Authority in Islam: From the Rise of Muhammad to the Establishment of the Umayyads

by John L. Esposito
Authority in Islam: From the Rise of Muhammad to the Establishment of the Umayyads
John L. Esposito
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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 Reviewed work(s): Authority in Islam: From the Rise of Muhammad to the Establishment of the Umayyads by Hamid Dabashi As events in the contemporary Muslim world have revealed, the role and functions of authority in Islam remain vital, today as in the past. Thus, understanding the dynamics of Muslim societies requires an appreciation of the multiple ways in which Muhammad's charismatic authority was understood, institutionalized, and passed on in early Islam. Hamid Dabashi's Authority in Islam is an original, creative and insightful response to this need. In this sociological study, Dabashi utilizes Weber's concept of charismatic authority to analyze the threefold (Sunni, Shii, and Khariji) socio-cultural responses to and transformation of Muhammad's authority and prophetic movement. His analysis reveals the revolutionary character of Muhammad's movement and in the process illustrates the unity and diversity of Islam and Islamic culture. Chapters one and two provide an exposition of pre-Islamic culture with its established forms of authority. This is compared and contrasted in chapters two to four with the "new cultural order that challenged the Arab traditional systems" which was brought by Muhammad. Drawing on Weber's concept of charismatic authority, Dabashi provides a critical assessment of the specific characteristics of Muhammad's authority and the ways in which it led to and informed the new social order introduced by Islam. He effectively demonstrates both the distinctiveness of the charismatic nature of Muhammad's authority from other modes of authority (traditional and rational/legal) and identifies that which is distinctive in the Islamic concept of charisma as well as the junctures at which it differs from Weber's concept. Dabashi locates Muhammad's charismatic authority in the concept of risalah rather than those of wilayah and karamah. The author then illustrates how Muhammad's movement brought about a revolution in the political culture of Arabia, replacing the traditional authority of the chief with that of an Arab prophet, a totally new concept in seventh-century Arabia. Both the comprehensiveness of Muhammad's authority (political, religious, and ethical) and the new social order and sense of solidarity, as well as the nature and forms of the routinization of charismatic authority, are analyzed in light of early Islamic history.  Dabashi quite correctly notes that the tendency to utilize an orthodoxy-heterodoxy dichotomy in the study of the early development of Islamic doctrine is misleading and inaccurate. He proceeds in chapters three to five to demonstrate the differing ways in which Muhammad's charismatic authority was routinized and institutionalized in Sunni, Shii, and Khariji Islam. Dabashi maintains that religion and worldly affairs were "practically inseparable." Combining social theory with Islamic sources, he illustrates the central significance of the ummah and the social reality of Islam. Dabashi's analysis of the emergence of the caliphate and the imamate is balanced and critical. In particular, he does a fine job in explicating the nature of charismatic authority in Shii Islam and the extent to which it differs from Weber in its belief in the perpetuation of charisma through personal lineage, though not simply heredity in the Weberian sense. Dabashi's tendency to hold to Weberian theory leads him in his exposition of Kharijite authority both to rely upon and value W. Montgomery Watt's work, while regarding Watt's identification of the Kharijites as a charismatic community as problematic. His position is itself problematic, revealing the tendency of analyses, which seek to apply a coherent theory of explanation to itself, to become "too consistent." Similarly, Dabashi's analysis of authority and community in Islam, in terms of Sunni, Shii, and Khariji, ignores the important tradition of a broader interpretation of community solidarity articulated by Muslim thinkers like Ibn Khaldun. These reservations aside, Hamid Dabashi's Authority in Islam is a significant addition to scholarship on the history and sociology of Islam, utilizing a new approach which yields fresh and valuable perspectives on the formative period of Islam--a period many of whose institutions and issues remain relevant today. COPYRIGHT 1993 American Oriental Society 

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