The Religious Development of Islam

C. Snouck Hurgronje

WE can hardly imagine a poorer, more miserable population than that of the South-Arabian Country Hadramaut. All moral and social progress in there is impeded by continuance of the worst elements of Jahiliyyah (Arabian paganism), side by side with those of Islam. A Secular nobility is formed by groups of people, who grudge each other their very lives and fight each other according to the rules of retaliation unmitigated by any more humane feelings. The religious nobility is represented by descendants of the Prophet, arduous Patrons of a most narrow minded orthodoxy and of most bigoted fanaticism. In well-ordered society, making the most of all the means offered by modern technical science, the dry barren soil might be made to yield sufficient harvests to satisfy the wants of its members; but among these inhabitants, paralysed by anarchy, chronic famine prevails. Foreigners wisely avoid this miserable country, and if they did visit it, would not be hospitably received. Hunger forces many Hadramites to emigrate; throughout the centuries we find them in all the countries of Islam, in the sacred cities of Western-Arabia, in Syria, Egypt, India, Indonesia, where they often occupy important positions.

In the Dutch Indies, for instance, they live in the most important commercial towns, and though the Government has never favoured them, and though they have had to compete with Chinese and with Europeans, they have succeeded in making their position sufficiently strong. Before European influence prevailed, they even founded states in some of the larger islands or they obtained political influence in existing native states. Under a strong European government they are among the quietest, most industrious subjects, all earning their own living and saving something for their poor relations at home. They come penniless, and without any of that theoretical knowledge or practical skill which we are apt to consider as indispensable for a man who wishes to try his fortune in a complicated modern colonial world. Yet I have known some who in twenty years' time have become commercial potentates, and even millionaires.

The strange spectacle of these latent talents and of the suppressed energy of the people of Hadramaut that seem to be waiting only for transplantation into a more favourable soil to develop with amazing rapidity, helps us to understand the enormous consequences of the Arabian migration in the seventh century.

The spiritual goods, with which Islam set out into the world, were far from imposing. It preached a most simple monotheism: Allah, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of heaven and earth, entirely self-sufficient, so that it were ridiculous to Suppose Him to have partners or Sons and daughters to support Him; who has created the angels that they might form His retinue, and men and genii (jinn) that they might obediently serve Him; who decides everything according to His incalculable will and is responsible to nobody, as the Universe is His; of whom His Creatures, if their minds be not led astray, must therefore stand in respectful fear and awe. He has made His will known to mankind, beginning at Adam, but the spreading of mankind over the surface of the earth, its seduction by Satan and his emissaries have caused most nations to become totally estranged from Him and His service. Now and then, when He considered that the time was come, He caused a prophet to arise from among a nation to be His messenger to summon people to conversion, and to tell them what blessedness awaited them as a reward of obedience, what punishments would be inflicted if they did not believe his message.

Sometimes the disobedient had been struck by earthly judgment (the flood, the drowning of the Egyptians, etc.), and the faithful had been rescued in a miraculous way and led to victory; but such things merely served as indications of Allah's greatness. One day the whole world will be overthrown and destroyed. Then the dead will be awakened and led before Allah's tribunal. The faithful will have abodes appointed them in well-watered, shady gardens, with fruit-trees richly laden, with luxurious couches upon which they may lie and enjoy the delicious food, served by the ministrants of Paradise. They may also freely indulge in sparkling wine that does not intoxicate, and in intercourse with women, whose youth and virginity do not fade. The unbelievers end their lives in Hell-fire, for the punishment as well as the reward are everlasting.

Allah gives to each one his due. The actions of His creatures are all accurately written down, and when Judgment comes, the book is opened; moreover, every creature carries the list of his own deeds and misdeeds; the debit and credit sides are carefully weighed against each other in the divine scales, and many witnesses are heard betore judgment is pronounced. Allah, however, is clement and merciful; He gladly forgives those sinners who have believed in Him, who have sincerely accepted Islam, that is to say: who have acknowledged His absolute authority and have believed the message of the prophet sent to them. These prophets have the privilege of acting as mediators on behalf of their followers, not in the sense of redeemers, but as advocates who receive gracious hearing. Naturally, Islam, submission to the Lord of the Universe, ought to express itself in deeds. Allah desires the homage of formal worship, which must be performed several times a day by every individual, and on special occasions by the assembled faithful, led by one of them. This service, salat acquired its strictly binding rules only after Mohammed's time, but already in his lifetime it consisted chiefly of the same elements as now: the recital of sacred texts, especially taken from the Revelation, certain postures of the body (standing, inclination, kneeling, prostration) with the face towards Mecca. This last particular and the language of the Revelation are the Arabian elements of the service, which is for the rest an imitation of Jewish and Christian rituals, so far as Mohammed knew them. There was no sacrament, consequently no priest to administer it; Islam has always been the lay religion par excellence. Teaching and exhortation are the only spiritual help that the pious Mohammedan wants, and this simple care of souls is exercised without any ordination or consecration.

