Michael B. Bishku

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


The term “nationalism” refers to a process by which a group (or groups) of people who possess one or many real or imagined common characteristics—usually language, history, culture and religion—join together, either seeking some form of autonomy within a state or striving to achieve independence so that they may establish their own state. Nationalism could also involve either combining states with inhabitants who possess common characteristics, or looking to annex neighboring territories in which those people inhabit; the former is the goal of “pan-ethnic” movements, while the latter is referred to as “irredentism.” Besides “ethnic” nationalism (as a result of war, decolonization, or the breakup of multiethnic empires), “territorial” nationalism also developed. Both ethnic and territorial nationalism can exist simultaneously, as has been the case in areas of the Islamic world. Religious identity has also been an important factor in shaping nationalism in the Balkans and the Middle East, due in large part to the long history in the Ottoman Empire of the “millet” (Turkish for “nation”) system, which was based on confessional association. (The same can be said for Christian Europe, as the Old Testament provided the original model of a nation and has had an influence up through to the present.) The modern Middle East and South Asia include two countries established on the basis of religious affiliation—Israel and Pakistan—as well as one dominated by members of the ulema: the Islamic Republic of Iran. At the same time, the modern Middle East also includes Turkey, whose founding father, Kemal Ataturk, promoted secularism alongside nationalism. In certain countries in the West—the United States, Great Britain, and France—due to the effects of secularism or the fact that there is not one prevailing group, “civic” nationalism has been promoted. In Asia and Africa, however, nationalism has been in part a movement in reaction to European imperialism and promoted by indigenous elites seeking to raise the level of development in society. In the process, attempts were made to diminish the effects of tribalism or regionalism. In certain cases, having a common enemy or not wanting to be dominated by a more powerful neighbor has enhanced nationalistic feelings. The issue of “others” within territorial boundaries has also been used by a particular group—usually a majority and sometimes a minority, as in the case of the Sunni in Iraq—to maintain dominance within a state and promote nationalism.

Article.  9458 words. 

Subjects: Islam

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.