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Conclusion to Part I: The Civilization of Islam

By Daniel Pipes

Excepted from In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power (1983), pp. 89-93

Islam and the Muslims are so often seen as monoliths that the specialist on these topics finds himself repeatedly called upon to stress their diversity. Islam, he tirelessly points out, varies widely between Sunni and Shi'i, between premodern and modern, between the West and the East, between rural and urban, and between the 'ulama and the Sufis; and Muslims vary even more widely than does their faith. So often do the experts have to correct the notion of a single Islamdom that they tend to lose sight of the real issue here. Of course Muslims in Morocco and Indonesia differ. Indeed, what is remarkable is not their dissimilarities but that they share so much. To the extent that Muslims do have anything in common across time, place, sect, social background, and political outlook, Islam exerts an extraordinary influence over its adherents. This study approaches Islam in the realm of politics from the perspective of emphasizing and evaluating these similarities.

To do so accurately, a distinction must be drawn between Islam's two forms of influence over the life of its adherents, the Islamic and the Islamicate. To illustrate this dichotomy, we begin with an example from the art of Islam:

Let us imagine an experiment: you have an hour to kill; idly and for the simple pleasure of having beautiful pictures before your eyes, you page through a collection of art works of all sorts. Greek statues follow Egyptian tomb paintings, embroidered Japanese screens follow bas-reliefs from Indian temples. As you turn the pages, your gaze falls successively on a panel of sculptured plaster from one of the halls of the Alhambra, on a page of an Egyptian Qur'an, then on the engraved decorations of a Persian copper bowl. Rudimentary as your artistic education is, you immediately identify the last three pictures as belonging to Muslim art. Without being capable of identifying in which country any of these was made, you are not inclined even for an instant to attribute them to any place other than the Muslim world.

Even the casual observer senses a bond between Muslim works of art; their distinct and regularly recurring motifs, such as the arabesque, vegetal and geometric designs, and the Arabic script, make them akin.

What is true of the visual arts holds, if less graphically, in other spheres of life as well. Muslim entries in a collection of vignettes of family life from around the world would also stand out: harem scenes from the Alhambra, the Egyptian man killing his sister because she has been raped, the Iranian groom seeing his bride's face for the first time after the wedding as they both look into a mirror. Certain features of Muslim family life -- the seclusion of women, the link between male honor and female chastity, arranged marriages, cousin marriages, legal prerogatives of men over women, the special relationship between mothers and sons, and so forth -- are found throughout Islamdom. Comparable patterns are also found in the realms of literature, education, and justice; and we have seen how much Muslims shared in the public arena. Wherever one looks, Islam's "flavor is unmistakable."

Yet one hesitates to call this flavor "Islamic," for that would imply that these patterns are inherent in the religion, which they clearly are not. The Qur'an and the Hadith Reports nowhere prescribe mosque decorations or attitudes toward rulers, yet these did typically resemble each other across Islamdom. Lacking a term for what is characteristic of the Muslim experience but not required by the Islamic faith or law, Marshall G. S. Hodgson coined the term "Islamicate." For Hodgson, Islamic means "something that expresses Islam as a faith," while Islamicate means whatever does not refer "directly to the religion, Islam, itself, but to the social and cultural complex historically associated with Islam and the Muslims." "Islamicate" makes it possible to isolate those features associated with Muslim life but not necessary to religious practice; for this reason, it will be employed here.

Islamic acts derive from the faith and law of Islam and include beliefs about God, forms of piety (such as Sufism), and expressions of faith (such as writing religious poetry, wearing a turban, or going on the pilgrimage to Mecca). Islamicate acts include anything not directly related to Islam as a faith, especially those inadvertent consequences of the Islamic requirements. Islamicate acts could be abandoned, even reversed, without doing damage to a believer's relations to God; nonetheless, they typify Muslim society. "Islamic literature" is religious writings; "Islamicate literature" is the entire output of Muslim communities, including even anti-religious works. "Islamic art" means art connected to holy subjects and "Islamicate art" encompasses all creations by Muslims. Turkish, which is spoken mostly by Muslims, is an Islamicate language; the arabesque is an Islamicate design; and the harem is an Islamicate institution. None of these follow directly from the faith or law of Islam, but all come with its civilization.

The same distinction holds for public life. Islam makes certain demands on its adherents, such as making war only under specified conditions and paying prescribed taxes; fulfilling these requirements "expresses Islam as a faith" and are therefore Islamic. Other features of public life are not obligatory, do not express Islamic faith, and are thus Islamicate; these include the withdrawal of subjects from political and military affairs, weak loyalties to governments, and disdain for Europe.

The Shari'a lies behind both Islamic and Islamicate patterns. On the Islamic level, the sacred law pulled Muslims in the same direction and created a shared framework which transcended local variations. By establishing goals for all Muslims, it gave them a common outlook and way of life. "The ulema, to the extent in which they have succeeded in imposing Islamic law, succeeded in unifying Islamic society, since the law . . . was the instrument by which the social ethic of Islam was consolidated."5 Specific circumstances varied, but Islamic parameters stayed nearly the same.

