The historiography of Arab nationalism has tended to concentrate on the secular press from the Mashriq, especially the Cairo–Beirut axis, at the expense of the religious nationalist press and the non-Mashriqi one. There is often an assumption that reliance on the secular press from the Mashriq alone can provide a clear picture of Arab intellectual life and that a proper analysis of that thought can be confined to a few intellectual centers in the eastern Arab world. Although there has never been an explicit claim that such a focus is the end of the story, there have not been enough attempts to look beyond the Cairo–Beirut axis and beyond its secular press organs in search of a broader story of the depth and breadth of Arab nationalism. This article addresses this imbalance by examining an Arabist-Salafi press network that operated between Algeria, Tunisia, Zanzibar, and Egypt and involved members of two sectarian communities, Sunnis and Ibadis. This Arabist-Salafi press network created a public sphere of intellectual engagement in which Salafism and nationalism were interwoven, producing a nationalist discourse transgressing post World War I borders of identity and linking the three layers of nationalism—the territorial, the Pan-Arab, and the Pan-Islamic—together. These layers not only intersected but also legitimized one another.
Salafism, largely fueled by anticolonialism, drew many Ibadis closer to Sunnis. Because North African Ibadis are Berbers, Salafism also turned many Berbers into Arabist Salafis. Those Arabist Salafis, whether Sunnis or Ibadis, Berbers or Arabs, articulated their nationalist thought through the press, making effective use of it and initiating a trend that began in the late 19th century and intensified in the interwar period. As Juan Cole notes in his study of print culture in the southern Mediterranean before World War I, print and readership networks formed an important context for the Pan-Islamic movement until 1920 and allowed Muslim reformers to have a wider impact than they would have had otherwise.Footnote 1 In fact, not only did these networks persist during the interwar period and beyond but they also were significantly strengthened and broadened. Like the nationalist thought they propagated, Arabist-Salafi newspapers connected the local with the translocal in their coverage, analysis, and distribution. Many communities were pulled together through this web of territorial-nationalist yet Pan-Arab and Pan-Islamic press organs.
Thus, this article not only expands the geographic horizons of Arab nationalism but also contributes to the scholarship examining the correlation between Islam and national identity in the interwar period, a correlation that developed in the Ottoman context and continued in the post-Ottoman order.Footnote 2
SALAFISM AS NATIONALISM: IBADIS WITHIN THE FOLD OF THE UMMA
Key works on Arab thought in the late Ottoman period have confirmed the association between Salafism and Arabism, viewing the former as a precursor to post World War I Arab nationalism.Footnote 3 However, Salafism also provided the foundation for a distinct type of Arab nationalism built on the Salafi principles of overcoming sectarian divides for the sake of national integration. This Arabist-Salafi version of nationalism in the interwar period had its roots in late 19th-century intellectual and theological developments that were redefining the concept of the umma. As Peter Mandaville has observed, this concept reemerged as a key one in Muslim political discourse in the face of the challenge posed to Islam by the West.Footnote 4
Arabist Salafis were Muslim reformers who adhered to the Salafi modernism of Muhammad ʿAbduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and who promoted Islamic unity as the remedy for many of the ailments of the Muslim umma. In order to realize Muslim unity, Salafis downplayed the differences between Muslim sects and called for the abolition of the madhāhib (legal schools), which they regarded as obstacles in the way of this desired unity. The salaf, the early generation and forerunners of the Muslim umma, represented the prototype and exemplary community, free from blind imitation, divisive sectarianism, and the constraints of the legal schools. The utopian era of the salaf thus symbolized, among other things, greater unity within Muslim communities, political strength, and intellectual vitality. To overcome the legacies of sectarianism and divisive madhāhib, Salafi modernists advocated the opening of the doors of ijtihād in order to delve directly into the original sources of Islam: the Qurʾan and the Sunna. Ijtihād, an absolute necessity for Salafi modernists, would abolish the barriers dividing Muslims and reassemble the sectarian fragments of the umma. The redrawn borders of the Muslim nation would be based on new notions of orthodoxy, marked not by theological differences but by the ability to overcome them. If European modernity provided Muslims with the idea of nationalism, Islamic modernity imagined its own nation out of utopian Salafism.
The historiography of 19th-century Salafism, with its focus on the putative intellectual rift between Islam and the West, and the Salafi attempt to overcome that rift and find common ground with Western civilization and modernity, thus presents only one side of the story. Salafism also aimed to bridge gaps of its own and seek rapprochement within a schismatic Islam. It may be worth inquiring, in a separate study, the degree to which the Salafi rejection of sectarianism and construction of a united nation was a reaction to Western perceptions of the Muslim world as essentially divided along sectarian lines. The Arabist Salafi network examined here, however, recognized sectarianism as an indigenous problem that not only affected the daily experiences of Muslims but also endangered their future. It is this acknowledgment of the existence of sectarianism and its problems that made Salafism a vigorous movement of Muslim unity.
