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Islam, Capitalism and the Weber Theses

Author(s): Bryan S. Turner

Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Jun., 1974), pp. 230-243
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political
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BryanS. Turner*

Over the last half centurya substantialtraditionof Weberianscholarship has developedin Europewhichis focusedon elaborateanalysesof
Weber'sexplorationofthe relationshipbetweenreligionandcapitalism.
Naturally,this scholarshiphas involvedexaminationsof Weber'sbasic
contrastbetweenthe Europeantraditionof Puritanasceticismand the
mysticalethics of Asian religions.One consequenceof this dominant
sociologicaltraditionhas been a relativeneglectof Weber'streatment
of Islam.l AlthoughWeber died before completinghis sociologyof
religionwith a full studyof Islam,his commentson earlyIslamand his
more elaborateinquiryinto Islamiclaw are suSciently interestingto
warrantmore closeinspectionthan they have hithertoreceived.As a
prophetic,egalitarian,salvationreligion with close derivationfrom
Judaismand Christianity,Islam is a significanttest of Weber'sthesis
on asceticismand rationaleconomicactivity.Beforeturningto Weber's
argumentthat Islam was not a salvationreligion,it will be usefulto
clarifythe kaleidoscopic
In this studyof Weberon Islam, thereare threerelatedarguments
whichneed to be distinguishedat the outset.The firstline of argument
is that one can detectat leastfourdifferentWeberianthesesaboutthe
connectionbetweenreligiousbeliefsand capitalism;these four theses
cannot be successfullyreconciledin one coherentWeberiantheory
aboutthe secularsignificanceof religiousdoctrines.Henceany attempt
to considerIslamas a test caseof Weber'ssociologymustbe a complex
process.My contentionis that at leastthreeof Weber'sthesesare either
falseor trivial.The fourththesis,which examinesthe consequencesof
patrimonialdomination,can be employedas a plausibleexplanationof
some Islamicdevelopments.My secondargumentis that, apartfrom
factualmistakesaboutIslam,Weberstressedthe wrongquestionabout
Islam. His main concernwas to explainthe absenceof rationalcapitalism outsideEurope,but the real sociologicalissue is to explainthe
transitionof Islam from a monetary economy to an agricultural,
militaryregime.AlthoughWeber'sanalysisof Islam was not particu* BryanS. Turner B.A.
of Aberdeen


Lecturerin Sociology,King'sCollege,University

Bryan 5. Turner


larlysuccessful,it is ironicthat when Muslimreformerscameto explain

the decay of Islam, they employedimplicitlyWeberianarguments.It
would,however,be naiveto acceptthissituationas proofof the validity
of Weber'sProtestantEthic thesis.



Considerabledifferencesof opinionamongsociologistshave arisenover

the interpretationof Weber'sProtestantEthic thesis.These disagreeof Weber's
mentscould emergeeitherthroughgrossmisunderstanding
sociologyor becauseWeber'ssociologyitself
which are not necessarilyconsistent.While there certainlyhas been
misconception,it can also be shownthat a numberof distincttheories
emerge from Weber'ssociology.2The temptationis always to read
consistencyinto a sociologist,particularlya greatsociologist,when one
is concernedwith the historyof ideas.3lshereare a numberof waysby
which one could bring out these differentargumentswhich Weber
entertained,often simultaneously.Here it will be fruitfulto refer to
AlisdairMacIntyre'sargumentin 'A Mistakeabout Causalityin the
SocialSciences'wherehe observedthat, in attemptingto demonstrate
the relationbetweenbeliefsand actions,sociologistshave oftenstarted
with a strongthesisand endedwith a compromise.The strongthesisis
thatbeliefsaresecondary(MarxandPareto)or thatbeliefsareindependent (Weber). Mostsociologistsfinishby eatingtheirownwords;thus,in
MacIntyre'sview, Weber slips into 'facile interactionism'in which
beliefscause actionsand vice versa. This frameworkcan be used to
illustratefourdifferentargumentsin Weber'ssociologyof religion.
The firstinterpretationof the ProtestantEthic thesis (PE) is that it
entailsan idealistictheoryof values.The secondthesis (PEi) is that it
is an argumentabout the necessaryand suicient conditionsfor the
emergenceof capitalism.The Weberthesis (W) takesa widerview of
Weber's sociology of civilizations,stressingthe importanceof the
in Weber'sphilosophyof science.Finally,
conceptof 'understanding'
the secondWeberthesis(Wi) underlinesthe continuitybetweenMarx
and Weberby showingthat Webercontinuouslydrawsattentionto the
ways in which beliefs are shaped by their socio-economiccontexts.
Webershowedthat Islamicinstitutionswere incompatiblewith capitalism becausethey had been dominatedby a long historyof patrimonialism.Islamicbeliefswere certainlyinfluentialbut still secondary
to patrimonialconditioning.Unfortunately,this thesis was also held
of Islamichistorywhich makeWeber's
Economicand social historianswere probablythe first to treat the
ProtestantEthic as a strongtheoryin which Calvinistbeliefscaused
moderncapitalism.H. M. Robertson,for example,attemptedto refute

