Islam

An Arab 1848?

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In 1848 popular revolutions swept across Europe. The lessons from these events can help us to understand the revolutions in the Middle East today.

The sheer scale of the Arab revolutions has sent commentators searching through the historical record to find parallels to help make sense of events and guess where they might lead. Repeatedly they turn to the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. It's not hard to see why.

The generals, the Islamists and the Egyptian Revolution

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After the recent election Egypt's parliament is dominated by Islamists, especially representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. But, argues Phil Marfleet, the Brotherhood faces immense pressure from Egyptians to deliver real change and break with the military

Egypt's new parliament, which convened on 23 January, is overwhelmingly Islamist. Seventy three percent of the People's Assembly, the lower house, is composed of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nour Party. This suggests a stunning electoral performance by the Islamists and a tricky time ahead for revolutionary activists who do not embrace their agendas. But the picture is much more complicated - as Islamists discovered only 48 hours after the Assembly convened.

Briefing: The main currents of Egypt's Islamists

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Salafis

Salafis have been concerned mainly with details of ritual, dress and personal morality. They are often referred to in Egypt as "Sunnis", with the implication that they are concerned overwhelmingly with the Sunna ("the way"/"the path") associated with key traditions of Islam and with the practice of the Prophet Muhammad. They are followers of the salaf (predecessors or forefathers) - the Prophet and the founding community of Muslims of the 7th century AD.

The scandal of faith

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Why are some in the West so terrified of Muslims? There are many tediously familiar answers: because they are all potential terrorists, because they are a drain on the social services, because their culture threatens to swamp British civilisation and so on.

There is, however, a more subtle reason for Islamophobia. Think of the sheer strangeness, in the eyes of sceptical modern Europe, of the presence of countless millions of ordinary men and women whose everyday lives are shaped and guided by belief. What sense can an agnostic, pragmatic society make of that? How can faith possibly fit into its materialistic priorities?

Can the Islamists limit Egypt's revolution?

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The Islamist mass rally in Cairo on 29 July showed the deepening alliance between some Islamists and the ruling army council. But, argues
Phil Marfleet, the Islamists are an unstable coalition whose ability to contain the revolution is far from established.

The first appearance of Islamists in a mass rally in Tahrir Square in late July brought predictable reactions in European and American media: Islamic activists were "hijacking" the revolution; they would soon overwhelm its secular activists; they would demonstrate that radical change was impossible in a predominantly Muslim society.

The Islamists and the Egyptian Revolution

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Egyptian socialist Sameh Naguib looks at the role of Islamists in the Egyptian Revolution

There is something of a state of hysteria in the discussions on the left and among the liberals about the Islamist movement in Egypt at present, fuelled by the fact that while we are in the first stages of the biggest popular revolution in Egypt's history, the forces of the left are small and divided, but the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest organisation on the Egyptian political scene. This state of hysteria has increased with the entry of the Salafists and the extremist Islamist groups into the political arena.

Confusion

Interview: Tariq Ali

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'The history of the development of Islamic civilisation is one of adaption and intermingling. It is one of both influencing the non-Islamic world and being influenced by it.' Tariq Ali challenges the myth that Islam is incompatible with the West in his four novels about the Muslim world and Europe. He discussed them with Talat Ahmed.

Since Jack Straw made his comments on the veil, politicians have been falling over themselves to demonise Muslims in Britain. Now university lecturers are expected to spy on "Asian-looking" students in order to spot potential terrorists, while parents are warned to be on the look out for "fundamentalist" tendencies among their children. Britain seems to be in the grip of an anti-Muslim hysteria that has been gathering pace for some time. Tariq Ali's four novels on Islam and its relationship to Europe provide not only welcome relief but also an antidote.

Respect and the 'Muslim Vote'

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Jacob Middleton picks apart the claims that Respect has set aside class politics and is instead pushing a "communal" agenda that will appeal only to Muslims.

Respect's stunning election successes last month have roused up a torrent of abuse. Some of it is predictable, lambasting support for Respect among British Muslims. In a piece that compared Respect to the Nazi BNP, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer that, "Once again, we find a slice of the electorate in a poor part of Britain that is so lost in identity politics and victimhood that it will vote for those who stoke their rage, no matter how worthless they are." Cohen's fixation says much about the prejudices of pro-war hacks.

Islam and the Enlightenment

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The intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th century that became known as the Enlightenment helped a new class to come to power in Europe. Neil Davidson asks why the more advanced civilisations of the Islamic world did not develop a similar movement of their own.

In the current Western controversy over Islam, one theme recurs with increasing predictability. Many writers are prepared to acknowledge Muslim cultural and scientific achievements, but always with the caveat that Islamic civilisation never experienced an equivalent to the Enlightenment. "Islam never had to go through a prolonged period of critically examining the validity of its spiritual vision, as the West did during the 18th century," writes the historian Louis Dupre. "Islamic culture has, of course, known its own crisis...

Arab Civilisation: Found in Translation

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Modern language, science and culture owes much to the Muslim empire of the early Middle Ages.

'We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us, even if it is brought to us by former generations and foreign peoples.' The philosopher Al-Kindi, who wrote those words in 9th century Baghdad, understood better than most how much human history has been shaped by the interaction of different cultures. He was one of the thousands of Arab scholars employed to translate, analyse and develop Greek learning by the Abbasid caliphs, rulers of the great Muslim empire of the 8th to the 13th centuries.

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