The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

ISLAM AND THE THEORY OF ARAB NATIONALISM

by SYLVIA G. HAIM

IT IS OFTEN argued that Islam and nationalism, being systems different in origin and inspiration, are contradictory almost by definition, and that no useful purpose can be served in discussing them in connection with each other. In this essay I will, however, try to examine Islam and Arab nationalism as systems of belief, and to discover the point of contact between them, and whether a reconciliation between the two creeds is possible or not.1 It will be necessary to study the literature of the Arab nationalist movement, to trace any Islamic elements that it may contain, and to endeavour to relate these elements to the traditional system of Islamic belief. Such a study will involve the discussion of the changes that have come over certain terms, Islamic in origin and character, as a result of the infiltration of Western ideas into Arabic thought.

Nationalist doctrines in Europe have usually encouraged xenophobia, an exaggerated pride in race and language, and a desire to seek inspiration in a pre-Christian past; Eastern nationalisms naturally followed suit in these as in other, perhaps less aggressive, tendencies of nationalism, since it was from Europe that nationalist theories were learnt in modern times. The literature of Arab nationalism does not lack illustrations of these tendencies. To take an example, Sami Shawkat, a Director General of Education in Iraq in the 1930's, spoke as follows to the teachers of private and foreign schools in Baghdad in 1939:

'We have up to now neglected a most vital aspect of our glorious history; we have made it start at the prophetic message, and this is

____________________
1
See also 'Islam and Arab Nationalism', in Die Welt des Islams (New Series), Vol. III, p. 201.

-280-

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