Bryan S. furner


what he regardedas Weber'spsychologismby showingthat capitalism

arose from 'materialconditions',not from'some religiousimpulse'.4
More recently,H. R. Trevor-Roperassertedthat Weberand Werner
Sombarthad reversedMarx'smaterialism.5
In attemptingto win support for this particularthesis (PE), Syed Alatasclaimedthat Talcott
Parsons,Pitrim Sorokinand ReinhardBendix have all treated the
ProtestantEthicthesisas an idealistictheory.6Althoughone can show
that Weber thought that ideas were often causally significant,the
main problem with this interpretation(PE) is that Weber himself
denied that he held such a theoryabout Calvinism.In The Protestant
EthicandtheSpiritof CAapitalism,
he insistedthatthe theorythatcapitalism
wasthe creationof the Reformationwouldbe 'a foolishand doctrinaire
thesis'.7Evidencealso comes from Weber'sassociatesat Heidelberg
that he was annoyed by 'idealistic'interpretationsof the Protestant
Ethic thesis.8
Sociologistswho wish to rejectthe PE interpretationhave normally
claimedthat the firstessayon the ProtestantEthicwas merelyan early,
trialmonograph.In thisperspective(PEi),asceticismis a necessaryand
sufficientconditionof rationalcapitalism,but asceticismneeds to be
placedwith a numberof otherkey variables.9Hence,sociologistshave
turned,for example,to Weber'sGeneralEconomicHistoryin which we
find that the pre-requisitesof modern capitalisminclude capitalist
modesof ownership,free labour,rationallaw and free marketmovements. It is sometimesarguedin additionthat Weberhad a general
schemeto set up an experimentaltest of PEi by cross-cultural
comparison. Thus Parsonshas noted that Weber,turningfromthe methodof
agreementto the methodof difference,embarkedon
an ambitiousseriesof comparativestudiesall directedto the question,
why did modernrationalbourgeoiscapitalismappearas a dominant
phenomenononly in the modernWest?10
While this interpretation(PEi) of Weberdoes morejusticeto Weber's
sociologyconsideredas a wholethanwith a simple'idealist'perspective
(PE), it containsat leasttwo difflculties.Firstly,it tendsto assumethat
Weber acceptedJ. S. Mill's methodologyand consequentlyunderstates Weber's verstehende
sociology. Secondly, it assumes that the
ProtestantEthic thesis is continuousand central in Weber's later
sociology.The issuesraised,however,in Ancientjrudaism,The Religion
of C7hina
and TheReligionof Indiaconcerningbureaucracy,patrimonialism and villageorganizationare far widerthan the restrictedthemeof
the ProtestantEthicthesis.In somerespects,the problemof asceticism
as an aspectof radicalsocialchangeis tangentialto Weber'sanalysis
of Asiansociety.ll
Sociologistswho hold that Weber'smain concernwas to explore
historicalconnectionsof values and meaninghave rejectedthe view

Bryan 5. Turner


that Weber attempted,by cross-culturalcomparison,to demonstrate

the causalprimacyof values.Ratherthan seekingany over-simplified
causal chain, Weber was concerned,accordingto this view (W), to
elaboratecomplex'affinities'or 'congruencies'
For example,PeterBergerarguedthat Weber'sfirstconcernwas with
namelywith the ways in which
'certainideas and certain social processes"seek each other out" in
history'.l2Similarly,FerdinandKolegarhas criticizedthose commentatorswho treat Weber'stheoryof capitalismand Protestantismas a
simplecausalaccountof economicdevelopment.For Kolegar,Weber
attemptedto demonstratethe 'mutualreinforcement'betweeneconomic and religiousethics.l3Weber is said to hold not a positivistor
Humean view of causality;rather Weber sought to explain actions
by graspingtheirsubjectivemeaning.
Clearly,this view (W) does give legitimateweightto Weber'sown
methodologicalpositionbut this emphasison 'electiveaffinity'rather
than 'empiricalcause'does run into threeproblems.It assumesa very
debatable issue, namely that Weber followed consistentlyhis own
methodologicalguidelines.Weber's'interpretativeexplanation'(versteinvolvesthe philologicalinterpretationof actor'sconhendeErklarung)
cepts and terms. Yet Weber never faced the problemof whether a
complex meaning system such as 'Islam' can be unambiguously
treatedas a 'religion'.Uncoveringthe multiplicityof meaningsencased
in the term 'Islam' is part of the sociologist'sfundamentaltask.l4A
furtherdifficultywith explanationsin termsof subjectivemeaningis
that they rarelyget beyondplausibledescriptionsof subjectivestates
without relating these meaningsto their social structuralsettings.l5
Finally, by giving priority to meaningfulcausality over empirical
causality,thisinterpretation(W) findsit difficultto rescueWeberfrom
the charge of 'facile interactionism'.It could be argued that Weber
avoided these problemsby showing,in specificexamples,how social
groupsactedas carriersof valuesand beliefsand how 'electiveaffinities'
developed between the socio-economicbasis of carriergroups and
particularconstellationsof beliefs. However, such an interpretation
of 'electiveaffinity'comesvery close to a Marxistview that beliefsare
sociallyconstructedin termsof dominanteconomicinterests.
The fourthview of Weber (Wi) often startsby refutingthe facile
notionthat Weberwas arguingwith 'the ghostof Marx'.For example,
Hans Gerthand C. WrightMillsclaimedthat Weber'staskwas partly
to complementMarx'seconomicmaterialism'bya politicalandmilitary
materialism'.l6They also suggestedthat, as Weberbecamemore embitteredby Germanpolitics,he gaveincreasingprominenceto 'material'
factors.A considerationof Weber'spublic lectureat Freiburgin I896
on ancient civilizationshows, however, a consistantMarxistundercurrentin Weber'ssociology.l7Similarly,NormanBirnbaumhasargued

