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V ISLAM


In Islam there is strangely little theology, a minimal amount. “It reduced theology to basic elements and lowers it to the level of the coarsest natures.” Islam does not permit the offering of sacrifice, while the “Turkish mosque is a great prayer hall without an altar”. There is also no clergy, only prayer-leaders, the imams. Mahomet himself was an imam, and so are all caliphs on behalf of all the faithfull, and someone in every mosque who knows how to read. An ornamental niche in the mosque indicates the direction of Mecca — close to the pulpit. The preacher may be anyone who knows how to read and interpret the Koran, for which it is however necessary to know the Arabic tongue; for the Koran may not be translated. In the larger mosques there is a permanent preacher, khatib, generally the local judge, kadi, who is invited (there is no obligation) to undertake the task. A mosque is not God’s sanctuary; God is not present through prayer in the mosque.

The sources of belief are the Koran and tradition, called Sunna. In the composition of the Koran there is no slightest order or arrangement: any plan among its 114 chapters (sunna) comes from the commentators. The style and exposition of the Koran are the opposite of the simplicity and clarity of the Gospels; and beside them of an unbridled loquacity. The Sunna is composed of the oldest commentators and various notes. The Sunnites are orthodox, while the Shiites reject tradition and do not recognise the three first Caliphs. Shiite territory is Persia, India, Mongolia and the oases of the Algerian Sahara.

It is not easy to find dogmatic principles in the Koran. God has ninety-nine epithets, the hundredth is the invocation Allah! The greatest of the prophets before Mahomet is Jesus. He was conceived by divine inspiration; Mary is a Virgin. But Jesus is not recognised as the Son of God, for if God could have sons, there would be more gods. At first even Christians were not forced into Islam, intolerance against them appearing only in Turkish times. The old historic link with Judaism is shown by the sacral killing of cattle and the ban on pork. Angelology was adopted from the Persians and Talmudists. The immortality of the soul and future life after the Last Judgment are also accepted. The physical pleasures of the saved will be without number, but Mahomet regarded as the greatest grace of God the possiblity of seeing Him for all eternity face to face.613

In the Koran the concepts of free will or predestination are unclear. There is much exageration of the absolute fatalism of Islam. It is possible to doubt whether the idea of banning representations of living beings is original, whether it did not reach the Koran from elsewhere. It appears to have been the Prophet’s own idea to ban intoxicating drinks and games of hazard.614

As a result of its rudimentary dogmatic side, the whole of Moslem religion derives from the five basic duties of the moral life: prayers, alms, pilgrimages, fasts and participation in holy wars. Various ablutions accompany the prayers; for Mahomet often gave rules of hygiene sacral sanction. There are many pilgrimages and in Moslem countries a proliferation of graves of the most varied “saints”. A new religious current, the Wahabi, would like to restore to pilgrimages the high religious inspiration they once had.615

The bond of Islam is the religious brotherhood. Almost every grown-up belongs to one. Some are in the nature of our Third Orders. The oldest of the “orders”, Sufism, practises an ascetic of poverty, prolonged prayer, mortification and ecstasy. Since it is impossible to approach God without a mediator, the elder and director of the brotherhood — sheik, sufi, dervish or marabout — becomes the deputy of God on earth. The result has been the appearance in the forefront of Moslem life of “obedience to the sheik instead of the cult of Allah”. “Orders born of the divisions of Sufite teaching cover the whole Moslem world.616

Mahomet really only added the monotheist idea to what he found in Arabia. Hence the permission for slavery and polygamy. Now slavery is officially abolished, but what are slaves to do who sometimes for hundreds of years, generation by generation, have lived in the same household, and have never earned their livelihood outside it? Incidentally, the Koran recognises several ways in which slaves may gain liberty, but what to live on once free?

It is extremely difficult to improve the institutions of community life under Islam, since the Koran has served to perpetuate and popularise low-grade institutions as if they had been rooted in it. Let us bear in mind that as a rule a Moslem does not know the Koran at all. Thus polygamy is not really an essential feature of Islam, but it was accepted as such, so that Moslems themselves almost until yesterday considered it an essential matter. Marriage is not a religious act, but a civil contract. The imam repeats a prayer with a blessing, but neither he nor the mosque are necessary for the contraction of marriage. It is permissible legally to possess four wives: slaves are bound to submissiveness. An adulterous wife may be punished by death. Woman is not man’s equal, and does not even stand beside him in the mosque. Only the husband may divorce his wife. The veil and the sack dress are not prescribed by the Koran. Countrywomen do not know them at all,617 and neither the nomadic Turkmen and Kurd618 women nor the Kabyle women hide their faces.619 Nowadays the great majority of Moslems live in monogamy, while in Turkey polygamy has been banned for several years. Islam found slavery and polygamy, and would not have been accepted if it had not recognised these institutions. It thus adapted itself to the civilisation it found.

