Why `neo'? Rejection of sectarian affiliations, of the different schools of law, of theology and philosophy, in favour of a strict return to the Koran and the Sunnah is a perennial feature of Islamic fundamentalism. The call for a return to the true tenets of Islam is not new and thus people confuse this with fundamentalism, so to avoid such confusion I suggest to ad ‘neo’. There are indeed new elements that make a difference: one difference between liberals and conservatives on the one hand, and neofundamentalists on the other, is that the former opt to take Western citizenship and be fully integrated into Western countries, while the latter insist that Muslims should remain deterritorialised and not identify with the countries in which they are living.
The Salafi family includes most of the militant groups, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Ahl-i Hadith in Pakistan, but also more integrated and conservative associations, like the different Ahl al Surinah wal Jama'at in Britain and the United States. The politically radical wing of neofundamentalism includes the Qutbist movements of the 1970s (from Sayyid Qutb), the Algerian GIA, AI Qaeda and the Pakistani radical groups like Jayash-e-Muhammad or Sipah-e-Sahaba, which consider jihad to be a personal religious duty, and are therefore often accurately referred to as `Salafi jihadist' while most of those involved prefer to call themselves Salafis (that is, `followers of thepious ancestors').
But others (like the Tablighi) reject such denominations and simply call themselves Muslims. Neofundamentalists by definition reject the idea that there can be different schools of thought and consider themselves the only true Muslims, refusing to be labelled as one specific group among the others. Their claim goes with their propensity for polemics and anathema among people who have a lot in common (for example, Salafis criticising Tablighi, and Wahhabis criticising self-proclaimed Western Salafis).
Many preachers are neofundamentalist, whether conservative or jihadi (such as Abu Hamza al-Masri and Omar Bakri Muhammad in London). Other less-known preachers have built their constituency mainly through the internet, and of these, interestingly many are converts and often black: Sheikh Zarabozo, Sheikh Quick, Sheikh Bilal Philips, Jamaaluddin Haidar and Sheikh Abdullah el-Faisal (a British Jamaican who was sentenced in 2003 to nine years in prison for his call to violence). They use English as their lingua franca. Salafi ideas are also to be found on many student websites, either collective or individual.
Two of the main neofundamentalist movements, the Tablighi and the Wahhabis, had till the 1960s a limited territorial basis (respectively the Indian subcontinent and Saudi Arabia), but gained a supranational worldwide audience through a policy of extensive propaganda.
The Tablighi launched in 1926 in Delhi by Mohammad Ilyas., do not refer to themselves as Salafi, launch short-term campaign tours by missionary teams comprising multinational lay preachers.
They instruct their members to avoid entanglement in local politics, to promote the veiling of women, to close coeducational schools, and to ban social interaction with non-Muslims, all the while insisting on prayers and piety. Knowledge of local languages has never been a prerequisite of khuruj (a missionary journey that all members are supposed to undertake at least once, on a model borrowed from the Mormons), although their propaganda is mainly oral and based on the team's exemplary manners and conduct (hence the importance of etiquette and dress codes).The internet and written publications are not the main media of propaganda for the Tablighi, which is based on verbal and door-to-door personal contact. Ulama do not play a role in the Tablighi movement.
By contrast, Saudi Wahhabism is centred around a cluster of learned sheikhs who rarely travel outside the Gulf states. They extend their influence through an intensive outpouring of fatwas and short conferences or lectures, spread through the internet, television stations (such as Iqra) or via cheap booklets. Their products form an important part of the curriculum of worldwide Muslim religious institutions that are subsidised by Gulf money. Through informal networks of disciples and former students, they reach a lay audience far larger than the madrasas in which they teach. But one should not exaggerate the `Saudi' dimension of the Wahhabi; most of the best-known so-called 'Medina sheikhs' are not Saudi Wahhabis by birth.
Many recently created teaching networks have a Saudi connection, because their founders either studied in the Kingdom or have benefited from Saudi funding, directly or through one of the many institutions created or sponsored by the Saudis (such as the Rabita al-Alam al-Islami, or Muslim League, established in 1963). Scholarships and pilgrimages to Mecca continue to provide new recruits for Saudi-sponsored networks. Each Saudi embassy has a department of religious affairs responsible for funding Islamic institutions. Even if the Saudis do not openly promote Wahhabism, they push for the 'Salafisation' of teaching and preaching wherever they have a say. The reference to the classical Hanbali school of law allows them to reach beyond strict Wahhabi circles and thus avoid being seen as members of an extremist sect. Changes in the curriculum of the Pakistani Deobandi madrasas over the past thirty years are a good example of this Wahhabisation of more traditional schools of thought.
