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51xZEYkLMhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ A while back I purchased In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire on Tom Holland’s recommendation, as this work purports to be based on a spare, but historically contemporaneous, set of sources rooted in the non-Muslim societies which Islam ultimately superseded across the Middle East. The book was a quick read, I finished it on a cross-country plane ride. But for me it did not deliver on the original promise, as I had pretty much assumed or understood many of the novel insights that it outlines. And, I have to say that the narrative is not that different from what could be gleaned from Hugh Kennedy’s The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In, which covers roughly the same era, the 6th and 7th centuries. Unlike Robert Hoyland, the author of In God’s Path, Kennedy explicitly notes in the beginning of The Great Arab Conquests that he leans predominantly on the orthodox and Islamic sources in constructing his story (though he does not dismiss the revisionists out of hand, and seems to reject the traditional accounts of Muawiyah to the point of rehabilitating him).

51YzydVWNSL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What seems to have occurred here is that I’m not a typical reader, and so probably not the perfect target for the narrative. Obviously I’m not a scholar in this area, for whom this sort of work would be superfluous, as they’d be familiar with debates roiling around the set of topics and inferences presented. But, neither am I just a well educated lay person who has a passing interest in historical questions. I am very familiar with scholars such as Patricia Crone, to the point where I find her work outside of the origins of Islam actually more interesting (obviously there are more sources here and less speculation). With all that In God’s Path is a fast and densely informative jaunt through a field of scholarship whose broad outlines I’d already been well aware of. It’s worthwhile as a complement to the contributions of mainstream scholars such as Kennedy, who are more respectful and frankly less critical of Islamic historiography, and yet point in the same general big-picture direction.

41OxoLpuNyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ There are two levels of assessment here that need to occur. On the one level, scholars like Hoyland, Holland, and earlier Patricia Crone, are attempting to apply to Islam the premises which can be found in the historical criticism movement of the Bible in the 19th century. This, along with assorted other events and tendencies, led to the counter-reaction of Protestant fundamentalism. The problem is that Islamic civilization broadly construed has not arrived at the point where this is understood to be socially acceptable, though there were and are isolated Muslim scholars who have long engaged in the same sort of critical-rationalist scholarship. In addition to traditionalist anger at the criticism of the foundations of their religion, many Muslim intellectuals now bring the armamentarium of post-colonial theory to bear on attempts to evaluate Islam in a positivist frame.

k10064 In contrast, if you approach the history of the rise and crystallization of Islamic civilization as you approach the rise and crystallization of any civilization, then the conclusions of In God’s Path, and even more conventional works such as Hugh Kennedy’s duology, The Great Arab Conquests and When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, in the generality are far less shocking. In short, Islam did not emerge fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus, with Muhammad delivering the essence of the faith in toto in the early 7th century to desert Bedouins, who used it as a precise blueprint. Rather, Islam evolved organically from its historical and geographic matrix, and coalesced into the broad outlines that we perceive it today in the two centuries between 600 and 800 A.D. This is not a revolutionary idea, insofar as that seems how all religions emerge. There are differences in specific parameters, such as the interval across which a religion accrues its primary features organically. If one was to take the lowest values I think one could assert that Judaism and Hinduism both were defined by at least 1,000 year trajectories of development, between the seeds of religious identity, and the crystallization of a set of views and practices we’d recognize as Hindu or Jewish. Christianity’s development is clearer due to various church councils, with most of the core belief established between the 3rd and 6th centuries. But even practices as normative as clerical celibacy in the Western Christian Church took 1,000 years to establish as a universal custom.

514QTAjUcSL None of these assertions present a problem if you don’t believe that religion is revealed from on high, and so has some imprimatur of metaphysical or ontological truth at the deepest level. The pro-imperial and Roman-centric views of some Christians in the 4th to 6th centuries makes eminent sense if you believe that the religion is true, and was destined to be universal, and therefore a universal empire would be the perfect vehicle for its spread. Similarly, for Muslims who believe that Muhammad’s revelation was divine, the explosive rise of the Arab empires of the first century of the religion’s history is an inevitable consequence of its fundamental rightness. But to understand history I generally don’t put too much stock in the hand of God. I knew that Rodney Stark was transitioning to apologetics when reading One True God: Historical Consequences of Monotheism, where he contends that one shouldn’t dismiss out of hand speculations from evangelical Christians who take divine revelation and purpose seriously as empirical matters which shape history (Stark completes the transformation in his book Discovering God). These sorts of interpretative frameworks are not illegitimate in my view, but, they will always have a relatively narrow audience of those who are already believers in the particular specific revelation. Similarly, the reaction of many Muslims to revisionists who challenge the orthodox Islamic historiography should be met with dismissal, not considerate respect. In the domain of general scholarship, as opposed to sectarian interpretation, blasphemy is not just permissible, it is meritorious.*

51IQSePVDRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ What all the works I cite above and reference seem to point to is the fact that the development of Islam as we recognize it today was a two step process. The first step was the explosion of a group of Arab monotheists in the early 7th century, and the subsequent fall of Persia, and cannibalization of much of the Byzantine domain. This should not be inexplicable. Around 500 A.D. the Western Roman Empire was divided between various German tribes, the majority of whom were Arian Christian sectarians. The Goths and many of their German confederates received Christianity from the Roman Empire during a period when Arian theology was ascendant. By the second half of the 4th century this viewpoint rapidly disappeared from the Christian landscape of the Roman lands. But beyond the empire the reach of orthodox Nicene Christianity was weaker, and the Arian sect was incubated among the barbarians, and by the 5th century had become a de facto folk religion among many German groups who blasted past the frontiers and set themselves up within the empire. The consequence of this was that these were societies where a military German elite were set apart from the Roman masses by their ethnicity and religion. In the 6th century most of the Arian German kingdoms fell, or, the elites were converted to Nicene Christianity (the Lombards, who were latecomers, were the last to convert in the 7th century, though there were religious peculiarities with this group down to the period when the Franks finally conquered them).

There is a clear analogy between Arab monotheism in the 7th century and German Arianism in the 5th. Traditionalists and revisionists both emphasize the importance of ethnicity, as opposed to religion, in the early decades of the Islamic imperium. Some of the former have referred to the Umayyad dynasty as the “Arab Kingdom,” with the important aspect here that the connotation of the term king in Islam is as negative as it was for the Romans. During the early phases of the conquest Arabs who were not Muslim (usually Christian) could often avail themselves of more rights than those who were non-Arab, but converted to the sect of the conquerors (these non-Arabs were often Persians). Both Kennedy and Hoyland assert that Arab tribes which were non-Muslim participated in the “Islamic” conquests of the first few decades. I am not particularly invested in the thesis of the revisionists that the Muslim armies drew in large part on north Arabian tribes, in contrast to the traditionalist narrative which privileges Mecca and Medina, far to the south. It seems plausible, but to me it is of academic interest. Rather, the key is that the Muslim armies were a mix of various groups, adherents of a new religious dispensation, somewhat inchoate at the time, as well as Arabs who had converted earlier to the mainstream traditions of Judaism and Christianity. A major factor though may have been the presence of pastoralists as a backbone of these mobile forces, as the cross-cultural evidence is rather robust that these groups are incredibly effective at overturning the the social and political orders of civilized states, assuming that conditions are right. Often these expansions take on a life of their own, as the original core element accrues confederates and allies of very diverse natures which join to gain the spoils of victory. The Hun confederacy, the dual Vandal and Alan monarchy, or the nature of the Mongol armies after the death of Genghis Khan, all illustrate this.

51f8lDGSbJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ But the Arab kingdom became something very different from the Pax Mongolica or the Arian German commonwealth which flourished during the reign of Theodoric. Assuming that the Arab Muslims were monotheist sectarians, why did they not go the way of the various heterodox Christian groups which eventually became associated with particular ethnic elements in the Near East? This is where Hoyland’s book actually made something crystal clear for me: the near total conquest of Persia, and the rapid co-option of that civilization into the Arab domains presented particular challenges distinct from those of Byzantium or Persia. Islam may have developed its divergent identity by necessity to establish a relatively neutral and acceptable ideology for the sub-elites across the empire, which spanned Roman and Persian spheres of influence. Hugh Kennedy’s history of the Abbasids who succeeded the Umayyads, When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World, and S. Frederick Star’s Lost Enlightenment, both emphasize the incredible impact the conquest of Persia and Central Asia had on the development of Muslim civilization. While what became Byzantium remained a Christian bulwark to the west, the pluralistic Persianate world was swallowed whole by the Arab armies, and became the motors for the Abbasid revolution against the Umayyads. In the vein of “you are what you eat,” the western focus of the Umayyads of Damascus, and perhaps the influence of Arab Christians in the 7th century, likely gave way to an identity more distinct from a religion which was identified now with the state that was the successor of late antique Rome. Some of this obviously predates the Abbasids, as aspects of Islamic orthodoxy (e.g., Umayyad patronage of Hellenistic styles of depiction of human and animal form give way to iconoclasm) begin to show up in the archaeological record in the late 7th century under the Umayyads. But the transformation of the proto-Islamic sectarianism of the 7th century Arabs into a cosmopolitan universal religion in the second half the 8th century almost certainly has to do with the eastern influence on the Abbasids and the central role that Khorsan and Turan had in that state and society.

k8882 In some ways this is just recapitulating history. As most people know the transformation of Hebrews into Jews occurred during a period when the demographic center of world Jewry was in Mesopotamia, under the aegis of the rulers of Persia. It was during this exile that many ideas which became central to Jewish and Christian conceptions of their religion percolated in from the Zoroastrian milieu. One thousand years later the Babylonian Talmud were compiled again under Zoroastrian monarchs and a Persian polity. And yet the self-conception of many Jews is that their religion developed in situ in Palestine (I grant here that most educated and modernist Jews would freely admit the influence of Persian ideas on their religion). Similarly, Christianity perceives itself as the heir of ancient Judaism, and does not highlight its heritage from Persia through that source (again, this does not apply to many modernists). And so it is with Islam. Muslims perceive themselves to be heirs of Abraham, with Muhammad’s revelation simply reinvigorating the primal religious tradition of the human race. More proximately Islam is clearly a religion which believers see as having emerged in the deserts of Arabia, in a Christian, Jewish, and pagan, milieu. But the evidence tells a more complex story. In particular, many aspects of the religion which we perceive as fundamentally Islamic post-date the genesis of the sectarian movement among the Arabs by a century or more (e.g., Starr and Hoyland both clearly argue that science of hadith can not be understood without reference to the traditions of Central Asia on the eve of the Umayyad conquest of the early 8th century).