Intellectual developments within Ibadism and the development of a Salafi Ibadism in the late 19th century point to the success of Salafism in transcending sectarian divides. The definition of Ibadism has become a contentious matter. Many Ibadis in the 20th century, influenced by Salafism, deny any Khariji roots in an attempt to find common ground with other Muslims, especially Sunnis.Footnote 5 The Kharijis or khawārij were a secessionist movement that protested Caliph ʿAli's decision to accept arbitration following the battle of Siffin (657 a.d.) against his rival Muʿawiya. They split from his army and formed an opposition to both ʿAli and Muʿawiya. That opposition later extended to the Umayyads and the Abbasids. The fact of the matter is that Ibadism was a Khariji group that historically defined its identity in contrast to other Khariji groups, especially those resorting to violence such as the Azariqa khawārij, and in contrast to Umayyad despotism. The persecution of Ibadis by the Umayyads (and later the Abbasids) not only dispersed this Khariji group outside the official borders of Sunni political establishments but also pushed its members outside the conceptual borders of the umma as defined by those establishments. Ibadis have survived in Oman, Zanzibar, the Mzab Valley in Algeria, the Nfusa mountains in Libya, and Djerba island in Tunisia. Throughout Islamic history, Sunnis considered Ibadis as Kharijis who caused the disunity of the Muslim community. Ibadis, in turn, thought of Sunnis as submissive to political corruption and as deviant from the straight path.Footnote 6 Each sect conceived the Muslim umma without the other, claiming exclusive right to its religious and historical sanctity.Footnote 7
That started to change in the late 19th century. An unprecedented development was taking place, with reformers arguing for the abolition of the sectarian identities of the umma. The Ibadi identity was gradually integrating, if not occasionally melting, with the Sunni one. As John Wilkinson has observed, “the Ibadis’ experience of the [European] imperial powers was putting them on a common footing with the rest of the [Muslim] world and leading to some effort to find common ground between them.”Footnote 8 Those efforts were led by Ibadi scholars from North Africa, Oman, and Zanzibar who confronted European imperialism and colonialism by supporting Salafi calls for Muslim unity and sectarian rapprochement. The result was the emergence of a Salafi Ibadism seeking a reconciliatory position with other Muslim sects, especially with the majority sect of Sunnism.
The borders of belonging for the Ibadi communities were now expanding to include not only the traditional Ibadi strongholds of Oman, Zanzibar, and North Africa but the entire Arabic-speaking world. Cairo, Damascus, Tunis, and Algiers were becoming as significant as Muscat, Zanzibar, and Mzab. Increasingly, Ibadis sustained or were sustained by those cities’ networks of Salafi scholars, intellectuals, and political activists, who were redrawing the map of the Muslim umma less along sectarian lines and more around Salafi Islam, Pan-Arabism, and anticolonialism. These were the foci around which many Muslims in the Arab world, including Ibadis, were (re)imagining their nation and (re)defining their identities.Footnote 9
The conciliatory tone of Salafism thus paved the way for sectarian rapprochement, which in turn became the foundation of a nationalist discourse in the interwar period that considered unity of Muslims necessary for the realization of unity within the frameworks of both territorial nationalism and Arab nationalism. A solid territorial nationalism, according to Arabist-Salafis, would reflect a strong Arab unity and vice versa. Through their journalistic ventures, Ibadis from peripheral geographies played a role in the articulation of a nationalist thought that accommodated Salafism, Arab nationalism, and territorial nationalism. Examples from Mzab and Zanzibar will contextualize these developments.
ARABIST SALAFIS OF MZAB
The Ibadis of Algeria, like those in the rest of North Africa, are Berbers. They settled in Mzab after the Rustamid dynasty was destroyed by the Fatimids in 909 a.d. Modern Salafi thought made its way to Mzab in Algeria by the late 19th century, and it was mostly Salafism's Pan-Islamic aspect that appealed to Mzab's prominent scholars at the time, including Muhammad Atfiyyash (d. 1914). Atfiyyash believed that European colonialism was enough of a threat to the Islamic faith that it warranted the unity and solidarity of all Muslims and the transcendence of their sectarian differences.Footnote 10 However, Salafi modernism only became a dominant ideology in Mzab and among the Mzabi diaspora with the next generation of Mzabi scholars and activists, many of whom were Atfiyyash's pupils. These included Ibrahim Atfiyyash, Ibrahim Abu al-Yaqzan, Muhammad al-Thamini, ʿUmar al-ʿAnq, and Ibrahim Bayyud, all of whom played a key role in shaping Ibadi intellectual life in Mzab during the first half of the 20th century. Their endorsement of Salafi modernism was mostly due to their cosmopolitan experience in vibrant cities such as Algiers, Tunis, and Cairo and to their affiliation with those cities’ intellectual and political networks. This affiliation exposed the Mzabis to the full scope and potential of Salafism and integrated them into the complex web of Pan-Arabism, Pan-Islamism, and territorial–national politics in which the Arabist Salafis were involved.
Although Salafi currents had already made their way into Mzab, it was in Tunisia that the Mzabis became more involved in religious reform movements and were exposed to the allure of anticolonial nationalist politics. In 1914, believing in the necessity of learning modern sciences, which were not taught in the curricula of Mzabi schools, Mzabi reformers started a student mission to Tunis in order to take advantage of the rich educational environment provided by Tunis’ educational institutions, al-Zaytuna, al-Khalduniyya, and al-Sadiqiyya. One of the main purposes of the mission's framers was to expose Mzabi students to the secular curriculum offered by al-Khalduniyya, which complemented al-Zaytuna's theological education.Footnote 11 The beginning of the mission corresponded with a new phase in Tunisian political life, marked by the growth of the Young Tunisian movement and culminating in the foundation of Hizb al-Dustur al-Hurr (the Free Constitutional Party). The latter, formed in 1920 under the leadership of ʿAbd al-ʿAziz al-Thaʿalibi, took it upon itself to defend the Arab-Islamic identity of Tunisia and to carry the banner of Tunisian opposition to French colonialism.
The mission to Tunisia had been opposed by Mzabi anti-reform ʿulamaʾ, who argued against the need for modern education that included foreign languages and nonreligious subjects, as did the anti-reform movement among Sunnis.Footnote 12 The debate among Sunnis had already been waged on the pages of the Arabic press, including in Tunisia. Supported by the editors of Tunisian newspapers such as al-Iqdam, al-Ittihad, Lisan al-Shaʿb, and al-Umma, Mzabi reformers residing in Tunisia were provided with a platform to respond to their detractors and to launch an attack on the anti-reform movement in Mzab. Because those newspapers had already made their way into Mzab, they were read by those concerned with the politics of the region. Thus, the battle of Mzabi reformers against their opponents, though waged from Tunis, stretched into Mzab through the medium of the press. The vibrant Tunisian press was the Mzabis’ window into the broader world of politics and kept them informed of and engaged in current debates. It also provided them with the platform to enter that world, be linked to its intellectuals and activists, and voice their opinions and concerns. Two of the most active Mzabi reformers who wrote in those newspapers to defend modern sciences and attack the anti-reform ʿulamaʾ were Ibrahim Atfiyyash and Ibrahim Abu al-Yaqzan.
