8. Islam-Sadar Ali Bukhsh-4.A thru C
For some reason this last section has been hard for me to start. Perhaps my very old father breaking two ribs is part of it. The truth is it has been hard for me to get my mind around the content. Islam however is part of the picture and something must be written, hopefully with merit and substance.
4. A. Ziauddin Sardar: Breaking preconceptions
Ziauddin Sardar's book 'What do Muslims believe?' fulfills his subtitle 'The roots and realities of modern Islam' surprisingly well. A British intellectual of sorts I was prepared not to like this brief book but he enlightens those of us who have preconceptions towards the religion. He lays out the case for an Islam that 'could have been' which is surprisingly fair minded interspersed with what went wrong and a vision for the future. One finishes this book feeling it is just another slice of life encompassing 'the good, the bad, the ugly,' and the us versus them dichotomy is deflated.
He begins by asking “What is a Muslim” and answers it with the affirmation “Shahadah, there is no God but God: and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah.” There is no problem with the first part. It's right on. He goes on to say 'A Muslim is someone who believes in one omnipotent and omnipresent, and all-merciful God.” The way to communicate this according to Muslims is through certain messengers beginning with Adam, Noah, Moses and ending with Mohammed. His last. “There is no God but God,” is simple enough. To accept the last prophet is to accept the Qur'an, his revelation. Interestingly, the author notes Islam doesn't want blind faith, but rather for the follower to question everything and scrutinize, encouraging rational thinking and investigation and thoughtfulness. Along with inquiring, justice and peace must be earned universally and locally. Hence the activist part of Islam. This is all quite different than many thought.
Other preconceptions that are broken are the idea of equality for races, creeds, sexes and religions. Women had an important role in early Islam and all their communities have some truth and some blindness. The laws of nature and religion are seen as one. The impression I receive from reading this book is that Islam is seen as a constantly growing entity. While Mohammed was the last prophet, he is an updated version of what came before while not claiming exclusivity. The various constituents of Islam are discussed, including the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Sufis.. The first are the majority of Muslims, divided into four groups of thinking in terms of interpreting Muslim law. The Shia are situated in Iraq and Iran and believe they are part of an original lineage dating beck to Mohammed. The Sufis are the mystical component, viewing God as in all things and all things in God. It's the Islam version of 'oneness' and many Westerners are attracted to this version. Numerous more sects exist and all have divisions upon divisions. The Qadyanis sect emerged from India and perform all the rituals but do not believe Mohammed was the last prophet. Later of course until this day there exist a number of fundamentalist groups who believe in a selective reading of the Qu'ran with certain excerpts written in stone and violence is there way of enforcing them.
Mohammed himself is described in his youth as seeking solitude, very honest, bothered by the iniquity around him, and highly regarded. This is why his older wife Khadijah married him. They had true love. As he aged Mohammed retreated more and more and was bothered by societal conditions He had a revelation which led him to the role of prophet. For years his followers were local and few. The Quraysh, an influential tribe in Mecca, had some citizens who first embraced him but later others persecuted him and even stoned him. After the deaths of his wife and a favorite uncle, he had what is called 'the night Journey', a vision where he met Abraham, Moses, Jesus and more and he had an 'Ascension' where he received certain insights. More followed along with persecution and he with some followers journeyed to Medina where most converted to Islam.
His enemies had numbers in their favor and tried to quell him and a number of wars followed, and then a truce, which was broken, and eventually Mohammed was victorious. War was not forbidden if needed to defend one's self. Subsequently most of Arabia came under his influence. His words were not a mean sort in that he said ''Deal gently with the people, and be not harsh, cheer them, and condemn them not,” and “the key to heaven is to testify to the truth of God, and to do good works.” He passed in 632 BC. As said reported history was not as horrific as often thought. He remained monogamous with his first wife and married just widows. His infamous marriage to a six year old was never consummated and they lived separately until she was of age. According to the author, divorce was common in those days and his only divorced wife was previously married to a freed slave he had helped. The author emphasized that he was human but not cruel.
Mohammed's immediate disciples and successors appeared to be all humble and decent men. However 3 out of the first 4 were murdered, one by the Kharjites. They were a rigid sect who claimed anyone who sinned deserved to be put to death. Such are the roots for Islam's version of fundamentalism. However, apart from this the basic tenets for Islam appear to simply advocate being a decent human being active in bettering the community. The personnel to deliver this message might be different but the message is their guidepost. Indeed, much of the content has been borrowed from the Torah as well as the New Testament. The Qu'ran's real meaning is the 'Book of Guidance.” Supposedly it is a group of revelations received by Mohammed from God. It is his final revelation but operates in history as it applies to different circumstances. Islam states since Mohammed led an exemplary life, it is good to emulate him.