Why does this matter? Well, to those of us who are interested in history it’s fascinating to see the recurrence of particular dynamics over and over in history. Obviously there are those who have sectarian axes to grind. From evangelical Christians to Muslim modernists. I’m not particularly interested in those issues personally, though obviously they’re important pieces of the puzzle. Islam in the youngest of the world religions which transcends ethnicity and has demographic heft. Arguably, it is the youngest civilization on this planet. Therefore its dynamics are particularly clear to us. Unlike the fog that pervades the slow congealing together of Indian society and Hindu thought, or the antique and distant character of Chinese genesis during the later Zhou period 2,500 years ago, Muslims emerge during a period relatively recent in history. Islam did not arise in situ in a jahiliyyah. Rather, it erupted into a world thick with proto-civilizational identities, what Peter Turchin would term “meta-ethnic” identities. By cannibalizing the Roman Christian East, and swallowing in totality the nascent meta-ethnic polities of Persian Christianity and Zoroastrianism, as well as Central Asian Buddhism, in a few centuries Islamic civilization emerged as a relatively fully-fleshed system of thought and way of life, by synthesizing elements which had already been in place previously. Rather than a sui generis revelation given to an illiterate Arab, the origins of Islam stretch out over centuries, and around the interstices of civilizations which had existed for a millennia.

* Note here that the sort of skepticism which many fundamentalist Christians flinch from in relation to their own religion, they apply to that of others, in particular Islam, which they perceive, rightly, to be a set of institutions and beliefs which emerge not through divine providence, but human intuition and rationality.

Addendum: One of the major historical myths that persist is that Christian groups that dissented from what was being promoted as orthodoxy in Constantinople in the early 7th century welcomed the liberation of Muslims because of religious and national divides. In God’s Path reiterates through the sources that actually the attitude was one of resignation and ambivalence, at best, with the germ of the idea of welcome and liberation arising later on in a period of Islamic-Byzantine hostilities when the Christian majorities of the old Byzantine provinces would want to distinguish themselves from the enemy of their rulers. The context of the period is that these populations had already suffered through a Persian occupation, which had come and gone, so no doubt saw the arrival of Arab rulers as another of God’s various tests. The idea that rather these Arabs would spearhead a revolution in identity across the Near East would probably have struck the first generations of Christians, who continued to run their societies and polities as much as they had earlier due to the light hand of the Arab Muslims, would probably have struck them as preposterous. And though religion and ethnic identity have a long association in this region today, to some extent this is an artifact of the past 1,500 years. Many of the theologians who inveighed against orthodoxy imposed from the Greek-speaking center upon non-Greek majority provinces were themselves Greeks by language and culture.

 
• Category: History • Tags: Islam, Persia 
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  1. “Obviously there are those who have sectarian axes to grind. From evangelical Christians to Muslim modernists. ”

    Everybody has an axe to grind. Even secularist bloggers that end up talking about religion (or giving religious titles or including religious quotes) even in posts that do not relate to religion at all (obviously, this is not the case of this post, which is about religion). The claim telling “I’m neutral and everyone else is biased” is very popular. I prefer to own my own biases.

    Anyway, revisionist accounts of the birth of Islam seem to me lacking of evidence. For example, Crone’s work seems very speculative to me. (And I’m expressing my personal opinion. I own that I’m not an expert)

    It’s not that it’s impossible that Islam started in a radically different way than the one presented by traditional accounts. It’s that giving a coherent theory is not the same as proving this theory is the most likely one. The first centuries of Islam are very lacking of data so you can fill the blanks however you want.

    Was the Quran firstly written in Aramaic? Did Muhammad exist? What does “a prophet with a sword has arisen among the Arabs” mean? Were the texts of the Quran created as documents of a Christian sect? Was the Muhammad movement one of monotheists (including Jews and Christians) before becoming a different religion? Did Islam follow the same path as Christianity or Judaism? Show me the data because theories are a dime a dozen.

    You can create tens of fascinating theories but proving them is harder. Between two points of evidence, you can draw infinite lines that are coherent with these points. But having data is what distinguishes history from speculation.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Moi
    You raise very valid and cogent points. I doubt they'd bother, but would love to see how professors S.H. Nasr and William C. Chittick would respond to this article.
    , @Merema
    fantastic points!
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  2. Was the Quran firstly written in Aramaic? Did Muhammad exist? What does “a prophet with a sword has arisen among the Arabs” mean? Were the texts of the Quran created as documents of a Christian sect? Was the Muhammad movement one of monotheists (including Jews and Christians) before becoming a different religion? Did Islam follow the same path as Christianity or Judaism? Show me the data because theories are a dime a dozen.

    i specifically stated that crone’s ideas about the origins of islam were speculative, and more academic. so i guess you’re just reiterating what i said? none of this is really relevant to what i’m getting at in this post, which is a cross-cultural perspective makes it pretty clear how islam probably came about and why there is such a lacunae in the early centuries. the first two decades of islam are qualitatively different than the period between 700 and 750, for example, in terms of what we can know from the material and documentary sources.

    The first centuries of Islam are very lacking of data so you can fill the blanks however you want.

    no, that’s just stupid. there are certain parameters which are conventional for human cultures and religions. if you want to say you can fill in the blanks however you want, you could say muhammad was an alien, and the abna were his fellow travelers from a distant galaxy. obviously that’s not creditable. personally i go with the revisionists and put more weight on the scanty contemporary references to a generic monotheist disposition among arabs of the early 7th century than the assertions of muslims who flourished during the abbasid period centuries later. muslims could be totally different from rabbnical jews, who had to engage in some mental gymnastics to align their proto-jewish ancestor’s practices with their own, but i doubt they were (the proto-jews lived among people who had a more robust historical narrative tradition, so we know more about them than proto-muslims).

    Read More
  3. When Islam left the Peninsula, it ceased to be truly “Arab” but it absorbed the North African region due to jihad, meaning one had a right to destroy one’s enemy when some level and type of wrong was done so Islam became a modus operandi of equity before the sword. I disagree with the author but he sews a great story that has some validity but it is minimal thought I am sure his sources are well placed and supported per his scholarship.

    When the Umayyad dynasty ceased to exist it was because mawali became more numerous than those whose origin was the Peninsula so in essence the character of “Arab” changed due to the non Arab predominance so there was a chance to effect change as opposed to the literal or blood association of leadership. Similar to the Sunni /Shia row i.e. should leadership be given to descendants because of dynastic bloodlines, or to the best who shows the qualities and manner of leading based on those most excellent qualities?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    what are you talking about? and why are you spending more than two sentences on it?
  4. TGGP says: • Website

    “the near total conquest of Persia, and the rapid co-option of that civilization into the Arab domains presented particular challenges distinct from those of Byzantium or Persia”
    Persia is distinct from Persia? Or the challenge of managing post-conquest Persia is distinct from that of pre-conquest Persia?

    Read More
  5. Riordan says:

    Razib,

    I’m not very conversant on the literature of the early conquests, but since you read most of the requisite works, what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time? Were they under the leadership of military geniuses on the grade of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan? Or were the entire Southwest Asian region that effed up and weakened to begin with? Or did Islam (or whatever vague neo-monotheism they were under) serve as an evolutionary advantageous organizational adaptation?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time?

    it's over-determined. it's not that surprising that every now and that a group with a large pastoralist component can 'roll over' whole civilized states. as khaldun would say, they have assabiyah, while more traditional modern historians often observe that pastoralists can mobilize a much larger fraction of males as a fighting force. the bigger issue is why the arabs developed their own religious-cultural ideology, rather than that of those whom they conquered. the latter is what pastoralists usually do. at which point their conquest fades away as they either get assimilated, or native elements expel them (as was the case with the yuan in china). i think hoyland gave me a not unreasoable answer: the arabs conquered two civilizations, so assimilating into one would alienate the other. the umayyad period in particular had a more 'western' orientation, with greek speaking administrators being relatively prominent before 700 AD. the abbasids are generally considered more 'persian.' but persian religion, which was explicitly at the heart of some rebellions in the 8th and 9th century, could never be the dominant ethos of the abbasids, because they had christian egypt and the near east, as well as arabia, which was muslim. so the solution was the development of a new ideology, which had its roots in the 7th century among arabs who were partisans of a new distinct monotheism that was to become islam. but, it was in the 8th century with the mass influx of eastern people (persian and central asian) that the basic outline of islam as we understand it arose.
    , @Greg Pandatshang
    Tom Holland emphasises the similarities between the Arab conquest of the south/eastern Mediterrenean part of the Roman empire with the Frankish conquest of Gaul. There were tribal peoples who had been living near the Romans and associating with them for generations. When a moment of weakness presented itself, they swapped their subordinate posture to a dominant one.
  6. dearieme says:

    “revisionist accounts of the birth of Islam seem to me lacking of evidence”: don’t all accounts of the birth of Islam lack much in the way of evidence? It’s not even necessarily true that some evidence is better than none, because if you can’t check the “some” against other, independent evidence, then you may just be swallowing deliberate fabrications, exaggerations, or wild guesses. Does Islam contain its equivalents of the Donation of Constantine and the fairy-story about Peter founding the Bishopric of Rome? Probably; because telling lies is the sort of thing humans do.

    No wonder some Christian writers have adopted the view that it all comes down to faith: they know that their body of evidence is thin and shaky.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    don’t all accounts of the birth of Islam lack much in the way of evidence? It’s not even necessarily true that some evidence is better than none,

    for obvious reasons traditional muslim sources don't rely on the observations of non-muslims in the 7th century. the intersection of these points is critical. and, as you note (imply) the muslim "sources" are often dated post-750. these one should be careful of since they rely to us tradition/oral history.

    p.s. why are you commenting on my blog? i thought you thought i was a total dick? (which is fine, just don't comment on my blog) yes, i do read comments on other blogs now and then.
  7. Curle says:

    I’m stunned by the amount of reading material you are able to consume given what I presume must be a fairly typical, or perhaps higher than average, workload.

    Read More
  8. Moi says:
    @imnobody00
    "Obviously there are those who have sectarian axes to grind. From evangelical Christians to Muslim modernists. "

    Everybody has an axe to grind. Even secularist bloggers that end up talking about religion (or giving religious titles or including religious quotes) even in posts that do not relate to religion at all (obviously, this is not the case of this post, which is about religion). The claim telling "I'm neutral and everyone else is biased" is very popular. I prefer to own my own biases.

    Anyway, revisionist accounts of the birth of Islam seem to me lacking of evidence. For example, Crone's work seems very speculative to me. (And I'm expressing my personal opinion. I own that I'm not an expert)

    It's not that it's impossible that Islam started in a radically different way than the one presented by traditional accounts. It's that giving a coherent theory is not the same as proving this theory is the most likely one. The first centuries of Islam are very lacking of data so you can fill the blanks however you want.

    Was the Quran firstly written in Aramaic? Did Muhammad exist? What does "a prophet with a sword has arisen among the Arabs" mean? Were the texts of the Quran created as documents of a Christian sect? Was the Muhammad movement one of monotheists (including Jews and Christians) before becoming a different religion? Did Islam follow the same path as Christianity or Judaism? Show me the data because theories are a dime a dozen.

    You can create tens of fascinating theories but proving them is harder. Between two points of evidence, you can draw infinite lines that are coherent with these points. But having data is what distinguishes history from speculation.

    You raise very valid and cogent points. I doubt they’d bother, but would love to see how professors S.H. Nasr and William C. Chittick would respond to this article.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    nasr is a traditionalist/perennialist. doubt he would have a major issue since all religions are from the same ultimate source for him (assuming they're authentic expressions of tradition).
  9. @jack shindo
    When Islam left the Peninsula, it ceased to be truly "Arab" but it absorbed the North African region due to jihad, meaning one had a right to destroy one's enemy when some level and type of wrong was done so Islam became a modus operandi of equity before the sword. I disagree with the author but he sews a great story that has some validity but it is minimal thought I am sure his sources are well placed and supported per his scholarship.

