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Monday, February 25, 2008

Mohammedanism, by C. Snouck Hurgronje

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Mohammedanism, by C. Snouck Hurgronje
Title: Mohammedanism, Lectures on Its Origin, Its Religious and Political Growth,
and Its Present State
Author: C. Snouck Hurgronje
note: cargocult !

The spiritual goods, with which Islâm set out into the world, were far from
imposing. It preached a most simple monotheism: Allah, the Almighty Creator
and Ruler of heaven and earth, entirely self-sufficient, so that it were
ridiculous to suppose Him to have partners or sons and daughters to support
Him; who has created the angels that they might form His retinue, and
men and genii (jinn) that they might obediently serve Him; who decides
everything according to His incalculable will and is responsible to nobody,
as the Universe is His; of whom His creatures, if their minds be not led
astray, must therefore stand in respectful fear and awe. He has made His
will known to mankind, beginning at Adam, but the spreading of mankind over
the surface of the earth, its seduction by Satan and his emissaries have
caused most nations to become totally estranged from Him and His service.
Now and then, when He considered that the time was come, He caused a
prophet to arise from among a nation to be His messenger to summon people
to conversion, and to tell them what blessedness awaited them as a reward
of obedience, what punishments would be inflicted if they did not believe
his message.

Sometimes the disobedient had been struck by earthly judgment (the flood,
the drowning of the Egyptians, etc.), and the faithful had been rescued
in a miraculous way and led to victory; but such things merely served
as indications of Allah's greatness. One day the whole world will be
overthrown and destroyed. Then the dead will be awakened and led before
Allah's tribunal. The faithful will have abodes appointed them in
well-watered, shady gardens, with fruit-trees richly laden, with luxurious
couches upon which they may lie and enjoy the delicious food, served by the
ministrants of Paradise. They may also freely indulge in sparkling wine
that does not intoxicate, and in intercourse with women, whose youth and
virginity do not fade. The unbelievers end their lives in Hell-fire; or,
rather, there is no end, for the punishment as well as the reward are
everlasting.

Allah gives to each one his due. The actions of His creatures are all
accurately written down, and when judgment comes, the book is opened;
moreover, every creature carries the list of his own deeds and misdeeds;
the debit and credit sides are carefully weighed against each other in the
divine scales, and many witnesses are heard before judgment is pronounced.
Allah, however, is clement and merciful; He gladly forgives those sinners
who have believed in Him, who have sincerely accepted Islâm, that is to
say: who have acknowledged His absolute authority and have believed the
message of the prophet sent to them. These prophets have the privilege
of acting as mediators on behalf of their followers, not in the sense of
redeemers, but as advocates who receive gracious hearing.

Naturally, Islâm, submission to the Lord of the Universe, ought to express
itself in deeds. Allah desires the homage of formal worship, which must be
performed several times a day by every individual, and on special occasions
by the assembled faithful, led by one of them. This. service, [s.]alât,
acquired its strictly binding rules only after Mohammed's time, but already
in his lifetime it consisted chiefly of the same elements as now: the
recital of sacred texts, especially taken from the Revelation, certain
postures of the body (standing, inclination, kneeling, prostration) with
the face towards Mecca. This last particular and the language of the
Revelation are the Arabian elements of the service, which is for the rest
an imitation of Jewish and Christian rituals, so far as Mohammed knew them.
There was no sacrament, consequently no priest to administer it; Islâm has
always been the lay religion _par excellence_. Teaching and exhortation are
the only spiritual help that the pious Mohammedan wants, and this simple
care of souls is exercised without any ordination or consecration.

Fasting, for a month if possible, and longer if desired, was also an
integral part of religious life and, by showing disregard of earthly joys,
a proof of faith in Allah's promises for the world to come. Almsgiving,
recommended above all other virtues, was not only to be practised in
obedience to Allah's law and in faith in retribution, but it was to testify
contempt of all earthly possessions which might impede the striving after
eternal happiness. Later, Mohammed was compelled, by the need of a public
fund and the waning zeal of the faithful as their numbers increased, to
regulate the practice of this virtue and to exact certain minima as taxes
(_zakât_).

