Anthropology of Islam to what I Understand


written by Muhammad Latif Fauzi

Islam as a set of norms and rules for human beings life is an undeniable view among Muslims. However, how Islam is understood and applied by its adherents in social life has become a central problem (Rahman, 1966: 101). In other words, the formative period of Islam which had ended after the death of the Prophet as no more revelation from God gives a meaning that afterwards Islam within diverse forms, structures, and conditions of society have had processes, dynamics, and changes. Islam as a normative teaching is indeed monolithic and homogenous, but in a society it has multi interpretations, faces, and heterogeneous cultures (Arkoun, 1988; Hodgson, 1974).

A scholar like Michael Gilsenan, have spent its much time to get impressions and recognition that things of Islam in the Middle East countries sometimes are not what they seem. As Gilsenan has described further in Chapter 1, the nature and meaning of society, tradition, have become a problem to address. Here, one has to see the meaning of a particular social role or ritual as a product of the interrelation between symbols, concepts, and practices. Another well known scholar, Clifford Geertz, in his Islam Observed also has found how symbols interact to structure individual existence and social events have wide application in contemporary society. He drew his conclusion based on a study in comparative religion in Indonesia and Morocco. In Chapter 1, he outlines the social and attitudinal tensions that contributed to such different manifestations of Islam in the two countries. Of course, there are still some other scholars, such as El Zein, Gellner, Asef Bayat, and Talal Asad who has dealt with the reality of socio-political-economic structures contributing in constituting the meanings of Islam within social life.

In the study of anthropology of Islam, these all are the scopes or the objects, of which an anthropologist should ask, find, examine, and understand. The anthropology of Islam has to seek and understand what Muslims believe, say, do, and behave. It is also responsible to understand how people think and act during social events. All system of meanings and social structures within society are then analyzed and interconnected. Anyhow, it is interesting to cite the statement of Richard Tapper (1995, 192) as below:

“The anthropological of religion is not theology. It is not necessarily against either theology ore religion. But good anthropology does have subversive potential; it asks awkward question about the political and economic interests and the personal connections of powerful ideologies at all levels of society; it also asks how ideologies are constructed and how language and other systems of symbols are manipulated.”


Arkoun, Mohammed, “The Concept of Authority in Islamic Thought”, in Klauss Ferdinand and Mehdi Mozaffari (eds.), 1988, Islam: State and Society, London: Curzon Press.

Eickelman, Dale F, “A Search for the Anthropology of Islam: Abdul Hamid Zein” in International Journal of Middle East Studies 13: 3 (1981

Fazlur Rahman, 1966, Islam, New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt Reinhart and Winston.

Geertz, Clifford, 1968, Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Gilsenan, Michael, 1982, Recognizing Islam: an Anthropologist’s Introduction, London; Sydney: Croom Helm.

Hodgson, Marshall, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Tapper, Richard, “’Islamic Anthropology’ and the ‘Anthropology of Islam’” in Anthropological Quarterly 68: 3 (1995).


One Response to “Anthropology of Islam to what I Understand”

  1. 1 Tia

    I’m interested with your blog
    Could we keep in touch for further discussion, because I’m going to do an ethnographic research on Islamic media

    Thank you

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