    When the Umayyad dynasty ceased to exist it was because mawali became more numerous than those whose origin was the Peninsula so in essence the character of "Arab" changed due to the non Arab predominance so there was a chance to effect change as opposed to the literal or blood association of leadership. Similar to the Sunni /Shia row i.e. should leadership be given to descendants because of dynastic bloodlines, or to the best who shows the qualities and manner of leading based on those most excellent qualities?

    what are you talking about? and why are you spending more than two sentences on it?

    Read More
  10. @Moi
    You raise very valid and cogent points. I doubt they'd bother, but would love to see how professors S.H. Nasr and William C. Chittick would respond to this article.

    nasr is a traditionalist/perennialist. doubt he would have a major issue since all religions are from the same ultimate source for him (assuming they’re authentic expressions of tradition).

    Read More
  11. @dearieme
    "revisionist accounts of the birth of Islam seem to me lacking of evidence": don't all accounts of the birth of Islam lack much in the way of evidence? It's not even necessarily true that some evidence is better than none, because if you can't check the "some" against other, independent evidence, then you may just be swallowing deliberate fabrications, exaggerations, or wild guesses. Does Islam contain its equivalents of the Donation of Constantine and the fairy-story about Peter founding the Bishopric of Rome? Probably; because telling lies is the sort of thing humans do.

    No wonder some Christian writers have adopted the view that it all comes down to faith: they know that their body of evidence is thin and shaky.

    don’t all accounts of the birth of Islam lack much in the way of evidence? It’s not even necessarily true that some evidence is better than none,

    for obvious reasons traditional muslim sources don’t rely on the observations of non-muslims in the 7th century. the intersection of these points is critical. and, as you note (imply) the muslim “sources” are often dated post-750. these one should be careful of since they rely to us tradition/oral history.

    p.s. why are you commenting on my blog? i thought you thought i was a total dick? (which is fine, just don’t comment on my blog) yes, i do read comments on other blogs now and then.

    Read More
    • Replies: @dearieme
    "i thought you thought i was a total dick? " It's your character that is deficient, not your intellect.
  12. @Riordan
    Razib,

    I'm not very conversant on the literature of the early conquests, but since you read most of the requisite works, what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time? Were they under the leadership of military geniuses on the grade of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan? Or were the entire Southwest Asian region that effed up and weakened to begin with? Or did Islam (or whatever vague neo-monotheism they were under) serve as an evolutionary advantageous organizational adaptation?

    what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time?

    it’s over-determined. it’s not that surprising that every now and that a group with a large pastoralist component can ‘roll over’ whole civilized states. as khaldun would say, they have assabiyah, while more traditional modern historians often observe that pastoralists can mobilize a much larger fraction of males as a fighting force. the bigger issue is why the arabs developed their own religious-cultural ideology, rather than that of those whom they conquered. the latter is what pastoralists usually do. at which point their conquest fades away as they either get assimilated, or native elements expel them (as was the case with the yuan in china). i think hoyland gave me a not unreasoable answer: the arabs conquered two civilizations, so assimilating into one would alienate the other. the umayyad period in particular had a more ‘western’ orientation, with greek speaking administrators being relatively prominent before 700 AD. the abbasids are generally considered more ‘persian.’ but persian religion, which was explicitly at the heart of some rebellions in the 8th and 9th century, could never be the dominant ethos of the abbasids, because they had christian egypt and the near east, as well as arabia, which was muslim. so the solution was the development of a new ideology, which had its roots in the 7th century among arabs who were partisans of a new distinct monotheism that was to become islam. but, it was in the 8th century with the mass influx of eastern people (persian and central asian) that the basic outline of islam as we understand it arose.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anonymous
    i wonder how well explored are syrian or armenian historical sources or monastic sources contemporary to the mohammed period or thereabouts, these seem to be the best bet to throw light on early islam from a non islamic standpoint
  13. dearieme says:
    @Razib Khan
    don’t all accounts of the birth of Islam lack much in the way of evidence? It’s not even necessarily true that some evidence is better than none,

    for obvious reasons traditional muslim sources don't rely on the observations of non-muslims in the 7th century. the intersection of these points is critical. and, as you note (imply) the muslim "sources" are often dated post-750. these one should be careful of since they rely to us tradition/oral history.

    p.s. why are you commenting on my blog? i thought you thought i was a total dick? (which is fine, just don't comment on my blog) yes, i do read comments on other blogs now and then.

    “i thought you thought i was a total dick? ” It’s your character that is deficient, not your intellect.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i judge it's a deficiency of character to talk shit about someone outside of their house, but come in to partake of what's on offer assuming they don't know that you've been talking shit.
  14. @dearieme
    "i thought you thought i was a total dick? " It's your character that is deficient, not your intellect.

    i judge it’s a deficiency of character to talk shit about someone outside of their house, but come in to partake of what’s on offer assuming they don’t know that you’ve been talking shit.

    Read More
  15. As most people know the transformation of Hebrews into Jews occurred during a period when the demographic center of world Jewry was in Mesopotamia, under the aegis of the rulers of Persia. It was during this exile that many ideas which became central to Jewish and Christian conceptions of their religion percolated in from the Zoroastrian milieu. One thousand years later the Babylonian Talmud were compiled again under Zoroastrian monarchs and a Persian polity. And yet the self-conception of many Jews is that their religion developed in situ in Palestine (I grant here that most educated and modernist Jews would freely admit the influence of Persian ideas on their religion).

    While Persian influence on Jewry was significant, it’s not the only one or the most important one. There were multiple layers, and the Persian/Zoroastrian layer is not the first and not the last one.

    The first layer is probably from Lower Egypt, where the ancient Israelites adopted customs of Egyptian nobility and priestly castes, such as circumcision, dietary laws (like pork avoidance) and solar calendar. There are speculations that idea of monotheism was invented by Akhenaten [1]

    The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis [2,3] speculates that Israelites adopted the idea of monotheism in Midian. Then the Canaanite layer, and only then the Mesopotamian/Persian layer.

    In Mesopotamia Jews adopted Assyrian alphabet and Babylonian lunisolar calendar.
    The teaching of Kabbalah is probably also of Mesopotamian or Persian origins.
    The festival of Purim has so many similarities to the modern Persian festival of Nowruz, that there is no place for coincidence. I think Josephus even called Purim by it’s Persian name, something like “faridun”? (can’t find the reference now).

    And the latest layer is Christian Europe, where Jews became westernized and voluntarily gave up some customs, like polygyny, which wasn’t compatible with European Christian norms. [4]

    BTW: sometimes I imagine that in 1000 years even Christmas may become official Jewish festival, somehow incorporated into Hanukkah ;)

    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten#Akhenaten_and_Judeo-Christian-Islamic_monotheism
    [2] http://jot.sagepub.com/content/33/2/131.abstract
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh#Origins
    [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershom_ben_Judah#Synod_and_bans

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    three points

    1) i the egyptian point is good. but i doubt akhenaten 'invented' monotheism. i think it's an idea that's probably a natural part of the human cognitive portfolio. in particular, monalotry and henotheism, seem pretty obvious as practices. the monotheism, well, that came later for the jews, and i think being part of the cosmopolitan world and perhaps even greek philosophy (distantly) might have influenced that.

    2) i should have been clear, but i don't make a big distinction between mesopatamia and persia here. obviously there are huge differences, but since the conquest of babylon i think it is hard to tease the two apart, rather like the co-dominion of greek and latin in the classical west.

    3) i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can't happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.
  16. toto says:

    Don’t you think the Sanaa and Birmingham Qurans put some strong constraints on what early Islam looked like? If the text of the Quran really predates the Persian conquest, intuitively that would limit the infusion that Islam-the-religion received from Persia or Byzantium?

    Of course there’s the obvious distinction between Islam-the-faith and Islam-the-culture. Maybe the religion was kept largely intact due to the existence of a single common text (and the superior zeal of the conquerors), while the culture largely took after the vastly more refined Persian and Hellenistic substrates, simply because the conquerors didn’t really have much of an advanced culture in the first place.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    no, this isn't a problem at all. the koran is not the center of islam. arguably for sunnis the sunnah/hadith are.* yeah, koran has symbolic value and people get angry about it, but it defines muslim life like the NT and hebrew bible define xtian and jewish life; not that much. additionally, it isn't as if the koran has theology in a way that the 8th century theorists would recognize, even if philosophical theology is not very big in sunni islam thanks to the excesses of the mutazilites.

    finally, the sunni-shia split which is essential to understanding a lot of islam today really makes no sense before the 9th century or so IMO. like the reformation it wasn't understood under the early abbasids that shia-sunni divisions would remain eternal and sharp.

    * the shia have a stronger clerical structure which can modify even more.
  17. @LevantineJew

    As most people know the transformation of Hebrews into Jews occurred during a period when the demographic center of world Jewry was in Mesopotamia, under the aegis of the rulers of Persia. It was during this exile that many ideas which became central to Jewish and Christian conceptions of their religion percolated in from the Zoroastrian milieu. One thousand years later the Babylonian Talmud were compiled again under Zoroastrian monarchs and a Persian polity. And yet the self-conception of many Jews is that their religion developed in situ in Palestine (I grant here that most educated and modernist Jews would freely admit the influence of Persian ideas on their religion).
     
    While Persian influence on Jewry was significant, it's not the only one or the most important one. There were multiple layers, and the Persian/Zoroastrian layer is not the first and not the last one.

    The first layer is probably from Lower Egypt, where the ancient Israelites adopted customs of Egyptian nobility and priestly castes, such as circumcision, dietary laws (like pork avoidance) and solar calendar. There are speculations that idea of monotheism was invented by Akhenaten [1]

    The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis [2,3] speculates that Israelites adopted the idea of monotheism in Midian. Then the Canaanite layer, and only then the Mesopotamian/Persian layer.

    In Mesopotamia Jews adopted Assyrian alphabet and Babylonian lunisolar calendar.
    The teaching of Kabbalah is probably also of Mesopotamian or Persian origins.
    The festival of Purim has so many similarities to the modern Persian festival of Nowruz, that there is no place for coincidence. I think Josephus even called Purim by it's Persian name, something like "faridun"? (can't find the reference now).

    And the latest layer is Christian Europe, where Jews became westernized and voluntarily gave up some customs, like polygyny, which wasn't compatible with European Christian norms. [4]

    BTW: sometimes I imagine that in 1000 years even Christmas may become official Jewish festival, somehow incorporated into Hanukkah ;)


    [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten#Akhenaten_and_Judeo-Christian-Islamic_monotheism
    [2] http://jot.sagepub.com/content/33/2/131.abstract
    [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh#Origins
    [4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gershom_ben_Judah#Synod_and_bans

    three points

    1) i the egyptian point is good. but i doubt akhenaten ‘invented’ monotheism. i think it’s an idea that’s probably a natural part of the human cognitive portfolio. in particular, monalotry and henotheism, seem pretty obvious as practices. the monotheism, well, that came later for the jews, and i think being part of the cosmopolitan world and perhaps even greek philosophy (distantly) might have influenced that.

