Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Historical Survey on Sheikh Arslan

What one picture can tell you.

Recognize anybody in this photograph?

That's right, the third person from the right is the Mufti, Haj Amin El-Husseini, the political, religious leader of the Arab community in the Palestine Mandate.

But to his left, that is, the second person from the right of the photograph is Shakib Arslan.


Well, in modern Islamic political history, he is a seminal figure.

As this set of volumes records, there was a progression of pan-Islamic organisations, movements and activists in the Arab states in the early 20th century and the Islamic institutions they sought to create wished to regularize all aspects of both religious and secular life. For our particular interest, there was a special focus on Mandate Palestine from 1931 on in the form of a Pan-Islamic Arab Revolutionary Movement and that was led by the Emir Shekib Arslan.

He was instrumental in pushing a World Islamic Conference in Mecca that first convened in 1926 in Saudi Arabia. The Conference met eventually in 1931 in Jerusalem. Here is a chronological outline as regards "Palestine" from the books:

2.4 Activists and groups in the Maghreb states, Europe, Egypt, Palestine, 1926-1931
2.5 Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism, 1931: the Pan-Islamic Revolutionary Movement
2.6 Lobbying by Saukat Ali, the Indian activist, and his plans for a major conference of Muslims in Jerusalem in 1931: response and criticisms from the Muslim community including Emir Shekib Arslan, King Fuad, King Ibn Saud, and the press, British government concerns, areas to be addressed
2.7 The General Muslim Congress in Jerusalem, 1931: proceedings, resolutions
2.8 Aftermath of the congress: meetings of rival groups, evaluations, plans for future conferences, 1931-1933
3.9 Palestine issue: joint Arab policy arising from meetings of representatives in Cairo, 1939
3.10 Moslem Brotherhood (Ikhwan el Muslimin) and other activities in Egypt, 1942-1944
3.11 Review of Arab Nationalist Movement in 1943
3.12 Post-war focus on Palestine, 1946
3.13 Organisations, including youth movements, 1945-1947
3.14 Developments in 1948, increasing dissent, leading up to the dissolution of the Ikhwan el Muslimin

David Ben-Gurion met with him in Geneva, as he testified before the Commission of Inquiry (see bottom of page 5 to top of page 6):

There was a plan drawn up and we agreed that we of the Jewish Agency would make the agreement for the Jewish people, and it was agreed that an Arab Congress should be called, and this plan should be brought before them for approval. Emir Shekib Arslan said he could not agree to that. First of all he did not believe that England would allow the Jews to become more numerous in Palestine. Then why should he? There could be an agreement only on the basis, if we undertook to remain a permanent minority in Palestine. I said "No". Ihsan Bey el Jabri took another view, but Arslan is an older man, and Jabri did not contradict him, but it was understood that it was a private conversation and that nothing should be published. Three months later I was sorry to see that in a paper called La Nation Arabe this discussion was published, and not only published, but it was distorted.

Q. Did you give us the date of that?

A. It was September 23rd, 1934, in Geneva.

Arslan steered the Arabs to Mussolini and worse. A photostat of a letter from Emir Shekib Arslan to the Mufti, concerning the spreading of pro-Italian propaganda, appeared in the Palestine press in 1935 and by 1936 Radio Bari was blaring anti-British broadcasts at the Arabs. (See here, too: "Les radios de l'Axe faisaient preuve d'une sollicitude particulière pour leurs auditeurs de langue arabe. Toutes ces activités avaient préparé les esprits et la moisson /leva pendant la guerre. En ce qui concerne la Palestine, on sait maintenant que les troubles de 1936-39 avaient été fomentés et financés par l'Axe. Le Mufti de Jérusalem était en contact avec Mussolini depuis des années, par l'intermédiaire de son agent à Genève, l'Emir Shekib Arslan.")

In his classic work, Our Decline: Its Causes and Remedies, among other topics, he notes

...the example of how 400 million Muslims could not match the contributions of around twenty million Jews for Palestine. He gives a rough breakdown of how much Muslims contributed to the Palestine Fund at that time, and shows his frustration that one-tenth of the world’s Muslim population were found to have contributed not even a qarsh per head.
As someone has written:
...the Syro-Lebanese Emir Shakib Arslan (1870-1945) [asked] in 1930: " why Arabs are legging behind while others have progressed?" The answer rejected two opposite attitudes: a blind fidelity to the Ancients (Salafs) and the servile imitation (taqlid) of the West. The representatives of this ethos were clerics, scribers and statesmen. Their methods oscillate between Ijtihad and Jihad, which have the same lexical root (J.H.D.) that means, "making an effort". In fact, they were agnostic, even according to some sources secretly heretics, engaged into relations with senior officers of the colonial powers. Caught between Ijtihad and Jihad, this type survived. The second fundamentalism chooses the Jihad, a founding precedent for Al-Qaida’s world terror.

The fundamentalism of the second type is commonly called radical Islam. The wave called sahwa islamiya (Islamic awakening) is rather recent. In fact, its origins go back to the thirties with the birth of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (1927) and the Jamaat-i-islami in Pakistan (1941), common matrix to all radicalism.

Radical Islam was born in the thirties in an Egypt, politically liberal, parliamentary monarchy with a constitution (people often forget that), dominated by Saad Zaghlul’s Wafd party, and intellectually modernist. Then an obscure instructor, Hassen al-Banna (1906-1949), founded, a year after Saad Zaghlul death (1926), the populist movement Muslim Brotherhood, no body thought at the moment would be a "school case": the brotherhood is at the same time a religious gathering, a political party, an underground armed branch and Islamic international. Its program remains the same: "God is our goal, his message our model, the holy Qoran, our constitution, Jihad, our way, and martyrdom our hope". At he same time, in India, and before the creation of Pakistan, the Indo-Pakistani Mawdudi (1903-1973), founded Jamaat-i-islami (1941), copying the Brotherhood movement, with a peculiar fact which consequences are still visible in Pakistan: infiltration of Islamic groups by intelligence services. Mawdudi’s writings were translated from Urdu into Arabic by his follower Ali Nadawi, himself author of a best seller. He opposes Arslan’s question "what the West has lost with the decline of the Islamic world?" He traveled to the Middle East in 1951 and met with Qutb (1906-1965), the second spiritual guide of the Brotherhood after the assassination of its first leader al-Banna (1949). Now, the link between marginal Asian and radical Islam with the Middle Eastern, where initial fundamentalism has failed, is sealed for long.

The social forces in favor of this revolutionary Islam, for the majority, are what is commonly accepted as "Ph.D. + beard", young men, living in the periphery of towns, covering large areas to be considered as alternative leaders to authoritarian and corrupted regimes.

The question asked by the radical Islam is different from the one asked by shakib Arslan, on behalf of the Awakening: why Islam is a stranger on its own territory?

Much is not known of the issues and themes I've touched on here but at least, if you have reached this far, I hope you know more that what you knew previously - and wish to know more.

1 comment:

yoni said...

yes, but what about his connection with the mufti? the picture tells us only that they were photographed together once. oh, unless the connection is detailed in the paragraph you quoted in the original french. what was that about? scholarship cred? relax, we know you're a scholar. no more french, please.