No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam (Reza Aslam)

“No god but God” is a text written by Iranian-American Muslim scholar Reza Aslan. The book describes the history of Islam and argues for a liberal interpretation of the religion. He blames Western imperialism and the misinterpretations of Islamic law by past scholars for the current controversies within Islam, questioning the “clash of civilizations” thesis that people’s cultural and religious identity will be the primary source of world conflict in the post Cold War era.

A must-read book for anyone who is not only interested in learning more about the world of Islam in the past and nowadays, but also for all those who seek the historical truth of facts through the path of the Abrahamic religions.

Summary

Each chapter of the book deals with a specific topic within Islam. For example, one chapter is entirely devoted to the controversial, because often misinterpreted, issue of jihad, while others on the Ottoman Empire, the formation of al Qaeda, and so continuing in chronological order up to Osama bin Laden. Overall the book deals with the history of Islam from the perspective of the prophet, Mohammed as a social reformer fighting for equal rights for men. The author argues that the Qur’an does not command women to be covered with the veil, and that the concept of jihad was intended solely for defensive purposes. Aslan focuses primarily on the practices of early Islam, but also discusses life within the Abbasid Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the modern Muslim world.
According to Aslan, Islam is experiencing an internal struggle between individualistic reform and traditional clerical authority similar to what took place during the 16th century Reformation in Christianity. In short, a really interesting book for both Muslims and anyone who wants to know more about the origins and growth of this Abrahamic faith.

Quotes

“Religion, it must be understood, is not faith. Religion is the story of faith.”
 
“But what is most desperately needed is not so much a better appreciation of our neighbor’s religion as a broader, more complete understanding of religion itself.”
 
“Like so many prophets before him, Muhammad never claimed to have invented a new religion. By his own admission, Muhammad’s message was an attempt to reform the existing religious beliefs and cultural practices of pre-Islamic Arabia so as to bring the God of the Jews and Christians to the Arab peoples.”
 
“A Persian, a Turk, an Arab, and a Greek were traveling to a distant land when they began arguing over how to spend the single coin they possessed among themselves. All four craved food, but the Persian wanted to spend the coin on angur; the Turk, on uzum; the Arab, on inab; and the Greek, on stafil. The argument became heated as each man insisted on having what he desired. A linguist passing by overheard their quarrel. “Give the coin to me,” he said. “I undertake to satisfy the desires of all of you.” Taking the coin, the linguist went to a nearby shop and bought four small bunches of grapes. He then returned to the men and gave them each a bunch. “This is my angur!” cried the Persian. “But this is what I call uzum,” replied the Turk. “You have brought me my inab,” the Arab said. “No! This in my language is stafil,” said the Greek. All of a sudden, the men realized that what each of them had desired was in fact the same thing, only they did not know how to express themselves to each other. The four travelers represent humanity in its search for an inner spiritual need it cannot define and which it expresses in different ways. The linguist is the Sufi, who enlightens humanity to the fact that what it seeks (its religions), though called by different names, are in reality one identical thing. However—and this is the most important aspect of the parable—the linguist can offer the travelers only the grapes and nothing more. He cannot offer them wine, which is the essence of the fruit. In other words, human beings cannot be given the secret of ultimate reality, for such knowledge cannot be shared, but must be experienced through an arduous inner journey toward self-annihilation. As the transcendent Iranian poet, Saadi of Shiraz, wrote, I am a dreamer who is mute, And the people are deaf. I am unable to say, And they are unable to hear.”
 
“The concept of fasting was extraneous to the bedouin experience (it would have been absurd to voluntarily deprive oneself of food or water in a desert climate), there is no doubt that Mohammed mutated this ritual for the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula, which the Qur’an itself admits by declaring: “Fasting is prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those who preceded you” (2: 183). And el-Tabari points out that the first Muslim fast corresponded with Yom Kippur: Mohammed had expressly ordered his followers to fast together with the Jews in commemoration of their escape from Egypt. Only later on the fast was moved to Ramdan, the month in which, according to the Muslim faith, the Qur’an was revealed for the first time to Mohammed”
 

[About Islam]”is the dynamic conviction that a person’s spiritual and worldly responsibilities are one and the same, that an individuals duty to the community is indistinguishable from his or her duty to God.”

