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THE HEART OF ISLAM: Enduring Values for Humanity

That is his charity. This love for the Prophet also entails love and respect for other messengers, to which the Quran refers so frequently. Even the Islamic definition of faith al-imdn states the necessity of having faith in God, His angels, and His messengers, not only His messenger. Believe in God and His messenger and the Scripture which He has revealed unto His messenger and the Scripture which He revealed before.

Through this pronouncement along with the first shahadah a person formally becomes a Muslim. It had met Judaism and Christianity in its birthplace in Arabia and afterward in Palestine, Syria, and Egypt; the Iranian religions such as Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism after its conquest of Persia in the seventh cen- tury; Hinduism and Buddhism in eastern Persia and India shortly thereafter; the Chinese religions through the Silk Route as well as through Muslim merchants who traveled to Canton and other Chinese ports; the African religions soon after the spread of Islam into Black Africa some four- teen hundred years ago; and Siberian Shamanism in the form of the archaic religions of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples as they descended into the Islamic world.

Indian Muslims had come to know of Krishna and Rama a thousand years ago. The Persian polymath al-Blrunl had composed a major work on India in the eleventh century, one that is still a valuable source of knowledge for medieval Hinduism. Furthermore, numer- ous works of classical Hinduism and some of Buddhism were translated into Persian centuries ago, including the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Chinese Muslim schol- ars knew the Confucian classics and many considered Con- fucius and Lao-Tze prophets.

The global nature of the religious knowledge of a learned Muslim sitting in Isfahan in the fourteenth century was very different from that of a scholastic thinker in Paris or Bologna of the same period. On the basis of the Quranic doctrine of religious universality and the vast historical experiences of a global nature, Islamic civilization devel- oped a cosmopolitan and worldwide religious perspective unmatched before the modern period in any other religion.

The Hebrew prophets and Christ are deeply respected by Muslims. The Virgin Mary is consid- ered by the Quran to hold the most exalted spiritual posi- tion among women. Moreover, the miraculous birth of Christ from a virgin mother is recognized in the Quran. Respect for such teachings is so strong among Muslims that One God, Many Prophets 41 today, in interreligious dialogues with Christians and Jews, Muslims are often left defending traditional Jewish and Christian doctrines such as the mi raculous birth of Christ before modernist interpreters who would reduce them to metaphors and the sacred history of the Hebrew prophets to at best inspired stories.

The sacred figures of Judaism and Christianity are often mentioned in the Quran and even in prayers said on vari- ous occasions. The tombs of the Hebrew prophets, who are also Islamic prophets, are revered and visited in pil- grimage by Muslims to this day. Nebo, also in Jordan. Some Muslims have occasionally criticized intellectually and also engaged militarily Jews and Christians, but they have not criticized the Jewish prophets or Christ even if certain theological differences with followers of Judaism and Christianity did exist , at least not those who have heeded the call of the Quran and understood its message.

Islam sees itself as the third of the Abrahamic religions, which are bound together by coundess theological, ethical, and es- chatological beliefs even though they are marked by differ- ences willed by God. There is as much difference between Judaism and Christianity as there is between Christianity and Islam. In certain domains Juda- ism is closer to Islam than it is to Christianity: it has a sacred language, Hebrew, like Arabic in Islam, and it has a sacred law, the Halakhah, corresponding to the SharVah. In certain other ways Islam is closer to Christianity: both emphasize the immortality of the soul, eschatological reali- ties, and the accent on the inner life.

Then there are those basic principles upon which all three religions agree: the Oneness of God, prophecy, sacred scripture, much of sacred history, and basic ethical norms such as the sanctity of life, reverence for the laws of God, humane treatment of others, honesty in all human dealings, kindness toward the neighbor, the application of justice, and so forth. Islam is an inalienable and inseparable part of the Abrahamic family of religions and considers itself to be closely linked with the two monotheistic religions that preceded it. Islam envis- ages itself the complement of those religions and the final expression of Abrahamic monotheism, confirming the teachings of Judaism and Christianity, but rejecting any form of exclusivism.

Judaism speaks of Jews and Gentiles, and Christianity of the faithful and the heathens or pagans. Each of these categorizations has both a theological and a popular and historical root related to the self-understanding as well as the history of One God, Many Prophets 43 that religion. In the case of Islam, the distinction is based more on the question of faith, or iman, and less on the more general term islam. Likewise, the boundary be- tween the Muslim faithful and the faithful of other religions is lifted.

In Islam there is, first of all, the Sufi meta- physical view of absolute Truth, which is seen to be beyond 44 THE HEART OF ISLAM all duality, even beyond the dichotomy of iman and kufr, or faith and infidelity; yet, to reach that transcendent Truth beyond all duality one must begin with faith and start from the formal foundations of Islam, which distinguishes itself clearly from kufr. The esoteric understanding of kufr and imdn, so prevalent in classical Sufi poetry, especially among the Persian poets such as Ruml, Shabistari, and Hafiz must not, therefore, be confused with the prevalent idea in cer- tain Western circles that one can reach the absolute Truth by simply avoiding the world of faith as well as infidelity.

On the levels of external religious forms, iman has to do with truth and kufr with falsehood. This dichotomy is not destroyed by the exhortation of the Sufis to go beyond kufr and iman, which means to reach tawhid, or oneness beyond all oppositions and dichotomies. The situation is, however, made even more compli- cated by the fact that throughout Islamic history certain Muslim groups have called other Muslim groups infidels, some even going to the extent of treating them in practice as enemies. For example, during early Islamic history the Khawarij, who opposed both the Sunnis and ShPites as infi- dels, attacked both groups physically and militarily.