Bryan S. Turner

Islam,capitalismandtlte Webertheses

that Webercontributeda sophisticatedsociologyof motivesto Marx's

analysisof interestsand ideologies.l8While contemporaryreappraisals
of Marx'sParismanuscripts
and Grundrisse
our conceptionof the relationshipbetweenMarxand Weber,Weber's
view of motiveremainsan importantissue.I9RecentlyPaulWaltonhas
suggestedthat Weber'ssociologyenablesus to study
the possessionby particularactorsor groupsof vocabularies,phrases
or outlooks,which, far frombeing rationalizationsor mystifications
of interests,act as motiveforcesfor actionitself.20
Walton'sstatementfollowsC. WrightMill'stheorythatgroupsexercise
social control, linguistically,by imputing good or bad motives to
actions.21Mills pointed out that his approachwas compatiblewith
Weber'sdefinitionof a motiveas 'a complexof subjectivemeaning'.22
The theoryof motiveimplicitin Weberand elaboratedby Mills is
not incompatiblewith a Marxisttreatmentof ideasandideology.There
is no contradictionin saying that vocabulariesof motive determine
social actions,but these vocabulariesare lockedwithin specificsocioeconomiccontexts.Indeed,Millswas at painsto pointout that certain
social settingsexclude certain types of motive. In secularsettings,a
religiousvocabularyof motivesis eitherinappropriateor unavailable.
It would not be difficultto imagine a situationin which traditional
religious languages for describingand influencingsocial activities
became obsoletewith the decline in social power of religiouselites.
LikeWeber,Marx thoughtthat the religiouscultureof feudalismwas
whollyirrelevantundercapitalistconditions:new motivesappropriate
to capitalistsocial relationsvould evolve without an atheisticcampaign.23It is not difficult to interpretWeber's analysis of ascetic
motivesin preciselythese terms. Weber himselfclaimed that it was
necessaryto investigatehow asceticmotiveswereshapedby 'thetotality
of social conditions,especiallyeconomic'.24The fourthWeber thesis
(Wi) thus assertsthat to explain actionswe need to understandthe
subjectivemeaningof socialactions,but the languageswhichare available for describingand explainingactionsare determinedby socioeconomicsettings.


Weberstartedby recognizingthat Meccan Islam was a monotheistic

religionbased on ethical prophecywhich rejectedmagic. Given that
Allah was all powerfuland omniscient,and man predestined,asceticismcouldhaveemergedas a solutionto a potential'salvationanxiety'.
Weber argued that asceticismwas blockedby two importantsocial
groups:the warriorgroupwhich was the main socialcarrierof Islam
and the Sufi brotherhoodswhich developeda mysticalreligiosity.In

