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Islamism, 1912 and 1922

[ by Charles Cameron — intriguing uses of the terms Islamism and brotherhood in US newspapers a century ago, also the Ahmadiyya ]


Here are the opening paragraphs of a fascinating article in the Ogden Standard Examiner, June 1922, titled Trying To Make Christian America Mohammedan. Marisa Urgo pointed to it in a tweet yesterday, with the comment “Reads like some blogs I know. I kid you not…” I noted it because it contained the word “Islamism” – surely an early use of that term? – and found much of interest when I read it more carefully this morning:

The Christian people of America are spending millions of dollars every year in the effort to spread the gospel of Christ all over the earth and convert the people of every nation under the sun to Christianity.

And while this tremendous outlay is being made to maintain thousands of devoted missionaries in foreign lands, one of the world’s other great religions is making a determined effort to gain a foothold in Christian America.

The leaders of Mohammedanism, not content with the 227,000,000 or more adherents that faith now has in Turkey, India and other countries, are turning their attention to the United States and Canada, with the hope of making both those nations strongholds of Islamism.

They aim to make their picturesque mosques and the towers from which the muezzins issue their calls to prayer as numerous as our churches, and when that day arrives they are confident it will not be long before the crescent will overshadow the cross and a great majority of Americans will be following the precepts laid down in the Koran.

To the millions of American Christians who have so long looked eagerly forward to the time when the cross shall be supreme in every land and the people of the whole world shall have become followers of Christ the plan to win this continent to the faith of the “Infidel Turk” will seem a thing unbelievable. But there is no doubt about its being actually well under way or that it is being pressed with all the fanatical zeal for which the Mohammedans are noted.


The article as a whole is about the Ahmadis, followers of a nineteenth century Mahdi claimant, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad — and we should note what Wikipedia calls “the Ahmadiyya concept of Jihad in a peaceful format”:

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. They believe that he divested Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices by championing what is in their view, Islam’s true and essential teachings as practised by the Prophet Muhammad.

For this and various other reasons, the Ahmadis have been widely considered non-Muslim by orthodox Sunni and Shi’a, and notably persecuted, see for example Attackers Hit Mosques of Islamic Sect in Pakistan.

The article also includes a hypothetical question and answer between Jesus and a US customs official, when the former attempts to enter the US from India. While not as fine a work of literature as Dostoevsky‘s Grand Inquisitor, it has its Life of Bryan moments…


On early uses of the term Islamism – I haven’t consulted OED, which would probably be wise, but Marisa Urgo also pointed to a use of the same term in a 1912 New York Sun piece, Rallying to Defend Islam:

But Islamism is even more than a faith, it is brotherhood…

8 Responses to “Islamism, 1912 and 1922”

  1. Bryan Alexander Says:

    Isn’t the movie Life of Brian?  🙂

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Heh, Bryan.  Not if I can wield a typo in your honor!

  3. Michael Moore Says:

    On Facebook, I posted the following (and copy this below, along with Mark’s reply):
    Me: Does zenpundit cover the de-Hellenisation of Islam anywhere? Worth doing, if you have not yet done so…
    Mark: I’m not sure if Charles has tackled that subject – do you mean the purging of Greek thought in Islamic universities and the ummah circa 12th-13th century by advocates of what we would term today hard-line salafist Islam, or the literal de-Hellenization of the Mediterranean littoral in the 7th and 8th centuries by the original Arab conquest?
    Me: I only had in mind the former (particularly, the death of intellectualism under the Cordoba Caliphate), though the latter would, of course, have prepared the environment (in all senses of the term). Look forward to any work you’ve done on this…

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    I’m having computer problems, but the short answer is that I haven’t looked at things from this angle.

  5. Michael Moore Says:

    Charles, if you have any recommended reading on the period, I’d be happy to chat further on this issue in order to get a short piece blog-ready for zenpundit. Just a thought…

  6. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hello, Michael:
    That’s something Robert R. Reilly apparently tackles in his The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist, which David P Goldman aka Spengler commented on in a review for Asia Times that Zen highlighted a while back.  I haven’t read Spengler’s book, but had commented on O’Reilly’s piece back in 2008 because it touched on al-Ghazali, whose worldview seems significant, and significantly at odds with the western enlightenment view:

    Mainstream Islam rejected Greek-derived philosophy at the turn of the 12th century, when Abu Hamid al-Ghazali established a theology of divine caprice. In the normative Muslim view of things, Allah personally and immediately directs the motion of every molecule by his ineffable and incomprehensible will, according to the al-Ghazali synthesis, directly and without the mediation of natural law. Al-Ghazali abolished intermediate causes, that is, laws of nature, leaving great and small events to the caprice of the absolute tyrant of the universe. 

    Beyond that, I’d guess we’re in the realm of the “closing of the gates of ijtihad” — a complex business to be sure.
    On Moorish Sapin, there’s Maria Rosa Menocal’s Ornament of the World, Richard Fletcher’s Moorish Spain, Chris Lowney’s A Vanished World, and Jerrilynn Dodds et al, The Arts of Intimacy — all sitting on my shelves, deserving more attention than I’ve yet been able to give them.
    Ah, the pleasures and perils of trying to be a generalist…
    Thanks for the offer — it’s tempting, but I’m going to try to resist it anyway.
    It looks as though I’m about to emerge from some white-water turbulence into a period of laminar flow — insha’Allah and the creek don’t rise — and will be concentrating on writing my book & furthering the prospects for my game. Or at least, that’s my intention.

  7. Michael Moore Says:

    Brilliant, Charles! Thank you. (Past attempts at research, including contacting Cairo directly for some reading in the English language, bore no fruit.)

    Will now start reading these sources and get back to you.

    For now, let’s wish you a good ride on 2013’s stream of consciousness – that’s “good” not “rapid” ride, where the white-water gives way to similarly coloured knuckles (such that the pen no longer expresses)…

  8. Charles Cameron Says:

    I don’t know how close the items I linked to will bring you to your objective — one of the vicissitudes here, as so often, is that so many of those who write are parti pris in an argument, in this case between those who want to use Cordoba as proof that Islam can get along with other religions and those who wish to use it as proof that it can’t.  
    It’s my impression that both cases can be made, depending on where you put your emphasis, but that the truth is “a little of both” — and that’s just looking at one particular geographic and temporal fraction of the past.

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