Later, Ismafills were considered kuffdr by many Sunni scholars, and even in mainstream Islam over the centuries some Sunni and Twelve -Imam Shfiitc scholars have called each One God, Many Prophets 45 other kafir. In the eighteenth century the Wahhabi move- ment, which began in Najd in Arabia, considered orthodox Sunnis and ShTites both not to be genuine Muslims, and often cast the anathema of being infidels, or what is called takfiir, upon them, while many Ottoman Hanafl scholars considered the Wahhabis themselves to be kuffar.

The prevalent image in the West that all Muslims are united as the faithful against the infidels — even if some well- known Christian preachers repeat to their flocks this asser- tion made by some extremists wi thin the Islamic world — is simply not true. There have always been those who have spoken of the necessity of the unity of Muslims as the faith- ful, and in a certain sense that unity has been always there despite diversity on many levels.

But the whole question of who is a believer, or a person of faith, and who is an unbe- liever, or infidel, requires a much more nuanced answer than is usually given in generally available sources. Moreover, the term kafir has both a theological and judi- cial definition and a popular political and social definition, and the two should not be confused. In the conscience of many devout Muslims, a pious Christian or Jew is still seen as a believer, w hil e an agnostic with an Arabic or Persian name is seen as a kafir.

And the anathema of kufr, far from involving only outsiders, has also concerned various groups within the Islamic world itself. In the middle part of the Islamic world there are Christian minorities, the largest being in Egypt, and still some Jews, especially in Iran and Turkey, although most of the Jews from Arab countries migrated to Israel after By and large, through most peri- ods of Islamic history, the relation between Muslims and religious minorities living in their midst has been peaceful.

Exceptions have arisen when severe political issues, such as the partition of Palestine or India, have altered ordinary relations between Muslims and followers of other religions. Today, despite some abuses here and there issuing from so- called fundamentalist currents in various Islamic countries, religious minorities in the Islamic world usually fare better than Muslim minorities do in other lands, except in Amer- ica and some Western countries, where they have been able to practice their religion until now without manifest or hid- den restrictions.

The peaceful presence in the Islamic world of various religious minorities, especially Christians, has been upset to a large extent in recent times by Western missionary activ- ity, which has caused severe reaction not only among Mus- lims, but also among Hindus, Buddhists, and others.

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This question of Christian missionary activity of the Western churches, not Orthodoxy is a complicated matter requir- ing an extensive separate treatment, but it must be men- tioned briefly here. Suffice it to say that, as far as the Islamic world is concerned, this activity was from the be- ginning of the modern period combined with colonialism, and many Western Christian missionaries have preached as much secularized Western culture as Christianity.

Many of them have tried and still try to propagate Christianity not through the teachings of Christ alone, but mostly by the appeal of material aid such as rice and medicine, given in the name of Christian charity, but with the goal of conver- sion. Many of their schools have been happy if they could wean the Muslim students away from firm belief in Islam, even if they could not make them Christian. It is not acci- dental that some of the most virulent anti-Western secular- ized Arab political leaders of the past decades have been graduates of American schools in the Middle East first established by missionaries, schools where these students were religiously and culturally uprooted.

To understand current Islamic reactions to Christian missionary activity in many countries, one should ask how the people of Texas and Oklahoma, where many American evangelists come from, would respond to the following scenario.

Because of their prestige, these schools at- tracted the children of the most powerful and well-to- do families, and these future leaders, in attending these schools, underwent a systematic process of cultural Ara- bization even if they did not participate in the encouraged formal conversion to Islam. Western missionary activity is not like that of medieval Christian preachers of the Gospels, or like the Orthodox missionaries among the Inuits of Canada, who would adopt the language of the Inuits and even their dress.

Most modern Western missionary activity throughout Asia and Africa has meant, above all, Westernization and globaliza- tion combined with the cult of consumerism, all in the name of Christianity. Were there not to be such a powerful political, economic, and even military pressure behind the presence of these missionaries, then their presence would be in a sense like that of Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims in Canada or the United States and would not pose a danger to the very existence of local religions and cultures.

But the situation is otherwise, and therefore Christian missionary activity, especially in such places as Indonesia, Pakistan, and sub-Saharan Africa, plays a very important role in cre- ating tension between Islam and Christianity and indirectly the West, which gives material and political support to these missionaries even if, as in France, the state is avow- edly secularist. Of course, this identification with modern Western secu- larist and now consumerist culture has not always been the case with all missionaries. The French Catholic Pere de Foucault lived for a long time among Muslim North Afri- cans as a humble witness to Christ and was greatly respected by his Muslim neighbors, as were a number of other monks One God, Many Prophets 49 and priests.

Such exceptions have certainly existed. One need only recall in this con- text that w hil e Baghdad was being bombed during the Persian Gulf War, no Iraqi Muslims attacked any local Iraqi Christians walking down the street, whereas the reverse has not been true since the tragic September 11 terrorist acts; a number of American and European Muslims have been attacked and harassed as a result of the religious, racial, and ethnic xenophobia that has been created in certain circles by that great tragedy.

