The Essentials of Ibadi Islam (Modern Intellectual and Political History of the Middle East)

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In the case of the Arab Gulf, an additional sanction against the abuse of authority was the ability of tribesmen simply to emigrate to a neighboring shaykhdom, a frequently exercised sanction which led to the eclipse of several rulers Lienhardt, The region to the south of Oman, especially Hadramawt, offers another set of contrasts. First, the region lacked political unity prior to the British imposition of peace in the region through a combination of cajolry 1 , separate truces had to be negotiated in Hadramawt and aerial bombardment Ingrams, and especially Despite the importance which Bujra assigns to the formal role of these categories in shaping patterns of economic activities, political alliances and marriage exchanges, his case studies of such matters suggest that they cannot be explained entirely by lineage and descent theories; multiple patterns of personal identity appear to be involved, including those which involve individually contracted networks of obligations and alliance related only obliquely to descent ideologies.

In any case, the fact remains that a significant characteristic of the social structure of the region is the cultural emphasis placed upon descent categories and their hierarchical arrangement. In fact, as is also the case for Morocco, it is the elite and powerful families which make the most elaborate claims of descent.

The claims of ordinary tribesmen and townsmen are much less elaborate, indicating claims of social honor based on descent serves to legitimate higher social status and are not shared by all social strata Eickelman, : ; Hammoudi, , n. Adjoining regions of north Yemen appear to possess notions of social structure similar to those which prevail in the Hadramawt Serjeant, , although once again recent ethnographic research especially Messick, suggests that persons may be the fundamental units of social structure, rather than their attributes or statuses as members of groups, as is assumed by most descent theories of social structure.

The Sultanate of Oman differs from its neighbors in its complexity and in the marked formal egalitarianism of Ibadi Islam. Whether the majority of Omanis are Ibadi is difficult to ascertain in the absence of a census or other accurate knowledge of the country, but there is no question of the decisive influence which Ibadi beliefs have had in shaping Oman's polity. To a certain extent, the principal geographical divisions of the country here I make only passing reference to the southern province of Dhofar also indicate its.

The coastal plain is a narrow strip of land, often no more than a few kilometers wide, which contains a string of towns and oases where the principal livelihoods have been trade, fishing and the cultivation of dates and limes.

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The significance of these complex categories is difficult to comprehend in practice because they cross-cut each other and can often be manipulated within a fairly wide latitude. To add to these complexities there are numerous persons of Omani descent born in East Africa especially in regions such as Zanzibar which formerly belonged to Oman who have emigrated over the last 1 5 years and who have settled primarily in the capital region.

These emigrants have tended to be better educated as a group than persons born in Oman itself, due to the lack until very recently of adequate educational facilities within the country. The region is mixed Sunni and Ibadi, although especially in the settlements of the region there has been a growing identification with Ibadi Islam in the last few decades. Camel pastoralism prevailed until recently in the area, although sedentarization is proceeding rapidly as camel pastoralists abandon their herds to become a labor force for the region's oil fields. Indeed, it has been suggested that the tribal system in this region has dissolved more rapidly than in others because of the changes in patterns of local authority which have accompanied economic dependence upon the oil fields Peterson, The third region, that of Jabal Akhdar, or "inner" Oman, is the most important one in terms of this essay.


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It is a mountain range interspersed by a series of isolated valleys containing relatively autonomous villages, each of which is associated with an irrigation canal. Wilkinson and Peterson provide the most complete available accounts concerning "inner" Omani society 3. Unfortunately, available sources do not clearly indicate the distinctions, if any, which exist between "religious" and lay arbitration.

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Both exist, and a clarification of the contexts in which each are used would clarify the impact of Ibadi ideology upon Oman's polity. Wilkinson also states that the tribal organization of the region is segmentary, a claim that will be discussed in some detail. Ibadi religious leaders were drawn from the two major tribal confederations but were selected for their reputation to act without regard for their tribal origins Wilkinson : Complementing the social organizational framework sketched above is the scholarly convention of describing Omani politics of the last to years in terms of cycles - the temporal disparity of those who assert cyclical events in Oman's past is striking.

