Fi Sabil Allah or Sabil Al Watan? Islam and the Organization of the Algerian Revolution

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM
Room 208 (Hynes Convention Center)
Patrick F. Collins , University of Chicago
My presentation will explore an underappreciated role of Islam and religious leaders and principles in the local organization of the Algerian Revolution. The success of the revolution launched by the Front de Libération National (FLN) was contingent upon its garnering popular support, making the Muslim population the principle target of insurgent leaders. After 1956, the FLN established a system of institutions through which to forge sustained contact with the population. On the local level, the Organisations politico-administrative (OPA) served as the means through which the FLN disseminated orders, propagandized, collected funds and supplies, and administered justice. Vital to the functioning of the OPAs were Salafi religious leaders, who by the early 1950s had largely supplanted the religious brotherhoods as popularly recognized representatives of religious orthodoxy. Serving as imams, cadis and political commissioners, Salafi religious leaders effectively Islamized FLN and revolutionary claims on the population by articulating them in a powerful and recognizable religious idiom. Donations to insurgents were defined as zakat (alms), recruitment and propaganda highlighted the religious obligation of “striving” (jihad) for the liberation of Muslim lands, and jurisprudence was practiced in accordance with the shari'a (Islamic law). By establishing what were in essence alternate institutions of government, the FLN and religious leaders highlighted Islam as an almost organic component of the Revolution, and thus the OPAs served in important ways as blueprints for the state's appropriation of Islam that would follow independence. Through a study of the use of Islamic principles and traditions as the means through which the FLN sought to inspire popular support for the Revolution, the functioning of the OPAs will serve as a lens through which I will approach an understudied, local history of the War of Independence that provides a historical foundation for religious tensions that continue in Algeria to the present.
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