4. Islam

I. Origins and Basic Beliefs

- See Smithsonian World: Islam Outline


II. Development of Islam

A. Division in Islam occurred shortly after Muhammad’s death in 632

1. Supporters of Abu-Bakr (Muhammad’s close friend and father-in-law)

- argued that the successor of Muhammad had to be a member of Muhammad's clan

- and only Muhammad’s political and military authority can be passed on to his successor

- they also believed that Muhammad had intended for Abu-Bakr to succeed him           


2. Supporters of Ali (Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law)

- argued that the successor of Muhammad must be a member of Muhammad’s clan by birth

- and that Muhammad’s religious as well as political and military authority could be passed on

- they also believed that Muhammad had designated Ali as his successor


3. Abu-Bakr was chosen as Caliph           


B. Early Succession of Caliphs

1. Abu-Bakr (632-634) > suppressed rebellion and unified the Arabic peninsula


2. Umar (632-634) > directed expansion outward toward Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Persia


3. Uthman (644-656) > of the Umayyad clan; continued to expand the empire; murdered by those who resented his rule


4. Ali (656-661) > supported by those who opposed Uthman but he could not reconcile factions; murdered; supporters of Ali had claimed the caliphate for Ali’s son, Hasan, but Hasan gave up his claim


5. Mauwiyyah (661-680) > of the Umayyad clan; realizing that the growing empire could no longer be ruled by tribal custom named his son, Yazid as successor


6. Yazid I (680-683) > his succession was opposed by those who favored Ali’s younger son, Husayn; Husayn was killed in the Battle of Karbala (680)


C. Divisions within Islam

1. Sunni (Traditionalists)

a) leadership:

- Caliph > successor to Muhammad’s political and military authority

- Imam > prayer leader


b) Shari’ah (Sacred law):

- based on the Qur’an and hadiths (comprised of sunnahs - life-examples of  the Prophet

- interpreted by jurists (religious scholars) allowing for personal reasoning and general consensus of the community

- the Sunnis consider themselves guardians of Islamic orthodoxy and traditions        


2. Shi’ism (Party of Ali)

a) leadership:

- Imam > divinely inspired leaders inheriting Muhammad’s religious, political and military authority

- Sevener Shi’ism (Isma’ili Shi’ism)

> after the sixth Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq, died succession came into question and a schism occurred between those supporting Ja’far’s younger son, Musa al-Kazim and those supporting Ja’far’s grandson, Ahmad

> Nizaris, the largest faction, traces the succession from Ahmad and since 1818 the Imam is called Agha-Khan

> there are about 15 million Seveners

- Twelver Shi’ism (Imami, Ithna Ashari

> traces succession from through Musa al-Kazim until 874 when the 12th Imam disappeared (occulation)

> before the Day of Resurrection, he will return as the Madhi, “the rightly guided one” and with Jesus will establish universal justice and true Islam on earth

> in the meantime the jurists provide guidance for the community

> about 80% of Shi’ites are Twelver


b) Shari’ah

-  based on the Quar’an and hadiths, but the Sunnahs include the life-experiences of Muhammad and all his rightful heirs (Imams)

- allows for allegorical reading of the Quar’an

- Ayatollah - highest level of religious scholar


c) Importance placed on martyrdom due to the martyrdom of Husayn


3. Sufism – The Mystical Tradition

a) Origins > derived from:

- Muslim ascetic tradition

> those who shun the world and its pleasures

> “Weepers” who fear God’s punishment and yearn for God’s rewards

-  Muslim tradition of Mystical Piety

> opposed asceticism for its own sake and it’s practice out of fear or despair

> rather one should focus on worshiping God and singing his praises

- Mysticism

> advocated devotional love, loving God with no other motive than itself

> some sought absolute union with God


b) Crystallization of Sufism

- Sufi Orders and Saints

> by the 13th century spiritual fraternities appeared usually centered on a famous shaykh (master) or his disciple

> a novice is called fakir (poor man) or dervish (beggar)

> these fraternities were usually located in a city and served as teaching and devotional institutions

> they were supported by associates who benefited from the Shaykh’s blessing and healing powers which became greater after his death

- Devotional Practices

> focus on achieving a mystical union with God; they seek to destroy the ego so that the supremacy of God can be established, then they strive to rebuild the seeker of truth

> “Remembrance” of God – repetition of God’s name often accompanied by bodily movement or breathing techniques

> “Hearing” or “Audition” – listening to hypnotic chanting of mystical poetry accompanied by various musical instruments

> Dance – the Mevlevi (Mawlawi) Order: Whirling Dervishes


c) Spread of Sufism

- appealed to many people due to its mystical and emotional aspects rather than the formalistic and legalistic  emphasis of mainstream Islam

- Sufi missionaries carried Islam to Africa and Asia and today Sufi piety is attracting non-Muslims to Islam in the West


