chapter  1
20 Pages

The Nature of Arab Unity before IslamG.E. von Grunebaum

Arab sense of identity was stronger than that of the Hellenistic Greeks \ need not be decided. The parallel stands, and the attitude has persisted into the modern age. As late as November, 1 9 1 6 , T. E. Lawrence writes of the Higazis: ". . . their idea of nationality is the independence of tribes and parishes and their idea of national union is episodic, combined resistance to an intruder1' 2.If it is true that "culture is a unity insofar as it is tied to a bounded social structure" 3 this structure cannot, in pre-Islamic Arabia, be identified with the individual tribe or other political unit, in spite of the fact that the culture of Northern and North Central Arabia was far from uniform, but rather with the elusive larger community of the Kullurnation. The community was, as will be seen, more securely felt than named-the adjective "Arabic" is reliably traceable only in the Koran 4 and the "Arab" is almost excluded from poetry (but not infrequently admitted to prose) 5.Indeed, the sources almost forcibly mislead one into underrating the reality of the idea that the pre-Islamic Arabs constituted a unity. Yet it must not be forgotten that within a very few years Muhammad and Islam transformed the Arab Kulturnaiion into a Staatsnation In fact, with a certain overextension of the terms, the whole history of the Arabs after Islam can be briefly sketched by saying that after having enjoyed the status of a Staatsnation with almost unparalleled effectiveness for rather more than a century, they gradually reverted to being a Kultnrnation from which during the last hundred years they have been in the process of growing again into a Staatsnation, at the present moment maintaining a balance between the two principles of cohesion which has its 1. S u b h I W a u I d a , U s i i l a l - m a s 'a la a l - m i s r i y y a (Cairo, 1950), pp. 1 7 - 1 8 . 2. S ecre t D is p a tc h e s f r o m A r a b ia (London, 1939), p. 39. quoted b y E .