. Many also criticize Western political or cultural hegemony. At the same time, the visions and ideologies of reformers often differ substantially, as their ideas and activities are conditioned by and respond to differing cultural and political contexts and reflect diverse interpretations of religious texts and history.

Islam and the Diaspora.

In contrast to the past, when Islamic thought and influence flowed one way from Muslim countries to the West, information, ideas, and influence today flow on a two-way superhighway whose traffic travels in both directions. Indeed, given the more open religious, political, and intellectual climate in Europe and America, Muslims in the West have been free to develop new avenues of Islamic thought and practice relevant to diaspora communities. They grapple with the relationship of faith to identity and assimilation and of faith to culture in matters of dress and behavior, asking such questions as: How do we resolve ethnic and racial tensions within Muslim communities or between immigrant and indigenous African-American Muslims? Can Muslims legitimately choose to live permanently and participate politically and socially in a non-Muslim society? What are the roles and limits of Islamic law in the diaspora? Is Islam compatible with modern religious and political pluralism?

Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in Europe and America have become a source of information and fresh thinking, their writings read not only in the West but also in Western and Muslim languages in Muslim countries. Muslim centers and institutes in Europe and America publish magazines and journals in Western and Muslim languages and distribute their materials abroad. Students from Muslim countries trained in the West under Muslim and non-Muslim scholars have returned to their countries and had a significant impact on Islamic thought and practice at universities, think tanks, governments, and NGOs.


The history of the Islamic community has spanned more than fifteen centuries. Islam continues to be a vibrant and dynamic religious tradition, providing guidance for almost one-fifth of the world 's population, continuing to grow and expand geographically and facing new problems and issues. There are as many differences as similarities in Muslim understanding and interpretation. For many Muslims, Islamic revivalism is a social rather than a political movement whose goal is a more Islamically minded and oriented society but not necessarily the creation of an Islamic state. For others, establishing an Islamic order requires creating an Islamic state. At the same time, in recent decades religious extremist ideologies and movements have grown and threatened the peace and security of Muslim and Western societies. While the radical religious extremists often dominate media headlines, the broader and more representative struggle and transformation in the Muslim world is a quiet one taking place through Islamic discourse and debate as well as social and political activism. In all cases, the question is not whether Islam has a role to play in the lives of Muslims, but, rather, what role Islam should play. As with other religious communities, Muslims continue to grapple with the role and relevance of Islam, and, in the process, demonstrate both the unity and diversity of this major world religion.



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John L. Esposito

Islam in the Middle East and North Africa

Revelation in the Middle East comes in several versions. Islam is one of them and, like Judaism and Christianity, it constitutes an entire civilization. Islamic civilization evolved through the periods of sacred foundation (634–750), scriptural formation (750–1050), classicism (1050–1800), and modern transformation (1800–present). The focus in this article is on the latter period in which, largely in response to the modern Western concept of rationality, Muslim thinkers have sought to formulate the elements of an authentically rational Islam.

Revelation and Theology.

The sacred story of Islam begins with Abraham 's foundation of a shrine in Mecca, the Kaʿbah, devoted to God (Allāh) the One. The story includes accounts of peoples sliding back to paganism as well as biblical figures and Arab prophets calling them to return to God 's law; the youth, prophetic calling, and community leadership of the prophet Muhammad in Mecca and Medina; the rededication of the Kaʿbah to the God of Abraham; the unification of Arabia under Islam and the Arab-Islamic conquest of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Iran; the murder of Caliph ʿUthmān and the subsequent struggle for leadership between Caliph ʿAlī and governor Muʿāwiyah I. The story concludes with the allegedly worldly rule of the Umayyad caliphs and the emergence of religious scholars liberating Islam from the caliphal embrace.

This sacred story is built on a number of historical facts. At the least, the establishment of the Umayyad caliphate in Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, the minting of caliphal coins with religious inscriptions (earliest extant specimens dating from 685/66), and the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with its Qurʿānic verses and anti-Christian pronouncements (690/91) are indubitable events. But, as in Judaism and Christianity, there is disagreement over what else actually happened.

A growing number of contemporary scholars have concluded that the sacred story of Islamic origins should not be read as a secular history with the addition of a few religious flourishes. Scholars using the form-critical method (tracing the history of literary forms in a text) have shown that the sacred story is inseparable from the community of religious scholars (ʿulamāʿ ) that during the formative period (c.750–1050) was engaged in shaping the holy scripture (Qurʿān), extrascriptural tradition (sunnah), theology (kalām), and law (sharīʿah) of Islam in opposition to the older revelations of Christianity and Judaism. Our understanding of Islamic origins depends almost entirely on the scholars of the formative period, who wanted to present a sacred Islam that had emerged fullblown in precaliphal times and in remote western Arabia during the early seventh century in order to provide the nascent Islam of their own time with a distinctive identity and to elevate it over the older revelations. Thus the sacred story of Islam is not the same as its history, which begins fully, in the empirical sense, only in the mid-eighth century. Two important characteristics of Islam date from the formative period.

First is the rejection of caesaropapism, the rulers ’ policy of claiming divine sanction for issuing laws and imposing doctrinal unity on the empire. In less than a century Arabs succeeded in creating a caliphal empire stretching from Iberia to northwestern India (ca.712). This empire contained a hodgepodge of orthodox and heterodox Christian and Jewish groups, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, and various other populations. It was wracked by wars within the Arab ruling class (658–661, 683–692) and eventually by a revolution resulting in a change of caliphal dynasties from the Umayyads to the ʿAbbāsids (750).

Both dynasties sought to consolidate their power through caesaropapism. Religious scholars were engaged to devise the desired doctrines, although other scholars resented government control and offered alternative doctrines for the empire. During the 900s most religious scholars managed to achieve independence from caliphal dictates; eventually, in 1063, it was a much chastened caliph who pronounced Sunnism, the scholars ’ anticaesaropapist version of Islam, the official orthodox religion.

Although the religious scholars overcame caliphal control, they maintained the caliphal policy of fusing emergent Islam with the cultural and legal traditions of the empire 's core countries, Syria and Iraq. They thereby succeeded in creating a religio-legal Islam that was largely independent of political regimes and their vicissitudes. Within this Islam the sacred story of a small and simple early Islamic community in Mecca and Medina, complete with divine law and communal institutions but without an empire, provided the inspirational core: Islam did not depend on imperial and dynastic political structures and was indeed better off without them. Contrary to widespread contemporary opinion, original Islam—that is, the scholarly Sunnism shaped in the period from 750 to 1050—did not fuse religion and state. Although Sunni scholars required their rulers to be good Muslims, they adamantly opposed caesaropapism.

The Shīʿī minority of Islamic civilization, the origins of which are rooted in the ruling-class rifts of the seventh century, opposed Sunnism by upholding the notion of caesaropapism for the caliphs. The legitimate Shīʿī leaders (imāms), however, were not put to the test: these leaders, claiming descent from the fourth caliph ʿAlī, were excluded from power, and their line died out altogether in 874. It was only with the Egyptian Fāṭimids (909–1171), who put forth a disputed claim to the line of ʿAlī, and the Iraqi Būyids (945–1055), that the Shīʿīs acquired a first experience with legislation.

A similar situation existed under the Ṣafavid shahs in Iran (1600–1722). Interestingly, however, from the end of the seventeenth century some Shīʿī scholars began to oppose the legislative independence (ijtihād, discussed below) of the shah. After the Afghan invasion and during the chaotic interregnum of the eighteenth century, religious scholars rediscovered the advantages of independence, which they managed to maintain under the subsequent Qājār dynasty (1796–1924). They succeeded in acquiring the right to collect a tax, the “share of the imām” (khums); they never deigned to regard the Qājārs as more than caretakers ruling in the name of the Mahdi (the rightly guided one or messiah) who would arrive at the end of time. Thus, over the centuries Shīʿī scholars also came to reject caesaropapism, essentially restricting it to the eschatological figure of the Mahdi. In fact, bolstered by fiscal powers, their rejection became even more resolute than that of their Sunnī colleagues, who in the nineteenth century again lost to the modernizing state their guardianship over religion.

The second important characteristic is the emphasis on divine oneness (tawḥīd). The famous “I am that I am” of Exodus 3:14 is perhaps the most succinct expression of this oneness, but in its tautology it says nothing about the relationship between oneness and Creation. Not surprisingly, the temptation to resort to further, metaphorical, explanations has always remained strong, but if taken literally these explanations, borrowed from analogies with Creation, produce nonsense. Even the name “God” is a problematic metaphor because it implies the human characteristic of personality. Muslims were particularly sensitive about divine metaphors, coming, as they did, after the Jews and Christians. They accused the latter of falsification and polytheism in their scriptures and insisted on an uncompromising divine oneness.

One school of scholars during the formative period of 750–1050, the Muʿtazilah, drew a sharp line between God 's eternal oneness and his Qurʿānic attributes, such as knowledge (ʿilm), power (qudrah) and will (irādah), which they believed to have been created. They did so as staunch partisans of divine oneness (aṣḥāb al-tawḥīd), which did not admit of creation, but they were quickly mired in theological absurdities: what was God like before he created his own attributes? Why did he create them? Could he have created different ones? Therefore other scholars drew the conclusion—“without [questioning] how” (bi-lā kayfa)—that God was inexplicably one as well as being endowed with distinct qualities. These latter scholars eventually—through the theology of the Sunnī thinker Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 935)—carried the day, presumably because they were more honest than their opponents in admitting that formal logic did not permit the conceptualization of indivisible oneness without implying composition. The theology of divine oneness, “without questioning how,” became a cornerstone of Islam, the new unitary revelation superseding all less rigorous ones.

Mysticism and Brotherhoods.

No orthodoxy is ever strong enough to enforce an absolute prohibition of questioning. Inevitably some Muslims challenged the formal logic that made divine oneness appear inexplicable. Today it is recognized that the bivalent formal logic built on the rule of the excluded middle—either/or, no intermediates—is a special case of multivalent logic. During the classical period of Islam (1050–1800), when no formalism was yet available for multivalence, mysticism (taṣawwūf) instead assumed the informal role of making divine oneness comprehensible.

The Spaniard Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240), who lived in Damascus, was perhaps the most articulate among the mystics of the classical period. The complex concept of “oneness of being” (waḥdat al-wujūd) is attributed to him by his disciple Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī (d. 1273/74). In contemporary terms, it may be expressed as follows: one experiences God by stripping away all finite phenomena (sensations, concerns, memories, self) and slipping into a state of infinite latency or undifferentiated consciousness—an experience which, when named, is the actual infinite (oneness of being or God, in al-Qūnawī 's rendering). With this ingenious joining of a contemplative experiential state with the name of God, Ibn al-ʿArabī liberated the theological oneness of the formative period from its seeming inexplicability and provided a sophisticated vocabulary for pious Muslims to express both their experience and their understanding of God.

Religious scholars who prided themselves on their mastery of the formal logic required for the practice of law found it difficult to accept Ibn al-ʿArabī 's careful counterbalancing of experiential undifferentiated consciousness and complex metaphysical concepts. For example, Taqī al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Taymīyah of Damascus (d. 1328) virulently attacked the mystic for having allegedly preached pantheism by identifying the everyday experience of people and things with the omniscient and omnipotent God of scripture. Accordingly, he condemned saintly (walī) mystics whose tombs were visited by believers calling on their intercessory powers (shafāʿāt) or seeking divine blessings (barakat). Ibn Taymīyah was careful, however, not to attack mysticism as such, since it was based on a piety that had legal standing. He censored what in his consideration went beyond piety, namely the alleged pantheism of oneness-mysticism and saint worship.

Ibn Taymīyah remained a lonely critic. The period from the thirteenth century to the eighteenth witnessed an extraordinary outburst of mystical Islam in the form of brotherhoods (singular form, ṭarīqah), which were unabashedly dedicated to oneness of being, saint cults, ecstatic rituals, and miracles, often without concern for Ibn al-ʿArabī 's careful conceptual distinctions. It was this Islam that was carried in the renewed expansion of Islamic civilization—peaceful as well as military—into Central and Southeast Asia as well as Saharan Africa. In the original Islamic countries, where the highly literate Islam of the legal scholars had failed to penetrate into the illiterate countryside, brotherhoods with their emphasis on mnemonics succeeded and successfully encompassed peasants and nomads. Eventually even the scholars, although sometimes scandalized by the dancing, swaying, handclapping, and shouting of the mystics, eventually deigned to join the more decorous brotherhoods.

Ibn Taymīyah was unsuccessful in another respect as well. During the period 750–1050 religious scholars shaped the heterogeneous pre-Islamic legal heritage of the caliphal provinces into a unified body of rulings invested with Muḥammad 's authority. By the twelfth century authoritative compendia (singular form, mukhtaṣar) had appeared that “commanded the good and forbade the evil”; that is, they ostensibly ruled on everything, from the obligatory (wājib), recommended (mandūb), and permissible (mubāḥ) to the disapproved (makrūh) and forbidden (ḥarām), making scholarly Islam a moral as well as a legal code.

With the growth of these compendia, the original accounts (hadīths) of Muḥammad 's rulings receded into the background. Religious scholars became intolerant toward colleagues who resisted legal dependence (taqlīd) on compendia and, going back to Muḥammad 's rulings, practiced independence (ijtihād) of judgment. A turning point was reached in the period 1400–1500: although Ibn Taymīyah continued to render independent decisions, the claim of, for example, the Egyptian Suyūṭī (d. 1505) to be the “leading independent scholar (mujaddid) of the tenth century [a.h.]” was met with strong opposition. The prestigious centers of legal Islam, especially Cairo and Mecca, demanded strict conformity with the compendia.

In practice, however, independent decisions continued to be promulgated, even if their authors eschewed the title of “independent scholar.” For example, Ottoman religious scholars in the sixteenth century, such as Bali Efendi (a mystic of the Helveti [Arabic, Khalwatī] brotherhood), ruled on the permissibility of cash trusts in addition to the existing real-estate endowments (singular form, waq   f    ). Similarly, the legal status of guns, coffee, tobacco, and hashish was debated. Legal dependence on compendia, although binding in theory, was attenuated in practice.

Outside the prestigious legal centers, religious figures were less diffident about claiming the title of “independent scholar.” For example, Aḥmad al-Sirhindī (d. 1624) in Mogul India, a mystic of the Naqshbandīyah brotherhood and an avid reader of the Prophet 's rulings, claimed the title of “mujaddid of the second millennium.” In addition, he replaced Ibn al-ʿArabī 's concept of oneness of being with that of oneness of appearances (waḥdat al-shuhūd): a mystic who attains the experience of undifferentiated consciousness should not call this experience “oneness of being” but rather “oneness of appearances,” because God, “without questioning how,” could neither be experienced nor comprehended. Sirhindī thus brought together independence from the law compendia and a theologically acceptable, albeit diminished, mysticism.

In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the new combination of legal independence and diminished mysticism attracted a number of religious figures who were able to make an impact in some of the more remote provinces of Islamic civilization. These figures acted in a situation of political decentralization from which the Mogul and Ottoman empires began to suffer after several centuries of territorial expansion and the beginning of European political and commercial encroachment. In India, Shāh Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī (d. 1762) was the first to preach the new brand of Islam to local rulers. Two generations later Aḥmad Barelwī (d. 1831) provided the Pathans of the northwestern frontier with a new religious unity in their defense against neighboring Sikhs and Afghans. In Arabia Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb (d. 1787), a native of Nejd educated in mysticism as well as in Ibn Taymīyah 's writings, inspired Muḥammad ibn Saʿūd to embark on a campaign (1746–1765) to destroy saints ’ tombs, renew legal independence, and unify Arabia under the nominal authority of the Ottoman sultan.

Reform and Revolution.

The English colonial takeover in India (1784) and the French or English military invasions of Egypt, Yemen, and Algeria (1798–1830) shocked the surviving Muslim rulers into the realization that their only chance for preserving independence was a recentralization of power. The Ottoman and Moroccan sultans, Egyptian and Tunisian viceregents, and Iranian shahs struggled to adopt Western military technology in an attempt to reverse the decentralization process of the previous century and regain sovereignty. Administrative and legal reforms followed, and a small number of professionals emerged—the officers, diplomats, engineers, doctors, and journalists who were to become the vanguard of modernization in Islamic civilization.

In the past, European and Asian civilizations had borrowed from one another other without experiencing major cultural and social disruptions. Christians rediscovered Aristotle via Muslim philosophers in the twelfth century; Muslims adopted Western firearms technology in the fourteenth; and neither group found itself compelled to transform the foundations of their civilization because of these borrowings. During the nineteenth century, however, cultural and social disruptions in the Islamic countries proved to be unavoidable. After all, the West, in the course of its scientific-industrial revolution during the previous two centuries, had itself undergone profound modernization.

At the heart of this ascendant modernity in the West was the ideology of mechanism, according to which reality was atomic in structure and fully determined by the laws of motion. These laws were “rational,” that is, they followed the rule of the excluded middle in formal logic. Since all atoms were equivalent, the new principle of justice was equality, under which all traditional hierarchical institutions were viewed as “irrational” and had to be replaced by democratic structures. Religion, one of the traditional institutions, was required to be “rationalized” in order to escape the anathema of “irrationality.” By the mid-nineteenth century the ideology of modernity had prevailed in England and was well on its way to conquering the Continent and the New World.

Among Muslims the first reaction to the pressures of Western modernity in the mid-nineteenth century was the discovery of rationality in an Islamic civilization that had somehow failed to produce modernity on its own. The most prominent representative of “Islamic rationalism” was the mystically educated Iranian Shīʿī Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1838–1897), an indefatigable orator in the lecture halls, coffee houses, and salons of the Islamic world from India to Cairo and Istanbul. Central to his thought was the notion that reason (ʿaql ) once reigned supreme in Islamic religion, philosophy, and science, but it was later disfigured by fanaticism (taʿaṣṣub) and tyranny (istibdād), thereby causing stagnation in Islam. Only through a return to the original thinkers, said Afghānī, would Muslims be able to modernize themselves, without having to undergo the humiliation of European colonialism.

Afghānī never identified the fanatics and tyrants with any precision, though he did blame the authors of the twelfth-century legal compendia for their excessive conservatism. But since he also held up as paragons of rationality Muslims from Muhammad to Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1640)—as one would expect of an intellectual deeply steeped in mysticism—it is impossible to pinpoint exactly when in Islamic history fanaticism and tyranny was supposed to have overpowered reason. Furthermore, by explicitly including mysticism in his definition of rationality, Afghānī remained within the mainstream of classical Islamic thought. Although he made the concept of rationality thematic, his interpretation remained fundamentally different from that of Western modernity.

At the same time, in the Sunnī part of the Islamic world politicians carried the modernization of Islam much further. Their interest in the establishment of an efficient centralized administration functioning according to the principles of what Max Weber later called “goal-oriented rationality” naturally led them to clean up what seemed to them the mumbo jumbo of mysticism and to subject the leadership of the brotherhoods and shrines to state control. They thereby established the modern, “rational” equivalent of the former caliphal caesaropapism.

Egypt is a typical case. Here state administrators were appointed in 1812 to supervise all brotherhoods, as well as al-Azhar University, which had previously been autonomous. Subsequent regulations issued in 1881, 1895, and 1905 reduced the number of processions and pilgrimages. Customary practices such as self-flagellation and the eating of burning coals, glass, and serpents were abolished. Drumming, singing, twirling, and leaping during an ecstatic session (ḥaḍrah) were outlawed. The contemplative litanies (singular form, dhikr) had to be purged of all panting. Strict administrative and financial controls were imposed on the brotherhoods. Thus were formerly autonomous religious institutions gradually rationalized and incorporated into the state, at least on paper.

In the early 1890s the direct and indirect disciples of Afghānī, loosely grouped in the Salafīyah movement devoted to a “return to the ancestors” (singular form, salaf    ), joined government efforts at religious reform. The most prominent figure in this movement was Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905), an Egyptian educated in mysticism, theology, and law, who was a member of the administrative council of al-Azhar and the grand mufti for the religious courts, both since 1882 under the protectorate authority of Great Britain.

In 1905 ʿAbduh published his Essay on Oneness, a restatement of al-Ashʿarī 's theology of “without questioning how.” With this explicit return to the formative period he inaugurated the modern reformist program of rationalizing Islam. God, according to ʿAbduh, revealed himself through the angel Gabriel to Muḥammad, an upright but not saintly human being, and called him to lead a corrupt society back to the path of righteousness. The Prophet succeeded through the rational persuasiveness of his message; no miracles were necessary. Even though ʿAbduh as a former mystic was willing to admit the existence of “knowers” (ʿurafāʿ) of God, he left no doubt that mysticism and sainthood had no place in rational Islam. The fact that Ashʿarī 's “without questioning how” nevertheless constitutes an ultimate residue of irrationality according to the either/or logic of modernity is passed over in silence.

The efforts by the centralizing governments to rationalize mysticism and by reformist intellectuals to create a rational Islam did not produce immediate results in the general population. It is true that the Republic of Turkey, which succeeded the Ottoman Empire in 1921, outlawed the brotherhoods and that modern education was expanded in many countries during the interwar period. But the great mass of the population continued in its traditional rural employments until well after World War II. The peasants saw no reasons voluntarily to desert their local brotherhoods or the saints who continued to heal them of afflictions, end droughts, and bless fields and women with fertility. Even when peasants began to migrate to towns and cities in the 1920s as a result of administrative urbanization and early industrial ventures, most joined urban brotherhoods.

Nevertheless, during the interwar period reformed Islam began to attract a few converts in urban areas, mostly from the ranks of modern-educated midlevel employees in the administration or services. These converts were organized in a number of private educational, social action, and welfare organizations founded by a new generation of Salafīyah intellectuals who were impatient with ʿAbduh 's reform from within and wished to return to the anticaesaropapist tradition of Sunnī Islam. Whereas Afghānī and ʿAbduh were still steeped in the mystical tradition, the new generation characteristically represented a transitional group no longer fully at home in it.

Among these intellectuals was the Egyptian Ḥasan al-Bannāʿ (1906–1949), founder in 1928 of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwān al-Muslimūn), who had roots in the Ḥasāfīyah brotherhood. The Algerian ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd Ibn Bādīs (1889–1940), founder of the Association of Religious Scholars (Jamʿīyat al-ʿUlamāʿ) in 1931, was familiar with mysticism only as an academic subject during his studies at Zaytūnah University in Tunis. However, Sayyid Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (1903–1979), founder of the Indian (later Pakistani) Islamic Association (Jamāʿat-i Islāmī) in 1941, was a failed university student before becoming a journalist and self-taught Islamic reformer. Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966) was a modern-educated schoolteacher who had spent time as a postgraduate in the United States before he assumed, in 1951, the directorship of propaganda (daʿwah) in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever their backgrounds, these activists considered themselves as modern, practical, goal-oriented Muslims in contrast to those they regarded as following the irrational Islam of mysticism.