    2) i should have been clear, but i don’t make a big distinction between mesopatamia and persia here. obviously there are huge differences, but since the conquest of babylon i think it is hard to tease the two apart, rather like the co-dominion of greek and latin in the classical west.

    3) i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can’t happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Joe Q.
    Razib -- I would agree that it is hard to tease Mesopotamia apart from Persia as a whole, but given that the Persians ran their empire in a fairly "hands-off" way when it came to the different ethnicities living therein (at least by the standards of the era) I think it is worth making a distinction.

    The Jewish community overall seems to have been quite comfortable in the Sassanid empire, for the most part. They had a considerable degree autonomy and were generally treated well by the authorities, but so far as I can tell from my reading, the authorities in question were usually local Babylonian administrators, not often Persians per se. So you find that overall there are very few Persian loan words or expressions in the Babylonian Talmud and only sporadic mention of specific Persian rulers.

    I am sure that the Persian milieu had a big influence on Talmudic civil law, but it is hard to discern where the critical Persian influence on Talmudic religious law lies. Apparently there are some very "Zoroastrian" theological ideas scattered throughout the Talmud, but there are also some clearly anti-Zoroastrian comments as well. The Rabbis fairly roundly rejected dualism.

    As for polygyny, it is true that only the Ashkenazim explicitly forbade it via the decree of Rabbeinu Gershom, but many Sephardim (especially in urban Europe and North Africa) followed the ban as well, and my understanding is that it became increasingly uncommon over the centuries in that community. The Yemenites of course practiced polygyny well into the 20th century.
    , @Sam Shama

    i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can’t happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.
     
    Quite true re: ashkenazi rejection of the practice. Certainly common to this day among yemenis, less so but not entirely rare among some indian jews (baghdadis that moved to israel)
  18. @toto
    Don't you think the Sanaa and Birmingham Qurans put some strong constraints on what early Islam looked like? If the text of the Quran really predates the Persian conquest, intuitively that would limit the infusion that Islam-the-religion received from Persia or Byzantium?

    Of course there's the obvious distinction between Islam-the-faith and Islam-the-culture. Maybe the religion was kept largely intact due to the existence of a single common text (and the superior zeal of the conquerors), while the culture largely took after the vastly more refined Persian and Hellenistic substrates, simply because the conquerors didn't really have much of an advanced culture in the first place.

    no, this isn’t a problem at all. the koran is not the center of islam. arguably for sunnis the sunnah/hadith are.* yeah, koran has symbolic value and people get angry about it, but it defines muslim life like the NT and hebrew bible define xtian and jewish life; not that much. additionally, it isn’t as if the koran has theology in a way that the 8th century theorists would recognize, even if philosophical theology is not very big in sunni islam thanks to the excesses of the mutazilites.

    finally, the sunni-shia split which is essential to understanding a lot of islam today really makes no sense before the 9th century or so IMO. like the reformation it wasn’t understood under the early abbasids that shia-sunni divisions would remain eternal and sharp.

    * the shia have a stronger clerical structure which can modify even more.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sonic

    the koran is not the center of islam
     
    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God's literal word.

    The central pillars come from the Quran and Muslims memorize the Quran before any of the ahadith. The ahadith collections are vast and not all are accepted. Compliance with the Quran is one of the methods used in the "science of hadith", although the main method is chain of narration.

    Think of the constitution of any nation-state. There are many books that interpret the constitution and derive legal rulings from it. Yet, you would not say that those legal tombs are the center of the society (as compared to its constitution). The Sunnah of course is more than just an interpretation of the Quran as it has revealed speech and delves into many topics not covered in the Quran. But the Quran remains the essence and center of Islam and the way of life for Muslims. The Sunnah fills in the details and allows Muslims to understand the Quran as well as act/implement it. Hence, I have to disagree with this statement and through that disagreement, wonder if your own interpretation of Islam can ever be reconciled with that of one who actually believes in the Scriptures and in the religion itself. Conclusions drawn from the sort of historical commentary of this article are subject to those differing interpretations.

    Why is the Sunni-Shia split hard to understand? If one knows and understands the concept of true and pure Tawhid (Monotheism), then one recognizes why the differences occurred. If on the other hand, you ignore the spiritual for the material, and rely only on the incomplete historical record (one that is usually assembled in a secular framework and society) - you won't really get it. The foundation of all of your conclusions and interpretations here is based on disbelief in religion generally and thus, separation of the Divine with the worldly events. From that then, you would of course draw different conclusions and different understandings of the big picture as compared to one with a different view of the origin of the events we witness. But since we cannot witness or record all events (and so many events have differing interpretations), we can never truly know the big picture ourselves. So in the end, we are still left with faith (of some kind or in some thing).

    You'll make your own conclusions to suit your own view of the puzzle. But the pieces that you are putting together might ultimately form a picture that is different from the picture another person sees or believes in. What I mean by this is that if we already start out with a view of what the picture is or should be...we are likely to create our own puzzle pieces to put together. If we truly don't know what the picture looks like, how will we ever finish the puzzle? We would just keep putting things together and rearranging things without end (and that could be defined as a purely objective viewpoint). I don't think I've meant anyone who tries to do the latter. I've met a lot of people however who believe they are trying to do the latter while in fact, they are stuck in the former (which is really a part of our nature to do - it is who we are).

  19. Matt_ says:

    This may be a dumb reason as to why the Arabs developed a religion while other pastoral invading waves did not, but, simply the region and time? You have lots of funny little self declared prophets turning up then and there (and Christian and Jewish doctrine promising new prophets helps cause this), Mongolia and China later in history not so much (loons like Hong Xiuquan as more exceptional).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene. it looks like once cultural-civilizational identities cohere it can be hard to break them. consider that in the 16th century much of europe changed religion due to royal fiat. but by the 17th century the hohenzollern conversion to reformed xtianity did not mean a conversion by their lutheran domains. in the 18th century the kings of saxony were catholic, but the populace was not. according to hoyland the competitive and open religious landscape of the greater sassanian lands is where islam really took hold first, with egypt and the levant remaining xtian longer. i don't know if i believe this, as i've seen different assessments, but the key variable may be that islam occupied and filled in that space between christianity and hindu-buddhist asia, that zoroastrianism and manicheanism, as well as assyrian christianity, could not fill, despite some attempts.

    and though the mongols did not produce a new religion, do note that the golden family retained its glamour for centuries. descent from temujin, a pagan, was a major aspect of prestige in the lineage of central asian muslims for centuries. the mughals were quite proud of this.

  20. @Matt_
    This may be a dumb reason as to why the Arabs developed a religion while other pastoral invading waves did not, but, simply the region and time? You have lots of funny little self declared prophets turning up then and there (and Christian and Jewish doctrine promising new prophets helps cause this), Mongolia and China later in history not so much (loons like Hong Xiuquan as more exceptional).

    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene. it looks like once cultural-civilizational identities cohere it can be hard to break them. consider that in the 16th century much of europe changed religion due to royal fiat. but by the 17th century the hohenzollern conversion to reformed xtianity did not mean a conversion by their lutheran domains. in the 18th century the kings of saxony were catholic, but the populace was not. according to hoyland the competitive and open religious landscape of the greater sassanian lands is where islam really took hold first, with egypt and the levant remaining xtian longer. i don’t know if i believe this, as i’ve seen different assessments, but the key variable may be that islam occupied and filled in that space between christianity and hindu-buddhist asia, that zoroastrianism and manicheanism, as well as assyrian christianity, could not fill, despite some attempts.

    and though the mongols did not produce a new religion, do note that the golden family retained its glamour for centuries. descent from temujin, a pagan, was a major aspect of prestige in the lineage of central asian muslims for centuries. the mughals were quite proud of this.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov

    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene.
     
    What does this statement even mean? I tried to process it, failed.
  21. Joe Q. says:
    @Razib Khan
    three points

    1) i the egyptian point is good. but i doubt akhenaten 'invented' monotheism. i think it's an idea that's probably a natural part of the human cognitive portfolio. in particular, monalotry and henotheism, seem pretty obvious as practices. the monotheism, well, that came later for the jews, and i think being part of the cosmopolitan world and perhaps even greek philosophy (distantly) might have influenced that.

    2) i should have been clear, but i don't make a big distinction between mesopatamia and persia here. obviously there are huge differences, but since the conquest of babylon i think it is hard to tease the two apart, rather like the co-dominion of greek and latin in the classical west.

    3) i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can't happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.

    Razib — I would agree that it is hard to tease Mesopotamia apart from Persia as a whole, but given that the Persians ran their empire in a fairly “hands-off” way when it came to the different ethnicities living therein (at least by the standards of the era) I think it is worth making a distinction.

    The Jewish community overall seems to have been quite comfortable in the Sassanid empire, for the most part. They had a considerable degree autonomy and were generally treated well by the authorities, but so far as I can tell from my reading, the authorities in question were usually local Babylonian administrators, not often Persians per se. So you find that overall there are very few Persian loan words or expressions in the Babylonian Talmud and only sporadic mention of specific Persian rulers.

    I am sure that the Persian milieu had a big influence on Talmudic civil law, but it is hard to discern where the critical Persian influence on Talmudic religious law lies. Apparently there are some very “Zoroastrian” theological ideas scattered throughout the Talmud, but there are also some clearly anti-Zoroastrian comments as well. The Rabbis fairly roundly rejected dualism.

    As for polygyny, it is true that only the Ashkenazim explicitly forbade it via the decree of Rabbeinu Gershom, but many Sephardim (especially in urban Europe and North Africa) followed the ban as well, and my understanding is that it became increasingly uncommon over the centuries in that community. The Yemenites of course practiced polygyny well into the 20th century.

    Read More
  22. The arguments some revisionists make about origins of Islam always sounded really long shots for me, but when I realized that the Quran has imagery that was common throughout the Syriac Levant in the late antiquity I came to see why they built their arguments.

    Arguments like theirs are really persuasive once you realize the Quran contains the story of the seven sleepers – originally, a Christian story – and language that clearly is the same Syriacs used to mythologize about Alexander the Great.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    re: syriac. yeah, islam makes a lot of sense as being derived from a syriac milieu. i have read that even the prayer positions have syriac origins.
  23. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Brilliant recommendations. Yours is rapidly becoming my favourite blog.

    Read More
  24. Merema says:
    @imnobody00
    "Obviously there are those who have sectarian axes to grind. From evangelical Christians to Muslim modernists. "

    Everybody has an axe to grind. Even secularist bloggers that end up talking about religion (or giving religious titles or including religious quotes) even in posts that do not relate to religion at all (obviously, this is not the case of this post, which is about religion). The claim telling "I'm neutral and everyone else is biased" is very popular. I prefer to own my own biases.

