Francesco Cavatorta examines MERIP’s 50 years of covering the complex phenomenon of political Islam and finds that much of it is based on field research, participant observation, interviews and ethnography. The result has been a rich diversity of approaches that comprehend the plural nature of Islamism, directly engage the words and deeds of Islamists and provide insights that prepare readers to understand real-world events. Forthcoming in the Fall 2021 issue “MERIP at 50.”
The North African nation of Mauritania may be peripheral in global affairs, but its robust network of Islamic scholars is central to transnational Islamic movements and ideas. Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem traces the influential political economy of Mauritanian Islamic scholarship that has both bolstered and opposed fundamentalist networks. As Mauritania remains deeply stratified along racial, caste-like and gender lines, its internal hierarchies shape how it impacts global Islamic thought. Forthcoming in MER issue 298 “Maghreb From the Margins.”
The decision to outlaw the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel was announced by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on November 17, 2015, days after attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, left 130 dead in Paris. Although the ban had been long in the making, the timing was patently opportunistic, with Netanyahu even comparing Israel’s Islamic Movement to ISIS. It is still unclear how the Israeli intelligence services and police will enforce the ban, given that the group has thousands of paid-up members among Israel’s large Palestinian minority, and ties to welfare associations and charities in Palestinian communities across Israel.
Nearly a year after Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown by a military coup led by Field Marshal ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, a spokesperson for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) released a video statement that reserved harsh words for Muhammad Mursi. In the May 2014 video, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani called the imprisoned Muslim Brother leader “a tyrant apostate,” charged Mursi with “fighting monotheists in Sinai” during his short-lived presidency and called for retribution against him.
The US national security state has for the past quarter-century been preoccupied with something it has called “jihadism.” From the aftermath of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan through the September 11, 2001 attacks to the rise of the self-declared Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, or ISIS, the specter of mobile Muslim multitudes wreaking global havoc has given rise to an equally vast body of commentary.
My son and I were both so excited. It was my first time attending a soccer game at a stadium. And it was a momentous match, pitting the French national team against their counterparts from Germany. The Stade de France just outside Paris was full of almost 80,000 spectators of different social groups, ethnicities, ages and genders. Watching a match at a stadium, I realized, is very different from watching it on television. I was thinking about my Iranian sisters who cannot enter a stadium in Tehran as I can in Europe.
Sa‘id has always loved swimming. When he was little, he spent summer afternoons with his friends on the banks of Syria’s Barada River. When the river level started to drop, in the mid-1990s, he went to a swimming pool newly opened in the nearby village of Basima. The pool belongs to the Abu al-Nour Foundation, an Islamic organization based in the capital of Damascus, where thousands of students come from across the world to train as imams. Within a few months of his first visit to the pool, Sa‘id had started attending the twice-weekly lectures delivered by the grand mufti of Syria and founder of Abu al-Nour, the Sufi sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro.
Jordan’s government this week approved an application to make the Society of Muslim Brothers a licensed, local charity, paving the way for a break between the Jordanian branch of the Brothers and the regional organization based in Egypt. The move was resisted, however, not by the Jordanian government, but by the Brothers’ own leadership, the Shura Council. The Council rejected the decision and condemned what it viewed as government interference in the affairs of Jordan’s largest Islamist movement — underscoring a deepening divide between the movement and the state, and also within the movement itself.
“We live in a country where liberals renege on democracy, Islamists harm Islam and human rights activists champion oppression,” an Islamic television producer cynically remarked three months after Muhammad Mursi was ousted from Egypt’s presidency in July 2013. That summer, the televised images of multitudes of flag-waving protesters were uncanny in their resemblance to those of the 2011 revolution that forced Husni Mubarak from power. The arc of the unfolding political drama, it seemed, was also strikingly similar: The people took to the streets peacefully; the president was unmoved, vowing to complete his term and threatening chaos if removed; the military decided to side with the people; the revolution was saved.
There are few obvious reasons to visit Basatin, a poor district off the Ring Road at the southern edge of Cairo. Getting there requires a driver willing to bob and weave through a succession of potholed lanes barely wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and the tiny shops that spill into the street. The problems of Basatin are the problems of Egypt: grinding poverty, overcrowding and the slow deterioration of state services. The neighborhood has learned to fend for itself, and non-residents are regarded with suspicion. I stick out more than most. One man watches me curiously for a while, and wanders over to ask if I am Syrian.
In Egypt’s constitutional crisis today, there are echoes of the rise of the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Sudan.
Quite a few eyebrows were raised last week when Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, perhaps one of the most infamous “terrorists” in Pakistan, extended an offer of humanitarian aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — notwithstanding the $10 million bounty Washington has placed on his head.
Who are the Muslim Brethren in Syria? What is their significance socially? How are they related to Syria's social structure? What is the social meaning of their ideas and values? Are these ideas and values responses to distinguishable conditions and interests of one or more identifiable social groups? Are the Muslim Brethren, in other words, an incidental phenomenon or the organizational expression of a basic structural force? For the most part, this essay deals with these and related questions. It provides a tentative, exploratory interpretation, with some vivid and sharp images, rather than a thorough and refined picture of the movement.
Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr was born at Najaf in 1930 into an Arab family known for its learning through the Shi‘i world. His fundamental points of departure, and the chief clues to his entire work, are the traditional Muslim propositions that God is the source of all power, the only legislator, and the sole owner of the earth’s resources. From the principle of God’s exclusive supremacy and the related idea that man owes homage to God alone, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr infers that “the human being is free and that no other human being or class or human group has dominion over him.” Similarly, the principle of God’s sole ownership of the riches of nature involves, in his view, the prohibition of “every form of exploitation…of man by man.”
This article is an abridgement, by Joe Stork, of a paper prepared by Hanna Batatu in May 1981 and published in the autumn 1981 issue of Middle East Journal.
Two Shi’i parties are active in Iraq’s underground: al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya (Islamic Call) and al-Mujahidin. The Da‘wa is the older movement. It had its beginnings in the late 1960s in the holy city of Najaf. The Mujahidin were strongly affected by Iran’s popular upheaval, and emerged in Baghdad in 1979. In terms of material resources and popular support, the Da‘wa surpasses the Mujahidin. The latter, for their part, are distinguished by their energy, zeal and bold actions, and they are free of the taint of connection with the late Shah of Iran.