Sardar reviews the different categories for the religion. Tradition has it that the Qur'an was recorded by Mohammed's companions while he was alive. The Hadith consists of spoken and physical traditions attributed to Mohammed. The Sira talks to his biographical information, although consisting mainly of descriptions of his battles and of what occurred. Thousands, even millions of examples for both have been handed down and a three part system for their validity is used. Sayings that can be traced back through lineage and word of mouth to an original witness are the most valued, less so for latter dates with no older verification. The nature of Shariah law is defined as 'the highway to a good life.' The balance between flexibility with too little structure and rigidity with too much structure is a human theme, and Shariah reflects this. The Qu'ran is the first source for such wisdom but one's own intuition has its place. In recent times Shariah has sought to emulate medieval paradigms in full, dividing everything between believers and not, men subjugating women, and century old punishments, Saudi Arabia and Sudan being examples.
The ceremonies and daily and monthly and yearly rituals are described, along with traditions of doing good deeds. Some believe that Islam can be practiced in a pluralistic society while promoting peace and justice and learning while others need an 'Islamic state' as the only way to have the Shariah. While the latter has been abused it can be just an extension of the wish to live around others with similar values.
Sardar describes the history of Islam centering on the classical period from the seventh to fourteenth centuries as a tug of war between the Mutuazilites and the Asharites, or the rationalist philosophers versus the theologians. The first consisted of scientists, poets and administrators. The latter not fully trusting human reason and wanting a marriage between religion and state. The accomplishments of Islam at its heights in medicine, science and applied science, physics and education was nothing short of impressive. For instance, around 1100 ibn al-Haytham wrote the 'Book of Optics.' putting observations on reflective and refractive light. Examples are plentiful Islam declined in the fifteenth century. The author attributes a fair share of this to the effect of colonialism by European imperial powers who discouraged and demeaned institutions of learning and the unique qualities of Islamic thinking. The British for instance wanted the Indians to reflect proper English education and the Hindus and Muslims were subtly encouraged to have a rivalry. The French disallowed Islamic medicine and all over assets were taken, economic life retarded and social webs degraded. Hence, the author claims the present day state of Islamic culture and its somewhat primal survival defense to guerrilla tactics and theologies.
Sardar suggests four ways to improve conditions, including simply essential products and services that the people really need, localized development reflecting local needs, the same with technologies, and lastly economic dependency on non-Muslim world discouraged while encouraging their own cultures interdependence. Basically, the indigenous aspects of knowledge and healing systems would be respected. The writer attributes globalization and the IMF for establishing certain policies of conformity to the western economic model. In the 1980's an Islamic science was put forth advocating the notion of worship and ethics. Implied is that science would not be involved with promoting warfare, oppression or tyranny but rather only for noteworthy goals and public good and social justice for all. Genetic engineering and biological patents would be treated with caution, and advances would have to align with ethics. Holistic systems for health would be encouraged. At least on paper sounds valid.
They see themselves as one body and hence, their preoccupation with the Palestine issue. The author sees the roots of modern terrorism rooted in the previously discussed fundamentalist Kharjites.from 749-1258.and its revival into the Muslim Brotherhood and various factions. He sees these neo-Kharjites as nullifying Muslim humanity, history and ethics, and being a sad thing.
Sardar sees the future as a reinterpretation of Shariah law, including a separation from the state with an emphasis on its ethical and civic responsibilities as a grass roots development. In Indonesia there is a new collaboration between traditional and modern groups. In Malaysia and Morocco the central role of knowledge is being discussed and Moroccan Jews are permitted to govern themselves under a Hebraic Moroccan Family Law. He sees the future as dependent on children and women and the future formed through mutual respect and cooperation. Also Islam encourages hope. The author writes 'To be a Muslim is to be a cautious but eternal optimist,' although his final statements is 'in the end only God knows best.' So true is the last statement.
I wanted to present a vision of Islam that is not often discussed or easily available Indeed, I've gone into it more so than with Judaism and Christianity. It's important we see what a positive vision for Islam consists of. More widely known common knowledge and information concerning Islam will follow.
4. B. Characteristics of Islam compared with Christianity
Maulavi Saiyid Amir Ali , Christianity from the Islamic Standpoint
Mr. Amir Ali, a judge and writer born in 1849, states both Islam and Christianity have much in common. Orthodox Muslims accept Jesus as the Jews Messiah and consider him 'the spirit of God.' They even agree on the “Immaculate Conception,' but disagree on the 'Sonship of Christ,' which the author sees as the main reason for divisiveness. The Muslims see such a doctrine as from foreign sources, which to my eyes was prevalent in other cultures. They see the Gospels as an imperfect account of Jesus' life almost resembling a fairytale. The feeling is his sayings and life and statements were tampered with by various compilers with various opinions.
Muslims have trouble with the concept of Christ being an intermediary.. They disagree with one sacrificial act that can wipe out all sin. Instead, any believer can get closer to God by just following his teachings and being obedient and humble and just becoming a better person. They rather see him as a great teacher but human. As with the Jews, they see the Messiah as human. They feel the Jews were influenced by surrounding cultures, and later, so were the Christians. In Buddhism a godly being was born to a virgin as a man and afterwards ascended to heaven. Mago-Zoroastrian describe an Angel-Messiah also born to a virgin speaking the 'word.' Although performing miracles as a child and later seeing his mission as savior to the Jews, it still cannot be proven he 'claimed' to be the 'son of God' according to Amir Ali Peter's answers calling him such are dubious because of the variance between the Mark and Matthew accounts.