The relationship between theWahhabi clergy and the Saudi monarchy is ambiguous. Each needs the other, the monarchy for legitimacy, the clergy for funding and to ensure its religious hegemony in the kingdom (against Shias and other Sunnis). The clergy enjoy wide autonomy; it is dominated by the Sheikh family, while there are no members of the Saud family among the ulama. Some sheikhs are openly critical of the Sauds; a few have been gaoled (al-Awda, al-Hawali and Said al-Zuair), but the highest religious authorities always endeavour to negotiate the release of the detainees and corresponding political restraint on the part of the imams. The predicament of the Saudi monarchy is that the main contestation of its authority comes from within its basis of legitimacy: the Wahhabis. However regular the crackdowns against the dissidents, the esprit de corps of the Wahhabi clergy ensures a paradoxical freedom of expression. The amount of subsidies provided by the monarchy to radical religious groups is the object of polemics, but it is clear that mainstream Wahhabis, who can spread very fundamentalist ideas, are openly and directly subsidised by the monarchy. See Religious Freedom in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a report by the Saudi Institute, 30 January 2002, which gives a list of donations published by the official Saudi press, including Sheikh Bin Baz's official website: http:// wwwbinbaz.org.sa/aboutus eng.asp
Another case is that of the Hizb ut Tahrir, a form of UFO (Unidentified Fundamentalist Object). Is it a neofundamentalist party? In a sense, no. The Hizb ut-Tahrir eschews the application of sharia as its top priority and retains many elements of its Muslim Brotherhood past, such as its use of the term `ideology'; its insistence on building an Islamic state in the form of a caliphate that will rule over the whole ummah; and its organisation as a political movement (especially its use of cells). But it has become an uprooted and deterritorialised movement, with no thought of taking power in a given country.The caliphate it wants to establish has no territorial basis. Hizb ut-Tahrir uses pseudo-Koranic terminology, taken out of context, with no consideration of history and social circumstances. Its concept of Khilafat has little to do with the historical Caliphate; even if the party sees 1924 as the year when it ended, this does not mean that it wishes to revive the Ottoman political system. In fact, for Hizb ut-Tahrir the Caliphate is not a real geographical entity and has no territorial or sociological roots. It has to be established as soon as possible for the whole ummah and not on a specific territory This global and abstract conception of the ummah is typical of neofundamentalism. The development of Hizb ut-Tahrir exemplifies how a former Islamist party turned neofundamentalist, even if it differs from all other neofundamentalist movements.
Irrespective of their shared commitment to a strict return to the true tenets of Islam and the decontextualisation of religious practices, neofundamentalists are divided. Wahhabis and Salafis dislike the Tablighis"innovations': for instance, the central concept of khuruj, or `going forth', and the role of the sheikh (which means here not an alim but the group leader, who should be obeyed blindly, something similar to the relationship between monks and their elected abbot). They also criticise the Tablighi for their disdain of knowledge and their view that one does not need to be very learned to preach, a position similar to that held by many Protestant fundamentalists.
Wahhabis also openly scorn other preachers who call themselves Salafis (self-proclamation is common among all sorts of modern preachers). In the attacks by Medina sheikhs on `deviant' schools there is often, beyond theological differences, an underlying vindication of a religious corporate establishment against newcomers, self-taught clerics (often converts) and independent preachers, who consider that one need not be highly educated to preach. Sheikh al-Albani is particularly vehement in denouncing as ignorant many preachers like Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo (Abdullah Lahmami, A Refutation of Some of the Statements of Jamal ud-Din Zarabozo, Birmingham: Salafi Publications, 2002. This pamphlet, in Adobe PDF format, can be found at; http://www.salafipublications.com )
Yemeni Salafis are, conversely, quite critical of the Wahhabis. Yahya al Hajuri, a well-knownYemeni Salafi, wrote a fatwa politically supporting the Taliban while calling them maturidi (a derogatory term meaning `rationalist'). He also criticised Bin Laden for being a jihadi and a takfiri, in deviation from true doctrine.
Such important issues as jihad, takfir and leadership are surrounded by disagreement. The Taliban, despite their similarity to Wahhabis, never destroyed the graves of pirs (holy men) and emphasised dreams as a means of revelation, which is not a Wahhabi trait.
