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REV. JOHN HARDON, S.J.
To most Christians, Mohammedanism is only a vague religious movement that somehow gave rise to the Crusades and that presently affects the culture and political aspirations of certain people in North Africa, the Near East and Pakistan. Actually Mohammedanism is the most powerful force among the living religions outside of Christianity, and to many observers its greatest competitor for the spiritual domination of the world.
The correct name of Mohammedanism is Islam, which Mohammed himself adopted as a description of the faith he proclaimed. Grammatically Islam is the infinitive of a verb that means to resign, submit, or surrender, by implication oneself or one's person to God. Those who profess it are called Muslims, of which the Western form is Moslems, meaning "believers" who offered themselves to God, as distinct from Kafirs or Mushriks, "the rejectors" of the divine message of salvation. Moslems dislike the word Mohammedan because it suggests the worship of Mohammed, even as the term Christian implies the worship of Jesus Christ.
A balanced study of Islamic origins must take into account the religious and ethnic conditions in Arabia before the rise of Mohammed. In ancient times Arabia remained quite outside the threshold of the great civilizations. Its inhabitants never really bowed to a foreign master. The tribal and political divisions of the people combined with the rough terrain to foil attempted conquests by alien powers.
While the early history of the Arab race is veiled in obscurity, historical tradition agrees in assigning Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Agar, as one of the important early ancestors of the race. In any case, the Semitic people who formed the permanent population of Arabia were joined several centuries before Mohammed by colonies of immigrants, chiefly Jews but also Christians, who settled among the native population. Thus three religious currents ran through pre-Islamic Arabia: the native Arabian, the Jewish and the Christian.
Idolatry combined with elements of Biblical tradition to form the religion of the native Arab. Derived from a primitive form of animism, it consisted largely in the worship of the heavenly bodies. Though he seems to have believed in one God, the early Arab found little difficulty combining his weak monotheism with adoration of the fixed stars and planets, or at least with offering sacrifice to the angels who were believed to dwell in these stellar bodies. The title "goddesses" or "daughters of God" was given not only to the intelligences but to their images as well, which the Arabs looked upon as either animated by the spirits or graced by their presence with the power of special protection.
Mohammed, the founder of Islam, was born into this environment at Mecca, about 600 miles south of Jerusalem, some time between 570 and 580 of the Christian era. His father, Abd Allah, died on a journey to Medina, before Mohammed was born; the mother, Aminah bint Wahb, died ten years later. The young Muhammad (as spelled in Arabic) was first brought up by his paternal grandfather, and after the latter's death by his uncle Abu Talib. Except for a pathetic reference in the Koran to his hardships as an orphan, most of the early life of Mohammed before his vocation is either legendary or difficult to verify.
It is certain that he engaged in the caravan trade, became commercial agent to a widow Khadija, married her and had children, of whom four daughters survived. What pious tradition suggests, that he showed prophetic insight already in his youth, should be set aside. More important and surely authentic is the series of conflicts to which Mohammed was subject and which deeply affected his later experiences. His orphaned background deprived him of external care and security, and encouraged a sense of dependence on the preternatural; the evidence of idolatry among the Arabs contrasted strongly with the monotheistic religion of the immigrant Jews and, mostly Nestorian, Christians; his deep sensibility responded as by instinct to the social injustice he saw all around him at Mecca, with its extremes of wealth and poverty, and its underworld of slaves, thieves and vagabonds.
When he finally emerged about the age of forty (610-612 A.D.) as the prophet of a new revelation, the immediate object of reform and castigation was the prosperity-sodden Mecca, whose inhabitants he faced with the message of repentance because the judgment of God was at hand.
Mohammed's message to the Meccans was simple and forthright. He proclaimed the existence of one only absolute Lord and Creator, whose name Allah was known but almost buried in the Arabic pantheon. This God was sole master of mankind, whose final judgment would be a terrible vengeance on the ungodly. Man's only hope before the Deity was a blind abandonment (Islam) to the divine will, and a life of prayer and resistance to one's sinful inclinations.
But the leading people of Mecca would not listen. Religious leaders were too entrenched in their polytheism and the wealthy merchants in secular affairs to take Mohammed seriously. Gradually he made some converts, beginning with his wife, and mostly among the slaves and foreigners. Opposition arose when the impact of his ideas became more evident. Occasionally there were riots and always a hidden persecution in the form of social boycott.
For ten years Mohammed struggled to make headway with only minimal success until the autumn of 622, when he fled secretly from Mecca, escaped his pursuers, and established himself at Medina, about two hundred miles north. The city had been suffering from a fratricidal war, and feared lest its weakness be exploited by the Jewish tribes under municipal control. So the people invited Mohammed to come to Medina as arbitrator and peace-maker.
This migration of Mohammed and his followers is known as the Hijrah (departure) and marks the year one of the Moslem era. Moslem years are counted A.H., or after the Hijrah. The flight to Medina changed not only the scene but the actor and the drama in Islamic history. In Mecca the prophet had been simply a religious leader, concerned for the social morals of his people and zealous to share his revealed convictions; at Medina he suddenly became a political and military figure, whose new role is clearly indicated by a sudden transition in the Koran.
Three important battles, provoked by Mohammed, mark the period of a slow conquest of Mecca, finally accomplished in 630. An attempted raid on a Meccan caravan was first repulsed by armed soldiers, who were then roundly defeated by the Moslems at Badr (624). The following year in a pitched battle at Uhud, the Meccans won a partial victory which they did not follow up. In the Battle of the Ditch (627), Mohammed successfully resisted a siege of Medina by digging large trenches before the unprotected entrances to the city. Three years later he determined to attack his native city with an army of ten thousand men. He took possession without a struggle, broke down the pagan idols of the Kaaba, rebuilt the sacred temple and into its foundation set the same black stone which Arabian animists had kissed for centuries as part of their pilgrimage ritual. Probably a meteorite, the stone came to be worshiped by the Semitic tribesmen as "of heavenly" origin. Islam's tradition explains the present black color of the stone as a result of contact with the sins and impurity of the pagan world.
For a moment his Medinian companions feared that Mohammed would leave them now in favor of Mecca, but they were promptly reassured. Within a few months after his entrance into Mecca, he broke the final resistance of the Bedouin tribes at the battle of Hunajn and returned to Medina to establish that city as the political capital of a new Moslem state. Here he received delegates from the Arabian chieftains who vowed their submission, and from here sent out his last military expeditions, including one against the Byzantine power which failed indeed but foreshadowed the vast expansion of the Islamic empire of the future.
From Medina, in 631, the prophet issued his definitive norms excluding idolaters from the pilgrimage which had become entirely Islamized, and in 632 Mohammed made the pilgrimage himself for the first and last time. An estimated forty thousand people made the journey with him. It was a pilgrimage of farewell. His mission was complete: paganism had been crushed, the new faith was solidly established, and a young generation of ardent followers was ready to carry the prophet's message to the far reaches of Asia and Northern Africa. Scholars dispute as to whether Mohammed personally ambitioned this conquest. There is not a syllable in the Koran suggesting a mission of Islam outside of Arabia, or of a conscious universalism such as we find in the New Testament. Yet expansion was inevitable-given the Moslem abomination of pagan idolatry, the claim to superseding Judaism and Christianity, the charge of polytheism against the Christian dogma of the Trinity, and Mohammed's insistence on a zealous prosecution of the enemies of Allah.
On his return to Medina after the pilgrimage, Mohammed was seized by a violent fever which caused his death at the age of sixty-three, in the eleventh year of the Hijrah and the year 632 (June 8) of the Christian era.
The Bible of Islam is the Koran or Qur'an. It consists of those revelations which Mohammed claimed to have received from Allah, yet not directly but through the mediation of the angel Gabriel. According to Islamic tradition, the book is not a new creation but exists in archetype in heaven, fixed in the very essence of God and delivered piecemeal to the prophet. The word Koran means "recitation," and suggests its primary function of being recited during religious ceremonies.
Mohammed memorized his own utterances and taught his followers to do the same, but no single disciple knew the whole Koranic revelation. When the prophet died, the oracles were found on scattered bits of leather, ribs of palm leaf, and even on stones. These were gathered together, put into a chest and entrusted to the keeping of Haphsa, one of Mohammed's wives. During the reign of the first Caliph, Abu Bekr, a hurried edition of the Koran was made by Zaid of Medina, Mohammed's secretary, relying on oral tradition and scattered writings. But variant texts soon appeared, which alarmed the prophet's followers and prompted the third Caliph, Othman, to order all variants burned and have a canonical edition published by Zaid and three members of the Koraish tribe. Thus the text of the Koran was finally settled within thirty years of Mohammed's death, and in its present form is universally accepted by Moslems as authentic.
In English translation, the Koran is a book of some two-hundred thousand words, divided into one hundred fourteen chapters, called surahs, arranged roughly in descending order of length, with some of the final chapters as short as a single paragraph. Surahs are further divided into verses, totalling about six thousand, and numbered as in the Christian Bible.
The surahs are not numbered in the manuscripts, but are headed by titles taken from a particular matter treated, a person mentioned, or generally from the first significant words. Typical titles are: Women, Abraham, Mary, the Angels, Divorce, Small Kindnesses, and the Disbelievers.