IBRAHIM ATFIYYASH: IBADI SALAFISM IN EXILE
Ibrahim Atfiyyash, also known as Abu Ishaq, was born in 1886 in Beni Isgen in Mzab. He received his early education at the hands of his uncle, the renowned Ibadi scholar Muhammad Atfiyyash. Abu Ishaq went to Tunisia in 1917 to study at al-Zaytuna, where he was tutored by Tunisian reformist scholars such as al-Tahir bin ʿAshur and Muhammad al-Nakhli.Footnote 13 He later joined Ibrahim Abu al-Yaqzan and Muhammad al-Thamini as cosupervisors for the Mzabi student mission and was drawn into the activities of Hizb al-Dustur. Between 1917 and 1923, Atfiyyash functioned as a liaison between al-Thaʿalibi in Tunis and Amir Khalid al-Jazaʾiri in Algiers when the two were coordinating their anti-French efforts.Footnote 14 Due to these political activities, the French exiled him, along with al-Thaʿalibi, in 1923. He went to Cairo, where he later became an editor at the National Library and Archives and, in the 1950s, was chosen by the imam of Oman, Ghalib bin ʿAli, to represent Oman at the Arab League and the United Nations.
Upon his arrival in Cairo, Aftiyyash received the immediate attention of Muhibb al-Din al-Khatib, who was central to the Arabist-Salafi network and its press and who proved to be a very good resource for Atfiyyash. Born in Damascus in July 1886, al-Khatib was a product of the vibrant Syrian intellectual environment dominated by towering figures such as Tahir al-Jazaʾiri, Muhammad Kurd ʿAli, and ʿAbd al-Rahman Shahbandar. Their influence on al-Khatib was evident in his advocacy for Arab nationalist causes; from Istanbul, he cofounded Jamʿiyyat al-Nahda al-ʿArabiyya (the Association of Arab Renaissance) and al-Muntada al-Adabi (the Literary Club) in 1909.Footnote 15 During that time, he met Rashid Rida and was drawn further into the Salafi version of Arabism and Arab nationalism. In 1920, he settled in Cairo, where he established the Salafiyya Press and the two magazines al-Zahraʾ and al-Fath. Al-Fath carried the banner of Salafi modernism after al-Manar of Rashid Rida disappeared in 1936 and had a wide circulation in the Arab world and beyond. It was a weekly newspaper edited by al-Khatib, who proved to be a highly skilled pamphleteer and ideologue, using his journalistic talents to promote the cause of Arabism and Islam and to propagate Arab unity within the framework of Islam. He denounced an Egyptian nationalism based on detachment from the Arab world and instead promoted an Egyptian nationalism that assigned Egypt a leading role in the Arab world.Footnote 16
Al-Khatib's Salafiyya Press published Atfiyyash's refutation of Mzabi anti-reformers, al-Diʿaya ila Sabil al-Muʾminin, which was written in defense of the student mission to Tunisia and of Salafi modernism.Footnote 17 It is not clear how this quick connection with al-Khatib was made. It could have been through the Maghribi diaspora in Cairo or through al-Thaʿalibi, who landed in Cairo at the same time Atfiyyash did, or perhaps contacts were made earlier, when the latter was still in Tunisia. Al-Khatib also published articles by Atfiyyash in his magazines al-Zahraʾ and al-Fath and helped him establish his own monthly news magazine, al-Minhaj (1924–27), one of the earliest Maghribi papers to appear in the Mashriq. One of its objectives was to educate readers about current events in Algeria and to expose and discuss French policies there. It published on a variety of topics in the Muslim world, including Kemalism in Turkey and the issue of the abolition of the caliphate, but focused primarily on developments in the Arab world. It also covered topics of particular concern to Salafi reformers, such as the benefit of modern science to Muslims. In addition to Egypt, it circulated in North Africa and among Arab communities in East Africa, linking Ibadis to Sunnis and members of the North African diaspora in the Mashriq to their homeland. Al-Minhaj's constant criticism of French policies ultimately resulted in a ban that prevented its circulation in French colonies, including Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. It was also banned in Palestine and Tripolitania.Footnote 18 This added to its financial difficulties, and Atfiyyash became unable to sustain it. In 1928, al-Khatib assumed the editorial role, but in 1930 al-Minhaj was suspended by the government for its inability to appear regularly.Footnote 19
The collaboration between Atfiyyash and al-Khatib illustrates the success of Salafism in creating a common bond and a common cause between Sunni and Ibadi reformers. The fact that al-Khatib provided Atfiyyash with the platform to articulate his thought points to the centrality of Salafism and its press network in formulating this multilayered discourse of nationalism and to the ability of Salafis to materialize unity through concrete cross-sectarian cooperation.
The role of Salafism in facilitating this Ibadi–Sunni integration is captured in an article by Atfiyyash that was published in al-Zahraʾ in 1924 and has had a lasting impact on modern Ibadi thought. In that article, Atfiyyash denies any relationship between Ibadis and Kharijis and portrays Ibadis as similar to Sunnis.Footnote 20 He reconstructs the history of Ibadism in order to find common ground with Sunnis and eliminate differences between the two sects. However, this Salafi discourse is more significant in the Algerian context than the Egyptian one. The idea of Algeria as a nation, as a waṭan, was only possible if the two communities could unite. Atfiyyash was not writing in a vacuum; he was taking part in a discourse developing in Algeria that was reconstructing the Berber image to fit into an emerging national image of Algeria as a waṭan. For that purpose, Atfiyyash sought reconciliation not only between Ibadis and Sunnis but also between Berbers and Arabs. Thus, in another series published in al-Fath, Atfiyyash recounts a history of Berbers before and during the Islamic era. Atfiyyash comments that of all the nations who had conquered North Africa, Arabs were the ones with whom Berbers had the most harmonious relationship. The merger between the two created one nation bonded by one religion, one ethical system, one Qurʾan, one qibla, and one prophet.Footnote 21 French colonialism, missionaries, and terrorism, he adds, will never succeed in dividing Arabs and Berbers. On the contrary, such attacks will make the bond stronger.Footnote 22 Therefore, Atfiyyash's Salafism creates a united Muslim nation out of two sectarian groups, Ibadis and Sunnis, and a united Algerian nation out of two ethnic groups, Arabs and Berbers.