 
“As with all journeys, the Way has an end, though it should not be imagined as a straight road leading to a fixed destination but rather as a majestic mountain whose peak conceals the presence of God. There are, of course, many paths to the summit-some better than others. But because every path eventually leads to the same destination, which path one takes is irrelevant.”
 

“Over the last few years, the Islamic world has produced more female presidents and prime ministers than both Europe and North America combined.”

Reality is neither emptiness nor illusion, reality is God. “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” says the Qur’an “God is Mighty and Wise” (2:115). And since the doctrine of Tawhid insists on the oneness of God, the Sufis argue, then reality must also be unique.

 

“The atom, the sun, the galaxies and the universe,
certainly are nothing but names, images and forms.
In reality they are one and only one thing.”

 

In traditional Eastern philosophy, this notion of radical unity is often called monism: the idea that all things, despite their variety, can be reduced to a single “thing” unified in space, time, essence, or quality.

 

“One could argue that the clash of monotheisms is the inevitable result of monotheism itself. Whereas a religion of many gods posits many myths to describe the human condition, a religion of one god tends to be monomythic; it not only rejects all other gods, it rejects all other explanations for God. If there is only one God, then there may be only one truth, and that can easily lead to bloody conflicts of irreconcilable absolutisms.”

 
“However, Saudi Arabia quickly discovered what the rest of the world would soon learn. Fundamentalism, in all religious traditions, is impervious to suppression. The more one tries to squelch it, the stronger it becomes. Counter it with cruelty, and it gains adherents. Kill its leaders, and they become martyrs. Respond with despotism, and it becomes the sole voice of opposition. Try to control it, and it will turn against you. Try to appease it, and it will take control.”
 
“It took many years to cleanse Arabia of its “false idols.” It will take many more to cleanse Islam of its new false idols—bigotry and fanaticism—worshipped by those who have replaced Muhammad’s original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living in it.”
 

“In the Ummah, there was no tradition of veiling until around 627 C.E., when the so-called “verse of hijab” suddenly descended upon the community. That verse, however, was addressed not to women in general, but exclusively to Muhammad’s wives:””

 
“Today, Medina is simultaneously the archetype of Islamic democracy and the impetus for Islamic militancy. Islamic Modernists like the Egyptian writer and political philosopher Ali Abd ar-Raziq (d. 1966) pointed to Muhammad’s community in Medina as proof that Islam advocated the separation of religious and temporal power, while Muslim extremists in Afghanistan and Iran have used the same community to fashion various models of Islamic theocracy. In their struggle for equal rights, Muslim feminists have consistently drawn inspiration from the legal reforms Muhammad instituted in Medina, while at the same time, Muslim traditionalists have construed those same legal reforms as grounds for maintaining the subjugation of women in Islamic society. For some, Muhammad’s actions in Medina serve as the model for Muslim-Jewish relations; for others, they demonstrate the insurmountable conflict that has always existed, and will always exist, between the two sons of Abraham. Yet regardless of whether one is labeled a Modernist or a Traditionalist, a reformist or a fundamentalist, a feminist or a chauvinist, all Muslims regard Medina as the model of Islamic perfection. Simply put, Medina is what Islam was meant to be.”
 

“But perhaps the most important innovation in the doctrine of jihad was its outright prohibition of all but strictly defensive wars. “Fight in the way of God those who fight you,” the Quran says, “but do not begin hostilities; God does not like the aggressor” (2:190). Elsewhere the Quran is more explicit: “Permission to fight is given only to those who have been oppressed … who have been driven from their homes for saying, ‘God is our Lord’ ” (22:39; emphasis added).”

