Arab Feminism and Islam
Some Theoretical Considerations
In order that an informed understanding of the problems that beset feminists in the Arab East be attained, it is necessary to properly locate the specifically Arab feminist phenomenon within the parameters prescribed by civilisation, religion and even geography. Only through such an historically-minded approach can we endeavour to arrive at a satisfactory comprehension of the variables involved in this very topical controversy. When studying the Arab Middle East, such an approach entails close examination of the prevailing ideology in that region, as well as the culture within which this ideology operates and achieves full expression. This essentially consists of recognising the pervasive influence of Islam on all forms of life, and according it due attention, whilst simultaneously noting the distinctions between a region that is firmly ensconced in the Islamic world, and the Europeanised West, which usually serves as a reference for "modern" ideas.
Islam is a totalitarian ideology.(1) Though this word has of late fallen into disrepute, its significance is retained in the original, socio-political meaning intended for it; an ideology that monopolises all aspects of human endeavour and arrogates to itself the right to pass judgement on any and every individual and collective human action, and to accordingly reward or punish these actions as it deems appropriate. The Christian world has historically had experience with religious totalitarianism, especially as manifested in the dogma and canon law of the Roman Catholic Church. But it is worthy of note that whereas Islamic totalitarianism derives directly from the Qur'an, Catholicism relies heavily on a mix of tradition and custom - and not strictly religious injunction, to justify its authority. Indeed, it is disagreement over the latter's extrapolations that caused the Protestant-Catholic schism. The Islamic world has experienced no such schism,(2) primarily as the Qur'an is a book of rules and regulations as well as a portrayal of the life of Muhammad and the first Muslims, thereby conferring legitimacy upon political systems that have as their aim the institution of Islamic law. Resultantly, few conflicts between believing Muslims are over the concept of totalitarian rule itself, but rather quibbles over details of the multitudinous rules and regulations decreed by Allah and the most precise and effective means of applying Islamic law.
The Arabic words ta'wil (interpretation) and ijtihad ( reasoned judgement) are therefore used to refer to processes that by no means permit bid'a (innovation, a most grievous sin), but are restricted exclusively to deciphering the exact meaning and intention of Qur'anic injunctions. Differences over the exact meaning of certain statements have predictably existed from virtually the beginning of Islamic history, and are even accepted when expressed through the evolved Islamic schools of thought (four major Sunni and three major Shi'i schools).(3) Ta'wil (interpretation) is utilised when the meaning of a certain statement remains ambiguous. Ijtihad (reasoned judgement) is reserved only for issues not covered in the Qur'an or Hadith (collected sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions) - often modern problems that have arisen only recently, the exercise then becoming an attempt at adopting a position vis-à-vis these issues that would be consistent with the Qur'an's rulings on similar or antecedental subjects (qiyas - analogical reasoning). Even then, the practice of ijtihad is considered controversial by many, and remains forbidden by a large number of (Sunni) Muslim scholars. Only amongst the Shi'a, the most distinct minority Muslim community, is ijtihad unreservedly accepted.(4)
This in stark contrast to the Christian West, which has witnessed a steady trend toward the depoliticisation and subsequent complete marginalisation of religion. Ever since St. Thomas Aquinas postulated the separation of reason and faith,(5) a number of curious phenomena have been rendered possible in the Western Christian world. One such (unintended) consequence - pregnant with implications for the future of religion in the West, was the rendering possible of abjuration of one's religion (and all obligations therewith attendant) without loss of faith in God. And central to Aquinas' thinking was the realisation that if reason is detached from faith, then not only will logic fail to prove the existence of God, but so shall it fail to disprove Him. In situating God firmly within the realm of faith Aquinas both cleverly shields Him for perpetuity from rational criticism and allows the development of reason unhindered. The effect of Aquinas' thesis is the creation of two distinct and impermeable spheres; faith and reason, neither of which is able to impinge upon the other's domain.