Wilkinson's account of why Ibadi politico-religious ideology was impractical for the "permanent" development of the state merits citation because it has been taken up by other scholars :. As the country is united so does its wealth and prosperity increase and the religious ideal weaken ; the leadership becomes the prerogative of a single group and degenerates into temporal power saltanah.

There ensues a struggle for power in which tribal lasabiyah is brought into play and every potential weakness in the country exploited until full-scale civil war is the outcome. The situation, is usually resolved by one or more of the parties calling in an outside power, normally with disastrous results for the Omanis in general.

The basic assumption in this "cyclical" hypothesis is that maritime trade and overseas dominions, notably control over Zanzibar and the East African littoral, was in essential tension with the religious basis of political legitimacy provided by the imamate. Involvement in maritime trade necessarily led to compromise with foreign powers Bathurst, While acknowledging the significance of these two factors, it should be pointed out that a number of other factors also seem to be involved in these historical developments, making the "fit" of the cyclical theory to actual social history extremely awkward.

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The assumption of such cycles implies a marked discontinuity between the social forms of the past and those. As with such theories elsewhere, the cyclical notion appears to work best when relevant documentation is missing or inadequate; numerous and often nonrepetitive "internal" and "external" factors must be taken into account in such situations. Cyclical theories have been asserted to apply to Morocco's past, for instance, although recent research has suggested their limitations see Hammoudi ; Eickelman, Wilkinson remains the best published source for comprehending Omani social structure.

As Wilkinson states, his primary interest was in the historical interrelations between settlement patterns, land use and social organization. One of his key premises is that an understanding of Ibadi political ideology necessitates an understanding of the tribal system, of which he provides an account in a chapter significantly entitled "Formalized Social Structure. Wilkinson states that Omanis tend to view their tribes as integrated by the "one factor" of clan organization, so that tribe and clan organization are synonymous.

He states that the basic building-block for this organization is the "legal family" : Tribes, he continues, are segmentarily organized, and he valiantly seeks to account for the many "exceptions" to the segmentary principles provided by his documentation. To take a key argument in detail, Wilkinson writes of a "high incidence" of patrilateral parallel cousin marriage, although he states that this "principle" is broadly interpreted to include any close or distant member of one's agnatic group or of clans closely associated with it.

There is a presumption, he continues, that "all marriages have actually been contracted according to the ideal pattern. Marriage therefore forms an extremely important means for effecting group reconciliation" Wilkinson, 1 : 1 Let me propose a radical - at least for those familiar with the literature concerning Arab kinship - but much simpler means of accounting analytically for the data provided by Wilkinson.

He appears to be describing what in practice is a functioning bilateral kinship system in which obligations and social ties are expressed principally in the idiom of patrilineal kinship, although the use of this idiom does not imply that such ties and obligations are necessarily generated by actual patrilineal kinship ties themselves. Wilkinson's account of how lineage identities are utilized gives further reason to regard a "segmentary" account of Omani tribal society as inappropriate : "In the descent-group model of the tribe, the basic premise is that all members acknowledge the man whose nisba they bear to be their jadd, and so feel bound to each other by the kinds of obligations which unite the legal family" : Again, there are difficulties in documenting this notion, even though Wilkinson relies primarily upon a written account in which the tribal author presumably could account for inconsistencies in his presentation.

Wilkinson writes that the author upon whom he relies for his detailed case study is "somewhat confused" because one lineage ifakhdh which he. Wilkinson's explanation for this "ambivalence" is that the group in question is "losing its sense of family unity. In fact, Wilkinson's doubts as to the utility of segmentation become more apparent as his argument proceeds : The idea that the members of a tribal unit actually descend from an eponymous ancestor is no more than a genealogical rationalization of all the factors - spatial, economic, political, as well as kinship - which give rise to differential organization within the larger social grouping : What remains to be determined is the extent to which these kinship ideologies constitute the sole or principal means of determining social obligations and identity and their relation to the notion of Ibadi religious tradition.

