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Modern Middle East History

The process of democratization of Middle East has been based on two lines – secular nationalist ideology as in case of Egypt and Turkey and Islamic fundamentalist ideology which formed the basis of nationalism in rest of the Middle Eastern countries. Ideological differences in the advent of the secular nationalism and religious nationalism has been found in Middle East. This paper reviews the key difference in identification of problems and application of the reforms.

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First, we will review the difference in the ideologies of both the parties. The religious criticism of secular nationalism arose in Middle East where national building was being attempted on western philosophies. Their argument against secular nationalism was based on its western origin. This idea was first brought forward by Ayatollah Khomeini who reflected that secular nationalism is a western concept and its application on Middle East was inappropriate (Juergensmeyer, 2006). The control of their culture and economy by the western secular forces was not acceptable by the Islamic ideologists. Similar stand was taken by Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria in 1991 election, which claimed that secular nationalism supported by the Algerian military leaders was simply an extension of French colonial rule.

The second ideological difference between the secular nationalist and religious nationalism is that the former is intolerant of religion. This argument has been found the speech of Imam Shaheed hasan Al-Banna where he alleges the western world for keeping the Islamic states away from all modern and economic benefits and accused some Islamic nations to have degraded themselves (like Turkey) by aping the west and calling themselves non-Islamic state (Al-Banna).

Another difference that has been argued by religious extremists is that secular nationalism promoted a unified world. They believe that the secular nationalism promulgates the establishment of a unified, secular, government, society and culture for the whole world. Such beliefs have been found in the ideologies of al-Qaeda movement who believe that the US is trying to seize the power from the Muslim world and the fear that US is trying to destroy the Muslims. The main ideology of Islamic nationalism – main proponents being Pakistan’s Maulana Abu al-Ala Mawdudi and Egypt’s Hassan Al-Bana – was based on the ideology that western imperialism is against Islamic society. In Iran Islamic nationalism, formed through the preaching of Ayatollah Khomeini was based on the establishment of a socialist notion of revolution in Shariati Islamic political philosophy.

A secular nationalism arose in some Middle Eastern countries like Egypt and Lebanon. Here the government tries to fight against the extremists along with stalwart Islamic institutions like those that Al Ahzar University joined in alliance with them. The secularists believe that the Islamic extremists have no ideology; rather they have a psychological problem, which is represented in their obsession of what should happen to women folk. According to the secular nationalism is based on the ideology of making of a modern and progressive for the people of the republic (Kemal, 2003). They believe in uprooting all the superstitious beliefs and customs.

Criticism of Islamic nationalism by the secularist nationalists is based on the following reasons. First, they believe that religion is an insufficient basis for development of national identity development. This secularist ideology argues that national unity cannot be based on religious forces. They support secularism as the main political force. The second argument that the secularists nationalists posed is that politics is harmful for religion. This argument poses that political activism is harmful to the spirituality and piety required to lead a religious life. Some Muslims have accused the religious activism as one that is converting Islam to a political ideology. This argument has come in Iran by a leading Muslim theologian – Abdolkarim Soroush – claims that political activism of Islam in Iran has corrupted the religion in his country (Juergensmeyer, 2006). The third argument states that religious nationalism should be transnational and not national. In Egypt and in other parts of Middle East Muslim clerics have accused Islamic activists of being nationalist in character and foregoing the transnational character of Islam.

According to Edward Said, the Islamists ideology is making a nation based upon a religion and nothing else. They do not talk of development or basic human amenities. They are in a way concerned with the moral and social conduct of the people (women mostly). Their method embraces violence, which has made people reluctant to accept them. Ayotollah Khomeini believes that it is not enough to reform the society. What is required is to set a law under the guidance of “God Almighty” (1981). He preaches that Islamic law (sharia) has established a supreme executor who will enforce the laws.

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The Islamic nationalism is fought in order to attain Allah through means of jihad or religious warfare. Therefore, the Islamic nationalists intend to set up a nation through extremism. According to some Islamist extremist groups like Hamas, the secularist world has been behind the two world wars, which they fought in order to gain control of the world. They formed the League of Nations and then the UN to control resources and the world. (The Covenant of Hamas, 1988)

In conclusion, it can be said that the ideological differences between the Islamic extremists and secular nationalist has hindered he development of nationalism in Middle East and development of tension in the region. The differences that arise are mainly based on culture and religion and both the parties largely have neglected the importance of development of the nation. Therefore, a force, which will help in development of a nation based on economic and social prosperity, is necessary.


Al-Banna, I. S. (n.d.). Between Yesterday and Today. 2009. Web.

Juergensmeyer, M. (2006). Nationalism adn Religion. In G. Delanty, & K. Kumar, The SAGE handbook of nations and nationalism (pp. 182-204). London: SAGE.

Kemal, M. (2003). An Exhortation to Progress. In M. Gettleman, & S. Schaar, The Middle East and Islamic World Reader (pp. 125-27). New York: Grove Press.

Khomeini, A. R. (1981). The Necessity for Islamic Governemnt (Lectures given at Najaf, 1970). In H. Algar, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (1941-1980) (pp. 40-63). Mizan Press.

The Covenant of Hamas. (1988). 2009. Web.

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