But even more profound (and binding) than anything Aquinas wrote is the doctrinal precept to be found in Jesus Christ's remarkable exhortation, "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto God that which is God's,"(6) which has single-handedly provided Christians with a viable exit-strategy from the otherwise perennial religion vs. politics conflict, one by which they can profess Christianity even as they remain obedient to the secular governing force in power. Adhering to this dictum means that one can effectively "square the circle" by being a secularist in one's very capacity as a Christian. No comparable escape-hatch is provided by either the Qur'an or the Hadith, in whose teachings cannot be found grounds for disentangling faith in God from a comprehensive and tautological belief-system and, furthermore, in which the attainment of political power and the organisation of society along certain lines are clearly stipulated by this belief-system.(7)
This transformation did not take place immediately, however, and it took time for the West to metamorphose from Christian theocratic to fully secular, but it is nevertheless instructive to note that this metamorphosis was occasioned and made possible by the paradoxical position above elucidated, which demanded only a blithe affirmation of commitment to the Christian faith and the mystery of the Trinity, and thereby allowed dynamism under a veil of what has at times been considered hypocrisy. The stage was set for the creation of a secular elite, most of whose members continued to profess loyalty to Christianity, but, unfettered by any constraints that might otherwise accompany adherence to a religion, were left free to innovate and improvise. This secular elite was a closely-knit group that stood aloof from the deeply religious and superstitious masses, and did not consult them when formulating new policies. History has shown us that such elites have at times laid the foundations of new states (such as the US) and eventually succeeded in steering the trajectory of the entire Western world in a completely new direction. Meanwhile, in the Islamic world, both the ruling and the intellectual elites remained shackled by their self-professed loyalty to Islam which, not possessing any kind of escape-hatch for aspiring secularists, stipulated that they adhere faithfully and unswervingly to a dizzying array of rules and regulations.
But it would be specious to assign responsibility for the above divergences between the Christian West and the Islamic East to differences inherent in religion and its exegesis alone, for historical circumstance also had a pivotal role to play. The Protestant Reformation, theparadoxical dualism of which boggles the mind, contributed immeasurably to the transformation of Europe and its ultimate secularisation.(8) This, even though it was in essence a religious fundamentalist movement, dedicated to expunging all signs of innovation from Christianity and returning to the "pure," "pristine" form of faith that fanatically assails anything extraneous to the Bible. This strident religious fundamentalism was tempered, however, by a socio-political moderation that was in turn necessitated by the fortuitous intrusion of political necessity, in the way of discrimination and wholesale persecution. Because the new Protestants could not openly preach their controversial doctrines, and were attacked for their religious interpretations, they were impelled to develop alternative arguments by which a defence of their right to express their views could be mounted. This imperative prompted them increasingly to utilise rational and logical arguments that did not rely on Biblical interpretation or exegesis for support. The result of this was that their arguments, which were by no means designed to promote freedom of speech or worship for heretics, atheists or even Catholics, nevertheless introduced new and revolutionary concepts into the thitherto stodgy and very much Church-governed lexicon of Western Europe. Their limited and at times painstakingly defined points understandably proved themselves eventually unable to ward off the encroaching tide of demands for complete and untrammeled freedom, as well as complete separation of Church and State. Indeed, it can be convincingly argued that the Protestant Reformation, by fashioning an atmosphere that was conducive to new and original arguments about judgmental relativity and religious reformation, inevitably yet inadvertently led to the later wholesale and lasting societal reformation that created what has come to characterise Western Europe.
So whereas ideologues, politicians and economic theorists in the West capitalised on the fact that all that was expected of them was a mild, almost non-committal espousal of the Christian faith, and an undertaking not to promote explicitly blasphemous doctrines, their Muslim counterparts were forced to work within a rigid, immutable system that specifically condemned innovation. This invariably led those reformers amongst the latter to cloak themselves in the mantle of religious orthodoxy and insistently claim that their reformist ideas are in fact consonant with Islamic law, in order to better stave off ever-looming charges of heresy. Such an approach implies the employment of casuistry, and this has been the only means by which secularists, nationalists, feminists, and other proponents of new ideas in the Islamic world have been able to demonstrate the at-best tenuous links between their ideas and Islamic law and history. Modernising politicians who do not possess the requisite courage for a confrontation with the guardians of religious orthodoxy are only too happy to adopt these reformers' ideas and accept their dubious Islamic justifications. A house of cards is thus erected. Many Muslim fundamentalists are perfectly correct in pointing to the hypocrisy that prevails in their countries, and the questionable Islamic credentials and claims to Islamic orthodoxy constantly voiced by their rulers. Sometimes, as in the case of Iran (a non-Arab yet overwhelmingly Muslim Mid-Eastern country) in 1979, the house of cards collapses precipitously, and the fundamentalists assume power.
