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University of California Press
Tribes And State Formation In The Middle East / Edition 1

Tribes And State Formation In The Middle East / Edition 1

by Philip S. Khoury, Joseph Kostiner
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Tribes and State Formation is the first effort to bring together the disciplines of history, anthropology, and political science around a major topic that none of these alone is adequately equipped to address. How and why did certain tribal societies metamorphose over time into states? Scholars concerned with general questions of theory and methodology and the interaction of anthropology and history, as well as political scientists and sociologists concerned with concepts of the state in the Middle East and other developing regions, will be well served by this innovative work.

The articles by an array of distinguished scholars cover a wide range of topics: the relationship of ideology to tribal and state power, comparisons between different regional patterns of tribe-state interaction, historical case studies from North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Iran extending to the contemporary period; theoretical and methodological inquiries, and systematic reviews of the literature on tribes and states. The articles argue against a unilinear approach to the study of tribes and state formation by emphasizing that states often existed alongside tribes and even created tribes for their own purposes. Some case studies emphasize the incompatibility of states and tribalism, while others illustrate the many areas in which tribes actually enhanced rather than impeded state formation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520070806
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 04/08/1991
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 962,488
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Philip S. Khoury is Professor of History and Acting Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology. Joseph Kostiner is Lecturer in Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University and the author of South Yemen's Revolutionary Strategy, 1970-1985 (Tel Aviv, 1990).

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Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East

By Philip S. Khoury

University of California Press

Copyright © 1991 Philip S. Khoury
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780520070806

Tribes and State Formation in Islamic History
Ira M. Lapidus

The title of this essay, "Tribes and State Formation in Islamic History," is wonderfully ambiguous. It is not clear what any of the key words mean. What I would like to do is discuss a certain type of rural social organization commonly called tribes, but which is better described as chieftaincies, in relation to states and empires in the greater Middle East (that is, the Middle East, Inner Asia, and North Africa) from the beginning of the Islamic era to the nineteenth century. First, I would like to make some general remarks about the longue durée in Middle Eastern history to indicate the framework in which I see the relations of tribes or chieftaincies and empires. By the Islamic era Middle Eastern patterns of tribe-empire relations already had a history reaching back to the fourth and third millennium B.C ., when neolithic village communities evolved into societies on the scale of temple-city, city-state, and empire, and agrarian-urban-imperial societies came into being. By then Middle Eastern societies were organized around a tripartite structure of parochial units (lineages, villages, tribes, or chieftaincies), religious associations, and empires. On theeve of the Islamic era the region was divided into two imperial realms, the Byzantine and Sasanian empires, whose populations were each organized into several Christian churches and other religious collectivities and into smaller local units on the scale of family, lineages, or small clientele and residential groups. In this period there was a clear differentiation of empire and religious bodies, though the authority of rulers was based on religious charisma and entailed a considerable degree of control over religious institutions.

The Islamic era represented profound continuities and equally profound changes. In this era the basic institutional framework ofpast Middle Eastern civilization—the tripartite arrangement of tribal, religious, and empire collectivities, and the sedentary-agricultural and city-commercial economies—were taken over in toto. At the same time the Islamic era generated new variations on the older institutional structures, above all, a new religious culture and new political identities.

These redefinitions proceeded through three principal phases. The first was the early Arab-Muslim empire (seventh to tenth centuries), which set the cultural norms for the new civilization. The second was the age of the Turkish migrations and Saljuqid regimes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, in which these cultural ideals were translated into the framework of a mass society. By then the bulk of the Middle Eastern population had been converted to Islam, and the processes of forming an Islamic identity, Islamic religion, and Islamic forms of state and community were largely complete. The third and final phase was the reorganization of these Islamic Middle Eastern societies into their definitive premodern forms under the Ottoman and Safavid empires and the several Islamic states of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

At the same time that Middle Eastern societies were acquiring their Islamic identity, the twin processes of Islamization and state formation spread from the Middle East proper into the peripheral regions of Arabia, North Africa, and the steppe lands of Inner Asia. The Arab and Turkish migrations induced state formation and the spread of Islam in areas that hitherto had not been organized as state or imperial societies. These new regions became integral parts of a greater Middle Eastern Islamic society, organized on the tripartite institutional framework of tribes or chieftaincies, religious associations, and empires. I shall briefly introduce each of these institutions.

The concept of tribe is unclear and controversial. The word is used to refer to a kinship group, an extended family, or a coalition of related families. It may refer to the elite family from whom some larger confederation gets its name, to a cultural, ethnic, or other non-familial social group, or to conquest movements of pastoral peoples without regard for the internal basis of cohesion. I will not take a position about the meaning of tribe except to make clear that I am not talking about small-scale family groups, cooperative herding, or village communities but about political entities that organize fragmented rural populations—be they small kinship or clientele groups or ad hoc alliances of individuals conceived as an extended family—into large-scale alliances. Such large-scale political entities may be conceived by their members in terms of a common mythic ancestry,but usually the leadership is defined in terms of patriarchal, warrior, or religious chieftaincies. In the Middle East, chieftaincies are generally found among pastoral peoples, though this type of social structure is also present among semisedentary, mountain, and even peasant populations. Although I may use the word tribe for convenience, it should be clear that tribes in my sense are not familial or ethnic groups but political and religious chieftaincies whose composition varies greatly.

