Thought Archive

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Puritan's VIew

In the desire to come to understanding of problems of Islamic world to come to an accommodation with the Western world, my friens spend some time discussing issues surronding this. If one, on the other hand, follows the logic of an opponent of such an accomodation- a puritan - several points can be brought forward.

· A puritan (this how I will call a stern follower of Salafi Islam) will say outright that it is forbidden for a Muslim to live and contribute in Dar-El-Harb – outside currently Islamic and be subjected to non-Islamic laws. However – to a puritan – non-Islamic ways permeate the fabric Muslim countries as well.

· Puritans rightly assess that no current Muslim government upholds most literalist version of Sharia law that is not moderated by human laws . To a literalist – who accepts no other explanations, this is the sin of shirk or attribution. Therefore it follows, that no government currently in existence is legitimate, however hard they try. The most legitimate government is the direct rule of God over His subjects. Since it is not feasible, the only possible rule is most literalist interpretation of Holy Law possible.

· There are governments that currently uphold most strict version of Sunni orthodoxy - Saudi Arabia, for example. They are however, are ruled by elites whose interests are against the Muslim world at large and contribute to the world economy that exploits Muslims. Thus, despite agreeing with social mores of the Saudis, the Salafi purists would reject the alliance with such a ruler. For purists no strategic or even a tactical alliance is possible that compromises principles.

· Therefore a purist (salafi) might come to an extreme conclusion that there is not a single Muslim country currently in existence, and has never been.

This is a view that is easy to rebutt with a trip back through Islamic history. As a cursory historical glance will attest, there was not a single Muslim state in existence – beyond the rule of three early righteous Khalifs - that satisfies all of purists’ demands on what Islam should be. The revivalist tendency is the source of Islamic Puritanism, and it permeates many centuries of Islamic history coming back to Ibn-Taymiyya - darling of 20 century Islamists. Ibn Taymiyya, is not a modern thinker – he lived in 14 century, during a period of upheaval in Islamic world , when for a generation majority of Muslims were ruled by a non-muslim dynasties– Mongols of shamanist or Nestorian persuasion. Muslims were also subjected to non-Sharia derived laws like Mongol Yasaq – a code of conduct amongst Mongols that differed sharply with Sharia on some subjects.

It is important to notice that despite the sacking of Baghdad and destruction of Abbasid Khalifate in 1258, there was not a single major scale revolt against non-Muslim rule attempted. Neither there was simmering resentment and desire to revenge millions who perished by Mongol hand. Early 14 century, before Black Death, was in fact a period of continuing economic growth in Islamic lands as attested by such writers as Ibn-Batutta and others.

This state of affairs evidently upset Ibn Taymiyya – who had been imprisoned briefly by religious authorities for being a heretic– and upset him so that he decided to rant about the impossibility of being ruled by a non-Muslim and importance attached to a revolt against such a ruler.

Later Mongol dynasts formally accepted Islam – Khulaguids by 1310 and Golden Horde by 1330s, thus returning their respective states back into Islamic fold, but the evidence they left behind was clear that in medieval Islam was able to survive and prosper under the rulers rejecting the religion of their subjects. It had neither diminished, nor was able to dilute the essence of Islam.

The opposite example of tolerance is Medieval India where Muslim conquerors imposed themselves but not their religion on the Hindu majority – which, being an astute decision, allowed them to rule over their subjects for hundreds of years. This sharply contrasts with treatment of Muslims in Medieval Spain, post reconquista. The muslim co-existence in the lands of Western Christianity is a relatively modern phenomena, that is sharply in the focus, given current trends.


NoolaBeulah said...

You are saying that there are historical precedents for Muslims living in a non-Muslim society, and yet flourishing. I can see the value here of the precedent in itself, but are there specific lessons you would draw from this? I mean, with relevance for our position today in Europe.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Not sure one can draw exact parallels - after all today's West is not a Monghol society. I just want to draw attention to a flexibility and diversity of a Muslim society over centuries. What is interesting in this epoche is absence of any terorrism against ruling elites, which implies this is a wholly modern and not traditional phenomenon.

NoolaBeulah said...

I think you're right that it is modern, and that's it's a result of an infection from European thought, where terrorism has been with us at least since the late 19th Century. The suicide that accompanies the terrorism is merely a twist on an old tale.