1. The history of Islam is intimately bound up with the history of the → Qur'an (Arab., ‘reading’). At the center stands Muhammad, son of a merchant, the ‘one sent by God,’ who, in the year 613, in the Western Arabian trading city of Mecca, first reported his divine inspirations to his nearest kin. For twenty-two years, until his death, these visitations continued, and they were recorded and memorialized by his followers. Their collection and redaction in an organized book, with 114 'suras’ (Arab., sūra, ‘chapter’), is only the work of the subsequent generation. Because of the expulsion of the first ‘Muslims’ from Mecca to the nearby oasis of Yatrib in 622, the latter eventually came to be called ‘the City’ (al-Madīna, ‘Medina’).
In the Qur'an, Muhammad calls for submission to the proclamation of the ‘one, just, and merciful God.’ As a counter-sketch to the polytheistic religion and tribally organized society of Arabia, God's justice guarantees the equality of all those who distinguish themselves by faith in him. The surety of the salvation promise to the Muslims lies in their establishment of the divine order. The basic source of its origin and survival is the revelation of Muhammad, last of the prophets and therefore their ‘Seal.’ After him, then, there will be no further revelation. In his ‘utterances of life’ (sunna), his words and deeds, the divine proclamation is perfected. The Qur'an and Sunna are the two primary sources of the ‘religion of God.’ From them, one can recognize to which rules human beings are subjected in their relation to God and to their fellows, and by which ‘way’ (sharī‘a) they can do justice both to their rights and to the duties arising thence.
2. Even during the Prophet's lifetime, Muslim expeditions (ġazwa) were dispatched—to the north to the very confines of the Byzantine Empire, to the east into the Sassanid region of the Euphrates. The unification of the Arab tribes, pursued by Muhammad with great political skill, suffered a 'setback’ after his death. However, the introduction of a ‘representative’ (Arab., ḫalīfa, caliph) of the Prophet prevented the collapse of the movement, and laid the cornerstone for the organizational principle of the Islamic state now being born. As ‘commanding officer,’ the Caliph embodied the supreme religious and military authority.
This packaging of religious motivation with military organization released an immense expansive power. Over a mere ten years, in a number of waves of conquest (632–642), Arab troops succeeded in basically reshaping the political geography of the Near East. Eastern Rome was driven back to Asia Minor, the Persian Kingdom of the Sassanids was destroyed. In the Arabian Islamic peoples' historical view of themselves, this century of conquest developed into the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam, the age of a timeless frame of reference for all succeeding reformist and revitalist movements.
By way of their triumph in two civil wars, the first four caliphs' system based on subjugation and the distribution of booty was reshaped into a theocratic Islamic central empire. The First Civil War (556–561) ended with the success of the dynastic principle of the caliphate as over that of the ‘caliphate of election.’ The victorious party of the Umayyads (‘Omayyads,’ 661–750), and all succeeding dynasties, regulated succession in the caliphate by direct inheritance. From the supporting ‘party’ (shi‘a), which had championed a candidate from the family of ‘Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, finally emerged the belief orientation of the ‘Shiites,’ the members of the Shia (→ Iran; Khomeini). The Second Civil War (680–692) transformed the empire of the caliphs into a central state. Mecca and Medina, both once key spiritual and administrative points, were relegated to the periphery. The erection of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem was not only a programmatic symbol of the Islamic claim to be the continuation and fulfillment of the Abrahamitic religion(s), but also a reference to the shifting Islamic concentration of power. The ‘Abbasidic Revolution’ of 750 introduced the transformation of the central imperial order into one based on regional states, and altered the religio-political culture of the Islamic world in a profound way. Its primary motive was a realization of the equality of Muslims. The collapse of political unity rendered possible the participation of all Islamized peoples in the development of an Islamic culture more specific to the given community. In the following two centuries, in the urban centers between Samarkand in Uzbekistan and Cordoba in Spain, the normative foundations of Islam were developed. Its first thought is religious unity. Rival dynasties of caliphs in Spain (‘Spanish’ Umayyads) and in North Africa and Egypt (Fatimids), as well as military confrontations among competing regional princes, compelled the rigid political theory of early Islamic times to adapt to the practical demands of various traditions, different real-life worlds, and different social systems. The divinely inspired Caliph, as ‘commander of all believers,’ continued to live in the Shiite ‘Imamate.’ For the majoritarian traditionalists, the Sunnites, he was at a good, safe distance. The Sulṭān (‘Ruler’), who, according to the claims and conceptions of the majority, maintained the divinely willed order as best he could, replaced him. The relation between subject and sovereign came to be determined as a relation of reciprocal rights and duties, whose legitimacy was decided not by the feasibility of social interests, but by their justice. Justice meant agreement with the individual and collective behavioral norms, derived from ‘principles’ of law, that toward the end of the tenth century were codified in generally acknowledged collections of religious law.