 
“must recognize that greater knowledge about Islam is not enough to alter people’s perceptions of Muslims. Minds are not changed merely through acquiring data or information (if that were the case it would take no effort to convince Americans that Obama is, in fact, a Christian). Rather, it is solely through the slow and steady building of personal relationships that one discovers the fundamental truth that all people everywhere have the same dreams and aspirations, that all people struggle with the same fears and anxieties. Of course, such a process takes time. It may take another generation or so for this era of anti-Muslim frenzy to be looked back upon with the same shame and derision with which the current generation views the anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish hysterics of the past. But that day will no doubt come. Perhaps then we will recognize the intimate connections that bind us all together beyond any cultural, ethnic, or religious affiliations. Inshallah. God willing.”
 
“As a text, the Quran is more than the foundation of the Islamic religion; it is the source of Arabic grammar. It is to Arabic what Homer is to Greek, what Chaucer is to English: a snapshot of an evolving language, frozen forever in time”
 
“All religions are inextricably bound to the social, spiritual, and cultural milieux from which they arose and in which they developed. It is not prophets who create religions. Prophets are, above all, reformers who redefine and reinterpret the existing beliefs and practices of their communities, providing fresh sets of symbols and metaphors with which succeeding generations can describe the nature of reality.”
 
“The separation of “church and state” of which America is so proud was established in Islam fourteen centuries ago, when it was decided that no Caliph would have religious authority over the community.”
 

“This creator God was called Allah, which is not a proper name but a contraction of the word al-ilah, meaning simply “the God.”

 
“In fact, the term “holy war” originates not with Islam but with the Christian Crusaders who first used it to give theological legitimacy to what was in reality a battle for land and trade routes. “Holy war” was not a term used by Muslim conquerors, and it is in no way a proper definition of the word jihad. There are a host of words in Arabic that can be definitively translated as “war”; jihad is not one of them. The word jihad literally means “a struggle,” “a striving,” or “a great effort.” In its primary religious connotation (sometimes referred to as “the greater jihad”), it means the struggle of the soul to overcome the sinful obstacles that keep a person from God. This is why the word jihad is nearly always followed in the Quran by the phrase “in the way of God.”
 
“[…] pluralism implies religious tolerance, not unchecked religious freedom.”
 
“The Perfect Man is he for whom individuality is merely an external form, but whose inward reality conforms to the universe itself. He is “the copy of God,” in the words of al-Arabi’s greatest disciple, Abdul Karim al-Jili: he is the mirror in which the divine attributes are perfectly reflected; the medium through which God is made manifest.” 
 
“More than a thousand years before Christ, Zarathustra preached the existence of a heaven and a hell, the idea of a bodily resurrection, the promise of a universal savior who would one day be miraculously born to a young maiden, and the expectation of a final cosmic battle that would take place at the end of time between the angelic forces of good and the demonic forces of evil.”
 
“It is a shame that this word, myth, which originally signified nothing more than stories of the supernatural, has come to be regarded as synonymous with falsehood, when in fact myths are always true. By their very nature, myths inhere both legitimacy and credibility. Whatever truths they convey have little to do with historical fact.”
 
“In many ways, the partition of India was the inevitable result of three centuries of Britain’s divide-and-rule policy. As the events of the Indian Revolt demonstrated, the British believed that the best way to curb nationalist sentiment was to classify the indigenous population not as Indians, but as Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, etc. The categorization and separation of native peoples was a common tactic for maintaining colonial control over territories whose national boundaries had been arbitrarily drawn with little consideration for the ethnic, cultural, or religious makeup of the local inhabitants. The French went to great lengths to cultivate class divisions in Algeria, the Belgians promoted tribal factionalism in Rwanda, and the British fostered sectarian schisms in Iraq, all in a futile attempt to minimize nationalist tendencies and stymie united calls for independence. No wonder, then, that when the colonialists were finally expelled from these manufactured states, they left behind not only economic and political turmoil, but deeply divided populations with little common ground on which to construct a national identity.”
 