In speaking of missionary activity, it is necessary to say something about Islamic teachings concerning apostasy irtidad , which has been criticized by missionary circles and others in the West. According to classical interpreta- tions of the Sharjah, the punishment for apostasy for a Muslim is death, and this is interpreted by many Westerners to mean the lack of freedom of conscience in Islam. To clar- ify this issue, first of all, a few words about conversion.

Arabia at the time of the Quranic revelation was an exception. But even in Arabia, the Jews and Christians were not forced to become Muslims. The reason for such a ruling must be sought in the fact that attachment to Islam was related before modern times to being a member of the Islamic state as well as community, and therefore apostasy was seen as treason against the state, not just religious conversion.

Today when the state is no longer Islamic in the traditional sense in most Islamic countries, many religious scholars have spoken against capital punishment for apostasy. Sectarian fighting between Muslims and newly converted Christians still occurs in Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Sudan, and a few other places, but these have more to do with local political, economic, and social issues than with the traditional ShariHte ruling about apostasy.

The traditional ShariHte ruling, which is now being amended by some legal authorities and for the most part ignored because of changed conditions, must be under- stood not in the context of the modern West, where reli- gion has been to a large extent marginalized and pushed away from the public arena, but in the framework of the One God, Many Prophets 51 Christian West.

One only has to think what would have happened to Christians in medieval France or seventeenth- century Spain if they had converted to Islam. Now, it must be understood that each religion has its own regulations concerning sacred spaces. In Hin- duism certain areas in Benares are closed to all non-Hindus, and Muslims respected those rules even when they ruled over that city and did not force their way into the Monkey Temple or other sacred sites.

Like Hinduism and several other religions, Islam has a sacred space around Mecca whose boundaries were designated by the Prophet himself and where non-Muslims are not allowed. That has never meant that the rest of the Islamic world has been closed to the presence of other religions and their houses of worship. Churches dot the skyline of Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, and many other cities, and synagogues are also found everywhere a Jewish community lives from Tehran to Fez. Within the Ottoman Empire in many places in the Balkans where Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived together, synagogues, churches, and mosques were built next to each other.

To this day this harmonious presence of different houses of worship is visible in Istanbul itself. Of course, during Islamic history there were occasions when after a major triumph a church was converted into a mosque, as happened with the Hagia Sophia, but the reverse also took place often, as when the Grand Mosque of Cordova was converted into a cathedral.

Otherwise, most of the churches in the Islamic world that later became mosques were those abandoned by Christian worshipers, somewhat like what one sees in some cities in Great Britain these days. On the intellectual plane, there is a great deal of interest in the Islamic world today in religious dialogue, the impe- tus for which originated in Christian circles mostly after World War II.

In many countries, such as Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Malaysia, and Indonesia, reli- gious dialogue has even been encouraged by governments as well as by individuals and religious organizations. Nu- merous conferences have been held in many parts of the world with Protestants, Catholics, and more recently Or- thodox Christians; with Hindus in India and Indonesia; and with Buddhists and Confucians in Malaysia. Because of the Palestinian-Israeli problem, the dialogue with Judaism has been somewhat more difficult, but even that has also continued to some extent in both the Middle East and the West.

In these dialogues scholars from many different schools of thought have participated, both those within the Islamic world and those Muslims living in the West. There One God, Many Prophets 53 have been some exclusivists who have opposed such dia- logues, as one sees also among Christians and Jews, but the activity of religious dialogue has gone on for decades in the Islamic world and is now an important part of the current Islamic religious and intellectual landscape.

There is no country in the Islamic world in which there is greater inter- est in the theological and philosophical questions involved in the issue of religious pluralism than Iran. The same keen interest is also to be found in countries as different as Turkey, Pakistan, and Malaysia. Faced with the danger of loss of identity and the enfee- blement of religion as a result of the onslaught of mod- ernism with its secularist bias, some Muslims, many very active and vocal, espouse a radical exclusivist point of view when it comes to the question of the relation of Islam to other religions.

When they think of their beloved Prophet, they are mindful of these words of God: We inspire thee [Muhammad] as We inspired Noah and the prophets after him, as We inspired Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as We imparted unto David the Psalms; And messengers We have mentioned unto thee before and messengers We have not mentioned unto thee; and God spoke directly to Moses; Messengers of good news and warning; in order that mankind might have no argument against God after the messengers.

God is Mighty, and Wise. Verily We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know each other. Recent events, however, have made the Islamic world the focus of much attention. Al- though the attempt by the media to deal more with Islam is laudable, what is presented is usually highly selective and politically charged, dominated by the Arab-Israeli conflict and extremism manifesting itself in threats or acts of terror.

Therefore, despite greater interest in covering matters per- taining to Islam, the reductionist message associated with extremism continues to dominate the scene, hiding from the Western public the great diversity of the Islamic world and the multiple interpretations of the Islamic religion. The vast world of Islam is actually like a Persian medal- lion carpet; it has incredible diversity and complexity, yet it is dominated by a unity into which all the complex geomet- ric and arabesque patterns are integrated.

This complexity can be better understood if one views it as the superimposi- tion of a number of patterns upon the plane of the carpet. In the vast world of Islam also, one can gain a better grasp of the whole by separating the patterns and seeing how each is related to vertical and horizontal d imensions of the religion of Islam itself as well as to cultural, ethnic, and lin- guistic factors. Then reuniting the patterns and seeing how they all fit together yields a vision of the total spectrum of Islam, in which unity leads to diversity and diversity is inte- grated into unity.

