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Trade and Geography in the Origins and Spread of Islam

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Abstract

This research examines the economic origins and spread of Islam in the Old World and uncovers two empirical regularities. First, Muslim countries and ethnic groups exhibit highly unequal regional agricultural endowments. Second, Muslim adherence is systematically higher along the pre-Islamic trade routes. We discuss the possible mechanisms that may give rise to the observed pattern and provide a simple theoretical argument that highlights the interplay between an unequal geography and proximity to lucrative trade routes. We argue that these elements exacerbated inequalities across diverse tribal societies producing a conflictual environment that had the potential to disrupt trade flows. Any credible movement attempting to centralize these heterogeneous populations had to offer moral and economic rules addressing the underlying economic inequalities. Islam was such a movement. In line with this conjecture, we utilize anthropological information on precolonial traits of African ethnicities and show that Muslim groups have distinct economic, political, and societal arrangements featuring a subsistence pattern skewed towards animal husbandry, more equitable inheritance rules, and more politically centralized societies with a strong belief in a moralizing God.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Brown University, Department of Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2012-12.

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Date of creation: 2012
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Handle: RePEc:bro:econwp:2012-12

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Postal: Department of Economics, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912

Related research

Keywords: Religion; Islam; Geography; Redistribution; Land Inequality; Africa; Wealth Inequality; Trade.;

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  1. Jean-Philippe Platteau, 2008. "Religion, Politics, and Development: Lessons from the Lands of Islam," Working Papers, Economic Research Forum 434, Economic Research Forum, revised Sep 2008.
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Cited by:
  1. Binzel, Christine & Carvalho, Jean-Paul, 2013. "Education, Social Mobility and Religious Movements: A Theory of the Islamic Revival in Egypt," IZA Discussion Papers 7259, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Stelios Michalopoulos & Elias Papaioannou, 2012. "National Institutions and Subnational Development in Africa," NBER Working Papers 18275, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Michalopoulos, Stelios & Papaioannou, Elias, 2013. "National Institutions and Subnational Development in Africa," CAGE Online Working Paper Series, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) 154, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
  4. Ned Augenblick & Jesse M. Cunha & Ernesto Dal Bó & Justin M. Rao, 2012. "The Economics of Faith: Using an Apocalyptic Prophecy to Elicit Religious Beliefs in the Field," NBER Working Papers 18641, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Boris Gershman, 2013. "The Economic Origins of the Evil Eye Belief," Working Papers, American University, Department of Economics 2013-14, American University, Department of Economics.

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