In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islam in Post-Ottoman Syria

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Twelver Shiism

Islamic Studies Islam in Post-Ottoman Syria
Thomas Pierret
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0229


Like much of the research on modern Islam, scholarly interest in Islam in Syria has been encouraged to a great extent by the perceived political relevance of the subject. For most of the 20th century, Islamic forces took a backseat in Syria’s political life, which was successively dominated by French colonial authorities, liberal notables, and finally secular-minded—most notably Baathist—army officers. Yet, by the late 1970s, the brutal suppression of a Sunni Islamist uprising at the hands of an Alawite-dominated regime highlighted the fact that religious identities were a crucial dividing line within the country’s polity. It also suggested that, were the political order to change, Islamic forces would play a leading role in it. The failed Islamist uprising, the ensuing relaxation of state secularism and, consequently, the growing visibility of Islamic religiosity in Syria gave rise to a growing number of academic publications at the turn of the 21st century. After 2011, previous interrogations about the possible rise of Islamic forces in the country’s future found a spectacular answer when jihadi groups such as the Islamic State organization took advantage of the civil war and partial state collapse to build their own, sharia-based political order. This bibliography is divided into four sections. The first three sections concern Sunni Islam during, successively, the late Ottoman and French Mandate eras, the phase stretching from independence in 1946 to the 2011 uprising, and the ensuing civil war. The research agenda for each of these phases has been shaped by a specific set of concerns and interrogations. The scholarship on the pre-independence era is dominated by the question of modernity, as virtually all authors inquired into the impact of rapid social change upon the various expressions of Islam, be it Islamic modernism, grudging adaptation on the part of conservatives, or outright disappearance of certain practices. Research on the postcolonial era predominantly focuses on the conflicts and adjustments between Baathist secularism and the Islamic trend. Independent Syria’s pre-Baathist era (1946–1963) was included in this section because it is generally not dealt with on its own, but rather as a historical background to accounts that actually focus on later periods in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood and of state policies in matters of religion. As for the literature on the current civil war, it is largely devoted to the most radical expressions of Islam, namely, jihadi militancy. Scholarly attention to non-Sunni Islamic traditions was also largely driven by political realities, namely, Alawite domination over the state, and the Assad regime’s alliance with Twelver Shiʿa Iran. Other non-Sunni traditions (Druzism and Ismailism) feature far less prominently in the bibliography. All of these traditions are dealt with in a separate fourth section. This choice results from the fact that most relevant studies span across relatively long periods of time, thus not easily lending themselves to the tripartite periodization adopted for Sunni Islam.

General Overviews

The two useful surveys presented here are characterized by distinct approaches that owe much to the disciplinary specialization of their authors. Whereas Commins, et al. 2013 focuses on historical and political dimensions, Pinto 2007 adopts an anthropological viewpoint.

  • Commins, David, Itzchak Weismann, and Eyal Zisser. “Syria.” In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. c. 2013.

    A broad, regularly updated historical survey of Islam in Syria from the Arab conquest to the post-2011 civil war, with a particular focus on the last two centuries. Includes an indicative bibliography.

  • Pinto, Paulo. “Religions et religiosité en Syrie.” In La Syrie au présent. Reflets d’une société. Edited by Baudouin Dupret, Zouhair Ghazzal, Youssef Courbage, and Mohammed Al-Dbiyat, 323–358. Paris: Actes Sud, 2007.

    An introduction to the different forms of religiosity (including non-Muslim ones) in Syria. Provides an overview of the secondary literature as well as analyses derived from the author’s own fieldwork.

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