Islam Globalized

Steve Spence
Updated: 19 September 2019


These slides cover the chapter in our textbook by Olivier Roy, "Globalised Islam: The Search for a New Ummah." The "Ummah" is the community of all Muslims. It's similar to the concept of "Christendom."

The reading can be roughly divided into five sections:

  1. Islam is deterritorializing (423-24)
  2. "Deterritorialization of Islam leads to a quest for definition..." (424)
  3. "Re-Islamisation is a part of a process of deculturation..." (425)
  4. "Re-Islamisation is part of this process of acculturation, rather than being a reaction against it" (426)
  5. "The real secularists are the Islamists and neofundamentalists, because they want to bridge the gap between religion and a secularized society..." (427-28).

Key Terms: Secularization, Deculturation, Acculturation

Secularization refers to the historical process in which religion loses social and cultural significance. As a result of secularization the role of religion in modern societies becomes restricted. In secularized societies faith lacks cultural authority, and religious organizations have little social power.
The process of divesting a tribe or people of their indigenous traits.
The process of cultural change and psychological change that results following a meeting between cultures.

Note that none of these terms are opposites, and they are not necessarily related. Losing indigenous traits (deculturalization), for example, may or may not be the result of encounters with another culture (acculturalization).

“...less and less ascribed to a specific territory and civilizational area.”

Roy argues that Islam is changing because of all of the scapes (aka the forces of globalization), not just immigration (423).

Islam is deterritorializing, and one result is increasing conflict over the true definition of Islam. "For example, an Afghan Muslim living in Afghanistan does not understand his religion as being 'Afghan', at least so long as he is not challenged by an Arab Wahhabi who blames him for having blended Islam with Afghan traditions" (424).

To understand Roy's example, it's important to know that

  1. Afghanistan is not an Arab country. Its people's languages and history are very different from those in the Arab world.
  2. As Google summarizes, a Wahhabi is "a member of a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect....[that] advocates a return to the early Islam of the Koran and Sunna, rejecting later innovations."

The kinds of challenges described in Roy's example are everywhere today, precisely because the scapes link people who until recently had no connection to one another.

Afghan vs. Arab Muslim ≈ Ethiopian vs. American Christian

As Wikipedia summarizes, Ethiopians embraced Christianity beginning in the 1st century AD, making Ethiopia arguably the world's first Christian nation.

The church was thriving long before European missionaries arrived in Africa, and it continues to do so today.

Would an Ethiopian recognize U.S. Christianity as the same faith ?

The question doesn't arise until globalization brings the Ethiopian and the American into contact/conflict.

“Creating tradition” 1

These kinds of global encounters (e.g. between Muslims and non-Muslims, between Muslims from different cultures) are multiplying, and they are having similar effects in many parts of the world.

Muslims in the West, for example, are creating and recreating tradition. "Creating tradition" should be an oxymoron. Tradition is the thing that you are born into, not something that you create. And yet, as the example of Muslim fashion shows, traditions are being renewed and re-invented through a process of acculturation. Roy states, "[T]he range of attitudes is very wide and flexible. To be a Muslim in the West is not a schizophrenic experience" (425).

“Creating tradition” 2

But another wide-ranging effect of these global encounters can be seen in the rise of fundementalist movements within many major religions, including Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

Confronting "alien" versions of your own faith often triggers a felt need for self-definition. For Muslims these encounters provoke, as Roy states, "[T]he need to formulate what it means to be a Muslim, to define objectively what Islam is—in short to 'objectify' Islam" (425).

"This leads to the endeavour to define a 'universal' Islam, valid in any cultural context" (427).


The fundamentalists' goal is not a return to a specific time or place

"Globalization is [seen by fundamentalists as] a good opportunity to dissociate Islam from any given culture and to provide a model that could work beyond any culture..." (427).

"The quest for authenticity is no longer a quest to maintain a pristine identity, but to go back to and beyond this pristine identity through an ahistorical model of Islam" (426).

This is the reason that Islamisation "is part of this process of acculturation, rather than being a reaction against it" (426).