Subject Headings for Political and Revolutionary Islamist Movements

ANSS Subject and Bibliographic Access Committee

Question/Answer on cataloging issues – June 2016

By Shonn Haren, Wichita State University Libraries

Question: What are the subject headings used to describe Political and Revolutionary Islamist Movements?

This is actually a somewhat complicated question, as the definition of “Islamism” itself is somewhat disputed.  To begin with, a distinction must be made between Islam, the religious faith of over 1 Billion people, and Islamism, a political ideology that claims the tenets of Islam as its primary basis.  While specific interpretations of Islamism vary from group to group, The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World provides the following characteristics as a good basic overall definition of the ideology:

  • A belief that exsisting political, economic and social systems have failed.
  • A disenchantment or outright rejection of “the West” as a model for modernization and development.
  • A Quest for greater authenticity.
  • A Conviction that Islam provides a self-sufficient ideology for state and society, and exists as a valid alternative to secular nationalism, socialism and capitalism as a model for development and modernization. (Oxford Encyc. Of Mod. Islam, 1995).

While Islamism is a rejection of the West as a model for modernization and development in the Islamic world, it cannot be stated that the ideology is a rejection of modernization in general.  Indeed, science, technology and technical education have all been embraced by many Islamist movements, with the caveat that the pace and extent of the changes promised by these modernizing elements be subordinated to Islamic traditions, beliefs and practices.

However, beyond this basic, overarching description of a rejection of the Western model of modernity and development and the demand for an Islamic alternative, Islamism is a remarkably diverse ideology encompassing disparate groups ranging from reformist parties such as the Ennadha Movement and the AK Party (which currently govern Tunisia and Turkey, respectively), to the various national manifestations of quasi-political Muslim Brotherhood (originally founded in Egypt in 1928), to, on the opposite extreme, movements engaged in acts of violence and terrorism, including (but by no means limited to) Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaida and the self-described “Islamic State.”  This confusing diversity of ideological expressions has led to an equally diverse collection of descriptions for the ideology in general.  In addition to “Islamist,” one finds these groups described as “Political Islam,” “Islamic Fundamentalism,” and so forth.  Indeed, this confusion extends into the LCSH itself, which directs that, in place of Islamism, one is to use the following headings:

  • Islamic fundamentalism (may subd geog)

In addition to geographic subdivision, the Islamic Fundamentalism subject heading also has another more specific variant, dealing with this subject in literature:

  • Islamic fundamentalism in literature (no subd geog)

As these subject headings are admittedly limited for discussing the full range of topics surrounding Islamism, the following subject headings may also prove useful:

  • Islamic Renewal (may subd geog)
  • Islamic countries
  • Islamic law (particularly useful, as this is the term the LCSH uses for Sharia)
  • Constitutional law (Islamic law)
  • Islamic law – Sources (with the narrower terms)
    • Fatwas (binding statements of orthodoxy and practice as issued by recognized Islamic religious authorities)
    • Hadith (A corpus of traditional writings detailing the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, which form a key part of the Islamic canon)
  • Islamic leadership
  • Jihad
  • Jihad in the Qu’ran

The following LCSH dealing with recent historical events may also be useful in searches dealing with Islamism, as this ideology directly affected, or was in some way involved in all of the following events:

  • Egypt – History – British occupation – 1882-1936
  • Iran – History – Revolution – 1979
  • Arab Spring 2010-
  • Egypt – History – Protests, 2011

Searches for Islamism also inevitably include the names of a large number of different individuals and movements within its greater ideological sphere.  This can be difficult as many of the names in question are transliterated from Arabic, Farsi, or a variety of other languages from the region.  For example, consider the following Islamist political parties:

  • Ikhwan al-Musilimun = Muslim Brotherhood
  • Jam’iyat al Ikhwan al-Musilimun = Muslim Brotherhood (specific to Egypt)
  • Jama’at-I Islami-yi Pakistan = Jamaat i-Islami (Pakistani political party)
  • Harakat al-Nahdah = Ennadha Movement (current ruling party in Tunisia)
  • AK Parti (Turkey) = Justice and Development Party (current ruling party in Turkey)

The same proves true for groups on the radical end of the Islamist spectrum, such as:

  • Harakat al-Jihad al-Islami fi Filastin = Islamic Jihad
  • Hizballah (Lebanon) = Hezbollah
  • Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyah = Hamas
  • Qaida (Organization) = Al-Qaida
    • Note – there are specifc subject headings for regional branches of Al-Qaida such as:
    • Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Organization)
    • Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb
    • Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent
  • IS (Organization) = ISIS, ISIL, Da’ish, Islamic State, etc…

There are also a number of individuals whose intellectual or political contributions to Islamism make them potentially useful subjects to search.  While the following is by no means intended as an exhaustive list, these names may be particularly helpful:

  • Khomeini, Ruhollah
    • Noted Iranian cleric who galvanized the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and served as it’s first “supreme leader.” Khomeini is probably the most prominent Islamist thinker in Shia Islam, and his vision for an Islamic state (currently embodied in the Islamic Republic of Iran) is unique for its emphasis on direct rule by the Islamic clergy.
  • Banna, Hasan 1906-1949
    • Hasan al-Banna was an Egyptian school teacher who, in 1928 founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Banna organized the group to advocate for a return to Islamic law and custom in Egypt, as well as full Egyptian independence from its British colonial overlords.  While Banna was assassinated in 1949, his group has survived to be the oldest and longest-lasting Islamist group, influencing and inspiring both political and revolutionary Islamist groups throughout the Middle East.
  • Maudoodi, Syed Abul ‘Ala, 1903-1979
    • One of the earliest advocates of political Islamism, Maudoodi founded the Jaamat-I Islami party, a key political party in Pakistan.
  • Qutb, Sayyid, 1906-1966
    • An Egyptian schoolteacher and writer, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1940’s and was later imprisoned and tortured by the Nasser Government. While in prison, Qutb authored two books Milestones, and In the Shadow of the Qu’ran. In these works, Qutb argued that governments in the Islamic world exist for the sole purpose of upholding Islamic law, and when they fail to do so, they fall into a state “Jahiliyyah” (a form of pre-Islamic ignorance or apostasy).  When such a fall occurs, Qutb argues, it becomes the duty of all orthodox Muslims to overthrow that regime and restore the law, to fail to do so is tantamount to apostasy.  While Qutb was executed in 1966 by the Egyptian government for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the Nasser government, his works have been highly influential among revolutionary Islamists, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current head of Al-Qaida.
  • Mursi, Muhammad, 1951-
    • A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Mursi was the first democratically elected head of state in Egyptian history.  Mursi came to power in the aftermath of the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring, however his period of leadership was brief, after only a year of power, Mursi himself was overthrown by a military coup.  He was convicted in 2015 after a controversial trial that was internationally criticized and is currently in prison awaiting execution.
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