“It is pluralism, not secularism, that defines democracy. A democratic state can be established upon any normative moral framework as long as pluralism remains the source of its legitimacy. England continues to maintain a national church whose religious head is also the country’s sovereign and whose bishops serve in the upper house of Parliament. India was, until recently, governed by partisans of an élitist theology of Hindu Awakening (Hindutva) bent on applying an implausible but enormously successful vision of “true Hinduism” to the state. And yet, like the United States, these countries are considered democracies, not because they are secular but because they are, at least in theory, dedicated to pluralism.”
 
“The only question that matters with regard to a religion and its mythology is “What do these stories mean?”
 
“There is absolutely nothing divine about the Shariah and in no way can it possibly be considered fixed and infallible. The argument that the Shariah derives its divine nature from its first and primary source, the Quran, falls flat when one recognizes that the Quran, unlike the Torah, is not a book of laws. The Quran is God’s direct self-revelation to humanity. Certainly, it contains the moral framework for living a holy and righteous life as a Muslim. But it was never meant to function as a legal code, which is precisely why scholars had to rely so heavily on extra-Quranic sources like ijma (consensus), qiyas (analogy), istislah (which refers to the common good of the people), and ijtihad (independent juristic reasoning)—all of them, by definition, reliant on human judgment and historical context—in order to construct the Shariah in the first place. To say the Shariah is divine because the Quran is divine is akin to arguing that water and wine are the same, since water is a primary ingredient in wine.”
 
“While the exact changes Muhammad made to this tradition are far too complex to discuss in detail here, it is sufficient to note that women in the Ummah were, for the first time, given the right both to inherit the property of their husbands and to keep their dowries as their own personal property throughout their marriage. Muhammad also forbade a husband to touch his wife’s dowry, forcing him instead to provide for his family from his own wealth. If the husband died, his wife would inherit a portion of his property; if he divorced her, the entire dowry was hers to take back to her family. As one would expect, Muhammad’s innovations did not sit well with the male members of his community. If women could no longer be considered property, men complained, not only would their wealth be drastically reduced, but their own meager inheritances would now have to be split with their sisters and daughters—members of the community who, they argued, did not share an equal burden with the men. Al-Tabari recounts how some of these men brought their grievances to Muhammad, asking, “How can one give the right of inheritance to women and children, who do not work and do not earn their living? Are they now going to inherit just like men who have worked to earn that money?” Muhammad’s response to these complaints was both unsympathetic and shockingly unyielding. “Those who disobey God and His Messenger, and who try to overstep the boundaries of this [inheritance] law will be thrown into Hell, where they will dwell forever, suffering the most shameful punishment” (4:14). If Muhammad’s male followers were disgruntled about the new inheritance laws, they must have been furious when, in a single revolutionary move, he both limited how many wives a man could marry and granted women the right to divorce their husbands.”
 
“Religion is concerned not with genuine history, but with sacred history, which does not course through time like a river. Rather, sacred history is like a hallowed tree whose roots dig deep into primordial time and whose branches weave in and out of genuine history with little concern for the boundaries of space and time.”
 

“There are striking similarities between the Christian and Quranic descriptions of the Apocalypse, the Last Judgment, and the paradise awaiting those who have been saved.”

 
“[God] has established for you [the Arabs] the same religion enjoined on Noah, on Abraham, on Moses, and on Jesus,” the Quran says (42:13).”
 
“The single most important factor in the performance of any Muslim ritual is the believer’s intention, which must be consciously proclaimed before the ritual can begin.”
 
“The reformation of Christianity was a terrifying process, but it was not, as it has so often been presented, a collision between Protestant reform and Catholic intransigence. Rather, the Christian Reformation was an argument over the future of the faith—a violent, bloody argument that engulfed Europe in devastation and war for more than a century.”
 
“As is the case with most prophets, Muhammad’s birth was accompanied by signs and portents. Al-Tabari writes that while Muhammad’s father, Abdallah, was on his way to meet his bride, he was stopped by a strange woman who, seeing a light shining between his eyes, demanded he sleep with her. Abdallah politely refused and continued to the house of Amina, where he consummated the marriage that would result in the birth of the Prophet. The next day, when Abdallah saw the same woman again, he asked her, “Why do you not make the same proposition to me today that you made to me yesterday?” The woman replied, “The light which was with you yesterday has left you. I have no need of you today.”
 
