Class roots of original Islam. The qu'ran and Uthmans counter-revolution.

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jaycee
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Jan 9 2016 20:41
Class roots of original Islam. The qu'ran and Uthmans counter-revolution.

I've seen a few posters on this forum who seem to have a quite in depth knowledge of early Islam and remember having a brief discussion about what the class nature of early Islam was and whether Islam was a 'movement of merchants'. I still think this view is not quite right although the role of the merchant classes was certainly of central importance.

I was wondering if anyone could recommend any good Marxist writings on this, in particular on what I would call Uthmans counter-revolution. That is the process whereby Islam became more and more incorporated into the status-quo (although it also helped to build a new status-quo/class society) and power was given back to the traditionally powerful families and tribes. In particular anything that connects this to the compilation and standardization of the Qu'ran.

jaycee
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Jan 10 2016 07:50

error

Mark.
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Jan 9 2016 23:37

I'm not really aware of any Marxist writings. The whole subject of the history of early Islam is problematic because the traditional Muslim historical sources are so much later and, for at least until the later seventh century, the accounts are essentially semi-mythical. It isn't as if there's any real academic consensus, although there is an explosion of interesting scholarship going on. I suspect there's a risk of trying to impose a Marxist analysis on a version of history that didn't actually happen.

Patricia Crone wrote a book on Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam which might be of interest. I haven't found it online anywhere but did find this probably quite speculative article: Quraysh and the Roman army: Making sense of the Meccan leather trade. For the influence of Patricia Crone, and an introduction to the historical problems with looking at early Islam, it might be worth looking at this article by Chase Robinson: Crone and the end of Orientalism. Also Ian D Morris tweeting Crone's historiographical introduction to Slaves on Horses.

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Steven.
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Jan 10 2016 00:45

Are you researching this for an article or something? If so we could be interested in hosting it so keep in touch!

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James MacBryde
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Jan 10 2016 10:54

jaycee:

Quote:
...was...Islam a 'movement of merchants'?

Well Mohammed, who was beyond doubt a real historical figure, was a merchant himself so it is safe to assume the movement he inaugurated was a merchant movement itself in origins.

jaycee
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Jan 10 2016 10:56

thanks Mark i'll check those out when i've got time.

I suspect there's a risk of trying to impose a Marxist analysis on a version of history that didn't actually happen.

This is always a danger in studying religion but I tend to think the broad outline of events is basically truthful. I don't think a completely mythical person or movement could have had the effects Muhammad and Islam had.

Steven: yeah I'm researching it to do an in-depth article/series of articles on early Islam which may end up being part of a series on religion in general. Cheers for the offer.

Just in case anyones interested I thought i'd bump my old article i wrote on ISIS and Islam https://libcom.org/library/islamic-state-cannot-destroy-real-idols-our-t.... I won't to look a bit deeper at the whole process of how Islam emerged and how it became the basis for a new civilization.

At the moment I am getting bit closer to the idea that it was a 'movement of the merchant classes' but that it was a movement of the oppressed and marginalized merchants in particular. Also that it was aimed at being a movement that went beyond class and united all the oppressed strata of society and in fact was based on an alliance of all these oppressed strata but was unconsciously driven more by the merchant classes interest.

Oh and thanks to the mods for clearing my mistake.

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Noa Rodman
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Jan 10 2016 10:59

In Vladimir Lutsky Modern History of the Arab Countries (1969) chapter 5 and following deals with the rise of the Wahhabis. This is not about early Islam, but it is a more relevant subject to read about it. It seems there's a bit of admiration by the author.

jaycee
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Jan 10 2016 11:05

James macBryde:
Certainly it was affected by the fact that Muhammad was a merchant but that is slightly different to saying the movement itself was a movement of the merchant class. Engels was a capitalist, Marx was middle class etc- that doesn't mean Marxism and communism is a movement of the bourgeoisie.

I think there are two connected but separate questions; firstly what did the movement lead by Muhammad aim to achieve and which groups did it unite and give expression to? And, what was the class nature of the Islamic civilization eventually set up in his name?

To the second question I am moving towards the idea that it was based on a compromise with the merchant classes and the traditional ruling families and tribes. The first one is I think possibly more difficult to answer.

Noa: That looks really interesting actually. I think I have tended to dismiss Wahhabism in its entirety but it probably does need a more developed study.

Mark.
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Jan 10 2016 12:02
James MacBryde wrote:
jaycee:

Quote:
...was...Islam a 'movement of merchants'?