Moslems universally recognize the language of the Koran as elegant in the extreme. "The Koran," they say, "cannot be translated." Nothing can duplicate "that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy." It is admittedly the standard of the Arabic tongue, and as the book itself teaches, beyond the capacity of any human pen. This, they claim, is a permanent miracle, greater than raising the dead and alone sufficient to convince the world of its divine origin.
No satisfactory theory explains either the time or sequence of the purported revelations. Most likely the shortest surahs were the earliest, and references to current events within the text may indicate when some of the statements were made.
Heading many of the surahs is the declaration, "Revealed at Al-Madinah" or "Revealed at Mecca"; where no place is given, the locale of revelation is uncertain. Also at the beginning of each chapter, with the exception of the ninth, occurs the phrase, "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful."
Only the most uncritical Moslem holds that the Koran is wholly original. Mohammed wove into his discourse large quantities of tribal tradition, popular sayings, legends beloved by the people, and much that he had gathered from his contact with the Jews and Christians, although the latter was mainly apocryphal, and the Jewish was more rabbinical interpretation than Old Testament content.
Doctrine and worship in the Koran
Islam is a glomeration of sects and traditions that bewilder the Western mind. Yet after thirteen centuries, the followers of Mohammed are somehow united and their unity traceable to a common devotion to the Koran. It is the duty of every Moslem, man, woman, or child, to read the Koran and understand it according to his capacity. There runs through the book a consistent body of doctrine and of practical obligations which has remained in all ages the inspiration of the Muslim religion.
Unexpectedly, the famous Shahada or profession of faith, "There is but one God, and Mohammed is the Apostle of God," nowhere occurs as such in the Koran. The nearest equivalent, often called the Islamic Credo, is found in the surah of Women: "You who believe, believe in God and His apostle, and the Book which He revealed to His apostle, and the Book which he revealed to those before him. Whoever denies God and His angels and His books and His apostle and the day of judgment has strayed far away from the truth."1
While the Koran itself is central, three other sources of Islamic doctrine and practice are recognized by orthodox Moslems: tradition or Qunnah, community agreement or igmah, and the principle of analogy called gijas.
Tradition as a source of revelation is co-equal with the Koran in binding power and authority. It consists of all the sayings, explicit or implicit, of Mohammed, which he did not personally set down in the Koran.
Consensus of believers is more difficult to define and has occasioned endless dispute and schism. But in theory it means that whenever a sizeable portion of the Moslem faithful agrees on some cardinal issue of doctrine or ritual, this becomes part of the creedal structure of Islam.
The method of analogy finds special application in the field of morals and conduct, where a new situation is evaluated by comparison with a similar one in the past. Understandably the principle of gijas lends itself to arbitrary interpretation and, in fact, has been the cause of grave tension and conflict in Moslem jurisprudence.
The Arabic word for God is Allah, an abbreviation for al-ilah, "the God," to distinguish the supreme Deity from the numerous lesser divinities that were worshiped in Arabia in Mohammed's time. Koranic attributes of God are rich and varied. He is called the Hearer, Seer, Bestower, Reckoner, Pardoner, Keeper and Guide; and the epithets applied to Him have been gathered together into the ninety-nine "most beautiful names of God."
Among the most impressive descriptions of the Deity is the eloquent Throne-verse in the second surah:
God, there is no god but He-the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what appears to His creatures as before and after or behind them. Nor shall they compass any of His knowledge except as He will. His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them, for He is the Most High, the Supreme in glory.2
In the Koran the essential element of true belief is an uncompromising monotheism. Mohammed rejected the legends of contemporary Arabs that Allah had daughters who were goddesses, and on the same grounds opposed the worship of Christianity as based on human invention. Loving faith requires ikhlas, or surrender of oneself completely to God alone, and the basic error is shirk, when companions are ascribed to the Creator and creatures are worshiped as God. This is the one monstrous sin: "God forgives not that partners should be set up with Him. But He forgives everything else, to whom He pleases. To set up partners with God is to devise a most heinous sin."3
God's unity, therefore, is absolute, and allows no filiation, which would be an outrage, or even association in the making or government of the world. He is complete Master of the universe and by His will determines all things, whether good or bad. He has predestined mankind according to eternal decrees, yet Koranic teaching does not clearly reduce man's lot to a crude fatalism, which some Moslem interpreters have since found in their scriptures.
There are two strains of thought on human liberty in the Koran. When speaking speculatively, man's absolute dependence and even induction into sin by God are taught for "Allah sends astray whom He wills, and whom He wills He guides."4 But when the context is moral exhortation, the existence of freedom and the need for making a right choice are emphasized. In the first verse of the Koran, these two elements are combined, at once recognizing Allah as Lord of the universe and invoking His mercy against the day of judgment for sins ostensibly committed by an abuse of free will.
God is not only one and inimitable, but He is also the primal and unique cause of everything outside Himself. Although some passages obscurely suggest the pre-existence of matter co-extensively with God, elsewhere the Koran is perfectly clear on creation out of nothing. "The Originator of the heavens and the earth! When He decrees a thing, He says to it only: Be! and it is."6 And again, "Lo! Your Lord is Allah who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then He established Himself upon the throne, directing all things." 7
With regard to the divine moral attributes, there is confusion of thought which later gave rise to such contrary Islamic theologies as the pantheism of the Persian Sufis and the orthodoxy of a modern Koranic commentator who says "the attributes of God are so different from anything we know in our present world that we have to be content with understanding that the only fit word by which we can name Him is 'He.' (Yet) the pantheist places the wrong accent when he says that everything is He. The truth is better expressed when we say that everything is 'His.'"8 Often the Koran presents God as a magnified Arab chief or Sheikh, who is ready to forgive, who desires the salvation of men, and sends them prophets and the Book to guide them. Elsewhere He appears to act arbitrarily and through caprice. "He forgives whom He wills and He punishes whom He wills."'
Christ and Mary
Consistent with denying any filiation in God, Christ appears in the Koran as only a messenger of Allah, His servant and prophet, but nothing more. The Blessed Virgin, therefore, although respectfully treated is only the Mother of Jesus. She is called Maryam, and the name occurs thirty-four times in the Koran, always referring to the Mother of Christ, except in three passages where she seems to be identified with Mariam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. Her virtue is of a high character, which many commentators interpret as absolute sinlessness from birth and even conception. According to Abu Huraira, Mohammed had said, "No child comes into this world without being at the time of his birth touched by Satan, and because of this touch the child utters a cry. Mary and her Son have been exempted from this touch."10
The privilege of the virgin birth of Christ is unique in the history of mankind. Appearing to Mary at the Annunciation, the angels spoke to her in words reminiscent of the Gospel of St. Luke. "O Mary," they said, "truly God has chosen you and purified you, and chosen you above the women of all nations. God gives you glad tidings of a word from Him. His name will be Christ Jesus, the Son of Mary, held in honor in this world and in the hereafter." When Mary objected, "How shall I have a son, when no man has touched me?" one of the angels assures her, "Even so, God created what He willed. When He has decreed a plan, He merely says to it, 'Be,' and it is. Your Lord says, It is easy for me. And it will take place that We may make of him a revelation for mankind and a mercy from Us, and it is a thing ordained." Whereupon "she conceived the child, and withdrew him to a far place."11
After His birth, when Mary brought the infant to her people they rebuked her for infamy. She referred them to the new-born babe for an explanation. "How can we speak to one who is in the cradle?" they asked. Whereupon the child spoke in defense of His mother, "Behold I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture, has made me a prophet."12 To which Mohammed was careful to add, "It was not befitting the majesty of God that He should take unto Himself a son" thus exalting Christ to the dignity of a prophet like Moses but insisting that He was only a man.
God performed miracles to confirm the teaching and mission of Christ, who also gathered to His company a number of apostles. "When Jesus perceived unbelief" among the Jews to whom He was preaching, He inquired, "Who are my helpers in the cause of Allah? The disciples replied, 'We will be Allah's helpers. We believe in Allah, and do you bear witness that we have surrendered unto Him.'"13 After finishing His mission, Jesus returned to Allah who spoke in uncompromising terms against those who should reject the Christian message. "I should punish them with a violent punishment in this world and in the next, and they shall have no aid. But as for those who believe and do good works, He will repay them their wages in full."14
The religion of Jesus, like that of Moses, was at first equated with his own revelation. Later on, however, when Mohammed tried and failed to reconcile the three communities, he reversed his earlier approval of Christianity. Although Jesus resembled Mohammed by receiving the Scriptures, being declared a prophet and confirmed by signs, later surahs declare the Christians unbelievers and fit only to burn after the day of judgment. "Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. He has revealed unto you (Mohammed) the Scripture with truth, confirming that which went before it, even as He revealed the Torah and the Gospel previously as a guide to mankind. . . . He it is who revealed to you (Mohammed) the Scriptures which are clear revelations.... Those who reject this faith, neither their possessions nor their progeny will avail them against Allah. They are but fuel for the fire. Say to those who disbelieve: You shall be overcome and gathered into hell, an evil resting place."15 Centuries of Mohammedan history testify to the seriousness of this anathema.