The second type of collectivity in the Islamic era was the religious associations. These were made up of the followers or devotees of an 'alim , a Sufi, or some other holy man who was an inspired teacher and exemplar for his group. Such associations were generally local, but they were commonly affiliated into larger networks such as the madhdhahib or schools of law, theological schools, Sufi turuq , and Khariji or Shi'i sects. In Muslim societies we do not find a hierarchical organization of such groups, though the authority of certain master teachers may become widespread. Religious associations were in principle separate from state or imperial regimes, having different personnel and a different ethos from that of the state elites. In many instances, however, states managed to achieve some kind of control over their operations.

The third principal institutional feature of Middle Eastern societies was states or empires. Middle Eastern empires in this period were commonly organized by conquering or other military elites. They administered the regions they controlled through a combination of bureaucratic and quasi-feudal means—the iqta ' being the most common form of decentralized fiscal administration—and were legitimized by a combination of Islamic and non-Islamic symbols. Almost every Middle Eastern regime cultivated its identity as a successor state to that of the Prophet in Medina or as a regime serving an Islamic religious purpose; at the same time, each patronized an artistic and cultural style that established its cosmological-universal, cosmopolitan-cultural, or patrimonial claims to legitimacy.1

These collective structures were systematically interrelated. Although tribes and empires represent, in one sense, an evolutionary sequence, once the sequence had been fully realized, the issue became one of the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of tribal chieftaincies and imperial entities. Ever since the third millennium B.C . empires have been the most encompassing collective bodies. Tribes had a large role to play in Middle Eastern societies, but they almost always played their part in the context, or under the umbrella, of empire regimes. By the Islamic era tribal populationsconstantly interacted with state-sedentary communities and were integral elements of a more encompassing system. Even tribal societies in Inner Asia, Arabia, and North Africa, outside of state domains, entered into regular exchanges with the imperial societies and were strongly influenced by the political, economic, and cultural forces radiating from the state centers. Though tribal chieftaincies from the periphery might repeatedly conquer the imperial-sedentarized Middle East, they would themselves evolve into states and be integrated into the larger civilization.

In cultural terms, the Islamization of the greater Middle East also led to a reformulation of tribe-state relations in Islamic terms. From the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries Sufism became a common organizing mechanism for Middle Eastern rural populations, especially in North Africa and Inner Asia, and gave them and the empire-organized societies a shared, albeit differently understood, cultural framework to articulate the complex relations among them. I stress this point because it is misleading to look upon Middle Eastern societies as primarily tribal or to think of empires as a derivative or secondary phenomenon. In fact, we are dealing with a system involving two types of political and cultural entities, often on the same territory, competing for power and legitimacy.2

To better understand the chieftaincy-empire system, I want to examine a few basic modalities of this relationship: (1) the organization of conquest movements leading to state formation in stateless regions or to the reorganization of states in regions that already have a history of states or empires; (2) the transformation of conquest states into routinized states or imperial governments; and (3) the relation of routinized or institutionalized empires to the tribal populations within and outside their boundaries.

Conquest Movements

The first modality is the organization of fragmented rural populations into conquest movements. In spite of the use of the term tribal in describing them, conquest movements in Islamic Middle Eastern history have little to do with kinship. For many of us, the nature of tribal solidarity, the character of tribal leadership, and the ideological or conceptual basis of tribal unification have been defined by Ibn Khaldun. Ibn Khaldun gave us the concept of 'asabiyya , tribal bonding or the sentiment of group solidarity that results from kinship, blood ties, and common descent. This natural sentiment, grounded in the impulse to provide mutual help, leads to the banding together of Bedouins to fight for survival and domination over others. Theirsolidarity is reinforced by chiefs who promote internal harmony, fortify the group will to power and royal authority, and direct it outward to the aggrandizement of its interests. Though 'asabiyya , in Ibn Khaldun's view, is a kinship phenomenon, religion is critical to its expression. Arab peoples in particular need religion to achieve the levels of 'asabiyya essential to conquest and royal authority because their natural savagery ordinarily inhibits cooperation. Religion enables them to restrain themselves and cooperate in a common cause. It supplements family loyalties to create wider, more encompassing solidarities.3

Despite the authority of Ibn Khaldun, if we look empirically at Middle Eastern conquest movements, we find that kinship was a secondary phenomenon. Such movements as the Arab, Fatimid, Almoravid, Almohad, Safavid, and other conquests were not based on lineage but on the agglomeration of diverse units, including individuals, clients, religious devotees, and fractions of clans as well as perhaps lineages and clans. The diverse elements were united in one of two principal ways. Among Arabs who did not accept political hierarchy and whose leaders were required to be mediators, the most common form of agglomeration was religious chieftainship under a charismatic religiopolitical leader. The elite religious cadres, ruling subordinate units, were bound together by religious commitment or ideology. In such movements there was an uneasy tension between the religious and prereligious bases of organization.4 Among Turkish Inner Asian peoples who accepted hierarchical rule and recognized dynastic rule, the most common form of leadership was the warrior chieftaincy supported by a lineage, clan, or commitatis —a band of warriors who in turn won the allegiance of other such warrior units and thereby dominated a subject population. Tribes were in effect the creatures of religious or political elites. Genealogical factors may have been important in the constitution of clear-cut aristocratic groups, in small participation kinship units, or in theoretical self-image, but they were not significant in the actual organization of the larger movements.