Fasting, for a month if possible, and longer if desired, was also an integral part of religious life and, by showing disregard of earthly joys, a proof of faith in Allah's promises for the world to come. Almsgiving, recommended above all other virtues, was not only to be practised in obedience to Allah's law and in faith in retribution, but it was to testify contempt of all earthly possessions which might impede the striving after eternal happiness. Later, Mohammed was compelled, by the need of a public fund and the waning zeal of the faithful as their numbers increased, to regulate the practice of this virtue and to exact certain minima as taxes (zakat).

When Mohammed, taking his stand as opposed to Judaism and Christianity, had accentuated the Arabian character of his religion, the Meccan rites of pagan origin were incorporated into Islam; but only after the purification required by monotheism. From that time forward the yearly celebration of the Hajj was among the ritual duties of the Moslim community.

In the first years of the strife yet another duty was most emphatically impressed on the Faithful; jihad, i.e., readiness to sacrifice life and possessions for the defence of Islam, understood, since the conquest of Mecca in 630, as the extension by force of arms of the authority of the Moslim state, first over the whole of Arabia, and soon after Mohammed's death over the whole world, so far as Allah granted His hosts for the victory.

For the rest, the legislative revelations regulated only such points as had become subjects of argument or contest in Mohammed's lifetime, or such as were particularly suggested by that antithesis of paganism and revelation, which had determined Mohammed's prophetical career. Gambling and wine were forbidden, the latter after some hesitation between the inculcation of temperance and that of abstinence. Usury, taken in the sense of requiring any interest at all upon loans, was also forbidden. All tribal feuds with their consequences had henceforward to be considered as non-existent, and retaliation, provided that the offended party would not agree to accept compensation, was put under the control of the head of the community. Polygamy and intercourse of master and female slave were restricted; the obligations arising from blood-relationship or ownership were regulated. These points suffice to remind us of the nature of the Qoranic regulations. Reference to certain subjects in this revealed law while others were ignored, did not depend on their respective importance to the life of the community, but rather on what happened to have been suggested by the events in Mohammed's lifetime. For Mohammed knew too well how little qualified he was for legislative work to undertake it unless absolutely necessary.

This rough sketch of what Islam meant when it set out to conquer the world, is not very likely to create the impression that its incredibly rapid extension was due to its superiority over the forms of civilization which it supplanted. Lammens's assertion, that Islam was the Jewish religion simplified according to Arabic wants and amplified by some Christian and Arabic traditions, contains a great deal of truth, if only we recognize the central importance for Mohammed's vocation and preaching of the Christian doctrine of Resurrection and judgment. This explains the large number of weak points that the book of Mohammed's revelations, written down by his first followers, offered to Jewish and Christian polemics. It was easy for the theologians of those religions to point out numberless mistakes in the work of the illiterate Arabian prophet, especially where he maintained that he was repeating and confirming the contents of their Bible. The Qoranic revelations about Allah's intercourse with men, taken from apocryphal sources, from profane legends like that of Alexander the Great, sometimes even created by Muhammed's own fancy - such as the story of the prophet Salih, said to have lived in the north of Arabia, and that of the prophet Hud, supposed to have lived in the south; all this could not but give them the impression of a clumsy caricature of true tradition. The principal doctrines of Synagogue and Church had apparently been misunderstood, or they were simply denied as corruptions.

The conversion to Islam, within a hundred years, of such nations as the Egyptian, the Syrian, and the Persian, can hardly be attributed to anything but the latent talents, the formerly suppressed energy of the Arabian race having found a favourable soil for its development; talents and energy, however, not of a missionary kind. If Islam is said to have been from its beginning down to the present day, a missionary religion,1 then mission is to be taken here in a quite peculiar sense, and special attention must be given to the preparation of the missionary field by the Moslim armies, related by history and considered as most important by the Mohammedans themselves.

