Muslim Society

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Overview

Of all the great world religions, Islam appears to have the most powerful political appeal in the twentieth century. It sustains some severely traditional and conservative regimes, but it is also capable of generating intense revolutionary ardour and of blending with extreme social radicalism. As an agent of political mobilisation, it seems to be overtaking Marxism, arid surpassing all other religions. The present book seeks the roots of this situation in the past. The traditional Muslim society of the arid zone has, in the past, displayed remarkable stability and homogeneity, despite great political fragmentation, and the absence of a centralised religious hierarchy. The book explores the mechanisms which have contributed to this result - a civilisation in which (in the main) weak states co-existed with a strong culture, which had a powerful hold over the populations under its sway. A literate Great Tradition, in the keeping of urban scholars, lived side by side with a more emotive, ecstatic folk tradition, ill tile keeping of holy lineages, religious brotherhoods and freelance saints. One tradition was sustained by the urban trading class and periodically swept the rest of the society in waves of revivalist enthusiasm; the other was based on the multiple functions it performed in rural tribal society and amongst the urban poor. The two traditions were intertwined, yet remained in latent tension which from time to time came to tile surface. The book traces the manner in which the impact of the modern world, acting through colonialism arid industrialisation upset the once stable balance, and helped the erstwhile urban Great Tradition to become the pervasive arid dominant one, culminating in the zealous arid radical Islam which is so prominent now. The argument is both formulated in the abstract and illustrated by a series of case studies and examinations of specific aspects, and critical examinations of rival interpretations.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'The boldest and most ingenious ... attempt in recent years to present a general account of the fundamental features of social life in the Islamic World.' Clifford Geertz, New York Review of Books

'Building on the Khaldunian core Professor Gellner has provided us with a series of brilliant essays whose sustained originality, compact argumentation and pervasive wit cannot be adequately described in a review of limited length.' Serif Mardin, Government and Opposition

'The vast amount of information it contains, together with the questions which it successfully raises, makes this in any case the kind of exposé that can be read with genuine intellectual pleasure. Whatever the debate it may provoke amongst specialists, it has enriched the way in which we look at the Muslim world.' Jacques Berque, The Times Literary Supplement

'His conclusions are supported by a keen observation and wide knowledge of his subject, but because they are based exclusively on the North African political scence, how applicable they are elsewhere in the Muslim world remains a question. Nevertheless, Gellner has made an important contribution to the study of Islamic culture.' Abbas Kelidar, SOAS Bulletin

'Brilliant work ... Professor Gellner has continued a work to this field that all scholars of Islam, and especially those who uphold the faith, must read with care.' M. A. Zaki Badawi, Arabia

'The revival of Islam ... proves to be an apparently insuperable obstacle to modernization, Western-style. From Morocco to Indonesia there are signs of unrest, of the desire for 'purification', with Iran merely the most spectacular illustration. Professor Ernest Gellner is almost uniquely qualified to discuss the implications of this development.' Ralf Dahrendorf, Millenium: Journal of International Studies

' ... the first essay ... which is much the longest in the book ... I consider ... to be of outstanding importance. It should be compulsory reading for all novice readers of social anthropology.' Sir Edmund Leach, New Society

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Product Details

Table of Contents

Preface; Acknowledgements; 1. Flux and reflux in the faith of men; 2. Cohesion and identity: the Maghreb from Ibn Khaldun to Emile Durkheim; 3. Post-traditional forms in Islam: the turf and trade, and votes and peanuts; 4. Doctor and saint; 5. Sanctity, puritanism, secularisation and nationalism in North Africa: a case study; 6. The unknown Apollo of Biskra: the social base of Algerian puritanism; 7. Trousers in Tunisia; 8. The sociology of Robert Montagne (1893-1954); 9. Patterns of rural rebellion in Morocco during the early years of independence; 10. Saints and their descendants; 11. The marabouts in the market place; 12. Rulers and tribesmen; Notes; Bibliography of Ernest Gellner's North African writings; Index.

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