Arab unity, according to Atfiyyash, constitutes the core of Muslim unity. Reflecting on the miserable conditions of Muslims as a result of their divisions and colonization by Europe, Atfiyyash believes that there is no hope except in a collective awakening that will rattle all colonial policies and conspiracies against Muslims. The future of Muslims, he writes, depends on their cooperation and unity.Footnote 23 However, the heart of this awakening should be the Arabian peninsula. Once united, the peninsula will be the role model for the unity of all Muslims.Footnote 24 Atfiyyash does not elaborate on why or how the unity of the Arabian peninsula is necessary for Arab and Muslim unity beyond stating that it is the birthplace of Islam. He does, however, criticize King Saʿud's alliance with the British as inhibiting such unity.Footnote 25
Al-Minhaj reprinted an article from al-Fath on poetry and nationalism that embodies the same desire for the formation of a strong Arab nation.Footnote 26 It appears as an opening piece, an indication of its significance for the editor. Written by al-Khatib, the article elaborates on the responsibilities of Arab poets toward national projects. Poets should now be at the service of the Arab umma, while previously they were at the service of the tribe and the state. By observing the past and the present of the umma, Arab poets should help empower the Arab umma.Footnote 27
A strong territorial nation, however, was equally significant, as Ibrahim Abu al-Yaqzan explains in a 1926 article in al-Minhaj entitled “al-Watan wa-l-Wataniyya: Hubb al-Watan min al-Iman” (Homeland and Patriotism: The Love of Homeland is an Element of Faith).Footnote 28 Abu al-Yaqzan provides legitimacy for the idea of a territorial nation by considering patriotism a pillar of faith. Patriotism, he explains, is essential to the idea of the homeland or the territorial nation. The value of patriotism for Muslims is equal to that of prayer and jihad. It is a religious duty sanctioned by the shariʿa. Patriotism requires the strengthening of bonds among the different members of the territorial nation, in reference to the unity of Sunnis and Ibadis in Algeria. What brings the two communities together are the common language, common traditions, and shared ethical values that should be preserved in order for that unity to materialize.Footnote 29
Atfiyyash, in his columns and editorials, and along with the contributors to al-Minhaj, deployed Salafism to create a framework of unity between Sunnis and Ibadis. Their unity was essential to the formulation of Algerian nationalism and of Algeria as a waṭan defined by a shared history of Arabs and Berbers, Sunnis and Ibadis. However, Muslim unity also depended on Arab unity. Thus, each layer of nationalism intersected with the others and contributed to the realization of unity: unity of Algerians, of Arabs, and of Muslims.
ABU AL-YAQZAN: IBADI SALAFISM AT HOME
In 1926, one year after Atfiyyash established al-Minhaj in Egypt as the voice of the Salafi Ibadi diaspora in the Mashriq, his friend Abu al-Yaqzan, with the help of fellow Ibadis with strong ties to the reformist and nationalist movements in both Algeria and Tunisia, published one of the first religious nationalist newspapers in Algeria. Abu al-Yaqzan (1888–1973) was born in Guerrara in Mzab and, like Abu Ishaq, was tutored by Muhammad Atfiyyash. He went to study in Tunisia in 1914, where he cosupervised the student mission and in 1917 became a member of Hizb al-Dustur, returning to Algeria in 1925. His experience in Tunisia had a profound impact on him and provided him with the political and intellectual impetus to introduce changes in Algeria and become part of its nationalist movement. In addition to his editorial role, he was a founder of the Association of Algerian Muslim ʿUlamaʾ.
Abu al-Yaqzan mentioned the war in Tripolitania between Italy and the Ottoman Empire as the spark that ignited his passion for the media and convinced him of the need for an Arabic press in Algeria that would be critical of colonialism and protective of Algeria's Arab-Islamic identity.Footnote 30 It was through the Arabic press—mainly from Tunis and the Mashriq—circulating in Mzab that he was informed about the war in Tripolitania and other developments. His involvement and interest in politics while in Tunisia further opened his eyes to the potential role of the press, which was flourishing there at the time.Footnote 31 Between 1926 and 1938, Abu al-Yaqzan founded eight newspapers: Wadi Mizab, Mizab, al-Maghrib, al-Nur, al-Bustan, al-Nibras, al-Umma, and al-Furqan. Each emerged after French colonial authorities closed down its predecessor, and each was closed in turn for its criticism of French policies in Algeria and of colonialism in the Arab world more generally.Footnote 32 The first two newspapers were edited in Algiers, published in Tunisia for lack of an appropriate printing press in Algeria, and finally returned to Algeria for distribution. These difficult logistics convinced Abu al-Yaqzan of the need to establish his own printing press in Algiers, al-Matbaʿa al-ʿArabiyya, which he accomplished in 1931 with the help of friends and supporters. One of those was al-Khatib, who had become interested in the journalistic ventures of Abu al-Yaqzan through Atfiyyash in Cairo. The relationship between al-Khatib and Abu al-Yaqzan was characterized as one of strong friendship and partnership.Footnote 33