Certainly, the nations conquered by the Arabs under the first khalifs were not obliged to choose between living as Moslims or dying as unbelievers. The conquerors treated them as Mohammed had treated Jews and Christians in Arabia towards the end of his life, and only exacted from them submission to Moslim authority. They were allowed to adhere to their religion, provided they helped with their taxes to fill the Moslim exchequer. This rule was even extended to such religions as that of the Parsis, although they could not be considered as belonging to the "People of Scripture" expressly recognized in the Qoran. But the social condition of these subjects was gradually made so oppressive by the Mohammedan masters, that rapid Conversions in masses were a natural consequence; the more natural because among the conquered nations intellectual culture was restricted to a small circle, so that after the conquest their spiritual leaders lacked freedom of movement. Besides, practically very little was required from the new converts, so that it was very tempting to take the step that led to full citizenship.

No, those who in a short time subjected millions of non-Arabs to the state founded by Mohammed, and thus prepared their conversion, were no apostles. They were generals whose strategic talents would have remained hidden but for Mohammed, political geniuses, especially from Mecca and Taif, who, before Islam, would have excelled only in the organization of commercial operations or in establishing harmony between hostile families. Now they proved capable of uniting the Arabs commanded by Allah, a unity still many a time endangered during the first century by the old party spirit; and of devising a division of labour between the rulers and the conquered which made it possible for them to control the function of complicated machines of state without any technical knowledge.

Moreover, several circumstances favoured their work; both the large realms which extended north of Arabia, were in a state of political decline; the Christians inhabiting the provinces that were to be conquered first, belonged, for the larger part, to heretical sects and were treated by the orthodox Byzantines in such a way that other masters, intolerant, might be welcome. The Arabian armies consisted of hardened Bedouins with few wants, whose longing for the treasures of the civilized world made them more ready to endure the pressure of a discipline hitherto unknown to them.

The use that the leaders made of the occasion commands our admiration; although their plan was formed in the course and under the influence of generally unforeseen events. Circumstances had changed Mohammed the Prophet into Mohammed the Conqueror; and the leaders, who continued the conqueror's work, though not driven by fanaticism or religious zeal, still prepared the conversion of millions of men to Islam.

It was only natural that the new masters adopted, with certain modifications, the administrative and fiscal systems of the conquered countries. For similar reasons Islam had to complete its spiritual store from the well-ordered wealth of that of its new adherents. Recent research shows most clearly, that Islam, in after times so sharply opposed to other religions and so strongly armed against foreign influence, in the first century borrowed freely and simply from the "People of Scripture" whatever was not evidently in contradiction to the Qoran. This was to be expected; had not Mohammed from the very beginning referred to the "people of the Book" as "those who know"? When painful cxperience induced him afterwards to accuse them of corruption of their Scriptures, this attitude necessitated a certain criticism but not rejection of their tradition. The ritual, only provisionally regulated and continually liable to change according to prophetic inspiration in Mohammed's lifetime, required unalterable rules after his death. Recent studies2 have shown in an astounding way, that the Jewish ritual, together with the religious rites of the Christians, strongly influenced the definite shape given to that of Islam, while indirect influence of the Parsi religion is at least probable.

So much for the rites of public worship and the ritual purity they require. The method of fasting seems to follow the Jewish model, whereas the period of obligatory fasting depends on the Christian usage.

Mohammed's fragmentary and unsystematic accounts of sacred history were freely drawn from Jewish and Christian sources and covered the whole period from the creation of the world until the first centuries of the Christian era. Of course, features shocking to the Moslim mind were dropped and the whole adapted to the monotonous conception of the Qoran. With ever greater boldness the story of Mohammed's own life was exalted to the sphere of the supernatural here the Gospel served as example. Though Mohammed had repeatedly declared himself to be an ordinary man chosen by Allah as the organ of His revelation, and whose only miracle was the Qoran, posterity ascribed to him a whole series of wonders, evidently invented in emulation of the wonders of Christ. The reason for this seems to have been the idea that none of the older prophets, not even Jesus, of whom the Qoran tells the greatest wonders, could have worked a miracle without Mohammed, the Seal of the prophets, having rivalled or surpassed him in this respect. Only Jesus was the Messiah; but this title did not exceed in value different titles of other prophets, and Mohammed's special epithets were of a higher order. A relative sinlessness Mohammed shared with Jesus; the acceptance of this doctrine, contradictory to the original spirit of the Qoran, had moreover a dogmatic motive: it was considered indispensable to raise the text of the Qoran above all suspicion of corruption, which suspicion would not be excluded if the organ of the Revelation were fallible.

