No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam Author: Reza Aslan Random House - The American - Iranian thinker and religious scholar. No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. By Reza Aslan Aslan sees substantial similarities between Martin Luther's application of the then . No god but God: the origins, evolution and future of Islam Islam is a non-fiction book written by Iranian-American Muslim scholar Reza Aslan. Format: PDF.
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Please click on the PDF link at the bottom of this page to download the Teacher's In No god but God, internationally acclaimed scholar Reza Aslan explains. Aslan, Reza _ No god but God.. The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. RANDOM House and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc . Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Asian, Reza. No god but.
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This book, which functions both as an introduction to the religion of Islam and a political statement on current affairs, frames Islam and its history in terms meant to make it sympathetic and understandable to an audience raised in Judeo-Christian based, secularized Western societies.
As a Muslim scholar of religions who was born in Iran, but who left as a child due to the Islamic Revolution to be raised and educated in America, Aslan is perfectly placed to understand exactly what it is that needs to be talked about and how. Aslan begins his book with a discussion on the climate in which Islam came into being- he shows us 7th century pagan Arabia, with its nomadic tribes of all different faiths- including Christians and Jews and polytheists of all sorts.
He shows us evolution of Mecca and the culture into which the Prophet Muhammad was born. We see how all of these things affected the formation of Muhammad's initial community of followers who Aslan presents as egalitarian, socialist reformers with fair minded justice in mind , the development of Islam, the Recitation of those things contained within the Qu'ran.
We are shown a religion without a leader after the Prophet dies, struggling to understand the way it should go, how his words should be understood, what to do with the power they have as the Islamic empire increases in size and power. The religion breaks off into various family groups, ideologies, and radical small sects. Various people use the religion for their own gain, as a distraction, to claim legitimacy. Powerful, traditionalist scholars of the Qu'ran who believe in a literal interpretation of the text take control for a very long time- the Ulama.
Everything is twisted by this group, by political leaders, by imams etc, and all in the name of supposedly the same ideal, to get back to some mythical, perfect paradise. As Aslan points out again and again in his book: "Muhammad in Medina" became the paradigm for the Muslim empires that expanded throughout the Middle East after the Prophet's death, and the standard that every Arab kingdom struggled to meet during the Middle Ages Regardless of whether one is labeled a Modernist or a Traditionalist, a reformist or a fundamentalist, a feminist or a male chauvanist, all Muslims regard Medina as the model of Islamic perfection.
Put simply, Medina is what Islam was meant to be. And the argument goes on and on as to what this ideal of perfection means. Does this sound familiar?
That's because it should. Aslan weaves another major plot thread throughout this book, which is the idea that we are presently living in the age of the Islamic Reformation, and all the violence that we see is an internal struggle, not a "clash of civilizations". He brings up the many similiarities he sees to the Christian Reformation throughout the book, arguing for understanding and hope for the future: "What is taking place now in the Muslim world is an internal conflict between Muslims, not an external battle between Islam and the West All great religions grapple with these issues, some more fiercely than others.
One need only recall Europe's massively destructive Thirty Years' War between the forces of the Protestant Union and those of the Catholic League to recognize the ferocity with which interreligious conflicts have been fought in Christian history. In many ways, the Thirty Years' War signaled the end of the Reformation: perhaps the classic argument over who gets to decide the future of a faith.
What followed that awful war was a gradual progression in Christian theology from the doctrinal absolutism of the pre-Reformation era to the doctrinal relativism of the Enlightenment. This remarkable evolution in Christianity from its inception to its Reformation took fifteen vicious, bloody and occasionally apocalyptic centuries.
Fourteen hundred years of rabid debate over what it means to be a Muslim; of passionate arguments over the interpretation of the Qu'ran and the application of Islamic law; of tribal feuds, crusades and world wars- and Islam has finally begun its fifteenth century. There are a lot of differences in the form this "Reformation" has taken and how it has taken shape, but to get bogged down in that would certainly miss the point- that Islam and its followers are no different from any other major religion, no more backward or primitive, just at a different stage in their process than the rest of the world.
This is especially remarkable given that some radical, fundamentalist sects have gained control of large sections of Islam due to historical circumstance, use of force and financial might yeah this means Saudi Arabia , and due to colonialism, "Christianizing" missions, financial incentives and internal struggles, there is a large sympathetic audience to some parts of this theology and its ultimate consequences.
How should the caliph be chosen? The Umayyad clan seems to have considered the caliphate to belong to itself and thought it should be a political position.
Ali and his supporters appear to have considered it to have a more spiritual role. Although likely to prevail militarily, Ali agreed to arbitration to decide between the two. The early vision of the khalifa as a tribal-style shaykh ended, replaced by an imperial, heritable form of rule.
