Oscillating Traditions

This article is closely based on Chp. 2 of my MA thesis Oscillating Traditions. It appeared in the Melbourne Historical Journal, Vol. 24, 1996, pp. 49-66

Oscillating Traditions:

Contending Orthodox and Deviant Principles Through Algerian History

by Rod Skilbeck

"[Islam's] Great Tradition is... the continuation and completion of an old dialogue within Islam between the orthodox center and deviant error, of the old struggle between knowledge and ignorance, political order and anarchy, civilisation and barbarism, town and tribe, Holy Law and mere human custom, a unique deity and usurper middlemen of the sacred, to cite the polarities whose linked opposition, sometimes dormant, sometimes virulent, seems perennially latent in Islam" [1]

Contemporary Algeria is the scene of markedly virulent clashes between proponents of polarised theories of state, religion and power. A virtual civil war exists between the military rulers and the Muslim Islamist [2] opposition. To many observers a clash between progress and tradition lies at the heart of the conflict. The numerous calls for a restoration of 'traditional' values, ethics, beliefs and modes of behaviour by Islamist leaders lend support to the notion that the Islamists' project is a return to medieval times. Yet, as in Western political discourse, the invocation of 'tradition' is often an ideologically inspired fiction legitimising radical future programmes through supposed historical precedents.

The current Islamist project does contain elements traditionally present in the conservative discourses of Algerian history, such as; obedience, mutual aid, puritan mores and egalitarian access to power. Their opponents, the military government and its supporters (chiefly the Francophonic technoelite in the military and bureaucracy) present themselves as a liberalist bastion against religious extremism. While this group favours western culture, dress, behaviour and even language (French still being used as the lingua bureaucracy) their professed elements fall short of liberal democratic ones (as seen in Table One).

TABLE ONE: Elements of the Contemporary Algerian Poles.
supremacy of Allah state supremacy
puritan/conservative excess/pop/drugs
activists statepaid clergy
ideologues populists
excommunication ostracisation
jihad repression
equal access to power elitist
obedience liberalism
traditionalists modernists
shari'a French legal codes
Islamists Technoelite

Since the seventh century AD various social, religious and political movements have utilised their own variant mixture from the pool of publicly acceptable of elements and mobilising concepts and calls to change. This paper will examine these composite elements and the patterns behind the upheavals throughout Algeria's turbulent history.

Whilst some academics link the eclectic range of socioreligiopolitical beliefs to be found in Algeria causally to the imposition of foreign ideologies, though they were rarely imposed uniformly or firmly. The frequent waves of foreign incursion on open Mediterranean coastal strip and the inaccessibility of the Atlas peaks and Sahara engendered a heterodoxy of tribal, regional and ethnic politics and modes of behaviour: retarding the growth of a strong, centralised, urban state until the Christian invasion of 1830. Many of the proportedly imported elements of contemporary Algerian discourse were present indigenously in one form or another before foreign interrelation. In fact, it was the eclecticism of the domestic population, which in part, allowed foreign influences to take root and grow to dominance.

It is in fact the tendency of the ruling class of present Algeria to ape the nation's former colonial ruler that has most angered the Islamists. Thirty years of francophonic, secular, socialist rule has removed from Algerian polity several everpresent values; mutual aid, private property and equality of opportunity. Liberty is denied to those perceived as liberty's enemies - namely the Islamists. Nepotism and corruption are rife, antireligious pop music (heavy in drug references) is sanctioned by the government, and, the state is supreme in all matters: the ulama for example are state employees who receive Friday sermons from a Ministry. Islamism's anger is echoed and supported by those classes below the technoelite, who remain closer to original Berber Arabic stances and lifestyles. These classes consist of the; petite bourgeoisie (a large and impotent group, made up of small business owners and lowechelon public servants (eg. teachers)), blue collar workers, and, hardcore jobless (urban 'nomads' who left the country after the 'industrialisation first' policy following World War II made agricultural employment a ticket to poverty[3]).

Until French colonisation politics and religion in the country had remained separate, though symbiotic. A dyad existed between tribal political leadership, which consisted of djemaa (or 'family councils'), and, charismatic marabouts (monks) who served as religious mediators between communities. Each small tribal community held absolute power and legitimate violence rather than the state. They remained egalitarian, with consensus "based upon lengthy discussion and deliberation among relative equals"[4] and democratic (within patriarchal confines). Succession of religious figures (and their charisma) was either physical, through marabouts' offspring, or, spiritual, through the students of mystical Masters thus eliminating an egalitarian selection[5].

Notions of direct tribal democracy preceded Islam though, as can be inferred from the ease with which Berber society meshed with Christian domination of the coastal regions (from the fifth century BC to the sixth century AD). Libertine instincts, such as the use of ostracisation as a coercive method over incarceration among the tribes, mutual aid and celebrations of life predated even Roman incursion[6]. Ernest Gellner has posited that this egalitarianism is a result of their nomadic lifestyle: whereas agricultural societies are labourintensive, and, tied to land and water - making the people vulnerable to hierarchical control - tribes are defenceintensive and hence not so similarly open to constraint[7].

While a written history of the Berbers of interior Algeria exists only from the introduction of written Arabic[8] in the ninth century AD (rendering a detailed dissection of religiopolitical culture impossible) the response to Arab intrusion is indicative of the bases from which more contemporary AraboBerber Algerian values stem.

Islam Introduced

Islam first came to the region which is today Algeria by way of shortlived raiding parties between 647 and 663. Berber identity was not over run by Arab invaders. In fact, four centuries passed before largescale Arab settlement, and, linguistic and legal domination arrived. Rather an extended period ensued where popular support shifted between several sects of Islam in a search for the form of Islam which would best align with traditional values and views.