Given Wilkinson's initial premise of the importance of descent identity as a basis of tribal cohesion, his conclusion is of even more interest. He suggests that the leadership of tribal groups rests with a small number of wealthy elite who essentially dominate tribal politics and the election of imams, and that the extended families of these elites have dominated tribal politics over many generations.

Members of this leadership have traditionally been closely associated with "state" politics and possess "impeccable credentials of descent," but have in practice severed ties with their own clans : Far from describing a peculiarly segmentary tribal system, Wilkinson suggests that Omani political history is in large part a "mutual searching for partnership" between a few elite families and "descent groups" attached to them : Wilkinson attributes this state of affairs to the "progressive sedentariza- tion" of the inhabitants of central Oman over the last millenium ; in the absence of further documentation, this interpretation remains speculative..

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Based upon the data provided by Wilkinson on the nature of "inner" Omani society, it appears essential to proceed beyond assuming a central importance to collectively-maintained descent ideologies alone and to consider the more basic conceptions of personal and collective obligations and identity. These conceptions need not be treated as static. In order to avoid the premise that a vaguely-defined "pre-modern" period differs radically from contemporary society and polity, despite what appears to be a marked historical continuity in elites and elite groups, it appears reasonable to assume that basic notions of social identity - tribal, religious, and ethnic - continually undergo refinement and reformulation.

Deshen : , for instance, observes that the ethnic category of "Oriental" Jew is a new self- conception which has arisen among Jews of Iranian, Iraqi, Tunisian, Yemeni and Moroccan origin which is tied to the particular circumstances of Israeli history. Once more is known of the nature of personal and social identities prevalent in Omani society, one may find an equivalent self-renewal and continuity of tradition, in which the notions of personal, and social identity as they have been transformed by the "new" political arena of the post Sultanate of Oman show a continuity with the.

The task of the anthropologist then is not so much to hazard a reconstruction of "definitive" earlier identities, but to elicit the ongoing transformations of cultural forms and their relations to the economic and political contexts in which they occur. The issue is not one of charting a fixed course between supposedly stable "traditional" forms although the term traditional is often convenient as shorthand and modern ones, but to grasp the essential transformations of basic social and political identities which are constantly occurring.

Tradition is self-renewing and does not necessarily imply that which is past or is passing.


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This notion of tradition is also shared by the natives themselves. If present knowledge of the Omani tribal system and how it functions is incomplete, knowledge of the imamate and of Ibadi religious ideologies is even more schematic ; sociological interpretations of the functioning of the imamate are simply nonexistent. Such accounts attribute the ideal functioning of the institution to the undocumented past.

Again, Wilkinson is the best source on the nature of the imamate in Oman. His approach, suggested by his analysis of an 1 8th century Omani treatise, is to concentrate upon the election of the imam in order to strike a balance between abstract theories of the imamate and actual practice. Wilkinson acknowledges that the relation of formal doctrine to practice remains unclear.

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The vast majority of tribesmen were illiterate, so that their comprehension of formal doctrines elaborated by literati remains to be determined. Given this principal, it is unsurprising that accounts of Ibadi doctrine are so limited in scope. At the same time, it is surprising that its sociological role in allowing Ibadi doctrine to adjust to changing political and social environments has gone unremarked. Similar to the notion of dariira necessity in North African contexts, the concept provides the "unchanging" doctrinal tenets with the flexibility needed to adjust successfully to the modern world.

These comments unfortunately must remain speculative, for existing discussions of Ibadi doctrine are of limited sociological utility. The same lacunae exist in Alport's account of the Ibadi community in Algeria, in which he derives his discussion of the principles of Ibadi belief from Masqueray's analysis Alport, : In theory, says Wilkinson, the imamate is ordained "by divine obligations and takes the form of a 'contract' laqd between the Imam and his community whose.

