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Volume :10 Issue : 39 1992      Add To Cart                                                                    Download

The Societal and Civilizational Dimensions of the Islamic View to Nomadism (in Arabic)

Auther : Mohammad Jabir Al-Ansari

One of the striking phenomena in the sociology of Islam, which researchers still need to explain and interpret, is the distinctive view of this religion-as reflected in the Holy Quran and the Sunna-to Nomadism and the pastoral mode of living in general. 

Despite the fact that Islam was born in an oasis surrounded by arid deserts and nomadic tribes, it distinguished itself in a radical way from Bedouin tradition and behaviour to the extent of emerging, in the history of this part of the world, as a civilizing sedentary revolution against the nomadic tradition, in addition to its essential character as a divinely revelated universal message.

Islam did not only endeavor to change and improve the moral character of the Arab Nomads (A'raab), but it also systematically intended to alter their physical environment by encouraging them to settle in sedentary areas by political means as well as by religious legislations.

As a new message of divine belief, ethical values, social order and sedentary discipline, Islam regarded Nomadism and its pastoral mode of living - as it is currently regarded in the modern social sciences - as a semi-retarded way of life in many aspects.

Nomadism, being «a society without history», and an .arrested civilization. (Toynbee, A study of History, abridged by D. Somervell, Oxford, 1947, P.169) in the sense of its vicious repetitive cycles without any considerable accumulation of civilization of civilizational innovations, represented - with its rigid tribalism - the main challenge to the basic Islamic drive for urbanization and sedentary supremacy. It is of paramount importance to realize, in this aspect, that Islam had not mainly spread by nomadic forces - as it is believed in certain circles - but by the ability of the sedentary leading Moslem communities to control the surrounding nomads and to direct them under the banner of Islam. Only when real Islamic sedentary control is weakened do nomads regain their power, thus bringing chaos to the areas of their control.

This conflict between Islam as a civilizing force, and tribal Nomadism is not, however a separate phenomenon from the context of Middle Eastern history and civilization. As a matter of fact, it is directly related to the dialectical process between town and Steppe throughout the history of the arid and semi-arid regions in the ancient world, a dialectic from which the Arab philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun, had formulated his interpretation of Arab History as a sequence and equillibrium between sedentary and nomadic forces.

Islam being, however, a wholestic view to the human society did not confine its view to nomadism, as the negative aspect in the historical process. The Quran also warned Moslems, on the other hand, of the destructive influence of TARAF, the indulgence of the sedentary societies in the corruptive pleasures and practices of a decaying civilization.

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