“Considering how effortlessly religious dogma has become intertwined with political ideology, how can we overcome the clash-of-monotheisms mentality that has so deeply entrenched itself in the modern world? Clearly, education and tolerance are essential.”
 
“Because the concept of the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament (the term was coined by one of the oldest and most formidable church fathers, Tertullian of Carthage, early in the third century C.E.), it was neither widely adopted nor universally construed by the early Christian communities.”
 
Montanist Christians like Tertullian believed that Jesus possessed the same divine quality as God, but not in the same quantity as God. Modalist Christians conceived of the Trinity as representing God in three successive modes of being: first as the Father, then as the Son, and finally and forevermore as the Holy Spirit. Nestorian Christians argued that Jesus had two completely distinct natures—one human, the other divine—while Gnostic Christians, especially those called Docetists, claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human but was in fact fully God.”
 
“Certainly the shahadah contained an important theological innovation, but that innovation was not monotheism. With this simple profession of faith, Muhammad was declaring to Mecca that the God of the heavens and the earth required no intermediate whatsoever, but could be accessed by anyone.”
 
“The occultation of the Twelfth Imam, or the Mahdi
 

“But tawhid, which literally means “making one,” implies more than just monotheism. True, there is only one God, but that is just the beginning. Tawhid means that God is Oneness. God is Unity: wholly indivisible, entirely unique, and utterly indefinable. God resembles nothing in either essence or attributes.”

 
“The relationship between the Jews and pagan Arabs was symbiotic in that not only were the Jews heavily Arabized, but the Arabs were also significantly influenced by Jewish beliefs and practices.”
 
“For most of the Western world, September 11, 2001, signaled the commencement of a worldwide struggle between Islam and the West—the ultimate manifestation of the clash of civilizations. From the Islamic perspective, however, the attacks on New York and Washington were part of an ongoing clash between those Muslims who strive to reconcile their religious values with the realities of the modern world, and those who react to modernism and reform by reverting—sometimes fanatically—to the “fundamentals” of their faith.”
 
“God is, in other words, wholly Other: the Mysterium Tremendum, to borrow Rudolph Otto’s famous phrase.”
 
“The Ka‘ba, like the Pyramids in Egypt or the Temple in Jerusalem, may have been constructed as an axis mundi, sometimes called a “navel spot”: a sacred space around which the whole of the universe revolves, the link between the earth and the solid dome of heaven.”
 
“For the Sufi, reality is neither emptiness nor illusion; reality is God.”
 
“The Spanish philosopher and physician Ibn Rushd (1126–98), better known as Averroës in the West, pushed al-Jabbar’s conception of truth to its limit by proposing a “two truths” theory of knowledge in which religion and philosophy are placed in opposition to each other. According to Ibn Rushd, religion simplifies the truth for the masses by resorting to easily recognizable signs and symbols, regardless of the doctrinal contradictions and rational incongruities that inevitably result from the formation and rigid interpretation of dogma. Philosophy, however, is itself truth; its purpose is merely to express reality through the faculty of human reason.”
 
“Thus, the Quran promises that “all those who believe—the Jews, the Sabians, the Christians—anyone who believes in God and the Last Days, and who does good deeds, will have nothing to fear”
 

“Muhammad’s example must have had a lasting effect on his early followers: as Nabia Abbott has shown, throughout the first two centuries of Islam, Muslims regularly read the Torah alongside the Quran.”

 
“While the details of the Amirs’ religion have been lost to history, most scholars are convinced that by the sixth century C.E., henotheism had become the standard belief of the vast majority of sedentary Arabs, who not only accepted Allah as their High God, but insisted that he was the same god as Yahweh, the god of the Jews.”
 