The paradigm for the first type is, of course, the Arab conquests. We commonly think of Arabian society on the eve of the conquest as having been built around extended families or lineage groups, but despite the existence of this concept in the minds of Arabians, there is in fact no evidence of large-scale genealogically defined tribes. H. A. R. Gibb and M. A. Shaban have cogently argued that Arabian tribal confederations were creations of the post-Arab conquest garrison cities. The movement of a large Arab population and its sedentarization in the garrison towns and cities of the Middle East brokedown old family and lineage structures. To meet the insecurity of the garrison towns, to cope with the stresses of a changing society, and to compete successfully for power, Arab populations became ever more self-consciously Arab in identity and ever more formally organized in terms of the tribal models provided by their culture but not found in their social experience. The garrison cities gave us the ad hoc alliances conceived as the tribes of Qays, Yemen, and other regions.5

In pre-Islamic Arabia, rather, we find collectivities of clans such as the Quraysh, who were not organized under patriarchal leadership but were unified by a mala , or representative council of chiefs, and by shared religious affiliation with the haram , the sanctuary of Mecca. Mecca was thus a shrine-based, rather than a strictly tribal, community. The confederations of Ghassan and Lakhm were not tribes but monarchies, built on Byzantine and Sasanian political support and governing smaller units, perhaps clans. In Yemen there was a long history of monarchical rule over subordinate or vassal tribal auxiliaries. The principal mechanisms of large-scale organization in sixth-century Arabia, then, were conciliar or monarchical rather than patriarchal or genealogical.

Furthermore, the early Muslim umma was not based on lineages or tribes alone but was composed of several different elements. First were the muhajirun , the Meccans who left their kin in order to cleave unto Muhammad and migrate with him to Medina. There were the ansar , the first Medinians who accepted Islam from the Prophet and who were followed by several of the Medianian clans. In Medina there were also individual émigrés, dissident groups, and fractions of clans from other parts of Arabia who left their people to join the Prophet. Eventually the umma included the converts made from among the aristocratic clans of Mecca and the various tribes in western Arabia who became allied to the Muslim community. Thus, the components of the umma were disparate, including individuals, groups without a lineage basis, and clans with a definite tribal affiliation. The underlying unifying concept of the community was religious, though there were strong undertones of lineage appeal owing to the fact that the concept of umma was fused with concepts of tribal alliance; the image of the religious chief was identified with that of the traditional clan shaykh. The early umma was built on an undifferentiated tribal religiopolitical identity and an undifferentiated religiopolitical leadership.6

The history of conquest movements in North Africa confirms the fact of religious, rather than kinship and lineage, 'asabiyya as the basis of conquest movements. In North Africa long-standing Berberconcepts of kinship, lineage, and tribal identity had not led to conquest movements and Berber-based state formation. Instead, it was Roman influence in Tunisia and in the coastal zones of western North Africa that provided the region with its spotty history of organized states and urban development. It took the Arab conquests, Arab elites, and Muslim concepts to supply the authority and the ideology for the first wave of Berber state formation in what is now southern Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Kharijism in the case of the Rustamids, Shi'ism in the case of the Idrisids and Fatimids, reformist Islam in the case of the Almoravids and Almohads, and Sufism in the cases of the Sa'dians and 'Alawis show that Islam could be used for the unification of fragmented populations. Repeated religious movements played a critical role in the Islamization of the region, facilitated the spread of the Maliki school of law and of Sufism, and helped give a political-territorial identity to Morocco. This is not to say that all North African state formation was entirely based on religious movements. The Aghlabid and Hafsid states were based on imperial 'Abbasid and Almohad authority. There were also nonreligious coalitions led by the Zirids, the Hammadids, the Zayanids, and the Marinids.7

The Almohad case illustrates the importance of religious leadership, rather than tribal kinship, for a conquest movement. In this case the central authority was based not on lineage charisma but on religious purity. Claiming descent from the Prophet and professing to be the promised mahdi , Abu 'Abdallah Muhammad ibn Tumart followed the precedent of the Prophet and modeled his life on that of Muhammad. He preached the necessity of returning to the true Islam—the Islam based on the Qur'an, hadith , and the teachings of the companions. He affirmed a unitarian view of God, defended the Ash'ari theological position as opposed to anthropomorphic views, and called for a high standard of Muslim morality and the strict application of Muslim law. He was hostile to music and to the unveiling of women.

Ibn Tumart found his supporters among settled Masmuda Berbers. These supporters included his disciples, tolba or preachers, and huffaz or students, as well as the populace of Tinmal, his capital city, which was not a tribal group but a diverse sedentarized population with many disciples from elsewhere. The kinship groups comprised in this coalition were Ibn Tumart's own family, the Hargha, and fractions of the various principal tribes of the Atlas region drawn from the Hintata, the Gadmiwa, the Sauda, and others. It later included Sanhaja as well as Zenata Berbers. This coalition was made without regard to conventional kinship, lineage, or tribal concepts ofsolidarity. Like the coalition of the Prophet Muhammad, the Almohad movement represented a fusion of clan, religious, and political identities rather than lineage 'asabiyya .8

A third example is the Safavid movement, which arose in very different conditions. This movement originated in northwestern Iran in the thirteenth century in the context of widespread and destructive nomadic Turkish and Mongol invasions, the ruin of towns, and the decline of state protection. Sufi preachers and shamans took the lead in organizing the population of western Anatolia, northeastern Iran, and northern Mesopotamia. They performed miraculous cures, manipulated occult forces, and claimed a religious authority based on esoteric knowledge vouchsafed through direct revelation or the interpretation of magical texts. They taught their battered followers that a savior would come to redeem ordinary people and that the qutb , the pillar of the saintly world, would provide a haven for the oppressed. These Sufi teachers promoted the veneration of tomb shrines, some of them of contemporary origin, others reviving earlier saint cults. They organized khanaqas or zawiyas , which became a refuge for distressed populations. These shrines were taken over by the descendants of the founding saints, who thereby became administrators and the heads of local political communities.9

The Safavid movement was typical of these developments. The founder, Shaykh Safi al-Din (1252-1334), began by preaching the purification of Islam. His son, Sadr al-Din, turned the movement into a hierarchical and propertied organization, expanding the family compound in Ardabil, providing it with residences and schools, and organizing a hierarchy of missionaries, students, and novices. The Safavids at first claimed Sufi authority and were affiliated with Sunni Islam, but they later declared a Shi'i allegiance. Shah Isma'il (1487-1524) proclaimed that he was descended from the seventh imam, the seventh descendant in the Safavi line, the incarnation of Khidr, the bearer of ancient wisdom, the messiah, and the possessor of both temporal power and mystical rulership.