Thus, all attempts at reform in the Arab countries of the Middle East are situated within the framework of Islamic law, tradition and history.(9) "Feminists" are therefore necessarily Muslims first, and feminists second, and even then only insofar as feminism does not contravene Islamic principles and laws. Many Muslim feminists admit this and openly call for the correct application of Islamic law, a procedure that, according to them, grants women all the rights they need.(10) Indeed, there is nothing "radical" about such feminists at all, as they are so conservative and even reactionary as to seek a return to the purity of Islamic doctrine. According to them, it is only the manifold cultural practices of the various Muslim peoples that are to blame for women's oppression, this having been effected through insidious adulteration of Islamic law.(11) Nawal El Saadawi and other prominent Arab feminists often make questionable assertions regarding the historic lot of Christian and Jewish women when compared to their Muslim counterparts,(12) and more importantly maintain that the "true" Islam leaves no room for the oppression of women.(13) These claims serve to bolster Muslim fundamentalists' arguments for a return to Islamic law, thereby revealing the ideological vacuity of the Arab feminists' arguments. To the clarion call urging immediate application of the shari'a (the corpus of Islamic law) emanating from (feared and despised) Islamic fundamentalist quarters, the Arab feminists can only muster the feeble riposte that they would welcome this, but not from the fundamentalists, whose interpretation of Islam is skewed. This, coupled with the more important factor represented by the fundamentalists' at times weak political position (often the result of government repression, undertaken in the name of the 'true' Islam), may temporarily avert an immediate danger, but in the infinitely larger picture of secularism vs. religion, such feminists fall squarely on the side of religion. This is all a vicious circle from the point of view of secular reform, as such a strategy reinforces Islam as the final arbiter of right and wrong.(14)
In most Western countries, whether religion (Christianity) sanctions or prohibits something is almost entirely irrelevant in the political sense, as the state does not derive its legitimacy from religious sources. But in the Islamic world, where everything is subordinated to religion (Islam), operating within the system and attempting to reform it entails an expansive knowledge of religious law, in order for one to be able to formulate Islamically tenable arguments. Discarding or ignoring Islam simply is not an option. It is thus very convenient that many Arab feminists claim that their feminist ideals correspond to Islamic law. By adopting such a position they not only succeed in skirting the issue of wholesale conceptual reform, but momentarily succeed in placating otherwise hostile fundamentalist forces, all on a permanent vigil for potential indications of apostasy. In the long term, however, such an approach is fraught with problems, for what if some of their ideals conflict with Islamic law? And who better to interpret Islamic law - luminary Islamic 'ulama', or Western-educated Arab women?