Bryan S. Turner


adapting Muhammad'smonotheisticQur'an to the socio-economic

interestsof a warriorlife-style,the questforsalvationwas reinterpreted
throughthe notionofjihad(holy war) to the questfor land. Islamwas
turnedinto a 'nationalArabicwarriorreligion'.The conceptof inner
salvationnever fully developedand adherenceto the outwardrituals
of the communitybecame more significantthan inward conversion:
AncientIslamcontenteditselfwith confessionsof loyaltyto god and
to the prophet, togetherwith a few practicaland ritual primary
commandments,as the basisof membership.25
Weber concluded that despite Islam's origins in Jewish-Christian
monotheism,'Islamwas neverreallya religionof salvation'.26
The warriorgroup turned the religiousquest into a territorialadventureand Islamicasceticismwas basicallythe rigourand simplicity
of a militarycaste. Islam did, however,develop a genuine salvation
path with ultimatelyreligiousgoals, but this quest was mysticaland
other-worldly.WeberregardedSufismas a massreligiositywhich enabled Islam to reach its conqueredsubjectsthroughtheir indigenous
symbolismand ritual.Sufimysticismthusintroducedmagical,orgiastic
elementsinto Islam and watereddown its monotheism.The combination of a warriorreligiositywith mysticalacceptanceof the worldproduced all the
characteristicsof a distinctivelyfeudal spirit; the obviously unquestionedacceptanceof slavery,serEdomand polygamy . . . the
great simplicity of religious requirementsand the even greater
simplicityof the modestethicalrequirements.27
Given this religiousethic, Islam could not providethe socialleverage
wherebythe MuslimMiddleEast could be liftedout of feudalstagnation.At thislevelof argumentit wouldbe all tooeasytointerpretWeber
as postulatingthat Islam did not producecapitalismbecauseit had
a cultureincompatiblewith the spiritof capitalism(PE thesis).Alternatively, one could concludethat Weberis claiming (W thesis)that
therewas an electiveaffinitybetweenthe needsof a warriorgroupand
the militaristicvalues which developedfrom pristineIslam. Weber's
argumentwas, in fact, far more complexand when Weberturnedto
an analysisof Islamiclaw it appearsthat his argumentwas constructed
in termsof a stringof pre-requisiteswhich are necessaryfor capitalist
development(pEi thesis).
At the centre of Weber'ssociologyof law is a distinctionbetween
arbitrary,ad hoclawmakingand legal judgmentswhich are derived
logicallyfromgenerallaws. In the case of substantive,irrationallaw,
lawmakersdo not followgeneralprinciples,butjudge eachcaseaccording to purely arbitraryfactors.The paradigmaticcase of such law,
in Weber'sview, was that of the qadiwhojudgeseach caseon personal,

BryanS. Turner


particularisticgrounds.The law resultingfrom qadidecisionslacks

generalityand stability.However,Islam did possessa universallegal
code, despitedifferentlegal schools,in the form of the Shari'a(Holy
Law) which Weber categorizedas substantisre,
rationallaw. Law of
this kind followsprincipleswhich are derivedfromsacredirevelation,
ideology or a belief systemimposedby conquest.The normsof the
Shari'awere 'extralegal' in the senseof being derivedultimatelyfrom
prophecyand divine revelation.Whereasqadijustice was unstable,
sacredjustice was inherentlyinflexibleand could not be readily extendedsystematicallyto meet new casesand situations.Afterthe first
threecenturiesof Islam,the Shari'awas treatedas completeand hence
thereemergeda hiatusbetweentheoryand practicewhichwasbridged
by hiyal(legaldevices):
innovationshad to be supportedeither by a fetwa, which could
almostalwaysbe obtainedin a particularcase, sometimesin good
faithandsometimesthroughtrickery,or by the disputatiouscasuistry
of the severalcompetingorthodoxschools.28
Therefore,Islam lackeda necessaryconditionfor capitalistdevelopment, namelya systematicformallaw tradition(pEi thesis).
The standardsociologicalinterpretationof Weberon law is that he
held a strongthesis (PEi) that rationalformallaw is a necessaryprerequisiteof rationalcapitalismand,as a result,crudeeconomicexplanations of capitalismare inadequate.Despite the explicit strong thesis
(PEi), Weber admittedthat, in the case of Englishjudge-madelaw,
the absenceof a gaplesssystemof law had not held backthe progressof
English capitalism.In England, the courts of justice of the peace
justice to an extent unknown on the Continent'.
Weberwent on to observethat 'adjudicationby honoratores'on continentallines
may thus well stand in the way of the interestsof the bourgeois
classesand it may indeed be said that Englandachievedcapitalistic
supremacyamong the nations not because but rather in spite of
Englishcapitalismdid not sufferin thisway fortwo reasons,in Weber's
view. Lawyersand entrepreneurswere drawn from the same social
class and shared commoninterests;as a professionalbody, lawyers
enjoyed considerablepolitical autonomy.Weber appears,therefore,
to have arguedthat it was not the contentof law but the socialcontext
and institutionalization
of law whichwas crucialfor capitalistcontractual relations.Similarly,the instabilityof qadijustice and the inflexibility of the Shari'aare productsof patrimonialrulershipratherthan
irreduciblefacts about Islamic culture. A close reading of Weber