When colonialism ended in the Islamic world after World War II—beginning with Pakistan in 1947 and culminating with Algeria in 1962—the new governments were no more willing than the older ones to accept autonomous religious and legal establishments. Islam in its reformed version became the official or privileged religion (except in Lebanon and a number of sub-Saharan African and East Asian countries) and as such was taught in the systems of compulsory primary education. Ambitious state industrialization plans were adopted, and a massive urbanization process was set into motion; together with compulsory education, these became potent forces of religious change.

This change became manifest in the 1970s when the first postcolonial generation of Muslims with a modern education graduated from primary school. These young urban Muslims were completely divorced from the heritage of the brotherhoods, which now, for the first time in more than five hundred years, were reduced to marginal status in society. To be sure, mysticism is still today a force in Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and Sudan below the middle-class levels of society, but reformed Islamic has become socially and culturally dominant.

Without mysticism the contemporary adherents of reformed Islam, or Islamists as they are generally called, are caught in two intellectual dilemmas. First, even though during the European Enlightenment (1650–1800) modernity began with demands for a rational religion, once religion was rationalized with the help of the bivalent formal logic of either/or, this logic could easily be turned entirely against religion. Either everything, including God, is explicable, or it is not—and if not, why should something inexplicable be believed in? Islamists inevitably find themselves on the defensive against secular modernists who push this logic to its full agnostic consequences.

Second, since Islamists can no longer fall back on mysticism and are unwilling to accept multivalent logic with its broader definition of rationality, theirs is a rather narrow world. They share this world with the secular modernists, who are similarly narrow. Both are correct in concluding that organized mysticism in its traditional sense of brotherhoods and saintliness is now beyond resurrection in many countries. In fact, it is even difficult to imagine how the mysticism of Ibn al-ʿArabī or Mullā Ṣadrā, with its classical metaphysical vocabulary, can be revived. Nevertheless, without the adoption of some form of multivalence the Islamists will not be able to accommodate all faithful Muslims.

For the time being, the freshness of the Islamist phenomenon still obscures its intellectual dilemmas. The Islamic Revolution of Iran in 1979, although itself the result of a decade of preparation, is less than half a generation old. Its leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902–1989), was extraordinarily inspiring in confronting the “either” of secular modernity with an attractive religious “or” building on existing anti-imperialist resentments. The West (especially the United States) has, according to Khomeini, become the contemporary embodiment of Satan by creating the “oppressed” (mustaḍʿafūn; Qurʿān 4:75, 98) of the Third World. Since Satan exists, so must God, whether he is incomprehensible or not; hence it is only a return to divine law (the sharīʿah) that will restore dignity and justice to the oppressed.

In the Iranian revolutionary constitution, divine law is under the protection of the regime of the leading legal scholar (velāyet-i faqīh; Arabic, wilāyat al-faqīh), who is assisted by the counsel (shūrā) of the lesser scholars in an elective assembly (majlis). Together they interpret the law and issue rulings of absolute (muṭlaq) binding power; opposition to these rulings constitutes apostasy. This elevation of a single scholar to the position of supreme legal authority is unprecedented in Shīʿī Islam, where in the absence of the Mahdi, leadership is supposed to be exercised by the shah and the collective of religious scholars. This power of the leading scholar is mitigated in practice, of course, by the institution of parliament.

Khomeini resembled the early reformers in another respect: he was fully educated in the unadulterated oneness-of-being tradition descending from Ibn al-ʿArabī to Mullā Ṣadrā. As a young religious scholar in Qom during the 1920s, he composed several commentaries on mysticism that earned him the hostility and later the jealousy of his reform-minded colleagues. Although practical constitutional concerns dominated Khomeini 's thinking in the 1980s, he nevertheless remained faithful to his mystical antecedents, as exemplified by the reissue of his commentaries in 1982–1986 and by his curious letter to Mikhail Gorbachev in January 1989 extolling the superiority of Ibn al-ʿArabī 's spirituality over Marxist materialism. This stern man, unpredictably pragmatic as well as otherworldly, dared his less knowledgeable contemporaries to challenge him on a field of Islam, the definition of which he reserved to himself, reformist mutterings about the alleged irrationality of his mystical convictions notwithstanding.

Even though Khomeini personally succeeded with a revolution al-Afghānī had only dreamed of, his achievements will fuel scholarly debate for years to come. His own broadly inclusive Islam of the classical period was no longer alive for the majority of Iranians, and the revolution was unable to resuscitate it. The revolutionary epigones of Khomeini in both the Shīʿī and Sunnī parts of the Islamic world face the much less exalted task of convincing Muslims of the superiority of a religious over a secular modernity. Meanwhile, the nonrevolutionary majority of Muslims range themselves somewhere in the undefined middle, intuitively aware that rationality transcends facile either/ors.



General Surveys

  • A concise overview of the evolution of Islam is Andrew Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge, 2001).
  • The historical development of Islamic theology and thought on politics is covered by Patricia Crone, God 's Rule: Government and Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).
  • The dilemmas of “rational” Islam in modernity are addressed from a comparative vantage point in Ernest Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason, and Religion (London: Routledge, 1992).

Revelation and Theology

  • A good introduction in the problem of Islamic origins is Herbert Berg, ed., Method and Theory in the Study of Islamic Origins, Islamic History and Civilization, 49 (Boston: Brill, 2003).
  • The most up-to-date and complete discussion of al-Ashʿarī 's theology is Daniel Gimaret, La doctrine d ’al-Ashʿari (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1990).
  • The classical development of law and theology is outlined by Wael B. Hallaq, The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005);
  • Tilman Nagel, The History of Islamic Theology: From Muhammad to the Present (Boulder, Colo.: Markus Wiener, 2000).


  • Ibn al-ʿArabī 's complex thought is expertly considered by William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-ʿArabi 's Metaphysics of Imagination (Albany: State University Press of New York, 1989).
  • Ibn Taymīyah has yet to find his critical intellectual biographer; his attitude toward mysticism is accessible through Ibn Taimīya 's Struggle against Popular Religion, trans. Muhammad Umar Memon (The Hague: Mouton, 1983).
  • The controversy over the beginnings of reformed Islam—did it begin in some Islamic provinces during the eighteenth century?—is examined in R. S. O ’Fahey, Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad Ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1990).

Reform and Revolution

  • The standard biography of al-Afghānī is Nikki R. Keddie, Sayyid Jamāl ad-Dīn “al-Afghānī”: A Political Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968).
  • Frederick de Jong, Turuq and Turuq-Linked Institutions in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978).
  • Muḥammad ʿAbduh 's Risālat al-tawḥīd is available in English under the title The Theology of Unity, trans. Ishaq Musaʿad and Kenneth Cragg (New York: Books for Libraries, 1980).

His standard intellectual biography is by

  • Charles C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt (New York: Russell & Russell, 1968).

The interwar and early post–World War II reform movements are covered by

  • Brynjar Lia, The Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt: The Rise of an Islamic Mass Movement, 1928-1942 (Reading: Garnet Publishing and Itahaca Press, 1998);
  • Sheila McDonough, Muslim Ethics and Modernity: A Comparative Study of the Ethical Thought of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Mawlana Mawdudi (Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984);
  • Ahmad S. Moussalli, Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Quṭb (Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1992).

On the scope of revolutionary Shiʿism:

  • Hamid Dabashi, Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (New York: New York University Press, 1993).

The literature on contemporary (including revolutionary) Islam is immense. A few books stand out:

  • Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990);
  • John L. Esposito, Islam and Politics, 4th ed. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1998);
  • Gilles Kepel, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam, trans. Anthony F. Roberts (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002).

Peter Von Sivers

Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

The widespread presence of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is rarely acknowledged outside of expert circles. Many textbooks mention Islam in Africa only in passing or relegate it to footnotes. Given the historical role of Islam, its present influence throughout the continent, and the numerical weight of African Muslims (within Africa as well as in comparison to Arab Muslims), the widespread failure to recognize the significance of Islam in Africa and to appreciate the African contributions to Islamic culture and scholarship seems anachronistic.

In the absence of reliable statistics it is difficult to make precise statements about African demography in general and religious adherence in particular. Taking the country statistics published in the CIA World Factbook ( as an indicator, we can conclude that about half of Africa 's population (more than 900 million in 2007) profess Islam. If we disregard North Africa, where the percentage of Muslims reaches an average of 90 percent, roughly 250 million out of 700 million Africans living south of the Sahara are Muslim. The largest concentrations of Muslims are in West Africa, the Sahelian belt stretching from Cap Vert to the Red Sea, and East Africa, particularly the coastal regions.

The fact that Islam in sub-Saharan Africa is often neglected in surveys of the Muslim world and in scholarly works on Africa can be attributed to a dual marginalization. Among specialists in African studies, whether historians, anthropologists, or scholars from other disciplines, Islam is widely seen as not authentically African and thus failing to qualify as a legitimate object of Africanist inquiry. On the other hand, sub-Saharan Africa is usually perceived as peripheral to the field of Islamic studies, a view reflected in the widespread notion that “African” Islam is inherently syncretistic and different from “real”—that is, Middle Eastern—Islam. In other words, whereas Islam is not African enough for some, Africans are not Islamic enough for others. As the following, necessarily selective, survey shows, however, Africans engage with Islam in a wide variety of ways and have done so for centuries.

Paths of Islamization.

The encounter of Islam and Africa goes back to the earliest times of Islamic history. Bilāl, one of the first converts to Islam and the first muezzin of the Muslim community of Medina, was a former black slave, probably from Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea). The same region was the destination of the so-called first hijrah, or emigration, of a small group of Muslims around the year 615, about seven years before the well-known hijrah from Mecca to Medina. Although this early contact between Islam and the African continent did not result in a lasting presence of Muslims there, Muslim sources usually associate it with the beginnings of Islam in Africa.

Muslims established a permanent presence in Egypt following the military conquests led by ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ in 641. Centuries later the Nile valley would become one of the avenues for the spread of Islam into sub-Saharan Africa. Another famous Muslim military leader presented as a pioneer of Islam in Africa in Muslim sources was ʿUqbah ibn Nāfiʿ al-Fihrī, who led an expedition to Fezzan (in present-day southern Libya) in 666. His name figures prominently in the (often fictitious) genealogies of West African Muslim leaders well into the twentieth century.

West Africa.

As far as West Africa is concerned, hard evidence for the presence of Muslim communities south of the Sahara, in the areas referred to in early Arabic sources as bilād al-sūdān (land of the blacks), exists from the eleventh century on. Although it is likely that Muslims traveled along the caravan routes connecting the northern and the southern fringes of the Sahara as early as in the eighth century, the first conversions to Islam occurred no earlier than about 1000 CE The Soninke rulers of the great medieval empire of Ghana, famous for its gold resources and located west of the great bend of the river Niger, apparently practiced polytheistic rituals. However, according to the Arab geographer and traveler Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Bakrī, who visited the area in 1067, there was a Muslim neighborhood in the capital, and the ruler had Muslim ministers and advisors. With the rise of the Almoravids (from Arabic al-murābiṭūn, those who are garrisoned in the border fortresses), a puritanical Berber Islamic movement that emerged in the second half of the eleventh century in the Western Sahara, Islamic influences soon prevailed in Ghana and reached the Senegal valley, where the ruler of the Takrur State embraced Islam and introduced sharī ʿah law even before the advent of the Almoravids.

Occasional conversions of members of local elites notwithstanding, trade was primarily responsible for the spread of Islam in West Africa, and Islam was dominant only in the merchant diasporas, initially comprising mostly ethnic Berbers. The increase of the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt—with Walata, Timbuktu, and Gao functioning as the major hubs at the southern edge of the desert—was accompanied by the steady growth of the Muslim population and the rising influence of Islam. In the kingdom of Mali, the major successor state of Ghana, Islam became the religion of the court in the second half of the thirteenth century. Several rulers of Mali performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, and Mansa Musa 's stopover in Mamlūk Cairo in 1324 apparently impressed the Egyptians greatly.

By the fifteenth century, Islam was on the rise in the Sudanic empire of Songhay. The history of Songhay reflects a pattern that characterized the development of Islam in West Africa up to the early nineteenth century, namely the interplay of Islamic and pre-Islamic beliefs and practices, that manifested itself in some cases as a relatively peaceful coexistence and in others as a violent conflict. Sonni ʿAlī, the ruler who incorporated Timbuktu—which was to become the major center of Islamic intellectual activity in West Africa—into the Songhay Empire in 1468 followed a syncretic course, whereas his successors, known as the Askiyas, employed Muslim scholars, sometimes from Egypt and North Africa, who sought to purge religious beliefs and practices of pre-Islamic influences. Nonetheless, even the more Islamically inclined rulers of Songhay and other, smaller West African empires at the time were criticized by Muslim scholars who condemned certain practices condoned by the ruling elites as shirk (the sacrilegious attribution of partners to God, i.e., polytheism; see Hunwick, Sharia).

There was also an early Islamic presence in the West African region of Kanem-Bornu, to the southwest of Lake Chad. Trade routes connected Kanem-Bornu with Fezzan (in present-day Libya), which was ruled by Ibāḍīs (a subgroup of the Khawārij) from the middle of the eighth to the late twelfth century. There is, however, no evidence of Ibāḍī influence south of the Sahara. Under the first Saifawa dynasty, established in 1075, Kanem-Bornu slowly developed into a center of Islamic scholarship, reaching its acme in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the region became famous for the study of Islamic law—in the tradition of the Mālikī school, which gradually emerged as the dominant school throughout West Africa—and the Qurʿānic sciences. Kanem-Bornu served as a cultural link between Western and Eastern Sudanic Africa, a role that is reflected in the spread of Western Sudanic (and ultimately Maghribī) methods of the Qurʿān memorization and recitation into Darfur.

Although the partial conversion of the ruling classes in the Sudanic empires paved the way for the later dominance of Islam in the bilād al-sūdān, the decisive impetus for the Islamization of large parts of the population seems to have come from rural clerical communities. Such decentralized communities include the Kunta, who also were the agents of the early spread of the Qādirīyah Ṣūfī order from the sixteenth century onward (Batran), the Jakhanke, Mande-speaking traders and scholars who established networks of autarkic centers of Islamic learning (Sanneh), and the Duyla, another group of Mande-speakers whose trading and proselytizing activities extended beyond the savannahs to the forest regions of West Africa. Lamin Sanneh has convincingly argued that these groups, originally the recipients of Islamic learning, became far more instrumental in the spread of Islam among Africans than the original transmitters, those of the Arab and Berber trading diasporas.

The increase in the number of Muslims and the rising level of Islamic learning gradually grew into a challenge to the ruling classes, where adherence to Islam was often superficial. From the late seventeenth century on, Muslim scholars began openly to criticize the injustice and lack of commitment to Islamic principles on the part of the rulers. In several instances rulers were also implicated in the slave trade, both trans-Atlantic and intra-Muslim. This situation gradually led to the emergence of jihād movements, motivated by social discontent as well as the desire to eliminate shirk and to establish systems of government based on Islamic principles. The first in a series of successful jihād movements occurred in the region north of the upper Senegal River under the leadership of Nāṣir al-Dīn, ethnically a Berber, in the 1660s and 1670s. It was soon followed by others throughout the bilād al-sūdān, the most prominent being the Fulani jihād of Usuman Dan Fodio against the Hausa states in present-day southern Niger and northern Nigeria in 1803–1804 (Hiskett, Sward ).

Nigerian Muslims today celebrate Dan Fodio 's legacy as the founder of an Islamic state, although he never held any official function in what came to be known as the Sokoto Caliphate. Instead, Dan Fodio made significant contributions to African Islamic thought, as did his brother Abdallah and his daughter Nana Asmaʿu (Hunwick and O ’Fahey). Another field in which Dan Fodio left a lasting legacy was the spread of Ṣūfī thought and practices. A devout follower of the Qādirīyah Ṣūfī order, Dan Fodio left extensive writings in the field of Sufism and ethics and laid the foundation for the continuing presence of the Qādirīyah in northern Nigeria and Cameroon. The other major nineteenth-century leader of the Qādirīyah was Sīdī al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī, a scion of one of the leading clerical families in the southwestern Sahara, who wrote a number of influential books on Sufism and established the Qādirīyah as the leading Ṣūfī order in West Africa before the advent of the Tijānīyah.

From the mid-nineteenth century on, the Tijānīyah gradually superseded the Qādirīyah as the largest Ṣūfī order in West Africa. The major participant on the side of the Tijānīyah was al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tal (d. 1864), a Tukulor born on the banks of the upper Senegal river who became the leader of another large-scale jihād movement in the area of present-day Mali. Established by Aḥmad al-Tijānī (d. 1815) in the Maghrib toward the end of the eighteenth century, the Tijānīyah reached the Western Sahara during the lifetime of its founder and was subsequently passed on to West Africans by members of the Idau Ali tribe. During his celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca, al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tal was appointed the leader of the Tijānīyah in West Africa. The beginnings of his jihād against non-Muslim Bambara rulers coincided with the advance of the French colonial army towards the interior. Al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tal still managed to establish an Islamic state in the region of the Niger bend, but his jihād finally crumbled, and his empire broke into several small successor states. By the end of the nineteenth century the French had completed their conquest of the western bilād al-sūdān.

The Nilotic Sudan, The Horn, and East Africa.

In spite of its proximity to Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula, the upper Nile valley was Islamized relatively late. After the defeat of the attempted Muslim invasion of Nubia in 652, Christianity remained dominant in Sudan until the fourteenth century. The gradual infiltration of Arab traders into the Christian kingdoms in the Nubian areas to the south led to a decisive shift in the religious situation only during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although the Mamlūks of Egypt had led repeated incursions into Nubian territory in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. In contrast to West Africa, where the process of Islamization was not accompanied by linguistic and ethnic Arabization, the spread of Arabic language and identity in the Nilotic Sudan (as in North Africa) often went hand in hand with, or closely followed, conversion to Islam.

In most other regions of sub-Saharan Africa, Arabic failed to achieve the status of a vernacular language and only became the lingua franca of scholarly circles, the “Latin of Africa” (Hunwick, 2006, p. 53). In certain parts of eastern Sudanic Africa, stretching from Lake Chad to the Red Sea, the twin processes of Islamization and Arabization continue to the present day. However, there are also features that Eastern Sudanic Africa shares with West Africa, most notably the coexistence of Islamic and pre-Islamic practices in court rituals in the sultanates of Funj and Darfur, and other, smaller sultanates. For instance, matrilineal practices left their traces in court ceremonies well into the nineteenth century. At the same time, Arab traders, known as Jallaba, contributed to the spread of Islamic culture and, together with Arab nomadic groups, extended the influence of the Arabic language into linguistically and ethnically African areas. The major commodities of this early trade were ivory, ostrich feathers, and slaves, which were in high demand on the markets of Cairo and the Arab peninsula. For centuries, the involvement of Arab Muslims in the slave trade was a defining feature of the Islamic expansion not only in the Nilotic Sudan, but also in the western bilād al-sūdān and East Africa.

As in West Africa, the major agents of Islamization were local holy men. Known as fakis (Arabic, faqīh) in the Nilotic Sudan, these holy men established new settlements along the White and the Blue Nile, the Jazīrah region, as well as in the eastern desert and in Kordofan and Darfur. The fakis performed a wide variety of tasks in their communities, including teaching the Qurʿān, performing miracles, inscribing amulets, and treating people suffering from physical or mental diseases. Their activities and biographies are vividly described in Wad Dayf Allah 's Kitāb al-ṭabaqāt (Book of the Generations), one of the most fascinating sources on Islam in the Nilotic Sudan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (McHugh).

Although some of the holy families are known for their affiliation with the Qādirīyah Ṣūfī order before c.1800, institutionalized Sufism took root only after the Egyptian conquest of large parts of the Nilotic Sudan in 1821, during the period known as Turkīyah. Most of the newly emerging Ṣūfī orders were part of the so-called Idrīsī tradition, that is, Sufism as understood and practiced by the disciples of Shaykh Aḥmad ibn Idrīs (d. 1839), the famous Moroccan scholar who spent most of his later life in the Hejaz and the region of Asir in the southwestern part of the Arab peninsula. Ṣūfī orders such as the Khatmīyah, also known as al-Mirghanīyah (derived from the name of the founder, Muḥammad ʿUthmān al-Mirghanī), the Majdhūbīyah, and the Ismāʿīlīyah came to wield great spiritual authority, partly supported by the Egyptian rulers who began to employ a few European advisors and mercenaries. However, the Mahdist revolution of the 1880s brought the growing influence of the Ṣūfī orders to a temporary halt. Under the leadership of Muḥammad Aḥmad al-Mahdī, a religious scholar with a Ṣūfī background, the Mahdīyah succeeded in driving out the “Turks” (as the Egyptian rulers were pejoratively called in the protonationalist Mahdist discourse) and established an Islamic state that was to last until the British conquest in 1898. One of the most important legacies of the Mahdīyah was the widespread compliance with Islamic norms and practices in Eastern Sudanic Africa.

Trade was also the principal mechanism for the spread of Islam in the Horn of Africa. Whereas the West African trading centers were located on the Sahel, or southern “shore” (Arabic, sāḥil) of the Sahara, the East African trade had its centers on the western coast of the Indian Ocean. Coastal towns thus became busy hubs not only for goods, but also for the expansion of Islam. Arab immigrants settled along the Somali coast as early as the ninth century and established trading posts in the hinterland, which was populated by Somali-speaking nomads. Port cities such as Mogadishu flourished, and when the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Bāṭṭūṭah visited the region in the 1330s, he praised the observance of Islam and the knowledge of Arabic among the local population. In the meantime, the Muslim advance towards the Ethiopian highlands had resulted in the formation of several Islamic states that were tributary to the Christian rulers there. From the fourteenth century onward the Ethiopian Empire waged repeated military campaigns meant to ward off the growing Islamic influence.

The hostilities culminated in the sixteenth century, when Ahmad Gran emerged as the leader of a group of Muslims who were dissatisfied with the traditional aristocracy 's leniency toward their Christian neighbors. The inland city of Harar, already a regional center for the diffusion of the Qādirīyah Ṣūfī order, became the headquarters of his jihād against Ethiopia, which he invaded in 1531. Over the next twelve years, the jihād forces undertook raids and destroyed churches throughout the highland, until the Ethiopian king called on the Portuguese, who had begun to appear along the coast, for help. Ahmad Gran was killed in 1543; the jihād movement fell apart, and the Muslims lost control of the highlands. The experience of the jihād lives on in the memory of Ethiopian Christians, who perceive themselves as an island surrounded by the sea of Islam. Harar continued to function as the leading center of Islamic culture in Ethiopia and has, because of the large number of holy men buried in the city, gradually acquired distinction as the city of the saints.