According to Ibadi doctrine, the Imam has no need for a standing army since every "true" Muslim must support the just imam and render aid against the community's enemies Wilkinson says nothing of how this theory accounts for "internal" political rivalries.

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The Imam is selected in principle on the basis of religious scholarship and piety by an "electoral college," although the nature of this group is unclear beyond its being composed of men of learning. In Oman, the institution of "the imamate clearly represents a partial transformation of the local tribal concepts of social organization into religious terms and the suitability of its organization to that society basically lies in the fact that theoretically the Imam, like the tribal shaykh, is primus inter pares and his authority stems from 'democratic' selection" Wilkinson, : This explanation of the relation of religious tradition and political legitimacy to social structure thus turns full circle back to an understanding of "tribal" society.

In reality, candidates for the imamate are selected only from a "limited number of families which enjoy a degree of elitist power" Wilkinson, : Ibadis can, by acquiring a reputation for religious knowledge, theoretically rise to become one of the electors of the imam, but even if such an individual rises above the vested interests of that part of society in which he originates, he continues to represent what Wilkinson calls his "constituents.

In the opening section of this paper it was suggested that the assumption of a fairly homogeneous "traditional" Islam was inadequate because many locally maintained understandings of Islam are implicit and can be comprehended only in relation to the sociohistorical contexts in which they are maintained. In order better to comprehend the Omani context, sociological comparisons with Morocco were introduced at various points in the argument.

At least from the point of view of sociological tradition, the comparison of the two cases is not as arbitrary as it might at first appear. Certain conceptions of traditional Islamic polities based upon the Moroccan case have stressed the significance of segmentarily organized tribes at the periphery of cities and state organizations, the tension between the two forms of the social order and the contrasting overall forms of religious belief held in the two settings.

Whatever the limitations which have been ascribed to this approach see especially Hammoudi, , it has had the virtue of placing the discussion of traditional Moroccan and by extension Islamic social orders in the mainstream of European social thought and in a resolutely comparative perspective. As indicated in this essay, some scholars have sought to apply the same set of concepts to the Omani case with mixed results. The implications of the notion of Islamic tradition as self-renewing and as being constituted in part by ideologies which are not fully articulated and tied to local social contexts is that the vestiges of the notion of a single, comprehensive notion of an Islamic tradition and its relation to various polities must be set aside.

What is needed in its place is to examine more carefully the complex relations which exist and have existed between ideologies and the context in which they are maintained. As with any phenomena so complex as those of concepts of religion and tribe, the points of comparison are constituted by family resemblances to use Wittgenstein's term , "complex networks of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing; sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail" Needham, : ; see also Geertz, On this basis the viable sociological study of traditional Islam can be constructed.

Alport E. Barth Frederik, "Factors of production, economic circulation, and inequality of inner Arabia," Research in Economic Anthropology, 1, pp. Bathurst R. London, George Allen and Unwin, Ltd, pp. Gibb, ed. George Makdisi, Leiden, EJ. Brill, pp. Bujra Abdallah S. Eickelman Dale F. Werbner, ed. Colonial, no. Ingrams, Harold, Arabia and the Isles, London, John Murray, 1 see also the 2nd enlarged edition, 1 ; and the 3 rd edition with new introduction, Kelly J.

Critical discussion of what is meant by Islamic tradition is needed for both analytical and practical reasons. Especially in recent years, a number of studies of Islam have appeared which combine attention to textual analyses, a venerable tradition in the study of Islam, with analysis of the ethnographic and social historical contexts in which notions of Islam are developed, transmitted and reproduced for example, Geertz, ; Merad, ; Bujra, ; Gilsenan, ; Zein, ; Eickelman, , , ; Hammoudi n. Earlier studies of Islam, based primarily upon either the study of key religious texts or of certain types of religious experience formal ritual or mysticism, for example , tended to concentrate upon the search for an Islamic "essence.

