20 Aug 2005

ISLAM IS....?

Is Islam a 'religion', or more than that, a 'civilization'? Can we as a parallel term say Christendom rather than Christiantiy, China rather than Confucianism.

Is it much more than a system of theology? Is it a complete civilization?

'Is it true that every Islamic movement of thought, be it religious, political or social, has tried to anchor itself to real or imagined facts of Islamic history, carefully selected and interpreted to justify or attack a current practice or future course of action. These movements are often radically different, so numerous and sometimes often oppose one another in what might seem to disinterested observer as ideological weapons rather than accounts of the past. Yet such is the nature of Islam or historical religions, that there has been always and will be a relation between what Muslims believe to be true and right and what they believe to have taken place in early Islamic history. Their quest for justice seems to be closely related to their quest for the practice of the early Muslim community.' (Mahdi, On the Use of Islamic History)

Is Islam again a religion whose thoughts, events, beliefs are an outcome of Historical documentation....Something like that, I am not sure what I want to say!

25 Comments:

Blogger Al Sharief said...

You Are the Historian...
or at least you studied history...
You ought to tell...

History is quite important and serious approach to understand
What, Why , and How "ISLAM IS...?"

I was lucky once & I had a great History Teacher who taugh us the "sense" of history & how you capture the historian flaws or hard work. How much Foot notes & it's relevence matters quite a bit.

Tell me more...

8/18/2005 06:04:00 pm  
Blogger haal said...

The update is my answer to you al-sharief.

And I think everyone, me on top, uses historical incidents to prove a point or take a stand. what else can we reach out for. Even my sweet Loulou did that with her sweet post on Abd-al-Mutalib. She used double historical document: Coran, and History books (school book i presume) Right Loul!?

you are one of my favourites female bloggers, you know that, right? :)

8/19/2005 11:06:00 am  
Blogger Mohamed said...

TEFKU

8/19/2005 05:53:00 pm  
Blogger Mohamed said...

Question. How much history (pre-Islamic history) is in the Quran, and is used to guide us into what's right and wrong? History of earlier people and prophets. So that does shape religion I suppose. That's what God used to tell us what's right and wrong.

Now there won't be another Quran to put the post-Islamic delivery history into perspective. So the job is really tough.

8/19/2005 05:59:00 pm  
Blogger LouLou said...

haal,

"you are one of my favourites female bloggers, you know that, right? :)"

Major KU ya haal:)But it sounds nice so am going to believe it:)

8/19/2005 08:38:00 pm  
Blogger LouLou said...

I think Islam is a civilization. Yes more like China.

8/19/2005 08:40:00 pm  
Blogger LouLou said...

Question-Time:

Is Islam one civilization though?Which is it - The Prophethood?The Early Caliphs?The Ummiyad era?The Abbasid?The Ottoman?

But then what about the Moghuls?The Idrissids?The Fatimids?All the other mini Kingdoms that formed around one sect or one dynasty or the other?

Can we say all these were political divisions rather than religious?Or is it the nature of Islam that spawns this kind of division?The lack of clergy, the fact that it's not monolithic & is open to interpretation - together with the lack of seperation between religion & state?

8/19/2005 08:45:00 pm  
Blogger haal said...

Mohamed, I didnt understand your point re/coran. Really.

Loul, I didnt get your point too. What's wrong with me?

Can both of you explain.

8/20/2005 12:23:00 pm  
Blogger ألِف said...

The lack of seperation between religion and state is not a property of religion, but rather a property of the past times.

8/20/2005 02:59:00 pm  
Blogger Mohamed said...

What I'm saying is that even the Quran refers to history, and uses it to show us right from wrong.

8/20/2005 05:59:00 pm  
Blogger LouLou said...

haal,

My point was that Islam is not really one civilization. It's many civilizations.

This is why the concept of reforming Islam is so weird to me. Islam is such a big word. Which Islam are you going to reform?Before we talk about reforming Islam first we must decide what Islam means & get all Muslims to agree on the definition, then agree on the problems then agree on steps to correct them.A pretty tall order in my opinion.

Like Alif said some versions of Islam have less in common with other versions than with Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism.

8/21/2005 12:29:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

Alif,

"The lack of seperation between religion and state is not a property of religion, but rather a property of the past times."

Do you really think so?What other religion has an entire body of law covering every aspect of government, trade, economy, foreign policy, citizenship etc....

I think it's the fact that Islam had to be a state religion that so many historical sects seceded & formed their own kingdoms. To have a new sect in Islam you had to have a new state. And to have a new state you had to have justification in religion.

8/21/2005 12:34:00 am  
Blogger haal said...

Yes, Mohamed, and this is interesting to me that the Coran story telling style.

Religion means 'system'. A set of Laws. A social system that has laws to govern everyone in it. Not sure how it will ever be separated. At some point this system was Islam, the leader happened to be a muslim who had his 'law making' people, who kept improvising the 'law' to ensure more structure and more conforming to the state. The accumulations of these improvised law stems from a change in a social system that was carried to our time. I think I am off topic here, but my point is, our version of 'Religion' nowadays is nothing but an accumulation of social change, social shaping/reshaping that was done by people. Thus, I wont imagine that there will ever be a separation between state and religion because religion is 'Way of life'....