Following the doctrine of the Docetists, the Koran denies that Christ was slain by the Jews. Yet God will punish the Jews rejecting Mohammed, slandering Mary's virginity and claiming to have crucified Jesus. "Allah has set a seal upon them because of their disbelief, and of their speaking against Mary a terrible calumny, and because of their saying, 'We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger.' They did not slay nor crucify him, but so it appeared to them. For Allah took him up unto Himself."16 Inconsistently, however, in another passage the Koran explicitly affirms Christ's death and resurrection, as in the prophetic statement of the Christ Child shortly after His birth, when He miraculously announced, "Peace on me the day I was born, and the day I died, and the day on which I shall be raised alive."17
Woven into the Koran as a Christological theme is the repeated denial that God could have a son and therefore that Jesus could be one with Allah. "Jesus in Allah's eyes is in the same position as Adam. He created him of dust, and then said to him, 'Be,' and he is." This is the truth from the Lord, and "whosoever disputes with you concerning him, we will summon our sons, and your sons, and our women and your women, and we will pray humbly and solemnly invoke the curse of Allah upon those who lie."18 In one eloquent passage, Mohammed consigns all Trinitarian Christians to eternal doom.
This studied reduction of Christ to the status of mere man is part of a larger Koranic message, that Moses and Christ and Mohammed are equally prophets of Allah, except that Mohammed is the last of the prophetic line. Moslems are told that "Mohammed is not the father of any man among you, but he is the messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets."20 When a document is sealed, it is complete, and there can be no further addition. Mohammed therefore closes the long line of prophets. God's teaching will always be continuous, but there has been and there will be no prophet after Mohammed. As Moses prepared the way for Christ, so Christ was the precursor of Mohammed. This is not an arbitrary matter. In Islamic tradition it is a decree full of knowledge and wisdom and irrevocable with the immutability of Allah Himself.
Less familiar than the denial of Christ's divinity, is the positive concept of the Trinity suggested by the Koran and further elaborated by its commentators. According to Mohammed, on the day of resurrection God will ask Christ the following question, "Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to mankind: Take me and your mother for two gods beside Allah?" to which Christ will give the answer, "Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then You knew it. You know what is on my mind. Behold, You only are the knower of things hidden."21
Mohammed was adamant in denying the Trinity. "Believe in God and His messengers," he told the people, "and do not say, three. Cease, it is better for you. Allah is only one God. Far is it from His transcendent majesty that He should have a son. His is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth. And Allah is sufficient as defender. The Christ will never scorn to be a slave unto Allah, nor will the favored angels. Whoever scorns His service and is proud, all such will He assemble unto Him (and) will punish them with a painful doom."22
Yet the Koranic conception of the Trinity is a bizarre notion that is hard to find anywhere in contemporary religious literature. Mohammed quite literally believed that Christians professed a divine triad of Allah, Jesus of Nazareth and Mary. He is clear in asserting that the Messias was not divine, and equally (though less forthrightly) clear that the Holy Spirit is not God but only a special, mysterious power issuing from Him, or, perhaps an angel, whom commentators identify with the Angel Gabriel who spoke to Mohammed.
Islamic exegetes confirm this judgment in their interpretation of the term, "Three," of the fourth surah. Some say bluntly that the three in question are "Allah and Jesus and his Mother." Others are more precise and more crude. Allah, Christ and Mary are three gods and the Messias is the child, "in the flesh" (walad' Ullah) of Allah from Mary. Still others repeat the same Islamic tradition but prudently add that this may not be the explanation which Christians accept, since according to them, "Three means that God is three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. They understand by Father the essence, by the Son the knowledge, and by the Holy Spirit the life" of Allah. While still erroneous, the latter at least offers an alternative to the traditional Mohammedan concept of the Trinity which was condemned as blasphemous.
For a religion as notoriously earth-bound as Islam, the spiritual world is remarkably prominent. Some thirty surahs speak of the angels, and another dozen of the jinn who are created like men but of fire instead of earth. In the imagery of the Koran, angels appear to be messengers of God: to bear up His throne, descend to earth with His decrees, record men's actions, receive their souls when they die, witness for or against them at the last judgment, and stand guard over the gates of hell.
Besides the angels, there are devils, whom the Koran represents not as fallen spirits but rebellious jinn, also called shaitans who lead men astray, oppose the prophets, and try to overhear what goes on in heaven but are driven away by shooting stars. They teach people sorcery and will finally go to hell along with wicked men on the day of final resurrection.
Revelation and Prophets
Next to unity of God, the doctrine of the prophets or apostles is the central dogma of the Koran. God has at all times and to all peoples, including the jinn, sent His messengers to preach the unity of Allah and warn men of the judgment to come. Most of them were rejected and as a consequence brought divine punishment on the nations that refused to listen. Among the more prominent mentioned in the Koran are Adam, Noah and Abraham, Moses and Jesus the son of Mary. Unlike his predecessors, Mohammed is God's apostle to all mankind and not only to one people or time. While only implicit in the Koran, this broad universalism later on became a cardinal principle of Islam.
All told, twenty-eight prophets are named, including four obscure Arabians and eighteen Old Testament figures. Their doctrine is entirely consistent, except that each succeeding apostle adds to and clarifies the preceding, until Mohammed in the Koran not only confirms earlier Scriptures, but, as the final revelation, clears up all uncertainties and is the repository of perfect truth. In fact, Mohammed's coming was foretold by Jesus under the name of Ahmad, which the Jews and Christians seek to conceal by misquoting the Bible and even willfully perverting its meaning.
The last day is always present to the author of the Koran, almost to the point of obsession. It will be a cataclysmic event to come suddenly at a time known only to God. Some of the most beautiful poetry in Koranic literature deals with this theme. Whole surahs are devoted to the same, as the eighty-second, entitled "The Cleaving," revealed at Mecca and referrable either to the judgment at death or to the final day of reckoning.
While modified in minor details, Koranic eschatology has remained substantially unchanged in modern Islam. After death, when the body is buried, each person is judged by two angels, Munkar and Nakir, on his faith and good works. Unbelievers and Moslem sinners will suffer "the torments of the grave," whereas prophets and martyrs enter heaven immediately. Ambiguity on the resurrection has produced two opposing theories: either that the soul dies and later rises with the body, or that it continues to live and will later be re-embodied.
Preludes of the general judgment include universal discord among nations, the appearance of a mysterious "beast of earth" and the coming of Antichrist. Jesus will return to earth, only to be slain. At the first sound of the trumpet, the world will come to an end, at the second the dead will rise and assemble on the plain of judgment. God will appear between angels, and Mohammed will intercede for the souls. Each man's guardian spirit will bear witness to his record, weighed in the balance, and his book will be placed in his right hand, if blessed, otherwise in the left. The souls will then start crossing a bridge as narrow as the blade of a knife, spanning the fires of hell, into which the wicked fall but the good, with help received from the prophet, will safely enter Paradise.
Hell is described as a valley of smoke, where the damned suffer eternal hunger, burning and chains. They are fed with boiling water and the fruit of the cursed zaggum, resembling the heads of demons and like molten brass in the belly. Words fail to convey the horrors implied in such dire predictions as "The word of the Lord has been fulfilled, 'Verily I shall fill hell with the jinn and mankind together,"' or the observation, "One day we shall ask hell, 'Are you filled to the full?' It will answer, 'Are there any more to come?'"24
Paradise, on the other hand, is a haven of gardens and meadows, flowing with brooks of water and streams of honey, milk and wine. Spreading lotus trees cast their cooling shade. The blessed, attired in rich garments and jewels, recline on silken divans covered with cushions and tapestry. They eat and drink to satiety, and never feel any pain. For companions they have dark-eyed maidens and wives of recurring virginity. Their only spiritual joy is a mysterious presence of God.
Ritual prayer, salah, was first prescribed by the Koran and further defined by the earliest tradition or sunnah. All Moslems are obligated to its prescriptions, once they reach puberty and as long as they are in good health. The aged, infirm, travelers and others are excused only as long as it is impossible to fulfil the ritual demands.
The rite consists of a series of seven movements or postures, joined to appropriate recitations, collectively termed a "bowing" rakah, and each salah is made up of a fixed number of bows. In sequence the rakah begins with the recitation of the phrase, "God is most great," while the hands are open on each side of the face then the recitation of the fatihah, or opening surah of the Koran, and another passage or passages while standing upright; bowing from the hips; straightening up; falling on the knees and a first prostration with face to the ground; sitting back on the haunches; and a second prostration with face to the ground.
Only the first rakah in the day requires the opening salutation. Second and subsequent rites begin with the recitation of the first Koranic surah, and at the end of each pair of rakahs and the conclusion of the day the worshiper recites the Shahada, "There is but one Allah, Mohammed is Allah's apostle" together with ritual salutations. Then he sits up and with upraised finger makes his private prayers.
