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KURU, Ahmet T.

Islam, authoritharianism and underdevelopment

From the twelfth to the fourteenth century, the Seljuk model of the ulema– state alliance spread to other Sunni states in Andalus, Egypt, and Syria, particularly the Mamluks. The Crusader and Mongol invasions accelerated the spread of this alliance because Muslim communities sought refuge from the chaos of foreign invasion in military and religious authorities. Later, around the sixteenth century, Muslims established three powerful military empires: the Sunni Ottoman, the Shii Safavid, and the Sunni-run (but non-sectarian) Mughal Empires. These empires established versions of the ulema–state alliance in territories extending from the Balkans to Bengal.

While the Muslim world was losing its intellectual and economic momentum, Western European progress began. In the second half of the eleventh century, three transformations occurred in Western Europe. First, the Catholic Church and royal authorities tried and failed to dominate one another, leading to the institutionalization of the separation between them as a  modus vivendi . This substantially contributed to decentralization and balance of power among Western European actors and institutions. Second, universities started to be established and provided an institutional basis for the gradual emergence and increasing influence of the intellectual class. Many revolutionary thinkers, from Aquinas to Luther, from Copernicus to Galileo and Newton, would be university graduates and professors. Third, the merchant class, which would be the engine of Western European economic breakthroughs, began to flourish. These new relations among religious, political, intellectual, and economic classes eventually drove various progressive processes, including the Renaissance, the printing revolution, geographical explorations, the Protestant Reformation, the scientific revolution, the American and French Revolutions, and the Industrial Revolution. As a result of these processes, Western Europe surpassed its once-superior competitors, the Muslim world and China.

My analysis actually explains that the ulema–state alliance is neither an essential part of the Quran and hadiths nor a permanent feature of Islamic history. Early Islamic history includes examples of religion–state s