The failure of Berber resistance to Arab incursion was, "identified with the ancestral animism of the Berbers"[9] which came to an end. This animist rebellion can be viewed as a transitory alignment or dyad, as is favoured by Clifford Geertz to explain tribal relations in the Maghreb - and is the first documented example of a vital and frequent Algerian alliance: the politicalreligious dyad. Populist religious mobilisation was utilised to overcome tribal divisions, in a similar fashion to Abd alQadir's rebellion against French invasion. Upon the Berber resistance's failure, the dyad dissolved and the constituent small Berber tribes were left to counter the massive Arab army.

With their old religion defeated, Berbers converted "in great numbers, rapidly becoming its most zealous adherents" and embraced their conquerors' culture[10]. Islam's attitude to language in part attracted Berber conversion. The Arabic of the Prophet was Bedouin and so supposedly imbibed with a magical explanatory power (bayan). Additionally `ilm (divine knowledge) is emphasised in the message of Islam and is based on the 'transmitting' of wisdom orally. As Amazigh was both Bedouin and an exclusively oral language, Islam offered the Berber a familiar, 'userfriendly', successful substitute.

The respect Sunni Islam had for Amazigh was balanced by an unpopular racial discrimination whereby nonArabs were disqualified from holding any political office (obviously untenable to Berbers still defending their homeland from Arabisation). Sunni became less popular when moves were made by the early caliphs to accommodate Muslims in the major Mashriq cities (Damascus, Baghdad, etc) who had difficulty relating to an oral Islam (the shura and other legal precepts, excluding the Quran, remained unwritten until c. 800). Urbanism was thus made "the order of the day"[11] and jahiliyya (the time of ignorance) was strongly linked with nomadism. This antinomadism, combined with the racial aspect of Arab domination turned the Berbers from Sunni and in search of alternatives.

At this time, arbitration over the succession of caliphs led to the first schism in Islam. Holding that arbitration when dealing with Quranic principles was blasphemous, a puritan, egalitarian sect formed that refused to follow Caliph Ali. Known as the Kharijites (from khRJ : to dissent), they demanded that anyone, even a slave, should be considered for the caliph, provided he was just and pious. In addition, violent overthrow of unjust rulers was a Muslim's duty. In 661, the Kharijites assassinated Ali, indirectly causing the larger schism between Sunni and Shi'i sects. Fatwas justifying taxes upon Muslims[12] were introduced, in part to finance battling the Kharijite sect, but also due to the fall in revenue from jiyza (a poll tax on nonMuslims) as more subjects converted to Islam. Radical and ruthless in their violence, attacking both Muslim and nonbeliever, Kharijism quickly lost the support of all but subsects in Oman and North Africa.

Dissent and Dynasty

Kharijism was the ideal alternative to Arab racial domination for Berbers across North Africa as Kharijism, "acknowledges the right of the community at large, or some of its segments, to have input into the choices of caliphs"[13]. Between 739 and 776 a series of small, unstable, anarchic Berber states successfully displaced Sunni rule. Subsequently the Persian Rustamid dynasty centred in Western Algeria, "developed a cosmopolitan reputation in which Christians, nonKharijite Muslims, and adherents of different sects of Kharijism lived"[14]. Kharijism's democratic selection process, meritocratic candidature, and, community consultation all complimented the tradition selection process for Berber leaders. The Islamic doctrine of (violent) dissent against unjust rulers, devotion to one god and equal access to power propagated and flourished in Algeria long after the original shoot withered in the Mashriq, highlighting several valued principles peculiar to the Maghreb. This stands as a clear milestone in Algerian tradition: Kharijist egalitarianism was accepted and accommodated because of its roots in the Berber polity.

At the Crossroads Kharijism carried Islam to the interior, produced many Berber theologians, and, strengthened orthodox ideology, which combined with, "the natural selfrestraint of the Berbers... [gave] North African Islam a touch of puritanism and rigour which is still conspicuous"[15]. The fate of Kharijism seems very similar to that of the contemporary FLN, despite removing Abbasid foreign rule, the Kharijites soon came to a crossroads. Their support gave way as two competing deviant poles formed: the hierarchical Maliki ulama (clergy) introduced by the rump Abbasid zone, and, the dynastic Fatimid leadership (Shi'ites requiring descendancy from Mohammed).

The Persian Fatimids - inspired by the esotericism and communistic precepts[16] of the Qaramitah insurrection in Baghdad - garnered many Berber converts from their conquered Tunisia, although their taxes turned many away. Much of the support in the fortress towns and cities fell in with the Maliki jurisprudence, which was, "the most formalist of the orthodox madhhabs and offered a strict interpretation which was in harmony with the Berber inclination towards austerity and punctiliousness"[17].

The Fatimids conquered Algeria with their Berber army, and Shi'ism became the orthodox pole. One of Shi'ism's chief principles was ijtihad (free opinion) and combined with a progressive notion of taqlid (following the opinions of the learned) provided "the community with unity, organisation and leadership"[18]. Others included; populism, two clergies (one administrative and one mystical[19]), and, the return of the concept of the Messiah which may have appealed to these former Christians. Elements which remained included the necessity of leaders to be divinely inspired possessors of 'ilm[20]

By the 1050s the Berber proxies who ruled the Maghreb in the Fatimids' stead after 973 (when the Fatimids left to conquer Egypt) converted back to Sunni Islam under the growing influence of Abbasid legal schools and military force. Fatimid retaliation took the form of sending in more proxies - the nomadic Banu Hilal. The Banu Hilal were in search of fertile lands and would have eventually reached the Maghreb anyway, however with Fatimid support their arrival was total - the Arabisation of North Africa was heralded. Their impact was compared by Ibn Khaldun to that of a plague of locusts, however it appears that the Arabisation of the Maghreb took place with relatively easy adjustment (despite evident overgrazing). Intermarriage and extensive replacement of Berber tongues with Arabic quickly established an AraboBerber dominant political and socioreligious culture.