When Mohammed, taking his stand as opposed to Judaism and Christianity,
had accentuated the Arabian character of his religion, the Meccan rites of
pagan origin were incorporated into Islâm; but only after the purification
required by monotheism. From that time forward the yearly celebration of
the Hajj was among the ritual duties of the Moslim community.

In the first years of the strife yet another duty was most emphatically
impressed on the Faithful; _jihâd, i.e._, readiness to sacrifice life and
possessions for the defence of Islâm, understood, since the conquest of
Mecca in 630, as the extension by force of arms of the authority of the
Moslim state, first over the whole of Arabia, and soon after Mohammed's
death over the whole world, so far as Allah granted His hosts the victory.

For the rest, the legislative revelations regulated only such points as had
become subjects of argument or contest in Mohammed's lifetime, or such as
were particularly suggested by that antithesis of paganism and revelation,
which had determined Mohammed's prophetical career. Gambling and wine were
forbidden, the latter after some hesitation between the inculcation of
temperance and that of abstinence. Usury, taken in the sense of requiring
any interest at all upon loans, was also forbidden. All tribal feuds with
their consequences had henceforward to be considered as non-existent, and
retaliation, provided that the offended party would not agree to accept
compensation, was put under the control of the head of the community.
Polygamy and intercourse of master and female slave were restricted; the
obligations arising from blood-relationship or ownership were regulated.
These points suffice to remind us of the nature of the Qorânic regulations.
Reference to certain subjects in this revealed law while others were
ignored, did not depend on their respective importance to the life of the
community, but rather on what happened to have been suggested by the events
in Mohammed's lifetime. For Mohammed knew too well how little qualified he
was for legislative work to undertake it unless absolutely necessary.

This rough sketch of what Islâm meant when it set out to conquer the world,
is not very likely to create the impression that its incredibly rapid
extension was due to its superiority over the forms of civilization which
it supplanted. Lammens's assertion, that Islâm was the Jewish religion
simplified according to Arabic wants and amplified by some Christian and
Arabic traditions, contains a great deal of truth, if only we recognize the
central importance for Mohammed's vocation and preaching of the Christian
doctrine of Resurrection and judgment. This explains the large number of
weak points that the book of Mohammed's revelations, written down by his
first followers, offered to Jewish and Christian polemics. It was easy for
the theologians of those religions to point out numberless mistakes in the
work of the illiterate Arabian prophet, especially where he maintained that
he was repeating and confirming the contents of their Bible. The Qorânic
revelations about Allah's intercourse with men, taken from apocryphal
sources, from profane legends like that of Alexander the Great, sometimes
even created by Mohammed's own fancy--such as the story of the prophet
Sâlih, said to have lived in the north of Arabia, and that of the prophet
Hûd, supposed to have lived in the south; all this could not but give them
the impression of a clumsy caricature of true tradition. The principal
doctrines of Synagogue and Church had apparently been misunderstood, or
they were simply denied as corruptions.

The conversion to Islâm, within a hundred years, of such nations as the
Egyptian, the Syrian, and the Persian, can hardly be attributed to anything
but the latent talents, the formerly suppressed energy of the Arabian race
having found a favourable soil for its development; talents and energy,
however, not of a missionary kind. If Islâm is said to have been from its
beginning down to the present day, a missionary religion,[1] then "mission"
is to be taken here in a quite peculiar sense, and special attention must
be given to the preparation of the missionary field by the Moslim armies,
related by history and considered as most important by the Mohammedans
themselves.