Abu al-Yaqzan considered al-Khatib a partner in the mission of Islamic reform and Arab and Muslim unity and cited al-Fath as being unique in the contributions it made toward those ends.Footnote 34 He aligned the objectives of his newspapers with those of al-Khatib's and frequently reprinted material from al-Fath in addition to celebrating al-Fath anniversaries on the pages of his newspapers.Footnote 35 In fact, a reprinted article from al-Fath written by al-Khatib contributed to the French decision to censor one of Abu al-Yaqzan's newspapers, al-Umma, in March 1938.Footnote 36 The article warns Muslims against trusting colonial powers in light of what the British had done in Palestine. The French seemed to have been alarmed by this warning and used it as one of several pretexts to justify their decision to shut down al-Umma. Abu al-Yaqzan's newspapers also advertised books published by the Salafiyya Press of al-Khatib and informed readers that the books were available for purchase from the paper's management. His newspapers were known beyond al-Khatib's own circle and were read or at least received by members of the wider Arabist-Salafi circles in Cairo and beyond. Rashid Rida, Ahmad Zaki Pasha, and Muhammad ʿAli al-Tahir were all familiar with his newspapers and their content.Footnote 37 Shakib Arslan was a close friend with whom Abu al-Yaqzan corresponded and whose opinions he published in his newspapers.Footnote 38
Abu al-Yaqzan's connections to the Arabist-Salafi network reflect his commitment to the Arab unity endorsed by the Salafi reformers. For him, Arabism was an element of faith, being part and parcel of his Muslim identity, and Arab unity was a fundamental pillar of Muslim unity and the struggle against colonialism. Abu al-Yaqzan elaborated on Arab unity most of all in his newspaper al-Umma (1933–38), described as “the echo of the East and of Islam in the Arab Maghrib, having the roar of Palestine, the rise of Syria, the awakening of Egypt, the life of the Hijaz, the ambition of Iraq, the wailing of Tripoli, the cry of Tunisia, and the pleas of Morocco.”Footnote 39
Although Arab unity was essential to Abu al-Yaqzan's thought, it was mostly the unity of Algerians and the definition of Algerian nationalism that preoccupied him early in his journalistic career. His newspapers should be considered a primary source for the study of Algerian nationalist thought, one that emerged out of a Salafi tradition that paved the way for reconciliation among the different ethnic and sectarian groups. They offer a new layer to the study of Algerian nationalism, articulated by those who “have fallen out of the frame of familiar narratives of nationalism.”Footnote 40 As an Ibadi Algerian, a founder and editor of one of the earliest anticolonial Arabic newspapers in Algeria, and a member of Arabist-Salafi networks, Abu al-Yaqzan represents an unfamiliar narrative in the nationalist historiography.
One of the main goals of his press, Abu al-Yaqzan explained, was to bring the north and the south of Algeria closer to one another, a reference to Malikis and Ibadis, respectively. He believed that his press was able to create harmony and understanding between the two communities, which were now overcoming their mutual hostility and uniting under the umbrella of an Arab-Islamic brotherhood.Footnote 41 He rightly observed that the efforts of his newspaper Wadi Mizab preceded those of the Association of Algerian ʿUlamaʾ in bridging the gaps between Algerian Muslims and uniting them within an overarching Arab-Islamic identity of Algeria.Footnote 42 In the first volume of Wadi Mizab, Abu al-Yaqzan calls on all Algerians to unite: “Islam is your father and Algeria is your mother.”Footnote 43 He describes the Algerian nation as “one historical city, walled by Islam.”Footnote 44 He condemns the existence of sectarian, ethnic, and regional identities in Algeria. “Stop saying this is Maliki, this is Hanafi, this is Ibadi, this is Tijani, this is Qadiri, this is Arab, this is Kabyle,”Footnote 45 he writes, calling for the unity of all elements of the Algerian society. This, according to him, is possible because Algerians, both Arab and Berber, are united by the waṭan and by the Arabic language, a language of the Berbers as well, being the language of their religion, Islam. That unity is as compulsory as prayer. Just as Muslims are required to unite in prayers, they are required to unite under one waṭan.Footnote 46
Abu al-Yaqzan's efforts to seek Algerian unity within the framework of Arabism and Islam were praised by many of his contemporaries, including prominent Sunni Salafi reformers such as ʿAbd al-Hamid ibn Badis. On the occasion of the publication of Abu al-Yaqzan's Diwan, Ibn Badis said that Abu al-Yaqzan “in addition to being a proud Mzabi, and rightly so . . . is an Arab fighting for Arabism, and a patriot fighting for the sake of patriotism, and a sincere Muslim always ranking Islam first in all his works.”Footnote 47 This description of Abu al-Yaqzan by Ibn Badis sums up the nationalist thought of Ibadi Arabist Salafis in Algeria: Algerian patriotism defined by Arabism and Islam in which the three layers of nationalism intersected and in which the Berber ethnicity and the Ibadi identity were being integrated.
James McDougall argues that Algerian Salafis of the Sunni sect fashioned the nationalist narrative along the lines of Arabism and Islam, assimilating Berbers into this image of an Algerian “Arab-Islamic” nation.Footnote 48 However, Salafi Berbers were not passive elements in this process of reinventing history; they, too, contributed to the narrative. For Ibadi reformers like Abu al-Yaqzan, who entrenched Salafism in Mzab in the 20th century, the sectarian identity would be protected not by isolating it from nationalist discourses but by inserting it into the heart of those discourses. It was not a matter of obliterating the historical specificities of Mzab's Berber Ibadis or the Berbers in general but rather of making them indispensable to projects of nationalism.
ZANZIBAR: SALAFI MODERNISM UNDER AL-BUSAʿIDIS
For Ibadis in Zanzibar, the main press organ articulating nationalist thought and anticolonialism in the interwar period was the Arabic newspaper al-Falaq, established in 1929 as the mouthpiece of the Arab Association of Zanzibar. The association represented all Arabs on the island but was led and dominated by members of the Omani elite, most of whom belonged to the Ibadi sect. The Omani elite consisted of the ruling al-Busaʿidi family and its associates, wealthy Omanis, and the Omani intelligentsia.
