From Revelation to Revolution: Muhammad’s Deployment of Strategic Social Construction in Transforming the Ideational Structure of the Arabian Political System - 570 AD

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Oliver, Murray
International Relations Theory , Communications , Political Science , Religion , Islam , Beliefs , Ideas , Constructivism , Middle East History , System Change
There has been relatively little study of system change among scholars of international relations. Several academics have referred to the subject as the “evaded dimension” of IR. The reasons for the omission are complex but include a normative inclination to model stability during the dangerous years of the Cold War and the related preeminence of political realism as the primary theoretical lens of IR analysis. Much of the research work since the Second World War used a technically suitable but distinctly Westphalian template for examining the international system. This approach was perhaps useful for understanding contemporary western IR but may have provided a skewed data set from which scholars could investigate the dynamics of system change. With the Cold War over and the field in the midst of an intellectual expansion, and in the spirit of those scholars who recently called for an IR approach that isn’t “owned and operated by Europe” (referring specifically to Security Communities), this study seeks to suggest an alternerative historical model of system change - one based less upon the explanatory utility of force or interest, but of ideas. Using the “constructivist” lens of analysis, this paper seeks to show how the founder of the Islamic faith, the Prophet Muhammad, used what we recognize today as “strategic social construction” to subvert key social institutions of the tribal-state system of Arabia in 570 AD. His phased efforts at deploying new normative arrangements steadily eroded the structure of ideas on which the system depended. As the “mutual constitution” of personal and system identification began to collapse, a new structure arose based upon reconfigured identities among a new super-tribe of Muslims, the Umma. This case study provides an insight into a period of history many in the west conventionally view as a violent conquest. This alternative ideational explanation is possibly a useful counterpoint, as well as a supplement to existing historical data on system change. Finally, there are modern, real-world applications that are briefly discussed at the conclusion.
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