The central factor in the creation of unity among Mus- lims is the Quran. For all Muslims, it is the very Word of God, with the same text, which is chanted as well as read and written, and the same message for all Muslims, al- though interpretations of that message differ among various Muslim groups and there are levels of meaning to the text. Despite these variations in the understanding of the twin sources of the Islamic religion, that is, the Quran and the Sunnah along with the Hadith , there are three central doctrines upon which all schools of Islam agree, namely tawhid, or Divine Oneness, nubuwwah, or prophecy, and met c dd, or eschatology, to which we shall turn in Chapter 6.

Those who have deviated from these basic doctrines h a ve sometimes brought about civil and religious crises with in the community and sometimes even violence. These rites, which consist of the five daily prayers performed in Arabic whether one is in Malaysia or Bosnia, the annual pilgrimage hajj made from all parts of the Islamic world, the fast of the month of Ramadan carried out by all healthy adult Muslims throughout the seven climes, the tithe paid to the poor, and other religious acts, bind Muslims together wherever they might be. Over the ages the ethical norms related to the Shan c ah, the injunc- tions of the Quran and Sunnah, and the spiritual etiquette, or adab, associated with ethics and based on the Prophetic model have also acted as powerful integrating forces.

To these must be added the presence of Sufi orders, which cut across confessional and ethnic boundaries and which, bas- ing themselves by definition on the Unity that transcends all multiplicity, have been a major factor in the integration of Islamic society.

Free Thought Lives

Finally, on the plane of forms, one must mention Islamic art, from the chanting of the Quran to geometric patterns found on articles and structures, an art that, despite local differences, has its own unique genius and has played a very important role in bringing about unity on the physical plane while permitting local variations and cultural diversity. The total religion called Islam may be said to consist of the levels of isldm, imdn, and ihsdn, or sur- render, faith, and spiritual beauty.

These verses refer to degrees of per- fection of believers, as one sees also in Christianity, and do not imply in any way exclusion, ostracism, or support for violence against certain groups. Later Islamic sages, especially the Sufis, h a ve also spoken of the hierarchy of the Shariah, or the Divine Law, the Tariqah, or the spiritual path, the Haqiqah, or the Divine Truth, which is the origin of both. Islam is then envisaged as a circle whose center is the Haqiqah.

The radii of the circle are the turuq plural of Tariqah , later identified with the Sufi orders, and the circumference is the Sharjah. Each Muslim is like a point on the circumference, whose totality composes the Islamic community, or ummah. To reach the Haqiqah, one must first stand on the circumference, that is, practice the Shari c ah, and then follow the Tariqah, or Path to God, whose end is the Center, God Himself, or the Haqiqah.

He came unto you to teach you your religion. Imdn, or faith, involves not only belief in the ordinary sense in God, His angels, messengers, His revealed books, and the escha- tological end-time realities, but also knowledge of these matters, and it was into this dimension of the Islamic tra- dition that intellectual disciplines such as theology and tra- ditional philosophy were integrated. As for ihsdn, it is obvious that not everyone can worship God as if they saw Him.

Reference to this hierarchical distinction is also made in some sources as the exoteric, or outward zdhir , and esoteric, or inward bdtin , dimensions of the tradition. Ihsdn later became crystallized almost completely but not exclusively in Sufism, which can still be found throughout the Islamic world. Serious attach- ment to Sufism also requires attachment to the Shuri c ah, and therefore a person who is a Sufi must also be the fol- lower of this or that school of Law. Some ShurVite Muslims may reject Sufism, especially today among both modern- ized and so-called fundamentalist or reformist circles, but The Spectrum of Islam 63 the Sufis show the greatest attachment to the Sharjah, whose inner significance they seek to reach.

And they must of necessity follow one of its schools. A Sunni or a Shfite can be a Sufi or not a Sufi, but the situation is not one of alternatives, because these dimen- sions of the religion are not situated on the same level of reality. That is why the presence of Sufism has never been a cause for division in traditional Islamic society. In contrast, it has been a cause of integration and the return to that inner unity whose attainment is the goal of Islam.

The Sunni-ShTite division is the most important in the formal structure of Islam, although even this division does not destroy the unity of Islam and both share the unifying elements already mentioned. Moreover, Sufism, represent- ing the inner dimension of the religion, transcends this dichotomy. But for the present discussion it suffices to say that Sufism, or the Tariqah, belongs to the inner dimension of Islam and transcends ShariHte differences, and Sunnism and ShTism mark a division within Islam on the formal and legal level.

There is hardly an Islamic country in which Sufi orders are not to be found, and since the beginning of the twentieth century some orders, beginning with the Shadhiliyyah, have spread into Europe and America. It is important to recall here the fact that, in contrast to the claim of those who only look at the quantitative aspects of things and consider the esoteric element of religion to be marginal and peripheral, the esoteric dimension actually lies at the heart of religion and is the source of both its endur- ance and renewal.

We observe this truth not only in Islam, but also in the Kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions in Judaism and various mystical currents in Christianity. In Islam itself, Sufism has been over the centuries the hidden heart that has renewed the religion intellectually, spiritually, and e thi - The Spectrum of Islam 65 cally and has played the greatest role in its spread and in its relation with other religions.

The Sunni majority within Islam is the largest in comparison with any denomination in other religions, such as Catholicism wi thi n Christianity and Mahayana wit hi n Buddhism. But the ShTite popu- lation is located almost completely in the heartland of Islam, that is, in the area between Egypt and India.