In the fifteenth century the Safavids took advantage of the breakup of the Aqquyunlu regime to turn from preaching to militant action. Shaykh Junayd, Sufi master from 1447 to 1460, was the first to gather his followers and lead them in the jihad against Christians in Georgia and Trebizond and then against the Muslim states, which he denounced as infidel regimes. From Asia Minor and northern Syria came persons identified by the names of districts, which suggests that they were not members of lineage or kinship groups but soldiers and adventurers from specific regions now given political organization by the Safavid order. From Iran came Turkish, Kurdish,and Luri-speaking pastoralists, peasants, artisans, and middle-level lineage chieftains, who joined the Safavids to oppose the more powerful local lords. In addition, Shaykh Junayd married into the families of local princes to form military alliances and recruit large-scale tribes to his cause. He recruited his followers among both individuals and local tribal (or, as they are called in Inner Asia and northern Iran, uymaq ) chieftains. The principal recruits were called Qizilbash after the distinctive red headgear that showed they were the disciples and warriors of the Safavid house. Thus, the Safavid movement united individuals, clientele groups, and uymaqs into a unified force that eventually conquered Iran. This case is interesting because it is relatively rare for conquest movements in Turkish societies to be organized under religious leadership. Perhaps here Sufism met the special needs of the heterogeneous populations of northern Iran and eastern Anatolia.10

A second basis for the organization of conquest movements was nonreligious—warrior authority commonly found among the Turkish populations of Inner Asia, northern Iran, and Anatolia. Some critical examples are the Qarakhanids, Saljuqs, Ottomans, Uzbeks, and Kazakhs. Turkish societies in Inner Asia, like Arab societies, were conceived in kinship and genealogical terms, but the actual units of social organization were based on loyalty to successful warrior chieftains. The status of a chief was earned by victory in battle; authority depended on success in the struggle for power, though chieftaincy in Turkish societies might also have had a religious component. The Sufi babas who led Turkish warrior bands in the conquest of Asia Minor and the Balkans represented a variant type of warrior chieftaincy combined with religious appeal. Success showed the hand of God.

The chief was supported by his warrior clients, his family, and other, lesser chieftains and their followers and families. The support of these lesser chiefs was won by success in war and by delicate negotiation. The chief used this core of military support to overwhelm townsmen and peasants, collect taxes, and establish a territorial government. This type of chieftaincy, called an uymaq , was in effect a state regime, though the leading families tended to identify themselves in genealogical terms. Uymaqs were generally unstable, however, because they were based on the personal prowess of the chiefs and the loyalty of semi-independent warriors who constantly calculated their relative advantage, bitterly competed for leadership, and regularly rebelled against the dominance of the greater chieftains.11

This type of formation is also important in the origins of the Ottoman Empire. The founder of the Ottoman dynasty was not a lineagechief but a successful frontier warrior who won the support of frontier freebooters, ghazis , and even Byzantine defectors, whom he united by their shared interest in conquest and in service to himself. The Osmanli dynasty and tribe were formed out of these warrior loyalties. Neither family, language, nor religion were critical in the early organization of the empire. Only later did the Ottomans replace this type of warrior tribe by a state system of administration.12

Other Inner Asian confederations, such as the Golden Horde, its offshoots in the Crimea and in the Volga region, the Uzbeks, and the Kazakhs, were similarly organized. They, too, were coalitions or hordes formed under the authority of warrior elites backed by a confederation of families who took their identity from that of the dominant chiefs. Islam came at a secondary stage in the history of these societies. It helped consolidate the identity of khanates, hordes, and uymaqs but does not seem to have played a critical role in their origin. Thus, 'asabiyya in Inner Asia was based neither on kinship nor on religion but on predator solidarity. Only successful chiefs won the opportunity to legitimate themselves in tribal, patrimonial, or imperial terms.13

Thus, so-called tribes and tribal conquests show little evidence of kinship as an important factor in state formation and much evidence of religious, or chieftaincy, and warrior solidarity. Although there are other factors in the agglomeration of conquest movements, from our point of view religious and warrior solidarity are the critical factors in the major historical cases.

From Conquest Movement To State Regimes

The next issue is how conquest movements were transformed into empires. The critical feature of this transformation was the differentiation of conquest movements into separate tribal, religious, and political collectivities. The first aspect of this process was the displacement of the conquering tribal forces by a new government. Tribal leaders were supplemented by administrative-scribal cadres commonly drawn from the subject or conquered populations. Tribal armies were routinely supplemented and even replaced by newly recruited forces expected to be more dependent on, and loyal to, the rulers. This was the case for the Umayyad-'Abbasid, Fatimid, Almoravid, Almohad, Saljuq, Ottoman, Safavid, and other Middle Eastern regimes.