Set times for prayer are at daybreak (two rakahs), noon (four rakahs), mid-afternoon (four rakahs), after sunset (three rakahs), and in the early part of night (four rakahs). Prayers may be said in private or, preferably, together with the congregation in a mosque. When said publicly the worshipers stand in rows behind the prayer-leader, imam, all facing in the direction, quibla, of the sacred mosque at Mecca, marked by a niche in the wall of the mosque. Private recitation should be on clean ground or on a rug, in the direction of Mecca. Additional prayers, especially at night, are recommended but not prescribed.
Fridays at noon is held the main ritual service of the week, and consists of a formal address in two parts: invocations of the prophet, Moslem leaders, and the political ruler of the state; and a sermon delivered by a preacher. Similar major functions are held on the two principal feast days of the year: the day of the Breaking of the Fast after the fast of Ramadan, and the feast of the Sacrifice at the Pilgrimage.
Hours of prayer are announced by a caller, muezzin, from the minaret of the mosque, following the formula, "God is most great, God is most great. I bear witness that there is no god except the One God. I bear witness that Mohammed is the prophet of God. Come to prayer. Come to the Good. Prayer is better than sleep. God is most great. God is most great. There is no god but the One God.
Elaborate provisions require cleansing before prayer, whether in public or private, as prescribed in the Koran, "When you rise up to prayer, wash your faces, and your hands, and arms to the elbows, and wipe your heads and your feet to the ankles." Another, "greater ablution" must be performed after major pollutions. The purification should be done with water if available, otherwise with clean sand. Curiously the rite of circumcision, though generally binding on Moslems, is not prescribed in the Koran.
Two forms of ritual donation are mentioned in the Koran: freewill offerings and mandatory contribution. The latter, zakah, is gravely prescriptive as an outward sign of piety and a means of salvation. In juridical theory, the zakah is exacted on grain, fruits, livestock, silver, gold and merchandise, and amounts to about one-fortieth of the annual revenues. Though not called a tax, it is required of all who, whether voluntarily or otherwise, enter the brotherhood of Islam. As stated in the Koran, the beneficiaries of these alms are the poor, the needy, those employed in collection, persons engaged in propagating religion, slaves and prisoners, insoluble debtors, fighters for the faith and travelers.
In Moslem countries the zakah becomes formal taxation and applies as well to those outside the fold. Free-will offerings are also encouraged beyond the call of duty, notably in favor of religious enterprises not directly under control of the State.
In its earliest form, fasting was prescribed by Mohammed at Medina in the same form and on the same day as for the Jews. Moslem commentators observe that until a mitigation was revealed, Moslems used to fast completely from the evening meal of one day until the evening meal of the next, and if they fell asleep before they had taken their meal, they had considered it their duty to abstain, with the result that men fainted and came near to death. Intercourse with their wives had been similarly restricted.
Given the revelation, however, which was occasioned by estrangement from the Jews and the growth of Islamic autonomy, the former fast became optional and the ninth lunar month each year, called Ramadan, was made a period of strict observance. It affects all Moslems in sound health who have reached maturity. The old, the sick, travelers, and women in certain conditions are exempt. But the exemption lasts only as long as the disability, and the fast must be made up later on. Breaking the fast is punishable by fines of expiation, of different quantity, depending on the gravity of the sin. The fast consists in complete abstention from food and drink, tobacco and perfumes, and sexual intercourse, from sunrise to sunset of each day of Ramadan. There are no prohibitions for the nights. Other fasts, of greater or less intensity, are also part of Islamic custom, for example, to expiate certain offences.
Pilgrimage to Mecca
Much as fasting is the result of contact with the Jews, so the pilgrimage (Hajj) to Mecca became part of the Moslem religion through relations with the pagans. Indeed the pilgrim ritual has been largely taken over from pre-Islamic paganism, but now directed to the worship of a single deity.
At least once in a lifetime every Moslem is expected to go on a pilgrimage to the sacred mosque at Mecca, in the twelfth month of the lunar year. Physical strength for the journey and the necessary financial means are assumed to make the precept strictly binding.
The immediate object of the pilgrimage is to kiss the famous Black Stone that Arabian polytheists had worshiped for centuries before Mohammed came on the scene. Other ritual ceremonies are stoning of the pillars which represent the devil in the vicinity of Mina, offering sacrifices of sheep and camels on the way back from Mina, visiting the mosque and going seven times around the Kaaba (former pagan animist shrine), running between two small elevations outside the sanctuary (Safa and Marwa), and visiting the prophet's mosque at Medina. Essential to the pilgrimage are the afternoon services held at the hill of Arafa, about twelve miles east of Mecca.
Elaborate ritual purifications are required before entering the territory of Mecca. Men shave their heads, discard their ordinary clothing and put on two plain unsewn sheets, leaving face and head uncovered. Women keep their head covered. No fasting is prescribed, but the use of perfumes and sexual relations are forbidden. The most telling effect of the pilgrimage has been to consolidate the Moslem community and give the pilgrim a new sense of belonging to the elect. The title he acquires, Hajji, on returning home adds to his prestige and assurance of final salvation.
Not the least embarrassing provisions of the Koran for Moslem commentators are those advocating a Holy War, Jihad, against pagans, Jews and Christians. Yet these prescriptions are historically most significant to explain the propagation of Islam for upwards of a thousand years. Three passages are classic and deserve to be quoted in full.
First is a duty stated in general terms, in the same context with pilgrimages and fasting. Its language recalls the situation that Mohammed faced in his conflict with the recalcitrant Meccans who resisted his revelations.
Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah loves not transgressors. Slay them whenever you find them and drive them from whence they have expelled you, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Fight them on until sedition is no more and allegiance is rendered to God alone. But if they desist, then make no aggression except against evildoers.25
The foregoing was not merely directive but prescriptive, and not only for the early period of Moslem origins but for all its subsequent history. Yet it does not so directly touch the grave issue of ordering the sword for the extension and not only for the preservation of Islam. Two other passages do so overtly and have for centuries been understood to refer to Jews and Christians, besides the pagan polytheists.
When the Sacred Months (of truce) are over, kill those who ascribe partners to God, wheresoever you find them. Seize them, encompass them, and ambush them. Then if they repent and observe the prayer, and pay the alms, let them go their way.
Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the last day, who prohibit not what God and His prophet have forbidden, and who refuse allegiance to the True Faith until they pay the tribute readily after being brought low. The Jews say, "Fzra is the son of Allah," and the Christians say, "Christ is the son of Allah;" that is their saying with their mouth. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah Himself fights against them. How perverse they are!26
This duty of waging a Holy War against unbelievers is a collective obligation, not an individual one. According to Islamic tradition, the world is divided into subjugated zones and regions not yet under Moslem control. To conquer the latter is an apostolic venture and those who die in the cause are not dead. "They are living. With their Lord they have provision, rejoicing because of that which Allah has bestowed upon them of His bounty."
While it is impossible to find a complete consensus of Moslem opinion on the subject, modern Islamic commentators fairly agree on certain general facts and interpretations about the Holy War. Next to their attitude toward women, they feel that Moslems have been most misinterpreted in their attitude toward the use of force.
Apologists for the more liberal view, who are in the majority, admit that the Koran teaches the Jihad, but they insist this should be balanced by other verses where toleration is proclaimed.
When reflecting on their record in history, Moslems admit to the widespread use of force, but make the countercharge that every religion at some stages in its career has been used by its professors to mask aggressions and Islam is no exception. They make three basic denials in this area: that Islam's record of intolerance is greater than that of other major religions, that Western histories have been fair to Islam in their accounts of its use of force, and that blots on their history are due to the principles of their faith.
According to an edict promulgated by Mohammed at Medina, the concept of the Islamic community is carefully defined. He substituted faith for the bond of tribal unity, and thus made believers a family of equals under the direct supervision of Allah.
In this organizational theory, the teaching authority is immediately centered in Cod but channeled through the Koran. Consequently Islam has no provision for divinely authorized institutions either to guard the deposit of faith, or apply its teaching to existential situations; still less has it the right to define infallibly on matters of doctrine or morals. There are only interpreters of the divine magisterium, the learned Mama, who are laymen without clerical orders or special privileges of caste. Yet the Ulama have acquired quasi-clerical status by reason of the respect they enjoy as custodians of the law. Often in practice, if not in theory, their casuistic solutions become the accepted standard of Islamic morality.
The ministry reflects a similar condition. There is no organized priesthood, as there are no sacraments to administer. An oriental nomism, where the religious basis of conduct derives from external observance of law, has become so inveterate in classic Islam that the internal forum or conscience of believers is practically ignored in questions of moral judgment.
In place of a sacerdotal hierarchy, orthodox Islam has ever looked to the political sovereign for the direction of Moslem affairs, not excluding imposition of sanctions for breach of Koranic precepts and interpreting these precepts by civil decree.
Marriage, divorce, and polygamy
In the long years of its history, Islam has undergone many changes in its attitude on sex and marriage, notably emancipating women in such countries as India and Pakistan and recognizing the impracticality of polygamy on a large scale in modern society. Yet basically the principles enunciated in the Koran still remain in effect and, as more than one historian has pointed out, most clearly distinguish Moslem culture from its Christian counterpart.