'Persistence is my religion.'

8/21/2005 08:15:00 am  
Blogger Mohamed said...

I can actually think of Islam as just a religion, a framework, where multiple civilizations can arise from. So in this sense, its not necessarily a civilization.

8/21/2005 10:13:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

Mohamed,

I agree with you. Islam is an ideological framework - a very loose one from which multiple religions & civilizations have evovled & continue to evolve I think.

8/21/2005 11:22:00 am  
Blogger ألِف said...

My simple answer to you, Loulou, would be: Judaism. Even Moses and Mohammad are very similar.

Thinking objectively I'd say Islam is a modernised and Arabised version of Judaism. Not forgetting that Judaism itself was inspired by the other Mesopotamian, Syrian and Egyptian religions that preceded it.

Typically a Muslim will receive this in the same way a Sikh will receive you telling him that his religion is an Indianised version of Islam.

But again as you perhaps questioned: what are the boundaries of religion?
I'm sure Hinduism, as an example, or Zoroastrianism in their long histories have accumulated enough juridical body which in addition to the scholars writings and interpretations describe how a devout Hindu or Zoroastrian should live his personal life, as well as the path the Hindu or Zoroastrian *Umma* should follow in general (politics/governance).

Is there really a religion in a fairly complex society that confines itself to theology and rituals?

Which brings us to the next conclusion: Islam is yet another philosophy/system of life, and that the division of "Heavenly religions" and "None Heavenly religions" is unfair and subjective.



I wrote what's above before I read this comment of Haal's and what followed it, and I see we're more or less starting to build on the same thesis: Maybe people needed to be told that law had a divine origin, that good doers will be rewarded in heaven and bad doers will be punished in hell, but do they still need this? Couldn't laws that are self-proclaimed human be enough? Leaving what's spiritual to the individual and what's social to the secular law makers?

Thinking again I'd say I was sucked into the divine-law idea so much because there actually were human laws historically: Hamurabi, Athens, Rome..no?

To have a new sect in Islam you had to have a new state. And to have a new state you had to have justification in religion.
I'm not sure I understand this well, or see the pattern.

I agree with you. Islam is an ideological framework - a very loose one
That's a revolutionary statement. And allow me to add the relativity aspect to it: Some people will take a religion as a framework from which to draw their own, and others will take it as THE BLUEBRINT™ for life.

(You all really do engage me, I write too long comments here!)

8/22/2005 02:45:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

Alif,
"I'm not sure I understand this well, or see the pattern."

I meant that historically if you fundamentally disagreed with the state interpretation of Islam you started a secessionist movement because you wanted your version to be the state religion & there can't be 2 state religions. So you either had to overthrow the existing state or go to another part of the Muslims world & start a rebellion & secede.

Similarly if you had political ambitions & aspirations to power you had to come up with a religious justification for it. So you called for a new sect.

Thus the political & religious are so closely wrapped together it's hard to see where one ends & the other starts.

Was the Sunni/Shia divide anything more than a fight over who gets to rule?I think it started out as a purely political, secular dispute even if it did wear a religious guise. But now - with time - it HAS developed into a deep, theological division too.

8/22/2005 07:13:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

Alif,

"Thinking objectively I'd say Islam is a modernised and Arabised version of Judaism."

Well Islam never denied its Judeo-Christian roots did it?

But that Islam today is a modernized, Arabized version of Judaism?Again this begs the question which Islam?

You see Islam was a fairly latecomer as far as world religions go. This means that it did not come to existence in ideological vaccums. It came into societies that already had a fairly complex religious heritage. And it had to adapt itself to these heritages. Middle Eastern Islam might have been a modernized, Arabized version of Judaism & Christianity but would that also be true for societies that came to Islam from backgrounds other than Judaism or Christianity?

This is the major difference between Judaism & Islam. Judaism was a religion for one people. Islam was trying to bring together a lot of peoples with very little in common culturally & ethnically & religiously. This is one reason why you have so many Islams. Each one is actually an Islamized version of some other tradition. Islam would not be a world religion today if it did not have this flexibility.

8/22/2005 07:28:00 am  
Blogger Al Sharief said...

A lot of past poltics and much less
historical analsyis or History "Know How", except the selected words by Mahdy, on the use of Islamic History. Thanks Haal.

Lou, well thought stuff, but you still could close the cycle and stick to the intended "One Version of Islam" for all kinds people to "continious improvement" of the local people's traditions to a rightious act. Eventually to avoid different versions and
"Each one is actually an Islamized version of some other tradition."

Because of that, I always had a quarell with: "Al A~amr bil Al Ma~aroof wa Al Nahai an Al Munkar"
where there is a grand mixup between the "local" peopl's Ma~aroof & Munkar and the "Khairr and Sharr" that is good & Evil.

I d rather the Amr Bil Khair and Nahai an el Sharr.


e Am

8/22/2005 02:55:00 pm  
Blogger haal said...