Although appearing to control territory that stretched from western Africa into South Asia, the Abbasids were often little more than nominal rulers who enjoyed only minimal tribute and an oath of allegiance from autonomous vassal states. After the Ottoman Empire conquered the Mamluks in Egypt and claimed Mecca and Medina, the sultan added caliph to his list of titles.
It was prominent in Ottoman political discourse until the late s, when Sultan Abdul Hamid II used it as part of a bid to give himself greater authority against encroaching European powers. After the Ottoman Empire was disbanded, Kemal Ataturk officially ended the caliphate, stating that the linking of religious and political authority was detrimental to Islam.
Since then, there have been few laments for its absence, and—aside from extremist groups like ISIS—no real effort to resuscitate it. Known as the mihna or inquisition , he forced ulama or Islamic religious scholars to submit to one particular set of philosophical views regarding the nature of God and the extent of human capability.
Religious scholars distinguish between orthodoxy correct or accepted theories and doctrines and orthopraxy correct or accepted behaviors, whether ritual or ethical. Protestant Christianity is generally considered a more orthodoxic religion and Orthodox Judaism is generally considered despite its name more orthopraxic. Islam falls in between, leaning more toward orthopraxy, but with doctrine and behavior seen as interconnected. The Five Pillars al-arkan, in Arabic constitute the fundamental ritual requirements of Islam.
All but one focus on community rather than the individual and all are considered obligations that the believer and community of believers owe to God as Creator. The first pillar is salat, the ritual prayer expected to be performed by capable Muslims five times each day. The second pillar is zakat, the annual charitable tithe used to support the poor and vulnerable. Although today some Muslim-majority states have zakat ministries that accept zakat funds, paying zakat is an individual obligation and believers can choose how and where to distribute their tithe.
The third pillar is sawm, the annual fast that takes place from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan. It appears to have been initially modeled on Jewish fasting practices and includes no food, drink, or sexual intercourse—anything that might make the body and spirit impure—during daylight hours.
Ramadan is a month of night-time feasts and time spent with family and friends which ends with the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday of breaking the fast. The fourth pillar is the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca for a prescribed set of rituals that Muslims must undertake once in their lifetime, if able. In contrast, shirk, the act of associating divine powers to anything other than God, is the unforgiveable sin.
The Umayyad caliphs, for example, argued for predeterminism, which they believed made them divinely chosen to rule the ummah. The rationalist position, represented by the Mutazilites, ultimately fell out of favor in the Sunni tradition and the Asharite position, which supported revelation over the power of human reason, became more prominent.
Muhammad consistently refused to perform miracles when challenged to prove that he was truly a prophet. Tafsir, or exegesis, focuses on providing the literal meaning of the text. The Mutazilite, or rationalist interpretation, focused on human reason and on setting the text in its historical context. It places them in one of five categories: one prohibited and four permitted categories that range from disliked to obligatory.
It expresses an ideal state. As the Muslim community grew and expanded, questions about the acceptability of particular behaviors grew. As the ulama emerged as the cadre of experts who could define and explain Islamic belief and practice, they also emerged as the key interpreters of these texts, producing increasingly complex and sophisticated jurisprudence. Over time, principles of legal interpretation emerged, like qiyas, or reasoning by analogy.
Schools of legal reasoning also emerged—ultimately, four Sunni and two Shiite—whose methods and legal rulings were mutually recognized with legal scholars often but not always referencing those of other schools.
The result was to increasingly emphasize right practice as the most important part of Islamic belief and practice, but it also enshrined the principle of internal diversity as represented by the schools of law.
When attempting to develop a legal position on a new situation—whether the drinking of coffee or the use of cell phones—ulama could turn to another legal principle: ijtihad, or the effort of individual scholarly reasoning.
While this approach fell officially out of favor in the Sunni world by the late medieval period, it never fully disappeared and has been increasingly central to Islamic jurisprudence in the modern era. This victory ensured the success of the Umayyad dynasty, but also sent a great shock through the early Muslim community.
Honoring their stance against what mourners considered the oppression and injustice of the Umayyads, a penitent practice of mourning the death of Husayn and his family emerged. Over time, this set of ritual practices helped shape Shiism as a distinct religious movement and emergent sect. Ashura has become the primary Shiite holiday: a ten-day commemoration focused on lamentation practices and culminating on the tenth day of the month of Muharram, when Husayn is said to have died.