For the next 150 years the Portuguese presence on the coast threatened the trade of the Muslim port cities, not only in Somalia but also along the Swahili coast. The Ottoman attempt in the late sixteenth century to challenge Portuguese influence in the region failed, as did their expeditions into Ethiopia. The lack of political stability notwithstanding, the port cities continued to thrive as centers of Islamic culture. In the early nineteenth century the Sultanate of Oman gradually extended its influence in the eastern Indian Ocean, culminating in the relocation of the capital from Oman to Zanzibar under the Bū Saʿīdī dynasty in 1832.

Along the East African coast further south the development of Islam largely followed the pattern of the Somali port cities. Except in the case of Somalia, however, where Muslims established a presence in the hinterland, Islam was initially restricted to the coastal enclaves. Muslims looked toward the sea, which connected them with the wider world of the Indian Ocean, rather than to the hinterland. Isolated trading posts served as bases for slave raids. Whereas large sectors of the indigenous population, such as the Oromo, embraced Islam in the Horn, further to the south Islam remained the religion of Arab seafarers and migrants. The earliest settlement of Arab Muslims was apparently in the ninth century. In the early 1300s the town of Kilwa (in present-day Tanzania) emerged as the leading Muslim port city, but other towns, such as Mombasa and Pate further to the north, also played an important role in the formation of a unique coastal culture, whose carriers came to be known as the Swahili (from the Arabic sawāḥil, coasts) and spoke a language, based on Bantu grammar and a largely Arabic vocabulary, which became the lingua franca of East Africa. The influx of Arab migrants, many of them with roots in the region of Ḥaḍramawt (southern Yemen), continued up to the early twentieth century. It often took only a few generations for them to be absorbed into Swahili culture and switch from Arabic to Swahili. In 1832 the Omani Sultanate shifted its capital to the island of Zanzibar, a move that attracted large numbers of Muslim merchants and scholars. Many of the newly arriving immigrants were Sunnī Muslims, mostly following the Shāfiʿī school of law, whereas the Omanis were Ibāḍīs.

While Islamic culture flourished along the coast, the incursions into areas further inland left the local population untouched by Islam. One major exception is Uganda, where the nineteenth-century rulers of Buganda took a great interest in Islam, welcomed Muslim traders and scholars, and eventually became Muslims themselves, thus laying the foundation of an indigenous Muslim community in the region.

The Colonial Period.

Whatever the objectives of the policies the colonial powers pursued with regard to Islam and their Muslim subjects, the Islamization of large parts of West Africa, as well as parts of the East African hinterland, was not among them. Yet, it was precisely this period—the late nineteenth and the earliest twentieth centuries—that saw the large-scale conversion of Africans to Islam. As Launay and Soares have convincingly argued, this unprecedented rise in the number of Muslims, accompanied by the growing commitment of formerly nominal Muslims to their religion, can be explained in terms of developments within the “Islamic sphere,” a Muslim public arena that existed separately, though not detached from, the colonial public sphere. Muslims in all parts of Africa took advantage of the new possibilities created by the pax colonia: new means of communication and transport facilitated travel and the flow of ideas among African Muslims, as well as between Muslims in Africa and those elsewhere. It was probably in this period that more standardized ways of being Muslim emerged throughout the African continent. The new trend was reflected in the increase of the number of African Muslims who were able to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca, in the proliferation of Islamic literature, and in the proliferation of madrasahs (Islamic schools). In many instances, conversion to Islam also seemed to function as a form of passive resistance to colonial domination.

The large-scale expansion of Islam during the colonial era counters the argument, popular among African Muslims, that the colonial powers were determined to extinguish the “light of Islam.” None of the European colonial powers developed a coherent “Muslim policy.” Although they tried to apply various strategies to prevent Islam from spreading into new territories, they also established working relationships with important Muslim local rulers and religious leaders in order to achieve a better control of their Muslim subjects. This form of indirect rule strengthened the role of certain Muslim notables as intermediaries between colonial authorities and the Muslim population, which in turn allowed them to implement their religious agendas in the “Islamic sphere.”

The best-known examples of such Muslim notables are the so-called marabouts in the French colonies, originally a generic term for Muslim teachers and healers that came to describe the leaders of the Ṣūfī orders, most notably the Tijānīyah, the Qādirīyah, and the Murīdīyah. The French elevated Seydou Nourou Tall (ca. 1880–1980), the grandson of the nineteenth-century jihād leader al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tall based in Dakar, to the rank of “Grand Marabout de l ’A.O.F.” (where A.O.F. stands for Afrique Occidentale Française) and sponsored his frequent travels throughout the French colonies from the 1920s on. During his travels Seydou Nourou preached obedience to the colonial government and called upon Muslims to collaborate with the administration in the collection of taxes and the implementation of agricultural schemes and health projects.The integration of Muslim leaders into the colonial system did not always proceed as smoothly as in the case of Seydou Nourou. For almost two decades French colonial administrators in Senegal projected their fears of a unified Islamic resistance onto Shaykh Amadu Bamba M ’Backe, the founder of the Senegalese Murīdīyah Ṣūfī order, who was sent into exile twice, to Gabon from 1895 to 1902 and to Mauritania from 1903 to 1907. Bamba 's vexed relationship with the French has prompted later followers of the Murīdīyah to praise him as a hero of the anticolonial struggle, a hagiographical hyperbole that disregards his later shift toward accommodation. A later example of a Muslim leader who clashed with the French was Shaykh Ḥamallāh from Nioro du Sahel (in present-day Mali). In the 1920s Ḥamallāh emerged as the leader of a separate branch of the Tijānīyah which quickly drew a large following in the region of Nioro and southeastern Mauritania. However, when some of his followers became involved in violent confrontations with other Muslims, the French identified him as the cause of the violent incidents and exiled him twice, first to Mauritania and later to Montluçon (France), where he died in 1943.

Throughout the colonial period, colonial attitudes towards their Muslim subjects remained ambivalent. In the period after World War II, French fears of organized Muslim resistance were rekindled by a new wave of Islamic reform. As most proponents of the new trend had been inspired by visits to Saudi Arabia, French administrators referred to them as “Wahhabis.” They were more critical of colonial rule than the old Muslim establishment had been and were very outspoken in their attacks on the Ṣūfī orders and the marabouts. At the transition to independence the latter seemed to lose some of their influence and support, but strong currents of reform also emerged within the Ṣūfī orders, most notable the one led by the Senegalese Tijānī Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse. The case of Niasse, who gained widespread recognition as the supreme leader of the Tijānīyah in large parts of West Africa and as far as Darfur, is a good example of how Muslim religious leaders were able to flourish and to work for the expansion of Islam even during colonial rule.

In East Africa the encounter between Muslims and European rule yielded similar results, albeit under different local conditions. After the two most notable anticolonial struggles, the jihād of Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh Ḥasan in northern Somalia (1898–1920) and the Maji Maji Rebellion in Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania, 1904–1907), had faded, Muslims became resigned to European rule. The Sultanate of Oman—based in Zanzibar and until the late nineteenth century in control of the coastal strip from Mogadishu in the north to the Portuguese dominions of Mozambique in the south—was gradually forced to relinquish control to the Germans and the British.

What may appear as the defeat of the Islamic powers at the time, however, ultimately led to the conversion of sizable parts of the African population. Muslim scholars, often with an Arab background and usually affiliated with Ṣūfī orders, extended their activities beyond the coast to the hinterland and successfully worked for the spread of Islam in areas such as upper Kenya, Ujiji, and Tabora in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika, and as far as Malawi, Rwanda, and Burundi. Especially in the case of the Qādirīyah order, this development allowed Africans to rise to leadership positions, in contrast to the earlier period during which membership in a Ṣūfī order was by and large restricted to Muslims of an Arab ancestry. The Yashruṭīyah, a branch of the Shādhilīyah order based on the Comoro Islands, successfully proselytized in present-day Tanzania. On the island of Lamu, Ḥabīb Salīḥ ibn ʿAlawī Jamāl al-Layl, the scion of a prominent family with origins in the Ḥaḍramawt (present-day Yemen), founded the Riyada Mosque-College that quickly became the foremost center of higher Islamic learning in East Africa. Ḥabīb Salīḥ also promoted the teachings and practices of the ʿAlawīyah order, a Ṣūfī tradition that was founded in thirteenth-century Ḥaḍramawt and subsequently spread throughout the Indian Ocean along with Ḥaḍramī migration. The most prominent of these practices is the celebration of the mawlid (Swahili, maulidi), the birthday of the Prophet Muḥammad in the Islamic lunar month of Rabīʿ al-Awwal). As in the case of the Qādirīyah that introduced communal recitations (Arabic, dhikr; Swahili, zikiri) accompanied by drums, the ʿAlawīyah version of the maulidi integrated musical instruments into the performance. This type of performance seems to have played a major role in attracting new converts. Another factor that accounts for the rise in the number of converts in the early twentieth century, at least in the Tanzanian context, was the prospect of upward social mobility.

The advent of Islam in South Africa also occurred in conjunction with colonialism. The first Muslims to arrive at the Cape were taken there from Southeast Asia by the Dutch in 1658; Indian Muslim immigrants followed roughly two hundred years later. In the early twentieth century, the imperial age made Africa as a whole more receptive to Islamic influences from French and British colonies outside of the continent. Lebanese merchants, mostly Muslims but also Maronite Christians, migrated to the urban centers of French West Africa. Several British colonies, especially Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nigeria, and Kenya, served as a channel for the diffusion of the Aḥmadīyah, a Muslim movement with a strong missionary component going back to Mirzā Ghulām Aḥmad (d. 1908) from Punjab in British India (Fisher). East Africa also received Indian immigrants of Hindu, Sikh, and Muslim backgrounds. The latter are divided into several groups that represent the full spectrum of Islamic orientations: in addition to Sunnī and Shīʿī Muslims, there are sizeable groups of Ismāʿīlīs, from both the Nizārī (known as Khojas) and the Mustaʿlī (known as Bohrās) branches. After India, East Africa is now the region with the most Ismāʿīlīs.

At the dawn of independence British and French colonial administrators realized reluctantly that their rule had unwittingly assisted in the expansion of Islam to large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Although they had succeeded in dismantling precolonial Islamic states and in setting up “secular” legal institutions at the expense of Islamic ones, more Muslims than before displayed a commitment to Islamic knowledge and practice.

The Post-Colonial Period.

After the creation of independent nation states in Africa, in most cases around the year 1960, Islam presents a more fragmented picture. Muslim engagement with the state varies from country to country, although it is possible to identify some patterns. The academic literature tends to depict the postcolonial condition of Islam in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of a dichotomy between Ṣūfī and reformist Islam. Although there is some truth in this, it is likely that many African Muslims joined neither camp.

With few exceptions (Ethiopia and the special case of South Africa under apartheid rule), all sub-Saharan nation states started off with secular constitutions, even though there are cases where the head of state was expected to be a Christian (as in Ethiopia) or a Muslim (as in Sudan). In Nigeria, the most populous country of the continent, where the Christian and Muslim populations are nearly equal, the Muslim elites in the north were forced to accept the fact that there was no return to the precolonial political and legal system. The long search for a compromise or a power-sharing formula has left a strong imprint on the postcolonial history of Nigeria and occasionally erupted into violent confrontations; it took a heavy toll during the Biafran War (1967–1970).

The latest chapter of this history is the enactment of sharīʿah laws in most of the northern federal states from 2001 onwards, which continues to poses a challenge to national unity. In Senegal, often praised as a model of democracy for Africa, a Christian president, Leopold Senghor, ruled for twenty years over a population that was about 90 percent Muslim. Senghor and his successor Abdou Diouf (r. 1981–2000) were able to hold off Islamic challenges to the secular Senegalese state. In the Sudan, however, the northern Muslim elites were less determined to guard the secular character of the state against those who called for the application of sharīʿah law. In 1983 Jaʿfar al-Numeiri, a former socialist, introduced a penal code based on the sharīʿah, including corporal punishment for the consumption of alcohol, theft, adultery, and apostasy. The most prominent victim of Nimeiri 's laws was Ustādh Maḥmud Muḥammad Ṭāhā, the founder of the Republican Brothers and pioneer of a new reading of Islam, who was charged with apostasy and executed in 1985. Although Nimeiri 's Islamic experiment ended shortly after Ṭāhā 's death, the subsequent democratic government failed to eliminate his legacy. After the coup of 1989, the military government of ʿUmar al-Bashīr enacted new sharīʿah laws and established an “Islamic state” based on the ideas of Ḥasan al-Turābī, the most prominent thinker among the Sudanese Islamists. In 2000, Turābī lost the power struggle to President ʿUmar al-Bashīr, whose present agenda appears to be less driven by ideology.

The advance toward Islamic political and legal systems received a major impetus from Ayatollah Khomeini 's successful Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although the overwhelming majority of African Muslims are Sunnīs, the Shīʿī cleric was widely perceived as a model for other Muslim leaders. For the time being, however, geopolitics was still in the grip of the Cold War, and African governments, ruled mostly by military officers, suppressed national opposition movements and were primarily concerned with aligning themselves with either the West or the communist bloc. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989–1990 inaugurated a new era in African Muslim politics. Political and economic liberalization gave rise to new political parties and greater freedom of religious expression. Beginning in the early 1990s, new Islamic organizations with political, educational, and charitable agendas mushroomed throughout Islamic Africa. The same period saw the increased politicization of African Muslims. The conflict between Ṣūfīs and reformers that had dominated the Muslim public sphere during the first post-independence generation gradually faded, and Islamist voices grew stronger in the subsequent reordering of the Islamic ideological spectrum.

The new Islamic associations draw their financial resources form a variety of sources. In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia emerged as one of the major players in the Islamic field in sub-Saharan Africa. So-called philanthropists, many of them based in the rich Gulf states, continue to provide African Muslims with significant funds. The last thirty years have brought an explosion in the number of mosques and madrasahs. Islamic writings, often in African languages, and, more recently, audio- and videocassettes and DVDs circulate widely among African Muslims and have introduced new modes of transmission of Islamic knowledge, often at the expense of the old scholarly elites.

At the same time, African Muslims have become increasingly conscious of belonging to the ummah, the global community of Muslims. This new consciousness has made Muslims more assertive in countries where they are a minority and has led to occasional violent confrontations between Muslims and Christians in countries with a north-south divide, such as Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast. The sometimes aggressive proselytization strategies of Pentecostal and Evangelical Christian churches have led to heightened tensions between Muslims and Christians in some of these countries, and in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 also had an impact on Muslims in Africa, particularly those living in countries with a Muslim minority. Countries like Ghana, Kenya, and Ethiopia, whose governments have long appeared to ignore the existence of their sizeable Muslim populations, have now turned to repressive policies that do nothing to ease the religious tensions. On the other hand, Muslims in minority contexts have also contributed to the strains in their relations with Christians. Recent campaigns for the introduction of regulations that allow Muslims greater latitude in the application of Islamic law have raised fears among Christians in East Africa and elsewhere.



  • Bang, Anne K.Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860–1925. London, 2003. The best work on the impact of Ḥaḍramī scholars on the East African coast, rich with details about intellectual and social history.
  • Batran, Aziz A.The Qadiriyya Brotherhood in West Africa and the Western Sahara: The Life and Times of Shaykh Al-Mukhtar Al-Kunti (1729–1811). Rabat, Morocco, 2001. The only monograph on the Qādirīyah, essentially a study of Sīdī al-Mukhtār al-Kuntī and the nineteenth century.
  • Brenner, Louis. Controlling Knowledge: Religion, Power, and Schooling in a West African Muslim Society. Bloomington, Ind., 2001. A first-rate study of Islamic education in Mali during and after colonial rule; one of the best books on Islam in Africa.
  • Brenner, Louis. West African Sufi: The Religious Heritage and Search of Cerno Bokar Saalif Taal. Berkeley, Calif., 1984. An intimate portrait of the life, teachings, and times of a twentieth-century Tijānī figure.
  • Fisher, Humphrey J.Ahmadiyyah: A Study in Contemporary Islām on the West African Coast. London, 1963. The only study of the Aḥmadīyah in Africa.
  • Hiskett, Mervyn. The Course of Islam in Africa. Edinburgh, 1994. A solid textbook-style survey of the development of Islam north and south of the Sahara.
  • Hiskett, Mervyn. The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of Shehu Usuman dan Fodio. New York, 1973. The first full-length study of Usuman dan Fodio, still a useful reference.
  • Hunwick, John O.Sharia in Songhay: The Replies of al-Maghīlī to the Questions of Askia al-Ḥājj Muḥammad. Oxford, 1985. An in-depth study of Islam in the Songhay empire in the fifteenth century.
  • Hunwick, John O., and R. S. O ’Fahey, eds.Arabic Literature of Africa. Vol. 1, The Writings of Eastern Sudanic Africa to c. 1900. Vol. 2, The Writings of Central Sudanic Africa. Vol. 3, The Writings of the Muslim Peoples of Northeastern Africa. Vol. 4, The Writings of Western Sudanic Africa. Leiden, Netherlands, 1994–2003. The leading bibliography of Islamic writings from sub-Saharan Africa, including a wealth of information on authors, historical periodization, and literary genres. Indispensable to the study of Islam in Africa.
  • Kaba, Lansiné. The Wahhabiyya: Islamic Reform and Politics in French West Africa. Evanston, Ill., 1974. This work—the earliest on the topic—traces the rise of reformist Islam in the area of present-day Mali.
  • Kane, Ousmane. Muslim Modernity in Postcolonial Nigeria: A Study of the Society for the Removal of Innovation and Reinstatement of Tradition. Leiden, Netherlands, 2003. Kane starts where Loimeier (1997) ends. Among the most important books on Islam in Nigeria.
  • Karrar, Ali Salih. The Sufi Brotherhoods in the Sudan. London, 1992. Although the title is a misnomer—Karrar mainly deals with the Khatmīyah, with few references to other orders—the book is the most useful published study of the topic.
  • Launay, Robert, and Benjamin F. Soares. “The Formation of an ‘Islamic Sphere ’ in French Colonial West Africa.”Economy and Society28, no. 4, (1999): 497–519. Makes an original argument about the emergence of a Muslim public sphere.
  • Levtzion, Nehemia, and Randall L. Pouwels, eds.The History of Islam in Africa. Athens, Ohio, 2000. Designed for specialized readers as well as for classroom use, summarizes the state of the art in the field as of the 1990s.
  • Loimeier, Roman. Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria. Evanston, Ill., 1997. Covers the period from the 1950s to the 1980s; offers new insights into the competition between Ṣūfī orders and Islamic reform movements as reflected in the political arena.
  • Loimeier, Roman, and Rüdiger Seesemann, eds.The Global Worlds of the Swahili: Interfaces of Islam, Identity, and Space in 19th- and 20th-Century East Africa. Berlin2006. A collection of essays based on new research on Islam in East Africa.
  • McHugh, Neil. Holymen of the Blue Nile: The Making of an Arab-Islamic Community in the Nilotic Sudan, 1500–1800. Evanston, Ill., 1994. In-depth study of the emergence of Islam in the Sudan, based on fascinating source material.
  • O ’Brien, Donal B. Cruise. The Mourides of Senegal: The Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971. The classical study of the Murīdīyah, though relatively weak in putting the religious beliefs and practices into a wider Islamic context.
  • Pouwels, Randall L.Horn and Crescent: Cultural Change and Traditional Islam on the East African Coast, 800–1900. Cambridge, 1987. The standard history of Islam in East Africa before the twentieth century.
  • Robinson, David. The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Oxford, 1985. Historical study of one of the most important West African jihāds.
  • Robinson, David. Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920. Athens, Ohio, and Oxford, 2000. A collection of earlier articles by the same author, with some new chapters, highlighting Muslim responses to colonial rule.
  • Rosander, Eva Evers, and David Westerlund, eds.African Islam and Islam in Africa: Encounters between Sufis and Islamists. London, 1997. A useful anthology with several original contributions, it suffers from a narrow analytical perspective that reduces Muslim diversity in Africa to the competition between Ṣūfī orders and more recent Islamic reform movements.
  • Sanneh, Lamin O.The Jakhanke: The History of an Islamic Clerical People of the Senegambia. London, 1979. A significant contribution to the understanding of the Islamization process in West Africa.
  • Soares, Benjamin. Islam and the Prayer Economy: History and Authority in a Malian Town. Ann Arbor, Mich. 2005. Analyzes the development of Islam in the area of present-day Mali over the last two hundred years from historical and anthropological viewpoints; also offers original theoretical insights.
  • Soares, Benjamin, ed.Christian-Muslim Encounters in Africa. Leiden, 2006. Collective volume that takes a fresh approach to the Christian-Muslim relations in Africa, both past and present.
  • Soares, Benjamin F., and René Otayek, eds.Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa. New York, 2007. This anthology unites the up-to-date scholarship on the topic and covers some of the most recent developments.
  • Triaud, Jean-Louis, and David Robinson, eds.La Tijâniyya: une confrérie musulmane à la conquête de l ’Afrique. Paris, 2000. The best source of information on the Tijānīyah Ṣūfī order. Most chapters are in French, some in English.
  • Trimingham, John Spencer. The Influence of Islam Upon Africa. 2d ed.London and New York, 1980. One of many works on Islam in Africa by this author, whose interpretations still hold sway in some academic circles even though they are now outdated.
  • Umar, Muhammad Sani. Islam and Colonialism: Intellectual Responses of Muslims of Northern Nigeria to British Colonial Rule. Leiden, 2006. Among the recent books that take a fresh and more differentiated approach to the study of Islam in Africa.
  • Villalón, Leonardo A.Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal. Cambridge, 1995. Analyzes the modes of Muslim engagement with the secular state, both on the macro- and the micropolitical level.

Rüdiger Seesemann

Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus

Islam in the regions of Central Asia and the Caucasus is tremendously diverse. Among these regions are those that are very close to the Arab heartland and were conquered in the earliest expansion of Muslim armies. Along with much of the Sassanian Persian state as a whole, the territory of Azerbaijan came under Arab control by the 640s—scarcely a decade after Muḥammad's death—followed within another decade by the eastern Iranian province of Khorāsān, including parts of today's Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. The region also extends to lands much more remote from Arabia, including the Volga Basin, the Eurasian steppes, southwestern Siberia, and northwestern China, which came under strong Islamic influence much later and by very different means. The region holds Central Asian oases that were to become some of the most important centers of Islam worldwide; it also encompasses vast steppes and deserts, home to pastoral nomads, and remote mountain zones.

As in the Islamic world more widely, the school of law that predominated historically in this region was the Ḥanafī madhhāb (legal school) of Sunnī Islam, and as in the Islamic world generally, Sufism has played a role in most of this region. Meanwhile, the greatest factor giving unity to much of this region, beyond Islam itself, is the common experience of domination by Russian imperialism and Soviet communism. The legacy of Soviet rule continues to shape the practice of Islam, for although the states that emerged from the breakup of the Soviet Union have grown increasingly different from one another, they all pursue policies toward Islam that reflect a deep anxiety that it could become a powerful force opposing Soviet-style secularism and undermining the legitimacy of existing regimes.

