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Islamization (also spelled Islamisation, see spelling differences; Arabic: أسلمةaslamah) or Islamification (pejorative Muhammadization) is the process of a society's shift towards Islam, such as found in Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, Malaysia, or Algeria.[1] In contemporary usage, it may refer to the perceived imposition of an Islamist social and political system on a society with an indigenously different social and political background.

The English synonyms, muslimization and arabization, in use since before 1940 (e.g., Waverly Illustrated Dictionary) convey a similar meaning. Due to the trend towards identifying all Muslims with Arab people, common in the Western world, the latter tends to be applied to non-Arab (e.g. Berber, Pakistani or Iranian) influence as well.[citation needed] Muslimization has recently been used as a term coined to describe the overtly Muslim practices of new converts to the religion who wish to reinforce their newly acquired religious identity.[2]


Main article: Spread of Islam


Main article: Arabization

Arabization describes a growing cultural influence on a non-Arab area that gradually changes into one that speaks Arabic and/or incorporates Arab culture. It was most prominently achieved during the 7th-century Arabian Muslim conquests which spread the Arabic language, culture, and—having been carried out by Arabian Muslims as opposed to Arab Christians or Arabic-speaking Jews—the religion of Islam to the lands they conquered. The result: some elements of Arabian origin combined in various forms and degrees with elements taken from conquered civilizations and ultimately denominated "Arab", as opposed to "Arabian".

Modern day (1970s to present)[edit]

Historians such as Ira Lapidus have concluded that since the 1970s, the Islamic world has witnessed a phenomenon called "Islamic revival" similar to a Christian revival—often associated with Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism and other forms of re-Islamization. Largely this is because scholars such as Sayyid Qutb were instrumental in the development of political Islamic thought, and he was a core member of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation. Although one can never speak for an entire community or people, a reorientation towards Islamic values, in contrast to the Westernization moves by various Arab and Asian governments in the 1950s and 60s, appears to be taking place. The main effect appears to be a return of the individual to Muslim values, communities, and dress codes, and a strengthened community.[3]

Another development is that of transnational Islam, elaborated upon by the French Islam researchers Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy. It includes a feeling of a "growing universalistic Islamic identity" as often shared by Muslim immigrants and their children who live in non-Muslim countries:

"The increased integration of world societies as a result of enhanced communications, media, travel, and migration makes meaningful the concept of a single Islam practiced everywhere in similar ways, and an Islam which transcends national and ethnic customs."[4]

This does not necessarily imply political or social organizations:

"Global Muslim identity does not necessarily or even usually imply organized group action. Even though Muslims recognize a global affiliation, the real heart of Muslim religious life remains outside politics—in local associations for worship, discussion, mutual aid, education, charity, and other communal activities."[4]

However, polls have shown that majority of worldwide Muslim wants democracy embedded with Islam and Sharia [5][6] which is cause of concern for some commentators at the rapid growing Western European Islamic population, the lack of assimilation of said migrants, and that these groups are allegedly potential breeding grounds for terrorists. A third development is the growth and elaboration of transnational military organizations. The 1980s and 90s, with several major conflicts in the Middle East, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, Afghanistan in the 1980s and 2001, and the three Gulf Wars (1980–89, 1990–91, 2003) were catalysts of a growing internationalization of local conflicts. Figures such as Osama Bin Laden and Abdallah Azzam have been crucial in these developments, as much as domestic and world politics.[4]

Islamization of Kuwait[edit]

The Kuwaiti government began “Islamizing” Kuwait in the late 1970s.[7] In the 1970s, only a few Kuwaiti women wore the hijab.[8] At that time, the most serious threat to the Al Sabah monarchy came from leftist movement among Kuwaitis.[7]

In a 1978 speech, Kuwait’s former Emir Jabir al-Ahmad, expressed his desire to “renew” Islam in Kuwait:[7]

Kuwait’s rulers were attracted to Islamists preaching the virtues of a hierarchical order that included loyalty to the monarchy.[7] As the new political allies of the monarchy, Islamists were able to dominate state agencies, such as the Ministry of Education, where they influenced the adoption of texts and support the growth of Islamic studies.[7] Over the years, these positions allowed them to recruit young Kuwaitis to their organizations and movements.[7]

In the 1980s, the leftist movement was still popular among Kuwaitis.[9] The popularity of Kuwaiti leftism immensely declined after the Gulf War due to Arab leftists support for Saddam's invasion.[9]

Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization of Pakistan[edit]

On December 2, 1978, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq delivered a nationwide address on the occasion of the first day of the Hijra calendar. He did this in order to usher in an Islamic system to Pakistan. In the speech, he accused politicians of exploiting the name of Islam, saying that "many a ruler did what they pleased in the name of Islam."

