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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 Weberianscholar-
ship 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 whichexistconcerningWeber's
analysis of religion and capitalism.
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 rationalcapit-
alism 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. PH.D. Lecturerin Sociology,King'sCollege,University
of Aberdeen
Bryan 5. Turner Islam,catitalismandtheWebertheses

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 disagree-
mentscould emergeeitherthroughgrossmisunderstanding of Weber's
sociologyor becauseWeber'ssociologyitself containsdifferent theses
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 thatbeliefsareindepen-
dent (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
conceptof 'understanding' in Weber'sphilosophyof science.Finally,
the secondWeberthesis(Wi) underlinesthe continuitybetweenMarx
and Weberby showingthat Webercontinuouslydrawsattentionto the
ways in which beliefs are shaped by their socio-economiccontexts.
Webershowedthat Islamicinstitutionswere incompatiblewith capi-
talism becausethey had been dominatedby a long historyof patri-
monialism.Islamicbeliefswere certainlyinfluentialbut still secondary
to patrimonialconditioning.Unfortunately,this thesis was also held
alongsideotherinterpretations 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 Islam,capitalism
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 sup-
port 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
he insistedthatthe theorythatcapitalism
EthicandtheSpiritof CAapitalism,
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 marketmove-
ments. It is sometimesarguedin additionthat Weberhad a general
schemeto set up an experimentaltest of PEi by cross-cultural compari-
son. 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 consequentlyunder-
states 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 C7hinaand TheReligionof Indiaconcerningbureaucracy,patrimonial-
ism 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 Islam,catitalismandtheWebertheses

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'betweensocialmeanings.
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 commen-
tatorswho treat Weber'stheoryof capitalismand Protestantismas a
simplecausalaccountof economicdevelopment.For Kolegar,Weber
attemptedto demonstratethe 'mutualreinforcement'betweenecono-
mic 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
hendeErklarung) involvesthe philologicalinterpretationof actor'scon-
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 em-
bitteredby Germanpolitics,he gaveincreasingprominenceto 'material'
factors.A considerationof Weber'spublic lectureat Freiburgin I896
on ancient civilizationshows, however, a consistantMarxistunder-
currentin 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 Grundrissehaveenormouslycomplicated
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 specificsocio-
economiccontexts.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 atheisticcam-
paign.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 avail-
able for describingand explainingactionsare determinedby socio-


Weberstartedby recognizingthat Meccan Islam was a monotheistic

religionbased on ethical prophecywhich rejectedmagic. Given that
Allah was all powerfuland omniscient,and man predestined,asceti-
cismcouldhaveemergedas 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 Islam,capitalism theses

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 territorialad-
ventureand 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 en-
abled Islam to reach its conqueredsubjectsthroughtheir indigenous
symbolismand ritual.Sufimysticismthusintroducedmagical,orgiastic
elementsinto Islam and watereddown its monotheism.The combina-
tion of a warriorreligiositywith mysticalacceptanceof the worldpro-
duced all the
characteristicsof a distinctivelyfeudal spirit; the obviously un-
questionedacceptanceof 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 feudalstagna-
tion.At thislevelof argumentit wouldbe all tooeasytointerpretWeber
as postulatingthat Islam did not producecapitalismbecauseit had
a cultureincompatiblewith the spiritof capitalism(PE thesis).Alter-
natively, 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 eachcaseaccord-
ing to purely arbitraryfactors.The paradigmaticcase of such law,
in Weber'sview, was that of the qadiwhojudgeseach caseon personal,
BryanS. Turner Islam,catitalism
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 ex-
tendedsystematicallyto 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 capitalistdevelop-
ment, namelya systematicformallaw tradition(pEi thesis).
The standardsociologicalinterpretationof Weberon law is that he
held a strongthesis (PEi) that rationalformallaw is a necessarypre-
requisiteof rationalcapitalismand,as a result,crudeeconomicexplana-
tions 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
resembled'khadi justice to an extent unknown on the Continent'.
Weberwent on to observethat 'adjudicationby honoratores'on con-
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 capitalistcontrac-
tual relations.Similarly,the instabilityof qadijustice and the inflexi-
bility 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.Further-
more,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 sub-
jects; 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 compara-
tively safe frominterference.These investmentsencouragedan exten-
sive 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 utilitarianism
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 andtheWeber
Islam,capitalism theses

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 lit-
erate.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
terminology.34 There has been a continuousconflictin Islambetween
the dominanturbanpiety and the valuesof the desert,but this conflict
was also economic.Deserttribesthreatenedthe trade routesand ex-
tractedtaxationfrommerchants.Islam provideda culturewhich was
capableof unitingBedouinsand urbanmerchantswithina singlecom-
munity.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
alloweda gap to growbetweenidealandpractice.35 The gap couldonly
be filledby the mostcomplexinstitutionsand legal devices.The prob-
lem, 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 capitalistdevelop-
ment (pEi thesis).Weberhas alreadyshown that Englishcapitalism
developeddespiteits judge-madelegal systemso that formalrational
law mayhelp capitalistdevelopment,but it cannotbe a necessarycon-
dition. Furthermore,a numberof scholarshave concludedthat the
rigidityof Islamiclaw and its prohibitionof usuryneverreallyinter-
fered 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
Bryan S. Eurner Islam,capitalismandthe Webertheses