3. The factual end of the era of the caliphate, with the conquest of Baghdad by the invading Mongols (1258), was the visible expression of universal population changes in the Islamic world. The Islamic West was isolated from the East by the Christian re-conquest (Span./Port., reconquista) of Andalusia in mid-eleventh century, and by Berber independence movements in northern Africa. New empires had appeared in northern Africa, in the wake of the western advance of Islamized Central-Asian Turkish tribes, adding an important facet to the synthesis of civilization by Islamic culture: that of the Ottoman Empire (fourteenth century to 1922) in the Near East, the empires of the Grand Moguls (1525–1858) in India, and the Persian Safawids (1501–1722). Around the capital city of Constantinople (Istanbul), taken by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, as around Delhi and Isfahan, flourishing Islamic civilizations arose.
4. With the landing of French expeditionary troops in Alexandria under Napoleon I, on 1 July 1798, the new era of colonial rule and modern imperialism began to score broad regions of the Islamic world. By way of the bluntly propagated colonization motif of the cultural, ‘civilizing,’ mission (mission civilatrice), the ideas of the French Revolution reached the East. The economic and military expansion of Great Britain, France, and Germany parceled out the Islamic regions into colonies and protectorates from Morocco to Indonesia. Only Shiite Iran and Afghanistan were able to withstand foreign political control. The tenacious adaptation to the world of the modern national states revived a traditional conflict under new auspices. The concept of the nation—casting-mold of the new political order—basically contradicted ideal, historical Islamic forms of government. In the movements of ‘pan-Islamism’ and ‘pan-Arabism’ that emerged from Egypt in mid-nineteenth century, ideas of unity were shaped that set religio-cultural and ethnic membership above a state sovereignty and its artificial boundaries. The territorial national state—according to the minimal consensus of all contemporary ‘fundamentalist’ groups—can be understood only as a transitional form to a political order in which ‘the’ Islam determines identity, cohabitation, and boundaries.
5. The trigger for the formation of genuinely Islamic scientific discipline was supplied by a confrontation with the religions and doctrines of scholarship at hand. In Damascus, Muslims encountered Christian theologians of the aggressiveness of a John of Damascus, and in Baghdad, Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian experts in Greek philosophy. At first the challenge was met in a brief, intensive phase of adoption of the literature of the corresponding sources. In a second phase, Islamic scholars acquired this scholarship, put it into critical commentaries, and spliced it into the budding Islamic disciplines. The ‘quiet Christianization’ of the Neo-Platonic philosophy confronted Muslims with the problem of harmonizing the Qur'anic revelation with the logical, psychological, and ontological methods of ancient philosophy. Andalusian scholar Ibn Rushd (Averroes, d. 1198) was especially successful in this regard, casting his production in a form affecting the West itself. Truth is accessible to the demonstrating, logical, and natural understanding. In this series, even the Qur'an is unlocked for the human being. Truth, as the universal goal of the understanding, exists, after all, outside revelation. His rationalistic tendency brought Ibn Rushd intra-Islamic enmity, but also wide resonance.
The adoption of (Greek) philosophy, especially that of the logical conclusion (‘syllogism’), also snipped the history of Islamic theology in two. Its ‘older’ form is characterized by apologetic exposition and dialectical discourse. The store of knowledge gained from the primary sources was composed in ‘confessions of faith.’ The Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn of theologian Aš‘arī (d. 935) provided traditional theology with both its foundations and its norms. Faith is constituted by belief in God, the angels, the book of the Qur'an, and the one Prophet. The unicity of God grounds the indisputable focus of the doctrine of God, and in his omniscience lies that predetermination of human beings and their behavior that fixes the order of the here and the hereafter. As a normative work of ‘orthodox’ Islamic theology, the Maqālāt have remained an integral component of religious formation down to the present day.
It was an essential duty of this theology to discover the boundaries of the faith, and thereby the beginnings of → heresy in the confrontation with deviant doctrines. Hereby it acquired political weight. The role of state ideology was committed, albeit for a short time, to rationalistic theology (mu‘tazila), a theological movement of the eighth to the tenth centuries, which laid stress on reason, and which was aimed against the traditionalists. But, at the same time, it betrayed the effects of philosophy.