This period of naively adopting institutions, doctrines, and traditions was soon followed by an awakening to the consciousness that Islam could not well absorb any more of such foreign elements without endangering its independent character. Then a sorting began; and the assimilation of the vast amount of borrowed matter, that had already become an integral part of Islam, was completed by submitting the whole to a peculiar treatment. It was carefully divested of all marks of origin and labelled hadith,

3 so that henceforth it was regarded as emanations from the wisdom of the Arabian Prophet, for which his followers owed no thanks to foreigners.

At first, it was only at Medina that some pious people occupied themselves with registering, putting in order, and systematizing the spiritual property of Islam; afterwards similar circles were formed in other centres, such as Mecca, Kufa, Basra, Misr (Cairo), and elsewhere. At the outset the collection of divine sayings, the Qoran, was the only guide, the only source of decisive decrees, the only touchstone of what was true or false, allowed or forbidden. Reluctantly, but decidedly at last, it was conceded that the foundations laid by Mohammed for the life of his community were by no means all to be found in the Holy Book; rather, that Mohammed's revelations without his explanation and practice would have remained an enigma. It was understood now that the rules and laws of Islam were founded on God's word and on the Sunnah, i.e., the "way" pointed out by the Prophet's word and example. Thus it had been from the moment that Allah had caused His light to shine over Arabia, and thus it must remain, if human error was not to corrupt Islam.

At the moment when this conservative instinct began to assert itself among the spiritual leaders, so much foreign matter had already been incorporated into Islam, that the theory of the sufficiency of Qoran and Sunnah could not have been maintained without the labelling operation which we have alluded to. So it was assumed that as surely as Mohammed must have surpassed his predecessors in perfection and in wonders, so surely must all the principles and precepts necessary for his community have been formulated by him. Thus, by a gigantic web of fiction, he became after his death the organ of opinions, ideas, add interests, whose lawfulness was recognized by every influential section of the Faithful. All that could not be identified as part of the Prophet's Sunnah, received no recognition; on the other hand, all that was accepted had, somehow, to be incorporated into the Sunnah.

It became a fundamental dogma of Islam, that the Sunnah was the indispensable completion of the Qoran, and that both together formed the source of Mohammedan law and doctrine; so much so that every party assumed the name of "People of the Sunnah" to express its pretension to orthodoxy. The contents of the Sunnah, however, was the subject of a great deal of controversy; so that it came to be considered necessary to make the Prophet pronounce his authoritative judgment on this difference of opinion. He was said to have called it a proof of God's special mercy, that within reasonable limits difference of opinion was allowed in his community. Of that privilege Mohammedans have always amply availed themselves.

When the difference touched on political questions, especially on the succession of the Prophet in the government of the community, schism was the inevitable consequence. Thus arose the party strifes of the first century, which led to the establishment of the sects of the Shi'ites and the Kharijites, separate communities, severed from the great whole, that led their own lives, and therefore followed paths different from those of the majority in matters of doctrine and law as well as in politics The sharpness of the political antithesis served to accentuate the importance of the other differences in such cases and to debar their acceptance as the legal consequence of the difference of opinion that God's mercy allowed. That the political factor was indeed the great motive of separation, is clearly shown in our own day, now that one Mohammedan state after the other sees its political independence disappearing and efforts are being made from all sides to re-establish the unity of the Mohammedan world by stimulating the feeling of religious brotherhood. Among the most cultivated Moslims of different countries an earnest endeavour is gaining ground to admit Shi'ites, Kharijites, and others, formerly abused as heretics, into the great community, now threatened by common foes, and to regard their special tenets in the same way as the differences existing between the four law schools: Hanafites, Malikites, Shafi'ites and Hanbalites, which for centuries have been considered equally orthodox.

Although the differences that divide these schools at first caused great exitement and gave rise to violent discussions, the strong catholic instinct of lslam always knew how to prevent schism. Each new generation either found the golden mean between the extremes which had divided the preceding one, or it recognized the right of both opinions.