The Koran is extremely detailed on the subject of women's modesty or, more accurately, of their complete subservience and obscuration. They are bidden always to "lower their gaze" and "not display their beauty" except to husbands, fathers and a restricted clientele of relatives and friends. Covering their faces with a veil was a practical carrying out of this injunction.
A father has the right to give a virgin daughter in marriage to whomsoever he pleases. In all marriages the formal contracting parties are not the bride and groom but their fathers or other responsible male relatives. Indeed the marriage of a woman without the intervention of a qualified male relative is invalid, and where no such relative exists, his office is filled by the gadi. Moslem men may marry a Christian or Jewish woman but Moslem women do not enjoy the same liberty.
First marriages do not debar a man from further unions, since polygamy is legal. Also outside the married state, a husband may cohabit with an unlimited number of concubines. Their children have the same status as those of wedded wives. Mohammed formally approved polygamy. He had several wives nine according to one tradition, and fourteen according to another. But for his followers he limited the number to four, as stated in the Koran. "Marry of the women who seem good to you, two, or three, or four." Tradition has therefore set the limit for ordinary believers to four wives, but authorizes Caliphs and Sultans, as successors of the prophet, to have nine.
Concubinage seems not to be anywhere directly sanctioned in the Koran, and the stringent Koranic laws against adultery intimate that the custom developed after Mohammed. In any case, polygamy is a costly luxury, so that only the rich can afford to practice it. For one thing, the legitimate wives cannot live together; each must have a separate apartment and domestics. Men of moderate means usually have only one wife.
Divorce by the husband's repudiation of his wife is a privilege granted in the Koran. No intervention of any judicial authority is necessary, nor any assignment of reasons or justification; but a "certificate of divorce" must be given the wife. However the husband must wait four months before actually dismissing his spouse, meantime not cohabiting with her. After a first repudiation the wife may not remarry for at least three months, during which time she may be taken back without a further contract. The same holds after a second repudiation. But a third repudiation is irrevocable, unless the woman has in the meantime married and been divorced by another man. An ancient custom allows a triple repudiation to be made at one and the same time, with corresponding effects on its irrevocability.
A woman's right to divorce her husband is highly restricted. She cannot repudiate her partner by declaration. One option is to reach an agreement with him that the marriage should be dissolved on payment of compensation, which usually means the return of her dowry. Some Moslem jurists claim that compensation is void if the reason for dissolving the marriage is cruelty by her husband. Another way open for the wife is to appeal to the courts for annulment, faskh, on such grounds as a husband's incurable disease or failure to support. Anticipating difficulties, Moslem women nowadays often insert a clause in the marriage contract, laying down certain stipulations which, when broken, obligate the husband to grant his wife a divorce or annulment. For centuries the stipulation that a husband should not marry another wife was held to be invalid, since it contradicted the Koran. But more recently such contracts have been considered binding.
Mohammedanism as a religious culture is not naturally ascetical. Its condemnation of celibacy, absence of a priesthood with spiritual functions, sanction of divorce and polygamy, and, with emphasis, a liaison with the political and military power to exploit its aims, argue to a religion that is nothing if not this-worldly and material minded. Add to this a strong legalism and concern with external forms, and one has what seems the antithesis of asceticism and the interior life.
Yet this very preoccupation with secular values produced a reaction within a century of the Hijra. Popular preachers and ascetics arose who were at once depressed by the materialism so prevalent in Islam and attracted by the ideals of Christian solitaries, Gnostic and Neo-Platonist philosophers, and Oriental sannyasis. Among these elements, the function of Christianity was paramount. Often operating through filtered and heterodox channels, the principles of Islamic ascetism are mainly of Christian ancestry, whether present by implication in the Koran, or later explicitated by the followers of Mohammed.
Already in the time of the prophet, two of his companions, Abu Darr and Hudajfah, were known for their condemnation of Moslem rulers as sinners and for their detailed precepts on the spiritual life. Some of their disciples became public preachers, others preferred retirement. In general the dominant feature of this first phase was a fear of God's punishments, based on the Koranic threats of an imminent last judgment.
Rising out of this tradition was the earliest figure in Moslem spirituality, al-Hasan of Basra (643-728), an eloquent preacher on the interior life. By the second century of the Hijra appeared the name of Sufist, etymologically connected with the wearing of undyed garments of wool (suf). Ascetically the concept of fear became clarified into a notion of love for God, expressed in the famous verses of the woman ascetic Rabia al-Adawiya (died 801):
During the third century of the Moslem era, Sufism took on those popular features which made it suspect to religious leaders. Though firmly based on the Koran, their simplicist appeal to the rank and file and their reaction against the impersonal teachings of the orthodox, brought the Sufis into conflict with authorities. Some attempts were made to silence them, and when these failed, an example was made of their most prominent member, Mansur al-Hallaj, who was crucified at Bagdad in 922 for claiming he was God. However, repression proved futile, and the Sufite spirit entered Moslem tradition so deeply that scholars believe it has actually determined the type of Islam known at the present day.
Soon the Sufi leaders organized into congregations and instead of a bare recitation of the Koran introduced liturgical ceremonies, the singing of litanies and other practices frowned upon by orthodox theologians. The issue between the two was deeper than appeared on the surface. It concerned the ultimacy of Islamic religion: whether, as the orthodox said, there is only one way to know God, by means of rational dialectic (ilm) upon the Koran, or, as the Sufis maintained, by direct and personal experience (marifa), culminating in periodic union and absorption into God.
Among other tensions which developed was the unheard-of praise of celibacy. "Marry those among you," is the clear directive of the Koran. Yet Christians for centuries had praised the virginal state. Gradually the influence was felt. Where in the third century A.H. practically all Sufis were married, by the fifth we find one of their great exponents declaring, "It is the unanimous opinion of the leaders of this doctrine that the best and most distinguished Sufis are the unmarried, if their hearts are unstained and their minds free from sin and lust."29
Parallel with a stress on celibacy was the respect which Sufi disciples paid their masters during life and the worship they gave them after death. Nothing could be more alien to ancient Islam than to have saints and intercessors with God. Yet again popular Sufism prevailed. "Know," says the same early authority, "that the principle and foundation of Sufism and knowledge of God rests on Saintship." The highpoint of Moslem hagiology was reached in the development of an elaborate hierarchy of demiurges, culminating in the Qutb, whose function is to superintend the universe, under Allah, as the Pole of the universe.
The revolution in Islamic thought which Sufism provoked was finally crystallized in the life and writing of al-Ghazali (10581111) , whom historians rank with Augustine in religious insight and Moslems venerate as a saint. Ghazali broke the stronghold of the sceptic philosophers and hairsplitting theologians and reintroduced a wholesome respect for the word of God in the Koran and in the traditions of the Moslem faithful. He did not disdain philosophy, but sought to place it at the service of the faith, and above all, to make it intelligible to the people. His re-emphasis on hell and the need of fear brought a welcome balance to the rationalism of men like Avicenna (980-1037), and the near pantheism of many Sufis.
What Ghazali did not foresee, however, was that once Sufism became orthodox, and private communion with God was a valid source of religious knowledge, not only Islamic theology but Islam itself was in danger of being submerged. Moslem leaders, the Ulama or "learned," took strong measures to meet the challenge. They gained control of education, largely through institutions of theological study (madrasas) with official status, salaried teachers, and a prestige that by the thirteenth century practically solidified orthodoxy in the upper classes of Moslem society.
But Sufism remained alive, in the aspirations of millions of believers and in countless traditions which have become co-essentials of the Koranic creed.
Not the least impress of Sufism on Islamic culture is the development of what correspond to religious orders or congregations in the Christian tradition. Their general characteristics are pliability in religious beliefs, ranging from pantheism to close imitations of Christianity and, with notable exceptions, a tendency towards extremism in practice and ritual.
Typical of a conservative order are the Qadiri, whose members are distinguished for their piety, philanthropy and aversion to fanaticism. One of their customary prayers, to be recited a hundred times daily is, "I ask pardon of the mighty God. Glorified be God. May God bless our Master Mohammed and his household and his Companions. There is no God but Allah." Founded in the eleventh century by the jurist Gilani, credited with having forty-nine children, its members are divided into provincial congregations, with headquarters in Baghdad.
An offshoot of the Qadiri, however, is definitely fanatical. Organized by Gilani's nephew, the Rifaiya indulge in extreme self-mortification and thaumaturgical exercises such as glass eating, fire-walking and playing with serpents. They are found in Turkey, Syria and Egypt.
The Mawlawyya were founded by the Persian mystic poet, Jami, whose pantheistic effusions left no room for individual personality. "The universe," he taught, "is the outward visible expression of the Real, and the Real is the inner unseen reality of the Universe. The Universe before it was evolved to outward view was identical with the Real, and the Real after this evaluation is identical with the Universe." Jani's followers are best known for their dervish dancing. While singing their liturgical chants they gyrate in continuous circles to the sound of accompanying music. In the old Ottoman Empire, their chief had the privilege of buckling the sword on the new Sultan when he assumed office.
