Was Hagarism Racist?

hagarismWhen Patricia Crone and Michael Cook’s Hagarism was first published in 1977 it was immediately controversial. Hagarism argued that the problems with the historical material of Islamic tradition were so severe that it was worthwhile looking at what source material there is from outside the Islamic tradition and reconstructing the history of the religion and Arab-Islamic civilization’s formation on that basis; or as they famously and breezily put it, “the only way out of the dilemma is thus to step outside the Islamic tradition altogether and start again”.

What followed was the depiction of a messianic movement in constant search of an identity, which in time evolved into something that we would recognize today as ‘Islam’. The shifting elements in this reconfiguration of the Semitic monotheistic tradition would include the concept of the caliphate, which Crone went on to argue with Martin Hinds in God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam was originally a ‘Shi’ite’ institution whereby the caliphs claimed direct authority from God as His representative; the idea of Sunna, or exemplary emulative behaviour, which they and others have argued originally included the caliphs and which only in Abbasid Baghdad, with the growing influence of the ulama, came to be conceived of as exclusively the preserve of Muhammad as The Prophet; the role of the class of ulama, who developed into a restraining force on the original absolutism of the caliph. Continue reading Was Hagarism Racist?

Celebrating ‘Stick Houses’ in Hong Kong

HK walkwayHong Kong is impressive in so many ways. Urban living is taken up an extra notch and the result seems so advanced compared to ‘Old Europe’, as former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once put it – overhead walkways and escalators that take you to various districts as the land rises from Victoria Harbour to the peak above, the sanitised elevator handles in the underground train system, the public transport heading in every direction possible, the smart phones in everyone’s hand, the attention to fashion, the healthy lifestyle because of the proximity of green hills and easy access to the footpaths. The feeling I had in Shanghai two years ago returned, of stepping into the Anti-universe, another Earth that was the same but better. Continue reading Celebrating ‘Stick Houses’ in Hong Kong

Yemen: The Last Imam and Future of Zaidism

Last year Yemen celebrated 50 years since the republic was established via military coup. Political systems and the distribution of power they involve do not just disappear, they tend to replicate themselves in disguised forms and it would hardly be a surprise to find that this has been the case in Yemen since then. The republic replaced a Zaidi Imamate – a Sharia state system in which the legitimate rulers came from an elite class of descendants of the Prophet, referred to as al-hashimiyyeen, or the Hashemis. However, the republic only really found its feet, after a decade of instability, with the ascendance of Ali Abdullah Saleh to the presidency in 1978. Continue reading Yemen: The Last Imam and Future of Zaidism

Islamists Empowered: Back to the Future

With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, victory in legislative elections and the presidential vote, and now the approval via referendum of a new constitution, Islamists have begun the work of putting their renaissance project into practice.

Unlike Salafism, which dreams of a recreation of the pre-colonial moment, political Islam has aimed more to repatch together the Islamic state but in an unambiguously modern, post-colonial context. The Brotherhood does not aim to return clerics to man a reestablished classical Sharia court system, rather it seeks to distribute the dominion of Sharia via parliament, legislation and an advisory role for clerics via Al-Azhar. Laymen play a key role in the process of Islamicization that they would not have had before the irruption of Western hegemony and modernity – something alien, for example, to Wahhabi Salafism which simply recognizes the sovereign powers of the temporal ruler in return for the clerics’ advisory role in policy and control of courts, mosques, education and their own coercive force (‘the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice’). Continue reading Islamists Empowered: Back to the Future