On the other hand, it cannot be claimed that in the Koran there are no injunctions influencing the organisation of communal life. The Koran is full of regulations in the field of hygiene, and contains an exact family and property law, entering into even minor details;620 it also contains an ethical system. The use of the fine arts is assessed precisely, although for the most part negatively.

And so the Koran touches upon the categories of health, prosperity, beauty, goodness. In the category of Truth, it is little concerned with the supernatural (theology negligible beyond expression!) and with the natural hardly at all — only to the extent that family and property law constitute the whole of jurisprudence. But the Koran’s shortcomings from the angle of civilisation go deeper. All its injunctions are concerned with family life alone, at most with that of the clan, and it knows only private law.

There is no law of government in the Koran, so how could government be based on the Koran? Government is left to the will and pleasure of authority, so that the arbitrary will of the ruler becomes an indispensable part of the law. From this it is one step, and an inevitable one, to the arbitrary will of every official. It also becomes necessary to stretch the Koran to meet the needs of the State. Military service was kept up in the name of the holy war. Taxation came under the duty of almsgiving. Obligatory alms for the poor was made a State concern, and later, under Caliph Omar, five kinds of such alms taxes were fixed.621

Of Moslem government it may be said that it was patched with the Koran and lined with self-will, and accordingly unable to dispense with terror. Such Government consisted in the application of private law (magnified) to public affairs. A separate public law could not emerge until a break was made with the principle that the Koran is the source of all law. Two schools developed, one for which only what is contained in Koran or Sunna is worthy, the other claiming that everything which is not condemned by the Koran is allowed. In this way as far back as the eighth century a philosophy of law emerged (Abu-Hanif died 772).622 Against the background of these two basic trends numerous sects have emerged.

No Moslem country is without sects, in some the orthodox Sunnites are entirely absent. There is yet another reason for the differentiation of Islam: Arabic Islam is not the same as Persian or Indian Islam. In India Islam has become polytheist; for fifty million Indian Moslems, Mahomet and the Islamic saints are new gods added to the thousand older ones. Elsewhere Islam spread because it preached equality; but in India it has retained the castes. Islam displays individual features in the Sultanates of the Indian Ocean, in Zanzibar and Madagascar, in Indo-China and in Japan (where there are three million Moslems) and to an even greater extent in Abyssinia and China (all Chinese Jews were converted to Islam).

It has been said with truth that “every race adapted an Islam according to its own character”.623

Where Islam encountered ground fertile from the point of view of civilisation, and where the upper hand was taken by that interpretation of the Koran according to which everything is permissible which is not expressly forbidden — Islam quickened civilisations into abundant growth. It was thus that the flower of Islam, Arabic civilisation arose, so-called after the Arabic language and not after the Arabic ethnic element with which it was in no way linked. Recent research into the role of the Arabs in spreading Islam is negative.624

But their language, thanks to the Koran, became the language of a brilliant civilisation of an intellectual splendour extended considerably beyond the frame of the Koran.

The scholarliness of Arabic civilisation (they rescued Aristotle) is often erroneously extended to Islam as such. Some even regard Islam as a religion (and civilisation) which is specifically intellectual, “directed exclusively to pure reason”.625 But not everything “Arab” belongs to the whole of Islam, and not all that is Moslem to Arabic civilisation! It is also necessary to distinguish peoples who received the Koran from Arabs and from Turanians. These are two worlds as far as civilisation goes. For example, Arab scholars regard Turks as something worse than giaours, as the barbarians of Islam. And between them there is a whole range of Islamic cultures: Baghdad, Persian, Hindu, Kipchak and Dzungarian (in China).

In Islam such great shifts and changes are permissible that it is not possible to speak of a necessary identity between religion and civilisation as is the case with Jews and Brahmins. The fully sacral civilisation seems to appear only in the most extreme of the Shiite sects, among the Mozabites of the oases in the Algerian Sahara. Ethnically these are Berbers. They are indissolubly bound to their holy cities; emigrating temporarily for business reasons they must return, because it is not permitted their women to leave. Here too the face is covered as closely as possible. In their towns there are no cafes, it is not permitted to smoke tobacco. The supreme authority, to be appealed to in all matters, is the college of men learned in the Koran (tolba) existing in every town.626

Apart from this single example, Islam is not in itself a distinct civilisation, but is compatible with various civilisations. Whenever a trend emerges in Islam which would make of it a civilisation, the latter is always defective.




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