Bryan S. Turner

Islam,capitalismandthe Webertheses

strata preferredformalrationallaw, orientalpatrimonialrulers 'are

betterserved'by substantiveqadijusticewhichrepresents'thelikelihood
of absolutearbitrariness
and subjectiveinstability'.30
Viewing Weber'streatmentof law in this light takes us to a final
interpretationof Weber'sanalysisof Islam.This finalthesis(Wi) seems
to be that Islam did not generatecapitalistindustrializationbecause
for centuriesthe Muslimhomelandshad been dominatedby a system
of patrimonialbureaucracycontrolled by foreign troops. It is the
patrimonialeconomicandpoliticalstructurewhichexplainsthe absence
of a capitalistspirit,of rationallaw and of independentcities.Furthermore,whileWeber'sdominanttheoreticalproblemseemsto be that of
explaining the absence of capitalismoutside Europe, Weber does
appreciatethat one majorissue in Islamic historyis to explain the
relativestagnationof the economybetweenthe twelfthand nineteenth
centuries.Weberattemptedto suggestan explanationin termsof the
problemsof financingpatrimonialtroops:
The feudalizationof the economywas facilitatedwhen the Seljuk
troopsand Mamelukeswere assignedthe tax yield of land and subjects; eventuallylandwastransferred
to themas serviceholdings....
The extraordinarylegal insecurity of the taxpaying population
vis-a-visthe arbitrariness
of the troopsto whom their tax capacity
was mortgagedcould paralysecommerceand hence the money
economy;indeed,sincethe periodof the Seljuks[ca. I050-I I50] the
Orientalmarketeconomydeclinedor stagnated.3l
The decline of the money economywas accompaniedby increasing
arbitrarinessin law, land rights,propertyand civic relations.Weber
summarizedthesepoliticalconditionsunderthe term'sultanism'which
describedpurely arbitrarydecisions of a patrimonialruler. Since
propertyholdingbecameuncertain,the urbanmerchantsinsrestedin
wakfs (familytrustsconsecratedto piousworks)which were comparatively safe frominterference.These investmentsencouragedan extensive immobilizationof capitalwhich
correspondedfully to the spiritof the ancienteconomywhich used
accumulatedwealth as a sourceof rent, not as acquisitivecapital.32
Sincetownswere merelyarmycampsforpatrimonialtroopsand since
patrimonialinterferencediscouragedinvestmentsin trade and craft
industry,a bourgeoislife-styleand ethicdid not developin Islam.Thus,
Weberconcludedthat the prebendalfeudalismof imperialIslam
is inherentlycontemptuousof bourgeois-commercial
and considersit as sordidgreedinessand as the life forcespecifically
hostileto it.33
Accordingto this thesis (Wi), Islamic values and motives certainly
influenced the way in which Muslims behaved in their economic,

BryanS. Turner


politicaland social activities,but we can only understandwhy these

values and motives were present by studying the socio-economic
conditions(patrimonialdominanceand prebendalfeudalism)which

Weber'stheorythat the 'feudalethic'of Islamwas the resultof Islam

being dependenton a warriorstratumas its social carrier(PE or W)
is factuallywrong. Islam was primarilyurban, commercialand literate.Mecca was strategicallyplacedon the traderoutesbetweenthe
Mediterraneanand the Indian Ocean; Muhammad'sown tribe, the
Quraysh,had achieveda dominantpoliticalpositionbased on their
commercialstrengthin the region. The Prophethimself had been
employedon the caravanswhich broughtByzantinecommoditiesto
the Meccan market.The Qur'an itself is steeped in a commercial
There has been a continuousconflictin Islambetween
the dominanturbanpiety and the valuesof the desert,but this conflict
was also economic.Deserttribesthreatenedthe trade routesand extractedtaxationfrommerchants.Islam provideda culturewhich was
capableof unitingBedouinsand urbanmerchantswithina singlecommunity.Islamwas thusas mucha triumphof townoverdesertas Arab
over Persianand Christian.
Weber'sdescriptionof Islamiclaw was far morevalid and accurate.
Mostscholarshave recognizedthat the Shari'awas an ideal law which
The gap couldonly
alloweda gap to growbetweenidealandpractice.35
be filledby the mostcomplexinstitutionsand legal devices.The problem, then, lies not so much with Weber'sdescriptionof Islamiclaw
but with how that accountwill fit into his explanationof Islamicsocial
backwardness.It is not easy to insertthis view of Islamiclaw into a
theorythat rationallaw is a necessaryconditionfor capitalistdevelopment (pEi thesis).Weberhas alreadyshown that Englishcapitalism
developeddespiteits judge-madelegal systemso that formalrational
law mayhelp capitalistdevelopment,but it cannotbe a necessarycondition. Furthermore,a numberof scholarshave concludedthat the
rigidityof Islamiclaw and its prohibitionof usuryneverreallyinterfered with commerce.36The mainproblemin commerciallife was the
threatthat patrimonialrulerswould seize propertyand goods to pay
off theirtroops.
There does, therefore,seem to be empiricalsupportfor Weber's
final thesis (Wi) that the decline of Islam'smoney economyis to be
explainedin termsof its patrimonialstructure.While therehave been
manydifferentexplanationsof Islamicdeclinein termsof international
trade,demographiccrisesandevenclimate,thereis a widelyheldtheory
that the failureof the rulinginstitutionsof Islamwas closelyconnected