    Anyway, revisionist accounts of the birth of Islam seem to me lacking of evidence. For example, Crone's work seems very speculative to me. (And I'm expressing my personal opinion. I own that I'm not an expert)

    It's not that it's impossible that Islam started in a radically different way than the one presented by traditional accounts. It's that giving a coherent theory is not the same as proving this theory is the most likely one. The first centuries of Islam are very lacking of data so you can fill the blanks however you want.

    Was the Quran firstly written in Aramaic? Did Muhammad exist? What does "a prophet with a sword has arisen among the Arabs" mean? Were the texts of the Quran created as documents of a Christian sect? Was the Muhammad movement one of monotheists (including Jews and Christians) before becoming a different religion? Did Islam follow the same path as Christianity or Judaism? Show me the data because theories are a dime a dozen.

    You can create tens of fascinating theories but proving them is harder. Between two points of evidence, you can draw infinite lines that are coherent with these points. But having data is what distinguishes history from speculation.

    fantastic points!

    Read More
  25. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene. it looks like once cultural-civilizational identities cohere it can be hard to break them. consider that in the 16th century much of europe changed religion due to royal fiat. but by the 17th century the hohenzollern conversion to reformed xtianity did not mean a conversion by their lutheran domains. in the 18th century the kings of saxony were catholic, but the populace was not. according to hoyland the competitive and open religious landscape of the greater sassanian lands is where islam really took hold first, with egypt and the levant remaining xtian longer. i don't know if i believe this, as i've seen different assessments, but the key variable may be that islam occupied and filled in that space between christianity and hindu-buddhist asia, that zoroastrianism and manicheanism, as well as assyrian christianity, could not fill, despite some attempts.

    and though the mongols did not produce a new religion, do note that the golden family retained its glamour for centuries. descent from temujin, a pagan, was a major aspect of prestige in the lineage of central asian muslims for centuries. the mughals were quite proud of this.

    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene.

    What does this statement even mean? I tried to process it, failed.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    the last chance to create a new civilization. it seems like once the # is "filled up" it's hard to move into the space. it's like cultural oligopolies.
  26. @Andrei Martyanov

    i think islam is probably the last chance in the oikumene.
     
    What does this statement even mean? I tried to process it, failed.

    the last chance to create a new civilization. it seems like once the # is “filled up” it’s hard to move into the space. it’s like cultural oligopolies.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov

    the last chance to create a new civilization. i
     
    Depending on what the meaning of "new civilization" is, granted that Islam is a civilization as of now, I see no possibility of anything particularly new in a positive sense emerging based on Islam.
  27. @Ricardo Toledano
    The arguments some revisionists make about origins of Islam always sounded really long shots for me, but when I realized that the Quran has imagery that was common throughout the Syriac Levant in the late antiquity I came to see why they built their arguments.

    Arguments like theirs are really persuasive once you realize the Quran contains the story of the seven sleepers - originally, a Christian story - and language that clearly is the same Syriacs used to mythologize about Alexander the Great.

    re: syriac. yeah, islam makes a lot of sense as being derived from a syriac milieu. i have read that even the prayer positions have syriac origins.

    Read More
  28. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    the last chance to create a new civilization. it seems like once the # is "filled up" it's hard to move into the space. it's like cultural oligopolies.

    the last chance to create a new civilization. i

    Depending on what the meaning of “new civilization” is, granted that Islam is a civilization as of now, I see no possibility of anything particularly new in a positive sense emerging based on Islam.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    I see no possibility of anything particularly new in a positive sense emerging based on Islam.

    i don't care what you think about that (speaking as an anti-muslim myself).
  29. @Andrei Martyanov

    the last chance to create a new civilization. i
     
    Depending on what the meaning of "new civilization" is, granted that Islam is a civilization as of now, I see no possibility of anything particularly new in a positive sense emerging based on Islam.

    I see no possibility of anything particularly new in a positive sense emerging based on Islam.

    i don’t care what you think about that (speaking as an anti-muslim myself).

    Read More
  30. if someone (like the commenter above) tells me i should familiarize myself with al-ghazali to get educated, i’m going to ban them (like i did for the reader above).

    Read More
    • Replies: @Andrei Martyanov
    So, you basically confirm that not only you are ignorant hack but also a coward.

    [i live in fear of stupidity, so yes, i'm a coward]
  31. ohwilleke says: • Website

    Accepting that a Persian substrate profoundly impacted the shape that Islam as a pan-ethnic universal religion took, what are the most important things that it picked up from the Persian substrate?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhhab

    islam is an orthopraxic religion, like traditional judaism. i'm not saying here that persianate (inclusive of turan) culture was necessary or sufficient for this tendency, but the way it played out seems to have a strong persianate stamp. at least that's what s. frederick starr argues, and hoyland implies, as the particular nature of hadith sciences may be rooted in the customs of central asian commentary and textual analysis. more intriguingly, the madrassa system as it emerged in the 10th century might derive from the central asian buddhist viharas in structure.
  32. @ohwilleke
    Accepting that a Persian substrate profoundly impacted the shape that Islam as a pan-ethnic universal religion took, what are the most important things that it picked up from the Persian substrate?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhhab

    islam is an orthopraxic religion, like traditional judaism. i’m not saying here that persianate (inclusive of turan) culture was necessary or sufficient for this tendency, but the way it played out seems to have a strong persianate stamp. at least that’s what s. frederick starr argues, and hoyland implies, as the particular nature of hadith sciences may be rooted in the customs of central asian commentary and textual analysis. more intriguingly, the madrassa system as it emerged in the 10th century might derive from the central asian buddhist viharas in structure.

    Read More
  33. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "SmoothieX12"] says: • Website
    @Razib Khan
    if someone (like the commenter above) tells me i should familiarize myself with al-ghazali to get educated, i'm going to ban them (like i did for the reader above).

    So, you basically confirm that not only you are ignorant hack but also a coward.

    [i live in fear of stupidity, so yes, i'm a coward]

    Read More
    • Replies: @Kamran
    What do you mean, smoothie, "nothing positive based on islam can emerge"?

    what does based on islam mean? Razib, has been arguing for a long time that cultural traditions have nothing to do with written texts and more with their interpretation.

    For example, despite whatever Al-Ghazali said about not trusting Hellenic philosophy, the islamic republic of Iran is extremely happy to use Western knowledge to create nuclear facilities. Al-Ghazali can spin in his grave for all he wants.
  34. also, on a somewhat marginal note, the sabians of harran seem to be very important in transmitting classical greek philosophy to the abbasid house of wisdom. but their continued existence almost certainly had to do with sassanian toleration of these sorts of sects. even if they were not part of the sassanian domains, they were close enough that byzantines were cautious about extirpating them lest the shah intervene to protect them. so their continuation to the islamic era may be a function of persia, and not rome

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C4%81bit_ibn_Qurra

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  35. Kamran says:
    @Andrei Martyanov
    So, you basically confirm that not only you are ignorant hack but also a coward.

    [i live in fear of stupidity, so yes, i'm a coward]

    What do you mean, smoothie, “nothing positive based on islam can emerge”?

    what does based on islam mean? Razib, has been arguing for a long time that cultural traditions have nothing to do with written texts and more with their interpretation.

    For example, despite whatever Al-Ghazali said about not trusting Hellenic philosophy, the islamic republic of Iran is extremely happy to use Western knowledge to create nuclear facilities. Al-Ghazali can spin in his grave for all he wants.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    don't respond to him, he keeps ranting about how stupid i am. which is fine, as i think he's kind of a dumbass, but i am not going to harass him on his blog about it. some people flip their shit when i tell them to stop talking about something that they think is interesting/or what we should be discussing.

    islamic republic of iran is a bad example though. the shia explicit retain philosophy as part of their intellectual toolkit. in fact, it looks to me that a lot of neo-platonism can be found in the ismaili tradition. al-ghazali was instrumental in establishing sunni tradition though....

    , @Sonic
    Ogur - I don't think nuclear science is considered a part of Hellenic philosophy or that was Ghazali's intention. If you believe you have the truth, the absolute truth, then any philosophy that rejects that absolute truth will itself be rejected or warned against. But practical matters and material advances are often separate from underlying philosophies. Just like you said with regards to religious texts and cultural traditions. Sadly, a lot of commentators on UNZ and elsewhere equate scientific and technological and material progress with the underlying values and philosophies of the civilization that these innovations come from. There might be some truth to that, but at the same time, security and economics and resources and diversity and so forth play the main role.
  36. also, the mawali revolution of the abbasids was really a persian one

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mawali

    and that revolution is probably a major reason that islam is so ethnically/racially egalitarian. even if that was present at the beginning of islam (likely), operationally it applied to the equality of arabs under the umayyads. somewhat ironic given the status conscious nature of persian society, but perhaps channeling the ‘mazdakite’ thread.

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    • Replies: @Sonic

    and that revolution is probably a major reason that islam is so ethnically/racially egalitarian. even if that was present at the beginning of islam (likely), operationally it applied to the equality of arabs under the umayyads.
     
    Or, one can go straight to the source and read the "Farewell Sermon" of Prophet Muhammad (saaws).

    I'm not saying your observations aren't correct or that such connections cannot be found for students of history...but sometimes, there are simple reasons for even the most complex realities.
  37. @Kamran
    What do you mean, smoothie, "nothing positive based on islam can emerge"?

    what does based on islam mean? Razib, has been arguing for a long time that cultural traditions have nothing to do with written texts and more with their interpretation.

    For example, despite whatever Al-Ghazali said about not trusting Hellenic philosophy, the islamic republic of Iran is extremely happy to use Western knowledge to create nuclear facilities. Al-Ghazali can spin in his grave for all he wants.

    don’t respond to him, he keeps ranting about how stupid i am. which is fine, as i think he’s kind of a dumbass, but i am not going to harass him on his blog about it. some people flip their shit when i tell them to stop talking about something that they think is interesting/or what we should be discussing.

    islamic republic of iran is a bad example though. the shia explicit retain philosophy as part of their intellectual toolkit. in fact, it looks to me that a lot of neo-platonism can be found in the ismaili tradition. al-ghazali was instrumental in establishing sunni tradition though….

    Read More
  38. just looked up the list of umayyad and abbasid caliphs. so the non-arab maternal ancestry shows up in the umayyads in the very last decade of their dynasty. for the abbasids, it’s immediate, and persistent.

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  39. ohwilleke says: • Website

    Thanks for the multi-part answer to my question. The orthopraxy piece may also suggest that the religious v. ethnic Jew distinction is problematic, and raise parallel issues for Muslims.

    If I could have taken one in college (I cobbled together what I could from what was available) an “Eastern Civilization” course parallel to “Western Civilization” that would have spanned from the Islamic Empire and its antecedents to the foundations of Japanese culture would have been useful.

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  40. j mct says:

    always wanted to read some sort of at length treatise of early Islamic history from non Islamic sources so I bought that and thanks.