In the context of this scholarly tradition, such practices as maraboutism in North Africa and equivalent popular beliefs elsewhere are dismissed as being non-Islamic or incorrect understandings of Islam, even though those who hold such beliefs are considered to be Muslims. One Muslim intellectual has gone so far as to acknowledge the prevalence of such beliefs both now and in the past, but considers them to be perpetrated by charlatans and- "spiritual delinquents" and accepted only by the ignorant Rahman, : The ethnographic and social historical studies cited above implicitly suggest a more complex notion of tradition than that which can be extracted from explicitly religious texts.

In most cases an integral part of these studies has been the analysis of Islamic ideologies and practices in changing historical contexts and in the light of comparable studies of Islam as locally received in other milieux. As a consequence, the notion of an Islamic "essence" has been difficult to sustain. Although the studies cited above differ widely from each other in analytic assumptions, in almost every studied locale there are opposing conceptions of Islam.

These opposing or complementary conceptions of Islam are distinguished by greater and lesser degrees of compromise with the social order. They are co-present and in dynamic tension with each other. Some of these ideologies, such as those characteristic of "reformist" Islam, tend to be explicit and more general in their implications, while others, including what can be conveniently labelled as maraboutism in North Africa, remain largely implicit and tied to particular social contexts. The co-presence of these alternative ideologies, some of which are not formally elaborated, means that the strength of one or another ideological form cannot be attributed solely to its relation to a specific social context Eickelman, : In what is perhaps an extreme reaction to the earlier analytic tradition which largely accepted the ideological premise held by many Muslims of the immutability of "true" Islamic belief and practice, one critic has suggested replacing the term Islam by islams, in order better to emphasize the.

Even if the notion of an Islamic essence has fallen in desuetude, the epigraph to this paper and its fairly recent date suggest that the analytic notion of a unitary Islamic tradition remains largely intact. In a subtle analysis, almost prescient in the light of recent events in Iran, the author of the article from which the epigraph is drawn describes the role of men of learning in Iranian society. There are undeniable ties between the ideological basis of this "traditional" Islam and the organizational contexts in which it is transmitted and reproduced.

However, as has been indicated elsewhere in a study of Islamic higher learning in Morocco Eickelman, , the organizational contexts of men of learning are highly diverse and significantly reflect local social contexts, no matter how impervious to local and temporal vicissitudes Islamic men of learning claim their tradition to be. Nonetheless, the fact remains that similarities appear to exist in the various contexts of "traditional" Islam.

The crucial issue is how to account for them without asserting rather than demonstrating an overall unity of tradition. Unlike some questions of theoretical import, accounting for the similarities among traditional "islams" is of some practical importance as well.

A few years ago, a senior American colleague remarked that the study of traditional Islamic ideologies and their contemporary exponents was of marginal political significance, for Islamic man of learning and the ideas which they carry were on the point of extinction. In the light of events in Iran since late , 1 doubt whether he would express the same sentiment today.

The organizing and legitimizing role of Shu men of learning in Iran's revolution is but a prominent exemplar of the sustained capacity of Islamic ideologies and their carriers to maintain their vitality and popular support. Such traditional ideologies and their carriers display a similar strength elsewhere in the Islamic world.

In rural Morocco, for example, individuals locally considered to possess Islamic learning have managed to retain a significant popular support even when committed nationalists and a Western-oriented bureaucratic elite have often failed to do so Leveau, : Symbols of Islam are actively used to legitimate monarchic rule in a number of countries, while radical socialist regimes such as Libya draw upon their own brand of Islamic fundamentalism for the same purpose.