Among the syncretist groups, the outstanding are the Bektashis, fully established in the fifteenth century as a strange mixture of Islam, Gnosticism and Christianity. They honor Ali, cousin of Mohammed and husband of Fatimah his daughter, Mohammed, and Allah as a kind of Trinity. In place of the traditional Moslem ceremony, they have a sort of communion service of bread, wine and cheese. They also confess their sins to the superior, who gives them absolution. Women participate in the ceremonies without veils. Those who take a vow of chastity wear pendants on their ears as a sign of this dedication. They acquired notoriety through their association with the Janissaries, Christian youths taken captive and brought up as leading Moslem soldiers, whom the Bektashis indoctrinated and exploited in the promotion of Islam. They are centered in the Balkans, especially Albania, and Egypt.
One of the most recent orders, the Sunusiya, was organized by the Algerian, Mohammed Ali al-Sunusi (died 1859). Deeply religious and bent on converting the surrounding people from paganism, Sunusi carried on a life-long propaganda in Egypt and Syria to the point of establishing a quasi-state that took active part in both World Wars on the side of Turkey in the first and of England in the second. They contributed heavily to the growth of Pan-Islamism in North Africa and Asia Minor.
In the absence of ecclesiastical authority or infallible doctrine, dissident factions in Islam were inevitable, and began within a few years of Mohammed's death. While the number and variety of Moslem sectarians are beyond calculation, three principal heterodox movements may be clearly distinguished. Others are either subsidiary to these or qualify in spirit under the main classes.
The Mutazilites (dissidents) are often described as Rationalists or Freethinkers who abandoned faith in Mohammed and the Koran and constructed a religion of reason in their place, after the fashion of Ernest Renan and David Strauss in their Lives of Christ. Actually their position is more complex, and for Western readers far more significant in view of the contact they effected with classic Greek philosophy.
Mutazilism began at the end of the first century A.H. as an opposition movement to two extremists, the ethical laxists (Murjites) who were willing to barter moral principle for the sake of political gain, and the pragmatists (Kharjites) who claimed that religion must be propagated in season and out of season, if need be at the cost of life itself. Well intentioned but radical, the Mutazilites flourished for centuries until they began to force Moslem doctrines into the mold of Greek concepts and derive their theology speculatively from Greek metaphysics instead of the Koran. They passed out of corporate existence as a sect but left in Islamic tradition a worship of reason and a suspicion of Koranic faith that cultured Moslems the world over consider their special possession.
Comparable to the golden age in Christian scholastic theology, which produced Peter Lombard, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas, the Arabs had Avicenna, Avempace and Averroes, all in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, whose works in religious philosophy are among the glories of Islamic civilization. Yet the master ideas of these men were alien to Moslem orthodoxy, and advanced such extreme views as the existence of only one soul in all men (Averroes), and the principle of pure potentiality independent of God (Avicenna). It is said that Avicenna knew the Koran by heart at the age of ten, and other Moslem philosophers were also, if less fervently, attached to their faith. But the solvent of rationalism which they inherited from the Mutazilites and passed on to their followers has permanently entered the religion of Islam.
Best known representative of this Moslem deism is Omar Khayyam (died 1123), philosopher and freethinker, whose Rubaiyat in Fitzgerald's eloquent translation symbolizes the pessimism of a culture that has lost its hold on revelation. Omar tells of listening to doctor and saint, and hearing great argument on the purpose of life, but sadly concludes, "With them the seed of wisdom did sow, and with mine own hand wrought to make it grow; and this was all the Harvest that I reaped 'I came like water, and like wind I go' " Or again, "I sent my Soul through the Invisible some letter of that after-life to spell; and by and by my Soul returned to me, and answered, `I myself am Heaven and Hell.'"
Unlike the Mutazilites, who were mainly theorists, the Shiahs came into being as a group of faithful who disapproved the election of Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman as caliphs to succeed Mohammed. They maintained that Ali, the prophet's cousin, and his line were legitimate successors. Gradually political reasons were colored by doctrinal and ritual differences to solidify the breach between the Shiahs, "partisans" of Ali, and the Sunnis, followers of the Surma or "tradition." Drawing on all sorts of old oriental beliefs, Babylonian, Persian and Indian, the Shiahs finally welded two unheard-of ideas which traditionists to this day abhor. Following the ancient Babylonian theory of Inner Light and the more recent Christian Gnosticism, they held that their leaders, the imams, had incarnated in them the Divine Light which descended through successive generations of prophets from the time of Adam.
Among the Shiahs, therefore, the Iman is at once pope and emperor, gifted with sinlessness and infallibility. But more seriously, Mohammed is regularly credited with divine or near-divine prerogatives, which has deeply influenced the whole of Islamic thought. A European scholar (Abraham Kuyper) examined some two thousand prayer formulas in use by Moslems throughout the world, and discovered that in most of them Mohammed had usurped the place of Allah or God, being addressed three to five times in a single invocation.
The Shiahs differ greatly among themselves, ranging from the moderate Zaidis, who in the tenth century founded the state (now the country) of Yemen, to the extremist Ismailis, sometimes called the "Assassins," found in India and elsewhere. Shiahs favor temporary marriage, and because of their compromises with Christianity have found acceptance among certain Western peoples as esoteric cults, like the Bahais, who originated in Persia and have a sizeable following in the United States.
Besides Mutazilite nationalism and Shiah gnosticism, periodic strains of Moslem puritanism seek to reinstate the spirit of former days, and bring the people back to Allah and His prophet. Among the most recent and currently effective are the Wahhabis founded in the eighteenth century by Mohammed Wahhab (1691-1787) who castigated his contemporaries for their luxury and for their worship of Mohammed and neglect of God. Originally fanatical in preaching and propaganda, they created enemies on all sides, notably among the Turks. For a time they held Mecca and Medina, where they removed from the mosques all that they held was the accretion of later superstition. Although much restricted, the Wahhabis have lately risen with new strength as protagonists of the "Arab idea" in Islam. Their efforts to purify religion and restore its pristine monotheism now constitute one of the outstanding features of modern Islam. Even politically they have regained an Arabian empire under the leadership of Abd al-Aziz, founder of the new kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Relations with Christianity
From the first beginnings of Islamic expansion, Christianity in the East found itself weak to resist the Mohammedan tide. There was a proliferation of Christian sects, universal dissatisfaction with Byzantium and sympathy with the innovators among the Arab Christians and schismatics chafing under the Greek emperors.
After the first period of conquest, we find numerous anecdotes describing the peace if not cordiality existing between Moslems and their Christians subjects. The father of St. John Damascene (674749) was the chief representative (Logothere) of the Christians to the Caliph. But there were also acts of violence and humiliating conditions laid on the Christians the payment of tribute and grave restrictions on freedom. Many Christians apostatized, often following the example of prelates whose position was secure if they catered to the religious prejudice of the civil rulers.
The West labored under the strangest notions about Islam, which some merely dismissed as another Eastern heresy and others looked upon as the vowed enemy of Christianity. Things became worse when the Moors invaded Spain (711) and occupied the coasts of Italy and France, and especially when the Turks made pilgrimages to the Holy Land impossible or extremely risky. Under papal exhortation and the preaching of men like Peter the Hermit and Bernard of Clairvaux, a series of Crusades was launched that lasted from 1096 to 1270, but finally Palestine was lost to the Saracens.
After numerous trials the kings of Spain succeeded in driving the Moors out of the Iberian peninsula (1492). Sicily was delivered by Norman princes in the twelfth century, but Moslem pirates continued to ravage the Mediterranean area for centuries, thus giving rise to the several religious orders destined for the redemption of Christian captives, like the Trinitarians (1198) and Mercedarians (1220). The founding of military orders, e.g., the Templars and Hospitallers (Knights of St. John), belongs to the same era.
In Central Europe, Islam was not fully checked until late in the seventeenth century, under the Polish leader Sobieski (1683), more than a century after the Popes waged a tireless Mediterranean campaign that ended in the victory of Lepanto (1570) under Pope Pius V.
The apostolate to the Moslems by the Eastern Christians was sporadic and only minimally effective. Pioneers in the West to undertake a methodical study of the Moorish religion included the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, and the Franciscan Raymond Lull. Franciscans and Dominicans began organizing schools to prepare missionaries to the Moslems, and the Council of Vienna (1312) ordered the creation of schools of Arabic in the larger universities. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the Contra Gentiles to answer Moslem arguments on the grounds of natural reason, and his treatise on Averroes challenged the latter's claim that what is true in philosophy may be false in theology, and vice versa. Prospects of converting the Moors was a leading motive in the mind of Ignatius of Loyola when he organized the Society of Jesus.
In the last century, Cardinal Lavigerie established the White Fathers expressly to work among the Mohammedans. Parallel enterprises have been going on for years in North Africa, Syria, India, and the Near East, but after hard experience the missiological method has changed, or rather became stabilized to a long range evangelization of charity, patience and study, preparing the Moslem people for the Gospel and disposing them to accept what, by their standards, is only a prelude to the religion of Mohammed.
The more seriously Mohammedans take the Koran and live up to its precepts, the stronger becomes their unqualified belief in one personal God which they share with the Christian world; and correspondingly, the further they depart from the tradition or sunna of their ancestors, the more easily they compromise with polytheism or, in modern times, with Marxism.