    Per the unformedness of early Islam, a Christian of the time wouldn’t and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian, just like the goths or vandals. Dante puts Mohammed in the heretic section of the inferno, he didn’t think he founded a new religion at all.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert. It doesn’t seem to me a stretch that more than a few of the conversions weren’t sincere and that there were still a lot of upper class crypto arians in both Africa and Spain, who would have seen an early moslem as a coreligionist. Obviously, in each case the local that invited the moslems in would have preferred them to go home after the victory, but they didn’t.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian,

    this is typical. insofar as most people in most cultures have only a few classes and often co-opt/draft classes intelligible to them for groups for which they are not appropriate. the chinese for example had difficulties distinguishing jews from muslims. the chinese also sometimes confused xtianity for a sect of pure land buddhism.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert.

    who were the quislings in n. africa? name them, as i don't know. my understanding is that in egypt it was straight conquest, while in n. africa the romans and berbers were divided, due to early fractures. the spanish case is the best, but it's not nearly as well documented as people might think. also, i'd question justinian's role in the visigothic conversion since he died 20 years before they converted, and the east roman outpost in se spain was ephemeral and tenuous. the conversion of the visigoths seemed inevitable with the fall of the other arian german kingdoms around them, and the collapse of any semblance of an arian german commonwealth.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

    the situation on the fringes of the muslim world, such as in francia and north of the caucasus, are not cut and dried. the fact is that the muslims tried repeatedly to take gaul, and they were a presence in southern gaul for decades. but the caliphate had reached its natural limits, the ecology was not favorable (the arab armies also lost steam in the cold of the north caucasus and in central asia), and, after 750 the region west of tunis was effectively lost to the abbasid caliphate and independent.
    , @Sonic
    jmct - Hmmm. I think this is something to note. One can often not understand the root of something. The example you give of these Christians thinking Islam to be just another sect (and yes, there are similarities) shows how people can avoid the reality of the essence of something, while concentrating and focusing on the cosmetics of everything (instead). That too may be how I would describe the analysis above by Razib (who is certainly a very intellectual and well-read student of history).
  41. @Riordan
    Razib,

    I'm not very conversant on the literature of the early conquests, but since you read most of the requisite works, what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time? Were they under the leadership of military geniuses on the grade of Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan? Or were the entire Southwest Asian region that effed up and weakened to begin with? Or did Islam (or whatever vague neo-monotheism they were under) serve as an evolutionary advantageous organizational adaptation?

    Tom Holland emphasises the similarities between the Arab conquest of the south/eastern Mediterrenean part of the Roman empire with the Frankish conquest of Gaul. There were tribal peoples who had been living near the Romans and associating with them for generations. When a moment of weakness presented itself, they swapped their subordinate posture to a dominant one.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    right. i think the key is that *since* the arabs developed a religious identity which became a universal-civilizational one, the urge is to look back at what happened between 630-650 and ask what made it so special. but the conquest itself wasn't that special. the persians a generation before had basically reconstituted the old achaemenid empire and ruled areas like egypt for much of a generation. rather, it was the persistence and eventual evolution of a new identity over the centuries. the total roll-over of the persians probably gave the umayyads the resources to hold onto the byzantine lands that they conquered.
  42. @j mct
    always wanted to read some sort of at length treatise of early Islamic history from non Islamic sources so I bought that and thanks.

    Per the unformedness of early Islam, a Christian of the time wouldn’t and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian, just like the goths or vandals. Dante puts Mohammed in the heretic section of the inferno, he didn’t think he founded a new religion at all.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert. It doesn’t seem to me a stretch that more than a few of the conversions weren’t sincere and that there were still a lot of upper class crypto arians in both Africa and Spain, who would have seen an early moslem as a coreligionist. Obviously, in each case the local that invited the moslems in would have preferred them to go home after the victory, but they didn’t.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

    and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian,

    this is typical. insofar as most people in most cultures have only a few classes and often co-opt/draft classes intelligible to them for groups for which they are not appropriate. the chinese for example had difficulties distinguishing jews from muslims. the chinese also sometimes confused xtianity for a sect of pure land buddhism.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert.

    who were the quislings in n. africa? name them, as i don’t know. my understanding is that in egypt it was straight conquest, while in n. africa the romans and berbers were divided, due to early fractures. the spanish case is the best, but it’s not nearly as well documented as people might think. also, i’d question justinian’s role in the visigothic conversion since he died 20 years before they converted, and the east roman outpost in se spain was ephemeral and tenuous. the conversion of the visigoths seemed inevitable with the fall of the other arian german kingdoms around them, and the collapse of any semblance of an arian german commonwealth.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

    the situation on the fringes of the muslim world, such as in francia and north of the caucasus, are not cut and dried. the fact is that the muslims tried repeatedly to take gaul, and they were a presence in southern gaul for decades. but the caliphate had reached its natural limits, the ecology was not favorable (the arab armies also lost steam in the cold of the north caucasus and in central asia), and, after 750 the region west of tunis was effectively lost to the abbasid caliphate and independent.

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    • Replies: @j mct
    I guess I cannot name the Vandal traitor since now that I looked it up I clearly misremembered what I read. Whoops!

    OK, but how about Justinian's policy instead of Justinian. There you're nitpicking!

    I was just thinking out loud, as in some sort of instance where how non moslems might have perceived moslems differently than moslems perceived themselves or at least how later moslems perceived their predecessors, and it's effect on events. I also think that it would most definitely have had an effect on events too.

    I guess I'll read the book mentioned above and find out. One thing in Gibbon where I think he gets it right is that he discounts stories that don't appear until after the event the story is about has disappeared from living memory and is not sourced to a witness contemporary to the event. Lot's of old miracle stories like St Denis carrying his head to Montmartre follow this pattern, even the chi rho story about Constantine, which Gibbon calls pious frauds though I think using the word fraud while technically correct seems to imply a motive that was not there. One place he doesn't follow this rule, as in not at all, is in his section on the rise of Islam though. I wonder if he could have read all the sources for the above mentioned book.
  43. @Greg Pandatshang
    Tom Holland emphasises the similarities between the Arab conquest of the south/eastern Mediterrenean part of the Roman empire with the Frankish conquest of Gaul. There were tribal peoples who had been living near the Romans and associating with them for generations. When a moment of weakness presented itself, they swapped their subordinate posture to a dominant one.

    right. i think the key is that *since* the arabs developed a religious identity which became a universal-civilizational one, the urge is to look back at what happened between 630-650 and ask what made it so special. but the conquest itself wasn’t that special. the persians a generation before had basically reconstituted the old achaemenid empire and ruled areas like egypt for much of a generation. rather, it was the persistence and eventual evolution of a new identity over the centuries. the total roll-over of the persians probably gave the umayyads the resources to hold onto the byzantine lands that they conquered.

    Read More
  44. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    Perhaps you may find this old paper interesting, I have never found much information about this

    The Disappearance of Christianity from North Africa in the Wake of the Rise of Islam

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/3161925

    Read More
  45. j mct says:
    @Razib Khan
    and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian,

    this is typical. insofar as most people in most cultures have only a few classes and often co-opt/draft classes intelligible to them for groups for which they are not appropriate. the chinese for example had difficulties distinguishing jews from muslims. the chinese also sometimes confused xtianity for a sect of pure land buddhism.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert.

    who were the quislings in n. africa? name them, as i don't know. my understanding is that in egypt it was straight conquest, while in n. africa the romans and berbers were divided, due to early fractures. the spanish case is the best, but it's not nearly as well documented as people might think. also, i'd question justinian's role in the visigothic conversion since he died 20 years before they converted, and the east roman outpost in se spain was ephemeral and tenuous. the conversion of the visigoths seemed inevitable with the fall of the other arian german kingdoms around them, and the collapse of any semblance of an arian german commonwealth.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

    the situation on the fringes of the muslim world, such as in francia and north of the caucasus, are not cut and dried. the fact is that the muslims tried repeatedly to take gaul, and they were a presence in southern gaul for decades. but the caliphate had reached its natural limits, the ecology was not favorable (the arab armies also lost steam in the cold of the north caucasus and in central asia), and, after 750 the region west of tunis was effectively lost to the abbasid caliphate and independent.

    I guess I cannot name the Vandal traitor since now that I looked it up I clearly misremembered what I read. Whoops!

    OK, but how about Justinian’s policy instead of Justinian. There you’re nitpicking!

    I was just thinking out loud, as in some sort of instance where how non moslems might have perceived moslems differently than moslems perceived themselves or at least how later moslems perceived their predecessors, and it’s effect on events. I also think that it would most definitely have had an effect on events too.

    I guess I’ll read the book mentioned above and find out. One thing in Gibbon where I think he gets it right is that he discounts stories that don’t appear until after the event the story is about has disappeared from living memory and is not sourced to a witness contemporary to the event. Lot’s of old miracle stories like St Denis carrying his head to Montmartre follow this pattern, even the chi rho story about Constantine, which Gibbon calls pious frauds though I think using the word fraud while technically correct seems to imply a motive that was not there. One place he doesn’t follow this rule, as in not at all, is in his section on the rise of Islam though. I wonder if he could have read all the sources for the above mentioned book.

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    i doubt byzantine presence in southern spain had major effect. it was a superficial affair, and in any case, the suebian kingdom in galicia converted to catholicism decades before the visigoths, despite obviously less influence from the empire. IOW, it was endogenous, and would have occurred without the garrisons in the south.
  46. @j mct
    I guess I cannot name the Vandal traitor since now that I looked it up I clearly misremembered what I read. Whoops!

    OK, but how about Justinian's policy instead of Justinian. There you're nitpicking!

    I was just thinking out loud, as in some sort of instance where how non moslems might have perceived moslems differently than moslems perceived themselves or at least how later moslems perceived their predecessors, and it's effect on events. I also think that it would most definitely have had an effect on events too.

    I guess I'll read the book mentioned above and find out. One thing in Gibbon where I think he gets it right is that he discounts stories that don't appear until after the event the story is about has disappeared from living memory and is not sourced to a witness contemporary to the event. Lot's of old miracle stories like St Denis carrying his head to Montmartre follow this pattern, even the chi rho story about Constantine, which Gibbon calls pious frauds though I think using the word fraud while technically correct seems to imply a motive that was not there. One place he doesn't follow this rule, as in not at all, is in his section on the rise of Islam though. I wonder if he could have read all the sources for the above mentioned book.

    i doubt byzantine presence in southern spain had major effect. it was a superficial affair, and in any case, the suebian kingdom in galicia converted to catholicism decades before the visigoths, despite obviously less influence from the empire. IOW, it was endogenous, and would have occurred without the garrisons in the south.

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  47. AnonNJ says:

    First, I want to make sure you are aware of this article (or the evidence it discusses) which is relevant to the origins of Islam:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/01/what-is-the-koran/304024/

    A good non-canon look at the beliefs of early Christians can be found in the Didadache, often dated to the 1st or early 2nd Centuries.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

    Finally, as someone who has read quite a few books about early Christianity by those critical of orthodox beliefs (e.g., Pagels, Ehrman, Crossan, Borg) and some of the non-orthodox books (e.g., Thomas), there is a strong tendency for *everyone* to beg the question and interpret the evidence based on their assumptions and to dismiss evidence that conflicts with their assumptions (confirmation bias at work). Of course nobody is going to buy a book that says, “We don’t really know what happened.”