But what would a neofundamentalist corpus look like, and where would we find it? Perhaps one should set out by looking at several websites that are the most often referred to or are linked to each other. These are put up either by an organisation or by individuals (mainly students, as we shall see below). When searching for `Islam' or sharia or suchlike on the internet, search engines often return Salafi sites among the first hits. Islamic bookshops, which are not necessarily Salafi but sell the products that are most in demand, are another good place to turn to. Whatever the neofundamentalist medium, the references one encounters are eclectic, from Ibn Taymiyya (thirteenth century), one of the very few `classical' authors favoured by fundamentalists, to a cluster of contemporary Wahhabi sheikhs, and even some Islamist authors such as Maududi and Sayyid Qutb. A significant list of selected scholars who are favourites of the Salafis is to be found on http://wwwislaam.com/Scholars.aspx . Most of the listed scholars are contemporary, but some classical authors are also listed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah, as are some Islamists such as Maududi.
Contemporary preachers usually prefer to produce video and audio-tapes instead of books, and do so in Western languages, in order to address the largest possible audience, thereby transcending ethnic divides, and to address a new generation of Western-born Muslims (for instance the South African mufti Desai writes in English, as does Ahmed Deedat). There is therefore a huge amount of translation taking place (the Medina Wahhabi sheikhs always write or speak in Arabic).
The main divide between neofundamentalists and Islamists is over the state and politics. While in theory they consider that Muslims should live under an Islamic state, the neofundamentalists reject the political struggle as a means of establishing such a state. They believe that an Islamic state should result from the re-Islamisation of the ummah and not be a tool for this re-Islamisation.31 Political activism, according to neofundamentalists, overshadows the need to reform the self. The issue is not one of being either moderate or radical. Mainstream neofundamentalists oppose radical and moderate Islamists (including supranational jihadists as well as those who support a shift to democracy and multipartism).They condemn the very concepts of democracy, human rights and freedom, whereas Islamists try to show how Islam represents the best form of democracy (through the concept of shura, or consultation) and the best protection for human rights (including women's rights). Neofundamentalists refuse to express their views in modern terms borrowed from the Pest. They consider that indulging in politics, even for a good cau will by definition lead to bid'a and shirk (the giving of priority to worldly considerations over religious values).
While Islamists consciously borrowed many concepts from Western political sciences (ideology, revolution, political party) or twisted some Koranic terms to give them a modern sense (Hezbollah, or God's party; mostazafin, or deprived people; and hakimiyya, or sovereignty), neofundamentalists pretend to ignore the West and to live in some sort of intellectual autarky. They refuse to borrow anything from the West, considering this to be bid'a. Indeed they reject the very concept of modernisation, which is coherent with their refusal to admit that history has some meaning. Salafiyya is not a `movement' because `a movement is meant to indicate something temporal or reactionary'. An Introduction to the Salafi Da'wah', http://wwwgss.org/articles/salafi/ text.html.
Mainstream neofundamentalists regard politics as irrelevant while ever most Muslims have not been brought back to the true tenets of Islam through propaganda. Reform of the soul should precede reform of the state. Politics does not help to purify the soul. Propaganda should take precedence over political action (the Hizb ut-Tahrir shares this view), dawah (inviting people to Islam) over jihad. The Party defined its method of work into three stages:
`The First Stage:The stage of culturing to produce people who believe in the idea and the method of the Party, so that they form the Party group. `The Second Stage: The stage of interaction with the Ummah, to let the Ummah embrace and carry Islam, so that the Ummah takes it up as its issue, and thus works to establish it in the affairs of life. `The Third Stage: The stage of establishing government, implementing Islam generally and comprehensively, and carrying it as a message to the world.
`The Party started the first stage in al-Quds in 1372 AH (1953 CE) under the leadership of its founder, the honourable scholar, thinker, able politician, qadi in the Court of Appeals in al-Quds,Tagiuddin al-Nabhani : http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org/urdu/tareef/content. html.
Neofundamentalists feel no urge to build specific `Islamic' institutions (from a constitution to a parliament) because that would imply that sharia is not sufficient. When the Taliban ran Afghanistan, they cared nothing for building state institutions. For the Talibs the very concept of an Islamic state meant that something had to be added to sharia. For neofundamentalists the aim of action is salvation, not revolution. Their objective is the individual, not society. One should first return to the true path as an individual Muslim before taking political action: `A true Salafi ... knows that victory is not possible without true tawhid and that shirk cannot be fought with the likes of it . An Introduction to the Salafi Da'wah', http://wwwgss.org/articles/salafi/ text.html.