Islam,capitalismandthe Webertheses

Bryan S. Eurner

with problemsof militaryfinance.37There is an old Orientalmaxim

which saysthat
a ruler can have no power without soldiers,no soldierswithout
money, no money without the well-beingof his subjects,and no
By 'justice',the Ottomanjuristsmeantthat the sultanateshouldmaintain a balance between the two halves of society, between askeri
(military,civil serviceand ulema)and reaya(Muslimand non-Muslim
tax-payers).It was the inabilityof the sultanateto insure that each
social stratum fulfilled its special functions,the inability to satisfy
justice,whichweakenedthe fabricof Islamicsociety,particularlyunder
Ultimatelyjusticewas dependenton successfulwarfareand a powerful sultanate.Warfareprovidedbootyand land by whichthe sultanate
couldrewardandpay offretainers.Withoutnewland, tax-farmingand
briberybecamemajormeansof politicalinfluenceandreward.Without
a powerfulsultanate, the complex bureaucraticmachineryof the
Ottomanstatelackeddirectionand purpose.Failureto extendIslam,
the withdrawalof the sultanfrompubliclife and the increasinginefficiency of the militarywere interrelatedaspectsof socialdecline.When
the Ottomanempirereachedits territoriallimits in I570, the state in
searchof revenueto pay oSthe standingarmywasforcedto let imperial
The sipahi(land-owningcavalry)went into decline
fiefsto tax-farmers.
becauseof the growinguse of firearms,but also becausewhen a siibahi
died withoutheir,his landswereappropriatedby the Treasuryand let
out for tax-farming.With the declineof the sipahi,the peasantrywere
at the mercyof the growingclassof avariciousmultezims
the failureof
As the sipahi,peasantryand merchants
the rulinginstitutions,local magnates
beyis)aroseto terrorizethe provinces.
unable to prevent nationalist
These developmentsin Islam were explainedby Weberin termsof
the contradictionsand imbalancesof 'sultanism'as a politicalsystem
(Wi thesis).





Thereare a numberof thesesin Weber'ssociologywhichgive different

explanationsof social, especiallycapitalist,development.I have suggested that only the final thesiswhich explainsthe decline of Islamic
society in termsof certainmilitary-economiccontradictions(Wi) has
the supportof modernresearch.The other three theses (PE, pEi and

Bryan S. Turner


W) suffer from damaging theoreticalambiguityand circularityor

they are factuallyfalse.It is ironic,therefore,that when Muslimreformers came to explainfor themselvesthe apparentfailuresof Islamic
civilization, they used implicitly Weberian arguments, especially
theoriesof individualascetic motivation(thesesPE and PEi) rather
than structuralexplanations(Wi).
The colonial expansionof Europe created an acute problem of
theodicy:if Islamis the true religion,how are infidelsso successfulin
this world? The Muslimanswerto this issue has been sharedby the
Christiansare strongbecausethey are not reallyChristian;Muslims
are weakbecausethey are not reallyMuslim.40
In orderto become'reallyMuslim',it is necessaryto rid Islamof foreign accretionsand to discoveroriginal,pureIslam,whichis seento be
completelycompatiblewith the modern,scientificworld. Pure Islam
is basedon an ascetic,activist,this-worldlyethic. The enemy of both
pureIslamand modernsocietyis a set of attitudes fatalism,passivity,
mysticism which was introducedinto Islam by the Sufis, Berber
maraboutsand relatedgroups.Criticismof Sufismhas been, of course,
a persistentaspectof orthodoxIslamover the centuries,but thereis a
new emphasisin the contemporaryrejectionof Sufimysticism,namely
that it is a drainon economicresourcesandis incompatiblewith asceticismand activism.Expenditureon tombsarldfestivalshas beenwidely
criticized,particularlyin North Africa. Active involvementin this
world thus becamea majortheme of Islamicreformdirectedagainst
Sufi quietism.A favouriteKoranictext of the reformerJamal al-Din
al-Afghani(I839-97) was 'Verily,God does not changethe state of a
people until they have changed themselvesinwardly'.41Similarly,
Rashid Rida assertedthat the first principleof Islam was 'positive
There are, therefore,certaininterestingparallelsbetweenWeber's
accountof Protestantism(PE and PEi) and basic themesof Islamic
reform.Pure Islam and Puritanismsoughtin the basic scripturesof
their religionan ethic which would be free from mystical,ritualistic
accretions.The resultwasa set of normsprescribingasceticism,activism
and responsibility.Yet, the connectionbetweenPuritanasceticismin
Europeand Islamicmodernismin the Middle East is superficialand
derivative.Probablythe mostsignificantdifferenceis the socialcontext
in whichIslamic'puritanism'is located.Islamicreformwas a response,
often apologetic,to an externalmilitaryand culturalthreat;it was an
attemptto answera feelingof inferiorityand frustrationresultingfrom
Western colonialism.Despite the existence of pre-colonialIslamic
'puritanism'(Wahhabism,Hanbalitism),Islamicreformin the modern
periodwas not so much an autonomousdevelopmentas an attemptto