The merging of Maghrebi Arabs and Berbers (though not total[21]) represents more than political domination and demographic changes. It can seen as the conclusion of a long period of investigation and assimilation on the part of the Berber population to adapt Islam to their society, and vice versa, where appropriate. From 1052 onwards opposing strands and concepts are present, and, frequently in conflict with predominance oscillating between egalitarian and hierarchical, progressive and fundamentalist, rural and urban. This is not to suggest that the Berbers acquiesced to the Banu Hilal invasion, rather that the lack of uprising against it and rapidity of Arabisation shows a certain acknowledgement that this was a transformation whose time had come.

Up to this point in Algeria's course of fluctuations between orthodox and deviant poles of permissiveness the ideas have been imports - the product of foreign individuals reacting to foreign events. With the appearance of Abdallah b. Yasin, the creator of the Almoravid dynasty, the first indigenous pattern of Maghrebian Islamic discourse was established: the rural, puritan uprising, inspired by the travel in search of 'ilm. As Ahmad Shboul explains:

"Journeys to the Mashriq to perform the pilgrimage and to meet scholars, as well as crossing to Andalusia 'in search for knowledge', had a special significance for the people of the Maghrib. Not only did this help to maintain their cultural links with the wider Islamic world, but it ensured the infusion of new ideas and methods. The Andalusian factor, and the pilgrimage to Mecca in particular, play a vital part in the history of the Maghrib both during this period and later under the Almoravids and Almohads"[22]

Upon his return from Mecca and sites of learning in the Arab Empire, Yasin was confronted upon his return by corrupt civil behaviour - and the first indigenous, puritan movement began.

Monism versus Pluralism

Yasin and his followers, situated in the Western Sahara and known as the frontiersmen (Arabic: almurabit, Latinised into Almoravid) launched an armed rebellion against the corruption witnessed in the cities. Yasin's successor, Yusuf b. Tashufin, took Western Algeria by 1070. Eventual conquests were to include Andalusia and all of Algeria. Under the aegis of Almoravid rule the Maliki school developed piecemeal a functioning, legitimate juric theory of the Islamic State "by way of a counterargument against the claims of the protest movements"[23] of Shi'ism and Kharijism. Even though it forms the most orthodox element in Algerian discourse, being; legalistic, conservative and subservient to the State, even Malikism is rooted in the potential to rebel against political authority[24].

The Almoravids extended shari'a law, all heretical sects were eliminated, and the special relationship of Mohammed to Allah was emphasised to such an extent that the line between deity and prophet seems to become blurred. (Perhaps this, in a fashion similar to the susceptibility of Berbers to messianic myths, was a hang over from Christian times: in particular the notion of the Trinity).

The Almoravid movement's programme of restructuring society upon the text of Islam is the first incidence of a regular form of deviancy. Its has many similarities with the Salafist, Wahhabi and Muslim Brethren movements. Within fifty years, however, the comforts of success had corrupted the Almoravids. The stern and puritanical Islamic radicals were "seduced by the lush way of life similar to that which their earlier master... had so ferociously inveighed"[25].

Almoravid radicalism waned, puritan mores gave way, suppressed vices became public over the following decades. The Almoravids, not for the first or last time in Maghrebi experience fell foul of the 'comfy chair syndrome'. Ernest Gellner sees this as a cyclic pattern of behaviour over one hundred years or so, whereby opulent townsfolk become lax in observing Islamic law. This is seized upon by envious, poor (and hence austere) Bedouin who punish the faithless by jihad, or holy war, under a prophet to reestablish the true faith and ceremonial law (and incidentally appropriate the urban treasures)[26].

Around 1118, on return from his own 'ilm travels, Muhammed b. Tumart was outraged by the sight of "wine shops, dancing girls, and all other raptures and roses of decadence abounding in Marrakush and Fas"[27]. Tumart mobilised his mainly Berber followers to this first anti-urban jihad. The near worship of the Prophet under the Almoravids provided a pivot upon which he was able to mobilise the rebellion. Quoting the Quranic edict: 'God doth not command you to take... prophets as rabb (ie. a title due to God). What! Would he command you to become infidels after ye have been Muslims?' (3:73) worship of Mohammed was deemed heretical. Tumart's jihad on blasphemy and iconolatry was balanced by a promotion of the 'oneness' of all Creation and presence of Allah in each part of Creation. This oneness (almuwahhid, Latinised into Almohad) becomes not only the movement's title, but a major tenet of Algerian religious thought, and leads directly to the domination of mysticism as a frequent pole of orthodoxy. The Almohads highlighted transcendent mysteries as a means of spiritual experience and celebration. Mystical Islam developed as a direct alternate to Almoravidlinked Maliki formalism and strict theological thought. As Kharijitism's intolerance had strengthened the appeal of populist Shi'ism, so too had the dry intellectualism of Malikism produced popular Sufism.

Islam Goes Pop

The introduction of transcendental mysticism by the Almohads opened the gates for the rise of Sufism, or mystical Islam. Rapidly, the Maghreb took to gnosticism: the attempt to contact the divine within themselves and all creation. Two of the major Sufi orders quickly became established in Algeria: the Shadhiliyya and Qadiriyya. Whilst these Sufis, "believed that the Divine Essence infused the whole of creation...their teachings remained relatively restrained, and pantheistic tendencies were strictly controlled"[28]. The influential Maliki (who had ironically been strengthened by Almohad criticism of its laxitude under Almoravid rule) approved of this contained Sufism, provided it maintained its basis in legalism and tradition.