Political and Ethnic Subdivisions.

The region can be broadly divided into a number of subregions, each displaying a considerable internal diversity. The South Caucasus comprises the former Soviet states of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, as well as the northwestern Iranian province of Azerbaijan and adjacent parts of modern Turkey. In this region, which had been alternately integrated into, and fought over by, the Ottoman and Persian states and their predecessors, some of the key characteristics of the regions just to the south are also present. The Sunnī-Shīʿī divide is reflected, as the majority of Muslims in the South Caucasus are Jaʿfarī Shīʿī. In the Republic of Azerbaijan they constitute 85 percent of Muslims and in Iranian Azerbaijan they are the overwhelming majority; in other parts, such as the autonomous regions of Adjaria, Abkhazia, and Ossetia in Georgia, Sunnī Muslims constitute a significant minority among a predominantly Christian population.

The North Caucasus, on the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountain range, holds a tremendous array of linguistic and cultural groups, a number of which are recognized with administrative units having limited autonomy within the Russian Federation. These “autonomous republics” include, from west to east, Adygea, Karachay-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Dagestan, all of which have some Muslim population. The North Caucasus has no clear northern boundary, and in the area where the Caucasus Mountains grade into the plains of southern Russia, other Russian regions are also inhabited by Muslim populations. Most, though not all, of the dozens of non-Russian indigenous groups in the North Caucasus are Muslims (major exceptions are Ossetian Christians and Kalmyk Buddhists). Following the Russian conquest of these regions in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was an influx of Russian and Cossack populations, in some parts displacing the Muslim majority. The eastern part of the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan and Chechnya, is the only part of the former Russian Empire where the Shāfiʿī madhhāb of Sunnī Islam is predominant.

In the steppe region extending from the Crimean peninsula to the Volga basin, a population of predominantly Turkic pastoral nomads had adopted Islam under the Golden Horde in the early fourteenth century. As in the case of pastoral nomads elsewhere in the region, notably in the Kazakh Steppe and southwestern Siberia, Ṣūfī orders had played an instrumental role in the spread of Islam. In 1552, Ivan the Terrible, Czar of Russia, conquered the Kazan Khanate, and by the late eighteenth century this region was entirely incorporated into Russia. Russian conquest had brought with it efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity, sometimes forcibly, but for many of the so-called Christened Tatars, or Krashens, the conversion was nominal and they reverted back to Islam. Meanwhile, a large number of Kazan Tatars, Crimean Tatars, Bashkirs, and others remained Muslim as these territories came to be integrated into the core regions of the Russian state. The extent to which the lines between Christian Slav and Muslim Tatar became blurred is evident in the fact that a large number of Russian surnames have Turkic origins, and some Cossack groups included as many as 25 percent Muslims. Some among the Tatars and other Muslim groups themselves became well integrated into the life of the Russian Empire. Tatars played a key role as translators and cultural mediators in the Muslim territories into which Russia expanded, particularly in the Kazakh Steppe and southern Central Asia. They were also at the forefront of Muslim reformist movements, known as Jadīds (see below), which spread across the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth century, and they provided much of the leadership for the Muslim political movements that emerged after Russia's liberal reforms of 1905.

Another major Muslim region is centered on the Kazakh Steppe, which extends from the Ural Mountains and the northeastern shores of the Caspian Sea eastward into Siberia, and which in earlier times was known as the Dasht-i Qipchaq (Persian for “Qipchaq steppe,” after a Turkic group that is a forebear of the Kazakhs). Until the Russian expansion into this area in the first half of the nineteenth century, the inhabitants of these vast lands were predominantly Turkic pastoral nomads. As in the Volga basin region, many of the nomads of the Dasht-i Qipchaq adopted Islam in the early fourteenth century, when the Golden Horde's leader, Özbek Khan, made it the religion of state. Other nomads of the Dasht-i Qipchaq had become Muslims much earlier under the Qarākhānid dynasty, which converted to Islam in the second half of the tenth century. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this region underwent perhaps the most severe devastation of any Muslim region under Russian rule, first as a result of the influx of settlers who already during czarist times occupied the best pasture lands, and then with the collectivization and forced settlement of the nomads under Soviet rule, which resulted in famine and the deaths of roughly a third of the population. In regions further eastward, the Muslim population is much smaller, though by the sixteenth century, some of the Siberian Tatar population inhabiting western and central Siberia had adopted Islam, and today Muslim Kazakh populations inhabit regions as far east as western Mongolia.

Finally, the largest Muslim populations of the former Soviet domain inhabit the region known as Central Asia in the narrow sense. This region, which was usually referred to as Turkistan in the nineteenth century, includes the lands between the Caspian Sea and the Pamir–Tian Shan mountain system (the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kirgizstan, and part of Kazakhstan), as well as adjacent areas which are now in China and Afghanistan, and where the main Muslim populations straddle the contemporary international borders—notably the Uighurs and Kazakhs in China's Xinjiang Province, and the Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Turkmens that make up the majority of the population in Afghanistan's northern regions. The southwestern part of this region, in today's Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, was incorporated into the Umayyad Caliphate already in the mid-seventh century, and most of the populated oases of Mawarannahr (the lands between the Amu Darya and the Sir Darya) came under Muslim control by the mid-eighth century. By the end of the ninth century, the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand had begun to acquire the status of major cultural centers in the context of the Islamic world as a whole. The Central Asian oases retained their stature as important centers of Islamic learning and culture, as market centers on the Silk Road, and as the core of major world and regional powers from the Sāmānids to the Chagatayids, Timurids, and Shibānids. The Naqshbandīyah Ṣūfī order, founded in Bukhara by Bahāʿ-ad-Dīn Naqshband Bukhārī in the fourteenth century, became one of the most influential Ṣūfī orders across the Muslim world, and Bukhara remained a spiritual center of regional importance even after the Russian conquest, as Bukharan madrasahs continued to attract students and scholars from many parts of the eastern Islamic world.

Russian and Soviet Domination.

Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus underwent a severe crisis beginning with the Russian imperial conquests in the region, and greatly intensifying under Soviet anti-religious policies. The apparent superiority of European civilization with its technological achievements and military power prompted soul-searching among a segment of the Muslim intellectual elite in the form of the Jadīd movement, though this attracted the interest and support of only a small segment of the Muslim population, even in such areas as the Crimea and Kazan where the movement was strongest. The czarist policy toward Islam varied from highly suspicious, considering that fanatical Islam was the cause of uprisings against the czarist authorities, to tolerant and broadly supportive, reflecting the idea that Islam could be a civilizing factor, especially among nomads.

Soviet policy toward Islam was also variable, but after a period of relatively limited interventions in the decade following the Revolution, a very severe campaign was unleashed to suppress Islam. This was aimed primarily at transforming or liquidating those aspects of society in Central Asia and the Caucasus that were perceived as blocking the “building of socialism,” and all those identified as Islamic leaders were classified as the “class enemy.” Under the campaigns against Islam, virtually all mosques were closed, as were all maktabs and madrasahs; eventually only two Islamic schools were allowed to reopen for the entire Soviet Union during periods of relatively liberal policy toward Islam. Many other “patriarchal-feudal” practices associated with Islam were the targets of often violent and coercive campaigns, including women's wearing of veils, visitation of shrines, and customs associated with marriage, circumcision, and burial. In the late 1930s, as well as during other waves of severe repression, the suppression of Islam was one of the goals that were pursued through exiling people to Siberian gulags and elsewhere, and through the physical liquidation of the religious elite.

Meanwhile, the Soviet regime also sought accommodation with the Muslim societies that it sought to mobilize for various purposes. During World War II, for example, to secure support of Muslims in the war effort, the assault on Islam was greatly relaxed. Since much of the communist leadership were themselves drawn from the Muslim community, local officials often served to mediate central policies to the community. Though periodic campaigns continued right until the end of the Soviet period, their impact was limited. Many communist officials remained aligned with Islam and often became more devout after retirement. In communities all across the region, practices such as Islamic education conducted in homes, gathering at unofficial mosques, visitation of officially closed shrines, and the traditional life-cycle rituals, although never officially accepted, were still maintained.

The Study of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Of all the major regions of the Islamic world, it is probable that Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus is the least well-studied. This is due to limited access to the region under Soviet rule, and the Soviet government's efforts to diminish the importance of religion. It is also because during the Cold War, most Western scholarship on contemporary Islam in this region was focused on the question of whether Islam had survived the impact of Soviet repression sufficiently that it could serve as a basis for political mobilization to help bring down the Soviet regime. The field was dominated by the school of Alexandre Bennigsen, who argued that, although repression was severe, and it led to the suppression of many religious institutions and practices, nevertheless Muslim identity and underground Islamic organizations—especially Ṣūfī organizations—remained strong and would probably destabilize the U.S.S.R.

Following the demise of the Soviet Union, there has been a growth of scholarship that is no longer guided by the political agenda of the Cold War era, and which has gained vastly improved access to field and archival sources. Very little of the Cold War–era analysis of Islam in the Soviet Union has borne up under empirical investigation, as it has become clear that the interactions between the Soviet system and Islamic practices were much more complicated than the unrelenting repression and control posited by the Bennigsen school, and that in many areas, the practice of Islam was indeed sustained, though little of this activity had the orientation of opposition to the Soviet regime as Bennigsen had argued. The narrow focus of Cold War–era scholarship on the supposed threat that Islam posed for the regime has been sustained in much scholarship of the post-Soviet era, in that the greatest attention is still devoted to the question of whether Islamic opposition groups pose a threat to existing regimes. The difference is mainly that the “Islamic threat” was formerly seen as an antidote to Soviet ascendancy, while now it is viewed as a danger for stability and a potential vector for international “Islamic terrorism.” Despite the sensationalist interest that Islamic opposition continues to evoke, there has been a tremendous growth of scholarship on a great many other issues that form the substance of scholarship on Islam in other parts of the world, and that were largely neglected for most of the twentieth century.

The focus on Islam in this region has changed most dramatically in relation to current developments and those of the late Soviet period. New research has begun to consider how the practice of Islam is related to other aspects of social process, such as community organization, social status, gender roles, cultural reproduction, and so on. Studies have explored, for example, how religious criteria are applied in claims to community authority, how appeals are made to Islam as a source for values in response to social upheaval, how Islamic groups external to the region are affecting social and political orientations, and how local practices are being reconceptualized alternately as “un-Islamic” or as representing the true indigenous form of Islam. There is also important new research that takes advantage of improved archival access to look at the complex relationship between Islam and the Soviet state—which was by no means exclusively repressive—as well as the religious positions and social agendas of Muslim leadership figures both in the official institutions that the Soviet regime supported and in the “underground.” Recent scholarship has also given much attention to the developments that were taking place in Islam in the Russian Empire on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, notably the movements to reform Muslim society chiefly through education (Jadīdism), and the way that these developments fed into the revolution and its aftermath, as some Jadīd leaders were recruited for national leadership in the communist government and then mostly repressed in the purges of the late 1930s.

During Soviet times, there was a sharp division between scholars who studied Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus prior to the incorporation into the Russian Empire, and those who studied Islam under Russian domination and Soviet rule. Each group worked largely without regard for the scholarly issues that were central for the other. Though a certain inertia is evident in both the philological tradition of scholarship on mediaeval and early modern Islam, on the one hand, and what Devin DeWeese has termed the tradition of “Sovietological Islamology” à la Bennigsen, on the other, some progress can be seen. Scholars in the tradition of Islamic religious and historical studies have begun to pay more attention to recent time periods, and scholars of the contemporary region have begun to examine questions other than the potential for Islam to mobilize in opposition to the regimes.

Assessments of the Character of Islam in the Region.

One of the persistent themes in scholarship on Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus is the question of whether Muslims in this region are “weak” or “strong” adherents to Islam. Behind such assessments is usually the question of whether the Muslims of one or another region have a “strong” enough Muslim orientation or identity to lead them to rise up against the non-Muslim or secular rulers who have dominated since the expansion of the Russian Empire into the region. The answers to this question are often traced back to the original method of conversion of a given people to Islam. It is supposed that many in the region converted either by coercion under conquest or by virtue of their ruler adopting Islam on behalf of the entire group—methods that are imagined to yield only a superficial or “weak” adoption of Islam. In such assessments, the method of conversion is considered to be decisive in determining the group's relationship to Islam even after hundreds of years. In fact, the extent of conversion of conquered populations by coercion during the early Muslim conquests in the region is undoubtedly exaggerated in the popular imagination and in much scholarship, for in the early Islamic period the Arabs sought to maintain Islam as the domain of the ruling elite. In fact, the benefits of assimilating to the new rulers’ religion were undoubtedly more decisive than force in the spread of Islam. There were indeed many ways that Islam gathered adherents, and in the case of many of the nomadic peoples, it was the efforts of charismatic Ṣūfī shaykhs that were most important.

In regard to nomadic groups of Central Asia and the Caucasus, scholars in both Soviet and Western traditions have deemed that their Islam is necessarily weak. They theorize that Islam is incompatible with a nomadic lifestyle because of the lack of fixed structures for mosques and schools, and because of low levels of literacy that supposedly hinder the maintenance of the strong textual tradition presumed to be essential for strong devotion to Islam. These assessments appear quite strange when one considers that no consistent relationship can be observed anywhere in the Islamic world between high levels of literacy and devotion to Islam, and that right from its beginnings in the core of the Arab world, Islam has found strong adherents among nomads. The difficulty is that there can be no absolute criteria for assessing the strength of Islam; for example, the emphasis on the textual tradition is different among different Muslim groups.

Scholars also argue that syncretism has diminished the strength of Islamic observance in this region. They note that local traditions with pre-Islamic origins are practiced by Muslims who are unaware of their “un-Islamic” character. The idea is that these non-Islamic practices displace and dilute true Islamic devotion. Such arguments were common among Soviet ideologists and scholars who wished to demonstrate that Muslims under Soviet rule are not really so Muslim and thus might more easily abandon Islam in favor of secular values. Such arguments are often advanced today as well by the secularly-oriented post-Soviet regimes, as well as by many observers, who hope that “weak” Islam will help to avoid the prospect of Islamic revival or opposition. These assessments, of course, replicate the views, common both in much Western scholarship on Islam and among many Muslims with a “radical fundamentalist” orientation, that “true” Islam is strictly based on the textual tradition of the Qurʿān and ḥadīth, and that all other practices and beliefs represent deviations from proper Islam. However, it is only a small percentage of Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus, historically and at present, who practice Islam in this way, and in this respect this region is not unlike most other parts of the Muslim world.

These assessments further ignore the fact that many of the “non-Islamic” practices found in Central Asia and the Caucasus have their analogues, which are no less common, in other parts of the Islamic world. The practices associated with Sufism, some of which are also described as syncretistic and “pre-Islamic,” are often viewed by scholars and political actors in precisely this way as well, supposedly supporting the notion that Sufism creates a safe buffer between Muslims of this region and the more radically oriented Islam of the Middle East. References to “shamanistic elements,” Ṣūfī traditions, and the shallow character of nomadic Islam combine to create an image of the Eurasian nomads as never having been more than superficially Muslim. This image has been embraced by the political and intellectual elites of post-Soviet states, but it does not square with the importance of Islam that is evident in these cultures both historically and today.

Further doubt is cast on the depth of devotion to Islam of Muslims in Central Asia and the Caucasus based on the notion that the period of Soviet rule was so transformative, and so disruptive of Islamic practices and institutions, that it reduced the population's orientation toward Islam to nothing more than an attribute of their national identity. This claim is also embraced by the political leaders of post-Soviet states, who maintain the Soviet modernist antipathy for religion and would like to see Islam play only a symbolic role and no political role in their countries.


Central Asia is one of the key regions from which Sufism spread widely in the Islamic world. Sufism is a multi-dimensional phenomenon, which makes it very difficult to conceptualize or analyze. During Soviet times, Western scholars examining the role of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus were prone to believe that Sufism represented an oppositional force to the Soviet regime that could operate easily in the underground and could rely on the devoted, even fanatical support of its followers. Thus the strength of opposition to Russian conquest and Soviet rule observed in the North Caucasus was attributed to Sufism. Paradoxically, Sufism is also often characterized as a deeply spiritual and internal orientation and as open and syncretistic, and thus politically moderate. The Naqshbandīyah order, the most widely practiced form of Sufism in this region, is often characterized as “sober,” practicing silent dhikr (ritual invocation), in contrast to other Ṣūfī groups categorized as “ecstatic.” Sufism is often counterposed to “orthodox” Islam, but in this region there is no broad opposition—political or religious—between an “orthodox” tradition and Sufism.

Sufism had a tremendous impact on both Sunnī and Shīʿī traditions in the region. From the Timurid dynasty onwards, some Ṣūfī figures were very closely associated with ruling regimes in the region, and this has also been true in Soviet and post-Soviet times. It is also true that Ṣūfī figures led some of the major revolts against rulers, including the resistance to Russian occupation of the North Caucasus led by Imam Shāmil (1797–1871) and the Andijan Uprising of 1898. The multi-dimensional reality of Sufism has not kept scholars and secular political leaders from assessing Sufism in simplistic, contradictory terms.

One of the most important dimensions of Sufism is the chains of initiation and transmission (silsilah) that connect members of Ṣūfī orders to their teacher (shaykh, pir, or murshid). These are traced back through one's immediate teacher to the founder of the order and beyond that to the Companions of the Prophet. Several major Ṣūfī orders originated in Central Asia, including the Yasawīyah, the Kubrawīyah, and, most importantly, the Naqshbandīyah. The importance of historical links is not only in the spiritual chains of transmission, but also in genealogical descent. Those tracing descent from the key figures of these orders, regardless of their own religious activity, are known by the name of Khoja (from the Persian for “master”); these are groups are known as “saintly” lineages who have played a prominent role in both religion and politics in regions as widely spread as Xinjiang, Afghanistan, and the Volga Basin.

Another important phenomenon associated with Sufism is the visitation of shrines, often dedicated to Ṣūfī figures, and associated beliefs and rituals. For many in Central Asia and neighboring regions, the activities associated with such holy places are the most prominent feature of their everyday observance of Islam. Some have argued that the observance of Islam under Soviet rule was divided between women's observance, associated with shrines, and men's observance, which was associated with mosques and was subjected to more systematic repression by the Soviet regime. However, such a division is artificial and exaggerates the differences between Soviet policies toward shrine- and mosque-related practices. In the post-Soviet period, there has been growing contention over practices related to Sufism and shrines. They are often called “un-Islamic innovations,” or bidʿah, by those who now aspire to bring Islam in the region back to its “true” roots in the tradition of Middle Eastern fundamentalist movements.

Muslim Reform.

As elsewhere in the Islamic world, efforts to reform Muslim society have been a recurrent theme since the earliest days of Islam in this region. Over the past century or so, these efforts have had two main, interrelated orientations, which may be termed “revivalist”—calling for a return to the uncorrupted form of Islam of the time of the Prophet and the early caliphs—and “modernist”—calling for an end to the conservatism of Muslim societies that prevents them from acquiring the benefits of modernization.

The Jadīd movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries criticized the corruption of traditional Muslim rulers and religious leaders in the region and sought to transform their Muslim societies through modern education, which would lead to improvements in health, economic well-being, and spiritual enlightenment. Some of the threads of Jadīdist reformism were taken up by the Soviet regime and the Islamic institutions that it established in the 1940s to represent and direct Islam officially. These included efforts to eradicate practices associated with Islam that were seen as being at odds with successful modernization, such as restrictions on women's roles, payment of bride-price in arranged marriages, and expensive celebrations associated with circumcision, marriage, and other community events.

Those imams who led prayer in the limited number of mosques that were allowed to function during Soviet times, and those who taught in the two educational institutions that opened during and after World War II, as well as those who worked in the four regional “spiritual directorates,” were in an ambiguous position as representatives of the policies of an aggressively atheist regime and of the ummah. It is not clear to what extent the fatwās issued by the official muftīs aimed at supporting Soviet modernization were viewed as the authoritative position of an authentic Islamic leadership. But it is striking the extent to which those who occupied official positions of authority during Soviet times have maintained a role in leadership for the post-Soviet Muslim communities in many parts of the region. That the “Soviet Muslim clergy” was not simply an extension of the Soviet ideological apparatus or KGB is evident in the diverse positions that these figures are now known to have taken in traditionalist versus reformist debates in Soviet times and the more open debates on these issues that are taking place in the post-Soviet period.

Reformist agendas have taken many new directions following the liberalization of Soviet religious policy under Gorbachev's programs of glasnost and perestroika and especially following independence. There has been a broad social consensus among most Muslims that the effects of Soviet suppression of Islam must be reversed. This has even been embraced by the one-time communist leaders who still dominate the political elite all across the region and who promote historical figures and cultural practices associated with Islam as part of their revival of national culture more broadly. In most cases, however, the political elite views Islam as potentially threatening to the established secular order, and after an initial period of relatively liberal policies (ca. 1990–1993), they have sought to bring Islam back under state control through direct control over mosques, Islamic schools, etc., and to exclude Islam from the political arena entirely except as a form of cultural symbolism. Meanwhile, popular views have generally moved in the opposite direction, in part under the influence of greater exposure to the practice of Islam in other countries such as Turkey, Egypt, and Pakistan.

The governments of the region apply the terms “Wahhābī” and “fundamentalist” to virtually any Islamic orientation that they deem politically unacceptable, and they treat these terms as synonymous with “Islamic terrorist.” Wahhābīyah per se, meanwhile, has had very little direct influence in the region. Only in the North Caucasus, and in particular in Chechnya and Dagestan, is there any real presence of militant groups directly connected with Saudi Wahhābīyah. Even in these cases, they are a relatively marginal group and their radical positions are determined more by their conflict and confrontation with the Russian authorities—especially in the context of the brutal suppression of the Chechen struggle for independence—than by outside influences.

Meanwhile, there are widespread debates across the region today that echo those in reformist movements throughout the Islamic world. For example, there is much debate about the proper role for women, with many calling for a reversal of key aspects of the “emancipation” that was achieved under Soviet rule, such as women's participation in politics and the workforce, education for girls, practices of modesty in dress, and separation of women and men in public. Much of the focus of reformist debates is on practices associated with Sufism, such as shrine visitation rituals and spiritual healing, as well as aspects of local burial practices, wedding celebrations, etc., which are seen as reflecting the influences of pre-Islamic religions or Soviet-style secularization. Debates touch on all aspects of society and politics: whether polygamy should be made legal, how prayer should be conducted, whether it is acceptable to use non-Islamic religious symbols in national symbolism, and whether sharīʿah should be adopted as the basis of law.

Assessments of Islam in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Periods.