Bryan 5. furner

legitimatethe social consequencesof an exogenouscapitalism.Basic

Islamictermswereconvenientlytranslatedinto Europeanoneswithout
muchrespectfor etymology:
Ibn Khaldun'sumrangraduallyturnedinto Guizot's'civilization',
the maslahaof the Malikijuristsand Ibn Taymiyyainto the 'utility'
of John Stuart Mill, the ijma of Islamicjurisprudenceinto the
'publicopinion'of democratictheory. . .42
The 'ProtestantEthic' of Islam was second-handand it was such becausethe leadersof Islamicmodernismwereeithereducatedby Europeans or accepted European traditions.Weber's ProtestantEthic
theory (thesesPE and PEi) came to fit Islamicmodernizationsimply
becauseMuslimscame to accepta Europeanview of how to achieve
capitalistdevelopment.Reformerslike al-Afgharli,MuhammadAbduh
andRashidRidaacceptedtheview,especiallyasexpressedbyM. Guizot
(GeneralHistoryof Civilizationin Europe),that socialprogressin Europe
had followed the ProtestantReformation.It is no surprisethat alAfghanisaw himselfas the Lutherof Islam.

In this inquiryinto Weber'sview of Islam, I have attemptedto show

that we can plausiblyperceivefourdiffierent
of civilizations.On the basisof contemporaryresearchand theoretical
discussion,threethesescan be dismissedas eitherfalseor theoretically
weak.The fourththesisis that Islamdeclinedand waseventuallyforced
into economicdependenceon Europebecauseit could not solve an
inherent weaknessin what Weber called 'sultanism'.In this final
perspective,Islamicbeliefsare still treatedas influential,but the presence of thesebeliefsratherthan some otherbeliefsis explainedby the
social and economic structure of patrimonialism.When Muslim
reformerscame to understandtheir own economicdecline,they often
employedtheoriesof asceticmotivation,but this fact cannot be taken
as evidencethat asceticismis a necessaryaspectof capitalistdevelopment. The ideologyof hard workin modernIslam was very largelya
I. The exceptions include: Maxime
Robinson, Islam et captalisme,Paris,
Seuil, I966; Ernest Gellner, 'Sanctity,
Puritanism, Secularization, and Nattionalism in North Africa', Archivesde
desReligions,vol. 8 (I963), pp.
Sami Zubaida, 'Economicand

politicalactivismin Islam', Economy

vol. I (I972), pp. 308-38; Robert
J. Bocock,'The Ismailisin Tanzania:a
WeberianAnalysis'Brit. i. Sociol.,vol.
22 (I97I),
pp. 36sqo.
2. A rangeof thesemisconceptions
been exposedand criticizedin Michael

Bryan S. Turner

Islam,capitalismandthe Webertheses

of Religion,London,
Hill, A Sociolog)J
3. Someof theseissuesare discussedin
QuentinSkinner,'The Historyof Ideas',
Htstoryand Theory,vol. 8 ( I 969), pp.
4. H. M. Robertson, Aspectsof the
Riseof Economic
CambridgeUniversityPress,I935, p. Xiii.
5. H. R. Trevor-Roper, Religion,
and Social Change:,
Macmillan,I967, p. 4.
6. Syed Hussein Alatas, 'The Weber
Thesis and South East Asia', Archives
Sociologiedes Religions,vol. 8 ( I 963),

I6. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright

Mills (eds.), FromMax Weber:Essaysin
London,Routledgeand Kegan
Paul, I 96 I, p. 47
I7. Max Weber, 'The Social Causes
of the Decay of Ancient Civilization'
(translated by Christian Mackauer),
vol. 5 (I950), pp.
i. of General


I - 35.

Max Weber, The ProtestantEthic

andtheSpiritof Capitalism
Talcott Parsons),London, Unwin UniversityBooks,I965, p.9I.
8. Cf. Weber's comments on Hans
Delbruckin Paul Honigsheim,On Max
New York,FreePress,I 968, p. 43.
9. For an example of this viewpoint,
cf. Niles M. Hansen, 'The Protestant
Ethic as a General Precondition for
jr. Econ.
andPoliticalSci.,vol. 24 (I963), pp.462474

Talcott Parsons, rhe Structure
Social Action, Glencoe, Illinois, Free
Press,I 949, p.5 I 2.
II. For a commentary, cf. Hisao
Otsuka, 'Max Weber's View of Asian
Society', DevelopingEconomies,vol. 4

( I 966),
I 2.


- 98.

I8. Norman Birnbaum, 'Conflicting
of the Rise of Capitalism:
Marx and Weber',Brit. i. Sociol.,vol. 4


I25 - 4I.