Well Mohammed, who was beyond doubt a real historical figure, was a merchant himself so it is safe to assume the movement he inaugurated was a merchant movement itself in origins.

We do know that there was a historical Muhammad as he gets a passing mention in early non-Muslim sources. We don't know if he was a merchant, whether he actually came from Mecca or what his real relationship was with the writing of the Qur'an. The surviving Muslim traditions on this date from much later, in the eighth and ninth centuries. It can't just be assumed that they record real history.

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jonthom
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Jan 10 2016 12:38

Agreed, this looks like a really fascinating topic. Two possible avenues to look down...

First is the field of Soviet Orientalist studies in Islam, though with obvious provisos around the need for scholarship to meet the needs of the party/state.

The other is the texts collected in the book Seeing Islam as Others Saw It (PDF), a collection of early non-Muslim writings on/reactions to early Islam. Some date from earlier than the earliest Islamic sources.

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Jan 11 2016 10:46

Quote:

Quote:
Engels was a capitalist, Marx was middle class etc- that doesn't mean Marxism and communism is a movement of the bourgeoisie.

Marx and Engels did not inaugurate the communist movement and in my opinion Marxism and communism are two quite separate things. You are right though, my argument is very flacid. After all Jesus was a carpenter in his early life but that does not mean he started a movement of carpenters.

I think the clues you are searching for may be found in Quran itself on the issues of divorce of inheritance. Sorry if I'm talking out my arse. On a related matter, is their any connection between the original written sayings of Jesus and the Holy Catholic Church? I can see none: the two seem diametrically opposed!

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Devrim
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Jan 10 2016 15:16

I think that the origins of Islam are a lot more shadowy than many believe. Like with Christianity, Islam was codified as a religion at a later point. The fact that we are not really sure what went on means that it is rather difficult to analyse the class forces involved.

Devrim

Mark.
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Jan 10 2016 16:46
jonthom wrote:
Agreed, this looks like a really fascinating topic. Two possible avenues to look down...

First is the field of Soviet Orientalist studies in Islam, though with obvious provisos around the need for scholarship to meet the needs of the party/state...

That's interesting to read, though there were some unlikely theories floating around. Here's a longer article that I haven't actually read through as yet. From a quick glance I think the writer might follow a rather traditionalist account of Islamic origins.

The Soviet Discourse on the Origin and Class Character of Islam, 1923-1933

Edit: Looking through that a bit further Liutsian Klimovich comes across as an interesting, if sinister, figure. Apart from his tactical changes of stance, and contribution to the removal and possibly execution of academic rivals, some of his ideas do seem to prefigure western revisionist scholarship by forty years or so.

Mark.
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Jan 10 2016 18:18

This is a good non-academic introduction to the arguments about early Islam from the point of view of a liberal Muslim, though I think he's too keen to dismiss the arguments against an origin in Mecca:

Sameer Rahim: The Shadow of the Scroll – Reconstructing Islam’s Origins

This article summarises the arguments against Meccan origins:

Klingschor - Identifying the Quranic Milieu ("Where was the Koran Written?")

mark0thiele
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Jan 11 2016 08:45

I base my supposition on the homogeny of the writing style, which stands in contrast to the Bible which is manifestly from numerous sources.

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Entdinglichung
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Jan 11 2016 14:54

has anyone read Maxime Rodinson's "Islam and Capitalism"? ... one of the books on my "to-do-list" ... there is an online version here

the German scholar Baber Johansen mentioned in a short booklet called Islam und Staat (only available in German, 1982) that Islam reflects a merchant society on the stage of a petty commodity production, through its calendar system (Lunar calendar without intercalation), it shows that it is an urban phenomenon divorced from the agrarian cycle

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Jan 11 2016 10:44

Entdinglichung, does the lunar calendar without intercalation result in months of the year that are no longer in sync with the cycles of the moon thus rendering it less useful or perhaps useless to primitive farming techniques?

Note: primitive farming techniques use the cycles of the moon to calculate when to plant and when to reap.

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Entdinglichung
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Jan 11 2016 10:46

yes, the calendrical year is completely divorced from the solar year, in regions without significant seasonal changes close to the equator, that wouldn't matter but a strictly lunar calendar is completely useless for farming

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Jan 12 2016 10:53

Crucial reasoning by our good scholar! Thanks for bringing it to our attention Mr Ding.

