Futuwwa (Arabic: فتوة, "young-manliness" or "chivalry") is a Sufi term that has some similarities to chivalry and virtue. It was also a name of ethical urban organizations or "guilds" in medieval Muslim realms that emphasised honesty, peacefulness, gentleness, generosity, avoidance of complaint and hospitality in life. According to Ibn Battuta, a member was called fata (youth, pl. fityan) and group leaders were called akhi.
In modern-day Egypt, the term is used for youths who try to do quasi-chivalrous acts such as helping others resist intimidation by rival group.
Through membership of a futuwwa order, artisans and craftsmen were linked in a social connection that stabilized local communities and balanced the power of the aristocracy. Some were the equivalent of trades-guilds, constituted with a Sufi ideology along with preference for self-government. Their precise historical origins are obscure.
Futuwwa groups often influenced the course of political events. Different futuwwa leaders could have serious rivalries. Members were united through the practices of Sufi worship and a form of common property. Patched robes of Sufi were called libas al-futuwa.
The leader of the group would furnish a hospice where, at the end of the workday, members would bring money to buy food and drink. They entertained travelers with elaborate banquets or, if no traveler came that day, enjoyed the feast themselves with song and dance. They also supported charities (vakif).
Warriors of the Faith were warbands or warrior guilds. Some were just glorified bands of brigands. In the 12th century in Damascus, Ibn Jubayr wrote of an organization called the Nubuya that fought Shi'a Muslims in Syria. The Abbasid Caliph an-Nasir (1158–1225) approved of and supported futuwwa. In 1182 he organized a warrior futuwwa order that was for all practical purposes a knightly order with mounted warriors. He became the head of this order and gathered ruling princes and other notables to its membership. It continued for some time after the death of its founder.
This military futuwa was also practiced by Javans, mercenary soldiers of 10th and 11th centuries in Khurasan, Persia (although they may have also had non-Muslim soldiers amongst them). Apparently it may have been a model for janissaries.
Futuwa became a topic for European orientalists after being mentioned in a work by Franz Taeschner. Later it was studied by Claude Cahen as a social phenomenon of medieval Iraq and Turkey.
Modern reuse of the name
Al-Futuwa was also an Arabic name of the Arab-nationalist Young Arab Association founded in 1913 in Paris during the First World War. It was also the name of a Hitler-Jugend style pan Arab fascist nationalistic youth movement that existed in Iraq in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1938 the Al-Futuwwa youth organization sent a delegate to the Nuremberg Nazi party rally, and in turn hosted the Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach.
Besides espousing a fanatic Pan-Arabism, the Futuwwa adopted a frankly totalitarian ideology.
The Daily Telegraph wrote that although Saddam Hussein never acknowledged the training of a youth brigade, he has, in several past speeches, spoken admiringly of the Hitler Youth. It is widely believed that he belonged to the Futuwa, paramilitary youth organisation which was modelled on the Hitler Youth and was formed in Baghdad in the late 1950s.
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- Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 1990, Volume 2, Israel Gutman, p. 716
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- telegraph.co.uk: "'You boys you are the seeds from which our great President Saddam will rise again'" 27 Apr 2003