Though the dogmatic differences were not necessarily so dangerous to unity as were political ones, yet they were more apt to cause schism than discussions about the law. It was essential to put an end to dissension concerning the theological roots of the whole system of Islam. Mohammed had never expressed any truth in dogmatic form; all systematic thinking was foreign to his nature. It was again the non-Arabic Moslims, especially those of Christian origin, who suggested such doctrinal questions. At first they met with a vehement opposition that condemned all dogmatic discussion as a novelty of the Devil. In the long run, however, the contest of the conservatives against specially objectionable features of the dogmatists' discussions forced them to borrow arms from the dogmatic arsenal. Hence a method with a peculiar terminology came in vogue, to which even the boldest imagination could not ascribe any connection with the Sunnah of Mohammed. Yet some traditions ventured to put prophetic warnings on Mohammed's lips against dogmatic innovations that were sure to arise, and to make him pronounce the names of a couple of future sects. But no one dared to make the Prophet preach an orthodox system of dogmatics resulting from the controversies of several centuries, all the terms of which were foreign to the Arabic speech of Mohammed's time.

Indeed, all the subjects which had given rise to dogmatic controversy in the Christian Church, except some too specifically Christian, were discussed by the mutakallims, the dogmatists of Islam. Free will or predestination; God omnipotent, or first of all just and holy; God's word created by Him, or sharing His eternity; God one in this sense, that His being admitted of no plurality of qualities, or possessed of qualities, which in all eternity are inherent in His being; in the world to come only bliss and doom, or also an intermediate state for the neutral. We might continue the enumeration and always show to the Christian church-historian or theologian old acquaintances in Moslim garb. That is why Maracci and Reland could understand Jews and Christians yielding to the temptation of joining Islam, and that also explains why Catholic and Protestant dogmatists could accuse each other of Crypto-mohammedanism.

Not until the beginning of the tenth century A.D. did the orthodox Mohammedan dogma begin to emerge from the clash of opinions into its definite shape. The Mu'tazilites had advocated man's free will; had given prominence to justice and holiness in their conception of God, had denied distinct qualities in God and the eternity of God's Word; had accepted a place for the neutral between Paradise and Hell; and for some time the favour of the powers in authority seemed to assure the victory of their system. Al-Ash'ari contradicted all these points, and his system has in the end been adopted by the great majority. The Mu'tazilite doctrines for a long time still enthralled many minds, but they ended by taking refuge in the political heresy of Shi'itism. In the most conservative circles, opponents to all speculation were never wanting; but they were obliged unconsciously to make large concessions to systematic thought; for in the Moslim world as elsewhere religious belief without dogma had become as impossible as breathing is without air.

Thus, in Islam, a whole system, which could not even pretend to draw its authority from the Sunnah, had come to be accepted. It was not difficult to justify this deviation from the orthodox abhorrence against novelties. Islam has always looked at the world in a pessimistic way, a view expressed in numberless prophetic sayings. The world is bad and will become worse and worse. Religion and morality will have to wage an ever more hopeless war against unbelief, against heresy and ungodly ways of living. While this is surely no reason for entering into any compromise with doctrines which depart but a hair's breadth from Qoran and Sunnah, it necessitates methods of defence against heresy as unknown in Mohammed's time as heresy itself. "Necessity knows no law" is a principle fully accepted in Islam and heresy is an enemy of the faith that can only be defeated with dialectic weapons. So the religious truths preached by Mohammed have not been altered in any way; but under the stress of necessity they have been clad in modern armour, which has somewhat changed their aspect.

Moreover, Islam has a theory, which alone is sufficient to justify the whole later development of doctrine as well as of law. This theory, whose importance for the system can hardly be over-estimated, and which, nevertheless, has until very recent times constantly been overlooked by Western students of Islam, finds its classical expression in the following words, put into the mouth of Mohammed: "My community will never agree in an error." In the terms more familiar to us, this means that the Mohammedan Church taken as a whole is infallible; that all the decisions on matters practical or theoretical, on which it is agreed, are binding upon its members. Nowhere else is the catholic instinct of Islam more clearly expressed.

A faithful Mohammedan student, after having struggled through a handbook of law may be vexed by doubt as to whether these endless casuistic precepts have been rightly deduced from the Qoran and the Sacred Tradition. His doubt, however, will at once be silenced, if he bears in mind that Allah speaks more plainly to him by this infallible Agreement (Ijma') of the Community than through Qoran and Tradition; nay, that the contents of both those sacred sources, without this perfect intermediary, would be to a great extent unintelligible to him. Even the differences between the schools of law may be based on this theory of the Ijma'; for, does not the infallible Agreement of the Community teach us that a certain diversity of opinion is merciful gift of God? It was through the Agreement that dogmatic speculations as well as minute discussions about points of law became legitimate. The stamp of Ijma' was essential to every rule of faith and life, to all manners and customs.