Has anyone else thought about how conveniently Islam's proscription of usury fits into the current economic climate? I mean as an ideological front for zero or sub-zero rates of interest.

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Entdinglichung
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Jan 11 2016 15:59

arguments about an Uthmanic counter revolution, you can also find in Anton Josef Dierl: Geschichte und Lehre des anatolischen Alevismus-Bektasismus. (Frankfurt/M.: Dagyeli 1985), it proclaims that Mohamed, Ali and Salman al-Farasi were radicals, early socialists

Mark.
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Jan 12 2016 00:14

Ian D Morris tweeting on the origins of Sunni Islam

His blog is also worth looking at

jaycee
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Jan 12 2016 10:56

cheers everyone for the links etc, this will all be really useful.

In terms of the Uthman 'counter-revolution' I think it is undeniable that around this time the Islamic movement became much more incorporated into the traditional power hierarchies, in particular that of the power of ruling families and greater wealth inequality.

It is definitely not independent of the codification of the Koran, even Muslim tradition admits that other versions of the Koran were burnt and lost during this period although they downplay the significance of the differences. Certainly men like Abu Dhar made a lot of criticisms of the growing differences between rich and poor during this period.

ajjohnstone
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Jan 12 2016 12:49

This month's Socialist Standard has a review of 'Marxism and the Muslim World', by Maxime Rodinson,

http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2016/no-1337...

And Rodinson is also featured here
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2000s/2005/no-1214...

An overview here
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2015/no-1328...

bit on Islamic banking
http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2010s/2013/no-1306...

Mark.
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Jan 12 2016 19:03

Here's a useful and up to date article on the historiography of early Islam. The writing of earlier Orientalists really needs to be read in the light of this.

Chase Robinson - History and Heilsgeschichte in early Islam: Some observations on prophetic history and biography

Mark.
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Jan 25 2017 17:35

Some more articles on the history of early Islam:

Patricia Crone - The Rise of Islam (extract from Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam)
http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/med/crone.asp

Robert Hoyland - Writing the Biography of Muhammad
https://www.academia.edu/3303289/Writing_the_Biography_of_Muhammad

Robert Hoyland - Early Islam as a Late Antique Religion
http://www.academia.edu/8272594/Early_Islam_as_a_Late_Antique_Religion

Robert Hoyland - The Earliest Christian Writings on Muhammad
https://www.academia.edu/3243391/The_Earliest_Christian_Writings_on_Muha...

Robert Hoyland - New Documentary Texts and the Early Islamic State
http://www.academia.edu/3430551/New_Documentary_Texts_and_the_Early_Isla...

Suleiman Mourad - Riddles of the Book
(*I'd be sceptical about some traditionalist assumptions in this*)
http://newleftreview.org/II/86/suleiman-mourad-riddles-of-the-book

Stephen Shoemaker - Muḥammad and the Qurʾān
https://www.academia.edu/3535666/Muḥammad_and_the_Qurʾān_-_Oxford_Handbook_of_Late_Antiquity

Tommaso Tesei - The Qur’ān(s) in Context(s)
http://www.academia.edu/13381864/_The_Qur_ān_s_in_Context_s_._Lecture_given_at_the_Polonsky_Academy_for_Advanced_Studies_at_the_Van_Leer_Jerusalem_Institute_Jerusalem_July_23_2014

Mark.
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May 2 2016 17:18

This is a useful summary of the development of academic thinking about early Islam, and the move away from a simple acceptance of the traditional accounts.

Fred Donner - The Study of Islam’s Origins since W. Montgomery Watt’s Publications

An argument that the creation of an 'Arab' identity came after the development of Islam.

Peter Webb - Arab Origins: Identity, History and Islam

The above is essentially a summary of the arguments in his PhD thesis.

Peter Webb - Creating Arab origins: Muslim constructions of al‐Jāhiliyya and Arab history

Mark.
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Jan 24 2017 18:05
Mark. wrote:
James MacBryde wrote:
jaycee:

Quote:
...was...Islam a 'movement of merchants'?

Well Mohammed, who was beyond doubt a real historical figure, was a merchant himself so it is safe to assume the movement he inaugurated was a merchant movement itself in origins.

We do know that there was a historical Muhammad as he gets a passing mention in early non-Muslim sources. We don't know if he was a merchant, whether he actually came from Mecca or what his real relationship was with the writing of the Qur'an. The surviving Muslim traditions on this date from much later, in the eighth and ninth centuries. It can't just be assumed that they record real history.

