Religious Dissent in Premodern Islam: Political Usage of Heresy and Apostasy in Nizam Al-Mulk and Ibn Taymiyya

  • Bettina Koch
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Heresy, along with other heterodox beliefs or defiance, is associated with and often understood as an expression of dissent. Religious heterodoxy is of relatively minor political relevance in secular states as compared to states (i.e., any sociopolitical entity with a ruling function) that use religion as a primary foundation of their legitimacy. In a religious state or a state that uses religion as one of its foundations, expressions of heterodox belief create an “otherness,” implying tacit or open dissent. As John B. Henderson points out, the “otherness” that originates within a culture is perceived as more dangerous than a threat that comes from the outside world, whether from a foreign nation or culture.1 In contrast, identifying and affiliating with the orthodox religion “serves also as a mark for political affiliation.”2 Similarly, not being affiliated with the orthodox belief allows for suspicion that a person does not fully accept the political affiliation and is not fully committed to the obedience that the state or other form of political rule might demand. A state’s dependence on religious orthodoxy for legitimacy, however, is double-edged. This association not only demands that citizens or subjects be seen as affiliated with the orthodox belief but for those in leadership positions to do the same. If the orthodoxy of the leaders is questioned, their political legitimacy may be jeopardized.3 Generally speaking, the interaction between orthodoxy and power applies to all religions that are used, in one way or another, to legitimize political power. However, the ways in which orthodoxy can be created and maintained differ depending on the religion that is used as a source of legitimacy.


Death Penalty Muslim Community Prominent Scholar Islamic Philosophy Religious Orthodoxy 
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© Karen Bollermann, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Cary J. Nederman 2014

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  • Bettina Koch

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