During the Soviet period, the prevailing assessments of Islam in Central Asia and the Caucasus represented two diametrically opposed positions. Some viewed Soviet policies as having been so thoroughly repressive and effective that Islam had been utterly transformed and retained little of the social or political importance that it had in pre-Soviet times. Others saw Islam, for better or worse, as having such an indomitable vitality that it was able to resist all Soviet assaults on it. These opposing views reverberate in the post-Soviet period in the widespread expectations that Islam would serve as a powerful radicalizing force, once the “lid was taken off” of Soviet totalitarianism, as well as the claims that Islam would have no political role—barring nefarious outside intervention in the region—because it had been reduced to merely an aspect of national cultural identity. Neither of these assessments captures the complexity of the Soviet or post-Soviet situations. The region is growing more diverse as Soviet unity recedes into the past, as states develop divergent policies, and as social and political developments take their different courses, ranging from violent upheaval in Tajikistan and the North Caucasus, to sharply repressive policies on religion in Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, to growing social stratification in the relatively prosperous economies of Kazakhstan and Tatarstan.

Yet there are important commonalities that characterize the region as a whole. Everywhere, the legacy of Soviet-style governance is strong and the political leadership is working to ensure that there will be no development of movements with an Islamic orientation that could challenge their position or the secular character of their regimes. And everywhere, there is a strong impulse within the societies to assign a new importance to Islam as a guiding principle for changes in the social, political, and moral order, in ways that will present challenges for both the traditional practice of Islam and the secular character of societies.



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John Schoeberlein

Islam in China

Islam in China has been propagated over the past thirteen hundred years primarily among the people now known as “Hui,” but many of the issues confronting them are also relevant to the Turkic and Indo-European Muslims on China's Inner Asian frontier. “Hui teaching” (Hui jiao) was the term once used in Chinese for Islam in general; it probably derives from an early Chinese rendering of the term for the modern Uighur people. According to the 2000 national census of China, the total Muslim population is 20.3 million, including: Hui (9,816,805); Uighur (8,399,393); Kazakh (1,250,458); Dongxiang (513,805); Kirghiz (160,823); Salar (104,503); Tajik (41,028); Uzbek (14,502); Bonan (16,505); and Tatar (4,890). The Hui speak mainly Sino-Tibetan languages; Turkic-language speakers include the Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Uzbek, Salar, and Tatar; combined Turkic-Mongolian speakers include the Dongxiang and Bonan, concentrated in Gansu's mountainous Hexi Corridor; and the Tajik speak an Iranian language. It is important to note, however, that the Chinese census registered people by nationality, not by religious affiliation, so the actual number of Muslims is still unknown, and the interpretation and use of all population figures are clearly influenced by politics. Nevertheless, there are few Han converts to Islam, and perhaps even fewer members of the ten nationalities listed above who would choose to disavow Islam. Muslim identity in China can best be described as ethnoreligious in that history, ethnicity, and state nationality policy has left an indelible mark on contemporary Muslim identity; it is almost impossible to discuss Islam without reference to ethnic and national identity.

The Pre-Communist Era.

As the result of a succession of Islamic reform movements that have swept across China over the past six centuries, one finds among the Muslims in China today a wide spectrum of Islamic belief. Archaeological discoveries of Islamic artifacts and epigraphy on the southeast coast suggest that the earliest Muslim communities in China were descended from Arab, Persian, Central Asian, and Mongolian Muslim merchants, militia, and officials who settled first along that coast in the seventh to tenth centuries; there followed larger migrations to the north from Central Asia under the Mongol Yuan dynasty in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, followed by intermarriage with the local Chinese populations and the raising of their children as Muslims. Practicing Ḥanafī Sunnī Islam and residing in independent small communities clustered around a central mosque, these relatively isolated Islamic village and urban communities interacted via trading networks and their recognition of membership in the wider Islamic ummah. Each was headed by an ahong (from Persian ākhūnd) or imām who was invited to teach on a more or less temporary basis.

Sufism began to make a substantial impact in China proper in the late seventeenth century, arriving mainly along the Central Asian trade routes with saintly shaykhs, both Chinese and foreign, who brought new teachings from the pilgrimage cities. These charismatic teachers and tradesmen established widespread networks and brotherhood associations, most prominently the Naqshbandīyah, Qādirīyah, and Kubrawīyah. The hierarchical organization of these Ṣūfī networks helped to mobilize large numbers of Hui during economic and political crises in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, assisting widespread Muslim-led rebellions and resistance movements against late Ming and Qing imperial rule in Yunnan, Shanxi, Gansu, and Xinjiang. The 1912 Nationalist revolution allowed further autonomy in regions of Muslim concentration in the northwest, and wide areas came under virtual control by Muslim warlords, leading to frequent intra-Muslim and Muslim-Han conflicts until the eventual communist victory led to the reassertion of central control. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Wahhābī-inspired reform movements known as the Yihewani (from Arabic ikhwān) and later the Salafīyah, rose to popularity under Nationalist and warlord sponsorship; they were noted for their criticism of traditionalist Islam as too acculturated to Chinese practices and of Sufism as too attached to the veneration of saints and their tombs.

The Communist Era.

Many Muslims supported the early communist call for equity, autonomy, freedom of religion, and recognized nationality status, and were active in the early establishment of the People's Republic, but they became disenchanted by growing criticism of religious their practice during several radical periods in the PRC beginning in 1957. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), Muslims became the focus fof antireligious and antiethnic nationalist criticism, leading to widespread persecutions, mosque-closings, and at least one massacre of a thousand Hui following a 1975 uprising in Yunnan province. Since Deng Xiaoping's post-1978 reforms, Muslims have sought to take advantage of liberalized economic and religious policies while keeping a watchful eye on the swinging pendulum of Chinese radical politics. In the post-September 11, 2001 environment, Muslims in China have become more engaged in international affairs and connected with global Islamic movements. There are now more mosques open in China than there were before 1949, including a large number of exclusively women's mosques led by women ahong in north China, and Muslims travel frequently on the hajj to Mecca, as well as engaging in cross-border trade with coreligionists in Central Asia, in the Middle East, and increasingly in Southeast Asia.

Increasing Muslim political activism on a national scale and the rapid response of the state indicate the growing importance Beijing places on issues related to Muslims. In 1986 Uighurs in Xinjiang marched through the streets of Ürümqi protesting a wide range of issues, including the environmental degradation of the Zungharian plain, nuclear testing in the Taklimakan, increased Han immigration to Xinjiang, and ethnic insults at Xinjiang University. Muslims throughout China protested the publication of the Chinese book Sexual Customs in May 1989 and of a children's book in October 1993 that portrayed Muslims—particularly their restriction against pork, which Mao once called “China's greatest national treasure”—in derogatory fashion. In each case the government responded promptly, meeting many of the Muslim demands, condemning the publications, arresting the authors, and closing down the printing houses. Uighur Muslim activism in China peaked in the late 1990s; there has been little organized resistance domestically since 2001 but increased activism internationally among Uighur expatriate communities.

Cross-border trade between Xinjiang and Central Asia has grown greatly since the independence of the Central Asian states, especially with the reopening in 1991 of the Eurasian Railroad linking Ürümqi and Alma-Ata with markets in China and eastern Europe. Overland travel between Xinjiang and Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan has also increased dramatically with the relaxation of travel restrictions based on Hu Jintao's prioritization of trade over security interests in the area. The government's policy of seeking to buy support through stimulating the local economy seems to be working as of 2007, as income levels in Xinjiang are often far higher than those across the border, but increased Han migration to participate in the region's lucrative oil and mining industries continues to exacerbate ethnic tensions. Muslim areas in northern and central China continue to be left behind as China's rapid economic growth expands unevenly, enriching the southern coastal areas far more than the interior.

While further restricting Islamic freedoms in the border regions, the state has become more keenly aware of the importance foreign Muslim governments place on China's treatment of its Muslim minorities as a factor in China's lucrative trade and military agreements. The establishment of full diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia in 1991 and increasing military and technical trade with Middle Eastern Muslim states enhances the economic and political salience of China's treatment of its Muslim minority. The increased transnationalism of China's Muslims will be an important factor in their ethnic expression as well as in their accommodation to Chinese culture and state authority.

See also XINJIANG.


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Dru C. Gladney

Islam In South Asia

The experience of Islam in South Asia is vast and varied. It encompasses nearly 470 million people who either define themselves as Muslim or are so defined by others. Living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives, they belong to diverse ethnic, linguistic, cultural, social, and economic groups. The history of Islam in South Asia can be divided into three periods: the advent of Islam and Muslim rule; British colonialism; and Muslim nationalism and Islamism.

Advent of Islam and Muslim Rule.

Most accounts trace the beginnings of Islam in South Asia to the arrival in Sind of an Umayyad expeditionary force led by Muḥammad ibn Qāsim in 711 CE There is, however, evidence to suggest that Islam arrived in South Asia as early as 643 in the era of the second caliph, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, and as an extension of the Arab conquest of the Sassanian (Persian) empire.

The Arabs introduced Islam in South Asia but the bulk of Islamic expansion was facilitated by the Perso-Afghan-Turkic dynasties who arrived from the northwest. The first to do so was Sulṭān Maḥmūd Ghaznī (r. 997–1030), whose empire included most of Iran, all of Afghanistan, and the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent. After 175 years of Ghaznavid rule, Muḥammad Ghori established the Ghorid Empire, which lasted until 1206.

The Ghorid Empire gave way to the Sultanate of Delhi, which remained in place for the next three centuries, during which Muslims extended their rule to the eastern and southern parts of modern-day India. The sultanate (1206–1526) was presided over by a number of dynasties—Mamlūk (1206–1290), Khilji (1290–1320), Tughlaq (1320–1413), Sayyid (1414–1451), and Lodhi (1451–1526).

The Lodhis were overthrown by Bābur, a Central Asian Muslim prince who descended from the Mongolian rulers Timur and Genghis Khan. Bābur laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire, which ruled India for over three centuries. The Mughal era (1526–1857) is considered the peak of Muslim rule in India. In addition to the major power center, many other local Muslim principalities emerged in pre-British India, especially in the southern Deccan plateau.

Intra-Muslim conflicts were common. Throughout the history of Muslim rule in India, power changed hands between various Muslim forces, especially those of Persian, Turkic, and Afghan origins.

British Colonialism.

The decline of the Mughal empire and the arrival of the British brought an end to Muslim control over India. The British initially arrived as merchants under the aegis of the East India Company in the early part of the seventeenth century. They were allowed to do business by the Mughal Empire but they ran into conflict with local Muslim rulers such as the Nawab of Bengal, whose forces were defeated by the army of the East India Company in 1757.

In less than a century, India had come under British control and the Mughal emperor in Delhi had been reduced to a figurehead. The failure of the 1857 Indian “Mutiny” against the British effectively brought an end to nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule. British rule introduced constitutional and centralized governance in India.

The Muslim minority, which had been in a state of intellectual, social, political, and economic decline by the early eighteenth century, did not re-emerge as a significant political force until 1906, when the All India Muslim League was established as a vanguard movement of Muslims in British India. The simultaneous rise of Western intellectual ideas forced the Muslims to adapt to the latter. Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khān, a key educator and politician during the last four decades of the nineteenth century, spearheaded this drive toward educating Muslims of India in Western secular sciences and a modernist interpretation of Islamic texts.

Muslim Nationalism and Islamism.

Khān's movement and his establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) had a profound impact upon Islam and Muslims in India. Originally established as a school in the town of Aligarh, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, it became the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in 1875, and then the AMU in 1920. Its purpose was to promote the study of the English language and Western sciences among the Muslims of India. The AMU produced a new Muslim elite class schooled in the British system of education. It remains a major university with a student body of thirty thousand, and two thousand faculty members in some eighty departments.

In many ways the AMU laid the foundations of the tensions between two broad Muslim camps—the modernists, with a grounding in Western secular education, and the traditionalists, led by the ʿulamāʿ (religious scholars) schooled in the Islamic sciences.

While the AMU embraced the Western curriculum as a means for intellectual revival, in the same state of Uttar Pradesh, in the town of Deoband, a parallel movement for Muslim intellectual revival arose, one rooted in traditional understandings of Islam: the Darul Uloom Deoband, a seminary established in 1866 by a number of prominent ʿulamāʿ led by Mawlānā Muḥammad Qāsim Nanautawī. The seminary played an instrumental role in establishing the Deobandī sub-sect of Sunnī Islam in South Asia. In turn, many groups, such as Tablīghī Jamāʿat, Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Hind, Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Islām, and, much more recently, the Taliban, arose from within the Deobandī movement. It should be noted that, although the Deobandī school was founded to preserve Islamic religious ideals during the days of British rule in India, the majority of Indian Muslims tended toward the rival Barelwī school of thought, which represents the Ṣūfī tendency within South Asian Islam.

Khān was also responsible for sowing the seeds of Muslim nationalism in the Indian subcontinent, cognizant that the growing Indian nationalist movement would ultimately place the Muslims of South Asia under the domination of the Hindu majority. This idea later was adopted by the Indian Muslim philosopher-poet Muhammad Iqbal, who in 1930 called for a Muslim state in northwestern India. But it was Muhammad Ali Jinnah who took over the leadership of the Muslim separatist movement nurtured by Khān and Iqbal and went on to found Pakistan in 1947. The bulk of the ʿulamāʿ remained either opposed or indifferent to the Muslim nationalist movement in South Asia, bearing suspicions that its secular Muslim elite had strayed away from the core teachings of Islam. Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Hind, representing the Deobandī school of thought among the majority Sunnī-Ḥanafī sect, played the most prominent role in this regard.

Between the two opposing camps of the religious and secular leadership emerged the Jamāʿat-i Islāmī (JI), an organization founded by Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī in 1941, which sought to bring a balance between modern secularism and traditional religious ideologies. This marked the birth of Islamism (a global tendency calling for the establishment of Islamic states) in South Asia. The JI was a movement of religiously inclined urban Muslims with a modern education, but they shared the mistrust of the ʿulamāʿ toward the secular Muslim elite and its nationalist ideology.

The victory of the separatist movement and the creation of Pakistan in 1947 launched South Asian Muslims into a new era. A significant number of Muslims decided not to migrate to the new state of Pakistan and have since remained as citizens in the Hindu-majority, secular state of India. But a great many did migrate from all across present-day India to Pakistan and what in 1971 became Bangladesh.

Even before its creation in 1947, there was a debate about the nature of the Pakistani state. The All Indian Muslim League viewed it as a secular state that would safeguard the material interests of Muslims from a post-British unified Indian state dominated by the Hindu majority. On the other side were those who envisioned it as an Islamic state that would implement the sharīʿah (Islamic law).

After sixty years, this debate has intensified, especially with the rise of radical and militant (jihādist) manifestations of Islamism. This modern religious Muslim ideology is not limited to Pakistan. The other major countries of South Asia also have active and diverse Islamist movements.

This overview will focus on Sunnī Islam in South Asia. However, South Asia also had a number of Shīʿī communities that survived into the eighteenth century, in the Deccan, Kashmir, Awadh, and Bijapur.


Life in the South Indian coastal state of Kerala is above all reflected in the Mappila community, as the majority-Muslim residents of Kerala are known. Their life is shaped by the cultural tradition of the South Arabian seacoast and is dependent on its trade. The indigenous language, Malayalam, is combined with Arabic for religious instruction. There is a vast corpus of Arabic-Malayalam religious writings, narrative poetry, and songs, including song-stories that celebrate the lives of Ṣūfī saints such as Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī and Shaykh Aḥmad Rifāʿī, eponymous founders of important brotherhoods. These songs are sung mostly by men; other song-stories are memorized and sung by women, such as the romantic ballads and battle songs popular at annual feast celebrations.

Pride in an Arab past is evident in the distinctive status accorded Mappilas of Arab descent who through marriage can trace their paternal line to the family of the prophet Muḥammad. In Kerala, however, patrilineal descent shares prestige with a matrilineal system common to the Nayar caste influential in the history of North Kerala. Under this system descent is traced through female relatives, with the eldest sister enjoying preeminence, and property is controlled through a joint rather than a nuclear family system.

Interestingly, religious architecture does not follow the expected pattern of domes and minarets; instead, like Kerala Hindu temples, Mappila mosques are marked by peaked roofs. During the past decade, however, the influx of Gulf petrodollars has funded an explosion of new mosque-building on familiar Middle Eastern architectural lines. Indeed, R. E. Miller has suggested that the Gulf connection “has affected the Mappilas more profoundly than any other Indian Muslims” (p. 459). However, the relationship remains partial and restrained by numerous factors. One is the allegiance of Mappilas to the Shāfiʿī school of law, which diverges somewhat from the Ḥanbalī madhhāb of Saudi Arabia. Another is the prominence accorded tangals, a Malayalam term for saintly individuals—not only practicing spiritual directors, but also those related to families of illustrious saints. Still another is lack of consensus about the norms and practices of Sunnī Islam. Almost all Mappilas are Sunnī Muslims, but they differ in their interpretations of Islam. Some are traditional religious specialists who prefer a strict madrasah education without the inclusion of modern subjects; others strive to be both traditionalists and modernists; still others are reformers. A very few are secularists, content to retain only the cultural markings of Kerala Islam and eschewing institutional Islam.

Sri Lanka.

The experience of Sri Lankan Muslims relates closely to that of their Kerala coreligionists. The majority community is usually designated by the name given by the detested Portuguese, “Moors”; the other smaller subcommunities of Muslims in Sri Lanka are also frequently glossed as Moors. The Moors, like the Mappilas, are Sunnī Muslims subscribing to the Shāfiʿī school of law; they, too, have been shaped by the location of their home straddling major trade routes in the Indian Ocean. A disproportionately urban population—40 percent are city dwellers in a country that is only 20 percent urbanized—they trace their ancestry through both migration and conversion on a patrilineal model going back to the seventh century CE and the time of Muḥammad. They are a small community, numbering perhaps 7 percent of the total population of 20 million Sri Lankans (2007 census). The majority of Sinhalas are Theravada Buddhists, with a minority of Tamil Hindus in one section of the island. It is with the Tamils that the Moors share their closest linguistic affinity, even though their political preferences are strongly Sinhala. Most Moors regard Tamil as their mother tongue, and the great song-poems they recite on popular and religious feast days are written in Arabic Tamil; the Arabic Tamil literary corpus of the Moors is regarded as a significant subset of the Arabic Tamil literature of South India.

The Moors thus share more with the Mappilas, despite linguistic and cultural differences, than either group does with the large North Indian Muslim community. Historical events make the separation of South Indian Muslims from their North Indian coreligionists even sharper. Like the Mappilas, the Moors were devastated by a Portuguese invasion in 1505. Portuguese control of Sri Lanka was even greater than their intervention in Kerala, for they succeeded in cutting off Sri Lankans from the mainland. The Moors ceased to have relations with Tamil Muslims, at the same time that the Portuguese curtailed and in time closed down the madrasahs. The succeeding Dutch colonialists pursued an explicitly commercial agenda, showing little interest in direct religious confrontation but not encouraging the restoration of institutions destroyed by the Portuguese. Their benign neglect of Islam was shared by their successors, the British.

For more than three centuries the Moors were forced to develop in isolation from other subcontinent Muslims; when they did experience a revival, it came not from Delhi or Mecca but via Kerala and Tamil Nadu, in the nineteenth century. It was brought by Ṣūfī orders that had been introduced into Kerala in the eighteenth century and then spread to Sri Lanka during the nineteenth. Chief among them was the Qādirīyah, but there were also notable adherents to other orders, such as the Shādhilīyah, the Chishtīyah, and the Naqshbandīyah.

The Sri Lankan revival was also related to a dynamic expression of scriptural norms and a renewed interest in ritual activities among other religious communities in South Asia, including Theravada Buddhist activists in Sri Lanka, Shaiva reformers in Tamil Nadu, and Advaita modernists in Bengal. This was a crucial time for rethinking the categories of foreign rule, and Muslims shared with other religious communities, largely in urban centers, the concern to resist external pressures to conform. The Muslim heroes from Sri Lanka in this period, like their coreligionists, chose to restate their own norms and advocate their own values. Foremost among them were Siddi Lebbe, founder of the newspaper Muslim nesan and other educational institutions in Kandy; his successor, I. L. M. Abdul Azeez, who, in addition to journalistic and community activities, wrote the first comprehensive history of Sri Lankan Muslims (Ethnology of the Moors of Ceylon, 1907); and perhaps the most skillful minority politician in the subcontinent, A. R. A. Razik, who assured both Muslim support of the nationalist movement and the inclusion of Muslim officials in the governments that have ruled Sri Lanka since 1947.

North India.

The experience of North Indian Muslims is charted above all by a set of cultural and linguistic shifts unknown in the South Indian core area. Islam was introduced there through Central Asia, by military conquest and forced migration rather than by trade and commerce. It embodies Turkish and Persian rather than Arabic ethnic and linguistic features.

Apart from early Arab conquests in the region of Sind, it was Turco-Afghan groups displaced by rival groups in Central Asia who became the vanguard of the emergence of Muslim polities in the subcontinent. The expansion of Turco-Afghan military might and political power was gradual, taking place in several stages over long intervals. It was not until the mid-ninth century that the Ṣaffārids came to control most of present-day Afghanistan. More than a century later the Ghaznavids controlled much of the Indus River region; at the end of the twelfth century the Ghurids finally conquered Delhi and established a pattern of Muslim rule that continued through the Mughal period up to the fateful Battle of Plassey in 1757. There the British prevailed and, as a result, they extended military and then political control over most of India until 1947.

The Turco-Afghan ruling elites maintained and developed Persian as the preferred language, not only in the court and bureaucracy but also in the culture at large. Persian poetry marked off the elites from the non-elites, binding North Indian Muslims to other urban elites of the ʿajam, as the non-Arabic-speaking Muslim segment of Asia was known. The Delhi sulṭāns organized themselves—whether in court life, army protocol, or administrative practices—along lines that dated back to the last pre-Muslim dynasty of Iran, the Sassanians. They also based their legitimacy as rulers on Persian notions of semi-divine kingship: though not quite God's emissary, the sulṭān could reckon himself as God's “shadow on earth” and expect of his subjects a commensurate obedience. Such a notion of divine authority was alien to Arab Islam, but it did not compete openly with the notion of central authority that obtained elsewhere until the mid-thirteenth century. The Delhi sulṭān continued to acknowledge the caliph in Baghdad as the nominal leader of the ummah, the Muslim community. They did not become, like the Umayyad caliphs of Andalusia, rival claimants to rule over the ummah.

Within South Asia the new rulers established powerful institutions that bore the impress of Islam. The capital city was to be adorned as the chief center of Muslim ritual observance. Because the sulṭān was expected to acknowledge the force of the sharīʿah, even though that law might conflict with other dynastic or local laws, he also had to endow institutions crucial to Muslim collective identity—mosques (of which one must be a central mosque, jāmiʿ masjid), madrasahs (religious schools), and hospitals. Although the ruler could expend funds from the central treasury, private individuals preferred to create charitable trusts (awqāf; sg., waq   f   ) in order to establish and perpetuate such institutions.

