Anticolonialism in Middle East
Islam And Anticolonialism
A number of factors are crucial to understanding the various manifestations of anticolonialism in the Arab world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first place, the colonial period coincided with several movements of Islamic renewal; the same phenomenon can also be observed in the Indian subcontinent, West Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Some movements clearly were, or became, reactions to colonialism, but one of the most influential, the Wahhabis in the center of the Arabian peninsula, both predated colonialism in the region and originated in an area relatively distant from any direct colonial activity. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such renewal or reform movements spread out over a wide geographical area. Some, such as the Sanusi jihad, based in Saharan Libya, later the backbone of resistance to Italian colonization, exhibited an organizational structure similar to that of the Sufi orders, based on a network of lodges; others were urban-based, often around traditional centers of Islamic learning, while yet others were millenarian. Thus in the 1880s, the Sudanese Mahdi preached that he was the divinely appointed regenerator of Islam and consciously imitated the life and career of the Prophet. The renewal movements were by no means always sympathetic to, or even tolerant of, one another. Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi (1844–1902), for example, was at pains to point out that the Mahdi was not entitled to claim either the leadership of the universal Islamic community or a transcendental relationship with the Prophet Muhammad, and Wahhabism (if not checked by more prudent political considerations) has often exhibited considerable intolerance toward other manifestations of Islam.
The reform movements fed into anticolonialism in a number of ways. One of their effects was to draw a battle line between those rulers and elites in the Islamic world who were prepared to make accommodations to European colonizers and those sections of the community who were not. Thus 'Abd al-Qadir (1808–1883), the early leader of the resistance to the French, was quick to make use of a fatwa (legal opinion) obtained from the Mufti of Fez stating that those Muslims who cooperated with non-Muslims against other Muslims could be considered apostate and thus could be killed or enslaved if captured. Later in the nineteenth century, Ba Ahmad, the chamberlain of the Moroccan sultan 'Abd al-'Aziz (r. 1894–1908), believed his only recourse was to buy off or otherwise accommodate the French, who were making incursions into southern Morocco from both Algeria and Senegal. This policy alienated many influential religious and tribal leaders, who were bitterly opposed to the Commander of the Faithful giving up "the lands of Islam" to foreign invaders; some of them considered that this made him illegitimate and transferred their allegiance to a more combative leader.
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