The al-Busaʿidis consolidated their power in Oman in the late 18th century and then expanded Omani rule into East Africa and the Indian Ocean. In the 1820s, as a result of this expansion, the seat of the Omani dynasty headed by Ahmad al-Busaʿidi was transferred from Oman to Zanzibar. The al-Busaʿidis’ rule on the island formalized Omani supremacy in East Africa. It initiated an era of institutionalized Islam in Zanzibar and the East African coast, providing opportunities for an unprecedented spread of Islamic institutions and of a literate Islamic tradition that was Arabic in character.Footnote 49 Zanzibar flourished as a cosmopolitan center that attracted Omanis, Hadramis, Comorians, Indians, and a handful of Arab Ottomans at the time.
Salafi currents found their way into Zanzibar in the late 19th century, mainly through the Arabic press circulating in Zanzibar, through direct connections with the Mashriq, and through members of the Egyptian community residing in Zanzibar who were known for their close proximity to Muhammad ʿAbduh and Rashid Rida.Footnote 50 The Omani sultans were not isolated from those Salafi currents aiming for Muslim unity and were supportive of them. This prompted some pioneers of the Salafiyya movement, such as Rashid Rida, to contact the Omani sultans and ask for financial assistance to help run their journals.Footnote 51
The life and thought of the prominent Omani scholar Abu Muslim Nasir al-Rawahi (1860–1920), also known as al-Bahlani, are testimony to the influence of Salafism on late 19th-century Ibadi Omanis in Zanzibar. Al-Rawahi endorsed Pan-Islamism as promoted by the Salafis. This was evident in his letter to the Omani imam, Salim bin Rashid al-Kharusi, in which he advises the latter to make contact with various associations in the Muslim world in order to “show our infidel enemies that the followers of Islam have come together and are united under the umbrella of al-jāmiʿa al-islamiyya [Muslim unity] . . . ”Footnote 52 In 1910, al-Rawahi established the newspaper al-Najah, which had a clear Pan-Islamic tone and was modeled after al-Manar.Footnote 53
However, Zanzibar's links to the Salafi modernist movement go beyond al-Rawahi and involved many of the Omani Ibadi elite, thanks to the place Zanzibar occupied at the time as a vibrant Arab-Islamic cultural and intellectual center. Zanzibar was glorified as a source of pride by many Arab writers and intellectuals, including Jirji Zaydan.Footnote 54 For him and others, Zanzibar exemplified Arab glory and Arab expansion to the African continent. Zanzibar had its first printing press in the 1870s, second only to Cairo in the African continent. A large number of Arabic newspapers and publications were circulating on the island from the late 19th century and the editors of many of those newspapers, including al-ʿUrwa al-Wuthqa and al-Manar, sought the financial support of the Omani sultans of Zanzibar.Footnote 55 The reputation of Zanzibar attracted the attention of the prominent Arabist-Salafi ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, who paid the island a visit in 1901.Footnote 56 Zanzibar might have been geographically peripheral to the Arabist-Salafi network, but it was not so intellectually.
The Omani elite's ties and connections to the Salafi movement in the Mashriq were maintained, if not strengthened, during the interwar period through the Arabic periodicals that made their way into Zanzibar in increasing numbers as well as through the intelligentsia's connections with the Maghribi Ibadi Salafi diaspora in the Arab world. This diaspora played a significant role in keeping the Omani intelligentsia in Zanzibar within the Arab orbit and in channeling ideas of Arab-Muslim unity, reform, and anticolonialism back into the intellectual circles of Zanzibar. In addition, like the Mzabi generation of the interwar period, the Omani one developed a nationalist anticolonial discourse shared, even partly shaped, by those ties and connections. Fostering ties with Pan-Islamic and Pan-Arab movements and developing Zanzibari nationalism as a nationalism of unity and anticolonialism, defined by Islam and Arabism, are among the ways in which Omani opposition to British colonialism manifested itself.Footnote 57
AL-FALAQ AND ANTICOLONIAL NATIONALISM: IN THE REALM OF ARAB NATIONALISM
Anticolonialism in Zanzibar emerged in the second half of the 19th century. British hegemony in East Africa was gradually replacing the Omani one, and it ultimately led to the split of the Omani dynasty into two parts: Zanzibar and Oman, each headed by one of Ahmad al-Busaʿidi's sons. Zanzibar was declared a British protectorate in 1911. British policies generated opposition from many members of the Omani elite, whose concerns were not only about the waning of Omani political power and the loss of revenues but also about the possible loss of Zanzibar's Arab-Islamic identity. British educational policies were particularly criticized by Omanis as aiming to undermine the Arabic language and erase Zanzibar's identity. In fact, one of the reasons behind the launching of al-Falaq was to discuss the threat such policies posed to the status of the Arabic language in Zanzibar. Al-Falaq warned that a national awakening in Zanzibar, which was to be based primarily on Arabism and Islam, was unattainable unless Arabs received a good education.Footnote 58 After all, what distinguished the island from the African mainland, al-Falaq repeatedly argued, was the presence of an Arab civilization that the present educational system was trying to uproot.Footnote 59
Al-Falaq is thus a major, if not the primary, source on the origins of Zanzibari nationalism as espoused and promoted by the Omani intelligentsia. This nationalist discourse defined Zanzibar not only as a waṭan to be shared by all Zanzibaris—Ibadis and Sunnis, Omanis and Hadramis, Arabs and others—but also as a waṭan with an Arab-Islamic identity defining Zanzibar as part of the larger Arab world. Al-Falaq not only provided a public forum for ideas to be debated and disseminated among members of the Arabic-speaking community but it also linked Zanzibar with the wider world of the Arabic press, which it drew on to report events and reprint articles on subjects of interest to Arabs in Zanzibar.Footnote 60Al-Falaq reached the Maghrib, the Mashriq, and Oman. Its reputation prompted Philip de Tarrazi, the author of Tarikh al-Sahafa al-ʿArabiyya to write to one of al-Falaq's editors, Hashil al-Maskari, asking for more information about al-Falaq to include in his Tarikh.Footnote 61
Al-Falaq was founded, and funded, by the Arab Association of Zanzibar as a communal/national project, but it was the editorial board of the newspaper, not that of the Association, that determined its direction. Unlike the newspapers of Ibadis from Mzab, it was not an individual enterprise (though all of those newspapers had support networks that stretched beyond their founders). Nevertheless, the aforementioned al-Maskari, the first editor of al-Falaq and a regular contributor to its pages, is of particular significance. He was not only a fierce critic of colonial policies in Zanzibar and an ardent supporter of Islamic reform, Arab unity, and the Arab-Islamic identity of Zanzibar but was also representative of the post World War I generation of Omanis in Zanzibar whose web of connections kept them in close proximity to political and intellectual currents in the Arab world.