After assuming power the task that the government set to was its public commitment to enforce Nizam-e-Mustafa (Islamic System) a 180 degree turn from Pakistan's predominantly Common Law. As a preliminary measure to establish an Islamic society in Pakistan, General Zia announced the establishment of Sharia Benches. Speaking about the jurisdiction of the Sharia Benches, he remarked, "Every citizen will have the right to present any law enforced by the government before the 'Sharia Bench' and obtain its verdict whether the law is wholly or partly Islamic or un-Islamic."

But General Zia did not mention that the Sharia Benches' jurisdiction was curtailed by the following overriding clause: "(Any) law does not include the constitution, Muslim personal law, any law relating to the procedure of any court or tribunal or, until the expiration of three years, any fiscal law, or any law relating to the collection of taxes and fees or insurance practice and procedure." It meant that all important laws which affect each and every individual directly remained outside the purview of the Sharia Benches. However, he did not have a smooth sailing even with the clipped Sharia Benches. The Federal Sharia Bench declared rajm, or stoning, to be un-Islamic; Ziaul Haq reconstituted the court, which then declared rajm as Islamic.

Islamization of the Gaza Strip[edit]

The influence of Islamic groups in the Gaza Strip has grown since the 1980s, especially as poverty has risen and fighting with Israel began in 2000.[10] The efforts to impose Islamic law and traditions continued when Hamas forcefully seized control of the area in June 2007 and displaced security forces loyal to the secular President Mahmoud Abbas.[11][12][13] After the civil war ended, Hamas declared the “end of secularism and heresy in the Gaza Strip.”[14] For the first time since the Sudanese coup of 1989 that brought Omar al-Bashir to power, a Muslim Brotherhood group ruled a significant geographic territory.[15] Gaza human rights groups accuse Hamas of restricting many freedoms in the course of these attempts.[12]

While Ismael Haniyeh officially denied accusations that Hamas intended to establish an Islamic emirate,[15] Jonathan Schanzer wrote that in the two years following the 2007 coup, the Gaza Strip has exhibited the characteristics of Talibanization,[15] a process whereby the Islamist organization imposes strict rules on women, discourages or punishes activities commonly associated with Western or Christian culture, oppresses non-Muslim minorities, imposes their own interpretation of sharia law, and deploys religious police to enforce these laws.[15]

According to Human Rights Watch, the Hamas-controlled government of Gaza stepped up its efforts to "Islamize" Gaza in 2010, efforts that included the "repression" of civil society and "severe violations of personal freedom."[16] Palestinian-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote in 2009 that "Hamas is gradually turning the Gaza Strip into a Taliban-style Islamic entity".[17] According to Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, “Ruling by itself, Hamas can stamp its ideas on everyone (...) Islamizing society has always been part of Hamas strategy.”[18]

See also[edit]

By area[edit]

By method[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Devin De Weese, Devin A, Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde, Penn State Press, Sep 1, 1994, ISBN 0-271-01073-8
  • Lapidus, Ira M. 2002, A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. ^ Kennedy, Charles (1996). "Introduction". Islamization of Laws and Economy, Case Studies on Pakistan. Anis Ahmad, Author of introduction. Institute of Policy Studies, The Islamic Foundation. p. 19. 
  2. ^ Lindley-Highfield, M. (2008) '"Muslimization", Mission and Modernity in Morelos: the problem of a combined hotel and prayer hall for the Muslims of Mexico'. Tourism Culture & Communication, vol.8, no.2, 85–96.
  3. ^ Lapidus, p.823
  4. ^ a b c Lapidus, p.828–830
  5. ^ Islam and democracy"Gallup Polls, By Dalia Mogahed"
  6. ^ Global Gender Gaps "Pew Research Center", May 13, 2004
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Frankenstein’s Lament in Kuwait". 
  8. ^ "Guide to Islamist Movements, Volume 1". p. 306. 
  9. ^ a b "The Myth of Kuwaiti Democracy". 
  10. ^ Hamas tries to detain woman walking with man, July 8, 2009, Diaa Hadid, The Guardian
  11. ^ Militants torch Gaza water park shut down by Hamas, Haaretz 19-09-2010
  12. ^ a b Gunmen torch Gaza beach club shuttered by Hamas, AFP 19-09-2010
  13. ^
  14. ^ Khaled Abu Toameh, “Haniyeh Calls for Palestinian Unity,” Jerusalem Post, June 15, 2007
  15. ^ a b c d The Talibanization of Gaza: A Liability for the Muslim Brotherhood. by Jonathan Schanzer. August 19, 2009. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology vol. 9
  16. ^ "In Gaza, prisoners twice over; Palestinians are being squeezed by the Israeli blockade and Hamas' 'Islamizing' actions," Bill Van Esveld, Bill Van Esveld is a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, June 27, 2010, Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ Khaled Abu Toameh, As Hamas Tightens Its Grip, 07-08-2009
  18. ^ Hamas Bans Women Dancers, Scooter Riders in Gaza Push By Daniel Williams, Bloomberg, November 30, 2009

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