A populist rural form of Sufism emerged. Many Almohad warriors in the countryside, turned into wandering monks (marabouts) - much in the way of medieval Europe. As the jihad of the sword became subordinate to the jihad of the soul the marabouts, "turned from fiercely iconoclastic Islamic warriors into purveyors of popular magic", peddling amulets and astrological predictions[29]. From the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries maraboutism dominated rural Algerian modes of socioreligious behaviour. Marabouts acted as mediators over increasingly autonomous tribal groups: adapting the faith to match tribal context. Their holy lineages satisfied the need for the Word to be incarnate among illiterate tribes people[30]. The ritual richness, tribal heterodoxy and esotericism all placated maraboutism's cliental, and brought an end to the rural, puritan revolt cycle.

Until the 1830s the marabout-djemaa system was typified by a lack of foreign influence, religious mediation between tribes and direct democracy, was popular, workable and allowed for the independence nomads demanded. The dyad's unrivalled longevity and near universalism (less than 5% of Algerians were urban) warrants more than any other the epithet of 'traditional'. By the early 1700s rural Sufism entered the urban Sufist schools (madrasas) whose variant had stagnated after the fourteenth century, by preaching to a spiritual elite[31].

The Maliki ulama formed relationships with Ottoman beys after Turkish presence began in 1515. This was typical of Islamic politics from the first caliph; the theological intellectuals were kept near the political leader, ostensibly for advice. This had three advantages;

  • i) it imparts legitimacy for both parties,

    ii) it ensures the support of the intellectuals, and,

    iii) the idealistic prescriptions announced by the clergy usually cannot be fulfilled realistically and hence make reality, however unpleasant, unavoidable[32].

This stands mutually exclusive to the marabout-djemaa dyad, religion and politics are merged, dissent and public discussion are not entertained. The political leadership is specialised, whilst the religious leadership is an advisory office within the state. The contemporary Algerian system is based on this bey-ulama dyad. This dyad satisfied the Islamic principle of shura (though limited, consultation was evident) and was legitimised by its congruence with a revised conceptualisation of tawhid as a rationale for the "unique, supreme, and absolute power for the ruler"[33], rather than for monotheism and unity.

Congruent with the omnipresence of the elements outlined so far, those principles excluded from, and dealt with unsatisfactorily, by the ulama-bey dyad were resurrected in the scholarly-populist Sufi merger of the early 1700s, led by Tijani. Scholarist Sufism integrated scriptualism and mysticism and created a middle ground, which can be considered to, ³constitute the norm of Islamic belief in both rural and urban Algerian society"[34]. Ruralstyled maraboutism had arrived in the city, with a highly regarded theology to back it up. This new ruralurban Sufism had a;

"populist character...[which] in the provision for a 'warm' and personal piety focused on devotion to an exemplary human being, the saint...has long had an appeal to the lower orders of society, to the illiterate, the artisans, and the shantytowners, in contradistinction to the scriptualist Islam of high society and the court. Saint worship can thus be a form of veiled popular opposition to current authority, which answers by denouncing it as heresy"[35]

Frequently this denouncing of Sufism took the form of highlighting the allowance of excess (drug use, dancing, prostitution) among the Sufi. Once the marabout-djemaa dyad collapsed upon French invasion, Sufi excess became indefensible and excess took a place among the elements of the deviancy pole.

French incursion began in 1830. A policy of divide and rule coopted or displaced marabouts and djemaa heads throughout the countryside. In its place an everexpanding, centralised state was created. Much in the vein of Berber resistance to Arab incursion, the populist Sufi orders became a source of antiFrench mobilisation.

Two main modes of resistance to French rule emerged between 1830 to 1962, ³one of peasant and religious origin, the other urban and nationalist"[36]. Each represents the mutually exclusive coalescence of elements into liberal nationalist resistance (the FLN and current military junta) and puritan religious resistance (Qadir, Badis and the Islamists). The first to appear was the populist tariqaled uprising of Abd alQadir, from 1830 to 1848 in Western Algeria.

Religious Resistance
Eastern Algeria was defended concurrently by the Ottoman regent, Ahmed Bey. Though he enjoined no compromise over his holdings, he garnered only limited popular support as his defence was based upon a, "reformed style of a hierarchical system dominated by the old aristocracies of blood"[37]. To the west however, competing tribal leaderships cancelled each other's influence out leaving the large religious brotherhoods to mobilise, "the vast majority of North African men... [who] irrespective of region, social status, or occupation belonged to one or even several Sufi orders"[38]. Abd alQadir invoked simultaneously the mystical appeal of Sufism and orthodox Islamic belief to attract both urban and rural support. Qadir's followers in the preSahara combined religious authority, political influence and military might to create a khalifah, "a Muslim state in the interior, a kind of Berber confederacy... modern in organisation and administration, yet dedicated to Islamic purity and opposition to contacts with Christians"[39].

Qadir's dedication to these ideals was not total. He used extensive links with French informants and followed closely the French parliamentary debates to site and utilise divisions on colonial policy. When his idealism gave way to selfaggrandising realism, Qadir sought a treaty with the French, which allowed a concentrated French effort against Ahmed Bey and control of interior trade routes to Qadir. In many aspects, Qadir mounted an invasion of the interior. He attacked (only partially successfully) the Kabyle and its Tijaniyya tariqa which opposed him. Qadir's imposition of taxes on the faithful under his control and accommodation of the French created opposition.

Upon the collapse of the marabout-djemaa dyad, the Sufis became irrelevant, eventually losing all credibility by supporting France's war against Muslim Turkey in World War One. Spurred by reformist (Salafist [40]) condemnation of maraboutic practices, such as profanity and shirk (divinity by association with saints' tombs, etc.) [41] Sufis gradually converted to the Salafist movement - a famous example being Shaykh alAlawi [42].