In Turkey, a country whose ruling elite has been militantly secular, a major component of contemporary political challenge is a resurgent "rightist" Islam Mardin, In still other countries, such as Egypt, attempts to legitimate innovation and to oppose it are equally formulated in terms of Islamic principles; moreover, the ideology and organizational forms of the Muslim brothers and similar associations remain viable social and political forms.

In fact, one of the characteristics of religious and political. The most fundamental transformations from both modernists and traditionalists can be legitimated by the formal claim that no innovation has occurred. As was indicated earlier, traditional Islam, taken as a set of implicit assumptions, is tied to specific contexts of region, sect, group, and class. Thus the analysis of such beliefs requires a much greater attention to immediate social context than many analysts have given to more explicit ideologies, here the logical articulation of the ideology and plans for assertion of political control are emphasized at the expense of other considerations.

These traditional understandings of Islam, an example of which is maraboutism in Morocco, can be considered conservative ideologies in Mannheim's sense of the term : ; they do not have to be consciously articulated and defended in order to be maintained. In some ways, this lack of highly explicit and developed ideological expression and of formalized organization may be one of the strengths of "conservative" Islam or "islams" as some scholars insist , enabling it more readily to accomodate changing historical circumstances. With these considerations in mind, let us consider the context of religious ideology in Oman.

Until then, the country almost entirely lacked schools, roads, health facilities and the apparatus of modern government. Little was known of the country from an anthropological point of view, so that the sketch which follows is necessarily a tentative one based upon existing sources.

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Morevoer, since eastern Arabia, defined here as the region extending roughly from the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen to the Gulf States, is not much better known, it is useful to present a brief sociological sketch of the region. Oman is unique in the region in having possessed a sense of territorial and national identity in the pre-modern period. For most of the 19th century, its northern neighbors - the member states of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrayn and Qatar - can best be characterized as "city states," largely decentralized and egalitarian in nature.

There was a continuity of leadership within the compass of several ruling or shaykhly families, but legitimacy was generally precarious and contested. The oath of loyalty taken by a tribesman to a ruler was explicitly considered to be a contract Caqd , revocable in theory and often in practice. When a ruler abused his authority, other factions of the ruling family sought to replace him.

Rulers who survived for long periods did so by acting in consensus with the opinions of the leading citizens of their domains. Both in the case of the Arab Gulf. In the case of the Arab Gulf, an additional sanction against the abuse of authority was the ability of tribesmen simply to emigrate to a neighboring shaykhdom, a frequently exercised sanction which led to the eclipse of several rulers Lienhardt, The region to the south of Oman, especially Hadramawt, offers another set of contrasts.

First, the region lacked political unity prior to the British imposition of peace in the region through a combination of cajolry 1 , separate truces had to be negotiated in Hadramawt and aerial bombardment Ingrams, and especially Despite the importance which Bujra assigns to the formal role of these categories in shaping patterns of economic activities, political alliances and marriage exchanges, his case studies of such matters suggest that they cannot be explained entirely by lineage and descent theories; multiple patterns of personal identity appear to be involved, including those which involve individually contracted networks of obligations and alliance related only obliquely to descent ideologies.

In any case, the fact remains that a significant characteristic of the social structure of the region is the cultural emphasis placed upon descent categories and their hierarchical arrangement. In fact, as is also the case for Morocco, it is the elite and powerful families which make the most elaborate claims of descent. The claims of ordinary tribesmen and townsmen are much less elaborate, indicating claims of social honor based on descent serves to legitimate higher social status and are not shared by all social strata Eickelman, : ; Hammoudi, , n.

Adjoining regions of north Yemen appear to possess notions of social structure similar to those which prevail in the Hadramawt Serjeant, , although once again recent ethnographic research especially Messick, suggests that persons may be the fundamental units of social structure, rather than their attributes or statuses as members of groups, as is assumed by most descent theories of social structure.