Shar'i regulations were also at the heart of many Islamicate patterns. The Muslim view of kafirs, for example, was shaped by the concepts of Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, jihad, dhimmis and harbis. Simple Shar'i admonitions often had enormous implications for Muslim life. The ban on pork was Islamic but its consequences were Islamicate: it led to the disappearance of pigs in Islamdom, which in turn threw open "the wooded ranges to sheep and goats and thus indirectly brought about a catastrophic deforestation. This is one of the basic reasons for the sparse landscape particularly evident in the Mediterranean districts of Islamic countries." Similarly, the ban on wine meant that the vine retreated "from the plains ... to the mountains, from the open fields to the gardens." If the pilgrimage to Mecca expressed faith, the ensuing transfer of plants that it occasioned -- the importation of rubber to Southeast Asia or that of rice, sugar cane, indigo, saffron, henna, cotton, plums, apricots, artichokes, and spinach to Muslim Spain (and thence to the rest of Europe) -- did not.

There has been very little study done of Islamicate acts; most have not even been identified, much less has their connection to Islam been established. Patterns other than those discussed in chapters 3 and 4 include: the establishment of dynasties through conquest from without, not by expansion from within; problems with passing on the rule; power leading to wealth, rather than the reverse; the ubiquity of slaves in and the exclusion of women from public life; the near absence of municipal governments; "irregularity and anarchy" in the building of cities; laws generated by ad hoc decisions, not formal legislation; the reliance on cavalry soldiers; an alliance between city-dwellers and nomads; and the "triumph of nomadism."

In contrast to Islamic patterns, which affect individuals, Islamicate patterns affect communities. A person's private faith determines the extent to which he follows Islamic regulations, but it is the whole society that is influenced by Islamicate practices. Devout believers who live in full accordance with Islamic precepts are dispersed throughout Islamdom, differing relatively little in their approaches to God or in their execution of the sacred law. The observant Muslim living in so far an outpost of Islam as Central Africa molds his whole existence to Islam in roughly the same way as the observant Muslim in so strictly Islamic an area as Tunisia. For each of them, the five daily prayers give his life a rhythm, the sumptuary laws give it a tone, Sufism gives it energy, and theology gives it purpose.

But if Muslims in the two places are equally Islamic, they differ in that the Central African is weakly Islamicate while the Tunisian is strongly so. In the outposts, Islam is an individual's creed set among other values; in the heartlands, Islam affects the whole society and determines a large portion of its values. Islamicate influences are cultural traits touching everyone in a society, impious skeptics no less than believers. Pork, for example, is virtually unavailable to Tunisians, regardless of the strength of their beliefs; Islamicate characteristics have little to do with individuals but reflect the extent to which Islam permeates a culture; to a degree they touch all Muslims. Just as every Westerner is in some way affected by the common heritage of Greek thought, Roman institutions, Christian faith, and Enlightenment ideals, every Muslim is heir to a legacy of Arabian conquests, medieval synthesis, worldly superiority vis-a-vis non-Muslims, and the fundamentalist surge of the eighteenth century. Developed during the early centuries, Islamicate patterns became widespread in premodern times and retained a profound influence throughout the modern era.

Islamicate characteristics exist most consistently in North Africa, the Middle East, and the northwest portion of the Indian subcontinent, those regions where Islam spread earliest and won the strongest hold. They exist least in those regions where Islam arrived most recently and has the weakest impact. In Tunisia, where Islam has deep roots, subjects resist military service more than in Central Africa, where the roots are shallow. Egyptians have stronger feelings for the umma and weaker political loyalties than do Somalis. Iranians resent Western civilization more than the Volga Tatars. Pakistanis are more devoted to the Islamic identity than are Bangladeshis. The fact that the Middle East and adjoining regions to the west and east are most intensively Islamicate accounts for their special influence and prestige within Islamdom. As the source and proving grounds for both Islamic and Islamicate developments, they also have special importance in this study.

Although Islamicate patterns are not explicit and their very existence has yet to be established, their impact on the political conduct of Muslim peoples may be even greater than Islamic ones. Islamic influences affect only persons seeking to live by the law; Islamicate influences affect all Muslims. The Shari'a, especially in modern times, inspires only a portion of the umma and it covers only some aspects of public life (saying nothing, for instance, about the way a ruler should be selected); Islamicate influences affect the Weltanschauung of everyone in Islamdom, including even the dhimmis. Between the two, Islamic and Islamicate influences shaped Muslim political culture and constitute the legacy of Islam. These are also the forces that continue to make Islam important today. However much institutions, attitudes, and customs have changed, the Muslim approach to politics derives from the invariant premises of the religion and from fundamental themes established more than a millennium ago.


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