2426 Islam

achievement in history. While for the Shiites
there is an uninterrupted investment in history
with the sacred, for the Sunnis these two areas
are distinct from one another and are always
susceptible to conflict. For example, radical
Islamism springs from the refusal of a historical
investment in the interpretation of the Koran.
Sociologically, Sunni Islamism adapted to
the cultural and cognitive contexts of the dif
ferent peoples it encountered within its history,
through the formulation of a legal system and
not of a theology. Up to the present there are
four schools of juridical interpretation: the
Malikite, the Hanbalite, the Hanafite, and the
Shafiite. Each of them extends over a wide area
of the Muslim world. For example, the Mal
ikite school is present in the Maghreb region
and the Hanbalite school extends over the Mid
dle West area (Mashreq), whereas the Hanba
lite and Shafiite schools are in the areas of the
so called peripheral Islam (Central Asia, the
Balkans, the Indian subcontinent, etc). Not
only do these schools differ from each other
in their juridical characteristics, but each of
them also defines a specific approach to the
Korans exegetics, since each adopts a particu
lar speculative methodology about the juridical
corpus, varying from maximalist to minimalist
There are four methods of reasoning in the
formulation of the law in Sunni Islamism: igma
(consent); qiyas (analogy); ray (personal opi
nion); and igtihad (interpretation), which pro
vides an essentially closed praxis. The identity
of a Sunni Muslim is not only founded upon the
Koran and the prophetic tradition, but also
upon his belonging to a certain juridical school
which conditions his whole existence, from birth
to death, through rites and religious praxis.
From the late Middle Ages, the European
approach to Islam has been functional to the
relation between religious identity and territory.
The expansion of Islam in the Mediterranean
basin has been interpreted in terms of competi
tion between two patterns of medieval intellig
ibility, that is to say in terms of the different
conceptions of truth, connected to revelation in
the two sacred texts (the Koran and the Chris
tian gospels). Intellectual and theological
debates attempted to ascertain which of them
held the truth.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century
the interpreting grid of the Islamic phenomenon
was based upon the more relevant historical
events or changes. The birth of a wide Islamic
empire in the heart of the Mediterranean has
been the object of various interpretations, in
particular the thesis of two prominent histor
ians, the medievalist Henri Pirenne and the
founder of the Annales school, Fernand Braudel.
Pirenne affirmed that what distinguishes Islam
from Christianity and what corresponds to
Islams strategy of conquering new territories
is that Islam never integrates into other cultures,
but always remains unchanged. Studying the
texts of the Councils in Muslim Spain, Pirenne
points out that the church had to translate its
Latin texts into Arabic because Arabic was so
widespread. His explanation is that the Muslim
conquest implied an extension of its religi
ous and sociocultural pattern. Pirenne places
this specificity of Islam in opposition with the
conquest of the Germans who, on the contrary,
integrated and embraced the linguistic, cul
tural, and religious patterns of the people they
conquered and who converted therefore to
Christianity. Pirenne considers the fact that
Islam never integrates a specificity of the reli
gion, because he maintains that Muslim identity
has a territorial character: Islam exists anywhere
Muslims live.
The Annales school reflects a more complex
position, in which religious matters are defined
on the basis of material relations. From this
point of view, the expansion of Middle Age
empires has to be interpreted in relation to the
exchange of goods and the control of maritime
routes, which determines the logic of power and
rule. If this logic is maintained until a certain
date, then this is a consequence of the material,
that is, economic characteristics of the period.
In effect, the decline of the Muslim world his
torically coincides with the loss of control of
the new trade routes. This happened in the
sixteenth century, when trade moved from the
Mediterranean to the Atlantic. In this case reli
gious identity just seals the means of produc
tion and the consequent power relations of the
The nineteenth century and the first half of
the twentieth saw the development of oriental
ism. This doctrine is considered as constitutive