The Sultanate of Oman differs from its neighbors in its complexity and in the marked formal egalitarianism of Ibadi Islam. Whether the majority of Omanis are Ibadi is difficult to ascertain in the absence of a census or other accurate knowledge of the country, but there is no question of the decisive influence which Ibadi beliefs have had in shaping Oman's polity. To a certain extent, the principal geographical divisions of the country here I make only passing reference to the southern province of Dhofar also indicate its. The coastal plain is a narrow strip of land, often no more than a few kilometers wide, which contains a string of towns and oases where the principal livelihoods have been trade, fishing and the cultivation of dates and limes.

The significance of these complex categories is difficult to comprehend in practice because they cross-cut each other and can often be manipulated within a fairly wide latitude. To add to these complexities there are numerous persons of Omani descent born in East Africa especially in regions such as Zanzibar which formerly belonged to Oman who have emigrated over the last 1 5 years and who have settled primarily in the capital region. These emigrants have tended to be better educated as a group than persons born in Oman itself, due to the lack until very recently of adequate educational facilities within the country.

The region is mixed Sunni and Ibadi, although especially in the settlements of the region there has been a growing identification with Ibadi Islam in the last few decades. Camel pastoralism prevailed until recently in the area, although sedentarization is proceeding rapidly as camel pastoralists abandon their herds to become a labor force for the region's oil fields.

Indeed, it has been suggested that the tribal system in this region has dissolved more rapidly than in others because of the changes in patterns of local authority which have accompanied economic dependence upon the oil fields Peterson, The third region, that of Jabal Akhdar, or "inner" Oman, is the most important one in terms of this essay. It is a mountain range interspersed by a series of isolated valleys containing relatively autonomous villages, each of which is associated with an irrigation canal.

Wilkinson and Peterson provide the most complete available accounts concerning "inner" Omani society 3. Unfortunately, available sources do not clearly indicate the distinctions, if any, which exist between "religious" and lay arbitration. Both exist, and a clarification of the contexts in which each are used would clarify the impact of Ibadi ideology upon Oman's polity. Wilkinson also states that the tribal organization of the region is segmentary, a claim that will be discussed in some detail.

Ibadi religious leaders were drawn from the two major tribal confederations but were selected for their reputation to act without regard for their tribal origins Wilkinson : Complementing the social organizational framework sketched above is the scholarly convention of describing Omani politics of the last to years in terms of cycles - the temporal disparity of those who assert cyclical events in Oman's past is striking.

Wilkinson's account of why Ibadi politico-religious ideology was impractical for the "permanent" development of the state merits citation because it has been taken up by other scholars :. As the country is united so does its wealth and prosperity increase and the religious ideal weaken ; the leadership becomes the prerogative of a single group and degenerates into temporal power saltanah. There ensues a struggle for power in which tribal lasabiyah is brought into play and every potential weakness in the country exploited until full-scale civil war is the outcome.

The situation, is usually resolved by one or more of the parties calling in an outside power, normally with disastrous results for the Omanis in general. The basic assumption in this "cyclical" hypothesis is that maritime trade and overseas dominions, notably control over Zanzibar and the East African littoral, was in essential tension with the religious basis of political legitimacy provided by the imamate. Involvement in maritime trade necessarily led to compromise with foreign powers Bathurst, While acknowledging the significance of these two factors, it should be pointed out that a number of other factors also seem to be involved in these historical developments, making the "fit" of the cyclical theory to actual social history extremely awkward.

The assumption of such cycles implies a marked discontinuity between the social forms of the past and those. As with such theories elsewhere, the cyclical notion appears to work best when relevant documentation is missing or inadequate; numerous and often nonrepetitive "internal" and "external" factors must be taken into account in such situations. Cyclical theories have been asserted to apply to Morocco's past, for instance, although recent research has suggested their limitations see Hammoudi ; Eickelman, Wilkinson remains the best published source for comprehending Omani social structure.

As Wilkinson states, his primary interest was in the historical interrelations between settlement patterns, land use and social organization. One of his key premises is that an understanding of Ibadi political ideology necessitates an understanding of the tribal system, of which he provides an account in a chapter significantly entitled "Formalized Social Structure.