Neither the power nor the prestige of Mughal India, however, could forestall its decline and eventual collapse. The last great Mughal was Awrangzīb. During his nearly fifty-year reign, indigenous groups such as Sikhs in the Punjab, Jats in Central India, and Marathas in the Deccan challenged and often defeated Mughal military forces. His successors met similar fates. In 1739 an Iranian-Afghan raider, Nādir Shāh, was able to plunder Delhi and take away the famed Peacock Throne.



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  • Miller, R. E.“Mappila.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. New ed., vol. 5, p. 459. Leiden, Netherlands, 1960–.
  • Schubel, Vernon J.Religious Performance in Contemporary Islam: Shīʿī Devotional Rituals in South Asia. Columbia, S.C., 1993.

There is a vast literature on Islam in South Asia. It is characterized by sweeping narratives, mostly focused on dynastic histories into which economic, social, cultural, and religious history is spliced. It is also rigidly diachronic: the unspoken assumption is that all history must be teleological, that one begins at the beginning (with Muslim raids, conquests, and empire-building) and then moves through the centuries toward some putative end. In the case of South Asian Islam, it is always a grim end, since the advent of the West and the bitterness of the colonial and postcolonial eras confirm the prejudgment that Islam is in political decline and, with few exceptions, reduced to a private sphere of personal piety. For a representative sample of this view, see Peter Hardy, “Islam in South Asia,” together with its several bibliographic entries, originally published in The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 7, pp. 390–404 (New York, 1987), and reprinted in The Religious Traditions of Asia, edited by Joseph Kitagawa, pp. 143–164 (New York and London, 1989).

Several nonstandard sources have been given in the text above, and a comprehensive (though not exhaustive) bibliographical compilation of more than three thousand English-language entries is now available. See Mohammed Haroon, Muslims of India: Their Literature on Education, History, Politics, Religion, Socio-Economic, and Communal Problems (Delhi, 1991).

Additionally one must call attention to the antigovernmental, universalist view of Ṣūfī masters and their legacy, best set forth in Khaliq Ahmad Nizami's overview essay, “Hind. V. Islam,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 4, pp. 428–438 (Leiden, 1960–). This essay epitomizes the life work of the most productive scholar of South Asian Islam. Its multiple insights into the traditions that molded the community of North Indian Muslims may be usefully supplemented by consulting any of Nizami's more than forty books and countless articles, in both Urdu and English. See Mohammad Ahmad, comp., The Literary Contribution of K. A. Nizami (Delhi, n.d.).

Also of interest for a different approach to South Asian Islam are the several monographs in the New Cambridge History of India, a series edited by Gordon Johnson (Cambridge and New York, 1987–), relating Islam and Muslims to the larger political trends of the subcontinent during the past five hundred years. Divided into four topical segments—“The Mughals and Their Contemporaries,” “Indian States and the Transition to Colonialism,” “The Indian Empire and the Beginnings of Modern Society,” and “The Evolution of Contemporary South Asia”—these thirty monographs will encourage a revisionist view of both Mughal and post-Mughal history.

Finally, the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies has announced its intention to publish an atlas of Muslim social and intellectual history under the editorship of the Centre's director, Farhan Nizami. The first volume will be devoted to South Asia, integrating rural with urban patterns of development, while also accounting for the emergence of distinctive mystical orders and scholarly institutions that shaped all phases of South Asian Muslim society. Together with the relevant monographs in the New Cambridge History of India, the Oxford atlas will set a new standard for future research into the largest community of Muslims in the modern world.

Bruce B. Lawrence Updated by Kamran Bokhari

Islam in Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Islam is the religion of about 240 million people in Southeast Asia who live in a “Muslim archipelago” extending from southern Thailand, through Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, and north to the southern Philippines. There are in addition isolated pockets of Muslims in Burma (Myanmar), northern and southern Thailand, and Cambodia; however, 95 percent of the Islamic presence is in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the language of Islam there is Malay or one of its variants. This last fact has two important consequences for the understanding of Islam in the region: the consequences of geography and indigenous settlement patterns, and the crucial importance of language.

The typical settlements of the archipelago from prehistory to the recent past have been riverine or on estuaries. Trade has always been important. Beginning in the late twelfth century, the Arab-controlled trade of the Mediterranean, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent reached the islands of the archipelago. The Arab traders represented both a source of wealth and a window on the glamorous civilizations of West Asia. The impact of Islamic philosophy and the accounts of the great Muslim kingdoms of West and Central Asia (and later India) offered the indigenous rulers both a justification and a model for rule. The processes of physical transmission and intellectual acceptance are of course complicated, but the important point is that Islam was successful in the archipelago, despite preexisting Hinduism and Buddhism, because it was initially accepted and later imposed by rulers (rajas, later sultans) on the populations. This process took considerable time, and indeed, one may argue, it is not yet over.

In regard to language, Malay or one of its variants has always been the language of Islam in the archipelago. Arab speakers and readers have always been present in some areas, and at some times in considerable numbers. Islam was, however, transmitted in Malay, the language of all classes. Islam thus came early to be associated with the state (ke-rajaan) and with the Malay language; this relationship has persisted into the present.

Early Literature.

The literature of Islam in Malay from the sixteenth to nineteenth century comprises a chronicle of royalty, an explanation of the world, various dogmas of faith, simple guides for life, and a theory and justification of power and its forms and expressions. Malay forms include sejarah (chronicle), hikayat (history), and translations in the fields of theology, the history of Islam, the life of the Prophet and his companions, and apocryphal tales of individuals and kings in the Arabic and Persian worlds. This has been a rich heritage for the intellectual culture of Southeast Asian Islam. Yet it was far more than mere heritage, received, held, and copied; it was not static, as some nineteenth-century European scholarship supposed. Instead, from the seventeenth century onward there was a positive flowering of Malay scholarship on Islam in all its forms.

On the more general side, there exist various genres that explain the nature of religion and introduce the reader to the necessary Arabic history and ritual. In this group are popular tales about the prophets and other persons mentioned in the Qurʿān. There are a number of named texts (e.g., Hikayat Anbiya [Stories of the Prophets], Hikayat Yusuf [Stories of Yusuf (Joseph)]) all taken from Arabic sources; together they may be said to form a historical hagiography given in popular terms, with contents that are by no means theologically sophisticated. A closely related class concentrates on the prophet Muḥammad himself, his life, the miracles attributed to him, and the deeds of his companions. Major texts include Hikayat Nur Muhammad (Stories of the Light of Muhammad) and Hikayat Nabi Bercukur (Stories of the Shaving of the Prophet 's Head). These works are all without named authors; no scholastic doctrine is stated, although there is considerable emphasis on didactic elements.

On the scholastic side, there is a group of works in theology, dating from the seventeenth century, which represents a burst of indigenous creativity unequaled in later Southeast Asian Islamic thought. Doctrine is discussed within the threefold classification of knowledge (al-kalām, al-fiqh, al-taṣawwūf  ). In addition, there were extensive translations and reworkings of established Arabic texts, ranging from commentaries on the Qurʿān and ḥadīth to works on Sufism and the varieties of rituals (dhikr, dūʿa, rawātib).

Four outstanding contributions to Islamic writing were produced in the seventeenth century in the sultanate of Aceh, in both Malay and Arabic. The author Ḥamzah Fanṣūrī was famous for his shāʿir (a genre of poetry) but even more famous for his mystical writings. In his Sharab al-ashikin he discusses the four stages of the mystical path—the law, the path of renunciation, self-knowledge, and gnosis. His other famous work is the Asrar al-arifin, an exposition of the nature of God. Both works are still studied and remain highly influential in Southeast Asia today. An important commentary on Ḥamzah was written by the second of the great seventeenth-century authors, Muḥammad Mahdī Shams al-Dīn. Only one of his works has survived complete, an orthodox Mirat almumin. His main interest was the doctrine of the unity of existence; he saw man as a mere appearance of the absoluteness of God. In his words, “Man is but a puppet in God 's shadow play.” As with Ḥamzah, self-knowledge is the first step toward perfect knowledge. The arguments of both scholars have been discussed in detail, but the striking feature is that intellectual Islam in the Malay world was, in its origins, speculative and mystic.

Naturally there was a reaction, and this is found in the work of Nuruddin al-Raniri, who was not just a translator from Arabic but also a great systematizer. His Bustan al-salatin is a compendium of Islamic knowledge for his time. He was also a polemist, and his attacks on unorthodoxy, especially that of Ḥamzah (which he compared with the nihilism of the Vedantas), are still read today. At the close of the seventeenth century there seems to have been a return to “practical” mystic practices in the writings of Abdul Rauf, who published a translation of al-Bayḍāwī on the Qurʿān as well as textbooks on dhikr and rawātib.

The archipelago seems to have a fondness for the mystical and speculative side of Islam, with a desire to find the outer permissible limits of doctrine. Given the very strong pre-Islamic cultures of the area, this is perhaps not surprising. The adoption or adaptation of such a universal theology, with its political implications, always involves tensions, and often inconsistency.


The Muslim world of Southeast Asia is complex in its languages and cultures. There has been no single explanation of what constitutes acceptable Islamic practice for all of Southeast Asia. Instead, there are many culturally devised variations within the Islamic spectrum. Three structural features appear especially important. Thus, in the late nineteenth century in Patani (now in southern Thailand), Shaykh Daud ibn Abdullah Patani worked as a brilliant translator from Arabic but was essentially a medieval man; in contrast was Shaykh Mohammed Zain, somewhat younger, whose fatwās disclose a determined effort to adapt—and if necessary to change—the world of Islam in his place and time. Neither can be classed simply as “orthodox” or “heretical”; they are both entirely within the Islamic tradition of Southeast Asia, in which intellectualism and royal power were clearly differentiated from social reality. See MALAY AND INDONESIAN LITERATURE.

First, there is a reasonable diversity of actual religious practices. These range from highly orthodox practices with emphasis on scripture and scholarship to various forms of “modernism,” in which dogma is reinterpreted to cope with contemporary conditions, to syncretic practices that incorporate pre-Islamic elements. Notable is the fact that the nation-states of the area tend to be avowedly secular, although Islam is the official religion of Malaysia and Brunei declares itself to be an Islamic state. Secularism as such has become identified as a main problem for Islam. Paradoxically, this has resulted in a greater degree of tolerance for diversity of religious practice rather than the opposite. Pressure for conformity, in fact, seems to come from the state or from government-sponsored religious publications.

Second, Islam is, like Judaism and Christianity, a religion of revelation. Its meaning is thus to be sought by each person in reading the holy words of God. Alternatively, understanding can be sought in recognized texts of interpretation and in commentaries. The essential scholarship of Islam is in Arabic and was for the most part written before the close of the twelfth century. This is part of the Muslim heritage in Southeast Asia; it describes Islam, and it is how one “knows” Islam. At the same time, the facts of life in the region are by no means easily assimilable in such terms. For example, local marriage practices, systems of land tenure, contracts of sale and purchase, adoptions and family relationships, punishment for crimes, and explanations of social and political ideas all operate under quite different principles from the ideals and revealed prescriptions of Islam. From the purist 's point of view, the difference is often seen in terms of a conflict between adat and Islam.

Adat (Ar. ʿādāt) means custom and usages in the widest senses, as well as in legal prescription; there is no doubt that serious differences, practical as well as intellectual, did and still do exist between it and Islamic law. It is common, however, to find a wide degree of relativity for each term. A tendency toward compromise, syncretism, and local sophistry was the norm rather than the exception. As with religious practices themselves, the ethnography of Islam in Southeast Asia shows that formal doctrine is but one element in the social manifestation of theology. This is unsurprising, since the same situation can be found in any Muslim society.

A third important referent is the fact that the terms “Islam” and “Muslim” have always been used as an idiom for conceptualizing an identity and so legitimizing a status. What is a “Muslim,” and what does it mean to be one? In the European colonial period, especially in the late nineteenth century, these were important questions. For example, a whole range of rights, duties, and privileges depended upon holding Muslim status; these same rights were devised to so-called “heretical Muḥammadans.” The legal system of the Netherlands East Indies was even posited on the view that it was local custom (adat, not sharīʿah) that should form the basis of laws for the indigenous peoples. See ADAT.

Finally, it is to be noted that in the post-independence period, Islam was institutionalized in governmental ministries and offices of religious affairs. There was, in effect, a developing sociology of Islamic institutions in the early twenty-first century, especially in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia.

Islam and the State.

The Islamic response to the realities of dominion in Southeast Asia is complex because state histories are complex. Even the definition of “state” itself is debatable, and it has certainly changed over time.

The pre-modern state.

The sultanates of the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra, Java, and the southern Philippines with Borneo, cannot really be described as “Islamic” states. Thus, for example, while sharīʿah was important in written texts, it did not solely determine either administration or personal law or finance; rather, it was a part of a system in which pre-Islamic practices continued. The respective balances between sharīʿah and other elements of course varied from place to place. Comparing the Sejarah Melayu with the roughly contemporaneous Adat Aceh illuminates the varying emphases on religion and its place in the indigenous state systems.

There is, however, no question of the legacy of rule and theories of government bequeathed to Southeast Asia by the medieval Islamic tradition. The ruler (sultan) is himself khalīfah (caliph) or al-insān al-kāmil. He draws an important justification for his position from these attributes and, in turn, is a focus of power for the officers of religion in his state. He might trace his genealogy back to Rum (Constantinople) through Persia, or back to Adam through Sulaymān—an almost physical transferance of power from the heartlands of Islam to its outer dominions. The legacy is not just the code of sharīʿ ah and commentary, but also ideas of rule and sovereignty and of perfection in the ruler.

There were of course reactions against this, most notably from the various Muslim reform movements, such as Wahhābīyah; however, the reaction was itself expressed in terms of Islamic philosophy. The important point is that in the period up to establishment of firm European control, there was a Muslim theory of state in the archipelago, as well as a vibrant, sometimes violent argument about the theological and practical nature of this state.

The European colonial state, 1800–1940.

In this period of a century and a half, the Muslim policies of the Malayan peninsula and of Sumatra and Java became subordinated to the British and the Dutch, respectively. Their subordination was military and economic but—more important in the long term—intellectual as well. Formerly at least the ethos of the sultanates, and in most cases much more than that, Islam became much reduced in status.

The state came to be defined in European terms. While the precise nature of the constitutional and political theories differed, there was no doubt that the Muslim archipelago was dependent territory and that ultimate sovereignty lay in Europe. Within this scheme, whether British, French, or Dutch, there was simply no room for Islam as the basis of a theory of state. There was of course resistance, sometimes armed, but essentially religion had to give way to European secular formalism. The consequences of this persist; by the mid-nineteenth century Islam had become irrelevant to the definition of the state.

There was a second fundamental redefinition in the colonial period. The formal status of Islam declined to that of a mere religion, and only one among others. Regulation made Islam a private, personal religion and a personal law (not even the latter in the Netherlands East Indies). The state was secular, and religion was totally divorced from it. The only exception was in British Malaya, where the sultans were theoretically heads of religion in those states that were not under direct rule, but this concession was so heavily regulated as to render it nugatory.

Islam was in fact reduced from an essential of the state, its basic foundation, to mere individual belief. As though this were not enough, the religion itself became subject to government fiat at a very basic level. The respective colonial bureaucracies so regulated many of the fundamental institutions of Islam that even today it is impossible, or very difficult, to see Islam except in the terms imposed then. For example, “Islamic law” is not the sharīʿah; it is certain selected principles expressed in European form and administered in European-style courts. Similarly, licensing restraints (which still exist) were placed on zakāt (charity), the building of mosques, the publication of literature, and the teaching of Islam. In short, the religion had become just one of the matters that clerks in ministries were charged to regulate.

Modern states.

The reference to “modern states” is primarily to Malaysia and Indonesia, the heartlands of Southeast Asian Islam. The relatively small Muslim population of Myanmar (Burma) comprises two groups. The first includes the descendants of Indian immigrants (1880–1940), most of whom either left during World War II or in the 1960s; some, mostly from the economically depressed classes, remained. This class also includes the “Zerbadi,” the offspring of Indian Muslim males and Burmese females. There are no data on the numbers or situation of these people, but they have been consistent targets of Burmese racial chauvinism, so it is possible that they no longer survive as a discrete group. Second, the Rohingha of the Arakan are Muslim in religion but Arakanese in all else. They have been and are now subject to considerable aggression on the part of the Burmesearmy.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, two factors have determined the position of Islam in the World War II period. First, the newly independent states are modeled on the European secular tradition. They have constitutions, bureaucracies, national economic and social policies, and, to varying degrees, political pluralism. Political ideology has ranged from variants of parliamentary democracy to versions of presidential and corporate rule. Essentially, however, the state is defined in terms of rational secularism.

Second, and contrasted with this, in the new states Islam for the first time gained a legitimate political voice. It was no longer a proscribed vehicle of protest and anti-colonial agitation. Islam and Islamic activists in both the Netherlands East Indies and in British Malaya, especially in the former, had a long and proud history of resistance to the European imperium. But with the legitimization of at least some political pluralism with independence, the focus has changed: Islamic parties have entered the new political process as contributors rather than as resisters. This has not happened in Thailand or the Philippines, where elements of Muslim minorities still resist the central governments, occasionally violently, in the name of Islam.

In Malaysia and Singapore, Islam was very heavily organized in the prewar period, and such important functions as the teaching of religion, the collection of zakāt (charity) and fiṭra (tax), the ḥajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and judicial administration had become fully controlled by the state bureaucracy. This process continued after independence with the establishment of ministries of religion and departments of religious affairs. The public existence of Islam, whether in politics or in other sectors, has become accommodated within the institutions of the nation-state. This is the dilemma of contemporary Islam: its participation in the politics and institutions of the secular state is combined with varying degrees of non-acceptance of the principles on which such states are based. However, in the twenty-first century, Muslim political parties, as well as the general public, have come to accept the fundamental values of democracy.

The history of Islamic minority politics in Southeast Asia is the history of “varying degrees of non-acceptance.” As already mentioned, the Muslims of southern Thailand have in the past resorted to violence (the Patani Liberation Front), as have the Moro of the southern Philippines (the Moro National Liberation Front); resistance in both areas continues. See MORO NATIONAL LIBERATION FRONT and PATANI UNITED LIBERATION ORGANIZATION. A 1996 peace agreement that incorporated setting up an autonomous region in southern Mindanao was not fully implemented and did not include all parties. Religious violence continued and became symbolized by small radical Islamic groups such as Abū Sayyāf at the beginning of the twenty-first century. After years of relative peace in southern Thailand, tensions between the Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists again led to violence and ethno-religious divisions. Muslims in Myanmar remained marginalized. Only Singapore had not experienced significant violence related to Muslim minority relations.

In Indonesia (approximately 88 percent Muslim) the history of Islamic political parties has been complex and characterized by the formation of large overarching groups, followed by their splitting into various specific interest and ideological groups. The interesting point about these regroupings and the shifting alliances that went with them is that they were often not based on differences of doctrine. Efforts to give Islam a special role in the new state were aborted at the time of independence. In the ensuing years, Islamic parties divided along lines prevalent in the nationalist period, the largest being Nahdatul Ulama and Masjumi. When the military-dominated “New Order” controlled Indonesia from about 1967 to 1999, religion was not allowed to be the basis of political parties and efforts were made to downgrade Islam in public life and policy. Islamic political movements were subsumed under a general “United Political Party” that was forced to emphasize the state ideology, the Pancasila, which many Muslims perceived to be agnostic regarding religion. Islamic resistance to the new order became muted and concentrated at the local level. The return to parliamentary democracy at the end of the twentieth century saw the formation of a variety of Islamic-oriented political parties. They tended to be moderate in tone, weak in organization, and had difficulty in developing a coherent Islamic agenda. While the first president of the new democratic Indonesia was a noted Muslim leader, Islamic parties in the national parliamentary elections of 1999 and 2004 were unable to capture more than 20 percent of the vote. Secular parties dominated parliament. Although the Indonesian electorate appeared strongly attached to democratic symbols and processes, there was also considerable evidence of popular demands for a government based upon the sharīʿah and for a society founded upon Islamic principles. These developments must also be viewed alongside the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century growth of organizations fostering violent radical interpretations of Islam and the eruption of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians. These groups, such as Jemaah Islamiyah, Laskar Jihād, and the Islamic Defenders Front, tended to express views influenced by Salafy ideas and did not support democratic and pluralist values.

In Malaysia, about 58 percent the population is Muslim, and Islam is recognized in the constitution as the official religion of the country. In the nine states of Malaysia with rulers (sultans), they are viewed as the guardians of Islam in their own states. Each state has a Department of Religious Affairs, and there is also a National Council for Religious Affairs and Department of Islamic Development. In the other five states the king is the head of Islam. However, the central government has increasingly sought to control Islamic affairs and personnel in the country. Muslim political representation is divided into two unequal parts. On one hand is the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), an ethnic Malay and nationalist party that presents itself as the protector of Islam, but tends to be moderate in religious policy and has dominated the ruling political coalition since independence. It accommodates Islam to a reasonable degree but not to the extent of allowing religion to determine policy in any sphere. On the other hand, there has been a succession of “Islamic” parties concentrated almost entirely in the east coast and in the northwest, the rural heartlands of Islam. The primary Malay Muslim opponent to UMNO today is the Partai Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), whose program is avowedly Islamic, but at a fairly unsophisticated level—women should not be allowed to work at night, and thieves should have their hands cut off. Although PAS and its predecessors have controlled states in the Malaysian Federation, they, like the Indonesian Islamic parties, have never come close to forming a national government. See PARTAI ISLAM SE-MALAYSIA and UNITED MALAY NATIONAL ORGANIZATION. While elements of radical Islamic groups have resided in Malaysia, the country has not experienced the levels of religious violence of neighboring Indonesia. In part, this is due to the institutional controls developed in Malaysia to limit interracial and interreligious hostility and religious opposition in its diverse society. The government has fostered Islam as a moderate and modern religion and has proclaimed “Islām ḥadārī” (literally meaning “civilizational Islam”).

In summary, the history of Islam in Southeast Asia falls into three parts. Initially (fifteenth to eighteenth century) it was an ideology of rule in the Malay-speaking lands and the inspiration for an extensive and complex literature. Second, in the period of high colonialism it became subordinated to European forms of government, heavily bureaucratized, and politically suppressed. In literature, there was little except repetition until the inspiration of the West Asian reform movement reached Southeast Asia in the late nineteenth century. Even here, however, most of the Islamic revival was derivative of West Asian models. Finally, with independence came real political accommodation between Islam and the state in the areas of Muslim majority, Malaysia and Indonesia. There remains considerable variation in interpretation as to how Islam is to be implemented in political and daily life. While totally secular views are limited, interpretations range from the official call for a moderate modern Islam by the Malaysian government to demands for the implementation of an Islamic state based upon traditional sharīʿah law espoused by more radical groups, especially in Indonesia. At the same time, some official implementation of Islamic policies has developed. Both Malaysia and Indonesia have established “Islamic Banks.” These operate on a variety of Muslim contracts, which eschew interest (ribā); instead profits stem from various sharing and commission arrangements. The central banks of Malaysia and Indonesia exercise supervisory control. See BANKS AND BANKING. There has been an increase in Islamic schools at all levels in these counties, including the establishment of a number of Islamic universities in both countries. In Indonesia in particular there is considerable public discussion of what role the sharīʿ ah should play in influencing government policy.

