Notes on the Sociology of Religion: Islamic Societies2

John C. Rankin

[Islam and Expansion]

  1. Backdrop of Muhammad’s unexpected and sudden death, with no provision for succession to his leadership.
  2. Backdrop of Islam having conquered all Arabia since the hijra from Mecca to Medina in A.D. 622.
  3. Thus, succession problem with division into the Sunni (sunna/custom) beginning with Abu’ Bakr; versus Shi’a (shi’at ‘ali/part of ‘Ali) with blood lineage the determinant beginning with Mohammad’s cousin and son-in-law, “Ali Abi Talib (married to Fatima).
  4. First three caliphs following Muhammad’s death (Bakr along with ‘Umar and ‘Uthman) = Sunni; fourth = Shiite ‘Ali; a;; considered “rightly guided caliphs, the “rashidum,” credited with “special religious guidance.”; in contrast to subsequent Sunni corrupt caliphs…
  5. Rapid military expansions into Egypt, Jerusalem, Damascus and Baghdad; weakness of Byzantium and Persia (worn out fighting each other); indifference among subjugated people as to who ruled.
  6. “In 661, Sunni supporters of Mu’awiyya, who became the first Umayyad Dynasty caliph, murdered ‘Ali and seized permanent control of the Muslim political organization for those outside of Mohammed’s family.”
  7. Fatima’s eldest son, Hasan, forced into retirement in Medina, where he was poisoned.
  8. Shiite stronghold of Kufa (southern Iraq); ‘Ali’s second son Husain leads revolt against Yazid (Mu’awiyya’s son); lost and his martyrdom at Karbala “sets the tone for contemporary Shiite spirituality.”
  9. Shi’a survived under Sunni domination, but never recognized it (practice of taqiyya, “precautionary dissimulation”).
  10. Shiite belief in twelve Holy Imams (who are each infallible); and await the messianic return of the twelfth Imam, al-Madhi, who disappeared near Baghdad in 873.
  11. Conflict to this day.
  12. Large range of heterodox or quasi-heterodox Muslims – i.e., Khawarij, Druze (Lebanon), Alawites (Turkey and Syria), Taliban (Afghanistan), Bahai (Iran) and Ahmadyyahs (Pakistan) [+ Sikhs in India].
  13. Distinct and linking nature between the Shi’a and Sunnis in the more ascetic/mystical Sufism: “one must first stand on the circumference, that is the practice of the Shariah, then follow the Tariqah, or Path to God, whose end is the Center, or God Himself, or the Haqiqah [from al-Haqq, the truth]” (Sayyed Hossein Nasr).
  14. Mogul Emperor Akbar the Great: likes Sufism’s more religious tolerant position; Sufism’s ability to penetrate into society + antithesis to institutionalization of Islam through rigid shari’a.
  15. Eventual conquest of Constantinople (Byzantium) in 1453 by Sunni Ottomans; opposition by Shiite Safavids of Persia; Reconquista beginning in 1492 with Ferdinand And Isabella with Grenada and the Iberian peninsula; Ottomans failed a third time to take Vienna in 1683, end of expansion, beginning of slow decline; 1798 Napoleonic invasion of Egypt; end of Ottoman Empire in 1923; subsequent rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt; 1970ff rise/revival of a more liberal Islam.

[Islam and Democratization]

  1. Whereas the Qur’an has certain parameters in its deep concern for public life, no specific political model is defined.
  2. Authoritarian models (desert rule antecedents) v. consultative models (shura).
  3. Syria’a Hafez Assad + Iraq’s Saddam Hussein sought power in admixture of political tribal chief, brutal autocrat and modernizing president.
  4. Backdrop of Islamists who are confrontational, e.g., Saudi Wahhabis and Afghanisatan Taliban, operating within majority Muslim nation states, seeking to impose a minority viewpoint on the rest of Islam and beyond: al-Islam huwwa (“Islam is the solution”).
  5. The three most favorable locations for the development of Islamic democratization are in the “middle level development states” of Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia.
  6. In Turkey, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1873-1960): emphasis in syncretizing sources of knowledge, including those outside Islam.
  7. Turkish Islam from end of the Ottomon Empire with Kemal Attaturk’s secularization policies, and guarantor role of the military.
  8. Rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Prime Minister in 2003, and his policies for a global model of coexistence of Islam and democracy, as he seeks to have Turkey gain membership in the European Union in the face of historical resistance;
  9. Reactionary realities to Attaturk’s secularism by Erdogan, and as he seeks to advance a resurgent Islam within such a global model.
  10. Mahathir Mohammad, in autocratic rule 1981-2003, yet served stability and Malaysia is now the highest ranked Muslim-majority state for human development.
  11. Opposed Islamic terrorism, but sought to make it not just an Islamic issue, and used anti-Semitism accordingly.
  12. Successor Addullah Badawi strong move toward a modern economy.
  13. Indonesia is the first fully democratic Muslim-majority country, with election of Abdurrahman Wahid in1998 by parliament; then Megawati Sukarnoputri and General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; backdrop of long Suharto military rule.
  14. Historical reality of blending with animism, Hinduism and Buddhism: “the syncretistic blend of Hinduism and Buddhism with Sufi-influenced mysticism that characterizes much of Java’s spiritual life today” (David Pinault).
  15. Annexation of East Timor (majority Catholic) + more independent and Islamic/Shari’a minded Aceh = two major flashpoints.
  16. “Most Muslim preachers, however, resemble the nation’s popular TV evangelist Abdullah Gymnastiar, who mixes plain advice with moderate Islam.”
  17. Islam as a world civilization rooted in its five pillars framing the identity of the ummah.
  18. Internal divisions nonetheless (e.g., Taliban, Berbers and Jurds), and without hierarchal religious structures, such pluralism may serve democratic purposes.
  19. Seventh century forward, Islam found expression in historically preceding geopolitical centers – e.g., Baghdad, Cairo, Instanbul, Delhi and Istefan; present rivalries for such power = Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
  20. Transnational Muslim organizations cannot unify these realities.
  21. De facto communication system co-extensive with Islam’s political system.

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