[Footnote 1: With extraordinary talent this thesis has been defended by
Professor T.W. Arnold in the above quoted work, _The Preaching of Islam_,
which fully deserves the attention also of those who do not agree with the
writer's argument. Among the many objections that may be raised against
Prof. Arnold's conclusion, we point to the undeniable fact, that the Moslim
scholars of all ages hardly speak of "mission" at all, and always treat the
extension of the true faith by holy war as one of the principal duties of
the Moslim community.]

Certainly, the nations conquered by the Arabs under the first khalîfs were
not obliged to choose between living as Moslims or dying as unbelievers.
The conquerors treated them as Mohammed had treated Jews and Christians in
Arabia towards the end of his life, and only exacted from them submission
to Moslim authority. They were allowed to adhere to their religion,
provided they helped with their taxes to fill the Moslim exchequer. This
rule was even extended to such religions as that of the Parsîs, although
they could not be considered as belonging to the "People of Scripture"
expressly recognized in the Qorân. But the social condition of these
subjects was gradually made so oppressive by the Mohammedan masters, that
rapid conversions in masses were a natural consequence; the more natural
because among the conquered nations intellectual culture was restricted to
a small circle, so that after the conquest their spiritual leaders lacked
freedom of movement. Besides, practically very little was required from the
new converts, so that it was very tempting to take the step that led to
full citizenship.

No, those who in a short time subjected millions of non-Arabs to the state
founded by Mohammed, and thus prepared their conversion, were no apostles.
They were generals whose strategic talents would have remained hidden but
for Mohammed, political geniuses, especially from Mecca and Taif, who,
before Islâm, would have excelled only in the organization of commercial
operations or in establishing harmony between hostile families. Now they
proved capable of uniting the Arabs commanded by Allah, a unity still many
a time endangered during the first century by the old party spirit; and of
devising a division of labour between the rulers and the conquered which
made it possible for them to control the function of complicated machines
of state without any technical knowledge.

Moreover, several circumstances favoured their work; both the large realms
which extended north of Arabia, were in a state of political decline;
the Christians inhabiting the provinces that were to be conquered first,
belonged, for the larger part, to heretical sects and were treated by the
orthodox Byzantines in such a way that other masters, if tolerant, might be
welcome. The Arabian armies consisted of hardened Bedouins with few wants,
whose longing for the treasures of the civilized world made them more ready
to endure the pressure of a discipline hitherto unknown to them.

The use that the leaders made of the occasion commands our admiration;
although their plan was formed in the course and under the influence of
generally unforeseen events. Circumstances had changed Mohammed the Prophet
into Mohammed the Conqueror; and the leaders, who continued the conqueror's
work, though not driven by fanaticism or religious zeal, still prepared the
conversion of millions of men to Islâm.

It was only natural that the new masters adopted, with certain
modifications, the administrative and fiscal systems of the conquered
countries. For similar reasons Islâm had to complete its spiritual store
from the well-ordered wealth of that of its new adherents. Recent research
shows most clearly, that Islâm, in after times so sharply opposed to other
religions and so strongly armed against foreign influence, in the first
century borrowed freely and simply from the "People of Scripture" whatever
was not evidently in contradiction to the Qorân. This was to be expected;
had not Mohammed from the very beginning referred to the "people of the
Book" as "those who know"? When painful experience induced him afterwards
to accuse them of corruption of their Scriptures, this attitude
necessitated a certain criticism but not rejection of their tradition.
The ritual, only provisionally regulated and continually liable to change
according to prophetic inspiration in Mohammed's lifetime, required
unalterable rules after his death. Recent studies[1] have shown in an
astounding way, that the Jewish ritual, together with the religious rites
of the Christians, strongly influenced the definite shape given to that of
Islâm, while indirect influence of the Parsî religion is at least probable.

[Footnote 1: The studies of Professors C.H. Becker, E. Mittwoch, and
A.J. Wensinck, especially taken in connection with older ones of Ignaz
Goldziher, have thrown much light upon this subject.]