The Umayyad-'Abbasid empire gives us the paradigmatic case. The position of the caliph as military and administrative overlord of a large empire inevitably changed him from a religious patriarch of asmall community into an imperial ruler. The transformation of the conquest movement into an empire was furthered by the creation of client military forces and routine fiscal administration. Umayyad military policy aimed for almost a century at replacing the general levée en masse of the Arabs with selected client forces, whether Arab, Berber, Iranian, or Soghdian. The 'Abbasids completed the process by demobilizing the Arab masses in favor of politically reliable armies. Free soldiers were replaced by dependent slave and client forces. The 'Abbasids first depended on the Arab troops who had brought them to power, then on Persian regiments from the Transoxanian principalities, and finally on Turkish slave forces. Apart from Bedouin auxiliaries in Mesopotamia, Arabs were removed from the caliphal armies. The state military apparatus was no longer identified with the tribal armies that had conquered the empire, and the remnants of these armies became part of the subject population.14

Similarly, the Umayyad and 'Abbasid caliphs displaced Arab shaykhs in favor of administrators drawn from the former Byzantine and Sasanian bureaucracies. The tax-collecting bureaus were used to strengthen the financial and political position of the caliphate at the expense of Arab tribal elites. Thus, the 'Abbasids replaced Arab rule with a kind of coalition government in which eastern Iranian, Iraqi, Nestorian, and Baghdadi Shi'i scribes shared power with Turkish military slaves.15

There were similar tendencies in the history of other conquest movements. The Fatimids replaced their Berber tribesmen with Turkish and Sudanese slaves and a Coptic Egyptian administrative apparatus. The Almohads added to their Berber forces Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, and black slave troops as well as Andalusian scribes. In these cases the original Berber conquerors were not entirely displaced, but a balance of power more favorable to the rulers was created by the recruitment of more diverse forces.16 In Iran a similar pattern was followed. The Safavids destroyed the original Qizilbash supporters of the dynasty and replaced them with a Georgian slave army. They also integrated Persian functionaries into the administration. Still more ruthlessly and successfully did the Ottomans replace the ghazi Turkish warriors with slave janissaries and the most centralized and efficient of all Middle Eastern bureaucracies.17

The second principal feature of the transformation of conquest movements into empires was a change in the concept of the ruler and the principles by which his rule was legitimized. As charismatic religious leaders (or their immediate successors) gave way to emperors, the successors continued to claim divine authority, but they also progressively adopted the monarchical panoply of the regimes they hadconquered. The Umayyads incorporated Byzantine art, architecture, and ceremonial style into the caliphal identity. Their coinage and the monumental architecture signified that they were successors not only to the Prophet but also to the emperors of Rome and Constantinople. Similarly, the 'Abbasid caliphs became patrons of science and philosophy and translated Pahlavi and Hellenistic literatures, as well as becoming patrons of Islam, to signify their legitimacy in historic Middle Eastern terms.18 A similar evolution from religious to monarchical identity was characteristic of the Almohads. 'Abd al-Mu'min was titled amir al-muslimin and caliph of Ibn Tumart. The first successor of Ibn Tumart no longer claimed full personal authority to define religious doctrine but rather a caliphal or executive role.

The Safavid and the Moroccan Sa'dian and 'Alawi cases were somewhat different. In these cases the rulers also moved from the purely personal toward institutional forms of authority, but they still maintained their claims to personal religious charisma. In the Safavid case the claims of the Sufi master to direct divine inspiration were allowed to lapse, though the concept of the ruler as the descendant of the seventh imam, and the principal authority of Shi'i Islam, was held intact until the end of the Safavid era. At the same time, however, the Safavids cultivated, assiduously and brilliantly, the historic images of Iranian monarchy. Safavid manuscript illuminations and architecture consolidated the place of the dynasty in the history of Iranian kings of kings. Safavid authority, then, was built on both a lingering charismatic personal appeal and a thorough assimilation to Iranian forms of monarchy.19

The Moroccan cases resemble the Safavid in the sense that the Sa'dian and 'Alawi sultans also combined the concept of descent from the Prophet and Sufi baraka with an institutional form of sultanal authority. These rulers had important ritual roles at Muslim holidays and shared in the national veneration of Sufi saints, but they were also regarded as caliphs, as executors of the Prophet for the defense and administration of the community. They were caliphs and imams as well as sharifs, walis , and mujtahids .20 In Morocco there was an unusual perpetuation of personal authority within the conquest movement into an institutional monarchy; but in general, state formation effected changes in the symbolic and ideological identity of rulers and brought about an evolution from personal to institutional forms of leadership and from religious to political forms of authority. The great leaders of the religious movements were succeeded not by charismatic saints or Prophet reformers, but by khalifas , deputies, and executors who combined their originalreligious authority with the inherited routinized forms of Middle Eastern monarchies.

The third aspect of the routinization of conquest movements was the formation of separate state and religious institutions that defied their ideological claims. We have already seen how the Ummayad and 'Abbasid rulers took on increasingly secularized functions and identities. At the same time, the religious and spiritual heritage of the Prophet came to be embodied in his companions and their disciples rather than in his caliphs. Teaching of the Qur'an, reflection on legal and theological issues, moral preaching, and devotional activities were diffused throughout the community of loyal Muslims rather than concentrated in the caliphate. Private scholars and holy men came to be the bearers of the religious aspect of the Prophet's legacy. Around these holy men clustered small groups of devotees who gradually developed into organized schools of law, theological sects, Shi'i communities, and, later, Sufi lineages and brotherhoods.