The concept of 'fatherhood' referred to all of humanity. Holy men from eastern parts often felt an 'affinity with God.' Muslims concur with the Ebionites, the original followers of Jesus, who just saw him as a man. Paul, with his Greek education, pushed a Christ that was separated from human flesh in idealized form, in contrast to the human personage the Muslims see as Christ. They also don't believe Christ died on the cross, but see more along the lines of Docetic Christians, who claim Jesus just escaped from the hands of his persecutors. Amir Ali sees Muslims as leaning towards more rational explanations.
For instance, the story of the crucifixion they find fantastical and prefer the previously mentioned escape explanation. Islam has difficulty accepting the death on the cross along with Christ's sonship. They claim the concept of 'atonement for original sin' was created to reconcile the two. They find the concept of sacrifice to appease an angry God unacceptable. The Passover dinner was less a recounting of the Jews escape from Egypt and more so marking a new era of freedom from stifling formalism. To quote the author “According to the Muslim belief, the spirit of God, in a greater or less degree, is in all mankind; and the voice of God speaks to ever human soul.” To a prophet its voice is loud, to ordinary folks it's a whisper. The concept of the 'Holy Ghost” is considered mythical. Jesus seemed to lean towards a life of self denial. Muslims see nothing intrinsically wrong with wealth.
Amir Ali notes the Jewsih laws turned into a 'fetish' but he also has issue with the other worldly appeal of Jesus. In practical Rome principles and pure ideas lacked value for the common man trying to survive. Guidelines to live and survive were more appropriate. He feels Christianity as it has survived fails to address the needs of day to day living with our lower natures. Too much is left up to the individual evolving on his/her own. The wealth of the churches and their displays he sees hard to justify with wars, famines, and suffering. It seems callous. Something is missing. Hence a new guideline is needed. Islam offers a new 'grasp of human needs'. In the author's eyes, Islam is the real fulfillment of Christianity.
4. C. Salib-ud-din Khuda Bukhsh 'A Homannedan view of Christendom
In this essay Mr. Khuda Bukhsh calls Islam eclectic, borrowing ideas from Judaism, Christianity, and Parsiism. Mary is so exalted in Christianity the prophet referred to the Trinity as Father, son and Mary. He does not accept the Crucifixion and Redemption. Still, Jesus is seen as a prophet. Mohammed becomes an amalgamation of the two religions, Judaism and Christianity. Jesus will actually appear with the last of their twelve Imams to help with reconciliation. The Qu'ran says every religion has a different path and God will eventually explain the differences and why.
According to the author the 'framework as in Judaism and Christianity: prayer, purification, solemn festivals, scriptures, and prophets,” was adopted by Islam. When they conquered the Persian, Egyptian, Syrian, and Asia Minor countries they adopted parts of their cultures. After so much fighting and wars, the 'superior' Christo-Hellenism was assimilated according to the author, including its science and art. In exchange the Arabs offered their language and diversity of influence and both were broadened. Christians could visit mosques in peace. The concept of 'eternal hell' rejected by the Greeks also was rejected by the oldest school of Islam, the Murjiah. Greek philosophic thinking made inroads into their thought. In terms of Judaic influence, many ideas such a Sabbath in Parsiism Islam were taken from their literature such as the Talmud. Many Christian ideas were adopted such as 'rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's,' and the emphasis of the poor as having preference over the rich in terms of entering heaven.
Islam did not have a priesthood but did have a certain element that studied and prescribed certain moral, legal, and theological issues, similar to the 'learned' in Judaism or the clergy in Christianity. Both Christianity and Islam disapprove of a state system separated from religion. In reverse Islamic ideas infiltrated Christianity. Certain Christians in Gothic Gaul rebelled against confessing to a priest in favor as with the Muslims of going to God directly. There is an 'adoptionist heresy' noted by certain Spanish historians favoring 'lowering the character of Christ, to pave the way for a union between Christians and Mohammedans.”
The writer holds many changes are taking place within the Islam world Outside the basic tenet 'God is one and that Mohammed is His apostle,' nothing else is a given. New ways for understanding old teachings are infiltrating Arab thought. Interest bearing savings accounts were established in 1905 by the Egyptian Mufti. Colleagues in Constantinople instituted interest bearing State bonds forbidden before. The Babis in Persia favored a 'cosmopolitan' attitude “uniting all of mankind in a universal brotherhood.” In India the spirit of compromise has lessened old orthodoxy's stranglehold and fanaticism. The author ends by cojoining the goals and ideals of Islam and Christianity as aligned and parallel.
Of course his writings are dated for he lived from 1877 to 1931. It enlarges our understanding to see what thinkers in the recent historical past were thinking.