So much for the rites of public worship and the ritual purity they require.
The method of fasting seems to follow the Jewish model, whereas the period
of obligatory fasting depends on the Christian usage.

Mohammed's fragmentary and unsystematic accounts of sacred history were
freely drawn from Jewish and Christian sources and covered the whole period
from the creation of the world until the first centuries of the Christian
era. Of course, features shocking to the Moslim mind were dropped and the
whole adapted to the monotonous conception of the Qorân. With ever greater
boldness the story of Mohammed's own life was exalted to the sphere of
the supernatural; here the Gospel served as example. Though Mohammed had
repeatedly declared himself to be an ordinary man chosen by Allah as the
organ of His revelation, and whose only miracle was the Qorân, posterity
ascribed to him a whole series of wonders, evidently invented in emulation
of the wonders of Christ. The reason for this seems to have been the idea
that none of the older prophets, not even Jesus, of whom the Qorân tells
the greatest wonders, could have worked a miracle without Mohammed, the
Seal of the prophets, having rivalled or surpassed him in this respect.
Only Jesus was the Messiah; but this title did not exceed in value
different titles of other prophets, and Mohammed's special epithets were
of a higher order. A relative sinlessness Mohammed shared with Jesus; the
acceptance of this doctrine, contradictory to the original spirit of the
Qorân, had moreover a dogmatic motive: it was considered indispensable
to raise the text of the Qorân above all suspicion of corruption, which
suspicion would not be excluded if the organ of the Revelation were
fallible.

This period of naively adopting institutions, doctrines, and traditions was
soon followed by an awakening to the consciousness that Islâm could not
well absorb any more of such foreign elements without endangering its
independent character. Then a sorting began; and the assimilation of the
vast amount of borrowed matter, that had already become an integral part of
Islâm, was completed by submitting the whole to a peculiar treatment. It
was carefully divested of all marks of origin and labelled _hadîth_,[1]
so that henceforth it was regarded as emanations from the wisdom of the
Arabian Prophet, for which his followers owed no thanks to foreigners.

[Footnote 1: _Hadîth_, the Arabic word for record, story, has assumed
the technical meaning of "tradition" concerning the words and deeds of
Mohammed. It is used as well in the sense of a single record of this sort
as in that of the whole body of sacred traditions.]

At first, it was only at Medina that some pious people occupied themselves
with registering, putting in order, and systematizing the spiritual
property of Islâm; afterwards similar circles were formed in other centres,
such as Mecca, Kufa, Basra, Misr (Cairo), and elsewhere. At the outset
the collection of divine sayings, the Qorân, was the only guide, the only
source of decisive decrees, the only touchstone of what was true or false,
allowed or forbidden. Reluctantly, but decidedly at last, it was conceded
that the foundations laid by Mohammed for the life of his community were
by no means all to be found in the Holy Book; rather, that Mohammed's
revelations without his explanation and practice would have remained an
enigma. It was understood now that the rules and laws of Islâm were founded
on God's word and on the Sunnah, _i.e._, the "way" pointed out by the
Prophet's word and example. Thus it had been from the moment that Allah had
caused His light to shine over Arabia, and thus it must remain, if human
error was not to corrupt Islâm.

At the moment when this conservative instinct began to assert itself among
the spiritual leaders, so much foreign matter had already been incorporated
into Islâm, that the theory of the sufficiency of Qorân and Sunnah could
not have been maintained without the labelling operation which we have
alluded to. So it was assumed that as surely as Mohammed must have
surpassed his predecessors in perfection and in wonders, so surely must
all the principles and precepts necessary for his community have been
formulated by him. Thus, by a gigantic web of fiction, he became after his
death the organ of opinions, ideas, and interests, whose lawfulness was
recognized by every influential section of the Faithful. All that could not
be identified as part of the Prophet's Sunnah, received no recognition; on
the other hand, all that was accepted had, somehow, to be incorporated into
the Sunnah.

