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Peace History and the Modern Muslim World

Session VIII-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
Peace History is increasingly coming in to its own as an academic field, with an Oxford Handbook for the field to be published in 2022 and the establishment of refereed journals such as Peace & Change, published by the Peace History Society, as well as the Journal of Peace Research and the International Journal of Peace Studies, among others. Peaceful movements comprise some with a philosophical commitment to utopian Pacifism, whereas in other instances leaders and the rank and file deploy nonviolent tactics out of a belief that they are most effective and most suited to a particular situation. Social science surveys of social movements in the twentieth century have found that peaceful movements are twice as likely to succeed as violent ones. Therefore, any concentration on violent struggle to the exclusion of pacific repertoires of action leaves out much of modern history and distorts our understand of social developments. That is, peace history is central to social history in ways that are only occasionally recognized in the contemporary academy. The fields of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies are especially poorly represented in this field, with these areas of study having often been put under the sign of violence in the modern era. This panel considers issues in peace history in the modern Muslim world, with case studies from Senegal, the Sudan, the Levant and the Indian subcontinent. Two of them consider movements with a colonial context, where indigenous opposition was pursued with self-avowedly nonviolent means, while two treat recent persons or movements with a commitment to peaceful methods.
  • Amadu Bamba Mbàkke (c. 1850–1927) founded the Muridiyya Sufi order in what is now Senegal. From a learned lineage, he was deeply influenced by the classical Sufi tradition. Bamba in the 1890s withdrew to a more isolated site, where he taught, grew his following throughout the Wolof areas, penned Sufi poetry in praise of the Prophet, and, after a vision of the angel Gabriel, founded the new settlement of Touba. As the French established direct control over more territory, Bamba tried to move away from them to still-autonomous Jolof, but in 1895 the French asserted themselves there, as well. He appears to have come out publicly against them rather than keeping quiet. The French arrested him, subjected him to a one-sided and summary trial, and exiled him to Gabon in 1895–1902, on vague and unsubstantiated charges of “agitation.” He wrote a poem replying to the French charges, addressing it to the Christians: “You assemblage who, having gone astray, made three / the One who had no son or father: / You exiled me, saying that I am a servant of God and a struggler (mujahid) for the faith . . . / Your assertion that I struggle is true/ I struggle for the sake of the countenance of God/ I struggle by means of branches of learning [bi al-`ulum] and piety/” The word mujahid in quranic Arabic means “striver,” though it came to have connotations of holy warrior later in history, and the French used it with that meaning. Bamba insisted that he struggled peacefully, with knowledge and learning and righteousness. Despite his devotion to peaceful methods of resistance, Bamba at some points expressed a severe critique of French imperialism. He wrote, “As for the atheists and the Christians / they have become captives of the passions of Satan . . . / Satan has enticed them into rebellion, / impudence and loss / and dazzled them with his ruse until they became tyrants / in all the countries, and rebelled.” He condemned Senegalese for being enthralled by the French empire and forgetting the Prophet, neglecting their religious observances. This paper examines the ways in which Bamba mounted a nonviolent movement that nevertheless critiqued the French imperial project. It is based on Arabic poetry and letters of Ahmadu Bamba that I have mined for his peace thought in a systematic way.
  • The history of the Middle East in World War I has been recounted in Arabic as well as English and French primarily in military terms, with a focus on battles at Gallipoli and in the Arab Revolt, and on the armed resistance to the Paris Peace Conference in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Efforts at diplomatic peace have been dismissed as failures and therefore inconsequential and misguided. This paper revisits the postwar “Wilsonian Moment”, as Erez Manela termed it, without the distortion of hindsight to uncover the vigorous peace campaign led by a prominent Syrian politician and intellectual, Sheikh Rashid Rida. Articles published in his widely read Islamic journal, al-Manar, as well as his diary and personal correspondence, reveal that Rida embraced liberal principles as the foundation of peace and a new, egalitarian, and law-based world order and that he conducted a sustained campaign for a diplomatic peace between 1918 and 1923. This paper argues that Rashid Rida’s effort, shared by other Arab politicians, was indeed consequential. Rida was a primary player in the establishment of a constitutional, democratic monarchy in Syria that demonstrated Arabs’ capability for self-government against European projects of colonization. This postwar “democratic moment” in Damascus was, however, deliberately erased from the public record after the French destroyed the Syrian Arab Kingdom in 1920. In response, Rida traveled to Geneva to lodge a legal appeal against the French mandate at the League of Nations. He still believed that Muslims and European liberals shared universal principles of law and justice that could assure peace between the East and the West. The failure of that appeal-- and the subversion of international law and Wilson’s principles by the leaders of the Paris Peace Conference and League of Nations-- had a profound impact on Syrian-Arab politics, laying the ground for anti-liberal movements and political violence. Before his death in 1935 Rida published an Islamic vision of world peace that reflected elements of Wilsonianism. The Muhammadan Revelation argued European liberalism had failed its universal promise and that the world’s hope for peace now lay with Islam. The paper concludes that unearthing this unknown history of civilian activism opens new perspectives on the relationship of Islam to democracy and to peacebuilding. This history is needed not only to counterbalance the hyper-focus on violence in contemporary Arab history, but also to guide today’s generation of activists for justice.
  • Sudan’s Unfinished Revolution: Peace, Hope, and Uncertain Futures Sudan’s ongoing protests began in November 2018, and continued for six months, after which the military junta was forced to depose President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019. Later in the same year, the civilian leaders signed a very fragile peace deal to share power with the military generals in a strategic move to transition the country to a civilian-led democratic government. The deal was met with skepticism, uncertainty, and doubt from the beginning as leaders of the peaceful grass-root movement predicted the outcome of such a dubious contract. Their well-founded doubt turned out to be true after the military launched an attempted coup on October 25, 2021, annulling the constitutional process that began in September 2019. Despite this setback, the peaceful revolt grew stronger, connecting various grass-root movements in different parts of the country through different techniques of peaceful protests. Since the attempted coup, however, violence against peaceful activists has also intensified as security forces continued to crack down on protests using violent tactics, including snipers' shoot-to-kill during street protests, detention and torture of political leaders, and harmful political propaganda that defame and demonize youth politics and activism. In this paper I examine these contradictory techniques of peace and violence to examine Sudan’s history of nationalism and its embeddedness in both national and international politics of containment, belonging, and citizenship rights. I show how protesters' peaceful techniques have changed the course of political debate in the country, however, they continue to be trumped by violent militarism, whose history cannot be severed from colonial histories of empire building and their manifestations in the postcolonial/post-cold war era.
  • This paper will focus on interpretations of jihad as non-violent struggle and peacemaking enterprise in the modern Muslim-majority world. It will discuss in particular the thought of two modern scholars and activists who advocate for the peaceful activism they understand to be the predominant meaning of jihad. They are Jawdat Said (d. 2021) of Syria and Wahiduddin Khan (d. 2021) of India, who emphasize the virtue of patient forbearance (sabr) as the most important aspect of jihad, and, therefore, of non-violent resistance to wrong-doing. The paper will further discuss why these thinkers and practitioners consider non-violent activism to be the best expression of jihad and outline how they appeal to the Quran, hadith, and the historical practices of early Muslims for legitimation of their position in their prolific writings. Although their names are not well-recognized in the West, their thought has been gradually gaining broader recognition and influencing certain groups of Muslims who seek non-violent ways to express their resistance to various forms of injustices and pursue social justice activism.