In the eighth and ninth centuries the caliphate and the emergent communities of scholars and holy men were locked into a struggle for religious authority. The 'Abbasid caliphs continued to claim a divine authority and the right to determine the boundaries of true faith and punish heretics and deviants. A1-Ma'mun (813-833) came into direct conflict with the scholars as a result of his effort to make the doctrine of the createdness of the Qur'an an obligatory Muslim belief and assert his authority over the religious teachers. This effort was resisted by the Hanbalis; the caliphs were forced to concede that the doctrine of the created Qur'an was not official Muslim belief and that they did not have the authority to define such belief. This concession marked in effect the recognition of religiocommunal life independent of the caliphate. The emergence of an autonomous, segmented, and sectarian Islamic religiocommunal life separate from the state marks the onset of the differentiation of state and religious institutions.21

The differentiation of conquest movements into separate religious and state institutions was repeated in other cases. Such a differentiation marked the Almohad regime. 'Abd al-Mu'min did not claim the personal authority of the founder. Later Almohad rulers abandoned the early doctrines of the movement and eventually renounced them completely in favor of a return to Maliki law. They gave up the effort to create a purified Muslim community, accepted the existing Maliki legal establishment and the popular cults of saints and Sufis, and ratified the already established structures of Muslim religious life. Thus, a unified religiopolitical movement integrated itself into theconquered society by accepting the existing differentiation between state and religious elites and associations.22

Similarly, the Safavids built up the cadres of a routine Shi'i religious establishment. Ithna-'ashari Shi'ism was proclaimed the official religion of Iran, and messianic Shi'i claims were set aside. The Safavids imported Syrian, Iraqi, and Arabian Shi'i scholars to administer a new system of courts and schools. To sustain the new official religion, Ithna-'ashari Shi'ism was imposed by a wave of persecutions that has little or no parallel in other Muslim countries. The Safavids destroyed their messianic-minded Shi'i followers, eliminated Sunni 'ulama ' and Sufi holy men, and made the Shi'i 'ulama ' the sole representatives of Islam in Iran.23 As with the 'Abbasids, the Almohads, and other Muslim regimes, religious and political authority were in practice, if not in theory, differentiated. Parallel institutions built around distinct elites had emerged. The routinization of a religious-conquest movement had led again to the separation of religiocommunal and state elites and collectivities.

The conquest movements based on warrior chieftainship rather than combined religiopolitical authority did not, of course, go through this process of differentiation. From the outset, rulers in the Turkish tradition saw themselves as patrons and protectors, perhaps even managers, of religion but not as personal repositories of religious knowledge or spiritual power. Many Turkish rulers sought patrimonial, cosmopolitan-cultural, and cosmological legitimation for their kingships and became patrons of the existing schools of law and Sufi brotherhoods. The conquest movements based on warrior 'asabiyya easily accepted the already developed imperial sedentary pattern of separate state and religious institutions.

Thus, conquest movements represented relatively less differentiated societies in which family or group solidarity, religious affiliation, and warrior leadership were closely identified. Armies and administrations were scarcely distinct from the totality of the male warrior population. Conquest, however, led to the transformation of chieftaincies into empires—to the specialization of military and administrative functions, the separation of religious and political authority, and the transformation of religious or warrior leaders into emperors.

Tribalism in State-Organized Societies

The third and final phase is the relationship of fully formed, routinized imperial governments to chieftaincies. For the purposes of this part of the analysis, I will choose illustrations from the history of theMiddle East in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. In this period, major conquest movements ceased to occur, and the relations of tribes and states stabilized.

Two major geographical and political constellations emerged. The first was the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the Balkans, Anatolia, the urban areas of the Fertile Crescent, lower Egypt, and coastal North Africa. In the empire the central state triumphed over its tribal components. In the midst of the fourteenth-century conquests, the Ottoman dynasty was already developing the state apparatus, using Saljuq and Byzantine models, precedents, and even personnel. The Ottomans built up slave infantry and artillery forces and a centralized administration. They brought the 'ulama ' under state patronage and eventually under state control. At the same time, Sufism was spreading among the nomadic and pastoral Turkish populations of eastern Anatolia. Sufi leaders spearheaded the Ottoman conquests and opposed the consolidation of a bureaucratic administration. Eastern Anatolia, like northwestern Iran, was a breeding ground for Sufi revolts that espoused messianic beliefs. The high point of this agitation was coincident with the rise of the Safavids. For example, in 1519 a Sufi preacher named Jelal took the name of Shah Isma'il, claimed to be the mahdi , and organized Turkish cultivators and pastoralists to oppose the state. The sixteenth century brought further and frequent revolts in the name of Jelal. However, the Ottomans progressively defeated these movements and established a long-lasting political control over most of their territory. With a vast region under state control, tribal formations remained alive only on the Ottoman periphery, in eastern Anatolia, the North Arabian desert margins of the Fertile Crescent, Arabia, Upper Egypt, and the southern zones of North Africa.24 It is noteworthy that the great religious movements and tribal societies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—the Wahhabi, the Sanusi, and the Mahdist (Sudan)—are located in these peripheral regions.

The second constellation was found on both the eastern and western flanks of the Ottoman Empire, in Safavid Iran and 'Alawi Morocco. In these areas the state shared political power with effective rural chieftaincies. As distinct from the empire, substate formations in Iran (the uymaqs ) and Morocco (Sufi-led movements) were extensive and strong enough to rival the state authorities—indeed, at times strong enough to gain political dominance.