Through opposition to and containment of rationalistic theology, the ‘new theology’ was formed. Al-Ġazzalī (d. 1111) is regarded as its normative representative, a sturdy combatant of the intellectual speculations and hairsplittings of the theologians, who, with his emphasis on subjective knowledge of God and on defense of the faith, serves Sufism as its exemplar.
As threshold and foundation of theology, the science of the Qur'an (tafsīr) and the science of the ‘transmission’ (ḥadī) of the utterances of the Prophet—with 600,000 of them circulating in subsequent times—held their key position in the canon of Islamic sciences.
The science of law was at once driving force and profiteer of the development of both of these material sciences. The claim to be able to regulate immediately, from a limited divine revelation, the totality of relations among human beings, and of the latter to God, has awarded that scholarship its matchless role. It was and is developed by scholars and practiced by the faith community. The multiplication of the realities of law into four schools of law is to be explained by this origin. That the Islamic world nevertheless maintains a basic consensus on the Sharia is due especially to the production of legal scholar aš-Šāf‘ī (d. 820). All four legal schools refer to him—the Mālikīya (west), Ḥanafiya (east), Ḥanbalīyā and Šafi‘īya—that even today seek to keep the unremittingly transforming reality of law in harmony with the Sharia.
6. Every fifth citizen of the world is a Muslim. Any attempt to explain the development of Islam from a religion of revelation to a world culture on the basis of its claim that it spreads in the one and sole God, Allah, is unsatisfactory. Islamic culture came out of a fusion of religious ideals with the Hellenistic and Eastern cultural legacy. It developed in the wake of its spread over the old world, a civilizing power that it drew from its susceptibility of adaptation. A believer, regardless of color or origin, with his or her enunciation of the Profession of Faith, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet,” inherits membership in the ‘Community of Believers’ (umma). The principal duties derived thence, (1) the quintuple daily prayer (ṣalāt), (2) fasting in the month of Ramadan (ṣaum), (3) discharge of the alms tax (zakāt), and (4) the pilgrimage (ḥajj)—if possible—to → Mecca and Medina during the pilgrimage month, compose the universal identity of Muslims worldwide. Even the sacred meaning of Arabic, the language of the Qur'an, has lost its identity-bestowing character, through translations, first into Persian and Ottoman, then into numerous other languages. Nevertheless, Arabic—the language of the sacred scripture of the Qur'an—has been retained in cultic contexts.
The Islamic cultic community, furthermore, is produced across the continents with reference to subjects that are of expressly Qur'anic origin. These include the ritual calendar, with its lunar year enumeration and its reference to Muhammad's flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE (year 1 of the Hijra): twelve lunar years shifting vis-à-vis the solar year, a weekly caesura on Friday, and a division of the day determined by the course of the sun but without an hour of fixed length.
Other items on the same list are the prohibitions and prescriptions, such as food taboos (e.g., carrion, pork, and eel), rules for marriage, as well as hygienic prescriptions intended to ensure purity at prayer, for instance through antecedent washing. The organization of community prayer in a ‘mosque’ likewise belongs here. A presider (imām) must lead this prayer. On the other hand, neither judge (qāḍī) nor counsel (muftī) has a strictly religious function. The former is named (and removed) by the political ruler, for warrant of the security of public law. The mufti, a juristic free-lancer, assists him and the litigants in the form of official counseling (→ Fatwa) in the judicial finding. Basically, then, Islam disposes of no corporate religious instance between imam, caliph, or sultan and the Muslim or non-Muslim subject, comparable to the Christian hierarchical clergy (here, once more, the Shia forms a kind of exception). This institutional meagerness has permitted Islamic religious culture to adapt to the most varied political and social systems. In the hands of local lawyers, religious law has been able to assimilate to prevailing conditions to the extent that, from central Africa to Malaysia, forms of Islamic living communities have been able to appear that are more or less syncretistic and that nevertheless, in the minds of Muslims and outsiders alike, are to be ascribed to the umma. A central role in this self-understanding is played by the orthopraxis that comes to light in the specific religious usage of the Islamic cultural regions and their ritual usages. For instance, the Islamic world could be divided according to the variously prescribed attitudes of the head, bows of the trunk, and finger spread required for a valid prayer, or according to the food garnishing that—however they are permitted by the Sharia—is absent from kitchen recipes.