Al-Maskari was born in Oman in 1895 and brought by his relatives to Zanzibar, where he was raised by his uncle and cousins and educated in one of Zanzibar's Qurʾanic schools. He joined the executive body of the Arab Association in 1926 and served as editor of al-Falaq for a total of eleven years.Footnote 62 His exposure to Salafi ideas and Pan-Arabism occurred in Zanzibar and was not due to a travel or exile experience. It was reinforced, however, by his connections to Ibadi exiles central to the Arabist-Salafi network, including Abu al-Yaqzan, Ibrahim Atfiyyash, and especially Suleiman al-Baruni, a key contact of al-Maskari and his adviser on local politics and the editorial policies of al-Falaq. His association with al-Baruni, another Ibadi exile who belonged to the Arabist-Salafi network, is further testimony to the way that network operated and to the centrality of the Arabic press to it. Like Atfiyyash and Abu al-Yaqzan, al-Baruni was one of those cosmopolitan Ibadis whose travels and career allowed them to integrate Salafism into the Ibadi heritage and to unite Sunnis with Ibadis.
Suleiman al-Baruni (1870–1940) was born in the Nfusa mountains in modern-day Libya. In 1887, he went to al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunisia, where he was tutored, like Atfiyyash, by al-Makki and al-Nakhli and then moved to Cairo to study at al-Azhar in 1893. He returned to Mzab a few years later to study with Muhammad Atfiyyash and then moved to Istanbul, where he began an active political career. He was a member of the Council of Deputies from 1908 to 1911, played a key role against the Italian invasion of Tripolitania in 1911, and became a member of the Ottoman parliament between 1913 and 1916. He returned to Tripolitania on 8 October 1916 with a decree from the Ottoman sultan appointing him governor of Tripolitania.Footnote 63 When Tripolitania was occupied by Italian troops again in 1922, al-Baruni left and was later denied entry to it and all other European-occupied Arab countries. He spent two years in exile in France before the British granted him permission to go to Oman.
Al-Baruni's years in Cairo provided him with the opportunity to own a printing press, al-Baruniyya Press, and to produce his own newspaper, al-Asad al-Islami, known for its Pan-Islamic and anticolonial tone. It appeared in 1906 in three issues before it was shut down by the British. It reached Zanzibar, Oman, and Mzab, among other places, and advocated Islamic reform.Footnote 64 Al-Baruni cultivated a strong relationship with al-Khatib, who described him as one of the most qualified leaders in the Muslim umma and one of its most righteous and sincere notables.Footnote 65 Al-Baruni's opinions and political commentaries also appeared on the pages of al-Zahraʾ and al-Fath.
Al-Khatib's centrality to the Arabist-Salafi network of the interwar period and the role of his press in binding together Sunnis and Ibadis under the rubric of Salafi nationalism emerges again in the Zanzibari context. His al-Fath functioned as a central link between al-Falaq and the larger Arab world, with al-Falaq regularly reprinting articles from al-Fath. Al-Khatib's editorials had a particular appeal to al-Falaq's editors, an indication of the ideological rapport between al-Fath and al-Falaq. In one such editorial, which appeared on al-Falaq's front page and is entitled “One Country, One Nation, One Language,” al-Khatib analyzes the drive behind the union between Germany and Austria and is fascinated by Hitler's ability to lead that union despite Germany's financial burdens. The German experience should be taken, he adds, as an example of the possibility of uniting a divided nation despite all the shackles and hindrances that appeared to prevent such unity. Al-Khatib's introduction on the unity of the German-speaking people is intended to
draw the attention of people of my nation—those speaking the language of the ḍād [in reference to the Arabic language] in each country and under each star, spread everywhere from Western Asia to North Africa—that faith is the secret of unity and its spirit and that unity is the fruit of faith and its aim . . . Arabs in Algeria or Palestine or Aden may not be able to realize their national dreams for lack of power . . . However, can Arabs in Algeria or Palestine or Aden claim that there is a force on earth able to prevent them from believing in their right [to unite] . . .?Footnote 66
Articles reprinted on the pages of al-Falaq, like those of al-Minhaj and Wadi Mizab, reflected the beliefs and ideology of those newspapers’ editors and their readers, and these included a belief in the necessity of Arab unity and in a Zanzibari nationalism rooted in Arabism. The Zanzibari intelligentsia saw its agony and struggle through the prism of the whole Arab-Muslim world; the road to salvation was in the unity of that world. Thus, any attempt to unite Arabs and Muslims was praised by al-Falaq, hailed as a sign of hope and of future relief from colonialism. In the same manner, any obstacle in the way of that unity was condemned. When news circulated in September 1933 that Ibn Saʿud was negotiating with the British to divide some of the territories in the Arabian peninsula among Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran, al-Falaq warned against such a plan. Al-Maskari, like Ibrahim Atfiyyash, noted his disappointment in Ibn Saud, whom the Arab nation had considered one of its guardians. Instead of plotting to divide the Arabian peninsula, he should be unifying it in order to “strengthen the bond of cordiality and unity among Arabs.” Then he would be defending Arabism and reviving “the Arab glory.”Footnote 67
The Arab dream of unity, as one article in al-Falaq argues, is possible because Arabs possess the necessary elements for unity: blood, language, and traditions in addition to a strong desire to unite.