There is even some arrogance, according to neofundamentalists, in striving to establish an Islamic State: the 'Ikhwan program' (that is, the Muslim Brotherhood) supposes the purity of ones [sic] own soul, since it implies that we have fulfilled the conditions for victory to be granted to us, and deserve to be given establishment upon the earth - even though the kaafirs still have the upper hand over us. With such a negative attitude we shall neglect to cultivate our souls and neglect to take account of our own selves. Anonymous article (which nevertheless quotes Sheikh al-Albani) entitled `The True Understanding of Politics in Islaam (as-Siyaasah)', http://www. allaahuakbar.netfscholars/halabee/true understanding of politics.htm.
Sheikh al-Hilali, in an often-quoted speech, states the priority: back to the Koran and the Sunnah according to the Salaf. In this speech there is not a word on jihad, politics, party, ideology, state, social action, and so on. But there is a constant theme: never imitate the unbelievers. Al-Hilali quotes one of the favourite Koranic sura of the neofundamentalists: `Never will the Jews and the Christians be satisfied with you, until you follow their way' (Sura al-Baqarah 2. 120). heikh Saleem al-Hilaalee, `The State of the Ummah in the Light of the Prophecies of the Prophet (saw)', speech delivered at the Qu'ran and Sunnah Society Conference in the United States in 1993. This speech is to be found on many websites, such as http://wwwal-manhaj.com/Pagel. cfm?ArticlelD=144
Quoting Shanqeeti, Sheikh Zarabozo writes:
The problem itself actually lies in the hearts and souls of the Muslims.The solution therefore lies in their turning sincerely to Allah, strengthening their faith and putting their trust in Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Powerful, the one with control over all things.The one who truly belongs to Allah's party can never be overcome by any of the disbelievers, no matter how strong they seem to be. [1 CfAl-Shangeeti, vol. 3, pp. 452-457.] Jamaal ud-Deen Zarabozo, /The Plight of the Muslim Nation Today', http:// members. cox.net/ameer1 /plightm.html
Logically the condemnation of any sort of Islamic politics entails a more vocal rejection of non-Muslim politics. Most neofundamentalists vow to remain aloof from `kafir' politics. `Ruling by Kufr is Haram', wrote Sheikh al-Masri (a Saudi Salafi who is close to Hizb ut-Tahrir). But such a radical rejection of political involvement does not necessarily mean open revolt. It may signify an apolitical position, a neutral and even indifferent attitude towards politics, which can also mean tactical accommodation (for example, Sheikh Muqbil inYemen) or participation at the local level (in municipal affairs). Neofundamentalists agree not to endorse any Western political system, but debate whether interaction with such systems is permissible. See, for instance, the position of the Hizb ut-Tahrir as shown by `The Ruling on Participating in Parliamentary Elections' (http://wwwislamic-state. org/leaflets/030425RulingOnParliamentaryElections.htm), about Yemen, in which participation is allowed only if it is a means of finding a springboardfor `dwa'at' (dawah). Omar Bakri and Abu Hamza (in London) both oppose participation in 'kufr politics' and refuse to participate in British elections. A posting by `truthl' on the 'Islam.com Discussion Forum' on Tuesday, 25 November 2003 (http://wwwislam.com/reply.asp?id=285378&ct=6&mn =285378), expressed a rather common view: `For over 50 years there's been Hypocrite Muslims in the U.K. participating in the Kufr systems and what have they achieved, 2 MP's? There is not a single Muslim in the House of Representatives nor the Senate.What impact do you hope to achieve?
This ambivalence is, at the core of Western distrust of neofundamentalists. On the one hand, they express a rejection of the West that goes beyond that of the Islamists; on the other hand, they do not wage a political struggle and are open to accommodation.
But the dividing line between Islamists and neofundamentalists tends to be blurred by the individual paths of many Muslim Brothers, who have given up political activism, disheartened by the stalemate or even by the advanced age of their leaders (for example, in Egypt). Others adopted a neofundamentalist agenda mainly because that was where the momentum lay. The Taliban saga in Afghanistan had an impact on Pakistani politics, where the Jamaati-Islami (whose ideology was very close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood) jumped on to the neofundamentalist bandwagon by joining the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA, a coalition of proTaliban movements). Having won the elections in the North-West that the survivors of the Qutbist movement joined Bin Laden and not the Islamist movements.