Today may be as propitious a time as ever to conduct a fundamental re-evaluation of the various stereotypes and caricatures that achieve such prominent display whenever the subject being discussed is Islam and the West. It is imperative that certain myths be debunked and certain misleading theories dispelled, that a more accurate and realistic understanding of the above relationship might obtain. The dichotomy of explanations for historical phenomena so clearly discernible when glancing at "Western" and "Islamic" interpretations of history is often rooted in a dogmatic, propagandistic approach to the relating of history that is at variance with what is generally considered to be fair and impartial scholarship. Christians and Jews under Islam were seldom "persecuted," but this does not mean that they were not discriminated against, or that such discrimination was not institutionalised. Similarly, whilst they were virtually always "tolerated" by the Islamic state, toleration in no way signifies equality. The Islamic religion may not have been spread by the sword, in that conquered populations were not by and large forcibly converted to Islam, but Islamic political administration was indeed spread by the sword. Jihad does not translate as "holy war," and is in fact usually best encapsulated by the term "striving," with daily prayer, performance of religious duties, shunning sin and even life itself representing a continuous jihad, but this does not negate the fact that in certain specific instances jihad does in fact assume the form of an armed - and holy, war - principally when Islam or the Muslim community is deemed to be in danger, and that this is sanctioned by the Qur'an itself.(15)
And women's rights are not absent from Islam! Presumably, if they were - if the Qur'an and the Hadith simply omitted mention of anything remotely relating to women's concerns, it would not be so arduous a task to introduce this novel concept and let it take hold. After all, such action would not involve modifying any Islamic law. But the truth is that women's rights are indeed enumerated and categorised in a very detailed manner by the Qur'an, which clearly sketches their scope and demarcates its limits, so that a specifically Islamic concept of this idea has been nurtured. It is precisely because the concept exists in a specifically Islamic form that problems of communication arise, and Westerners and Muslims claiming to be speaking of the same thing cannot comprehend one another.(16) The Islamic perception of a woman's rights and duties differs radically from that held by modern Western feminists. This is often deliberately obscured by the craftier of the Arab feminists, who disingenuously point to the existence of women's rights in Islam in their bid to further an entirely different brand of women's rights - one they have imbibed through a Western education and upbringing (which they usually cannot bring themselves to credit, largely due to the legacy of Western imperialism and support for Zionism). But if such manipulation of terms and their radically different religious and cultural connotations is eventually laid bare for what it is and we finally commence the long-overdue task of confronting the Western/Islamic contradiction vis-à-vis women and their rights, it shall become forthwith clear that in order for any such contradiction to be successfully resolved, one of two approaches must prevail; either a compromise whereby the dichotomy is frankly acknowledged (instead of stubbornly denied) and different conceptions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, etc., are accepted as inevitable, or; one method of classification must be forcibly imposed on people who currently adhere to another standard.
The failure of secularisation in the Arab East (an attempt to impose an entirely new Weltanschauung on people whose frame of reference was theretofore wholly Islamic) and all the reforms that generally fall under its rubric or follow as a result of its implementation (including Western-style feminism) can best be attributed to two factors; 1) The glaring failure of most Christian Arab ideologues,(17) who formulated the concept of Arab nationalism and charted the ideological course taken by most Arab states since the fall of the Ottoman empire - and especially since the Mandate period, to capitalise on the unprecedented opportunity and attention granted them, and openly proclaim their ideology secularist, thereby once-and-for-all sidelining religion and banishing it from the political realm,(18) and 2) The conspicuous failure of the Muslim middle classes, who, in the heyday of Arab nationalism in the 1950's-1970's, were religiously non-observant, liberal, Western-educated, and secular in orientation, to enshrine in law what they were able, through financial wealth and political clout, to allow themselves to practice. This ensured that their impact on history would be only fleeting, and that their circle's beliefs would never be clearly articulated and no new doctrine promulgated. Because these secular/nationalist/socialist/mildly feminist ideals were never institutionalised (in the judicial system, schools, universities, etc.), their influence remained not only spatially confined - to a numerically insignificant élite that revealed itself utterly devoid of any sense of noblesse oblige, but also temporally limited, in being forcibly fettered to the ephemeral fortunes of a single generation, the demise of which caused the immediate, mist-like evanescence of a phenomenon that might conceivably have enjoyed a much different fate, had it been strategically harnessed and resolutely propagated. All the while professing to be good Muslims willing to abide by a "correct" application of Islamic law, and stubbornly maintaining that their reformist ideas were compatible with this Islamic law, the secularists, nationalists, socialists and feminists found themselves in a quandary when confronted by real Muslims intent on establishing Islamic states. Eventually, the latter, who are honest and direct, gain victory over the sophists and, even if unsuccessful in their bid to establish wholly re-oriented Islamic states, nevertheless succeed in inexorably altering the political climate in their countries and shifting all debate to the purely technical question of how best to apply Islamic law - deemed by consensus to be infallible.
1. There are many valuable primers on Islam. For one suited specifically to this discussion see Bernard Lewis, Islam and the West, London: Oxford University Press, 1993.
2. The Sunni-Shi'i split is of an entirely different kind and beyond the scope of this essay.
3. Lewis, p. 46 and pp. 155-158.
4. See Heinz Halm, Shiism, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991, especially pp. 68-71, 100-105, and 122.