From Iraq to the Taurus Mountains to the Sudan, they have the same origin, the same history and the same traditions in addition to a single language to which most of them adhere. This nationalist awareness is present and the proof is the popular reaction and agitation to what is going on in Palestine, Marrakech, Egypt . . .Footnote 68
Time and again, al-Falaq pulled Zanzibar into the heart of Arab anticolonial struggle and invoked past scenes of “Arab heroism” to venerate the Arab identity of Zanzibar. On 22 July 1939, al-Falaq published an article commemorating the anniversary of the 1920 battle of Maysalun, in which Yusuf al-ʿAzmeh had tried to defend Damascus against advancing French troops.
Today, while you hold this newspaper in your hands, and you look at its content with your eyes, is the 19th anniversary of [the 1920] rebellions led by Arab freedom fighters . . . Because you are an Arab, Maysalun is an Arab tragedy, al-Falaq is an Arab newspaper, and because I am an Arab, I should tell you about Maysalun and its tragedy that befell all Arabs . . .Footnote 69
The long journey that separated Damascus from Zanzibar and the years between 1920 and 1939 did not render Maysalun meaningless to al-Falaq's readers. Maysalun was a memory to be shared and a tragedy to be commemorated by all Arabs, including those in Zanzibar. This Arab collectivity could also be seen as a power to reckon with, and thus al-Falaq was prompted to warn Europeans on the eve of World War II that it was time Europe realized that the era of enslaving Arabs was over. “It is time Europe realized,” al-Falaq announced, “that each Arab or Muslim looks askance at it because of its harsh and inhuman treatment of the descendants of the Arabian peninsula.”Footnote 70Al-Falaq drew the attention of readers to the agitation and protests taking place in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula as signs of Arab rejection of enslavement. Al-Maskari also called upon all Arabs to decide their fate by themselves and not to trust any European country, whether it was an enemy or claimed to be a friend.
[The Arabs] shouldn't trust any promise in the future after having seen the results of previous ones. They desire nothing but to live freely in their own countries like others do . . . Beware, Arabs and Muslims, of European propaganda broadcasted daily. It is all colonial deception . . . Move ahead, Arabs, and defend your rights and your countries.Footnote 71
Europeans are driven by their greed, he adds, and their inter-rivalry is only for the sake of executing their schemes to control Arabs and Muslims. If anyone was in doubt, al-Maskari points to French policy in Syria and British policy in Palestine: “The best proof is what the French authority is doing in Syria in terms of savage acts and what the British authority is doing to Palestinians.”Footnote 72
Palestine and the Palestinians loomed large in the consciousness of Arabs in Zanzibar, as they did in the whole Arab world during the 1930s. In the words of Adeed Dawisha, “the one issue that consistently found an echo among the urban, educated Arabic-speaking populations of the Middle East was the increasing danger of Jewish immigration into Palestine. Here was a concern that would unite the Arab nationalist, the Islamist, and the believer in Greater Syria . . .”Footnote 73 The echo reached Zanzibar, whose Omani intelligentsia was marching to the beat of the Arab world and was as concerned as other Arabs and Muslims about Palestine. The plight of Palestinians received extensive coverage on the pages of al-Falaq, which after 1936 reported incessantly on events, activities, and news related to the Palestinian issue.Footnote 74 It reprinted articles from other journals, published announcements by Arab associations dedicated to help the Palestinians, and offered news analyses of what the situation in Palestine implied for Palestinians, for Arabs, and for the desired Arab unity.
This preoccupation with the Palestinian question reflects the degree to which the Omani intelligentsia in Zanzibar identified with the Arab world and defined Zanzibar as part of that world. Zanzibari nationalism depended on that identification; there could be no Zanzibar defined as Arab Muslim without the Arab world, and there could be no strong Zanzibar without Arab unity.
Salafi nationalism in the Arab world wove patriotism, Arabism, and Islam together and allowed for the definition of several territorial nationalisms—including Algerian, Zanzibari, and Egyptian—in conjunction with Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism. Rather than each developing in opposition to or in isolation from the rest, the three layers of nationalism, in Salafi thought, intersected with one another. This is evident in the Arabist-Salafi press, which defined territorial nationalism in relationship to Arab and Muslim unity. Arab and Muslim unity, in turn, would fortify territorial nationalism in its striving for independence from colonialism. Salafism paved the way for such reconciliation with its call to transcend sectarian divisions for the sake of unity.
The transformations within Ibadi thought and its assimilation of Salafism show, in practical terms, the strength of Salafism as an ideology of unity and national cohesion. The transformative impact of Salafi reform on Arab-Muslim thought created dynamics that have left their imprint on major political and intellectual trends in the Arab world and, in particular, on the development of nationalisms in the interwar period. How to reconcile this narrative of Salafi nationalism with the one that has pitted territorial nationalism against Pan-Arabism and Pan-Islamism, especially in later decades, requires further elaboration. However, as James Gelvin reminds us, the relationship between nationalism and Islamism (in its various trends) is more complex than generally assumed, and there are different levels on which Islamists, including Arabist Salafis, appropriated nationalism.Footnote 75 Of greater significance, Salafi nationalists found no contradictions between the three layers of nationalism and regarded Arabism and Islam as common threads between them. The contradiction, in the eyes of those Salafis, was rather between their version of nationalism and the secular one that reduced Islam to a mere historical or cultural artifact. By making Islam the core of their nationalist ideologies, Salafi nationalists believed that they had reconciled the different nationalisms with one another.
Perhaps such contradictions could not have been visible to them at the time, because the presence of such contradictions can be tied more to the emergence of independent nation–states and less to discourses of nationalism, however competing they were. None of the nations that the Arabist Salafis defined, whether Algerian, Egyptian, or Zanzibari, and that they envisioned as part of the Arab nation, was an independent state in the interwar period. The reality of colonialism overshadowed any potential contradictions or competitions or rather, Arabist Salafis believed, the latter were the products of the colonial reality itself.