Wilkinson states that Omanis tend to view their tribes as integrated by the "one factor" of clan organization, so that tribe and clan organization are synonymous. He states that the basic building-block for this organization is the "legal family" : Tribes, he continues, are segmentarily organized, and he valiantly seeks to account for the many "exceptions" to the segmentary principles provided by his documentation.

To take a key argument in detail, Wilkinson writes of a "high incidence" of patrilateral parallel cousin marriage, although he states that this "principle" is broadly interpreted to include any close or distant member of one's agnatic group or of clans closely associated with it. There is a presumption, he continues, that "all marriages have actually been contracted according to the ideal pattern. Marriage therefore forms an extremely important means for effecting group reconciliation" Wilkinson, 1 : 1 Let me propose a radical - at least for those familiar with the literature concerning Arab kinship - but much simpler means of accounting analytically for the data provided by Wilkinson.

He appears to be describing what in practice is a functioning bilateral kinship system in which obligations and social ties are expressed principally in the idiom of patrilineal kinship, although the use of this idiom does not imply that such ties and obligations are necessarily generated by actual patrilineal kinship ties themselves. Wilkinson's account of how lineage identities are utilized gives further reason to regard a "segmentary" account of Omani tribal society as inappropriate : "In the descent-group model of the tribe, the basic premise is that all members acknowledge the man whose nisba they bear to be their jadd, and so feel bound to each other by the kinds of obligations which unite the legal family" : Again, there are difficulties in documenting this notion, even though Wilkinson relies primarily upon a written account in which the tribal author presumably could account for inconsistencies in his presentation.

Wilkinson writes that the author upon whom he relies for his detailed case study is "somewhat confused" because one lineage ifakhdh which he. Wilkinson's explanation for this "ambivalence" is that the group in question is "losing its sense of family unity. In fact, Wilkinson's doubts as to the utility of segmentation become more apparent as his argument proceeds : The idea that the members of a tribal unit actually descend from an eponymous ancestor is no more than a genealogical rationalization of all the factors - spatial, economic, political, as well as kinship - which give rise to differential organization within the larger social grouping : What remains to be determined is the extent to which these kinship ideologies constitute the sole or principal means of determining social obligations and identity and their relation to the notion of Ibadi religious tradition.

Given Wilkinson's initial premise of the importance of descent identity as a basis of tribal cohesion, his conclusion is of even more interest. He suggests that the leadership of tribal groups rests with a small number of wealthy elite who essentially dominate tribal politics and the election of imams, and that the extended families of these elites have dominated tribal politics over many generations.

Members of this leadership have traditionally been closely associated with "state" politics and possess "impeccable credentials of descent," but have in practice severed ties with their own clans : Far from describing a peculiarly segmentary tribal system, Wilkinson suggests that Omani political history is in large part a "mutual searching for partnership" between a few elite families and "descent groups" attached to them : Wilkinson attributes this state of affairs to the "progressive sedentariza- tion" of the inhabitants of central Oman over the last millenium ; in the absence of further documentation, this interpretation remains speculative..

Based upon the data provided by Wilkinson on the nature of "inner" Omani society, it appears essential to proceed beyond assuming a central importance to collectively-maintained descent ideologies alone and to consider the more basic conceptions of personal and collective obligations and identity. These conceptions need not be treated as static. In order to avoid the premise that a vaguely-defined "pre-modern" period differs radically from contemporary society and polity, despite what appears to be a marked historical continuity in elites and elite groups, it appears reasonable to assume that basic notions of social identity - tribal, religious, and ethnic - continually undergo refinement and reformulation.

Deshen : , for instance, observes that the ethnic category of "Oriental" Jew is a new self- conception which has arisen among Jews of Iranian, Iraqi, Tunisian, Yemeni and Moroccan origin which is tied to the particular circumstances of Israeli history.