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 sultanateshouldmain-
tain 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 power-
ful 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 increasingineffi-
ciency of the militarywere interrelatedaspectsof socialdecline.When
the Ottomanempirereachedits territoriallimits in I570, the state in
searchof revenueto pay oSthe standingarmywasforcedto let imperial
fiefsto tax-farmers.The sipahi(land-owningcavalry)went into decline
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 (tax-farmers).
As the sipahi,peasantryand merchants declined with the failureof
the rulinginstitutions,local magnates (Ayan) and small dynasts (Dere-
beyis)aroseto terrorizethe provinces. As a political entity, Islam was
unable to prevent nationalist movements in the Balkans, unable to
excludeEuropeancolonists and unable to develop its own industry and
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 sug-
gested 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 Islam,capitalism
W) suffer from damaging theoreticalambiguityand circularityor
they are factuallyfalse.It is ironic,therefore,that when Muslimrefor-
mers 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 for-
eign 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 asceti-
cismand 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 Islam,capitalism
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 be-
causethe leadersof Islamicmodernismwereeithereducatedby Euro-
peans 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 al-
Afghanisaw himselfas the Lutherof Islam.

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

that we can plausiblyperceivefourdiffierent thesesinWeber'ssociology
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 pres-
ence 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 capitalistdevelop-
ment. The ideologyof hard workin modernIslam was very largelya

I. The exceptions include: Maxime politicalactivismin Islam', Economy and
Robinson, Islam et captalisme,Paris, Society, vol. I (I972), pp. 308-38; Robert
Seuil, I966; Ernest Gellner, 'Sanctity, J. Bocock,'The Ismailisin Tanzania:a
Puritanism, Secularization, and Nat- WeberianAnalysis'Brit. i. Sociol.,vol.
tionalism in North Africa', Archivesde 22 (I97I), pp. 36sqo.
SociologiedesReligions,vol. 8 (I963), pp. 2. A rangeof thesemisconceptions has
7I-86; Sami Zubaida, 'Economicand been exposedand criticizedin Michael
Bryan S. Turner Islam,capitalismandthe Webertheses

of Religion,London,
Hill, A Sociolog)J I6. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright
Heinemann,I973. Mills (eds.), FromMax Weber:Essaysin
3. Someof theseissuesare discussedin London,Routledgeand Kegan
QuentinSkinner,'The Historyof Ideas', Paul, I 96 I, p. 47
Htstoryand Theory,vol. 8 ( I 969), pp. I7. Max Weber, 'The Social Causes

3-53 of the Decay of Ancient Civilization'

4. H. M. Robertson, Aspectsof the (translated by Christian Mackauer),
Riseof Economic i. of General vol. 5 (I950), pp.
CambridgeUniversityPress,I935, p. Xiii. 75-88.
5. H. R. Trevor-Roper, Religion, I8. Norman Birnbaum, 'Conflicting
Reformationand Social Change:,London, of the Rise of Capitalism:
Macmillan,I967, p. 4. Marx and Weber',Brit. i. Sociol.,vol. 4
6. Syed Hussein Alatas, 'The Weber (I953), pp. I25 - 4I.
Thesis and South East Asia', Archives de I9.Much of the complexityis discus-
Sociologiedes Religions,vol. 8 ( I 963), sed in AnthonyGiddens,'Marx,Weber
pp.2 I - 35. and the Development of Capitalism,'
7. Max Weber, The ProtestantEthic Sociol.,vol. 4 ( I 970), pp. 289 - 3 I 0.
andtheSpiritof Capitalism (translatedby 20. Paul Walton, 'Ideology and the
Talcott Parsons),London, Unwin Uni- Middle Class in Marx and Weber',
versityBooks,I965, p.9I. Sociol.,vol. 5 ( I 97I ) p 39I *
8. Cf. Weber's comments on Hans 2 I. C. WrightMills, 'SituatedActions
Delbruckin Paul Honigsheim,On Max and Vocabularies of Motive', Amer.
Weber, New York,FreePress,I 968, p. 43. Sociol.Rev.,vol. 5 (I940), pp.904 - I3@
9. For an example of this viewpoint, 22. Max Weber, Theory of Social
cf. Niles M. Hansen, 'The Protestant and EconomicOrganization(translated
Ethic as a General Precondition for by A. W. Henderson and Talcott
EconomicDevelopment',Canad. jr. Econ. Parsons),Ne^vYork, Free Press, I966,
andPoliticalSci.,vol. 24 (I963), pp.462- p.98.