In conclusion, there is no verse in the Koran ordering an "Islamic state," therefore to equate, as Koenraad Elst and other cultural racists do, neofundamentalist radicalism with ‘all of Islam’, is false at best.
Rather in the early decades of Islam, Muslims had grown accustomed to triumph. They created a vast empire and gained military and political ascendancy over other civilizations for centuries. The might and sophistication of the Islamic world was severely shaken in the middle of the thirteenth century with the Mongol invasion. The Mongols slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Muslim inhabitants when they invaded Baghdad in 1258.
Initially thought to be the lost tribes of Israel, the Mongols led by Genghis Khan were see also in Europe as the scourge sent by God as punishment for people's sins. Unaware that thétubonic Plague was spread by the pests carried by rats, fingers were pointed at, the Mongols. Scientists labelled imbeciles Mongoloids. Goebbels' initial WWII propaganda had it that Germany was fighting to prevent another Mongol invasion. More factual seems to be that born in 1162, Genghis Khan• witnessed tribal feuds from the cradle. Loyalty and ability became his criteria for promoting his men, eschewing nobility and blood relations. Termed a ‘shaman’ in last years book by Jack Weatherford “Gengis Khan and the Making of the Modern World”, he declared all religions equal. The leaders of defeated tribes were executed, those below invited to join him as equal. Commerce was encouraged, what-was best in lands occupied adopted. The Mongol empire under Genghis, Khan, his sons and grandsons extended from the East China Sea to the Balkans. Today what is left is the country called ‘Mongolia’ one of hundreds of countries in the United Nations.
The Mongol catastrophe devastated the Arabs, but Islam continued to shine under the Ottomans further north. Eventually, though, the Turks declined in relation to the modernizing West, and in World War I their empire was finally destroyed. Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East, previously subjects of the Muslim Ottomans, were colonized by European powers.
But again the starting point of Islam is faith in God, whereas the starting point of radicalism or neofundamentalism, is hatred against the West. They also draw extensively from fiercely anti-American intellectuals in Europe, and other 1960s radicals. And they have incorporated much of the Marxist-Leninist literature into their political discourse. It is thus not surprising to see ex-Marxists join the ranks of Islamic radicals. A compelling example is the recent "conversion" to Islam of Carlos the Jackal, the notorious Marxist terrorist now imprisoned in France. From his prison cell he has penned a book titled Revolutionary Islam. This brand of Islam, he argues, "attacks the ruling classes in order to achieve a more equitable redistribution of wealth" and is the only "transnational force capable of standing up to the enslavement of nations."
Another import of Islamic radicalism is anti-Semitism. Many Koranic verses harshly criticize Jews for not being submissive to God and His prophets but also states: They are not all alike; of the People of the Book there is an upright party; they recite God's communications in the nighttime and they adore (Him). They believe in God and the last day, and they enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and they strive with one another in hastening to good deeds, and those are among the good.
Islamic radicals neofundamentalsits, however, demonstrate a racial hatred of Jews, which is a characteristic of modern anti-Semitism. That hatred is often nurtured by the belief in a global Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world, a belief that has its foundation not in the Koran but in modern anti-Semitic literature such as the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
As for the militant teachings within the Islamic tradition, they can be ameliorated by a critical evaluation of traditional Islamic sources and a modern exegesis of the Koran. This takes us to the greatest doctrinal problem within the contemporary Islamic world: The majority of Muslims rely uncritically on religious schools that date back to the Middle Ages. They lived in a medieval world and interpreted the Koran within that milieu.
But today most Muslims don't ride camels anymore; they drive cars and one can't apply a medieval political doctrine to the twenty-first century, meaning all Islam needs is a doctrinal renewal.
It is a common view among Muslims that the West is technologically and politically more advanced but lacks moral values. See, for instance, CAIR, The Mosque in America, a report written by Muslims. On p.31 it states: `99% of Muslims polled in the USA agree that "America is a technologically advanced society that we can learn from", 77% agree that "America is an example of freedom and democracy we can learn from", but 67% agree that "America is an immoral corrupt society".'All of the ambivalence of mosque-going Muslims about the West is embodied in these figures.