[Quoting the Qur’anic passage in chapter 3 verse 84]. “We believe in God, and in that which has been revealed to us, which is that which was revealed to Abraham and Ismail and Jacob and the tribes [of Israel], as well as that which the Lord revealed to Moses and to Jesus and to all the other Prophets. We make no distinction between any of them; we submit ourselves to God.”
 
“Manichaeism, the doctrine founded by the Prophet Mani, was a Gnostic religious movement heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism which preached a complex, radical dualism between the forces of darkness/evil and the forces of light/good.”
 
“And finally, when the celebrated Quranic commentator Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (1149–1209) interpreted the verse “[God] created spouses for you of your own kind so that you may have peace of mind through them” (3:21) as “proof that women were created like animals and plants and other useful things [and not for] worship and carrying the Divine commands . . . because the woman is weak, silly, and in one sense like a child,” his commentary became (and still is) one of the most widely respected in the Muslim world.
This last point bears repeating. The fact is that for fifteen centuries, the science of Quranic commentary has been the exclusive domain of Muslim men. And because each one of these exegetes inevitably brings to the Quran his own ideology and his own preconceived notions, it should not be surprising to learn that certain verses have most often been read in their most misogynist interpretation.”
 

“Consider, for example, how the following verse (4:34) regarding the obligations of men toward women has been rendered into English by two different but widely read contemporafirst is from the Princeton edition, translated by Ahmed Ali; the second is from Majid Fakhry’s translation, published by New York University:

Men are the support of women [qawwamuna ‘ala an-nisa] as God gives some more means than others, and because they spend of their wealth (to provide for them). . . . As for women you feel are averse, talk to them suasively; then leave them alone in bed (without molesting them) and go to bed with them (when they are willing).

Men are in charge of women, because Allah has made some of them excel the others, and because they spend some of their wealth. . . . And for those [women] that you fear might rebel, admonish them and abandon them in their beds and beat them [adribuhunna].

Because of the variability of the Arabic language, both of these translations are grammatically, syntactically, and definitionally correct. The phrase qawwamuna ‘ala an-nisa can be understood as “watch over,” “protect,” “support,” “attend to,” “look after,” or “be in charge of” women. The final word in the verse, adribuhunna, which Fakhry has rendered as “beat them,” can equally mean “turn away from them,” “go along with them,” and, remarkably, even “have consensual intercourse with them.” If religion is indeed interpretation, then which meaning one chooses to accept and follow depends on what one is trying to extract from the text: if one views the Quran as empowering women, then Ali’s; if one looks to the Quran to justify violence against women, then Fakhry’s.translators of the Quran.”

 
“There are two distinct methods of interpreting the Quran. The first, tafsir, is primarily concerned with elucidating the literal meaning of the text, while the second, ta’wil, is more concerned with the hidden, esoteric meaning of the Quran. Tafsir answers questions of context and chronology, providing an easily understandable framework for Muslims to live a righteous life. Ta’wil delves into the concealed message of the text, which, because of its mystical nature, is comprehensible only to a select few. While both are considered equally valid approaches, the tension between tafsir and ta’wil is but one of the inevitable consequences of trying to interpret an eternal and uncreated scripture that is nevertheless firmly grounded in a specific historical context.”
 
“Nor is it surprising that three of the first four leaders of Islam were killed by fellow Muslims, though it is important to recognize that both the rebels who murdered Uthman and the Kharijites who assassinated Ali were, like their spiritual successors among the Jihadists of today, far more concerned with maintaining their personal ideal of Muhammad’s community than with protecting that community from external enemies.”
 
An individual enters the final stages of the Way when the nafs [Arabic word for self] begins to release its grip on the qalb [the heart], thus allowing the ruh [Spirit]—which is present in all humanity, but is cloaked in the veil of the self—to absorb the qalb as though it were a drop of dew plunged into a vast, endless sea. When this occurs, the individual achieves fana: ecstatic, intoxicating self-annihilation. This is the final station along the Sufi Way. It is here, at the end of the journey, when the individual has been stripped of his ego, that he becomes one with the Universal Spirit and achieves unity with the Divine.
 