On the other hand, the same Koran teaches them "take not the Jews or Christians for friends. They are but one another's friends. If any of you takes them for his friends he is surely one of them. Allah does not guide evildoers."30 Uncompromisingly the Moslem is told "the Religion before God is Islam. If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him. And in the hereafter he will be in the ranks of those who have lost all spiritual good." 31With Oriental realism, the sunna tells him, "He who has denied a verse of the Koran, it is allowed to behead him."32
The one hopeful solution is a changing climate in Moslem circles towards the followers of "the son of Mary." Conscious of the threat of Red domination, spokesmen for their people are telling Christians, "It is a prime duty of our two monotheistic faiths to establish real and abiding friendship, not only among their own adherents, but also between themselves and the followers of the other faith as well. We should collaborate as believers in the one God in defending the world against the menaces of atheism and materialism."33
In the same spirit of tolerance, commentators on the Koran are reinterpreting its harsh passages in a way that leaves room for Christian influence if not for Christianization. "The Muslim does not claim," they explain, "to have a religion peculiar to himself. Islam is not a sect or an ethnic religion. In its view all Religion is one, for the Truth is one. It was the religion preached by all the earlier prophets. It was the truth taught by all the inspirited Books. In essence it amounts to a consciousness of the Will and Plan of God and a joyful submission to that Will and Plan."34 If these sentiments appear strange against the background of more than a thousand years of Koranic intransigence, they suggest that not only new Moslem nations are coming into existence but also a new Islam.
The new Islam
Since Mohammedanism from its origins has always been closely tied in with the State, its spirit and religious outlook at any given point in history can be accurately judged by the political structure of the countries that are dominantly Islamic.
Modern Islam in its church-state dimension is being shaped by the heavy impact of Western thought and institutions, whose influence is commonly dated from the beginning of the nineteenth century, after the invasion of Egypt by Napolean in 1798. Moslem religious leaders for long resisted this Westernization. Their historical traditions had little interest outside the Islamic world, and their educational traditions were mostly confined to the Koranic sciences and supporting disciplines. Civil and political leaders, on the other hand, were more than sympathetic with European technology and such phases of Western thought and culture as promised a competitive equality with the nations of Europe.
As a result two conflicting tendencies are visible in the recent development of Mohammedan countries: a passive resistance to the influx of Western ideas and institutions, along with a reactionary Islamic renascence; and a ready ambition to adopt everything feasible from European sources, provided the adaptation can be grafted on the existing culture. While it would be an oversimplification to say that the first tendency has been directed largely by religious fervor and the second by hard-headed realism, these have been the principal motivating forces behind a tension that it may take generations to resolve.
Turkey is the best example of Moslem experimentation in which the secular impulse has overridden the religious to create a novel situation, quite unlike anything else in the Islamic world. Since the early nineteenth century, Turkey had reacted with political sensitivity to the ferment of Western ideas, most of which came from France and, specifically, from the ideals of the French Revolution.
At the close of the First World War, Turkey was on the verge of destruction when its destinies were taken in hand by a single individual who changed the course of its history. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, first president of the Turkish Republic, was born in 1882 at Salonika, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1915, Mustafa Kemal commanded the Turkish Army at Gallipoli. Four years later, following the defeat of the Central Powers (including Turkey), he organized the armies of liberation in Anatolia, and commanded the campaign which resulted in the achievement of Turkish independence.
In 1920, Ataturk took the lead in the establishment of the First Grand National Assembly, in Ankara, which in 1924 abolished the Sultanate and was the forerunner of the present Republic. To do this he had the Sultan's son, and heir-apparent to the caliphate, 'Abd-al-Majid, banished from the country, on the principle that a supreme religious leader recognized as such by the entire Moslem world, even against his will could become a focal point for reactionary ambitions. Indignation over this move was great, particularly among the Indian Mohammedans who had set their hopes for protection against British imperialism on the newly resurgent Turkish Republic. Moreover, all efforts to re-establish the caliphate in other countries necessarily miscarried, because conditions for it were nowhere so promising as in Turkey.
But Ataturk was not to be checked; he crushed a series of revolts and finally stopped active resistance by having the rebels deported to eastern Thracia. He continued the secularization of the government with far-reaching laws. The ministry for pious endowments (Evkaf) was dissolved in 1924 and joined with the ministry of education; in the following year all the dervish orders were forbidden, and all monasteries dissolved. In the early thirties even the number of mosques was severely limited, of which only one was to be allowed within a circumference of every five hundred meters; the number of preachers to be paid by the government was reduced to three hundred, and they were obligated to provide practical instruction on things like agriculture, in addition to preaching on religious topics.
Some of the most famous mosques were turned into museums or railroad depots, and the religious law (Shari'ah) was replaced by a purely civil code, even as regards domestic relations. One result was the end of polygamy, and another that family names, hitherto unknown in Turkey, were introduced by a law of July 2, 1934. Turkish women were now given equal legal rights with men, and soon obtained the active and passive right of election. Such details as substituting the hat for the fez (that previously supplanted the turban) and other items of European custom were symbolic of the radical changes made.
The new Turkish Constitution professedly found its inspiration in the ideals of Western democracy. Its basic principle became sovereignty of the people, and the republican form of government was declared inviolable. All citizens were held to be equal before the law, and special privileges were abolished. Inviolability of person and freedom of conscience, thought, speech, press, assembly, association, travel, labor and contract were formally stated to be "the natural rights of citizens." This meant that "the life, property, honor, and home of each and all are inviolable," and correlatively that, "no one may be molested on account of his religion, sect, ritual or philosophy." To insure these and similar provisions, primary education was made obligatory and given gratuitously in the government schools.
All phases of life were affected by the new regime, to a degree that the Turkish Revolution has been considered the most complete in the twentieth century, not only because its effects were so widespread but because the ideas on which it was based were, from the Moslem viewpoint, so revolutionary. Spokesmen for the nation repeatedly declared that their Constitution guaranteed all liberties, yet on the theory of a completely secularized society, which had no responsibilities to Koranic principles.
The intention was not only to adapt the people externally to Western customs, but to impregnate them with the spirit of Europe. To achieve this goal the Arabic forms of writing had to be discarded. A new law abolished first the Arabic kind of numerals and then also the script. Schools were built everywhere in the country for people of all ages to learn the new script, which was naturalized in a surprisingly short time. Soon after, the long-established custom of teaching Arabic and Persian, which had been considered necessary for understanding Turkish literature, was eliminated from the lycees. Use of Arabic type for printing Turkish books was prohibited, with the result that innumerable productions of Istanbul printing presses were exported to Egypt, Persia and India.
With the suppression of so many aspects of Turkish culture, however, the new government had the foresight to preserve, as far as possible, the genuine religious values of the people. Formerly the Koran could be read only in Arabic, which limited its accessibility; a Turkish translation appeared for the first time in 1931, and published with a Turkish commentary. Within months, excerpts from this translation were publicly recited in the mosques. Religious freedom even made possible some conversions to Christianity, which according to old Islamic law would have been punished by death.
The guiding genius behind this revolution was Mustafa Kemal, on whom the National Assembly bestowed the title Ataturk, i.e., Father of the Turks, as "the expression of the gratitude and veneration of the nation for the greatest son." A born statesman and ardent nationalist, he was not troubled with theological or cultural sensitivities. From the Moslem point of view, within Turkey and outside, the changes he effected were widely criticized.
What made his critics so hostile was the reduction of Islam from the status of a religiously sanctioned system to the position of a private and inferior religious opinion. It was unthinkable to them that this could be reconciled with the innate theocratic character of Mohammedanism. Students of Islamic history observed that the problem of Islam and of Turkey's Islamic past was not being solved, but forcibly eliminated. It could not but reappear.
Their predictions were verified to the extent that a "palace revolution" in 1960 ended the late regime, ostensibly in opposition to restrictive laws and civil decrees but really in answer to a deepfelt need for closer identification between the ancient religious culture of the people, who are almost one-hundred per cent Moslem, and the political structure of the country. It is assured that the Second Turkish Republic will be more sympathetic with these aspirations.
Constitutional Islamic nation
At the other end of the spectrum is another Moslem country which came into existence in recent years, but whose origins were quite the opposite from those in Turkey. Pakistan, now a republic, was founded in 1947, when Great Britain withdrew from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Its name, coined by Moslem graduates of Cambridge University, is interpreted as "Land of the Pure," in which P stands for the Punjab and A for the Afghan regions, K for Kashmir, I for Islam, S for Sind, and "tan" for the last syllable of Baluchistan. In Urdu, the Hindustani language as spoken by Moslems, pak means spiritual purity and stan means the land. Thus in the very title of their country the founders of Pakistan implied devotion to religious ideals.
The Islamic beginnings of Pakistan are traceable to the first Moslem invasion from Arabia in 712 A.D., which conquered most of the Indus valley, although the main incursions came from the north and started in the eleventh century. Under successive domination by the Moghuls, the East India Company, and the English, the country grew in size and prosperity, but mostly in its fidelity to the teachings of the Prophet. When India began urging her independence, Indian Moslems cooperated with the Hindus in the movement. But as autonomy drew nearer, the Mohammedans felt that independence would only mean changing British masters for Hindu ones. They were convinced that the two cultures, a monotheistic Islam and polytheistic Hinduism, could never coalesce; that only a separate country would enable the Moslems to develop their own cultural and religious heritage and only a separate nation could assure them freedom from religious persecution.