Mourning practices have historically included the performance of passion plays, the readings of stories about Muslim martyrs, and public processions. Shiites place greater spiritual weight upon the ahl al-bayt or family of Muhammad. Shiites believe that the leader of the Muslim community should be known as Imam, not caliph, and that the authority of the Imam passes directly from one generation to the next.
They believe that the line of Imams is no longer visible in the world, but that the Imam will return at the end of time. Ismaili Muslims, best known today by the figure of the Aga Khan, believe that the line ended with the seventh Imam. A smaller group, the Zaydis, believe that a different descendant counted as the fifth Imam and broke off their lineage with him.
They tend to have a strong conviction in the power of human reason to understand the divine message. Shiite religious scholars are more organized than Sunni scholars and follow a hierarchy of scholarly achievement and reputation. Although Twelver Shiism became the state religion of Persia, now Iran, in the early s, Shiite clerics continued to espouse political quietism, particularly after the fall of the Safavids in the s.
As the shah alienated more and more elements of Iranian society in the s, s, and s, citizens with nowhere else to turn the political system had been atomized, or coopted by the shah, and the economic, military, and social spheres faced similar challenges saw in Khomeini a powerful and upright figure who spoke a language of moral and political righteousness.
He spoke in religious metaphors and offered a newly-compelling reworking of the classical Shiite doctrine that the Imam was the only legitimate ruler. God wanted more for people than to merely endure one illegitimate sovereign after another, he argued. In the absence of the Imams, the legitimate ruler was the one most capable of rule: the religious scholar, whose morals and knowledge were unsurpassable.
Shiite ayatollahs from Iraq in particular have criticized the push to political activism, suggesting that the Islamic Republic of Iran may not only continue to evolve itself, but is unlikely to serve as a compelling model of governance for other Shiite-majority states. Chapter 8: Stain Your Prayer Rug with Wine: The Sufi Way Sufism refers to the rich and internally diverse tradition of mysticism and spirituality in Islam, with practices that range from the competitive asceticism of the earliest Sufis to a kind of once-a-week, social club dhikr remembrance of God gathering.
It encompasses a range of philosophical beliefs and religious practices and has been criticized for its syncretism and apparent influences from Christianity, Hinduism, and other religions.
The earliest Sufis were known as zahids or ascetics and tended to be world-rejecting figures, many of whom wandered as mendicants. By the early medieval period, Sufism was becoming more organized and more domesticated, with fraternal groups of Sufis collecting into what would become formal orders or brotherhoods.
They tended to aggregate around particular masters, becoming disciples of one particular teacher and one particular path. Sufism focused on the inner and hidden meanings of the message of Islam and on a personal relationship with the divine.
Sufism pushes the believer to see orthodoxic and orthopraxic Islam as helpful in pointing the believer toward God, but not as ends in themselves. Sober Sufism, which argued for the integration of Sufi practices into ordinary life rather than rejecting that life in favor of super-human but extremist practices, became the more normative and accepted practice, with believers following particular, codified tariqahs literally, paths, but also referring to the organized orders and brotherhoods.
Sufis have faced increasing hostility and persecution in the modern era. Some has stemmed from political concerns. For example, Ataturk banned Sufi orders in Turkey in the s, seeing them as sources of possible opposition to his autocratic rule. Some hostility has stemmed from fundamentalist intolerance.
The Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, for example, consider Sufis to be polytheists who deny the unity of God and who practice a perverted form of Islam that includes influences from other religions. But Sufism remains influential in many parts of the world, particularly in West Africa, where almost all Muslims follow at least one Sufi order.
Every Muslim-majority and -plurality society was colonized by a European power in the s, with the exception of the Ottoman Empire and Persia—and both of those states were under constant pressure from European powers. Colonization was a political, military, and economic undertaking, but it was also highly ideological, and European denigration of race, religion, and culture were closely intermixed.
Hence, colonized subjects tended to see their foreign overlords through the lens of a hostile religion. The Indian Mutiny of , also known as the Sepoy Rebellion, should be understood as an act of resistance against political, economic, and also religious oppression. Muslim thinkers looking to throw off or at least contest the colonial yoke looked to Europe to see what intellectual, political, and social models they could incorporate, asking what developments had led to European strength and Middle Eastern, South Asian, African, and Southeast Asian weakness.
Described as modernists, they were an internally diverse group. Their overall stance might be understood as stemming from the belief that modernity was a human achievement, rather than essentially related to European culture, Christianity, or the rejection of Islam.
They argued that Muslims must embrace science, limited government, and new forms of sociability and that many practices and beliefs understood as part of Islam must be rejected as outdated and as holding Muslim societies back. Most modernists blamed the ulama for the weakness and what they considered the decline of Muslim societies.