D. Early Muslim Dynasties and the Spread of Islam

1. Umayyad (661-750) > capital in Damascus, Syria


2. Abbasid (750-1258) > capital in Bagdad, Iraq

- Golden Age of Islam: Bagdad become the intellectual and cultural capital of Islam

> flowering of Arabic literature

> transmission of the knowledge of antiquity

> advances in astronomy, math, medicine

> art, architecture and crafts


3. Expansion of Islam in the 10th  to 16th  centuries

- primarily through trade


III. Islamic Empires of the Early Modern Age

- Flowering of Islamic Culture

A. Ottoman Empire (1289-1923) and Caliphate (1517-1924)

1. Origins- Seljuk Turks

> Gained control of the Arab Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 1055, consolidated their power over the Anatolian peninsula, Syria, Palestine

> In 1253 the Mongols destroyed the Seljuk capital at Konya, but quickly withdrew

> As Seljuk authority weakened, various groups of Turks competed for control of the region

- The Ottomans

> A new group of Turks organized established themselves on land given to them by the Seljuks in Anatolia and expand their territory through conquest


2. Istanbul

- Mehmed II (1451-1481) led the successful conquest of Constantinople in 1453

- Constantinople was renamed Istanbul (City of Islam) and became the capital city

- Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque

- New mosques were erected


3. Religious Toleration

- Millets > each religious community kept its own courts, schools and charities; also maintained their own neighborhoods

- however, non-Muslims paid a special tax and Muslims were often given preference


B. Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722)

1. Origins

- Sail al-din (Safi al-Din) (1252-1334)

> a Turkic Sufi leader who traced his Shi’ite origins back to Ali

> as his followers, the Red Hats, spread his doctrine among the Turkic tribes a  more activist Shi’ite faith was adopted

- Shah Ismâ’il (1487-1524)

> a descendant of Sail al-Din, founder of Safavid Dynasty

> a Safavid leader who led his Turkic followers to military victory


2. Establishment of Twelve Imam Shi’ism, Ithna Ashari, as the state religion

> theocracy was established

> conversion of the Sunni population was undertaken


3. Conflict with the Ottomans

- preachers were sent into Anatolia to convert the Turkic tribesman and to encourage them to revolt

- 1513 defeat of the Safavid troops at the Battle of Chaldiron halted their advance and confined Shi’ism to Persia


4. Decline of the Safavid Dynasty

- Unable to deal effectively with the disputes of the nobles, rebellions of its subjects and the advance of invaders

- In 1722 Isfahan fell to Afghani invaders


C. The Mughal Empire (1526-1707)

1. established by Babur (1483-1530) who  having lost his kingdom centered on Farghana, retreated to Kabul and in 1526 he entered India to found a new kingdom

- within a year he defeated the Muslim ruler of  Lodi (the Delhi Sultanate) and a the Rajput to establish his authority over much of northern India


2. Early Mughal rulers were tolerant of their new Hindu subjects and struggled to accommodate interests of the diverse subjects


3. Muslim and Hindu influences impacted the development of Indian culture and society


4. from 1763 the British East India Company transformed the Mughals into  “puppet” rulers and in 1858 India became a British colony


IV. Islam and the Modern World

A. Reform Movements

- advocate a return to a purer Islam as practiced in the time of Muhammad

- Jihad  >  internal and external struggle

1. Wahhabism

- founded by Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab  in 1744 who allied with the Arab tribal prince, Muhammad al-Sa’ud

- advocated a strict form of Islam with a focus on the direct relationship between God and worshipper

- those who did not agree were deemed to be in error and Muslim society needed to be purged of all un-Islamic elements


2. influenced the more radical Al-Qaeda and the Taliban


B. Revivalist Movements

1. Muslim Brotherhood

- seek to form a transnational Islamic caliphate

- founded in 1928 by Egyptian Hasan al-Banna who advocated the Islamization  of all aspects of Egyptian society

- later leaders advocated jihad against the Egyptian state considered un-Islamic


2. State Islam

- Religion as an powerful expression of  discontent against corrupt governments and state and social institutions

- Iranian Revolution (1979) and the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran


C. Advocates of Tolerance and Peace

1. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community

- founded in 1889 it is the only Islamic organization to believe that the long-awaited Messiah has come in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Qadian Ahmadiyya 

- Muslim Community believes that God sent Ahmad, like Jesus, to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace.


2. Ashgar Ali Engineer – Islamic Scholar and activist in promoting communal harmony


“I believe religion is an instrument and not a goal and like any instrument it can both be used and misused.”


“I believe in the essential unity of all religions.”


“Every major religion emphasizes certain values which complement rather than contradict each other.”


D. Islam and Feminism

- Focus on a close reading of the Qur’an for answers to modern political and economic problem

- grounds are sought in the Qur’an for the expansion of women’s rights and roles within Islam


E.  Islam is again an expanding and growing religion 



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