5. See James Thrower, A Short History of Western Atheism, London: Pemberton Books, 1971, pp. 59-63 for a brief exposition of this, especially insofar as unintended consequences are concerned. For a more detailed appraisal of Aquinas' separation of faith and reason, see the chapter entitled "Faith and Reason: The Object of Philosophy," (chp. 2, pp. 37-56) in Étienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (trans. by Edward Bullough) (ed. G.A. Elrington), Salem, NH: Ayer Company, Publishers, Inc., 1989. It may seem at first glance ironic that St. Thomas was inspired in part by the "Islamic" philosopher Averroës (Ibn Rushd), who is credited by many with first advancing the theory of "double truth" - one for the philosophers, and one for the rest (including theologians, for whom Averroës had a profound distaste), but upon closer inspection it is revealed that Averroës strayed far from Islamic orthodoxy, as attested by the theologians who have examined his arguments. His ideas were received and debated in the West, whereas his works - so controversial by Islamic standards, were for centuries ignored in the Islamic world. Averoës was himself largely influenced by Aristotle and attempted to reconcile Islam with Aristotelian thought, whilst purging the latter of Neoplatonic themes. Long regarded in the West as one of the principle Aristotelian commentators, he has only in recent decades been re-discovered by liberal Arabs and Muslims. See Oliver Leaman, Averoës and His Philosophy, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
6. Bible, Mark 12:17. See also II Corinthians 6:17, "Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord…," on believers dissociating themselves from governance and the governing power.
7. The most noteworthy attempt by an Islamic thinker to argue for the separation of political power from the Islamic religion was stillborn. In 1925 the Egyptian Ali Abd al-Raziq published his Al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm (Islam and the Principles of Governance) in Cairo. Concerned principally with the caliphate, which had recently been abolished, Abd al-Raziq claimed that the Prophet Muhammad's mission was spiritual and not political, and that the abolition of the caliphate was therefore legitimate. He also averred that there was no specifically Islamic conception of politics and the state. His arguments were meticulously refuted by several of the most prominent Egyptian 'ulama' ('possessors of knowledge' - learned Islamic scholars), all of whom cited the Qur'an and the Hadith extensively in their rebuttals. As a result, Abd al-Raziq was fired from his post at al-Azhar Islamic University in Cairo and retreated into seclusion and obscurity. For details, see Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, London: Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 183-186.
8. For a concise yet comprehensive examination of the Protestant Reformation, see Owen Chadwick, The Reformation, London: Penguin Books, 1964.
9. For Arab attempts at reform, see Albert Hourani's aforementioned Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, London: Oxford University Press, 1962. Also useful is Hisham Sharabi's Arab Intellectuals and the West: The Formative Years, 1875-1914, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970. For history of Arabs see Hourani's A History of the Arab Peoples, New York: Warner Books, 1991.
10. For example, Raga' El-Nimr, "Women in Islamic Law," (pp. 87-103) and Najlah Hamadeh, "Islamic Family Legislation: The Authoritarian Discourse of Silence," (pp. 331-351) in Mai Yamani (ed.), Feminism and Islam: Legal and Literary Perspectives, New York: New York University Press, 1996.
11. See for example Nawal El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World, (trans. Sherif Hetata), London: Zed Press, 1980, especially pp. i-xvi and 1-11.
12. El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve, op. cit., p. 41, "If we study Christianity it is easy to see that this religion is much more rigid and orthodox where women are concerned than Islam," Such statements are common in her writings. Famed Moroccan feminist Fatima Mernissi's travelogue-cum-autobiography, Scheherazade Goes West (New York: Washington Square Press, 2001) is subtitled "Different Cultures, Different Harems."
13. See El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve, op. cit., passim, and The Nawal El Saadawi Reader, New York: Zed Books , 1997, chp. 8, "Women and Islam," (pp. 73-93). See also Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Élite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam, (trans. Mary Jo Lakeland), Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1991, especially chp.3, "A Tradition of Misogyny (1)," (pp. 49-62), and chp.4, "A Tradition of Misogyny (2)," (pp.62-85), and chp.8, "'Umar and the Men of Medina," (pp. 141-160). See also Mernissi, Women's Rebellion and Islamic Memory, London: Zed Books, 1996, especially chp. 8, "The Jariya and the Caliph: Thoughts on the Place of Women in Muslim Political Memory," (pp.77-92), and chp. 9, "Women in Muslim History: Traditional Perspectives and New Strategies," (pp. 92-109), and chp. 10, "Femininity as Subversion: Reflection on the Muslim Concept of Nushuz," (pp. 109-121).