How interesting you all.

I do really think that we must differentiate between God made religion and Human made religion/Laws to protect the 'system' created by the ideological framework, that is 'Loose' but not too loose to allow multiple sects at the same time for one reason, to preserve order and solidarity thus strength.

The other point is, this system we are living in is a way of life. A way of life designed according to what Darwin said, 'surviving of the fittest.' So.... you can apply that on religion, on human, on individual, on the various kingdoms.... and because we know that rule by instinct, we made rules to preserve this strength..so as to survive. So the more the laws to control, the longest the surviving.

Ay kalam. I have a fever actually!

8/22/2005 08:27:00 pm  
Blogger ألِف said...

"Well Islam never denied its Judeo-Christian roots did it?"
I thought it did. Claiming to have come from the same source as something else, isn't equal to say it have descended from that something. At least to me.
It's very much like the difference between "Man descends from ape" which is false (and Darwin never said so), and "Man and ape descend from the same hypothetical ancestor" which is what Darwin said.

...but would that also be true for societies that came to Islam from backgrounds other than Judaism or Christianity?"
Do you mind clarifying this bit? I got lost.

"This is the major difference between Judaism & Islam..."
Very true, because Islam has learnt the lesson. It's a modernised (better) version. Again don't forget how in the middle ages a whole nation converted to Judaism, unlike what the tribal religion itself dictates, and caused us all these problems we're now having with Israel :)

"Islam would not be a world religion today if it did not have this flexibility."
Very true. That *was* the case, and that's how it penetraded through trade to Africa and Asia. Again since felxibility is relative. Isn't What we're seeing now is much more less flexibile?

"You see Islam was a fairly latecomer as far as world religions go."
Just a note: new religions appear everyday, some of which have become popular: Sikh, Baha'i, Mormon, Voodoo, and others. This never stops.

8/23/2005 12:19:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

"Claiming to have come from the same source as something else, isn't equal to say it have descended from that something. At least to me."

I think that's a bit unfair. Islam teaches that it IS more or less the same Message as previous Abrahmic Messages - that it just came to correct human corruption of these previous Messages & to develop them - AlDeen AlMukamil. Which is more or less what you said about its being a modernized or improved version of Judaism. If it went any further than that in recognizing its Jewish roots it would end up just telling us to be Jews & be done with it. Which would also be unfair because Islam does have quite a lot to add to Judaism.

"Do you mind clarifying this bit? I got lost."

Do you follow National Geographic Magazine?It does these incredible anthropological pieces on various cultures & subcultures from around the world - some of them Muslim.

It was my first exposure to what you were calling 'Muslims who are so different from you that you wouldn't call them Muslims - back in high school. A real eye-opener.

If you saw the versions of Islam followed by some Africans for example you'd think they were a modernized, Arabized version of whatever animist, tribal tradition they were following before they became Muslims. In some cases, all they did was give their old saints Arabic names & continue as before.You can hardly tell the difference between them & their still animist neighbors.

And don't you think that Persian Sufism has a lot more in common with Zoroastrianism than with Christianity or Judaism?Or that a lot of practices followed by Muslims in the Subcontinent actually have their roots in Hinduism?

My point was that in the Arab Middle East, Islam might have remained tied to Judaism & Christianity because these are -after all - Middle Eastern religions. But the same cannot be said of Islam in societies that didn't have exposure to Judaism or Christianity before they became Muslims. They have adapted Islam so much to their local traditions that over the centuries, the influence of its Judeo-Christian roots was considerably diluted.

"Isn't What we're seeing now is much more less flexibile?"

Yes. Definitely.

"Just a note: new religions appear everyday, some of which have become popular: Sikh, Baha'i, Mormon, Voodoo, and others. "

I think the age of world religions is over. The world is both too big & too small for that now. There is too much information available today, too many options, communication is too easy. It's hard to think how you can win too many people to a single point of view when so many pov's are out there competing for your attention.

8/23/2005 07:32:00 am  
Blogger LouLou said...

"Again don't forget how in the middle ages a whole nation converted to Judaism, unlike what the tribal religion itself dictates, and caused us all these problems we're now having with Israel :)"

I guess you mean the Khazars.

8/23/2005 07:50:00 am  
Blogger Al Sharief said...

Salamat Ya haal, Hope you 're feeling fine by now.

Even "Fever" can be at times, a
"Favor". Mish Ay Kalam ...

8/23/2005 10:20:00 pm  
Blogger haal said...

Back from my fever. I still think that all religions are 'system', the strongest the system, the more it will survive, like what Darwin said. The weaker the system, the more fractured it become and thus become divided into sects and so on only for these sects to form a system of its own.

The lion eating a dear is Savage behaviour of the lion, while human eating dear is called 'BBQ', we dress for it and eat it with knives and forks, although the act is the same. But we see it as OUR RIGHT because we are the fittest. Once we as human species are weaker, we will become BBQed, and a new definition will be placed to describe them eating us.

8/24/2005 08:39:00 am  

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