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Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism pdf

Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism: Expanding the Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean (1880s-1930s)

  • Book Title:
 Islamic Reform And Arab Nationalism
  • Book Author:
Amal N. Ghazal
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Bridging African and Arab histories, this book examines the relation- ship between Islam, nationalism, and the evolution of identity politics from the late nineteenth century to World War Two.

It provides a crossnational, crossregional analysis of religious reform, nationalism, and anticolonialism from Zanzibar to Oman, North Africa, and the Middle East.

This book widens the scope of modern Arab history by integrating Omani rule in Zanzibar in the historiography of Arab nationalism and Islamic reform. It examines the intellectual and political ties and networks between Zanzibar, Oman, Algeria, Egypt, Istanbul, and the Levant and the ways those links shaped the politics of identity of the Omani elite in Zanzibar.

 Out of these connections emerges an Omani intelligentsia strongly tied to the Arab cultural nahd. a and to movements of Islamic reform, pan-Islamism, and pan-Arabism.

The book examines Zanzibari nationalism, as formulated by the Omani intelligentsia, through the prism of these pan-Islamic connections and in the light of Omani responses to British policies in Zanzibar.

The author sheds light on Ibadism – an overlooked sect of Islam – and its modern intellectual history and the role of the Omani elite in bridging Ibadism with pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism.

Although much has been written about nationalism in the Arab world, this is the first book to discuss nationalism in Zanzibar in the wider context of religious reform and nationalism in the Arab world, and the first to offer a new framework of analysis to the study of pan-Islamic and pan-Arab movements and nationalism. Amal N. Ghazal is Assistant Professor of History at Dalhousie University, Canada.


In his memoirs of a 1997 visit to Zanzibar, the Arab journalist Naj¯ıb al-Rayyis compared the island off the East African coast to Andalusia, or more accurately, compared its loss from Arab-Muslim rule to that of Muslim Spain.1

 Like its counterpart, Zanzibar came under Arab-Muslim rule, flourished, and earned a reputation as a toler- ant center of economic and intellectual prosperity. Both “paradises” of Arab rule were lost violently, too. By making such a compari- son, al-Rayyis pointed to a phase in the history of the island when it was under al-Bu¯ sa,¯ıd¯ı rule (1832–1964) and was associated with an Arab-Islamic world far beyond its shores.

Al-Rayyis was not blind to the fact that while Andalusia was ruled by the Umayyads, Zanzibar was ruled by the descendants of the Umayyads’ opponents, the Ibadis. Yet the sectarian identity of Ibadis was gradually refashioned by late nineteenth- and early twentieth- century movements of religious nationalism and anticolonialism that erected new borders of belonging.

 Ibadi Omanis in Zanzibar, who constituted the ruling elite and included Sultans, merchants, traders, ,ulama, and the intelligentsia, placed their identity and that of Zanzibar within those borders.

This book is not only an attempt to trace those newly refashioned borders; it argues that segmented accounts of identity politics and nationalism do not provide a clear picture of how Muslim critics of the world order in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries developed their ideas. Local discourses of politics and identities were shaped by global endeavors revealed through wide networks of communications and different models of connections.

 It is through the study of those networks and the ways ideas and ideologies developed and spread among them that we are able to reframe our understand- ing of religious reform, nationalism, and anticolonialism in the Arab world. The Omani elite in Zanzibar, and the Omani intelligentsia in particular, was situated within such networks. It constructed a multilayered Zanzibari nationalism that embodied this intersec- tion between the local and the global, speaking simultaneously to local Zanzibari, pan-Arab, and pan-Islamic issues and developments. Thus, segmented accounts of nationalism fail to provide the wider context in which religious and nationalist discourses are nurtured and to which they are ideologically tied.

By breaking down parochial concerns and reframing them within translocal political and intellectual movements, this book widens the horizons of the historiographical debate on nationalism in the interwar Arab world by including a network of Muslim intellectuals wedded to a religious worldview.

Two decades ago, in his work on the life and thought of religious nationalist Shak¯ıb Arsla¯ n, the late William Cleveland warned against an exclusive association between nationalism and secularism, faulting historians who regarded secular nationalism as the doctrine which, in either its liberal or totalitarian form, would emerge as the dominant Middle Eastern ideology …

Those who had tenaciously borne, and continued to bear, the responsibility of the Islamic tra- dition came to be regarded by the new political elite of Arab society, as by some Western observers, as reactionary enemies of progress.2

Although Cleveland concluded that the writings and anticolonial activities of Arsla¯ n “reflected the longings of a large segment of educated Arab-Muslims,”3 Arsla¯ n and the segment of activists and intellectuals he represented remain outside the general boundaries of the historiographic debate on nationalism in the Arab world. Arsla¯ n, as my work shows, was not alone in his campaign.

 Many more Arabs (and non-Arabs likewise) who were members of the Muslim intel- ligentsia championed the cause of Islam, modernist reformist Islam more particularly, as a nationalist force and an anticolonial ideology.

Revisionist contributions to the field of interwar nationalism have highlighted the persistent role of religion in shaping identities and nationalist discourses but have focused more on popular movements and less on the intellectual and political elites.4

Zanzibari nationalism as formulated by the Omani intelligentsia not only embodies the religious discourse of nationalism, it also reveals the depth of that discourse in the Arab world.

Zanzibari nationalism had Islam and Arabism as its two main pillars and was fused with a reformist tone that transcended sectarian borders between Ibadis and other Muslims. The Omani intelligentsia oper- ated within a broad network of reform-minded Muslims in the Arab world to whom territorial nationalism was a viable doctrine as long as it retained a religious and pan-Arab framework, much like the Salafi version of Algerian nationalism.5

The identity that the Omani intelligentsia constructed in the interwar period was one that had been in the making since the second half of the nineteenth century. It had its origins in the political and intellectual transformations within Islam and its reformist movements that strove for Muslim unity in the face of all-encroaching European powers.

 This interwar identity was shaped by Zanzibari politics and colonial policies in Zanzibar as much as it was molded by ideas and events in differ- ent corners of the Arab world. To define and trace the contours of that identity and to follow the tracks of Zanzibari nationalism, this book moves between Zanzibar, Oman, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and Istanbul; between pan-Islamism, British and French colonialism, and the Imamate in Oman; between Islamic reform, the Arab nahd. a, and pan-Arabism.

Deparochializing disciplines and geography

To chart this interwoven history, we need first to redraw our map of disciplines and fields of study. In other words, we must “deparochialize” what are labeled as Arab and African histories before we attempt to examine the politics of identity of the Omani elite.

Disciplinary boundaries have, more often than not, under- mined the historians’ ability to detect all the dynamics involved in the (re)constructions of identities and the development of nationalist thought within communities whose roots lie outside traditional his- torical and geographical localities.

Thus, I draw on notions of global history, with globalization being “intended to designate a condition or state of consciousness rather than a set of processes – a worldview which suggests wider sets of possibilities or the potential for society to stretch itself across space.”6

 This is not an endorsement of one side of the “local versus global” thesis, which, as Peter Mandaville has argued, is a dichotomy that does not “carry much analytical weight unless very precisely elaborated within specific contexts.”7 So doing, I create a translocal platform on which to examine crossregional ties and networks of belonging that cannot be captured through local lens alone.

In his study on Arabs in the British and Dutch colonies in Southeast Asia, Engseng Ho uses the term “parochialization” to refer to

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