 
“The intention of the United States government in supporting Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war was to curb the spread of Iran’s revolution, but it had the more disastrous effect of curbing its evolution.”
 
“Some have argued, a few of them violently, that the Caliphate should be restored as the emblem of Muslim unity. These Muslims believe that the ideals of Islam and nationalism are “diametrically opposed to each other,” to quote Mawlana Mawdudi, founder of the Pakistani sociopolitical movement Jama‘at-i Islami (the Islamic Association).”
 
“For European colonialists like Alfred, Lord Cromer, the British consul general to Egypt at the end of the nineteenth century, the veil was a symbol of the “degradation of women” and definitive proof that “Islam as a social system has been a complete failure.” Never mind that Cromer was the founder of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage in England. As the quintessential colonialist, Cromer had no interest in the plight of Muslim women; the veil was, for him, an icon of the “backwardness of Islam,” and the most visible justification for Europe’s “civilizing mission” in the Middle East.”
 
“Grateful for their generosity, Muhammad orders the land to be leveled, the graves dug up, and the palm trees cut down for timber to build a modest home. He envisions a courtyard roofed in palm leaves, with living quarters made of wood and mud lining the walls. But this will be more than a home. This converted drying-ground and cemetery will serve as the first masjid, or mosque, of a new kind of community, one so revolutionary that many years later, when Muslim scholars seek to establish a distinctly Islamic calendar, they will begin not with the birth of the Prophet, nor with the onset of Revelation, but with the year Muhammad and his band of Emigrants came to this small federation of villages to start a new society. That year, 622 C.E., will forever be known as Year 1 A.H. (After Hijra); and the oasis that for centuries had been called Yathrib will henceforth be celebrated as Medinat an-Nabi: “The City of the Prophet,” or more simply, Medina.”
 
“The Shi‘ah believe that salvation requires the intercession of Muhammad, his son-in-law Ali, his grandsons Hasan and Husayn, and the rest of the Prophet’s legitimate successors, the Imams, who not only serve as humanity’s intercessors on the Last Days, but who further function as the eternal executors (wali) of the divine Revelation.”
 

“The hadith, insofar as they addressed issues not dealt with in the Quran, would become an indispensable tool in the formation of Islamic law. However, in their earliest stages, the hadith were muddled and totally unregulated, making their authentication almost impossible. Worse, as the first generation of Companions passed on, the community had to rely increasingly on the reports that the second generation of Muslims (known as the Tabiun) had received from the first; when the second generation died, the community was yet another step removed from the actual words and deeds of the Prophet. Thus, with each successive generation, the “chain of transmission,” or isnad, that was supposed to authenticate the hadith grew longer and more convoluted, so that in less than two centuries after Muhammad’s death, there were already some seven hundred thousand hadith being circulated throughout the Muslim lands, the great majority of which were unquestionably fabricated by individuals who sought to legitimize their own particular beliefs and practices by connecting them with the Prophet. After a few generations, almost anything could be given the status of hadith if one simply claimed to trace its transmission back to Muhammad. In fact, the Hungarian scholar Ignaz Goldziher has documented numerous hadith the transmitters of which claimed were derived from Muhammad but which were in reality verses from the Torah and Gospels, bits of rabbinic sayings, ancient Persian maxims, passages of Greek philosophy, Indian proverbs, and even an almost word-for-word reproduction of the Lord’s Prayer. By the ninth century, when Islamic law was being fashioned, there were so many false hadith circulating through the community that Muslim legal scholars somewhat whimsically classified them into two categories: lies told for material gain and lies told for ideological advantage.

 
“The word Imam has multiple connotations. In Sunni Islam, the imam is merely the person who stands at the head of the mosque and leads the congregation in prayer. While the Shi‘ah sometimes employ this definition for their religious leaders as well, they also recognize a “fixed” number of Imams—the number of whom depends on the sect of Shi‘ism—who, as the Prophet’s legitimate successors, bear the responsibility of guarding and preserving Muhammad’s divine message.”
 
