Sociology and Anthropology

Toward Islamic Anthropology: Conclusion

A. Recommendations

Muslims cannot dismiss Western - or more correctly non-Muslim - scholarship out of hand. They must come to terms with it. For instance, anyone reading about the Pukhtun will probably come to them through Caroe. The inaccuracies will thus be perpetuated. The inaccuracies extend even to the name "Pathan" for "Pukhtun" or "Pushtun", a name invented and now confirmed for that tribal group. If Muslims are to object to such scholarship, they can only do so by creating their own alternative scholarship rather than by verbally berating Western scholarship.

Anthropology is important to the study of Muslim society. It has much to offer in helping to understand and solve contemporary social problems. For instance, I have argued that the distribution of aid to the Afghan refugees in Pakistan would benefit if anthropological expertise were available (Ahmed 1981a). Sometimes the lacuna between the "actual" and the "ideal" in ~ u s l i mso ciety is wide. A good example is the actual status of Muslim women among certain groups, which contrasts with the ideal (Ahmed A. and Z. 1981). Anthropological studies can help to compare the two positions in the hope of attempting a bridge. Take another example, ethnic tensions which are often read as expressions of political secession in most nation states, may be minimized by a national understanding of different local cultures and their social characteristics.

Muslims are not living in a social vacuum. They are living in a world sometimes operating on different levels within their own society, and outside their society, on levels that are sometimes hostile, sometimes neutral. They have to meet the challenge on every one of these levels. For better or for worse, Muslims are being "observed".(1) And the observations indicate lack of understanding and are usually hostile (Said 1981).

Keeping the above in mind, it is therefore recommended that:

1) A simple, lucid sociological account of the life of the Prophet (SAAS) be prepared by a Muslim. The book should address a wide audience – both Muslim and non-Muslim - and neither be too academic nor too abstruse (see above discussion)(2)

2) One major standard anthropological text book of high standard should be produced and then translated into the major languages of the Muslim world. It should be used at the BA level and include sections on each major cultural zone.

3) Anthropological monographs on each major Islamic region are produced for distribution in the Muslim world.(3) Initially, Morocco for the Maghrib, Pakistan for South Asia, and Indonesia for Southeast Asia as distinct cultural-geographical types may be selected. These monographs should be simple, lucid, with attractive photographs and used in colleges and universities.

4) Visits of Muslim anthropologists within Muslim countries should be arranged and encouraged and joint projects initiated. For instance, the study of the Berbers and the Pukhtuns is a logical and exciting study.

5) Long-term studies should be conducted comparing the major social categories which would help us better understand and reach conclusions regarding Muslim society and its immediate contemporary problems.

'The social categories to be examined could be peasants, tribes and cities. For the first, I recommend a village in Pakistan (preferably the most populous Province, Punjab) and an Egyptian village typically dependent on irrigated networks. For the tribes, the Berbers and the Pukhtuns would be a natural study, and for the cities, Cairo, Madinah and Lahore.

6) Practical and development-orientated social studies should be framed in order to enable us to better plan for Muslim society in the twentieth century.

7) I recommend that the ethnographic and anthropological content from the writings of the great Muslim writers is extracted and compiled in a discrete set of volumes.(4) In this exercise classic Islamic scholars will have to assist the anthropologist.

A great store of anthropology exists in the writing of the classic Muslim scholars. It is disguised as history in one text, as memoirs in another, and straightforward ethnography in the third.

Such academic endeavor will assist us in creating a core of Islamic anthropological literature for the future. I agree with Arab intellectuals that we must possess major journals and create "educational institutions capable of challenging places like Oxford, Havard or UCLA" (Said 1978:323).

Otherwise Muslims will continue to be subordinated to the intellectual trends of the west.

B. Conclusion

By failing to predict the contemporary Islamic re-emergence or assess its importance, Western scholars of Islam and its peoples were encouraged to make one of their most spectacular mistakes in recent times. They assumed secular trends in Muslim society as a logical development after the Second World War. Such was the direction pointed out by the Orientalists a generation ago (Gibb 1980). However, the scholars of modern times seem to follow blindly in the footpaths of their predecessors and fall into the same errors. A Western scholar of Iran, for example, wrote recently that "Although it is difficult to be certain, the trend seems to be away from physical resistance movements such as those during Muharram of 1963, and more towards ideological resistance through involvement and participation in the decision-making apparatus of the government". His paper concluded thus, "Religiously oriented individuals, who may oppose the government nevertheless, join its ranks in the hope that they will have the opportunity to implement policies that will be more in accord with their view that Islam is an all-encompassing system of beliefs" (Thaiss 1978: 366). And this from an Iran expert on the eve of the religious revolution that brought down the Shah.

Muslim scholars trained in the west commit the same mistake. 'Aziz Ahmad concluded a paper on Islam in Pakistan thus: "The ulema having suffered a setback in 1970, Islamic socialism, in which Islam is largely decorative and diplomatic, has for the time being at least gained a complete victory over the religious parties" (Aziz Ahmad 1978: 272). The vigor of the Islamic revival has repudiated the predictions of, and surprised Islamic scholars. To his credit Clifford Geertz was one of the few Western writers who saw differently.(5)

Having conceded the vigor of the Islamic revival, Muslims must now plan directions for it in order to best utilize its finer and dynamic impulses. They must, as Shariati suggests, prepare to discover what "the right path" means today and should mean in the future.

The anthropologist would do well to remember Socrates' statement, "I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the World." In the end the anthropologist must transcend himself, his culture, his universe, to a position where he is able to speak to and understand those around him in terms of his special humanity irrespective of color, caste or creed.

This sentiment is a poor echo of the Prophet (SAAS) -who in his last great address spoke to mankind, "Allah has made you brethren one to another, so be not divided.. . An Arab has no preference over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor is a white one to be preferred to a dark one, nor a dark one to a white one, except in righteousness."


1. Clifford Geertz, one of the more sympathetic observers, titled his book, "Islam Observed (Geertz 1968). The interest in Islam has affected publishing. Studies of Muslim society are now big publishing business. Publishers assess that to add "Islam" to a title is to guarantee sales. Hence titles like "Islam and Development" (Esposito 1980) have appeared recently in the market. But not only the West is guilty of commercializing Islam: Pakistan film-makers recently produced a film with the unlikely title of "Khuda aur Mahabbat" - God and love - (starring Pakistan's most popular actor, Muhammad Ali, and actresss Babra Sharif).

2. For example, as a model, see Professor I. a1 Faruqi's translation of Haykal's "The Life of Muhammad (1976). For interesting work along these lines, see some of the recent publications of the newly formed Islamic associations like The Islamic Foundation, Leicester; the Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad and the International Institute of Islamic Thought, Washington.

3. For an attempt at bringing together the Islamic tribes under one cover in anthropology, see Ahmed and Hart 1983.

4. One such attempt has been made in this direction in Muslim Society: Readings in Thought, Development and Structure, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (Ahmed 1982a).

5. Sarcastically, Clifford Geertz writes for the benefit of his overhasty Western colleagues:
"We have a while to wait yet, I think, even in Tunisia or Egypt, before we see an explicit movement for a 'religionless Islam' advancing under the banner, 'Allah is dead' " (Geertz 1968: 115).

DMC Firewall is developed by Dean Marshall Consultancy Ltd