It became a fundamental dogma of Islâm, that the Sunnah was the
indispensable completion of the Qorân, and that both together formed the
source of Mohammedan law and doctrine; so much so that every party assumed
the name of "People of the Sunnah" to express its pretension to orthodoxy.
The _contents_ of the Sunnah, however, was the subject of a great deal of
controversy; so that it came to be considered necessary to make the Prophet
pronounce his authoritative judgment on this difference of opinion. He
was said to have called it a proof of God's special mercy, that within
reasonable limits difference of opinion was allowed in his community. Of
that privilege Mohammedans have always amply availed themselves.

When the difference touched on political questions, especially on the
succession of the Prophet in the government of the community, schism was
the inevitable consequence. Thus arose the party strifes of the first
century, which led to the establishment of the sects of the Shî'ites and
the Khârijites, separate communities, severed from the great whole, that
led their own lives, and therefore followed paths different from those of
the majority in matters of doctrine and law as well as in politics. The
sharpness of the political antithesis served to accentuate the importance
of the other differences in such cases and to debar their acceptance as the
legal consequence of the difference of opinion that God's mercy allowed.
That the political factor was indeed the great motive of separation, is
clearly shown in our own day, now that one Mohammedan state after the other
sees its political independence disappearing and efforts are being made
from all sides to re-establish the unity of the Mohammedan world by
stimulating the feeling of religious brotherhood. Among the most cultivated
Moslims of different countries an earnest endeavour is gaining ground to
admit Shî'ites, Khârijites, and others, formerly abused as heretics, into
the great community, now threatened by common foes, and to regard their
special tenets in the same way as the differences existing between the four
law schools: Hanafites, Mâlikites, Shâfi'ites and Hanbalites, which for
centuries have been considered equally orthodox.

Although the differences that divide these schools at first caused great
excitement and gave rise to violent discussions, the strong catholic
instinct of Islâm always knew how to prevent schism. Each new generation
either found the golden mean between the extremes which had divided the
preceding one, or it recognized the right of both opinions.

Though the dogmatic differences were not necessarily so dangerous to
unity as were political ones, yet they were more apt to cause schism than
discussions about the law. It was essential to put an end to dissension
concerning the theological roots of the whole system of Islâm. Mohammed had
never expressed any truth in dogmatic form; all systematic thinking was
foreign to his nature. It was again the non-Arabic Moslims, especially
those of Christian origin, who suggested such doctrinal questions. At first
they met with a vehement opposition that condemned all dogmatic discussion
as a novelty of the Devil. In the long run, however, the contest of the
conservatives against specially objectionable features of the dogmatists'
discussions forced them to borrow arms from the dogmatic arsenal. Hence a
method with a peculiar terminology came in vogue, to which even the boldest
imagination could not ascribe any connection with the Sunnah of Mohammed.
Yet some traditions ventured to put prophetic warnings on Mohammed's lips
against dogmatic innovations that were sure to arise, and to make him
pronounce the names of a couple of future sects. But no one dared to make
the Prophet preach an orthodox system of dogmatics resulting from the
controversies of several centuries, all the terms of which were foreign to
the Arabic speech of Mohammed's time.

Indeed, all the subjects which had given rise to dogmatic controversy
in the Christian Church, except some too specifically Christian, were
discussed by the _mutakallims_, the dogmatists of Islâm. Free will or
predestination; God omnipotent, or first of all just and holy; God's word
created by Him, or sharing His eternity; God one in this sense, that His
being admitted of no plurality of qualities, or possessed of qualities,
which in all eternity are inherent in His being; in the world to come only
bliss and doom, or also an intermediate state for the neutral. We might
continue the enumeration and always show to the Christian church-historian
or theologian old acquaintances in Moslim garb. That is why Maracci and
Reland could understand Jews and Christians yielding to the temptation
of joining Islâm, and that also explains why Catholic and Protestant
dogmatists could accuse each other of Crypto-mohammedanism.

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