14. For some examples of otherwise outspoken Arab feminists retreating before the issue of direct religious criticism, see the following; a famous interview on sexual freedom by Syrian feminist writer Ghada al-Samman with the Arabic journal Mawaqif 2, no.12 (1970), appearing in English translation as "The Sexual Revolution and the Total Revolution," (chp. 23, pp. 391-399) in Elizabeth Warnock Fernea and Basima Qattan Bezirgan (ed.), Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984, in which al-Samman evades every single question put to her [al-Samman is one of the most important, and radical, Arab feminists. An interesting article that sheds light on her approach to women's issues, especially as contrasted with two other Syrian feminists (Colette al-Khoury and Bouthaina Shaaban), is Salih J. Altoma, "The Emancipation of Women in Contemporary Syrian Literature," (pp. 79-97) in Richard T. Antoun and Donald Quataert (eds.), Syria: Society, Culture and Polity, Albany, NY.: State University of New York Press, 1991]; a remarkably frank article by Palestinian feminist Ghada Karmi entitled "Women, Islam and Patriarchalism," (pp. 69-83) in Yamani, Feminism and Islam, op. cit., at the end of which Karmi back-tracks from her earlier positions without, however, abandoning them entirely; Lebanese feminist authoress Hanan al-Shaykh, in an interview with the English edition of the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram for the week of November 11-17, 1999 ('Hanan al-Shaykh: From the Rooftops' by Pascale Ghazaleh), the British Guardian newspaper on July 7, 2001, ('Conflicts Unveiled' by Maya Jaggi) and the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper on August 17, 2002 ('Acclaimed Arab Writer Speaks Volumes to the West' by Amir Bibawy) states her refusal to re-publish her second novel, Faras al-Shaytan [Praying Mantis] for fear that it would spark charges of irreligion. For a trenchant critique of Arab feminists, see Magida Salman, "Arab Women," (pp. 129-140) in Jon Rotschild (ed.), Forbidden Agendas: Intolerance and Defiance in the Middle East, London: Al Saqi Books, 1984.
15. The Koran (trans. by N.J. Dawood), London: Penguin Books, 1995, 25 (Surat al-Furqan): 52 "Do not yield to the unbelievers, but fight them [jahidhum] with this, most strenuously." Verses inciting the Muslim believer to war without using the term jihad are numerous; examples include 9:5, 9:29, 2:191, 2:216, 4:89, 8:60.
16. For the political implications of differing civilisational interpretations of the same concepts, see Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
17. I am thinking here specifically of Michel Aflaq, Constantine Zurayq, Edmond Rabbath and even George Habash. A partial exception is Antun Saadeh, founder of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party who, despite his claim that "Muhammadanism" (Islam) and Christianity are two facets of a single religion - namely the "true" Islam (in the treatise Al-Islam Fi Risalatayhi al-Masihiyya wa al-Muhammadiyya), and his denial of the contradiction between secularism and Islamic doctrine, was the only Arab thinker of note to forcefully call for the imposition of secularism and enshrine this in his party's political programme, thereby effectively mooting the question of his aforementioned claims' validity.
18.The reasons for these Christian Arab thinkers' timidity vis-à-vis Islam are manifold and sometimes overlap; a disinclination to offend their overwhelmingly Muslim compatriots' Islamic sensibilities; a strong instinct of self-preservation, effectively barring discussion of anything that might redound to harm their position; genuine attachment to what is considered not only a religion but a culture and even a grand civilisation - and one of which they are an indivisible part; recognition of the undeniable usefulness of Islam - which offered a ready-made social and political structure, in confronting Western imperialism during the Mandate era; and an inescapable awareness that the ideologies they were crafting were intended principally for consumption by the (Sunni) Muslim middle-classes of the Arab world, who were not willing to adopt any creed that was explicitly dismissive of Islam.