When analyzing the dynamics of the Muslim world, one has to discriminate between two distinct dimensions: what people actually do, the decisions they make, the aspirations they secretly entertain or display through their patterns of consumption, and the discourses they develop about themselves, more specifically the ones they use to articulate their political claims. The first dimension is about reality and its harsh time-bound laws, and how people adapt to pitilessly rapid change; the second is about self-presentation and identity building. And you know as well as I do that whenever one has to define oneself to others, whenever one has to define one’s identity, one is on the shaky ground of self-indulging justifications.
This issue continues MERIP’s inquiry into the dynamic relationship of religion and politics in the Middle East. Our authors pay particular attention to the various ways in which Islam, the dominant religion in the region, enters into the equations of state power and popular opposition in countries as different as Morocco, Egypt, Iran and Turkey.
Shaikh-ul-Islam Pashazada Allahshukur Hummatoglu is chairman of the Board of Management of Caucasian Muslims. Fred Halliday and Maxine Molyneux interviewed him in Baku in July 1984.
How are Soviet Muslims organized?
There are four separate Islamic religious bodies in the Soviet Union. Three of these are for Sunnis. Here in the Transcaucasian region, comprising Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, Shi‘i Muslims are the majority. Their leader is the shaikh-ul-Islam, the position I now hold.
Are you appointed by the state?
Edward Mortimer, Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam (New York: Random House, 1982).
Edward W. Said, Covering Islam (London: Routledge & Regan Paul, 1981).
Edward Said’s Covering Islam is one part of his project to analyze aspects of the Western view of Islam and the Middle East. Orientalism, the first and most substantial of these books, traced the evolution of European attitudes to the cultures of the Middle East from medieval times to the present. It examined specifically how US academics and policymakers adapted the legacy of European orientalism to the needs of US imperialism in the post-1945 era.
Mohamed Sid Ahmed is an Egyptian journalist and left opposition leader. He is a member of the secretariat of Tagammu‘, the National Progressive Unionist Party, and is a representative of the party’s Marxist component. He was an editorial writer with al-Akhbar from 1965 to 1968 and chief political analyst of al-Ahram through 1976. He is the author of When the Guns Fall Silent (1976J, and other books. He was imprisoned several times between 1959 and 1974, and narrowly escaped arrest in early September 1981. He spoke with MERIP editors Judith Tucker, Joe Stork and Penny Johnson, and with Selma Botman, a friend of MERIP, in Cambridge, Massachusetts on October 19, 1981.
It is no easy task to comprehend the significance of religion in its political dimension. Here in the US, for instance, Black churches have played a vital and progressive role in the struggle for political and civil rights. More recently, fundamentalist and revivalist Christian churches have participated intimately in advancing the political fortunes of the new right. Other church people have been in the forefront of the campaigns against nuclear weapons. In Central and South America, “liberation theology” emerged out of fierce mass struggles against political oppression and. economic degradation, while the Catholic hierarchy remained committed, for the most part, to the ruling classes.