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Islam and Political Community in the Arab World

  • Terrance G. Carroll


This article attempts to delineate the set of circumstances under which religion acts as a significant conducive factor in the development of Arab political communities, and those circumstances under which religion presents an important obstacle to the emergence of a political community. The focus is restricted to the Arab world so as to permit a more precise analysis than would be possible were one to attempt to generalize across more diverse cultures, but some of its main threads may apply equally well to other peoples and other religions. For the reasons discussed below, religion seems to be a particularly powerful source of individual political identities, and of feelings of membership in political communities.



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1 See, for example, Halpern, Manfred, The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963); and Smith, Donald Eugene, Religion and Political Development (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970). For a survey of the variety of meanings that have been assigned the terms “modernization” and “political development,” see Huntington, Samuel P. and Dominguez, Jorge I., “Political Development,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson, eds., Handbook of Political Science, vol. 3 (Reading, Mass.: Addision Wesley, 1975), pp. 98114.

2 Carroll, Terrance G., “Secularization and States of Modernity,” World Politics 36, 3 (04 1984), 362–82.

3 Ibid., pp. 372–81.

4 Among these are several of the contributions in Esposito, John L., ed., Islam and Development: Religion and Sociopolitical Change (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1980);Macintyre, Ronald R., “Saudi Arabia,” in Ayoob, Mohammad, ed., The Politics of Islamic Reassertion (London: Croom Helm, 1981), 929; and Ochsenwald, William, “Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Revival,” International Journal of the Middle East Studies 13, 3 (08 1981), 271–86.

5 Ayoob, Mohammed, “Conclusion: The Discernible Patterns,” in Ayoob, , ed., The Politics of Islamic Reassertion, pp. 271–72;Ayubi, Nasih N. M., “The Political Revival of Islam: The Case of Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12, 4 (12 1980), 483–84; and Hudson, Michael C., “Islam and Political Development,” in Esposito, , ed., Islam and Development, pp. 1618.

6 MacKenzie, W. J. M., Political Identity (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1978), p. 12.

7 Ibid., pp. 157–65.

8 Ibid., pp. 88–98.

9 Rokkan, Stein and Urwin, Derek W., Economy, Territory. Identity: Politics of West European Peripheries (London: Sage, 1983), p. 67.

10 Ibid., p. 68.

11 Armstrong, John A., Nations Before Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), pp. 238–40.

12 Young, Crawford, The Politics of Cultural Pluralism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976), pp. 4347.

13 The question of control over the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 is an example. In addition to aspirations for territory and security, for religious fundamentalists on both sides there is also an overriding moral or religious issue at stake. Any compromise is seen as religiously repugnant.

14 Young, Politics of Cultural Pluralism, p. 54.

15 Ibid., pp. 32–33.

16 Melikian, Levon H. and Diab, Lutfy N., “Group Affiliations of University Students in the Arab Middle East,” The Journal of Social Psychology 49 (1959), 149–59.

17 Melikian, Levon H. and Diab, Lutfy N., “Stability and Change in Group Affiliations of University Students in the Arab Middle East,” The Journal of Social Psychology 93(1974), 1321.

18 Fathaly, Omar I. El and Palmer, Monte, Political Development and Social Change in Libya (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1980), pp. 2930.

19 Fathaly, Omar I. El and Palmer, Monte, “Opposition to Change in Rural Libya,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 11, 2 (04 1980), 252–53.

20 Farah, Tawfic E., “Group Affiliations of University Students in the Arab Middle East (Kuwait),” The Journal of Social Psychology 106 (1978), 163–64.

21 Farah, Tawfic E. and Al-Salem, Faisal, “Group Affiliations of Children in the Arab Middle East (Kuwait),” The Journal of Social Psychology 111(1980), 141–42.

22 Al-Salem, Faisal, “The Issue of Identity in Selected Arab Gulf States,” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 4, 4 (Summer 1981), 83–20.

23 Reiser, Stewart, “Pan-Arabism Revisited,” The Middle East Journal 37, 2 (Spring 1983), 225–30.

24 Ibrahim, Saad E. M., “Arab Images of the United States and the Soviet Union before and after the June War of 1967,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, 2 (06 1972), 237.

25 Al-Mashat, Abdul-Monem, “Egyptian Attitudes Toward the Peace Process: Views of an ‘Alert Elite’,” The Middle East Journal 37, 3 (Summer 1983), 402–03 and 409.

26 Sutcliffe, Claud R., “Is Islam an Obstacle to Development? Ideal Patterns of Behavior,” The Journal of Developing Areas 10, 1 (10 1975), 7880.