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Both intellectually and historically, ShTism has played a much greater role in the Islamic world than its number might warrant, and the accord or discord between Sunnism and ShTism today is one of the most important factors in con- temporary Islamic society. The major point of contention between Sunnism and Shfism was not only the question of who should succeed the Prophet, but the question of what the qualifications of such a person had to be. For Sunnism, the function of the caliph was to protect the borders of Islam, keep security and peace, appoint judges, and so forth.

For the Shfites, such a person also had to h a ve the deepest knowledge of Islamic Law as well as esoteric knowledge of the Quran and Prophetic teachings. He could therefore not be elected, but had to be chosen by the Prophet through Divine com- mand. The Shfites believe that this investiture did in fact occur at the pool of water called Ghadlr Khumm when the Prophet was returning to Medina from pilgrimage to Mecca. Sunni authors have also oc- casionally referred to the caliph as imam, but all of these meanings must be distinguished from the specific Shifite usage of the term.

In ShTism, the Imam, like the prophets, is inerrant ma c sum and protected from sin by God. He possesses perfect knowledge of both the Law and the Way, both the outer and inner meaning of the Quran. In fact, the first eight Shltite Imams are also central spiritual authorities or poles of Sufism and appear in the initiatic chain of nearly every Sufi order. There are in fact many Sunnis, such as the majority of Egyptians, almost all of whom are Sunnis, who have the same love and respect for the Shltite Imams and the Ahl al-bayt, that is, members of the family of the Prophet with whom the Imams and Shfrism itself are asso- ciated, as do Persian or Iraqi ShPitcs.

As far as Sunnism is concerned, its followers are divided according to the schools of Law madhhab they follow. Some of these codifications or schools died out, but four have survived during the past millennium and constitute the main body of traditional Sunnism. Hanafism was founded by a Persian, Imam Abu Hanifah d. Imam Abu Hanifah sought to create possibilities for the integration of local practices into the Law as much as possible. His school held great attraction from the beginning for Turks as well as Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

As for the Sunni part of Afghanistan, its people are, like the Sunnis of Pakistan, mostly Hanafi, and this is one of the elements that espe- cially links the eastern part of Afghanistan to Pakistan. Malikism, founded by Imam Malik ibn Anas d. It is The Spectrum of Islam 69 he who completed and perfected the methods of juris- prudence in Islamic Law. Buried in Cairo, he is greatly loved and admired by Egyptians, nearly all of whom are ShafTis, as are many others south of Egypt as well as most of the Malays in Southeast Asia, whether they are in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand.

Although in days of old it had many followers in Iraq, Persia, and other lands, in recent times its adherents have been confined mostly to Syria. Wahhabism, which is dominant in Saudi Arabia, is an offshoot of Hanbalism, but must not be simply identified with it. Wahhabism, which arose as a reformist movement in the eighteenth century in Najd in southern Arabia, opposed the later refinements of Islamic culture in the form of philosophy and theology as well as the arts; in the domain of religion itself it strongly opposed both Sufism and ShTism, the visit to the tombs of saints, and intercession by saints before God for an individ- ual believer.

It was opposed not only by ShTites, but also by orthodox Sunnis, and in the nineteenth century the Otto- man caliph even sent an army to defeat the movement. As a result of this his- torical process, Wahhabism became accepted throughout Saudi Arabia as the official interpretation of Islam. Its influence remained, however, con- fined to Saudi Arabia until the increased wealth in the kingdom due to income from oil made it possible for Wahhabi schools and mosques to be established in many other areas of the world.

Within Arabia itself during the past two decades there has been a notable opening in certain religious circles toward other schools of Islam, both Sunni and Shifite, although the influence of Wahhabism is still dominant. The four founders of the traditional schools of Sunni Law mentioned above are highly respected and revered by all Sunnis. Converting from one school to another takes place occasionally, and in modern times some governments have drawn from various schools, including the ShTism, to create civil laws in their countries. In certain fields, such as laws of inheritance or the legality of temporary marriage, there are, however, notable differences.

Husayn was invited to go to Iraq by the people of the Iraqi city of Kufa, who promised to support him. And so in the year he set out with his family and many followers from Medina for Iraq. According to S u nni tradition, she buried the head at a site that became the heart of what was later to become the city known as al-Qahirah, or Cairo. This tragic event crystallized the ShTite movement in Iraq and later elsewhere, especially in Persia, and finally led to the downfall of the Umayyads.

Recollection of vast religious pro- cessions, sermons, and passion plays of Muharram, which dominated the life of Tehran during my childhood spent in that city, are still indelibly etched in my memory. He is alive like Elijah, who was taken to Heaven alive according to Jewish belief. But the Twelfth Imam is also the secret master of this world and can appear to those who are in the appropriate spiritual state to see him. He will appear publicly before the end of time, when inequity and oppression have become domi- nant, to reestablish justice and peace on earth, and he will prepare for the second coming of Christ, an event in which Muslims have as firm a belief as Christians.

This eschatolog- ical expectation is therefore called Mahdiism and is by no means confined to ShTism. Sunnism also contains such teachings, the difference being that ShTites claim to know here and now who the Mahdl is, whereas Sunnis expect a figure with such a name to appear in the future. Apocalyptic thought, although present in Islam, does not, however, play the same role there as it does in contem- porary Christianity, especially among certain televangelists in America who have commercialized their contentious interpretations of the Book of Revelation and other Chris- tian sources on the basis of an exclusivism that is utterly astounding.