For many years there was little in the way of original literary work on Islam; instead there was a vast array of rather naive short books and pamphlets of an almost entirely admonitory and didactic nature. More recently, somewhat more sophisticated publications have begun to appear against a backdrop of the major growth in the translation and printing of work by Middle Eastern and South Asian works, even including some Shīʿī writing. Both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have sought to prohibit the dissemination of so-called “deviant Islam” publications and supervise foreign influences.

Islam in the Pacific.

Islam is not a historical religion in the Pacific basin. Its presence in this region is the result of postwar immigration. The majority of immigrants are from Turkey, the Levant, Egypt, and to a lesser extent the Muslim Balkans. There is also a small representation from the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia.

The main areas of Muslim population are in Australia and New Zealand, but there are increasing numbers in Japan, Korea, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Western Samoa, and Papua New Guinea. In these last six states Muslim missionary work has been carried out with some vigor since the 1970s. A small but steady stream of local converts appeared in the early twenty-first century. In the more developed states, such as Japan and Korea, they are supported with quite elaborate administrative structures, including various sorts of councils and advisory bodies. There is even an “Islamic Company” in Japan.

The main centers, however, remain Australia and New Zealand. Until fairly recently Islam has had a low profile in both countries, but international politics and missionary activity have greatly raised its public profile. In addition, internal disputes within the Muslim communities are now often reported in news media. Community organizations are often invited by governments (especially in Australia and New Zealand) to offer the Muslim position on such subjects as women, the family, and the custody of children.

There have been occasional difficulties with the host communities (for example, objections over locating mosques in suburban areas) but they are all of a relatively minor nature. There are also signs that conversion is proceeding among the native populations. Reactions to 9/11; the July 7, 2006, bombings in London; and international issues such as the Iraq War have led to tension, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, and Muslim communities have been subject to criticism and calls for greater assimilation into the majority society.



  • Abdullah, Taufik, and Sharon Siddique, eds.Islam and Society in Southeast Asia. Singapore, 1986. Valuable collection of papers on all aspects of Islam in the region.
  • Benda, Harry J.The Crescent and the Rising Sun: Indonesian Islam under the Japanese Occupation, 1942–1945. The Hague, The Netherlands, 1958.
  • Bennett, Clinton. The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies. Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.
  • Boland, B. J.The Struggle of Islam in Modern Indonesia. The Hague, The Netherlands, 1971.
  • Boland, B. J., and I. Farjon. Islam in Indonesia: A Bibliographical Survey, 1600–1942. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 1983.
  • Hefner, Robert. Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia, Princeton, N.J., 2000.
  • Hooker, M. B., ed.Islam in South-East Asia. Leiden, The Netherlands, 1983. Contains papers on history, sociology, philosophy, literature, law, and politics, plus an extensive bibliography.
  • Hooker, M. B.Islamic Law in South-East Asia. New York, 1984. Contains chapters on Islamic legal history, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The only general survey for the area, but now somewhat dated.
  • Hooker, M. B., ed.The Laws of South-East Asia. 2 vols.Singapore, 1986–1988. Volume 1 contains an article on Muslim texts (pp. 347–434) and an extensive bibliography (pp. 539–554).
  • Majul, Cesar Adib. Muslims in the Philippines. 2d ed.Quezon City, Philippines, 1973.
  • McCargo, Duncan, ed.Rethinking Thailand 's Southern Violence.Singapore, 2007.
  • McKenna, Thomas. Muslim Rebels and Rulers: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines. Berkeley, Calif., 1998.
  • Al-Nahdah (Journal of the Regional Islamic Daʿwah Council of Southeast Asia and the Pacific). A quarterly with useful information on contemporary Islamic affairs in the area.
  • Ner, Marcel. “Les Musulmans de l ’Indochine française.”Bulletin de l ’École Française d ’Extrême Orient41 (1941): 151–200. The only general account, focused mainly on the Cham of Cambodia.
  • Yegar, Moshe. The Muslims of Burma. Wiesbaden, 1972. Good account of the history of the mainly immigrant Indian Muslim community in Burma.

M. B. Hooker

Updated by Fred R. van der Mehden

Islam In Europe

The historical antagonism between western and eastern Europe is reflected in their diverging social, political, and religious traditions. This division has also put its mark on the historical vicissitudes of Islam in the European world. Growth and blossoming in one part of Europe were often concomitant with downfall and destruction in the other. During the late Middle Ages, Western Christian powers were reconquering the last Muslim territories in Spain and the Mediterranean. During the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries, they extirpated the last vestiges of Islam from the West. Meanwhile, the Turks were preparing for the conquest of Constantinople (1453) and for expansion into areas of southeastern Europe, the modern Balkan states. However, when the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of communist rule, and the contemporary revival of nationalism caused the suppression of southeast European Islam and destroyed much of its ancient heritage and infrastructure, western Europe opened its doors to a stream of Muslim migrants and refugees. Significant Muslim communities are now present in all countries of western Europe.

Phases and Groups in the History of European Islam.

The premodern history of Islam in western Europe can be divided into two periods. First, from the eighth century until the end of the fifteenth century there were territories under Muslim rule. This was the case in Spain, and at times in some islands in the Mediterranean and in small enclaves in southern France and southern Italy. Second, Islam was a minority religion in western Europe starting around the ninth century, when Christian rulers, especially in the Iberian Peninsula, abandoned their practice of executing Muslim captives and started selling and using them as slaves. From the end of the eleventh century the social phenomenon of Muslim slaves in Christian territories increased in importance, especially in the Iberian Peninsula, Italy, southern France, Sicily, and the Balearic islands. Theirs was a history of rapid Christianization and assimilation under the combined pressure of society and church.

For some Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula, the period from the twelfth to the sixteenth century was an exception to this pattern. When large territories of Muslim Spain were reconquered by Christian kings, religious freedom and protection were granted to local Muslim communities, notwithstanding continuing protests by the Roman Catholic Church. But after the fall of Granada (1492), these communities were baptized by force, and finally, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, having been labeled “incurable heretics,” they were expelled, mainly to North Africa. This did not, however, end the social phenomenon of Muslim slaves. Their presence in European countries around the Mediterranean is documented, without interruption, until the nineteenth century. Only the Enlightenment (followed by the French Revolution), the proclamation of religious freedom as a universal human right, and the abolition of slavery created the conditions essential for modern western European Islam.

In the late twentieth century, the number of Muslims in Europe was estimated at seventeen to twenty million, with approximately nine million each in western and southeastern Europe. A few thousand Muslims live in Poland and Finland. The Muslims of Poland are the descendants of Tatar and Crimean immigrants who arrived in the fourteenth and fifteenth, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively. The Muslim community in Finland consists of people of Turco-Tatar origin from the Idel Ural and Volga regions who mainly arrived after the Russian Revolution of 1917.

There are large numbers of Muslims of European origin in the Balkan states, the descendants of various groups who converted to Islam during Ottoman rule. The Balkan states are also home to Muslim groups of non-European origin, especially Turks. As a result of their long history, many of these groups comprise people from all social classes, including religious, intellectual, artistic, and commercial elites. In western Europe, however, Islam shows much less social diversity. It is still essentially the religion of migrants, with a high percentage of unskilled laborers, small merchants, and white-collar people of the lower classes, many lacking citizenship in the western European states in which they live. This situation is changing rapidly, however, with the growth of new generations born in western countries.

Some autochthonous converts to Islam can also be found in western European countries, prominent among them women married to Muslims. Male converts are fewer; some are famous scholars and writers in the West and in the Muslim world, such as the Austrian journalist Leopold Weiss (Muhammad Asad), and the French philosopher Roger Garaudy. The only region in Europe with significant numbers of male converts is Andalusia in Spain, where, under the influence of a specific form of regionalism, conversion to Islam could be experienced as the rediscovery of an identity that had been suppressed for centuries. (Some African-Americans in the United States similarly claim that their turn to Islam is a reversion to their earlier religion.)

Muslim migrants in western Europe fall into three categories. The first are those who came from former colonies. Among them are groups who cooperated closely with the European colonial armies and preferred to leave their countries at the time of decolonization, such as former Algerian and Moluccan soldiers and their families in France and the Netherlands.

The second category of Muslim migrants consists mainly of unskilled laborers and their families. They have come from countries around the Mediterranean, from India and Pakistan, and from other Muslim countries in the Near and Far East. In France and the United Kingdom, this migration process started before World War II, but in other countries it began in the late 1960s and 1970s. Especially from the late 1970s onward, the process of family reunion—the basis for the institutionalization of a religious infrastructure—had begun.

In some countries, migrants of a specific ethnic or geographic origin form the majority of Muslim inhabitants, such as those from the Maghrib and West Africa in France, Spain, Italy, and Belgium; Turks in Germany and the Netherlands; and Muslims from India and Paksitan in the United Kingdom.

The third (and current) stream of Muslim migrants consists of political refugees from various Muslim countries. A significant number of them have gone through various forms of (nonreligious) higher education, including universities. Many of these have a secular outlook, and they have, so far, not provided the existing Muslim communities with religious leadership. They do play important roles, however, in cultural and sociopolitical activities of a more general nature. Depending on government policies, concentrations of refugees from specific countries can be found in certain states. Sizeable Iranian communities, for instance, are found in Italy and Sweden.

Religious Infrastructure.

Lacking the established religious infrastructure of the Muslims in southeastern Europe, the contemporary history of Islam in Western Europe shows many examples of local communities moving from the initial stage of meeting in a prayer hall toward the more advanced stage of establishing a mosque and appointing an imam. As Islamic institutions become established, their functions expand. At the beginning, the chief function is to provide religious services, creating social spaces and networks on the basis of a common religious identity. To these religious and social functions was added the responsibility for elementary religious education, with instruction often initially given by qualified volunteers. Mosques with professional imams have become the most important centers of Islamic education in western Europe, where an estimated fifteen percent of all children with a Muslim background regularly receive religious instruction. A similar role was played by the mosques in southeastern Europe (with the exception of Greece), where during the communist period there was no room for state-recognized elementary Islamic schools.

Generally speaking, mosques have been founded in western Europe on a monoethnic and monodenominational basis. With rare exceptions, multiethnic and multidenominational places of worship are to be found in smaller towns or villages with no more than one mosque or prayer hall. In towns with two mosques or prayer halls, Muslims are usually divided along ethnic lines. In larger communities, there may be a further division according to confessional denominations within a single ethnic group; this is generally the case in towns with three or more mosques.

The increase in community life stimulated by the establishment of mosques enhanced their central role. In the countries of origin many culturally defined institutions used to exist separately from the mosques, but these institutions did not exist in the host countries. But in Europe, the mosque becomes a center of diverse community activities, including wedding parties, circumcisions, and mourning ceremonies. In addition to this, attached to many mosques there are shops owned by the Muslim organization that sell religious objects (including books) and products from the countries of origin and that add to the social and financial basis of the community life centered on the mosque.

Most mosques are presided over by a board of governors, who take care of the financial interests of the mosque and its maintenance. Unless special arrangements have been made with the government of the country of origin, the imam of the mosque is appointed by the board. The board 's tasks are both external and internal. Those of the imam, however, are mainly internal, and they are specifically connected to his knowledge and application of the values of Islam.

Many imams—in the absence of a sufficient number of men in western Europe who are qualified for the post—have been recruited comparatively recently from Muslim majority countries. Entrusted with the daily prayer services in the mosque, the religious counseling of the individual members of their community, the religious education of the community 's children, and ceremonial tasks at various important occasions in the lives of individuals and families, the imams can be said to be the main custodians of the cultural, and especially the religious, values of the communities they serve. They also undertake pastoral tasks, spiritual counseling, and social care, including the visiting of community members in hospitals and prisons. Because of the similarities between the tasks of an imam in western Europe and his Christian or Jewish colleagues, governments and courts tend to identify the imams as Muslim clerics to be dealt with in the same way as the Christian and Jewish clergy. Countries where Islam has been officially recognized by the state, such as Belgium and Spain, have legalized this view explicitly. In other countries, the same viewpoint is expressed implicitly, in jurisprudence and in government policies. In the Netherlands, the juridical equalization of pastors, rabbis, imams, Hindu priests, and humanistic spiritual counselors was settled by an official verdict of the Supreme Court.

In all countries of western Europe, Muslim communities are becoming increasingly aware of the need to create their own educational centers for the training of imams. This process is stimulated by public discussions and government policies attaching much value to the founding of such provisions within western Europe itself. Apart from the strictly theological requirements, new educational challenges are posed by the unprecedented posts for imams that are being created in western European armies, hospitals, and prisons, on a par with the state-appointed ministers, pastors, and rabbis working in those institutions. This new category of imams needs training enabling them to cope with nontraditional tasks. The creation of Islamic seminaries, however, has been hindered by obstacles such as ethnic and sectarian heterogeneity among recent Muslim immigrant communities. The religious infrastructure of Islam in southeastern Europe, on the other hand, is already in place; in Bosnia-Herzegovina, imams and religious scholars can be trained in several madrasahs and in a theological school in Sarajevo.

At the national and international levels, many Islamic organizations compete for influence over the local mosque communities. Among the first attempts, in the 1970s, to create umbrella structures for local mosques were organizations representing confessional groups that oppose the official doctrines of Islam promoted by governments in their countries of origin. These initiatives were counteracted by the activities of the non-European governments concerned, who started to build their own networks of mosque communities among their citizens in western European countries; such is the case among Turkish Islamic organizations.

As a reaction to the mushrooming of independent and opposition religious movements, such as the Süleymanlıs, the Millî Görüs, and the Nursîs, the Presidium of Religious Affairs of the Turkish government (the Diyanet) developed a policy to stimulate the foundation of a religious infrastructure for the Turkish Muslims in western Europe under its direct supervision. This policy was to include the foundation of mosques and the appointment of imams and religious teachers trained in one of the official Turkish colleges or faculties. These imams, who have the status of civil servants of the Turkish government, are working in western Europe on a temporary basis. The policy included also the appointment of religious attachés with the status of muftīs to the Turkish embassies concerned. Mosque communities attached to the organizations of the Diyanet have to comply with the transfer of the management of their mosque buildings to specially created foundations in each country, which are subjected to the direct supervision of the presidium itself.

Similar organizational divisions, the result of the transplanted competition between opposition religio-political groups on the one hand, and the governments in their countries of origin on the other, can also be observed among Muslims of other origins, such as those from Morocco. Other governments, such as that of Tunisia, tend to abstain from a policy of direct interference in the religious life of their former subjects in western Europe. In fact, western Europe has become a haven for the free organization of Islamic oppositional movements. The writings of the Moroccan oppositional leader ʿAbd al-Salām Yāsīn, for example, forbidden in Morocco itself, are circulating among all Moroccan communities in western Europe.

In addition, international organizations, such as the Muslim World League, backed by governments of Muslim states, have succeeded in establishing Islamic Centers in various western European capitals, including Brussels, Madrid, and Rome. These centers aim at controlling Islamic religious life in the respective western European states, and they are usually governed by diplomatic representatives of Muslim countries, under the predominant influence of Saudi Arabia. They add to the complexities of rivalry and conflict that characterize the relations between the Islamic umbrella organizations at national levels.

Religion and State.

All European states claim to be democratic and to respect the fundamental principle of religious freedom, notwithstanding all the differences in the relations between religion and state enshrined in their respective constitutions and applied in their actual policies. The constitutional principle of religious freedom is, however, constrained by various legal limits that are molding Islam—following the pattern to be observed in Europe 's churches and synagogues—into religious institutions that focus mainly on certain areas of social life, the preaching of faith and morals, the practicing of rituals and festivals, the organizing of religious education and learning, and the strengthening of various kinds of religiously based community life. In all other areas of social life, the public order and the monopoly of the states prevail. With the exception of Greece, where Islamic family law has been respected (to various degrees) since the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and where the Greek Orthodox church still plays a dominant role, no European state presently has a system of legal pluralism based on the religious denomination of the individual citizens.

The principle of religious freedom is shared by all, but interpretations of it differ from one nation to another, as a result of the complex political and cultural histories of each country. The slaughtering of animals according to Islamic (and Jewish) religious prescriptions, for instance, is allowed in many countries (under specific conditions prescribed by law) but forbidden in some, including Switzerland and Sweden. Disputes concerning the wearing of head-scarves by Muslim girls in public schools have likewise had varying outcomes. In some countries, such as the Netherlands, this expression of Islamic religious behavior is respected, but in others, for example, Belgium and France, the decision about its permissibility has been delegated to the administrations of the individual schools. During the Rushdie affair, existing laws on blasphemy in the United Kingdom appeared to apply only to established religions, but in the Netherlands they were applicable also to Islam. Attitudes toward the right to celebrate religious holidays still differ widely, though the existing jurisprudence tends to recognize the right of employees to take one or more unpaid days off for this purpose, provided that the employer is informed in advance and that no serious harm is thereby done to the interests of the enterprise. A verdict of the European Commission of Human Rights stipulated that a full-time Muslim employee should have the right to attend Friday services if the employer is informed at the time of hiring that the observance of this religious duty could conflict with the duties of the employee. Actual government policies vary widely, depending in part on practical considerations in the labor market.

Some differences are also related to Europe 's various constitutional traditions regarding the relations between religion and state. With the exception of Vatican City, these traditions can be broadly classified as either union or separation.

Union involves some direct juridical relations between religion and state. This model can be subdivided into three types. First, some states practice the official recognition of religious communities. This implies that they take into account officially the existence of these religious communities in order to create relations between them and society at large; examples of this type are Spain, Belgium, and Germany. In the second type, there is an official state religion with constitutionally guaranteed respect for religious freedom and the right of nondiscrimination of all other religions. This is the case, for instance, in Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In the third type, one religious community is given officially sanctioned preferential treatment over all the others. This can be found in Greece, for instance, and is usually qualified, as with the term “confessionalism.”

Another model is that of the separation between religion and state, which underlines the neutrality of the state, the equality of all religious and philosophies of life, and, to varying degrees, the secular character of all public spaces of society. This model is found, for instance, in France and the Netherlands, though these countries show significant differences in its application. For instance, about thirty Islamic primary schools have been founded in the Netherlands on the basis of the Dutch “pillarization system,” which grants the right to all religious communities to develop—with state subsidies—religiously based educational and sociocultural institutions.

Spain 's constitution expresses the state 's readiness to cooperate with the churches and the religious confessions insofar as necessary to make “real and active” the right of its citizens to religious liberty. In order to obtain the recognition necessary to reach an agreement to cooperate, parties involved have to prove, on the basis of inscription in the official Register of Religious Entities, the existence of at least a certain number of believers. Apart from the established arrangements with the Roman Catholic Church, official agreements between the state and the Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic confessions were signed in 1992.

The Comisión Islámica de España (CIE) is recognized as the official representative of the Muslims of Spain. It was chosen by the two federations inscribed in the official Register of Religious Entities, to which other federations or communities can be added in the future. The agreement has settled a long list of questions, like those concerning the statutes governing mosques, prayer halls, and Islamic cemeteries, the Islamic rules concerning inhumation, graves, and funerary rites, and the statuses of imams and other religious leaders. It also regulated the religious rights of Muslim personnel in the armed forces and of Muslim prisoners and hospital patients. Muslims were guaranteed the right of students to receive Islamic religious education in primary and secondary schools. The CIE, as well as its constituent communities, may establish and manage teaching centers at the primary and secondary levels, as well as universities, in accordance with the general legislation regarding these matters. The agreement also grants some tax privileges to the CIE and its communities. It defines the rights of Muslim students and employees to celebrate religious holidays, to heed the prescriptions of Ramadan, and to attend Friday services. Finally, it stipulates that the CIE will be the sole authority in Spain to designate foods as ḥalāl (prepared in accordance with Islamic religious law). The dietary rules of Islam will be respected in prisons, army installations, hospitals, and schools for those Muslims who request this. This holds true also for the special time of meals during the month of Ramadan.

The government of Spain has thus assumed an active role in creating an organization representing Spanish Muslims. In Belgium, where the state recognized Islam officially in 1974, this has not been the case. In order to provide the financial aid that the Belgian state is in principle ready to convey to Muslims—including, for example, the salaries of imams, the expenses of mosques, the foundation of Islamic schools, and religious education in public schools—the law requires that committees with corporate standing must be established (at the provincial level). These committees are in charge of the properties used for the cults, and they function at the same time as intermediaries between Muslims and the national government. The organization of the elections was entrusted to the Islamic Cultural Center in Brussels (financed by the Muslim World League) with which the Belgians had been dealing on a temporary basis as the sole representative of the Muslims since the official recognition of Islam. However, the elections that took place were not recognized, with the result that many measures that could have improved the religious infrastructure of Belgian Islam were never enacted. Nevertheless, Islamic religious teachers have been appointed in many Belgian public schools at the recommendation of the center in Brussels or of the Provisional Council of Wise Persons for the Organization of the Islamic Cult in Belgium, created in 1990.

Institutional agreements between Islamic organizations and the secular state are only one aspect of the status of religions in Europe and the United States. Beyond the distinction between political and religious spheres lie ideological differences concerning what it means to be secular, and different cultural expectations concerning the role of religion in public life. These differences have been manifested in the varying degrees of difficulty in integrating Muslims into European societies. These difficulties have in turn led many non-Muslims to question the merits of multiculturalism. There is substantial public resistance to multiculturalism, and a growing desire for cultural homogeneity, a desire related to a fear of Islam and Muslims. According to the 2000 Eurobarometer survey, 25 percent of Belgians show intolerant attitudes, higher than the EU average of 14 percent (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance Report on Belgium, 2003). In Germany, a 2003 survey found that 65 percent claim that Islam could not fit with the West, while majorities opposed any new immigration and would feel uncomfortable living in a neighborhood with Muslims (Khaled Schmitt, “Islamophobia on Rise in Germany: Study,” Islam Online,, December 26, 2003).