27 Cunningham, Robert B., “Dimensions of Family Loyalty in the Arab Middle East: The Case of Jordan,” The Journal of Developing Areas 8, 1 (10 1973), 5860.

28 Fathaly, Omar I. El, Palmer, Monte and Chackerian, Richard, Political Development and Bureaucracy in Libya (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1977), 70.

29 Hinnebusch, Raymond A., “Political Recruitment and Socialization in Syria: The Case of the Revolutionary Youth Federation,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 11, 2 (04 1980), 152–53. Lest it be thought that the measure of social class simply failed to discriminate well, it should be noted that it was a strong predictor of intensity of Ba'thism, of nationalism, and of socialism.

30 Ibrahim, Saad Eddin, “Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 12, 4(12 1980), 437–40.

31 Menoufi, Kamal El, “Occupational Status and Mass Media in Rural Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 13,3 (08 1981), 262–63.

32 Hillery, George A. Jr, “Definitions of Community: Areas of Agreement,” Rural Sociology 20, 2 (06 1955), 117.

33 See Clark, David B., “The Concept of Community: A Re-examination,” The Sociological Review 21, 3 (08 1973), 404–09;Maclver, R. M. and Page, C. H., Society (London: Macmillan, 1961), pp. 291–93; and Plant, Raymond, “Community: Concept, Conception, and Ideology,” Politics and Society 8, 1 (1978), 8687.

34 Elkins, David J. and Simeon, Richard, Small Worlds: Provinces and Parties in Canadian Political Life (Toronto: Methuen, 1980), pp. 926; the editors' “Introduction” to Smock, David R. and Bentsi-Enchill, Kwamena, eds., The Search for National Integration in Africa (New York: The Free Press, 1976), p. 5; and Rokkan and Urwin, Economy, Territory, Identity, p. 114.

35 Young, Politics of Cultural Pluralism, p. 15.

36 Carroll, “Secularization and States of Modernity,” 372–73.

37 Lenski, Gerhard, The Religious Factor: A Sociological Study of Religion's Impact on Politics, Economics, and Family Life, rev. ed. (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, 1963), pp. 319–36.

38 For an analysis of the effects of threat on community formation in Ireland, see Harris, Rosemary, “Community Relationships in Northern and Southern Ireland: A Comparison and a Paradox,” The Sociological Review 27, 1 (02 1979), 4152; and Carroll, Terrance G., “Northern Ireland,” in Suhrke, Astri and Noble, Lela Garner, eds., Ethnic Conflict in International Relations (New York: praeger, 1977), 2729.

39 Young, Politics of Cultural Pluralism, pp. 67–73, and 97.

40 The sources consulted on all nineteen countries are too numerous to cite here. For an excellent review of politics in each of these countries excepting Mauritania, see Hudson, Michael C., Arab Politics: The Search for Legitimacy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).

41 The differing classification of Qatar and Saudi Arabia is based primarily on their distinctiveness from contiguous states, but relative size is relevant too. Similarities with the Saudis may weaken the sense of distinctiveness for the people of Qatar, but the reverse is not true.

42 See the editor's “Preface to the Paperback Edition,” in Haim, Sylvia G., ed., Arab Nationalism: An Anthology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), p. ix.

43 For example, see Hermassi, Elbaki, “Politics and Culture in the Middle East,” Social Compass 25, 3–4 (1978), 445–64; 0Van Dusen, Michael H., “Political Integration and Regionalism in Syria,” The Middle East Journal 26, 2 (Spring 1972), 123–36; and Zghal, Abdelkader, “Nation-Building in the Maghreb,” in Eisenstadt, S. N. and Rokkan, Stein, eds., Building States and Nations, vol. 2 (Beverley Hills: Sage, 1973), 322–40.

44 Data on successful and unsuccessful irregular transfers of executive powers, on numbers of protest demonstrations, and on numbers of deaths resulting from political violence, are all derived from Taylor, Charles Lewis and Jodice, David A., World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators, 3rd ed., vol. 2 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983). Data are not available for Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The statistical procedure employed is one-way analysis of variance.

45 Segmented societies had the highest frequency of attempted irregular transfers of executive powers, of protest demonstrations, and of deaths resulting from political violence. Countries that are homogeneous but not distinctive in religion ranked second in average number of demonstrations and deaths, and third in average number of attempted irregular transfers. Homogeneous and distinctive societies ranked second on attempted irregular transfers, and lowest on the other two measures.

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Islam and Political Community in the Arab World

  • Terrance G. Carroll


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