In the Islamic world, although the idea of the coming of the Mahdl exists, there is much less public talk about it, especially on television, and there is little emphasis on creating an exclusive club of those who will be saved while the rest will be damned. Although in Black Africa there have been a few Mahdlist leaders with followers will- ing to die for them, in the heardand of Islam phenomena The Spectrum of Islam 73 such as Waco and Jonestown have not existed, except for the one episode in Mecca in when a person claiming to be the Mahdi entered the Holy Mosque with his follow- ers and was finally killed when government forces attacked the group inside the mosque.

The second most important branch of Shlfism is Ismafilism, which separated from the main body of ShTism over the question of the identity of the seventh Imam. They made Cairo their capital and built it into a great center of the sciences and the arts. Al- Azhar University, over a thousand years old and the most important seat of Sunni learning in the Islamic world today, was built by the Fatimids, whose rulers were also Ismafill imams. In Iran the Nizaris created fort cities on top of mountains, of which the most famous was Alamut.

This community was split later and the major group came to be known as the Sat Panth True Path. Finally, the third branch of ShPism, the Zaydl, chose Zayd, the son of the fourth Imam, as its leader. They had many followers in Persia and the Arab East in the tenth century, but gradually they receded to the Yemen, where they constitute almost half the population today and where they ruled for a thou- sand years until , following the Egyptian invasion of the Yemen. Zaydlism has its own school of law and theol- ogy as well as a political philosophy according to which any Muslim who is pious and learned and can defend the coun- try and preserve peace and security can be accepted as imam and ruler.

It was not until that the Safavids established themselves as rulers of Persia, which included not only present-day Iran, but also Afghanistan as well as parts of Pakistan, Caucasia, and Cen- tral Asia. They established Twelve-Imam ShTism as the state religion and gave support to ShTism elsewhere, especially in Iraq, over which they ruled for some time before losing it to the Ottomans.

Consequently, the number of Twelve-Imam ShTites rose considerably during the past few centuries and today it constitutes the vast majority of ShTites throughout the world. In practice there are far fewer sects in Islam than there are in Christianity, which has ex- perienced continuous fragmentation and division within Protestantism since the Reformation. First of all, Sunnism and majority ShTism must be understood as the orthodox mainstream and not as sects as this term is used in English.

The classic meaning has to be put aside in a work such as this because the discussion of fir aq plural of firqah in classical Islamic thought would require delving into minutiae of Islamic theology and sacred history with which we cannot be concerned here. It is, however, impor- tant, in order to understand all the details of the tapestry of the present-day Islamic world, to mention some of the more important small religious groups that qualify as sects as this term is currently understood in English.

There are, first of all, the remnants of the early Khawarij, who existed in the seventh century and opposed both Sun- nism and Shrism. At that time they were a revolutionary and violent movement with some following among the nomads. Later they settled down into established commu- nities. They have their own school of law and although they began as a sect, today they are closer to the mainstream than other sects.

They have survived by describing themselves as a school of ShTism and have, in the past few decades, been trying to gain more ShTite legit- imacy. There are other small communities of thi s kind in the Islamic world, such as the Yazldls of Iraq, the inhabitants of Kafirestan in northern Afghanistan, and the Sabaeans of Iraq and Iran.

Like the Nusayrls, they are remnants of pre- Islamic religions and cannot properly be called Islamic sects. There are also groups of this kind among Muslims of Black Africa. It must be emphasized, however, that the number of all these and similar sects is quite small. The case of the Taliban in Afghanistan presents another example of an extremist minority group that was able to dominate the country for several years. In the early nineteenth century, one of the responses to the domination of the Islamic world by colonial powers was a wave of Mahdlism that swept over many Muslim lands.

But such movements did not give rise to new sects. Movements that The Spectrum of Islam 79 did, however, create sects include Babism in Persia and the Ahmadiyyah movement in the Punjab, the former issuing from a Shfitc and the latter from a Sunni background.

The Heart Of Islam: Enduring Values For Humanity

The movement remained, however, still within the fold of Twelve-Imam Shfism. Rather, it is a modernist religious move- ment seeking to attach iself to certain of the prophetic and universalist principles of Islam, but not in the way that Muslims understand those principles. The Ahmadiyyah movement, founded by Ghulam Ahmad in what is now Pakistan, was in many ways a reaction to English missionary activity in India.

Its founder claimed for himself a new Divine dispensation, if not an out-and-out prophetic mission. He established for the first time in Islam missionary activity along the lines of the Christian version. Supported to a large extent for political reasons by the British, the Ahmadiyyah established the first major mosque in Britain, which still stands, and sent many missionaries to Africa as well as Europe.

Since its inception, the status of the Ahmadiyyah has been some- what ambiguous. Some Muslims have accepted them as an Islamic sect, although deviant in some ways, w hil e others have declared that they are not Muslims. When one thinks of Islam, it is important to remember that, on the intellectual and theological levels, as well as on the juridical one, Islam is not a monolithic structure, but displays remarkable diversity, the elements of which are bound together by the doctrine of tawhid, or unity. Over the centuries, Islam has created one of the rich- est intellectual traditions of the world, favorably compara- ble in its depth and diversity to those of India, China, and the Christian West.