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    • Replies: @Sonic
    AnonNJ - very good points. You have to take things with a grain of salt (or a grain of faith). Still, go to the root of something if you really want to understand it and know it and interpret it. Don't overindulge on the details. The root of Islam is Monotheism and a specific kind of Monotheism (Tawhid) which is what I believe leads to many of the conclusions that Razib has drawn here. But since he believes differently, those conclusions are the result of similarities he finds in the historical record. But my point to you is that belief is the root that interprets or makes use of evidence (rather than the other way around).
  48. skd says:

    I’m surprised by the absence of any reference to Marshall Hodgson’s three volume The Venture of Islam. Is it now too dated (1975)?

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  49. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    no, this isn't a problem at all. the koran is not the center of islam. arguably for sunnis the sunnah/hadith are.* yeah, koran has symbolic value and people get angry about it, but it defines muslim life like the NT and hebrew bible define xtian and jewish life; not that much. additionally, it isn't as if the koran has theology in a way that the 8th century theorists would recognize, even if philosophical theology is not very big in sunni islam thanks to the excesses of the mutazilites.

    finally, the sunni-shia split which is essential to understanding a lot of islam today really makes no sense before the 9th century or so IMO. like the reformation it wasn't understood under the early abbasids that shia-sunni divisions would remain eternal and sharp.

    * the shia have a stronger clerical structure which can modify even more.

    the koran is not the center of islam

    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God’s literal word.

    The central pillars come from the Quran and Muslims memorize the Quran before any of the ahadith. The ahadith collections are vast and not all are accepted. Compliance with the Quran is one of the methods used in the “science of hadith”, although the main method is chain of narration.

    Think of the constitution of any nation-state. There are many books that interpret the constitution and derive legal rulings from it. Yet, you would not say that those legal tombs are the center of the society (as compared to its constitution). The Sunnah of course is more than just an interpretation of the Quran as it has revealed speech and delves into many topics not covered in the Quran. But the Quran remains the essence and center of Islam and the way of life for Muslims. The Sunnah fills in the details and allows Muslims to understand the Quran as well as act/implement it. Hence, I have to disagree with this statement and through that disagreement, wonder if your own interpretation of Islam can ever be reconciled with that of one who actually believes in the Scriptures and in the religion itself. Conclusions drawn from the sort of historical commentary of this article are subject to those differing interpretations.

    Why is the Sunni-Shia split hard to understand? If one knows and understands the concept of true and pure Tawhid (Monotheism), then one recognizes why the differences occurred. If on the other hand, you ignore the spiritual for the material, and rely only on the incomplete historical record (one that is usually assembled in a secular framework and society) – you won’t really get it. The foundation of all of your conclusions and interpretations here is based on disbelief in religion generally and thus, separation of the Divine with the worldly events. From that then, you would of course draw different conclusions and different understandings of the big picture as compared to one with a different view of the origin of the events we witness. But since we cannot witness or record all events (and so many events have differing interpretations), we can never truly know the big picture ourselves. So in the end, we are still left with faith (of some kind or in some thing).

    You’ll make your own conclusions to suit your own view of the puzzle. But the pieces that you are putting together might ultimately form a picture that is different from the picture another person sees or believes in. What I mean by this is that if we already start out with a view of what the picture is or should be…we are likely to create our own puzzle pieces to put together. If we truly don’t know what the picture looks like, how will we ever finish the puzzle? We would just keep putting things together and rearranging things without end (and that could be defined as a purely objective viewpoint). I don’t think I’ve meant anyone who tries to do the latter. I’ve met a lot of people however who believe they are trying to do the latter while in fact, they are stuck in the former (which is really a part of our nature to do – it is who we are).

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    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God’s literal word.

    and then...blah, blah, blah,blah...

    read Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't for the scholarly literature why i dismiss scripturalism/textualism as a good explanation for why religious people behave and believe the way they do. i don't care what religious people say about their religion. or, more precisely, i don't think they necessarily are accurate in representing their phenomenon in a way that yields predictiveness.

    the analogy to law and a constitution is illuminating. law is often sophistry and rationalization. ('penumbras'). in contrast to mathematics.

    p.s. i've read tariq ramandan write about tawhid at length. it makes as much sense at the trinity. it doesn't. though i'm sure it sounds profound to a believer.

  50. Sonic says:
    @Kamran
    What do you mean, smoothie, "nothing positive based on islam can emerge"?

    what does based on islam mean? Razib, has been arguing for a long time that cultural traditions have nothing to do with written texts and more with their interpretation.

    For example, despite whatever Al-Ghazali said about not trusting Hellenic philosophy, the islamic republic of Iran is extremely happy to use Western knowledge to create nuclear facilities. Al-Ghazali can spin in his grave for all he wants.

    Ogur – I don’t think nuclear science is considered a part of Hellenic philosophy or that was Ghazali’s intention. If you believe you have the truth, the absolute truth, then any philosophy that rejects that absolute truth will itself be rejected or warned against. But practical matters and material advances are often separate from underlying philosophies. Just like you said with regards to religious texts and cultural traditions. Sadly, a lot of commentators on UNZ and elsewhere equate scientific and technological and material progress with the underlying values and philosophies of the civilization that these innovations come from. There might be some truth to that, but at the same time, security and economics and resources and diversity and so forth play the main role.

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  51. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    also, the mawali revolution of the abbasids was really a persian one

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mawali

    and that revolution is probably a major reason that islam is so ethnically/racially egalitarian. even if that was present at the beginning of islam (likely), operationally it applied to the equality of arabs under the umayyads. somewhat ironic given the status conscious nature of persian society, but perhaps channeling the 'mazdakite' thread.

    and that revolution is probably a major reason that islam is so ethnically/racially egalitarian. even if that was present at the beginning of islam (likely), operationally it applied to the equality of arabs under the umayyads.

    Or, one can go straight to the source and read the “Farewell Sermon” of Prophet Muhammad (saaws).

    I’m not saying your observations aren’t correct or that such connections cannot be found for students of history…but sometimes, there are simple reasons for even the most complex realities.

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  52. Sonic says:
    @j mct
    always wanted to read some sort of at length treatise of early Islamic history from non Islamic sources so I bought that and thanks.

    Per the unformedness of early Islam, a Christian of the time wouldn’t and I’d guess did not see a new religion, he might have seen a pretty standard type of Christian heretic, an Arian, just like the goths or vandals. Dante puts Mohammed in the heretic section of the inferno, he didn’t think he founded a new religion at all.

    When the Moslems conquered Roman Africa and Spain, they were both times invited in by a local quisling that was descended from the old arian aristocracies that had ruled each place. Since both the Vandals and the Visigoths converted to trinitarianism under duress from Justinian, the Vandals at sword point, and the Visigoths in response to Justinian’s inroads into Spain where he kept pointing out to the locals ruled by the Visigoths that he was Trinitarian just like them rather than a heretic arian like the visigoths, leading to the visigoths to convert. It doesn’t seem to me a stretch that more than a few of the conversions weren’t sincere and that there were still a lot of upper class crypto arians in both Africa and Spain, who would have seen an early moslem as a coreligionist. Obviously, in each case the local that invited the moslems in would have preferred them to go home after the victory, but they didn’t.

    In contrast, when they got to Gaul and ran into the Franks, who were never Arians, and there was no local quisling to help them, they were stopped pretty cold. Maybe there was no local traitor because the Franks were never Arians.

    jmct – Hmmm. I think this is something to note. One can often not understand the root of something. The example you give of these Christians thinking Islam to be just another sect (and yes, there are similarities) shows how people can avoid the reality of the essence of something, while concentrating and focusing on the cosmetics of everything (instead). That too may be how I would describe the analysis above by Razib (who is certainly a very intellectual and well-read student of history).

    Read More
  53. Sonic says:
    @AnonNJ
    First, I want to make sure you are aware of this article (or the evidence it discusses) which is relevant to the origins of Islam:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1999/01/what-is-the-koran/304024/

    A good non-canon look at the beliefs of early Christians can be found in the Didadache, often dated to the 1st or early 2nd Centuries.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/didache.html

    Finally, as someone who has read quite a few books about early Christianity by those critical of orthodox beliefs (e.g., Pagels, Ehrman, Crossan, Borg) and some of the non-orthodox books (e.g., Thomas), there is a strong tendency for *everyone* to beg the question and interpret the evidence based on their assumptions and to dismiss evidence that conflicts with their assumptions (confirmation bias at work). Of course nobody is going to buy a book that says, "We don't really know what happened."

    AnonNJ – very good points. You have to take things with a grain of salt (or a grain of faith). Still, go to the root of something if you really want to understand it and know it and interpret it. Don’t overindulge on the details. The root of Islam is Monotheism and a specific kind of Monotheism (Tawhid) which is what I believe leads to many of the conclusions that Razib has drawn here. But since he believes differently, those conclusions are the result of similarities he finds in the historical record. But my point to you is that belief is the root that interprets or makes use of evidence (rather than the other way around).

    Read More
  54. @Sonic

    the koran is not the center of islam
     
    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God's literal word.

    The central pillars come from the Quran and Muslims memorize the Quran before any of the ahadith. The ahadith collections are vast and not all are accepted. Compliance with the Quran is one of the methods used in the "science of hadith", although the main method is chain of narration.

    Think of the constitution of any nation-state. There are many books that interpret the constitution and derive legal rulings from it. Yet, you would not say that those legal tombs are the center of the society (as compared to its constitution). The Sunnah of course is more than just an interpretation of the Quran as it has revealed speech and delves into many topics not covered in the Quran. But the Quran remains the essence and center of Islam and the way of life for Muslims. The Sunnah fills in the details and allows Muslims to understand the Quran as well as act/implement it. Hence, I have to disagree with this statement and through that disagreement, wonder if your own interpretation of Islam can ever be reconciled with that of one who actually believes in the Scriptures and in the religion itself. Conclusions drawn from the sort of historical commentary of this article are subject to those differing interpretations.

    Why is the Sunni-Shia split hard to understand? If one knows and understands the concept of true and pure Tawhid (Monotheism), then one recognizes why the differences occurred. If on the other hand, you ignore the spiritual for the material, and rely only on the incomplete historical record (one that is usually assembled in a secular framework and society) - you won't really get it. The foundation of all of your conclusions and interpretations here is based on disbelief in religion generally and thus, separation of the Divine with the worldly events. From that then, you would of course draw different conclusions and different understandings of the big picture as compared to one with a different view of the origin of the events we witness. But since we cannot witness or record all events (and so many events have differing interpretations), we can never truly know the big picture ourselves. So in the end, we are still left with faith (of some kind or in some thing).

    You'll make your own conclusions to suit your own view of the puzzle. But the pieces that you are putting together might ultimately form a picture that is different from the picture another person sees or believes in. What I mean by this is that if we already start out with a view of what the picture is or should be...we are likely to create our own puzzle pieces to put together. If we truly don't know what the picture looks like, how will we ever finish the puzzle? We would just keep putting things together and rearranging things without end (and that could be defined as a purely objective viewpoint). I don't think I've meant anyone who tries to do the latter. I've met a lot of people however who believe they are trying to do the latter while in fact, they are stuck in the former (which is really a part of our nature to do - it is who we are).