While an All Indian Moslem League was founded as early as 1906, the first serious efforts to establish a distinct nation came much later, due in large measure to the ideas of one man, Mohammed Igbal (1873-1938), the poet-philosopher who is venerated as the Father of the country. His writings played a decisive role in crystallizing the twin spirit of Islamic India: that the true basis of nationhood is far less the animal ties of blood than a harmony of religious ideals, and that Islam should form a federation of nations linked by the same internal beliefs.
Iqbal's devotion to Islam was almost a passion. His prose and poetical compositions breathe a love of the Koran and dedication to its teachings that no other Moslem leader in modern times has shown. For the people of Pakistan he is the philosophical light and almost absolute standard on the cardinal issue of Islam's relation to the modern world. And for all Moslems he has given a re-interpretation of Islam and a program for realizing a true synthesis of Mohammedanism and Western culture. His manual on The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a profound study of the problems which the followers of Mohammed must be willing to face and solve if they are to remain faithful to his memory.
Otherwise than his contemporaries, Igbal approached the Islamic predicament as a philosopher who was deeply attached to his people's religion; and he handled the issue not from any pre conceived notions but on the strength of years of experience at Western universities and of contact with the best (and the worst) of Western civilization. He could therefore speak with authority about the inherent values of Islam and the deficiencies of other cultural traditions.
His main contribution to shaping the Mohammedan mind was to convince the people to open their souls to the message of their own faith, and their own past as a community; and at the same time to close their eyes to the teachings of others, since the Western world had little to teach them which Islam did not know. He asked himself, "What, shall I tell you then, is a Moslem's life?" and answered his own question.
He exploited what he considered the profoundest difference between the Moslem and European thought. "Through all the Western politeia, religion withers to the roots; for the white man, ties of blood and race are all he knows of brotherhood." Even a Brahmin, converted to Christianity, "ascends no higher in life's scale," by Western norms, "because the creed of the Messiah has numbered him with its recruits."36Preoccupation with material things, Igbal taught, had blinded the West to the only true bond of unity, which is a common religious faith.
When the people of Pakistan framed their first Constitution, they incorporated these principles into its laws, from the first article of the Preamble to the most detailed provisions. "Pakistan," it was decreed, "shall be a Federal Republic to be known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan." 37 And on the international plane, "The State shall endeavor to strengthen the bonds of unity among Muslim countries."38 Both aspects of the Islamic faith were amply provided for.
Steps shall be taken to enable Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the Holy Quran and sunnah.
The state shall endeavor, as respects the Muslims of Pakistan: to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and sunnah; to make the teaching of the Holy Quran compulsory; to promote unity and the observance of Islamic moral standards; and to secure the proper organization of zakat (almsgiving), wakfs (sacred foundations) and mosques.39
Implementing this general intent, the State was further concerned to protect the interests of Islam by forbidding "the consumption of alcoholic liquor, otherwise than for medicinal and, in case of non-Muslims, religious purposes," and at the same time recognized that in certain cases polygamy is necessary."40
Along with such explicit legislation in the spirit of Iqbal, the Constitution provided for the welfare of those outside the Mohammedan fold, recognizing that "all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law," and supporting this general provision with a variety of specific guarantees.
Subject to law, public order and morality: every citizen has the right to profess, practice and propagate any religion; and every religious denomination and every sect thereof has the right to establish, maintain, and manage its religious institutions.
No person shall be compelled to pay any special tax the proceeds of which are to be spent on the propagation or maintenance of any religion other than his own.41
The freer and more relaxed aspect of Pakistan was also visible in the generous effort to safeguard the religious convictions of children who attend the private and (Moslem directed) public schools. Thus "no person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship if such institution, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own."42
Similar privileges were conceded to every religious community or denomination to establish and conduct schools oĢ its own and, most significantly, "in respect of any religious institution, there shall be no discrimination against any community in the granting of exception or concession in relation to taxation," which theoretically placed Hindus and Christians on a par with Moslems in the critical area of tax exemption."43
Pakistan, therefore, was founded on a vastly different political theory than Turkey. In fact its foundations were less political than spiritual, with so many articles of the Constitution dealing with the subject of religion that the prominent impression was religious. True to the inspiration of Igbal the rights of Mohammedans, who constitute almost nine-tenths of the population, were amply protected; and according to the same ideals were even promoted by juridical sanction. Yet, realistically, the minority Hindus and Christians were not ignored, either on paper or in actual practice, which compares favorably with the Arabic-speaking Moslem countries, and the discrimination against non-Islamic religions in some of the newly founded nations of Africa.
There is a tendency also to stress the ideology which Islam has in common with Western and not with Asian culture, which contrasts strongly with the studied effort to emphasize the Oriental in other rising nations of the East. But the number of conflicting forces in Pakistan had the same general effect as in Turkey, except from other quarters. Where Turkey was professedly a secular state seeking a compromise with the Moslem traditions of its people, Pakistan was founded as a Moslem nation trying to work its way in modern society. The fear of revolution in the late fifties led to a change of political structure and a revision of the Constitution, with corresponding reforms in law and education that illustrate the unsolved problem of Islam: how to retain its ancient heritage while adapting itself to modern needs.
Symbolic of the adaptation, the second Constitution of Pakistan began by simply declaring that "the State of Pakistan shall be a Republic under the name of the Republic of Pakistan."44 Yet the Preamble provided for Mohammedan ideals by stating that "the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, should be fully observed in Pakistan," and "the Muslims of Pakistan should be enabled, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the teachings and requirements of Islam."45
A new concept in modern Islamic jurisprudence was the formation in Pakistan of an Advisory Board of Islamic Ideology. As the name implies, its function would be advisory and not mandatory, mainly "to make recommendations to the Central Government and the Provincial Governments as to means of enabling and encouraging the Muslims of Pakistan to order their lives in all respects with the principles and concepts of Islam."46
Orthodoxy and adjustment
More than any other religious culture, Islam is at the crossroads of its history. The situations in Turkey and Pakistan are only symptomatic of a deeper tension within the body of Mohammedanism, between orthodoxy and rationalism. All the available evidence suggests that orthodoxy is not only still in possession but promises to make a resurgence that may have lasting effects on the future of Asia and Africa, and corresponding influence on the major religions of the world.
An all-Moslem Colloquium, held at Lahore (Pakistan), clearly emphasizes this dominant trend. Delegates from every Mohammedan country were present, including representatives from Soviet Russia and Communist China. The subjects they treated show the wide range of new situations by which Islam is confronted: Islamic culture and its meaning, the Islamic concept of the State, the challenge of modern ideas and social values; the scope of legislation and the social structure of Islam, Mohammedan attitude towards other faiths and potential contribution to international peace, Islam's influence on Western history and civilization.
The guiding theme at Lahore was remarkably orthodox. Occasional outbursts against opinions considered doctrinally dangerous heightened the fact that the prevailing spirit is how to adjust positions and principles, believed undebatable and unassailable, to a rapidly changing non-Moslem world. A rare note was struck with the regret that "such a beautiful expression of human tragedy" as the Crucifixion "is not reflected in the Holy Koran," implying that Islam offered no answer to the problem of pain and no substitute for the inspiration of the Cross.
Yet the most severe test of Islamic faith comes not from its contact with the traditional West, whether Christian or secular, but from its relations with a rampant Marxism. Upwards of fifty million Moslems are directly under Communist control, and subject to all the pressures that a hostile government exercises against a socio-religious system which, by Marxist standards, is a feudal tool for reactionaries. And more serious still, the Marxist appeal to humanitarian motives is a temptation to dedicated Moslems who are highly critical of the laissez faire individualism that has characterized so much of Western social policy in the past two centuries.
Moslems have the principles of resistance to Marxism built into their religion, even when they see, as did Iqbal, the shortcomings of a society whose sins deserve the divine judgment. In a powerful verse-essay, Lenin before God, Igbal pictures the revolutionary standing before Allah and asking: Of what mortal race art Thou the God? Is it of those creatures formed of dust beneath these heavens?
Put into the mouth of Lenin, these thoughts are not the passing fancy of a social visionary. They express the mind of numerous Moslems who know their own faith, know the West, and await the "day of wrath" which their Prophet foretold would befall those who fail to share their wealth "for love of God, with their kinsfolk, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and with those who ask."48 There is some fatalism in this attitude, but also a great deal of truth.
Father John A. Hardon. "Islam." Chapter 14 in Religions of the World (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963), 339-381.
This chapter is reprinted with permission from Inter Mirifica.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000) was a tireless apostle of the Catholic faith. The author of over twenty-five books including The Catholic Catechism, Modern Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Catechism, Q & A Catholic Catechism, Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan and many other Catholic books and hundreds of articles, Father Hardon was a close associate and advisor of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Order Father Hardon's home study courses here.
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