In medieval times, in fact, many Jewish and Christian theological and philosophical schools in Europe were created as a result of the influence of and in response to Islamic philosophical and theological teachings. To discuss in depth all the different theological and philosophical schools or even the most important ones would not be possible here.


In fact, the Hanbalis have remained opposed to all forms of kalam until today, as has their Wahhabi off- shoot. To this day the teaching of any form of kala-m is for- bidden in religious universities in Saudi Arabia. In ShTism also, kalam has had a long history. Islamic philosophy was developed by Islamic thinkers rooted in the Quranic revelation and meditating upon translations of Greek and Syriac texts into Arabic.

The result was the integration of ideas drawn mostly from Pythagore- anism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, Hermeti- cism, and to some extent Stoicism into the Quranic worldview and the creation of new philosophical perspec- tives. This early period produced such famous philoso- phers as al-Kindl, al-Farabi, Ibn Sina Avicenna , and Ibn Rushd Averroes , whose influence on the medieval West was immense. Thomas, and Duns Scotus or medieval Jewish philosophy as represented by such masters as Ibn Gabirol and Maimonides who wrote his most famous work, The Guide of the Perplexed, first in Arabic , without considera- tion of the influence of early Islamic philosophy and to some extent kaldm upon them.

Although the influence of Islamic philosophy upon the West came more or less to an end in the thirteenth century with the translation of Averroes and earlier Islamic philoso- phers into Latin, Islamic philosophy itself not only did not come to an end, but was revived in the eastern lands of Islam and especially Persia. In the twelfth century SuhrawardI founded a new school of philosophy called the School of Illumination ishrdq and in the seventeenth cen- tury Sadr al-Dln Shiraz! Both of these schools are still very much alive and have played a major role in the intellectual life of Persia, India, and as far as the school of ishrdq is concerned, to some extent, Ottoman Turkey.

His teachings spread from Sumatra and China to Mali and Mauritania, and his school produced numerous major thinkers and poets in nearly every Islamic land. All of these schools of kaldm, philosophy, and gnosis along with the philosophy of law, methods of Quranic commentary, and the study of other transmitted sciences 84 THE HEART OF ISLAM with which we cannot deal here, as well as various schools of the sciences from medicine to astronomy, all of which are so important for both Islam and the development of science in the West, had both their adherents and oppo- nents, and all of them must be seen as so many strands in the total tapestry of the Islamic intellectual tradition.

Al- though they were all concerned with either the intellectual aspects of the religion, the cosmos in light of the truths of revelation, or purely theoretical knowledge, they often also exercised either direct or indirect influence on the popular level. In any case, their diversity must be considered when studying the spectrum of Islam in its totality.

Their very existence also demonstrates the remarkably open universe of intellectual discourse within the framework of the Islamic tradition, an openness that marked many periods of Islamic history yet did not lead to rebellion against the sacred framework established by Islam, as was to happen in Christianity in the West after the Middle Ages. Orthodoxy means possession of religious truth, and ortho- praxy, the correct manner of practicing and reaching the truth. Like Judaism, Islam has insisted more on the importance of orthopraxy than orthodoxy.

Although it has been lenient on the level of orthodoxy as long as the principle of tawhid and the messengership of the Prophet h a ve been accepted, it has been more stringent on the level of practice of the daily prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, and so forth; in observing dietary laws such as abstention from pork and alcoholic drinks; and in following moral laws dealing with sexual relations, theft, murder, and so on. As to what plays the role of the magisterium in Islam, the best response is the ummah, or the Islamic community it- self, and for ShTism the guidance of the Imam.

In the Beginning Was Consciousness

Through- out Islamic history, the consensus of the community has decided in the long run what new interpretations of the Quran and Sunnah on the level of both thought and action are permissible and what is to be rejected. But this appraisal is totally inadequate. There is an exoteric orthodoxy and orthopraxy and there is an esoteric orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Traditional and orthodox Sufism is not only part of Islamic orthodoxy, but is its heart and must not be seen as analogous to various mystical and occult manifestations in postmedieval Christianity that are called heterodox.

Sufism is as much a part of Islamic ortho- doxy as Franciscan or Dominican spirituality was part of Catholic orthodoxy in the Middle Ages. To understand the position of ShTism within the Islamic tradition, one must compare it not to Protestantism, which arose many centuries after the foundation of Christianity as a protest against Catholicism, but to Eastern Orthodoxy, which has been there from the beginning. Although Catholicism and Orthodoxy have been at odds with each other for nearly one thousand years, both belong to the totality of Christian orthodoxy.

One might say that in the middle of the spectrum of Islam as far as orthodoxy and heterodoxy are concerned stand Sunnism and Twelve-Imam ShTism. In fact, because of the centrality of orthopraxy one could say that Muslims who practice the Shan c ah belong also to Islamic orthodoxy as long as they do not flout the major doctrines of the faith such as the Prophet being the seal of prophecy, as do the Ahmadiyyah.

One should never refer to ShTism as a whole as a sect, any more than one would call the Greek Orthodox Church a sect. Nor should one call Sufism het- erodox, unless one is pointing to a particular figure or group which has adopted either beliefs or practices that are indeed heterodox as judged by the consensus, or ijma c , of the mainstream community on the basis of the Quran and the Sunnah, but such a phenomenon pales into insignifi- cance when compared with the vast reality of Sufism. Authentic esoterism, far from being heterodox, lies at the heart of orthodoxy and orthopraxy in their most universal sense.