Whether focused on modernizing education for Muslims, like Syed Ahmad Khan in India, or on the political power of a pan-Islamist political ideology, as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani did in the Middle East, they railed against the ulama as a negative force in Islam. This was best exemplified in the arguments for constitutionalism and limited government which arose in many parts of the Muslim-majority world.
The concept of shura or consultation was invoked to argue that Islam was inherently a democratic religion. The concept of mulk was referenced to emphasize that Islam stood against kingship, or absolute monarchy. As more Muslim thinkers and activists looked to independence and to build up their societies, their foci broadened. Some turned from a focus on religion to one of ethnicity, as with the Pan-Arab movement of Saad Zaghloul.
Some turned away from modernism and traditionalism both, looking back to the fundament or the earliest days of Islam and rejecting everything after that as a negative innovation. The Muslim Brotherhood emerged in the s and s in part as a reaction against Christian missionary work in Egypt.
Their focus on welfare, social services, community support, and education neatly mirrors the work of Christian missionaries. They argued that what Muslims needed was not to blindly embrace European behaviors but to Islamize society and, in doing so, to Islamize government. A moral society would produce a just state, creating a virtuous cycle. The idea that Muslims could self-consciously filter every aspect of their lives through an Islamic lens was distinctly modern and had a distinctly modern appeal.
Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian government employee and expert in literary criticism, became increasingly attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood in the s and would become its best known voice. Qutb took the classical Islamic notion of jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic era of ignorance, and brought it into the present. Qutb was given a show trial by the Egyptian state and put to death for treason, with Milestones read out in court as evidence. The Muslim Brotherhood never disavowed him, but moved quickly to emphasize that its efforts were peaceful and evolutionary.
The turn to Islam was not limited to the twentieth century, nor was it always inspired by colonial conquest.
Muhammad ibn abd al-Wahhab, a religious scholar from a family of religious scholars, began what would become Wahhabism as a reform movement in the s in the Arabian Peninsula. Railing against polytheistic and animist practices, he emphasized that tawhid, the doctrine of the oneness of God, had two parts. It was not enough to proclaim that God was one.
This was the positive part of tawhid. To be Muslim, a believer must also constantly reject and be on guard against shirk in any form—whether a major sin like visiting the grave of a Sufi master or celebrating the birthday of a child or of Muhammad.
Considered a marginal heresy by the Ottoman government, Wahhabism—which had become the official stance of the Al Saudi clan—might have died out had it not been for the discovery of oil and the concomitant support of the nascent Saudi state by Britain and the United States.
State sovereignty and a growing revenue stream gave the Saudis and their allied Wahhabi ulama the opportunity to establish Wahhabism across Saudi Arabia and to support its expansion by funding book distribution, school construction, and teachers to poor Muslim communities around the world.
The s saw a number of previously compelling ideologies lose their power across the Middle East, Arab socialism notable among them. Muslims in the Middle East and around the world took part in the s in a global turn to religion, known here as the sahwa or Islamic revival. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a client state, in , defeating the godless Communists became a popular cause and the mujahideen—guerilla forces fighting the Soviets—drew fighters from many locations.
Hardened by the war and with attitudes hardened by the echo chamber of religious fundamentalism, they became some of the key transmitters of a new, late twentieth century form of extremism: jihadism, or the reworking of the classical doctrine of jihad as an unending fight, often with apocalyptic overtones.
Al-Qaeda became the best known example of this new movement and Osama bin Laden its charismatic leader. Well known in the Arab world because of its turn against the Saudi government after the first Gulf War, al-Qaeda was little known to Europeans and North Americans until the attacks of September 11, It remains an important reminder, however, that extremist groups, like other organizations and movements, are not static.
They evolve over time and extremism itself is an internally diverse category. It established a two-tiered government: one, with an elected parliament and president, looking much like parliamentary democracies elsewhere.
The result was a restricted but functioning democratic system, in which candidates for elected positions were vetted by religious clerics, but had much more space for meaningful governance than in most states around the region. In the late s, twenty years after the Islamic revolution, a reformist cleric named Muhammad Khatami was elected president. Observers cited his example as a sign that Iranians still valued pluralism and argued that in a state with a religious outlook, the greatest opportunities for reform might come from religious scholars rather than secularists.
Linking Islam and democratic governance requires moving beyond the colonial era and Cold War idea that democracy must always resemble European and American forms. Democratic governance must develop in ways appropriate to each local context, including religious. The Medinan ideal of an Islamic polity could, in the contemporary context, be understood as realized through representative democracy.
One key technique of colonial rule was dividing populations according to ethnic and religious lines. A divided population was less likely to organize resistance against the colonial power.