The notorious inequality between man and woman before the Sharia rests on a meager Qur'anic basis (penal, inheritance, and testimonial laws). Over against it stands the emancipatory principle of the equality of all Muslim men and women. Respective social interests have taken advantage of the flexibility of Islamic positive law to legitimize exegeses pleasing to the regime. Such readings include the permissibility of the male marrying as many as four women, a form of polygamy that only the affluent can afford. As for female roles, the deeply veiled Taliban woman, with her multi-layered veil, is as much a part of Islamic reality as is the deeply committed, but unveiled, Sahara nomad woman or exiled woman of letters in Paris (→ Veil).
Islam is among the religions that reject images of faces, and of human beings in general, and enjoin aniconism (→ Image/Iconoclasm). Any representation of the Prophet is especially forbidden. Thus a sober Islamic art appears, which renounces representation in imagery. Its principal trait is an ornamentation that takes advantage of calligraphic and geometric elements. For all of its stylistic multiplicity, it adorns the Muslim's material environment as metaphorical praise of God and His creation: the jewelry, clothing, books, habitat, and architecture of the Islamic world are the products of a culture irreplaceably ensouled by a common spirit.
7. Beyond the distinction between law and unbelief, on which the Islamic image of the foreigner rests, two great directions in belief have formed, each producing comprehensive traditions.
The Muslim Sunnite majority is unified through its consensus on religious and historical tradition. Over against it stands the Shia, which, throughout Islamic history, has propounded and developed a programmatic foundation in terms of its opting for ‘Ali and his successors. Among the numerous Shiite sects, only the ‘Twelver Shia,’ or Imāmīya, has embodied that foundation in a state organization, today's Republic of → Iran. (The twelfth imam recognized by this sect vanished in 940, but the myth of the ‘concealed imam’ lives on.) Its doctrine of faith and law is partially, but emphatically, distinguished from those of the Sunni. However, it regards itself as part of the umma. There are minority Shiite communities everywhere in the Islamic world. → Sufism can only be inadequately posited as a current that pervades both faith orientations. Sufist movements emphasize the subjective, mystical faith experience. Immediate knowledge of God, ultimate goal of a sūfī (Arab., ‘wool-clad’), becomes possible through special practices (tending to be hostile to law, i.e. ‘antinomian’). These may be of a meditative, ascetical nature, performed either singly or collectively. Since the thirteenth century, Sufi Movements have organized repeatedly, in the veneration of saints who mediate salvation, in orders or brotherhoods.
Sufism must be clearly distinguished from ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘Islamistic’ movements (→ Fundamentalism). There have always been such movements, which refer their religio-political concepts to an idealized early age of Islam, especially to the ‘ideal state’ of Muhammad in Medina. By way of concretization, and resistance to depressing experiences with the overpowering European colonial invaders, there arose in the 1920s the ‘Muslim brotherhood’ of Ḥasan al-Bannā’ (d. 1949), and later Sayyid Quṭb (executed in 1966), its goal being the creation of a society established on Islamic foundations. With the new appeal to a primordial order, the modern Islamic national state was transformed into a natural archenemy. The Palestinian conflict provided one more direction for the manifold fundamentalist traditions, with Zionism functioning as the great foe. Splitting away from both movements at the beginning of the 1970s, radical underground groups have incited a battle against the enemy ‘within and without’: the secular state, and a Zionism supported by American imperialism, in which the orthodox obligation of the → Jihad has been reinterpreted as a call for terror and self-immolation. A majority of Islamic authorities worldwide deny legitimization to these radical political sects. The aftereffects of the 1978–1979 Iranian Revolution drive a deep cleft into the community of the Muslims (→ Iran). Today they divide states, classes, and families. The task of triumphing over this conflict between revelation and development is as much a property of Islamic religious history as is its insolubility.
8. Europe's historical experiences with the Islamic East over the course of a millennium have thickened into a wickerwork of stereotypical prejudices. ‘Musulmans,’ ‘Saracens,’ and—to the present day—‘Turks’ are major, alterable, ‘stick-on labels’ connoting bloodthirsty aggressiveness, uninhibited sexuality, and above all, the falsification of Christian revelation. The immigration to Western Europe of so many Muslims from Southern Europe, Turkey, Lebanon, and North Africa during recent decades has changed this picture with an enduring shift. The problem of assimilation has replaced confrontation.
Today more than six million Muslims live in Western Europe, a linguistic, religious, and cultural minority. Socioeconomic demarcation, especially the denial of equal confessional rights, blocks their integration. The path is scored by conflict over the construction of mosques, and the debate, politicized in France as in Germany, over the veil.
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