And where in the West secularisation is seen as a prerequisite for democratisation, in the Middle East it is mostly associated with dictatorship, from the former Shah of Iran to President Ben Ali in Tunisia. The contradiction of secularists in many Muslim countries is that they favour state control of religion and often ignore or even suppress traditional and popular expressions of it (for instance, Kemal Atatürk banned Sufi brotherhoods, while establishing a Directorate for Religious Affairs; such a policy maintains a link between state and religion. More generally, in most Muslim countries secularisation has run counter to democratisation, an example being the cancellation of the Algerian parliamentary elections of 1992 under the pretence that they would have been won by the Islamists.
Also we are witnessing an endeavour by many Muslim community leaders in the West, as well as reformist theologians, to express the difference between Islam and the West in terms compatible with and/or acceptable by the other (a Western non-Muslim). This is the methodological use of the neo-ethnic perception of Muslims in the West, which by definition insists on the legitimacy of recognising differences. But it contradicts the very definition of Islam as a universal true religion.
Why does the construction of Islam as the culture of a neo-ethnic group work if it has no religious basis? Precisely because it creates a common conceptual ground between Western categories and the strategy of would-be community leaders to reconstruct a `Muslim' community on a basis that can fit Western cultural and legal categories of identities.
In Belgium, the government decided in 1998 to establish a Muslim representative council. As in France, a decision was taken first to put ballot boxes in mosques. Confronted with the protest of women's associations and secular Muslims, however, the Belgians also put boxes in city halls and schools. This move was interesting because it explicitly considered Muslims to be a neo-ethnic group: one could be a non-believing Muslim. Everybody of `Muslim descent' was allowed to cast a vote, but converts were also added to the electorate, which means that the concept of Islam was forged on a complex and contradictory array of definitions: it is a religion for converts, but an ethnic and cultural identity for `native' Muslims. Confronted by the same pressure, the French government decided to keep ballot boxes in mosques, precisely because it addresses believers in order to build a’ church', and not immigrants in order to constitute a minority group.
Roughly speaking the West has carved out two categories to express minority groups in cultural terms: ethnicity and/or religion. (Sexual orientation is never linked to cultural patterns of behaviour, outside the choice of partners. Not all minority groups are built along neo-ethnic lines, but the same logic of discrimination versus minority rights will be applied.) Interestingly, the categories used to define neo-ethnic groups are usually forged by the host country and reappropriated by many among the concerned population. Neo-ethnicity is based not on a `real' culture, but on a limited set of distinctive patterns that define the borders of the group, while not being antagonistic towards other traits of culture (language and cuisine, for instance).
In the West the category `Muslims' is often used as a neo-ethnic definition in the following senses:
1. Every person of Muslim background is supposed to share a common Muslim culture, whatever his or her real culture of origin (Turk, Bosnian, Pakistani or Arab), which means that religion is seen as the main component of these cultures, a component that can be isolated and erected as a culture in itself.
2. This culture is attributed to everybody with a Muslim origin, whatever his or her religious practice or level of faith (that is, without any link to religiosity). In this sense, one could speak of'non-believing Muslims'.
3. This culture differentiates a `Muslim' from an `other', who, in the West, is defined as a member never of a religious community, but of a pseudo-ethnic group (`Français de souche', `white', `European'), reproducing patterns of colonial history.
Colonial history is full of ethnicisation of Muslims, whose antonym in modern times has never been the term `Christians'. In colonial French Algeria and in Russian Central Asia, Muslims were differentiated from Europeans, to whom the term Christians was never applied by the colonial authorities.( An interesting twist is the status of local Jews in French Algeria and in Russia. They were, treated as natives so long as they were not explicitly integrated into the `European' categories (but had to give up their specific personal law, in compliance with the décret Crémieux of October 1870).
Religion was used to define one group (the Muslims), not the other, as if Muslim ethnic groups could not escape from the religious dimension of their cultures while Christians could. The same applies today in Western Europe. Nobody compares Muslims to Christians, except if the term Christians specifically refers to churchgoers. During the Balkan wars the term Muslim was more often used to qualify the Bosnian than the term Orthodox or Catholic for the Serbs and the Croats, following the official ethnicisation of the term by the Tito regime. Muslim with a capital M meant a member of an ethnic group, but with a lower-case m a follower of Islam.
The same policy of ethnicisation is at work in China. The Hui from southern and north-western China have little in common except that they are Muslim, have been legally recognised as an ethnic group (Hui min) and not a religion (Hui jiao), which means that aversion to pork is explained as a cultural phenomenon, not as a religious interdict .The same view is largely shared in Europe, where `Muslims do not eat pork' is seen not as an affirmation analagous to `Christians do not lust after each other's wives' (which they do), but rather to `Englishmen don't eat frogs'.