474 23. Cf. Nicholas Lobkowicz,'Marx's

Talcott Parsons, rhe Structure
IO. of attitudetowardsreligion',Rev.of Politics,
Social Action, Glencoe, Illinois, Free vol. 26, ( I 964), pp.3 I 9 - 52.
Press,I 949, p.5 I 2. 24. Weber,op. cit., p. I83.
II. For a commentary, cf. Hisao 25. Max Weber, The Sociologyof
Otsuka, 'Max Weber's View of Asian Religion (translatedby EphraimFischoff),
Society', DevelopingEconomies,vol. 4 London,Methuen, I965, p.72.
( I 966), pp.275 - 98. 26. Ibid., p. 263.
Peter Berger, 'Charisma and
I 2. 27. Ibid. p. 264.
Religious Innovation:the Social Loca- 28. Max Rheinstein(ed.), Max Weber
tion of IsraeliteProphecy',Amer.Sociol. onLaw in Economy andSociety(translated
Rev.,vol. 28 (I963), p.950. by EdwardShils and Max Rheinstein),
I 3. FerdinandKolegar,'The Concept Cambridge,Mass., HarvardUniversity
of "Rationalization"and CulturalPes- Press,I964, p.24I.
simism in Max Weber's Sociology', 29. Ibid., pp. 230-I.
Sociological vol. 5 (I964), p.362.
Quarterly, 30. Ibid., p. 229.
I4. For an analysisof the meaningof 3 I . Max Weber, in Guenther Roth
Islam, Wilfred Cantwell Smith The and Claus Wittich (eds.), Economy and
MeaningandEndof Religion,New York, Society,New York, Bedminster Press,
MentorBooks,I 964. I968, vol. 3, p. IOI6.
I5. On this problem, cf. John Rex, 32. Ibid., p. I097.
'Typology and objectivity:a comment 33. Ibid.,p.II06.
on Weber's four sociologicalmethods' 34. This terminologyis analysed in
in Arun Sahay (ed.), Max Weberand Charles C. Torrey, The Commercial-
Modern London, Routledgeand TheologicalBermsin the Koran,Leiden,
Kegan Paul, I97I, pp. I7-36. J. Brill, I892.
Bryan S. Turner Islam,catitalismandtheWebertheses
35. Various statementsof this situa- Studiesin theEconomicHistoryof theMiddle
tion in Islamic law can be found in: East, London, Oxford UniversityPress,
J. Schacht, An Introduction to Islamic I970, pp. 3I-36; J. J. Saunders,'The
Law,Oxford,ClarendonPress,I 964; N. Problemsof Islamic Decadence', 7. of
J. Coulson, A Historyof IslamicLaw, WorldHistory,vol. 7 (I963), pp. 70I-20.
Edinburgh,EdinburghUniversityPress, 38. Halil Inalcik 'Turkey'in Robert
I 964; N. J. Coulson, 'Doctrine and Ward and DankwartA. Rustow (eds.),
Practicein IslamicLaw: One Aspectof PoliticalModernization andTurkey,
in Xapan
the Problem', Bulletinof the Schoolof New Jersey, PrincetonUniversityPress,
Oriental vol. I 8 ( I 956),
andAfricanStudies, I 964, p 43
pp. 2 I I-26. 39. Thecontrolof trade fell into the
36. This point is emphasized by hands of Jews, Greeks,Armeniansand
Rodinson, op. cit. Some aspects of the non-Ottoman merchants. Cf. Traian
legal perspectiveon usurycan be found Stoianovich, 'The Conquering Balkan
in J. Schacht's commentson 'riba' in OrthodoxMerchant',i. Econ.Hist., vol.
Encyclopedia of Islam, ISt ed., Leiden, 20 (I960), pp. 234-3I3
J. Brill, and London, Luzac, I936, vol. 40. Albert Hourani,ArabicThought
III, pp. I I48 ff. theLiberalAge,London,OxfordUniver-
37. Differentperspectiveson Islamic sity Press,I962, p. I29.
decline can be found in: Hamilton 4I. Cf. Nikki R. Keddie, An Islamic
Gibb and Harold Bowen, Islamic Response to Imperialism, Berkeley,Univer-
Societyand the West, Oxford, Oxford sity of CaliforniaPress,I968.
University Press, I 960, vol. I , pt I; 42. Hourani, op. cit. p. 344. On
Halil Inalcik, 7CheOttomanEmpire:the Islamic reform in Asia, cf. W. F.
Classical Age1300I600, London,Weiden- Wertheim, 'Religious Reform Move-
feld and Nicolson, I 973; ClaudeCahen, ments in South and Southeast Asia',
'QuelquesMotssurle DeclinCommerical Archivesde Sociologiedes Religions,vol.
du Monde Musulman a la Fin du I2 (I96I), pp. 52-62.
Moyen Age' in M. A. Cook (ed.),