Public Islam and the Common Good

Public Islam and the Common Good

Public Islam and the Common Good

Public Islam and the Common Good


This book explores the public role of Islam in contemporary world politics. "Public Islam" refers to the diverse invocations and struggles over Islamic ideas and practices that increasingly influence the politics and social life of large parts of the globe. The contributors to this volume show how public Islam articulates competing notions and practices of the common good and a way of envisioning alternative political and religious ideas and realities, reconfiguring established boundaries of civil and social life. Drawing on examples from the late Ottoman Empire, Africa, South Asia, Iran, and the Arab Middle East, this volume facilitates understanding the multiple ways in which the public sphere, a key concept in social thought, can be made transculturally feasible by encompassing the evolution of non-Western societies in which religion plays a vital role.


Dale F. Eickelman and Armando Salvatore

The ideas of public accountability and political belonging are not recent in the Arab or the Muslim-majority world. Consider, for example, the oath of allegiance (bayʿ) to the ruler in precolonial Morocco. in that setting, political “belonging” was not based on unquestioned belief but on a continuing process of contest and reaffirmation. From at least the fifteenth century onward, Moroccan monarchs circulated almost continuously throughout their domains. in these royal progresses (harkas) with their entourage, they embodied their personal author- ity in constantly shifting locales, including the four imperial cities of Fez, Marrakesh, Meknes, and Rabat (Geertz 1983 [1977]: 136–37).

The legal and popular dimensions of the bayʿ shed light on the nature of Morocco's precolonial public. Bettina Dennerlein (2001), for example, discusses the October 1873 oath of allegiance in Fez to Sultan Mawlāy al-Hasan. the artisans of Fez insisted on making the bayʿ contingent on the abolition of certain non-Islamic taxes. the men of learning (ʿulama) and others (notables, and military leaders) who drew up the bayʿ agreed to this provision, although a few days later “certain people” prepared to reinstate the tax. Learning of this development, the tanners of Fez and their followers attacked and plundered the residence of the tax administrator, who took refuge with his family in the shrine of Mawlāy Idrīs, the patron saint of Fez.

A month later, Mawlāy al-Ḥaṣan announced an amnesty for those involved. When the sultan himself arrived in Fez in April 1884, how- ever, he ordered the non-Islamic taxes restored. Again conflict erupted. This time the royal army besieged the rebellious quarters, killing and pillaging until the inhabitants again accepted the same taxes as had

An earlier version of this chapter was published as Dale F. Eickelman and
Armando Salvatore, “The Public Sphere and Muslim Societies,” European Journal of
43, no. 1 (2002): 92-115.

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