“Despite the common perception in the West, the Muslim conquerors did not force conversion upon the conquered peoples; indeed, they did not even encourage it. The fact is that the financial and social advantages of being an Arab Muslim in the eighth and ninth centuries were such that Islam quickly became an élite clique, which a non-Arab could join only through a complex process that involved becoming first the client of an Arab.”
 
“Because human beings do not have the capacity to attain knowledge of God on their own, the Imam becomes a continuous necessity for all societies and in every era. So in addition to the “fixed” number of Imams who succeeded Muhammad’s earthly authority, there must also exist an “ever-present” or “pre-existent” Imam who, as the eternal guardian of the Revelation, functions as “the Proof of God on Earth.” Thus, the first Imam was neither Muhammad nor Ali but Adam.”
 
“It has often been noted that the biblical stories recounted in the Quran, especially those dealing with Jesus, imply a familiarity with the traditions and narratives of the Christian faith.”
 
“Indeed, everything that is currently being said about America’s diverse Muslim population—that they are foreign and exotic and un-American—was said about Catholic and Jewish immigrants nearly a century ago.”
 
“Karima bint Ahmad (d. 1069) and Fatima bint Ali (d. 1087), for example, are regarded as two of the most important transmitters of the Prophet’s traditions, while Zaynab bint al-Sha’ri (d. 1220) and Daqiqa bint Murshid (d. 1345), both textual scholars, occupied an eminent place in early Islamic scholarship. And it is hard to ignore the fact that nearly one sixth of all “reliable” hadith can be traced back to Muhammad’s wife Aisha.”
 
“A true Sufi, Shaykh Haeri writes, “does not separate the inner from the outer,” for when you “start by purifying your inner self, you end up being concerned with the outer and with society.”
 
“In Muhammad’s lifetime, the Quran was never collected in a single volume; in fact, it was never collected at all.”
 
“Even al-Hallaj admitted that his experience of unity with God came after a long journey of inward reflection. “Your Spirit mixed with my Spirit little by little,” he wrote of God in his Diwan, “by turns, through reunions and abandons. And now I am Yourself. Your existence is my own, and it is also my will.”
 
“All that matters is to be on a path, to be constantly moving toward the top—one measured, controlled, and strictly supervised step at a time—passing diligently through specific “abodes and stations” along the Way, each of which is marked by an ineffable experience of spiritual evolution, until one finally reaches the end of the journey: that moment of enlightenment in which the veil of reality is stripped away, the ego obliterated, and the self utterly consumed by God.”
 
“The loss of Abu Talib’s protection was certainly demoralizing, if not detrimental to Muhammad’s physical security. But returning home after one of his painfully violent revelatory experiences, or after suffering another indignity from the Quraysh—his head covered in dirt, his tunic defiled with blood—and not having Khadija there to wrap him in her cloak and hold him in her arms until the terror subsided must have been an unimaginable sorrow for the Prophet.”
 
“Yet lost in the debate about America’s true intentions in the Middle East was the fact that large majorities in every Muslim-majority state surveyed told pollsters they wanted to see their countries move toward greater democracy. A wave of democratic fervor across the Middle East created a renewed sense of hope for scores of people who had spent their lives in autocratic societies but who now looked forward to the possibility of having a say, even if in the most limited of ways, in their own political destinies. The Green Movement in Iran lit the fuse, employing new social media technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to break the government’s monopoly over the media and to demonstrate to the world their aspiration for freedom and liberty.”
 
“Unshackled by the state, the Ulama were now free to ascend to a position of unquestioned religious authority in the Ummah, which they used not only to institutionalize their legal and theological opinions into distinct schools of thought but also to formulate a binding, comprehensive code of conduct called the Shariah, forever transforming Islam from a religion into an all-embracing way of life: one that the Ulama claimed sole authority to define.”
 
“As the ninth-century legal scholar Malik ibn Anas, founder of the Maliki school of law, once quipped, “This religion is a science, so pay close attention to those from whom you learn it.”
 

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