The mosques of the cities continued to communicate the elements outlined so far, plus additional ideals such as; liberty, private property, security, peaceful dissent, equality before the law, participation in the political process (seen to constitute basic Islamic rights)[43], mutual aid, hospitality, politeness, and, participation in religious fraternities[44]. As the number of imams began to increase[45] the Salafists brought Islam back to national relevance by satisfying demands for purity, autonomy and independence. The movement created a new version of the ulama: no longer working with the government of the day, but opponents of Western legal codes, compromise with Christianity as well as maraboutism.

TABLE TWO : Elements of the Salafiyya Movement[46]
common law return to Tradition of Prophet
maraboutism ijtihad
ulama tradition shari'a
  rapprochement with other religions

Under the motto, "Islam is my religion, Arabic my culture, Algeria my nation", the Association of Algerian Ulama - founded in the 1930s - was the climax of the nineteenth century Salafist movement. The former strength of maraboutism had stunted the potent of Reformist Islam in Algeria, and as its leader, Shaykh Badis himself stressed: prior to his movement, no Algerian had supposed that Islam could be anything other than the cult of holy men[47] The Badisiyya sits uncomfortably on the cusp of Salafist and Islamist movements. His deputy Tayyib Uqbi is regarded as having introduced Islamist terms to Algeria in his attacks on marabouts[48].

Like the Kharijites before them, and, Islamists after them, the Salafists demanded that ijtihad (free, reasoned opinion) be the paramount decisive tool - so long as everyone concurred with their opinion. Badis' failure, as with the Kharijites and Wahhabis "was due to their own intolerance...the ideas they opposed are not unacceptable to all Muslims": the use of ijtihad to condemn and attack is fatally flawed theologically[49] and denies the popular, ecumenical tradition of Algerian Islam.

It took major economic upheavals and political repression to bring the elements of this discursive pole back to prominence in the 1980s. In the face of economic liberalisation which sent food prices skyrocketing along with unemployment, water and housing shortages, and, evident official corruption, Islamist groups emerged in lower class suburbs and towns practicing mutual aid; providing education (in Quranic schools) where state schools were overcrowded, collecting rubbish, cleaning housing estates and encouraging small business ventures for the young unemployed. Mahmoud Ayubi indicates similarities between the hardcore jobless and the Kharijites in their shared origins in a harsh socioecological environment, the lure of town, the failure to be absorbed and eventual turning upon it [50]. As with the Kharijites, and Tayyib Uqbi, the Islamist groups use excommunication of fellow Muslims who failed to share their opinions. And like the Almoravids, Almohads and first FLN president Ben Bella; bars, licensed cafes, prostitution and other visible 'vices' were removed. The more militant of these groups staged violent protests at universities, even a few guerilla groups sprung up in the early 1980s.

The Algerian Islamist movement is an 'schizophrenic'[51] mixture of ancestorism, democratic ideals [52], intolerant pseudoSufism, and, textual puritanism. Islamists refuse, "to return to the real tradition in the name of an imaginary Tradition: they reject popular religious practice, the village, Sufism, philosophy"[53]. Having received the majority of votes from this community (in municipal elections in 1990 and parliamentary elections in 1991) they invoke the Kharijite tradition of consensus (ijma).

Islamism has confused some observers who see, "a popular religious practice at times tainted by the very beliefs the Islamists condemn (sufism, maraboutism)". They note that when fundamentalism rises, there is a drop off in Sufi mysticism involvement: that Islamism is disproportionately popular among scientists who find in it a shared anticategorisation of information/knowledge, identical to the Sufist oneness of knowledge, though combined with militant tones extolling, 'mental conversion', and, 'ideological formation' over 'acquiring knowledge'[54]. In these aspects it can be delineated that contemporary Islamism in Algeria is a further incarnation of the populist, puritan blends; a mix of modern, urban, scriptualism, and, 'traditional', rural, populism.

The Liberal Pole

Religious resistance follows a fairly evident path from historical precedent, with partially successful adaptations to the modern era. The state and its minions however had the modern era thrust upon it and integrated those elements that could mesh with it. This has developed into the current technoelite pole which tentatively rules Algeria. The pendulum which swung between puritan and liberal Islamic modes of administration, between rural revolution and urban malaise, from preIslam to the twentieth century is seen by Ernest Gellner as irrelevant after European intrusion and its accompanying urbanisation. While it is true that the marabout-djemaa dyad disappeared, the elements of Algerian discourse the dyad encouraged and protected were resurrected in new, modernised formats.

French domination introduced Western law, and, a strong, centralised state. Centralised administration, labour migration and the use of automotives for trade made marabouts unnecessary. Marabouts and djemaa now became separate 'traditions'[55] vying for control of politicoreligious rule. The oscillations in the French controlled polity were between, pluralism: "civic, thisworldly, nonenthusiastic and tolerant", and the, "intellectually meritorious monism"[56]. The realities of the western state weighed in favour of pluralism.

Land was seized for use by French migrant farmers (colons)[57]- dispossessing the bulk of the Algerian population and causing a flood of economic refugees from small agricultural communities into the swelling coastal cities, creating a hardcore jobless class. Full rights could only be enjoyed by citizens of the secular state, necessitating a blasphemous renunciation of alhakimiyya (the supremacy of Allah on earth) by Muslims wishing to operate freely in the modernised system. This alienated Algerians from the modernisation process. The French, like the Ottomans before them created an artificial elite wherein personnel (free of kin links) were systematically trained and educated for war and administration. Those who collaborated with the colonial system were included (at lower levels than colons) in the technocratic elite which formed. Bureaucracy became based upon not what skills one possessed but who you knew - which continues to a degree today. At the turn of the century, however, the first generation of evolves defended the egalitarian nature of the accessibility to the regime.

