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Social and Political Structures. Carl Ernst Introduction to Islamic Civilization. Outline . Frontiers and Identities City and countryside Conversion to Islam Issue of authority. A premodern “Muslim Commonwealth”. After fall of Arab Empire, no single ethnic group dominated

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social and political structures

Social and Political Structures

Carl Ernst

Introduction to Islamic Civilization

  • Frontiers and Identities
  • City and countryside
  • Conversion to Islam
  • Issue of authority
a premodern muslim commonwealth
A premodern “Muslim Commonwealth”

After fall of Arab Empire, no single ethnic group dominated

Inevitable fragmentation caused by debates over monotheistic religious issues

Arabic language and shared religious traditions create commonalities in spite of linguistic and cultural differences

The rise of new states did not impede commercial and cultural exchange

1 frontiers
1. Frontiers

Difference between nation-state with borders and porous premodern empires

Strait of Gibraltar: border or highway?

Power of empires vanished with distance from cities

sea frontiers
Sea frontiers

Muslim settlements and trade on East African coast

Swahili language -- Bantu lingua franca with Arabic influence

Mediterranean trade between Italian cities and Fatimid Egypt

land frontiers but what is jihad
Land frontiers – but what is Jihad?

 Egger overstates the role of jurists in legislating jihad as state duty – often just a retrospective religious justification of normal warfare

 legal distinction between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb (abode of war) did not correspond to political realities of clients with Christian powers

Jihad as a symbol of ethical struggle, frequently invoked for political purposes

problems in defining boundaries
Problems in defining boundaries

Andalus and Anatolia as frontiers of constant raiding, shifting identities

Example: El Cid (overly romanticized as a champion of Christianity versus Islam)

Turkish ghazi raiders “rationalized their raids as a religious act,” visit Christian shrines

 in actuality, anyone (including Greek Christians) who showed up with a horse and weapons could join, no questions asked!

fact checking on jihad in the sharia page 235
Fact checking on “Jihad in the sharia” (page 235)

“it is offensive to conduct a military expedition against hostile non-Muslims without the Caliph’s permission.”

Ibn al-Naqib, author of this text, died in 1368.

The caliphate was extinguished in 1258

What conclusions can you draw about the validity of this legal text as a description of political reality and “fluid loyalties”?

before the age of passports
Before the age of passports

Ease of travel between Muslim realms

Common problem of bandits outside protected cities

Government for security and taxes, not enforcing laws over a territory

Law defined as personal rather than territorial

slavery in muslim regions
Slavery in Muslim regions

Consider legal, but not natural

Prohibited for Muslims and protected peoples (Christians, Jews, etc.)

Slavery not imposed as punishment

Primarily for domestic or military purposes, not agriculture or mining

Main slave markets: Africa, Slavic regions, India

aspects of slavery
Aspects of slavery

Freeing slaves recommended in Islamic law

Concubines and children freed after owner’s death

Slave armies as powerful military institutions



Berbers in North Africa


Persians and Persian literature

2 city life
2. City life

As many Muslim cities as Chinese cities

Shared features of mosque, central market, bath houses, canals, cemeteries

Services handled by neighborhood institutions, charitable trusts

Urban associations of “youths” as militias or gangs

Priority of private space in Islamic law needs to encroachment on streets

mosque of damascus
Mosque of Damascus

Ablution fountain

countryside and villages
Countryside and villages

Problem of abusive tax farming

Nomadic incursions and suffering of peasants

3 conversion to islam muslims as minority
3. Conversion to Islam: Muslims as minority

Persistence of non-Muslim elites

Lack of incentive for conversion of villagers

Mountainous regions also preserve local religious groups (example: Chitral)

Occasional discrimination against Jews and Christians are milder than Christian anti-Semitism

Irregular enforcement of restrictions

muslims as majority after 1300
Muslims as majority after 1300

Dhimmi tax and social mobility as motives for conversion

Decline of Caliphal power made life harder for Christians

Increasing nomadism eroded landowning and merchant patronage of monasteries

What is “conversion”? A personal or community decision?

Muslim assimilation to local cultures (Persia)

4 issues of authority breakdown caliphate
4. Issues of authority: breakdown caliphate

Theoretical concept of caliphate in Rules of Governance by al-Mawardi (d. 1058): an idealized extension of the religious scholars as political authority, despite political irrelevance

Symbolic role of Caliph two certificates of “appointment”

persistence of a ghost
Persistence of a ghost

Coin minted in India (1350) with name of deceased caliph (earlier, in Sanskrit!)

filling the void of authority
Filling the void of authority

Increasing importance of religious scholars (`ulama’)

Simultaneous and related importance of Sufi saints

  • Frontiers and Identities
  • City and countryside
  • Conversion to Islam
  • Issue of authority