All sorts of religious ideas and practices, which could not possibly be deduced from Mohammed's message, entered the Moslim world by the permission of Ijma'. Here we need think only of mysticism and of the cult of saints.

Some passages of the Qoran may perhaps be interpreted in such a way that we hear the subtler strings of religious emotion vibrating in them. The chief impression that Mohammed's Allah makes before the Hijrah is that of awful majesty, at which men tremble from afar; they fear His punishment, dare hardly be sure of His reward, and hope much from His mercy. This impression is a lasting one; but, after the Hijrah, Allah is also heard quietly reasoning with His obedient servants, giving them advice and commands, which they have to follow in order to frustrate all resistance to His authority and to deserve His satisfaction. He is always the Lord, the King of the world, Who speaks to His humble servants. But the lamp which Allah had caused Mohammed to hold up to guide mankind with its light, was raised higher and higher after the Prophet's death, in order to shed its light over an ever increasing part of humanity. This was not possible however, without its reservoir being replenished with all tbe different kinds of oil that had from time immemorial given light to those different nations. The oil of mysticism came from Christian circles, and its Neo-Platonic origin was quite unmistakable; Persia and India also contributed to it. There were those who, by asceticism, by different methods of mortifying the flesh, liberated the spirit that it might rise and become united with the origin of all being; to such an extent, that with some the profession of faith was reduced to the blasphemous exclamation: "I am Allah." Others tried to become free from the sphere of the material and the temporal by certain methods of thought, combined or not combined with asceticism. Here the necessity of guidance was felt, and congregations came into existence, whose purpose it was to permit large groups of people under the leadership of their sheikhs, to participate simultaneously in the mystic union. The influence which spread most widely was that of leaders like Ghazali, the Father of the later Mohammedan Church, who recommended moral purification of the soul as the only way by which men should come nearer to God. His mysticism wished to avoid the danger of pantheism, to which so many others were led by their contemplations, and which so often engendered disregard of the revealed law, or even of morality. Some wanted to pass over the gap between the Creator and the created along a bridge of contemplation; and so, driven by the fire of sublime passion, precipitate themselves towards the object of their love, in a kind of rapture, which poets compare with intoxication. The evil world said that the impossibility to accomplish this heavenly union often induced those people to imitate it for the time being with the earthly means of wine and the indulgence in sensual love.

Characteristic of all these sorts of mysticism is their esoteric pride. All these emotions are meant only for a small number of chosen ones. Even Ghazali's ethical mysticism is not for the multitude. The development of Islam as a whole, from the Hijrah on, has always been greater in breadth than in depth; and, consequently, its pedagogics have remained defective. Even some of the noblest minds in Islam restrict true religious life to an aristocracy, and accept the ignorance of the multitude as an irremediable evil.

Throughout the centuries pantheistic and animistic forms of mysticism have found many adherents among the Mohammedans; but the infallible Agreement has persisted in calling that heresy. Ethical mysticism, since Ghazali, has been fully recognized; and, with law aud dogma, it forms the sacred trio of sciences of Islam, to the study of which the Arabic humanistic arts serve as preparatory instruments. All other sciences, however useful and necessary, are of this world and have no value for the world to come. The unfaithful appreciate and study them as well as do the Mohammedans; but, on Mohammedan soil they must be coloured with a Mohammedan hue, and their results may never clash with the three religious sciences. Physics, astronomy, and philosophy have often found it difficult to observe this restriction, and therefore they used to be at least slightly suspected in pious circles.

Mysticism did not only owe to Ijma' its place in the sacred trio, but it succeeded, better than dogmatics, in confirming its right with words of Allah and His Prophet. In Islam mysticism and allegory are allied in the usual way; for the illuminati the words had quite a different meaning than for common, every-day people. So the Qoran was made to speak the language of mysticism; and mystic commentaries of the Holy Book exist, which, with total disregard for philological and historical objections, explain the verses of the Revelation as expressions of the profoundest soul experiences. Clear utterances in this spirit were put into the Prophet's mouth; and, like the canonists, the leaders on the mystic Way to God boasted of a spiritual genealogy which went back to Mohammed. Thus the Prophet is said to have declared void all knowledge and fulfillment of the law which lacks mystic experience.