Akin to the rise of Islamic thought in the face of their military successes in the seventh century, so too does Western rationality and modernity win over the intellectual community in the wake of colonial domination. The urbanisation of the population and growing literacy engendered a religious legitimacy derived from reasoned, personal opinion (ijtihad) of the various Islamic texts (Quran, sunna). Mystical Sufism, now seen as collaborating and a failed force, transformed from orthodox pole to deviancy, while the formerly marginalised Maliki ulama became the supreme religious authorities.

Just as the success of the Reform movement reflects the shift from the rural to the urban style[58] in both numbers and authority so too does the growth in the strength of the state. Control of Algeria by the state was total, and the desire for local control of the state soon grew to a revolutionary impulse.

Algerians of the liberal pole had attempted to share power with French colonists by accommodation from the 1920s onwards. When this was rejected an armed liberation movement, the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) was started, based on Western socialism. The FLN's armed group, the ANL, operating within the countryside in cells, run along traditional local collective decision making lines[59]. French responses, which included; torture of civilians (including the rape of females), and, summary executions for such 'crimes' as giving aid, all violated the basic principles which exist in all Algerian ideologies, either orthodox or deviant. This, more than any other factor, explains the success of a small, infighting guerilla movement against a First World army: the war was lost regardless of how many battles the French won.

The FLN took charge of the Algerian state in 1962, on a platform of socialist revolution. Women and all classes would be cared for and have a direct influence in the running of their lives - through President Ben Bella's autogestion plan. Islam was to be a regulated branch of the state, subordinate to the government, imams would be employees of the public service. "[T]he intercessor between God and development [was] no longer a [marabout], a prophet, or a mufti, but rather, the state apparatus"[60]. Bella tried to balance the strong socialist ideology of his regime with overt religious rhetoric: the Ramadan fast and charity giving were made obligatory for Muslims, and, prohibited the use of alcohol [61]. Despite these moves, Ben Bella retained French legal codes, angering many strong Muslims in the party and ulama.

His successor, Boumedienne entrenched his position as President by a combination of collegial rhetoric and puritan authoritarianism. His strong personality, sound political alliances, and, unique and unrepeatable relation to the army [62] allowed him to weather several coup attempts and growing public discontent over the emphasis on hydrocarbon and capitalintensive industries, whilst housing and consumer goods were ignored.

Under the last FLN president, Colonel Chadli BenJadid, even the semblance of egalitarian notions were removed. Jobs were given to veterans and their children. Ethnic and linguistic divisions used by Boumedienne to counterbalance one another, were employed to bolster Chadli's support [63] With no great, inclusive, social project (and with popular energies demobilising) the reason for such dictatorial powers became tenuous. The wealthy, Westernised technoelite, became isolated as popular support turned into cynicism and eventual political unrest. Repressed and absent streams became restless and visible.

The oneparty secular state was workable in Algeria as long as its populist nature was harvested. For although it denied egalitarian access to power it supplied a new philosophy and ideology to cater for the new Algeria colonialism created, a doctrine for the urban masses based on workers' equality and social justice. This gave way under the pressure of Islamist protests in the early 1980s to shifts of concession and repression.

Chadli jailed the most notable religious militants after an incident at Algiers University in 1982, but within two years altered the Family Law Code from its equitable, Western version to one with particular emphasis on shari'a. To external observers, it seemed a balance of reactivated 'traditional' values ("family solidarity, public morality, religious fundamentalism and the ArabIslamic heritage") and state coercion were holding the state and society together[64]. In reality, the liberal pole was withering from hypocrisy.

Islamism's Rise Under 'Liberalisation'
By October 1988 protests had become too large for continued appeasement, and the army moved in - applying brutal violence to antigovernment rioters, killing over five hundred and arresting thousands (many of whom were tortured). The Algerian army had become the mirror of its colonial master: Chadli now attempted to hitch his political future onto the popular legitimacy of the moderate Islamist movement. He announced multiparty elections and encouraged the creation of alternative political parties, most with "diametrically opposed and totally irreconcilable, conceptions of the state"[65], such as the Islamist FIS or Berberist RCD.

The clear majority the FIS obtained in the 1990 municipal and 1991 National Assembly elections would have provided Chadli a way to distance himself from the unpopular army, by way of alliance with the FIS. Many members of the FLN under Chadli were strongly Islamic in alignment at any rate, and the parties' policies were not divergent on many issues. However, the army would not stand down from its superordinate role in politics, and backed by antiIslamist groups (Berbers, women, Francophiles in the technoelite) they cancelled the second and final round of national elections. The FIS was banned, its leaders incarcerated, the municipalities it ruled dissolved, and, a High Council of State was formed to govern.

At present the moderate political parties and religious leaders are united under the Rome Accord of January 1995 to remove the military government, which has seen over 40 000 people killed since 1992, from power and to hold open and free democratic elections. Radical military figures, the western 'liberal' technoelite and radical Islamists (such as the Armed Islamic Group, GIA, which has bombed Parisian subways among other atrocities) all reject these calls. A new shift in the poles is becoming evident. The orthodox ruling elite have become extremists of the deviant pole along with the GIA and Berberist RCD. Political moderates calling for a modern equivalent of the marabout-djemaa dyad are taking centre stage - it can only be hoped they are successful.

Community involvement in politics, specialised religious figures and tempered mysticism, are once more present in the discourse of the country. The absence of tolerance for dissident opinion in Islamism will cause libertine groups to become popular should Algeria become an Islamic Republic. Puritanical approaches to social life and suggested authoritarian rule, will in a similar way cause backlashes in the identified 'traditional' pattern. The demand of the national mind - the socio-religio-political culture - for these issues to be acknowledged necessitates their reappearance in any combination and number continues and will continue to do so.



