Tribalism & Islam

January 30, 2015

By: Dr. Hussein Al-Rumaithi Citizens of the Arab world uniquely identify themselves by notions other than what the world knows them by. They identify themselves by religion, sect, nationality, political affiliation and most uniquely by tribe. The rationale behind this type of identification is due to numerous reasons and socio-political factors, which can be categorized as:

  • Early historic foundation of the Arab world (Arabic Peninsula) was based on the tribes and their mobility through the lands of this region. Therefore, the oldest and original identity of this region is directly linked to the notion of existence and survival.
  • The political dynasties that existed in this region, asserted the role of the tribes by creating alliances and coalitions. Therefore, being associated to a tribe was accompanied by benefits and securities, which were not available through other means.
  • Role of Islam in expanding the role of tribes as a mean of law and order to maintain social fabric along with Islamic norms and traditions.
  • Political instabilities in the region, which have led the masses seeking for affiliations as a mean of  survival, since the states have not been able to provide the basic necessities of life, such as; security, shelter, food, financial security and etc. Therefore, seeking a common identity is guaranteed through tribalism, since other affiliations like religion, sects and politics tend to create possible tensions and lack long-term security.
The strong existence of tribalism in the Middle East and specifically the Arab world, which is clearly evident until this day, has given the tribes extra influence and ability to utilize their influence to gain political and social advancement. However, due to the strict nature of traditions and norms that are practiced by the tribes, the extent of suppression and marginalization of some groups have forced scholars of Islam to take position against some tribes. Unfortunately, the expansion in role of tribes mean in the current era means the state has not been able to enforce its laws and executive powers as a mean of spreading order and stability. Therefore, the tribes have taken the place of the state in providing justice and stability. However, the justice and order that the tribes acknowledge is completely different than what a modern state believes in, which leaves a nation in a state of contradiction and bi-Polarism. Whether a nation is ruled by non-Islamic or Islamic system, the type of social order enforced by the tribal system is unfair and unjust to many groups, including women and children. However, by making such a statement, there should not be an imagination where tribes are viewed as camel riding people who live outside the cities in an uncivilized way. There has been numerous scholars and great thinkers, who have originated from these tribes that live among the people in cities and suburbs, just like everybody else.

Contradictions: ISLAM VS TRIBES

The geographic and timeline, which Islam emerged from mandated presentation of sets of rules and regulations for social conduct and interactions. The Arabian Peninsula, which was mainly a tribal society was ravished by piracy, incursions, unfair social classes, intolerance and austerity. Therefore, Islam’s goal was to diminish these notions and replacing them with respect, mercy, equality and tolerance. However, the gradualism of this transformation was the essence of its success. Islam did not rule out all the norms and traditions that were practiced by tribes, and in many cases the Prophet of Islam chose to affirm some of the traditions and norms practiced by the tribes, as a way of completing the noble code of ethics and morals. Nevertheless, some of the unjust and unethical conducts and traditions of tribalism, which are still being practiced in modern Arab world, have been criticized by western observers as being part of Islamic legacy. Unfortunately, these types of actions, have been part of other conducts that have remained as obstacles for the rectifying attempts by Islamic scholars.
  • Forced capitation.
  • Forced marriages.
  • Forced dislodgment.
  • Autonomic penal codes. (Killing one man from a tribe in front of a murdered man from another)
  • Status of women. (Objectification of women and viewing them as a basic necessity for personal pleasures and needs)
These are some of the notions that put the tribes before criticism and accountability. In some sever cases, some tribes enforces biological traditions upon women that leaves them in everlasting pains and sufferings. The issue of female circumcision, which has been a hot topic for western media for a long period of time, is one of these issues that puts Islam and its teachings in a direct confrontation with the tribes and their traditions. The authenticity of free will, freedom and dignity of a human is guaranteed by the religion of Islam, and the fact that, those conducts contradict with the core teachings of Islam, is the purpose of this article. The status of women and her tremendous rights, which are guaranteed through Islam, enable a woman to become an effective member of the society and seek education and social status is she desires. In addition, Islam has given a woman the right to refuse and accept any person for marriage. Any sort of matrimonial sermons, without the permission of the woman is not acceptable, and the marriage is considered annulled and not satisfactory. The political and social alliances and coalitions between tribes are not acceptable according to Islam, if they marginalize or suppress the rights of others. All alliances and coalitions must consider the risk of oppressing other groups and take precautions for minimizing the possibilities of such outcome. Nonetheless, Islam is not against the notion of political gain and utilization, nor it forces its rule upon groups, tribes, parties and individuals if they choose not to follow the teachings of Isla. However, Islam’s main goal is to assure not a single individual is oppressed and victimized due to the interest of a group. Finally, it must be acknowledged that tribalism has asserted some the most noble and honorable traditions and norms humanity has ever known. The notion, of abidance and submission to the will of elders and more experienced figures of the tribes, which gives the younger generations a better chance to  make informed decisions. The notion of generosity, hospitality and munificence are among the known attributes of tribal people, who are willing to give up their wealth for the sake of a guest. There are numerous other norms and traditions, which Islam has chosen to honor and practice as mentioned above, as a way of delivering a message of tolerance and acceptance.

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