In North Africa territorial states were organized in tandem with the consolidation of a Sufi-led rural social organization. With the collapse of the Almohads, North Africa took on a new configuration of state and society. North African states, such as the Marinid andthe Hafsid, were based on political institutions passed on directly from their Almohad predecessor. They were supported by client-slave and mercenary armies, a small household bureaucracy, and a coalition of tribal forces. These states developed a new relationship with religious notables. They surrendered the previous claims to direct religious authority and accepted the 'ularna ' and Sufis as the bearers of Islamic legitimacy and as intermediaries in the government of society. Thus, the Saljuq and Egyptian Ayyubid-Mamluk type of Middle Eastern Islamic institutional structure was recreated in the west. Parallel to this state consolidation was the spread of Sufism. Inspired by developments in Spain and the eastern Muslim world, Sufism took root throughout North Africa, and Sufi-led communities became common among rural populations. The way was paved for the development of a balance of power between states and religious chieftaincies and a culturally integrated system of state and tribal societies.25

Algeria and Morocco provide variant illustrations of how this type of balance was worked out. The Algerian regime was based on a Turkish janissary elite that directly ruled the regions of Algiers, Constantine, Mascara, and Titteri. Within the directly administered zone, local beys commanded a janissary garrison and auxiliary forces and nominated the qa'ids , who controlled the local tribal leaders, levied taxes, settled disputes, and presided over the markets.

Outside of these zones of direct administration the population was organized under the authority of intermediary religious and other chieftains. The Turkish regime actually helped create a tribal structure by consolidating smaller groups into tribes and appointing local chiefs as leaders. It helped transform a small-scale, rather egalitarian, kinship-based society into a hierarchical society linked to the central polity. Nonetheless, in some regions local chiefs maintained their autonomy and were confirmed in their local power. Many of these chiefs were Sufis who were accorded official respect, endowed with mosques and tombs, and appointed to judicial positions and to assignments of land and tax revenues. The Algerian state used the Sufis to maintain an indirect suzerainty over the rural Algerian populations. Only in the early nineteenth century did the relationship between the Algerian regime and the Sufi orders break down. Between 1800 and 1830 sporadic rebellions were led by the Darqawa, the Qadiriyya, and the Tijaniyya brotherhoods in protest of excessive taxation and the reliance of the deys on Jewish, French, and English merchants for financial support. Thus, Sufi-led rural communities could function either as transmitters of state authority or as organizers of resistance to state authority.26 The consolidation of the Moroccan variant of state- and Sufi-led rural societies goes back to the Marinid-Wattasid era. In that period the state was built around a coalition of Arab and Zenata Berbers; it centered around a small household administration at Fez Jadid and extended to the countryside by the recruitment of elite tribal forces. The Marinids attempted to cultivate good relations with the 'ulama ' as a further basis of their authority. At the same time, the failure of the Marinid regime to resist Portuguese incursions promoted Sufism as the organizing authority for movements of local self-defense. Sufis became the leaders of rural coalitions and used the mechanism of the tariqa to create large-scale territorial organizations. Through the turuq numerous zawiyas could be linked together on the basis of a shared religious genealogy and shared forms of worship.

Much of the history of Morocco can be described in terms of the oscillation of power between the two poles. In the absence of an Ottoman pattern of institutions the Moroccan sultans ruled by means of a household administration and a coalition of Makhzan forces; but they legitimized their authority by combining the baraka derived from Sharifian descent, dynastic inheritance, and elective authority conferred by the Makhzan tribes, the 'ulama ', and the army. At the same time, they claimed the caliphal position as executors of Muslim law and of 'ulama ' as well as Sufi Islam. The 'Alawis also attempted to control the Sufi brotherhoods. They took up the right to confer on the Sufis spiritual titles and material benefits such as land. Sultans were often able to intervene in Sufi succession disputes and thus to assert their authority over the zawiyas . In return, Sufi brotherhoods often acted as agents of state authority in the countryside; at other times they were antagonistic and resistant. In this highly decentralized system both power and authority were dispersed widely throughout the society, requiring incessant negotiation and manipulation.27

The Safavid regime affords another example of a system of relations between a central government and a tribal society. In the Safavid case the authority of the sultan was analogous to that of the Moroccan sultan. He possessed Sufi baraka and personal charisma combined with caliphal functions defined in terms of responsibility for the maintenance of Shi'i Islam. In the Safavid case, however, the monarchs seem to have lost much of their personal charisma and to have cultivated a much stronger imperial identity expressed in Iranian and cosmopolitan cultural terms. The state was further based on a rather strong, centralized slave army and on a relatively weak bureaucracy concentrated in the royal household.

The territory of Iran was parceled out to subordinate uymaq principalities. Beneath the level of the Safavid state Iran was actually organized into uymaq chieftainships, which ruled over subject clans, tribal affiliates, and towns and villages. Uymaq chieftains based their power on a warrior clientele and control of local resources, but they also were formally recognized by the Safavid government and received subsidies, allotments of infantry, and rights to collect taxes. The struggle for power between the state and uymaqs reached a crisis in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Shah 'Abbas sought to centralize military and administrative power, control tax revenues, and promote a royal economy centered in the capital city of Isfahan. The program of state centralization often led to the confiscation of estates administered by uymaq chiefs, but generally royal influence was used to tip the balance of power against great magnates in favor of lesser chieftains who would ally with the shah. Shah 'Abbas succeeded in reducing the power of the great uymaq chiefs without actually changing the basic structure of the political system. His effect on the uymaq system was profound but not decisive. Upon his death the Iranian state continued to function by virtue of the shifting balance of power between the Safavid regime and its uymaq subordinates and rivals. Iran was essentially a Safavid suzerainty over a society organized into regional uymaq states.28