  1. Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society, Cambridge University Press : Cambridge, 1981, p. 5 
  2. Much has been made of the nomenclature of contemporary hard-line Islamic groups. Fundamentalism is frequently deemed pejorative and/or inappropriate due to its basis in Protestant scriptualism (as the Muslim version emphasises strict adherence to not only text but lifestyle of the Prophet). Islamism has been used more recently, but encounters resistance from Muslims who hold that it infers the so-named groups have a somehow more Islamic approach and ideology than other Muslims. In general, most names given to this movement are perjorative in the positive or negative. The positive epitaphs (ie. those they give themselves) include: awakening, revival, current, resurrection, movement, tendency, islamist, asliyyun (originals), salafiyyun (followers of the ancestors), mu'min (believers) and mutadayyin (pious). Negative terms include: mutashaddid (zealot), and, mutatarrif (extremist). For this chapter, the French term integrists shall be used. It is appropriate as it is a word both sides use as description and is remarkably free of ideological baggage (beside that which the reader will bring to whatever word is used) as it has no workable English translation. 
  3. Entelis, p. 74-5 
  4. Peter R. Knauss, Persistence of Patriarchy: Class, Gender and Ideology in 20th Century Algeria, New York: Praeger, 1984, p. 11 
  5. Gellner, p. 46 
  6. The tradition of Berber libertarianism formed the base of St. Augustine's creed of: "Love, and do what you will". This attitude is seen more contemporaneously in the pacifist anarchism of Leo Tolstoy or Gandhi. See, Leo Tolstoy, A Confession and other Religious Writings, Penguin: London, 1987, George Woodcock, Gandhi, Fontana: London, 1972, Richard G. Fox, Gandhian Utopia : Experiments in Culture, Beacon: Boston, 1989, and Peter Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, Fontana: London, 1993 
  7. Gellner, p. 20 
  8. As a Bedouin language Berber (Amazigh) is an oral, not written, language. This was one of the attractions and common points between Berbers and Islam when it was introduced, as Islam was communicated in unwritten Bedouin Arabic. 
  9. Mervyn Hiskett, The Course of Islam in Africa, Edinburgh University Press : Edinburgh, 1994, p. 2 
  10. Hiskett, p. 2 
  11. Nazih Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion And Politics In The Arab World, Routledge: London, 1991, p. 9 
  12. It is now that politics and religion first converge as Mu'awiyah and later al-Mansur have their employed jurists write fatwas to justify taxing Muslims and in doing so to confer legitimacy on the political rulers. 
  13. Mehran Tamadonfar, The Islamic Polity & Political Leadership: Fundamentalism, Sectarianism & Pragmatism, Westview Press: Boulder, 1989, p. 101 
  14. John P. Entelis, Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized, p. 14 
  15. Roger le Tourneau, "North Africa to the Sixteenth Century" from Holt, P.M., Lambton, A.K.S., and, Lewis, B. (eds) The Cambridge History of Islam, Volume 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970, p. 216 
  16. Hrair Dekmejian, Islam In Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World (2nd Ed), Syracuse Univeristy Press: New York, 1995, p. 14 
  17. le Tourneau, p. 217 
  18. Tamadonfar, p. 90 
  19. Gellner, p. 43 
  20. Tamadonfar, p. 95 
  21. Indeed to this day many of the higher Atlas peaks and deep south are populated by 'pure' Berbers. 
  22. Ahmad Shboul, "The Place of the Maghrib in the History of Arab Islamic Culture" Maghrebian Studies Conference, 1980, p. 8 
  23. Ayubi, p. 4 
  24. Malik Ibn Anas, the imam who founded the Maliki school was an 8th century Medina leader tortured at the hand of caliph al-Mansur, for casting doubt about Mansur's legitimacy, and more significantly refusing to recant his opinion. 
  25. Hiskett, p. 7 
  26. Gellner, p. 52 
  27. Hiskett, p. 8 
  28. Hiskett, p. 11. By contemplation and asceticism the believer approaches Allah via a series of states (ahwal) and stations (maqamat). These states were brought on frequently by dance, song or poetry which, "touched the hearts of millions of Muslims with the fire of love". Mahmoud M. Ayoub, "Islam Between Ideals and Ideologies: Towards a Theology of Islamic History", in Barbara Stowasser (ed), The Islamic Impulse, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Washington DC, 1987 p. 317 
  29. Hiskett, p. 11 
  30. Gellner, p. 310 
  31. Prior to stagnation however, scholarly Sufism spread from the Maghreb into Europe via Muslim Andalusia. The Sufis of Seville inspired the Heresy of Free Spirit movement, a radical gnostic mystic Christian sect, that influenced the Anabaptists, Quakers and by evolution the libertarians and anarchists of modern times. 
  32. Ayubi, p. 25 
  33. Ayubi, p. 15 
  34. Entelis, p. 79 
  35. Donal B. Cruise O'Brien, "Introduction", in Donal B. Cruise O'Brien & Christian Coulon (eds), Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam, Clarendon Press: London , 1988, p18. "veneration of holy men often degenerated into hagliolatry... Berbers and Arabs, nomads and cultivators, mountain people and citizens lived in an atmosphere of the wonderous, of baraka, 'the sacred power' which emanates from saints, their tombs, descendents or anything associated with them." J. Spencer Trimingham, The Influence of Islam Upon Africa (2nd Ed), Longman Group: London, 1980, p. 10 
  36. Roy, p. 31 
  37. John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation, Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1992, p. 62 
  38. Julia A Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria & Tunisia 1800-1904), University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994, p. 40 
  39. Ruedy, p. 25 
  40. Salafist: from SLF (past) hence the frequent translation 'ancestorism'. 
  41. Gellner, p. 161 
  42. Al-Alawi (d 1934) was a Sufi of the 'Isawi tariqa who became a well-known anti-Salafist. He oscillated however, between the poles of the specialist-esoteric (with its right-wing aspects of hereditary rule and the cult of magic, inc. snake-charming) on the one hand, and the egalitarian-orthodox on the other (with its left-wing emphasis on puritanism, the Word, and, egalitarianism). Al-Alawi became a modernist, and rejected all Sufist practices, except pecularly his snake-charming, Gellner, p. 137 and 144. 
  43. Ayoub, p. 234 
  44. Knauss, p. 13, from Pierre Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977 
  45. In 1875 there were only 100 offical imams and qadis for 2.6 million faithful. Ruedy, p. 101 
  46. Roy, p. 32 
  47. Gellner, p. 152 
  48. Uqbi called marabouts, ³tools of Satan² and his religious career was cut short in 1936 after an official Uqbi denounced in the press as a collaborator was murdered. Uqbi was forced to retire from public life . 
  49. Ayoub, p. 310 
  50. Ayubi, p. 125. Integrism, like Kharijism encourages hakimiyya; "To declare divinity for God alone...[which] means a full revolt against human rulership in all its shapes and forms... destroying the kingdom of man...the cancellation of human laws". Sayyib Qutb, quoted in Ayubi, p. 140. 
  51. "To cure the imputed culture of 'schizophrenia' of the victims of colonization, the Islamist doctor thus runs the risk of innoculating his patients with the germs of a new schizophrenia. In the place of a culture perceived as having been imported from the West, they take the risk of substituting another culture which is just as far removed: not across the Mediterranean this time, but across centuries", Francois Burgat (tr. William Dowell), The Islamic Movement in North Africa, Center for Middle East Studies: Austin, 1993, p. 78 
  52. It is important to note that the majority of 'liberal' political groups (Berbers, women's associations) supported the military cancellation of first round national elections, on the basis that an integrist victory was the wrong result. Their current calls for a return to liberalism do not include free elections with all parties represented. Their justification is along the lines of 'No liberty for the enemies of liberty'. 
  53. Roy, pp. 21-2 
  54. Roy, pp. 58, 88,103 and 133 
  55. James C. Scott describes them as the 'Big' (charismatic marabout) and 'Little' (collegial djemaa) Traditions. Knauss, p. 13 
  56. Gellner, p. 17 
  57. The seizure of land became regular after the pioneering work of the Fourierists from Lyon and Saint-Simonians - utopian socialists setting up Brook Farm-like settlements on land 'conceded' by King Louis Philippe in Western Algeria, esp. Annaba (Bone) from 1846 to 1853. Having failed to turn their own world 'upside down' they decided to start from scratch in another world, one they conveniently found uninhabited. Their members (re)discovered mineral deposits and promoted railway construction - becoming central in opening Algeria to France. 
  58. Defined by Ernest Gellner as consisting of: commercial employment, secluded, veiled women, ambiguous groups, less kin-marriage ties, and, a more sobrietous, scripturalist, individualistic and anonymous ritual life. Gellner, p. 163 
  59. Knauss, p. 12 
  60. Jean-Claude Vatin " Revival in the Maghreb: Islam as an Alternative Political Language", in Ali E Hillal Dessouki (ed) Islamic Resurgance in the Arab World , New York: Prager, 1982, p.233 
  61. Knauss, p. 102 
  62. Hugh Roberts, "The Algerian State and the Challenge of Democracy", International Affairs, 68:4, Oct 1992, p. 258 
  63. Claire Spencer, "Algeria in Crisis", Survival, 36: 2, Summer 1994, p. 155 
  64. Entelis, p. 76 
  65. Roberts, p. 263