Of course only "true" mysticism is justified by Ijma' and confirmed by the evidence of Qoran and Sunnah; but, about the bounds between "true" and "false" or heretical mysticism, there exists in a large measure the well-known diversity of opinion allowed by God's grace. The ethical mysticism of al-Ghazali is generally recognized as orthodox; and the possibility of attaining to a higher spiritual sphere by means of methodic asceticism and contemplation is doubted by few. The following opinion has come to prevail in wide circles: the Law offers the bread of life to all the faithful, the dogmatics are the arsenal from which the weapons must be taken to defend the treasures of religion against unbelief and heresy, but mysticism shows the earthly pilgrim the way to Heaven. It was a much lower need that assured the cult of saints a place in the doctrine and practice of Islam. As strange as is Mohammed's transformation from an ordinary son of man, which he wanted to be, into the incarnation of Divine Light, as the later biographers represent him, it is still more astounding that the intercession of saints should have become indispensable to the community of Mohammed, who, according to Tradition, cursed the Jews and Christians because they worshipped the shrines of their prophets. Almost every Moslim village has its patron saint; every country has its national saints; every province of human life has its own human rulers, who are intermediate between the Creator and common mortals. In no other particular has Islam more fully accommodated itself to the religions it supplanted. The popular practice, which is in many cases hardly to be distinguished from polytheism, was, to a great extent, favoured by the theory of the intercession of the pious dead, of whose friendly assistanee people might assure themselves by doing good deeds in their names and to their eternal advantage.

The ordinary Moslim visitor of the graves of saints does not trouble himself with this ingenious compromise between the severe monotheism of his prophet and the polytheism of his ancestors. He is firmly convinced that the best way to obtain the satisfaction of his desire after earthly or heavenly goods is to give the saint whose special care these are what he likes best; and he confidently leaves it to the venerated one to settle the matter with Allah, who is far too high above the ordinary mortal to allow of direct contact.

In support even of this startling deviation from the original, traditions have been devised. Moreover, the veneration of human beings was favoured by some forms of mysticism; for, like many saints, many mystics had their eccentricities, and it was much to the advantage of the mystic theologians if the vulgar could be persuaded to accept their aberrations from normal rules of life as peculiarities of holy men. But Ijma' did more even than tradition and mysticism to make the veneration of legions of saints possible in the temples of the very men who were obliged by their ritual law to say to Allah several times daily: "Thee only do we worship and to Thee alone do we cry for help."

In the tenth century of our era Islam's process of accommodation was finished in all its essentials. From this time forward, if circumstances were favourable, it could continue the execution of its world conquering plans without being compelled to assimilate any more foreign elements. Against each spiritual asset that another universal religion could boast, it could now put forward something of a similar nature, but which still showed characteristics of its own, and the superiority of which it could sustain by arguments perfectly satisfactory to its followers. From that time on, Islam strove to distinguish itself ever more sharply from its most important rivals. There was no absolute stagnation, the evolution was not entirely stopped; but it moved at a much quieter pace, and its direction was governed by internal motives, not by influences from outside. Moslim catholicism had attained its full growth.

We cannot within the small compass of these lectures consider the excrescences of the normal Islam, the Shi'itic ultras, who venerated certain descendants of Mohammed as infallible rulers of the world, Ishma'ilites, Qarmatians Assassins; nor the modern bastards of Islam, such as the Sheikhites, the Babi's, the Beha'is -- who have found some adherents in America -- and other sects, which indeed sprang up on Moslim soil, but deliberately turned to non-Mohammedan sources for their inspirations. We must draw attention, however, to protests raised by certain minorities against some of the ideas and practices which had been definitely adopted by the majority.

In the midst of Mohammedan catholicism there always lived and moved more or less freely "protestant" elements. The comparison may even be continued, with certain qualifications, and we may speak also of a conservative and of a liberal protestantism in Islam. The conservative protestantism is represented by the Hanbalitic school and kindred spirits, who most emphatically preached that the Agreement (Ijma') of every period should be based on that of the "pious ancestors." They therefore tested every dogma and practice by the words and deeds of the Prophet, his contemporaries, and the leaders of the Community in the first decades after Mohammed's death. In their eyes the church of later days had degenerated; and they declined to consider the agreement of its doctors as justifying the penetration into Islam of ideas and usages of foreign origin. The cult of saints was rejected by them as altogether contradictory to the Qoran and the genuine tradition. These protestants of Islam may be compared to those of Christianity also in this respect, - that they accepted the results of the evolution and assimilation of the first three centuries of Islam, but rejected later additions as abuse and corruption. When on the verge of our nineteenth century, they tried, as true Moslims, to force by material means their religious conceptions on others, they were combated as heretics by the authorities of catholic Islam. Central and Western Arabia formed the battlefield on which these zealots, called Wahhabites after their leader, were defeated by Mohammed Ali, the first Khedive, and his Egyptian army. Since they have given up their efforts at violent reconstitution of what they consider to be the original Islam, they are left alone, and their ideas have found adherents far outside Arabia, e.g., in British India and in Northern and Central Africa.