Thus, we have two zones of Middle Eastern political organization: a vast core region, in which central imperial power was predominant and rural chieftaincies were confined to the periphery, and flanking zones, in which rural chieftaincies were integral to the political system. In all regions empire-chieftaincy relations may be characterized in terms of certain political and religious factors. First, all populations were part of a state-centered political system, but states in practice were not absolutely dominant in their own territories. Power was commonly shared with organized political communities, especially in rural areas. States and rural chieftaincies confronted one another as organized entities, and there was usually an open struggle for power between the two types of political organizations within the same territory. In this struggle states had the advantages of reverence for the authority of the ruler, ability to exert military force, control of access to economic resources such as markets, and a bureaucratic apparatus for taxation. Tribal populations had on their side geography, mobility, a warrior population, and flexible capacity for organization.

States ordinarily attempted to subordinate and dismantle rural political structures and bring them under state control and taxation. Where these efforts failed, states could manipulate rural populations by actually organizing them into tribal entities. States supported or even appointed cooperative chieftains to govern segmentary groups and incorporated the notables into the ruling elite. They rewarded cooperative chiefs with administrative appointments, honors, and bribes. Otherwise, they used the notables as negotiating intermediaries. In cases where notables remained autonomous, states coerced them as best they could and accepted whatever degree of autonomy they had to. In each region there were differences in the bases of state power, the extent and character of rural chieftaincies, and the historic ebb and flow of power between center and periphery. Ecological and demographic factors were very important in this balance of power. Mountain and desert regions tended to favor tribal autonomy; the plains and sedentarized regions tended toward subordination.

These routinized political relations also gained a cultural component as Islam became the idiom of state-rural relations. In many areas, between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, Sufism became a principal mechanism of economic organization, tribal agglomeration, mediation among segmentary groups, and resistance to, and collaboration with, state authorities. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Sufism played a great part in the expansion of Islam into India and Anatolia. It was particularly important in eastern Anatolia, northwestern Iran, and parts of Transoxania in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries and in North Africa from the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries. It was never an important rural force in the Arab Fertile Crescent.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought a new wave of Sufi leadership in the organization of segmentary populations. The rise of what is variously called reform, islah, tajdid , or neo-Sufism inspired Sufis to take charge of segmentary populations in the Sudan (Khalwatiyya, Sammaniyya leading to the Mahdis), Libya (Sanusiyya), and North Africa (Tijaniyya, Qadiriyya, Rahmaniyya, and other reformist movements). The diffusion of Sufism among segmentary populations was, of course, not limited to the Middle East. In Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, insilimen or zawaya lineages claiming Arab and Sharifian descent mediated among, and organized, the desert and Sudanic populations. In Mauritania Shaykh Sidiya al-Kabir played, par excellence, the roles of Sufi, legal scholar, qadi , mediator, economic organizer, and political chieftain. In Transoxania we find evliadi lineages among Turkmens, and mirs, khwajas , and sayyids among Uzbeks and other Inner Asian peoples.29

Sufism was adopted by tribal peoples because it served as a condensed symbol of their complex political situation. It established the authority of outside individuals or nontribal families who could serve as arbitrators and unify small groups for shared economic orpolitical projects. In its local saint and shrine versions, which focused on local holy men and lineages, Sufism established a parochial religious identity distinct from that of the state and the urban 'ulama '. It was well adapted for this purpose since, in ideational terms, it conveyed a more universalistic concept of the social order; in organizational terms, individual holy men and lineages could mediate at the local level, and the turuq could integrate dispersed populations over wide territories. Furthermore, Sufi Islam served to symbolize, on the one hand, the opposition of tribal peoples to empires and urban forms of Islam and, on the other, their potential and actual integration into the structure of empire societies and the universal brotherhood of Islam. It expressed the complex mixture of antagonism and cooperation that marked the relations of tribes and states.


Since ancient times the normal structure of Middle Eastern societies has been a tripartite organization of parochial groups, religious associations, and empires. Consolidated regimes have for several millennia maintained a routine relationship involving both conflict and cooperation with subordinate but politically organized populations. This structure was periodically challenged by the rise of conquest movements, usually in the peripheral regions of Arabia, North Africa, and Inner Asia. These conquest movements integrated segmentary groups by reverting to an undifferentiated type of political and social structure. Successful movements, however, generated empires and rapidly evolved into the ordinary patterns of differentiated Middle Eastern societies. Tribal, religious, and state structures again became separate institutions, though some ambiguity remained about the boundaries between them and the relationships among them. Over the centuries Islam became the almost universal metaphor of social organization and political legitimation and the ideological basis of empire-chieftaincy relations. It served symbolically as a mediating factor in the organization of tribes and as a unifying factor in their relation to the rest of society.

The twentieth century has brought great changes, and it seems doubtful that such systems can continue to exist except in vestigial forms. Militarily, administratively, and technologically, strong states seem to have put an end to the political prospect of large-scale tribal mobilization. They have appropriated modern forms of moral authority—nationalist, socialist, or Islamic—that deny the legitimacy of intermediate autonomous political forces within their territories. The empire-chieftaincy systems of the past have given way, and are giving way, to new forms of political and social organization and new concepts of social solidarity and political legitimation.


Excerpted from Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East by Philip S. Khoury Copyright © 1991 by Philip S. Khoury. Excerpted by permission.
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