This tension is also reflected in the rising numbers of Turks in Germany who feel they are being discriminated against (“80% of German Turks Feel Discriminated Against,”,, November 27, 2004). A 2003 study showed substantial anti-Muslim feeling in Italy, with half of Italians believing Muslims are fanatic fundamentalists who support terrorism, 56 percent of Italians believing that Muslims have “cruel and barbaric laws,” 47 percent considering them “religious fundamentalist and fanatics,” and 33 percent convinced that they are invading Italy (Lisa Palmieri-Billig, “Survey Shows Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism Rising in Italy,” Jerusalem Post, July 1, 2003). A shift can be seen even in the Scandinavian countries and Great Britain, which have long had relatively positive multiculturalist attitudes. The country most changed is probably the Netherlands, where the rise of explicitly anti-Muslim politics reflects both skepticism about the ability to integrate Muslims into society and criticism of what were once widely accepted ideals of cultural diversity. A parliamentary report determined that “multiethnic society had been a dismal failure, huge ethnic ghettos and subcultures were tearing the country apart, and the risk of polarization could only be countered by Muslims effectively becoming Dutch.” (Fekete, p. 20). A number of countries, including Germany, France, the Netherlands, and the U.K., have recently passed new immigration laws that require migrants to learn about the host society and pass a competency test. In Austria, these policies have been accompanied by penalties for failure, including deportation, fines, and cuts in social benefits (International Helsinki Federation,

Integration under International Constraints.

Before September 11, 2001, most of the countries under discussion had some experience with terrorism unrelated with Islam. In the United Kingdom and Spain, for example, these were regional difficulties with separatist groups, the IRA and ETA, respectively. In Germany and the United States, the primary threats were historically from internal ideological groups, although both nations had experienced several international terrorist incidents related to Middle Eastern political conflicts. During the 1990 's, there was a wave of terrorism by Muslims in France. This was associated with French policy in Algeria and was carried out mostly by international leaders who recruited domestic Algerian immigrants to their cause. Each of these nations had a legal framework for dealing with terrorist threats. Nonetheless, the attacks on September 11th came as a severe shock and were followed rapidly by new anti-terrorism and immigration policies in most European countries and at the European Union level. The attacks in Madrid and London have also led to more legal and political initiatives to prevent terrorism.

Legislation passed since September 11th shows a trend toward conflating immigration and nationalization regimes with internal and external security in a way that will have negative long-term effects on the Muslim populations of Europe. There are several reasons this will likely remain a problem.

First, and perhaps most important, Islamic terrorism can neither be characterized as an entirely foreign assault nor be treated as a truly domestic problem. If international terrorists based in foreign countries are recruiting among the disaffected populations of Europe, this becomes simultaneously an internal and external security problem. The September 11th plots were at least partially planned in Hamburg, and among the individuals imprisoned by the United States at Guantánamo Bay are at least twenty Europeans (Savage, 2004). Since 9/11, the nations of the EU have arrested more than twenty times as many terrorist suspects as the United States (Cesari, 2004). More recently, there have been strong suspicions that groups from Iraq have been recruiting in Europe (C. Whitlock, “In Europe New Force for Recruiting Radicals: Ansar Al-Islam Emerges as Primary Extremist Group Funneling Fighters into Iraq,” Washington Post, February 18, 2005). States are naturally concerned that individuals recruited and trained for overseas battles may eventually turn terrorism against Western nations. Because of this threat, states sometimes view domestic Muslims as “foreign enemies,” a classification that implies a lower level of legal and social rights and privileges than those accorded non-Muslims.

Second, radical Islam already has a foothold in several of the regions that are likely to generate asylum seekers and other refugees, such as Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and even the Balkan states. Although it is unlikely that many of the refugees are already ideologically committed, there is a fear that some may be, or that they may be susceptible to radicalism when they enter European societies.

Third, the influx of Muslims into Europe has created and exacerbated social tensions. Strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the populace is likely to generate a political response. Anti-Muslim attitudes have deep historical roots in European culture. Media images of violence and oppression convince many Europeans that these phenomena are inextricably linked to Muslims. The Muslim ghettos created in Europe over the last decade are not likely to be warmly welcomed by the local populations. Even when Muslims are not individually marginalized, seemingly insignificant cultural differences, such as dress and methods of slaughtering food-animals, can inspire strong reactions.The conflation of internal and external security has led to a particular emphasis on controlling the speech of Muslim leaders. That emphasis can be seen in the rising numbers of imams expelled from European countries and in increasingly frequent attempts to monitor or control mosques. Across Europe, dozens of imams have been expelled for preaching beliefs that the state considers threatening (“Verdonk Zet Drie Imams Het Land Uit Van Onze Redactie Politiek,” Nederlands Dagblad, February 23, 2005). Probably the most famous have been the British imams, Abu Hamza al-Masri and Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, who were accused of speaking in support of Osama bin Laden and of helping to recruit terrorists. Lower-profile cases have arisen frequently in France, Germany, and Italy (T. Hundley, “Radical Imams Trouble Europe,” Chicago Tribune, June 13, 2004). The new rights granted to police to spy on religious groups in various countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States, are part of an effort to control the speech of religious leaders.

Outlook. As recent immigrants, many Muslims are already in difficult social and economic situations; these types of activities are likely to increase sentiments of alienation and disaffection. Muslims who feel that they are not legitimate members of the national community may act against the nation (Cesari, 2004, 91–109). Three scenarios are possible: acceptance, avoidance, and resistance. Acceptance means that the dominant discourse is accepted by Muslims and is accompanied by cultural amnesia and a will to be assimilated. This trend is marginal among immigrant Muslims. Avoidance refers to behaviors or discourses that attempt to separate Muslim societies from the non-Muslim environment by developing, for example, a sectarian use of Islamic religious beliefs. Resistance means refusing the status given to Islam in dominant discourses and politics. It need not be violent: it can involve, for example, taking a view opposite to that of dominant narratives and producing a voluminous literature that functions as an apology of Islam. Certain forms of resistance involve what Erving Goffman calls “contact terrorism,” the use of certain Islamic symbols linked to clothing or behavior in order to provoke fear and revulsion. Resistance can also assume more radical forms, such as involvement in violent Islamic movements. Prominent examples include Khaled Kelkal, a French citizen born in France to Algerian parents who was involved in the Armed Islamic Group fighting in 1993; Richard Reid, “the shoe bomber,” who joined the cause of al-Qaʿida; or the bombers in London and Madrid. While these forms of resistance are not dominant, they are highly visible and influence the way Islam is perceived in Europe. There are, however, also positive forms of resistance through which Muslims reappropriate elements of Islamic practice and acknowledge a personal commitment to their faith while simultaneously accepting European societies as their own.



  • Cesari, Jocelyne. When Islam and Democracy Meet: Muslims in Europe and in the United States. 2d ed.New York, 2006.
  • Cesari, Jocelyne, and Seán Macloughin, eds.European Muslims and the Secular State. Aldershot, U.K., and Burlington, Vt., 2005.
  • Dassetto, Felice, Brigitte Maréchal, and Jørgen Nielsen, eds.Convergences musulmanes: aspects contemporains de la présence musulmane dans l ’Europe élargie (Muslim Convergences: Contemporary Aspects of the Muslim Presence in a Wider Europe). Louvain-La-Neuve, 2001.
  • (accessed December 5, 2007).
  • Fekete, L.“Anti-Muslim Racism and the European Security State, Race, and Class.”Race and Class46, no. 1 (2004): 3–29.
  • Kettani, M. A.“Islam in Post-Ottoman Balkans.”Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs9, no. 2 (1988): 381–403. Review essay of Popovic (1986), with important additional data.
  • Nielsen, Jørgen N.“Migrant Muslims in Western Europe”. Portion of entry “Muslimūn” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 7, pp. 699–702. Leiden, 1960–.
  • Nielsen, Jørgen N.Muslims in Western Europe. Edinburgh, 1992. A third edition was published in 2004. Contains a general analysis of family, law and culture, and Muslim organizations. There are separate chapters on France, West Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium, Scandinavia, and southern Europe.
  • Popovic, Alexandre. “The Old Established Muslim Communities of Eastern Europe.”Portion of entry “Muslimūn” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., vol. 7, pp. 695–699. Leiden, 1960–. Also treats the Muslim communities in Finland and Poland.
  • Popovic, Alexandre. L ’Islam balkanique: Les musulmans du sud-est européen dans la période post-ottomane. Berlin and Wiesbaden, 1986. Encyclopedic survey of the history and sociology of Islam in the Balkan states.
  • Rohe, Mathias. Muslim Minorities and the Law in Europe. New Delhi, 2007.
  • Shadid, W. A. R., and P. S. van Koningsveld. Religious Freedom and the Position of Islam in Western Europe: Opportunities and Obstacles in the Acquisition of Equal Rights. Kampen, Netherlands, 1994. Contains an extensive bibliography of studies on Islam in all countries of the European Community published from 1987 through 1993.

P. S. Van Koningsveld

Updated by Jocelyne Cesari

Islam in the Americas

Islam in the Americas began with the arrival of the explorers, traders, and settlers who came during the fifteenth century. Islam began, particularly in what was to become the United States, with slavery. African Muslim slaves from Senegal, Gambia, the southern Sahara, and the upper Niger were brought to the Americas from the middle of the sixteenth century until the slave trade was abolished in the by the end of the nineteenth century. An estimated 30 percent of enslaved Africans taken from West Africa for transit to the Americas were Muslim. Even though the conditions of slavery made it exceptionally difficult for many to maintain their rituals and beliefs, there is some evidence that enslaved African Muslims attempted to keep their Islamic faith alive.

Once slavery was abolished in the Caribbean, the British transported large numbers of South Asians as indentured servants to Guyana between 1835 and 1917. Many were Hindus, but a sizable minority were Muslims, who comprise more than 10 percent of Guyana  's population. The island nation of Trinidad and Tobago also has a longstanding minority Muslim population of about 6 percent. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Muslim organizations in Trinidad and Tobago made political demands for non-discrimination and religious freedom and have invoked Islamic and civil legal tenets of equal treatment. The Muslim population in Surinam, approximately 23 percent of the total population, is descended largely from South Asian and Javanese Muslims who were imported for labor in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Muslims in American Life.

It is in the United States that Muslims have had the greatest impact. Long a part of the religious landscape, they share a common identity as Muslims, but how this manifests itself varies widely. Muslims are internally diverse; profess a wide variety of beliefs; observe dissimilar practices; and reflect racial, cultural, and historical differences. It would be misleading to suggest that Islam in the United States, or for that matter in the Americas as a whole, is a unified faith. What follows presents an account of the broad contours of the history of Muslim presence in the United States and, to a lesser degree, other portions of the Americas.

African-American Muslims.

In the United States, scarcely fifty years after the end of slavery, Islamic communities began to appear on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Racial segregation and the actions of white Christians made it clear that persons of African descent needed to seek and establish religious practices and communities of their own. Islam was an alternative to the racialized forms of Christianity associated with former slaveholders. Islamic names and stories had been retained in some places in spite of the dislocations and ruptures created by slavery, and by the turn of the twentieth century, as African-Americans met Muslim immigrants or gained knowledge of Islam, the roots of an African-American Islam began to take hold. The Moorish Science Temple (1913), the Universal Islamic Society (1926), and the Nation of Islam (1930) developed into small communities of black Muslims with particularistic black and Muslim identities. To assist in their development, members of such groups created savings plans and emphasized the value of self-sustaining economic investment. To some extent this allowed these nascent Islamic communities to separate themselves from the larger society and avoid contact with whites. All of these communities maintained Islamic practices of prayer, fasting, modest dress, and the avoidance of pork, alcohol, and drugs; they saw Islam as the true religion of black people and the only way to establish and maintain their human dignity in the world and especially in the Americas.

By the middle of the twentieth century, one of these groups, the Nation of Islam, emerged from Detroit and gained media attention when it became associated with the well-known figures of Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X, and Louis Farrakhan. In the 1940s, the Nation of Islam formed the first African-American Muslim schools with an emphasis on Islamic studies and Arabic, providing an alternative to the public school system for black youth. Many more Islamic elementary schools were opened in the 1960s.

The phenomenon of conversion (commonly known as “reversion” since many were recovering a faith held by ancestors whose religious identity had been ruptured in the brutal slave trade) accelerated among African-Americans and can be understood as an effort to find a cultural, economic, and political identity distinct from the dominant Protestant society that had produced and prolonged slavery. However, while responsible to a large degree for ensuring that Islam is part of American public life, there is debate about whether or not the Nation of Islam (and other early black Muslim groups) can be considered authentically “Muslim.”

After the death of the Nation of Islam  's famous leader, Elijah Muhammad, in 1975, hundreds of African-Americans, from well-established and from newly-formed organizations, traveled to the Islamic world and studied at universities and in language programs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, and other countries. With a more extensive knowledge of the practice of Islam around the world, these African-Americans returned to American society to become the forefront of Black Power organizations and student groups. Many African-American Muslims today feel that the early black Muslim communities mentioned above, while an important part of the history of Islam in the United States, are heterodox groups that do not represent an accurate understanding of the Muslim faith. There is a broad range of Islamic theology, ideologies, practices, and religious understandings embraced by African-American Muslims. Many Muslims of African descent in the United States have begun to call themselves Sunnī Muslims, partly to distinguish themselves from the Nation of Islam (whose membership has dwindled to as few as 20,000 members) and its leader, Minister Louis Farrakhan.

Muslim Immigrants.

The history of African-American Islam has been referred to in the literature as “indigenous.” A parallel development occurred during the late nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, with the immigration of Muslims from a variety of regions outside of North America, who migrated voluntarily; they sought personal and political freedom and economic advancement. Prior to World War II, many immigrants from Arabic-speaking regions of the Middle East were Christian; the number of Muslim immigrants was small. Arabs from Greater Syria—many from poor, rural backgrounds—began to arrive in the late 1800s, and made their living as peddlers and in menial jobs. The Muslim backgrounds of these early generations were erased as they assimilated into American society and often took American spouses. Communal life was limited, although mosques were erected during the early 1900s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Ross, North Dakota; and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Entrance into the United States from many parts of Asia was severely restricted and this had an injurious impact on Muslim migration until 1965. Once immigration laws were liberalized during the Johnson administration, many more Muslims received immigration visas, in large part to fill the occupational needs of the United States. Large numbers came from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, along with smaller groups of Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Yemenis, Syrians, Turks, Somalis, Afghanis, and Iranians. A large number of these newcomers were highly educated, socially mobile professionals. Some came to the United States as university students, then returned to their home countries. Others remained as permanent residents and became naturalized citizens, raising families and advancing in the professions.

The newcomers of the latter half of the twentieth century were often more observant of Islamic rituals and practices than earlier generations, and thus they maintained their Islamic identity while at the same time integrating into American economic and professional life. These immigrants were generally the most motivated to sustain and hand down a strong Islamic identity and establish permanent institutional and community structures. They furthered the establishment of Islamic centers and mosques, schools and associations (e.g., Council on Islamic Education, Muslim Youth of North America, the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada, and the Islamic Society of North America).

In the last decades of the twentieth century, the new generation of Muslim-American youth founded numerous Muslim political associations in an effort to influence the agendas of elected officials, educate Muslim communities to become more politically assertive, register Muslim voters, offer programs about how to be active in local community associations such as the PTA, and defend the rights of Muslims against discrimination. Two of these associations are the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

Muslim Population in the United States.

It is difficult to establish accurate numbers of the Muslim population in the United States, since religious affiliation is not a question the U.S. Census Bureau or any other government agency can legally ask; therefore the estimates of the size of the Muslim population in the United States vary widely. The range of 2 to 6 million Muslims has often been cited; this would mean that Muslims comprise between 0.7 to 2.1 percent of the total U.S. population. The estimated population breaks down into roughly one-third African-American, one-third South Asian, and one-third Arab and groups of other national origins. However, recent public opinion surveys have provided a lower figure of roughly 1.5 million, rendering the Muslim portion of the U.S. population much less than 1 percent.

Regardless of its relative size, the Muslim population in the United States has become a key part of the social and religious map of the country. Clearly, the population of Muslims is growing rapidly, as a result of birth rates, immigration, and conversion. According to a 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of the Muslim American population is first-generation immigrant and 61 percent of the foreign-born Muslims arrived in the 1990s or the 2000s. Seventy-seven percent of Muslims living in the United States are citizens, with 65 percent of the foreign-born Muslims being naturalized citizens. Muslim Americans largely mirror the general population in terms of education and income levels, with immigrant Muslims slightly better educated and more affluent than native-born Muslims. Twenty-four percent of all Muslims and 29 percent of foreign-born Muslims hold college degrees, compared to roughly 25 percent of the total U.S. population.

Whether as immigrants, the children of immigrants, or descendants of former slaves, Muslims live in all the major metropolitan regions of the United States. There are particularly large communities in New York, Los Angeles/Orange County, Chicago, Boston, the Detroit-Toledo corridor, and Houston. Historically there has been a considerable economic and occupational gap between many Muslims of African-American descent and Muslim immigrants.

While there are generally two components of the history of Muslims in the United States—indigenous Muslims and immigrants—it would be a mistake to overlook the presence of Sufism as well. The mystical aspects of Ṣūfī Islam have attracted the largest number of Anglo converts to Islam. Particularly attractive are such Ṣūfī groups as the Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship in Philadelphia (established in the 1960s), the centers in New York of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, or the ASMA Society), the Naqshbandīyah Ṣūfīs led by Shaykh Muḥammad Hishām Kabbānī, and the well-established Chishtīyah Ṣūfī order.

Also significant is the growing number of Latino Muslims in the United States. Numbers of Latina women converts is rising in part because of intermarriage. Many Latinos also find that Islam is more effective than Christianity in providing resources to address urban problems such as gang violence, economic disadvantage, and various forms of ethnic strife.

Muslim Americans Post-September 11.

Even as Muslim Americans have generally succeeded in material terms in American society, they remain entangled in controversy. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, thousands of Muslims have been subject to surveillance and investigation by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and the target of hate crimes and discrimination within American society more generally. In twenty-first century America, Muslims have become more active legally and politically to defend their freedom of speech, demand equal treatment, and safely express the culture of Islam. Organizations have arisen to fight prejudice, a sign of both the new environment and the emerging social capital of American Islam. So deep-seated are the prejudices of the larger society, and so accustomed to vilifying Islam as a violent religion, that society at large has managed to play down the usual distinctions of racial and ethnic identities, which have previously served to divide the American ummah (Muslim community). In addition to the activities of CAIR and MPAC, American Muslims now lead such organizations as Muslim Advocates, the National Association of Muslim Lawyers, the the Muslim American Journalists Association and others in the fields of law, media, social services, and education.

Muslim Communities and Organizations.

In the Americas, the numbers, diversity, organizational development, and Islamic identity of Muslims are strongest in North America, but substantial communities exist throughout the hemisphere. In addition to the small but well-established communities in the Caribbean basin, there are other Latin American immigrant communities in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and Venezuela, comprised mostly of people from Arab countries.

In North America, and especially the United States, the worldwide Islamic ummah is gathered in a kind of microcosmic form in a single, if complex, American political and social order. The great variety of Muslims includes Shīʿīs of different sects, although the majority of Muslims are Sunnī, in line with the ratio of Sunnī to Shīʿah worldwide.

The large number of Muslim associations represents the large-scale coordination that many Muslims consider necessary for the long-term well-being of the ummah in North America. The Islamic Society of North American (ISNA), an offshoot of the Muslim Students Association or MSA (founded in 1963), with its headquarters in Indiana, represents one of the oldest and largest of these associations. ISNA recently elected a female president; it attracts the support of Muslims from numerous backgrounds, and strongly emphasizes Islamic values, missionary activity (daʿwah), youth activities, and the importance of community service.

While there are significant numbers of highly-educated Muslim professionals in the Americas, in professional, managerial, and technical fields, none contribute to our understanding of Islam and Muslim life in the Americas as much as those who become scholars and academicians. Prior to the end of the twentieth century, what little was known about Islam in the Americas was written largely by non-Muslim specialists. With a few notable exceptions, publications on Islam in the Americas (emphasizing the United States and Canada) did not begin to appear until the 1990s. This production of knowledge accelerated as many scholars turned their attention toward Islamic fields, but particularly as younger Muslim-Americans understood the need to contribute to the humanities and social sciences to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. These scholars—Muslim and non-Muslim—shifted research and publications about Islam toward a middle path that reflects neither the biases of the previous Orientalist scholarship nor the doctrinaire views of the oversease Islamist publishing houses.



  • Abd-Allah, Umar F.A Muslim in Victorian America: The Life of Alexander Russell Webb. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. An examination of indigenous Islam and conversion to Islam.
  • Abdo, Geneive. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America after 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Media portrayals and political and economic activity.
  • Abdul Khabeer, Suad. “Rep that Islam: The Rhyme and Reason of American Islamic Hip Hop,”Muslim World97, no. 1 (January 2007), pp. 125–141.
  • Abugideiri, Hibba. “Hagar: a historical model for Gender Jihad.” In Daughters of Abraham: Feminist Thought in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, edited by Yvonne Y. Haddad and John L. Esposito. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. On Islamic feminism.
  • Aidi, Hisham. “Jihadis in the Hood: Race, Urban Islam, and the War on Terror,”Middle East Report224 (Fall 2002), pp. 36–43.
  • Ba-Yunus, Ilyas and Kassim Kone. Muslims in the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006. Muslim life after 9/11.
  • Bagby, Ihsan. “Second-generation Muslim Immigrants in Detroit Mosques: The Second Generation  's Search for their Place and Identity in the American Mosque.” In Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, edited by James L. Heft. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. Examination of Muslim youth.
  • Barrett, Paul. American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
  • Bukhari, Zahid H., ed.Muslims  ’ Place in the American Public Square: Hope, Fears, and Aspirations. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2004. Muslim life after 9/11.
  • Bullock, Katherine. Muslim Women Activists in North America: Speaking for Ourselves. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005. Media portrayals and political and economic activity of women activists.
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  • Haddad, Yvonne Y., Jane I. Smith, and Kathleen M. Moore, Muslim Women in America: the Challenge of Islamic Identity Today. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. A look at Muslim women  's religiosity.
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  • Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (2007). “Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream.” Available at
  • Quraishi, Amira. “Making Safe Space for Questioning for Young American Muslims.” In Passing on the Faith: Transforming Traditions for the Next Generation of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, edited by James L. Heft. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. Examines Muslim youth.
  • Said, Edward. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World, rev. ed. NS., New York: Vintage Books, 1997.
  • Schmidt, Garbi. Islam in Urban America: Sunni Muslims in Chicago. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004. Indigenous Islam and conversion to Islam.
  • Shakir, Zaid. “American Muslims, Human Rights, and the Challenge of 9/11.” In With God on Our Side: Politics and Theology of the War on Terrorism, edited by Aftab Ahmad Malik. 2d ed.Bristol: Amal Press, 2005. Muslim life after 9/11.
  • Smith, Jane I.Islam in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
  • Wadud, Amina. Qurʿan and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from Woman  's Perspective. 2d ed.New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Muslim women  's religiosity.
  • Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women  's Reform in Islam. Oxford, U.K.: Oneworld, 2006. Islamic feminism.

Frederick Mathewson Denny

Updated by Kathleen M. Moore

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