In still quite another way many Moslims who by the prevailing law and doctrine, have returned found their freedom of thought or action impeded to the origin of their religion. Too much attached to the traditions of their faith, deliberately to disregard these impediments, they tried to find in the Qoran and Tradition arguments in favour of what was dictated to them by Reason; and they found those arguments as easily as former generations had found the bases on which to erect their casuistry, their dogma, and their mysticism. This implied an interpretation of the oldest sources independent from the catholic development of Islam, and in contradiction with the general opinion of the canonists, according to whom, since the fourth or fifth centtiry of the Hijrah, no one is qualified for such free research. A certain degree of independence of mind, together with a strong attachment to their spiritual past, has given rise in the Moslim world to this sort of liberal protestantism, which in our age has many adherents among the Mohammedans who have come in contact with modern civilization.

That the partisans of all these different conceptions could remain together as the children of one spiritual family, is largely owing to the elastic character of Ijma', the importance of which is to some extent acknowledged by Catholics and Protestants, by moderns and conservatives. It has never been contested that the community, whose agreement was the test of truth, should not consist of the faithful masses, but of the expert elect. In a Christian Church we should have spoken of the clergy, with a further definition of the organs through which it was to express itself: synod, council, or Pope. Islam has no clergy, as we have seen; the qualification of a man to have his own opinion depends entirely upon the scope of his knowledge or rather of his erudition. There is no lack of standards, fixed by Mohammedan authorities, in which the requirements for a scholar to qualify him for Ijma' are detailed. The principal criterion is the knowledge of the canon law; quite what we should expect from the history of the evolution of Islam. But, of Course, dogmatists and mystics had also their own "agreements" on the questions concerning them, and through the compromise between Law, Dogma, and Mysticism, there could not fail to come into existence is a kind of mixed Ijma'. Moreover, the standards and definitions could have only a certain theoretical value, as there never has existed a body that could speak in the name of all. The decisions of Ijma' were therefore to be ascertained only in a vague and general way. The speakers were individuals whose own authority depended on Ijma', whereas Ijma' should have been their collective decision. Thus it was possible for innumerable shades of catholicism and protestantism to live under one roof; with a good deal of friction, it is true, but without definite breach or schism, no one sect being able to eject another from the community.

Moslim political authorities are bound not only to extend the domain of Islam, but also to keep the community in the right path in its life and doctrine. This task they have always conceived in accordance with their political interests; Islam has had its religious persecutions but tolerance was very usual, and even official favouring of heresy not quite exceptional with Moslim rulers. Regular maintenance of religious discipline existed nowhere. Thus in the bond of political obedience elements which might otherwise have been scattered were held together. The political decay of Islam in our day has done away with what had been left of official power to settle religious differences and any organization of spiritual authority never existed. Hence it is only natural that the diversity of opinion allowed by the grace of Allah now shows itself on a greater scale than ever before.

1 With extraordinary talent this thesis has been defended by Professor T. W. Arnold in the above quoted work, The Preaching of Islam, which fully deserves the attention also of those who do not agree with the writer's argument. Among the many objections that may be raised against Prof. Arnold's conclusion, we point to the undeniable fact that the Moslim scholars of all ages hardly speak of "mission" at all, and always treat the extension of the true faith by holy war as one of the principal duties of the Moslim Community.

2 The studies of Professors C. H. Becker, E. Mittwoch, and A. T. Wensinck, especially taken in connection with older ones of Ignaz Goldziher, have thrown much light upon this subject.

3 Hadith, the Arabic word for record, story, has assumed the technical meaning of "tradition" concerning the words and deeds of Mohammed. It is used as well in the sense of a single record of this sort as in that of the whole body of sacred traditions.

Mohammedanism; lectures on its origin, its religious and political growth, and its present state, , C. Snouck Hurgronje, New York, G. P. Putnam's sons [1937] (pages 54-85).

Essays by C. Snouck Hurgronje
Answering Islam Home Page