In reality there is only one Islam, but with local coloring related to the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural traits of the different peoples who became part of the Islamic community. The result was the creation of a single Islamic identity. This cultural and ethnic diver- sification must therefore be added to all of the factors already mentioned to make clearer the patterns that, super- imposed upon each other, have created the great diversity in unity found in Islam.

The first cultural zone in the Islamic world is the Arabic zone, which stretches from Iraq and the Persian Gulf to Mauritania and before into the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Needless to say, in contrast to what many in the West think, the Arab world is not by any means synonymous with the Islamic world. One of the great mysteries of early Islamic history is that as the Arab armies came out of Ara- bia, the lands that they conquered to the north and the west became both Islamicized and Arabized. Even a country with such an unparalleled ancient past as Egypt became Arab and in fact remains to t his day the The Spectrum of Islam 89 center of Arabic culture.

In contrast, the people of the Per- sian Empire under the Sassanids, who were conquered by the Arabs in the seventh century, became Muslim, but they did not adopt the Arabic language. Rather, they developed Persian on the basis of earlier Iranian languages and retained a distinct cultural zone of their own. Iraq was the only exception. It is interesting to compare this development with the spread of Christianity into Europe.

Through becoming Christian, Europe also became to some extent a part of the Abrahamic world, but remained less Semiticized than the non-Arab Muslims who embraced Islam, because through St. That is why the Christianization of Europe was not accompanied by the spread of Aramaic or some other Semitic language in the same way that Arabic spread in the Near East and Africa and also among Persians and Indians, who belonged to the same linguistic and racial stock as the Europeans. Not only were the Gospels written in Greek and not Ara- maic, which Christ spoke, but also the Bible itself was translated early into Latin as the Vulgate and became lin- guistically severed from its origin.

Latin became the closest in its role as the language of religion and learning in the West to what Arabic was in the Islamic world, with the major difference that Arabic is the sacred language of Islam as Hebrew is that of Judaism, whereas Latin is a liturgical language of Christianity along with several other liturgical languages such as Greek and Slavonic. The Arabic zone, characterized by the use of Arabic as not only the language of religion, which is common to all Muslims, but also as the language of daily life, is further divided into an eastern and a western part, with the line of demarcation being in the middle of Libya.

Also within the western zone are important non-Arab groups, the most important being the Berber, who inhabit mostly the Adas Mountains and who have their own distinct language.

Browse Categories

The second zone of Islamic culture, whose people were the second ethnic group to embrace Islam and to partici- pate with the Arabs in building classical Islamic civilization, is the Persian zone, consisting of present-day Iran, Af- ghanistan, and Tajikistan with certain cities in Uzbek- istan. The do mi nant language of the people of all these countries is Persian, known locally by three different names, Tarsi, Dari, and Tajik, all of which are the same lan- guage; the differences between them are no greater than differences between the English of Australia, England, and Texas.

This zone also included southern Caucasia, the old Khorasan, Transoxiana, and parts of what is today Pakistan before the migration south of Turkic people from the tenth and eleventh centuries and subsequent ethnic and geopolit- ical changes. The people of this zone are predominantly of the Iranian race, which is a branch of the Aryan or Indo- The Spectrum of Islam 91 Iranian-European peoples, and Persian is related to the Indo-European languages as are other Iranian languages spoken in this zone, such as Kurdish, Baluchi, and Pashtu.

This zone has a population of some million people, but its influence is felt strongly beyond its borders in other zones of Islamic culture in Asia from the Turkic and the Indian to the Chinese. ShTism began among Arabs and in the tenth century much of the Arab east was ShTite, while Khorasan, a major Persian province, was the seat of Sunni thought. It is only after the establishment of the Safavids that Persia became predominantly ShPite and this majority increased when Afghanistan, a part of Baluchistan, and much of Central Asia, which were pre- dominantly Sunni, were separated from Persia, and Iran in its present form was created.

As far as Afghanistan is con- cerned, during the Safavid period until the eighteenth cen- tury it was part of Persia. Then the leader of the Afghan tribes defeated the Safavids and killed the last Safavid king. Shortly thereafter Nadir Shah, the last oriental conqueror, recaptured lands all the way to Delhi, including what is today Afghanistan. After his death, however, eastern Af- ghanistan became independent, and in the nineteenth cen- tury finally, under British pressure, Persia relinquished its claim on Herat and western Afghanistan, and thereafter Afghanistan as we now know it came into being.

Among the entourage of the Prophet, in addition to Salman, there was another famous companion who was not Arab. His presence symbolized the rapid spread of Islam among the Blacks and the creation of the Black African zone of Islamic culture, encompassing a vast area from the high- lands of Ethiopia, where Islam spread already in the seventh century, to Mali and Senegal. The descendants of Bilal are said to have migrated to Mali, forming the Mandinka clan Keita, which helped create the Mali Empire. Some of the companions of the Prophet also migrated to Chad and established Islam there a generation after the Prophet.

Altogether Islam spread in Black Africa mostly through trade, and such tribes as the Sanhaja, who themselves embraced Islam early, became intermediaries between Arab Muslims to the north and Black Africans. By the eleventh century a powerful Islamic kingdom was established in Ghana, and by the fourteenth century the Mali Empire, which was Muslim, was one of the richest in the world; its most famous ruler, Mansa Musa, one of the most notable rulers in the whole of the Islamic world.