The later traditions also contain conflicting accounts. Here's a twitter thread with academic experts on early Islam discussing hadith claiming that Muhammad was a shepherd. A likely explanation for this is that the old testament prophets were shepherds so later exegetes thought Muhammad should have been a shepherd as well. However Sean Anthony, who I'd take seriously as a historian, argues "that he was likely not a merchant (as modern bios say), but rather a shepherd". So who knows.

https://mobile.twitter.com/iandavidmorris/status/822546010547322880

Morris is discussing work on his PhD thesis here. It seems that it touches on class relations in the Arabian societies where early Islam developed and looks like it could be interesting reading when finished.

I wonder if jaycee ever got any further with his article.

Here's an interesting new article from Tommaso Tesei that looks at the political and military background to the composition of the Qur'an:

https://www.academia.edu/30962853/_The_Romans_will_win_A_Qur_ānic_prophecy_Q_30_2-7_in_light_of_7th_c._political_eschatology._Lecture_given_at_Tel_Aviv_University_Tel_Aviv_17_January_2017

jaycee
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Jan 25 2017 14:12

cheers again for all that mark. unfortunately this project of mine kind of petered out. I came up with the 'genius' idea of trying to do a study of the entire history of religion which predictably ended up with me losing focus on the whole project.

anyway i am still planning on getting back to the question of Islam and hopefully this will give me the kick i needed.

cheers.haha

Mark.
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Jan 25 2017 15:10

Good luck with it. Early Islam is a very interesting historical puzzle but I don't think it's easy to arrive at any certainties.

Dave B
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Jan 25 2017 22:31

I think it was written within the context of a slave owning society.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_views_on_slavery

As well as ‘merchantile’ activity

There are some interesting interpretations on “Riba”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riba

There is quite a lot of eccentric Christian material in it and he is supposed to have got that from a Christian slave.

Its historical authenticity is as good as it gets.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Quran_manuscript

Although there is a passage in the Quran that strongly suggests that Mohamed himself was illiterate.

Mark.
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Nov 10 2019 14:26

Ian D Morris - Class relations at the origins of Islam

https://mobile.twitter.com/iandavidmorris/status/1192848151591505920

Quote:
The anecdotes in the paper are by no means new. They have been part of the scholarly conversation since M.J. Kister’s article on Ṭāʾif, published in 1979. But where Kister found a series of contracts, what I see is a peasant community yearning to be free. A Marxist interpretation lays bare the class relations in every contract: the asymmetry of power and the tacit threat of violence. For students of Early Islam, this kind of investigation might seem unfamiliar, even eccentric. But I hope to convince my colleagues that such an orientation upon our sources can enrich our understanding of the people who built Islam. The merchants of Arabia were also landlords; their caravans were fed on land rent. This was the class that Muḥammad unified. As the Conquests proceeded, many poor Arabians enlisted in the Muslim armies; they and their descendants did very well. Quite a few generals and governors claimed descent from the Thaqīf. But those who stayed home were squeezed for rent and eventually transported. However many stories of rags to riches our sources like to tell, the fact of exploitation never ends. The origins of Islam belong to the history of class struggle.

.

Twitter thread with a summary of the article:

https://mobile.twitter.com/iandavidmorris/status/1122144592567197697

Quote:
Class relations at the origins of Islam

Muhammad was a merchant. Historians are forever trying to explain the details of his life and the contents of the Qur’an with reference to his career, travelling and trading among Jews and Christians.

And since W.M. Watt published his books on ‘Muhammad at Mecca’ and ‘Muhammad at Medina’ in the 1950s, we have even wondered if the rise of merchant capitalism frayed the bonds of tribal society, disturbing the traditional order and paving the way for Muhammad’s moral revolution.

This paper argues that we have focused too much on trade itself and too little on the class relations that support a trading economy.

Muhammad and his peers were more than merchants: they were a highly mobile class of warrior landlords who – through tax, rent, interest and tribute – seized and concentrated surplus wealth from the petty herdsmen and oasis farmers of Arabia.

From this angle, Muhammad was not a revolutionary, but a consolidator. His new coalition did not abolish the class system, but it did unite the ruling class into a single political force.

Together in their zeal for primitive accumulation – with God’s blessing – they went on to conquer and exploit their wealthier neighbours across the Middle East. The origins of Islam belong to the history of class struggle.