  • Nazih Ayubi, Political Islam: Religion And Politics In The Arab World, Routledge: London, 1991 
  • Julian Baldick, Mystical Islam: An Introduction to Sufism, I.B. Tauris & Co.: London, 1989 
  • Francois Burgat (tr. Wiliam Dowell), The Islamic Movement in North Africa, Center for Middle East Studies: Austin, 1993 
  • Julia A Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria & Tunisia 1800- 1904), University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994 
  • Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, Oxford University Press : New York, 1970 
  • R. Hrair Dekmejian, Islam In Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World (2nd Ed), Syracuse Univeristy Press: New York, 1995 
  • John P. Entelis, Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized 
  • Ernest Gellner, Muslim Society, Cambridge University Press : Cambridge, 1981 Mervyn Hiskett, The Course of Islam in Africa, Edinburgh University Press : Edinburgh, 1994 
  • P.M. Holt, A.K.S. Lambton and, B. Lewis (eds), The Cambridge History of Islam, Volume 2, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1970 
  • Peter R. Knauss, Persistence of Patriarchy: Class, Gender and Ideology in 20th Century Algeria, New York: Praeger, 1984. 
  • Donal B. Cruise O'Brien & Christian Coulon (eds), Charisma and Brotherhood in African Islam, Clarendon Press: London, 1988 
  • Hugh Roberts, "The Algerian State and the Challenge of Democracy", International Affairs, 68:4, Oct 1992, pp. 247-267 
  • Oliver Roy, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1994 
  • John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation, Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1992 
  • Ahmad M.H. Shboul, "The Place of the Maghrib in the History of Arab Islamic Culture", Maghrebian Studies Conference, 1980, pp. 1-14 
  • Claire Spencer, "Algeria in Crisis", Survival, 36: 2, Summer 1994, pp. 149-163 
  • Barbara Stowasser (ed), The Islamic Impulse, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Washington DC, 1987 
  • Mehran Tamadonfar, The Islamic Polity and Political Leadership: Fundamenalism, Sectarianism & Pragmatism, Westview Press: Boulder, 1989 
  • J. Spencer Trimingham, The Influence of Islam Upon Africa (2nd Ed), Longman Group: London, 1980