Much of the complexityis discussed in AnthonyGiddens,'Marx,Weber

and the Development of Capitalism,'
Sociol.,vol. 4 ( I 970), pp. 289 - 3 I 0.
20. Paul Walton, 'Ideology and the
Middle Class in Marx and Weber',
Sociol.,vol. 5 ( I 97I ) p 39I *
2 I. C. WrightMills, 'SituatedActions
and Vocabularies of Motive', Amer.
Sociol.Rev.,vol. 5 (I940), pp.904 - I3@
22. Max Weber, Theory of Social
and EconomicOrganization(translated
by A. W. Henderson and Talcott
Parsons),Ne^vYork, Free Press, I966,
23. Cf. Nicholas Lobkowicz,'Marx's
attitudetowardsreligion',Rev.of Politics,
vol. 26, ( I 964), pp.3 I 9 - 52.
24. Weber,op. cit., p. I83.
25. Max Weber, The Sociologyof
(translatedby EphraimFischoff),
London,Methuen, I965, p.72.
26. Ibid., p. 263.
27. Ibid. p. 264.
28. Max Rheinstein(ed.), Max Weber
onLaw in Economy
by EdwardShils and Max Rheinstein),
Cambridge,Mass., HarvardUniversity
Press,I964, p.24I.
29. Ibid., pp. 230-I.
30. Ibid., p. 229.
3 I . Max Weber, in Guenther Roth
and Claus Wittich (eds.), Economy
Society,New York, Bedminster Press,
vol. 3, p. IOI6.
32. Ibid., p. I097.

Peter Berger, 'Charisma and

Religious Innovation:the Social Location of IsraeliteProphecy',Amer.Sociol.
Rev.,vol. 28 (I963), p.950.
I 3. FerdinandKolegar,'The Concept
of "Rationalization"and CulturalPessimism in Max Weber's Sociology',
vol. 5 (I964), p.362.
I4. For an analysisof the meaningof
Islam, Wilfred Cantwell Smith The
MeaningandEndof Religion,New York,
MentorBooks,I 964.
I5. On this problem, cf. John Rex,
'Typology and objectivity:a comment
33. Ibid.,p.II06.
34. This terminologyis analysed in
on Weber's four sociologicalmethods'
in Arun Sahay (ed.), Max Weberand Charles C. Torrey, The CommercialLondon, Routledgeand TheologicalBermsin the Koran,Leiden,
J. Brill, I892.
Kegan Paul, I97I, pp. I7-36.

Bryan S. Turner


35. Various statementsof this situation in Islamic law can be found in:
to Islamic
J. Schacht, An Introduction
Law,Oxford,ClarendonPress,I 964; N.
J. Coulson, A Historyof IslamicLaw,
I 964; N. J. Coulson, 'Doctrine and
Practicein IslamicLaw: One Aspectof
the Problem', Bulletinof the Schoolof
vol. I 8 ( I 956),
pp. 2 I I-26.
36. This point is emphasized by
Rodinson, op. cit. Some aspects of the
legal perspectiveon usurycan be found
in J. Schacht's commentson 'riba' in
of Islam, ISt ed., Leiden,
J. Brill, and London, Luzac, I936, vol.
III, pp. I I48 ff.
37. Differentperspectiveson Islamic
decline can be found in: Hamilton
Gibb and Harold Bowen, Islamic
Societyand the West, Oxford, Oxford
University Press, I 960, vol. I , pt I;
Halil Inalcik, 7CheOttomanEmpire:the
feld and Nicolson, I 973; ClaudeCahen,
'QuelquesMotssurle DeclinCommerical
du Monde Musulman a la Fin du
Moyen Age' in M. A. Cook (ed.),

Historyof theMiddle
Studiesin theEconomic
East, London, Oxford UniversityPress,
J. J. Saunders,'The
I970, pp. 3I-36;
Problemsof Islamic Decadence', 7. of
WorldHistory,vol. 7 (I963), pp. 70I-20.
38. Halil Inalcik 'Turkey'in Robert
Ward and DankwartA. Rustow (eds.),
in Xapan
New Jersey, PrincetonUniversityPress,
I 964, p 43
39. The

controlof trade fell into the

hands of Jews, Greeks,Armeniansand
non-Ottoman merchants. Cf. Traian
Stoianovich, 'The Conquering Balkan
OrthodoxMerchant',i. Econ.Hist., vol.
20 (I960), pp. 234-3I3
40. Albert Hourani,ArabicThought

theLiberalAge,London,OxfordUniversity Press,I962, p. I29.

4I. Cf. Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic
to Imperialism,
sity of CaliforniaPress,I968.
42. Hourani, op. cit. p. 344.
Islamic reform in Asia, cf. W. F.
Wertheim, 'Religious Reform Movements in South and Southeast Asia',
Archivesde Sociologiedes Religions,vol.
I2 (I96I),


pp. 52-62.