Many Europeans are coping with Islam by using ethnic categories, and even when it is for the good (to create space for Islam), it is putting the clock back.
There is a contradiction between Islam and the concept of a contemporary Islamic culture. Many elements of what is seen by the actors as their Islamic culture are rejected by Islamists and neo-fundamentalists as `customs' or national or ethnic culture: music and specific rituals, and all Sufi cultural practices. Communities that preserve music and poetry, like the Barelvis, come under heavy criticism from the rival group, the 'Deobandis', as well as from the Salafis.
Sufism, which is the basis of very lively Muslim cultures and also often of solidarity groups (which identify a village or district in Pakistan with a pir, or in Morocco with a `saint'), is the arch-enemy of the neofundamentalists. It combines sectarianism, a cult of the saints, music, philosophy, and `culture' pretending to be Islamic but with no basis in the Koran and Sunnah. The same discrepancy is still at work when second-generation immigrants make a breakthrough on the cultural stage in the West. Modern music and films produced by Muslim artists have nothing to do with Islam. Bhangra among Pakistanis living in Britain, Rai among Algerians, Egyptian films, with their mixture of romance and violence - all express more an appropriation of modernity, and a synthesis between a renewed tradition and the tastes of new audiences, than the persistence of a historical culture.
In fact, the lowest common denominators in defining a Muslim culture are religious norms that can fit with or be recast along the lines of different cultural customs. Halal is a way to kill an animal, not a way to cook it. It is not linked with a culture and could perfectly well fit with global fast food. The hyab is also more a concept than a given item of clothing.The way in which a Muslim woman can implement (or twist) the rule of concealing her hair, arms and legs can express either a given culture (Afghan chadri, Pakistani burqa) or a personal reappropriation of modernity (trench coat, headscarf and trousers for Turkish Islamist women or second-generation university students in Europe, not to mention the `cha-Dior' of the elegant upper-class ladies of Tehran).
Islamic culture is nonetheless often referred to as a set of anthropological patterns and values. For instance, a specific relationship to the body is linked with Islam: reluctance to permit nudity, post-mortem examination and cremation; a stress on men's honour and women's chastity; and opposition to coeducation. All these traits might, of course, seem to be the internalisation of religious norms, but they do not make a culture as such, and they are shared by many other cultures.
Speaking of culture, I used the word in an anthropological rather than a literary sense. Of course, this does not mean that there are not `classical' literature and humanities in the Muslim world. There is a classical Arab culture. But in the present debate few actors refer to such cultures. In his book The Malady of Islam (New York: Basic Books, 2003) Abdelwahab Meddeb places in opposition Islamic fundamentalism and such a classical culture, which, like the classical Western culture, cannot be reduced to religion and belongs to the universal cultural treasury of the world. But the issue is the status of such a culture in the modern world. Arab `humanities' are poorly taught in most of the Arab countries and seem to be absent from any curriculum available to second-generation Muslims in the West, except in the centres for Middle Eastern studies in some universities. In any case, the modern Islamic revival does not promote such literature.
This ethnicisation of the category `Muslim' is often spontaneously reappropriated by Muslims, for different reasons. It fits with the modern Western concept of `minority groups' and allows Muslims to surf the wave of multiculturalism. In this sense a change of name and garb is often a good way for converts to show they are Muslims and to be perceived as such. Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam and wears long, loose shirts and trousers, but the conversion of Roger Garaudy is (rightly or wrongly) not seen as a change of identity because he wears the same suit and tie as he did before his conversion. On the other hand, the culturalist idea that cultures are inherited fits with the Muslim fundamentalist view that anyone born a Muslim is always a Muslim. Religious leaders- can claim to speak for a community entirely comprising people of Muslim origin. Moreover Islam provides a convenient new marker of group identity among second-generation immigrants in Europe: it replaces pristine ethnic identities that are fading away, while giving a new sere and a new value to a `difference' that is experienced in everydäy life. But there is a contradiction in such a dynamic. The same marker, Islam, which is used to bypass ethnic differences in favour of a universal, purely religious and transnational identity, can also be turned around to designate a minority group defined on a neo-ethnic basis by the ethnic origin of its members, whatever their personal commitment to faith.