    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God’s literal word.

    and then…blah, blah, blah,blah…

    read Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t for the scholarly literature why i dismiss scripturalism/textualism as a good explanation for why religious people behave and believe the way they do. i don’t care what religious people say about their religion. or, more precisely, i don’t think they necessarily are accurate in representing their phenomenon in a way that yields predictiveness.

    the analogy to law and a constitution is illuminating. law is often sophistry and rationalization. (‘penumbras’). in contrast to mathematics.

    p.s. i’ve read tariq ramandan write about tawhid at length. it makes as much sense at the trinity. it doesn’t. though i’m sure it sounds profound to a believer.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sonic
    Razib - or we can write "Secular Incorrectness: Why non-religious People Believe What They Shouldn't"! The essence of our free will in life is faith. Either one has it or one does not. This separation then defines what type of person you will be and how you will interpret that which you come across, witness, or study.

    i don’t care what religious people say about their religion
     
    I cannot think of a worse perspective to have. From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) - is still worth listening to. You don't have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view - a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view. I'm disregarding of course things like mockery, jest, humor, spam, and that sort of thing. Surely, you would care what a doctor has to say about medicine, or his particular specialty. You may still go with a second opinion or go with the viewpoint of an alternative medicine practicioner, but you can't really say that you don't care what those who specialize in something have to say about that which they specialize in. Sure, you don't have to care what a religious person has to say about whether you favorite sports team is the best or not (because there is no corrolation there).

    As a practical matter, it is precisely because people in a society don't listen to those who believe differently (as represented by those who are most passionate about such beliefs) that they dehumanize them and succeed in making propagandah against them which eventually leads to oppression, war, injustice, and slaughter.

    As for predictability, it is a fool's errand. The more general, the better your odds. The more specific, the less odds your predictions will be correct. Still fun sometimes, but it can easily be overdone. Without understanding the subjective viewpoints of the subjects being studied, your objective (if such a thing truly exists) or outsider (a better term) analysis and predictions aren't likely to yield much.

    What you say about law vs. math is true, yet social scientists in this day and age try too hard to apply the scientific method (a tool meant and brought up in the world of mathematics and the hard sciences) to the social sciences (where variable factors can never be fully controlled or accounted for).

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn't make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth. While we are at it, why not say that basic arthimetic makes as much sense as quantum theory. I can't say if Tariq Ramadan has the best explanation of Tawheed as I've only listened to him with regards to social and political issues (of which I agree and disagree on some things).

    Thanks
  55. anowow says:

    Fundamentalist Christian mythology isn’t limited to Biblical history, it extends to the Reformation. I’ve relatives who went to Christian academies, their anglophone-centric history books, many published in Pensacola by Beka, give the impression that England on the verge of the Reformation was filled with people who just wanted to read the Bible in their own language and break with the pope. They ignore the very real top-down approach of the English reformation and the anger caused by destroying crucifixes and the dissolution of the monasteries. Their anglo-centric focus is understandable in that it leads easily to the Puritans which leads to American Exceptionalism. That might be the reason why they gave such little attention to the German or Scottish reformation, which are much better examples of bottom up processes.

    I’m not sure secular Americans are any better. Until I actually read books on Tudor History as an undegrad, I had no clue about this stuff. People know Henry VIII broke with the church, but do they know how unpopular it was? Part of the problem is how quickly the English went from being Catholic to Protestant in their national consciousness. A professor once told me that one of the issues of English history is how the Northwest, a Catholic bastion in the 16th century, was a center of Quakerism and other non-conformist activity by the end of the 17th century and in the 18th century.

    On a different note, I ask how would Fundamentalist Muslims think of older ideas of conversion, such as with the mass conversions of Turkic tribesmen? The reference escapes me, but I recall reading that the attitude was that even if they didn’t have a thorough understanding of what they were converting to it was ok because their children and grandchildren would. Get ‘em into the community first, then refine their understanding. Something similar was at work in medieval Christianity. Modern Christians would be uneasy with it. I suspect EVangelicals would doubt the efficacy of such conversions and more mainstream liberal believers (Christian or Muslim) would doubt the ethics of such conversions. I don’t know enough about Fundamentalist Muslims to say. Is Islam for them still more about orthopraxy and community than individual faith? I did read some pamphlets when I was in Saudi that said to not focus on the internal workings of a person’s faith, leaving that up to God. These pamphlets were official materials used for conversion purposes.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    from a reformed christian perspective, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? the radical reformation introduced the concept of the possibility that only a minority of christians in europe were truly christians, and turned away in some cases from saving all of society as opposed to the few elect professors of true belief and acceptance of grace (separatists like the amish are part of this trend).

    re: muslims. modern muslims seem to view the shahada as binding and sufficient.

    , @Sonic
    I don't think we should equate the Puritans with American Exceptionalism. The Puritans are a part of it, but American Exceptionalism encompasses the whole spectrum of the American experience which is very diverse and very secular. Even the most religious communities in the US are a far cry from the more traditional communities of faith. This is because of the spoils of war and success, wealth, empire, and the need to alter your beliefs and traditional way of life in order to do well in a society and culture that must accommodate such a wide variety of beliefs. Moreover, the Puritans and early American colonialists, were the descendants of the European Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation. I would agree with that connection, but also, with the connection between early European colonialism and American exceptionalism. European colonialism had a secular and racial component to it and cut across divisions within the Church and even to a degree, between religious and non-religious viewpoints. After the failure of religious wars both within Europe and against non-Europeans, Europe (which had at that time a decisive edge in military, technological, and natural resources), used other causes and callings to justify their actions, occupations, and wars. Christian missionaries rode in underneath that alternate banner taking advantage of the work of others to try and spread their beliefs...but it was no longer an entirely Christian affair. America (as well as Russia) became the heir of this sort of methodology and exceptionalism.

    In Islam - yes, it is much more important for one to become a believer and understand the basic testimony of faith (the Shahadah) than to have a depth in knowledge of the religion (which can come later or by succeeding generations). What you don't want though is for those who lack depth in understanding of the religion to gain influence and power over those who have always been believers or who have a more thorough understanding of Islam. This is what appears to have now happened with ISIS given that its central leadership are composed of ex-baathists and those guys are conflicting with the more established Mujahid leaders and scholars. Remember, we are not talking just about a religion as understood in a western, secular context. Islam is a complete system that encompasses the spiritual as well as legislative, economic, political, and governing structures of a society that is ruled by its adherents.

  56. @anowow
    Fundamentalist Christian mythology isn't limited to Biblical history, it extends to the Reformation. I've relatives who went to Christian academies, their anglophone-centric history books, many published in Pensacola by Beka, give the impression that England on the verge of the Reformation was filled with people who just wanted to read the Bible in their own language and break with the pope. They ignore the very real top-down approach of the English reformation and the anger caused by destroying crucifixes and the dissolution of the monasteries. Their anglo-centric focus is understandable in that it leads easily to the Puritans which leads to American Exceptionalism. That might be the reason why they gave such little attention to the German or Scottish reformation, which are much better examples of bottom up processes.

    I'm not sure secular Americans are any better. Until I actually read books on Tudor History as an undegrad, I had no clue about this stuff. People know Henry VIII broke with the church, but do they know how unpopular it was? Part of the problem is how quickly the English went from being Catholic to Protestant in their national consciousness. A professor once told me that one of the issues of English history is how the Northwest, a Catholic bastion in the 16th century, was a center of Quakerism and other non-conformist activity by the end of the 17th century and in the 18th century.

    On a different note, I ask how would Fundamentalist Muslims think of older ideas of conversion, such as with the mass conversions of Turkic tribesmen? The reference escapes me, but I recall reading that the attitude was that even if they didn't have a thorough understanding of what they were converting to it was ok because their children and grandchildren would. Get 'em into the community first, then refine their understanding. Something similar was at work in medieval Christianity. Modern Christians would be uneasy with it. I suspect EVangelicals would doubt the efficacy of such conversions and more mainstream liberal believers (Christian or Muslim) would doubt the ethics of such conversions. I don't know enough about Fundamentalist Muslims to say. Is Islam for them still more about orthopraxy and community than individual faith? I did read some pamphlets when I was in Saudi that said to not focus on the internal workings of a person's faith, leaving that up to God. These pamphlets were official materials used for conversion purposes.

    from a reformed christian perspective, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? the radical reformation introduced the concept of the possibility that only a minority of christians in europe were truly christians, and turned away in some cases from saving all of society as opposed to the few elect professors of true belief and acceptance of grace (separatists like the amish are part of this trend).

    re: muslims. modern muslims seem to view the shahada as binding and sufficient.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sonic
    Razib - the Scriptures of Islam outline what you are talking about, while in Christianity it was more the result of a Church doctrine that was greatly removed from Christian Scriptures (though not completely). One thing the Protestant Reformation did do successfully was get at the heart of belief in Christianity (though this movement also, along with other factors and movements, ended up making belief an affair separate from governance via secularism).

    So in Christianity you have a basic belief (like the Shahadah) and this suffices for the Hereafter while good deeds/works doesn't change your place in the Hereafter. The Church of course, when in power, had to enforce the teachings of the Bible regarding good deeds and works while avoiding all that the Bible condemned and called sinful. But so long as you had basic belief - you would be fine and go to heaven (hence, the sacrifice made by Jesus a.s. in liberating us from accountability for sins).

    In Islam, the belief in the Shahadah and thus, Tawhid, is also the key to one's ultimate salvation. But, sins and bad works/deeds can lead to punishment in this life (when a legal Shariah system is in place) or punishment in Hell for a time (before eventually being purified and admitted into Heaven). This is a key distinction, and something that requires learning the religion from those who are religious and not from secular historical study, analysis, trends, and so forth. There are certain sins in Islam that do take one out of Islam (excommunication). These are outlined in the Scriptures. The excommunication procedures of the Church were not about basic belief in Christianity but non-biblical doctrines which became a part of how the Church governed and ruled. This example is important because it explains to us the difference between an Islamic state that uses the Scriptures as its constitution, with a Christian theocracy headed by the Church that uses a mixture of doctrines as its constitution.

    Still, an Islamic state is susceptible to innovated doctrines being added to its basic canon (ISIS today, if it can even be called a state, has many such innovations), and some of the things Church rulers did when they had authority over a state did come from direct Scriptural sources and proofs. Altogether, this types of comparisons would be valuable for the kind of historical analysis you do in your writings.

    and Allah knows best.

  57. Art says:

    No matter its origin – Arab Islam is a loser. Unless it integrates Western Christian idealistic philosophy (personal freedom, democracy, and its derivatives) into itself – it will die.

    All religions provide a philosophy for living to their adherents. Clearly Arab Islamic philosophy does not allow cultural growth and change. Therefore its people must migrate away from it. It is currently imploding before our eyes. It is unbelievable, but the Arab elite actually support the very thing that is attacking it – Israel.

    Clearly this is not true of all of Islam.

    Read More
    • Replies: @anowow
    It remains to be seen if the West will survive its own experiment with "personal freedom, democracy, and its derivatives." At least in the area of one's private parts we are taking personal freedom to its logical conclusion, and is it working? Very often democracy devolves into a pathetic joke or self-righteous hypocritical posturing by oligarchs or their puppets. Better to have an actual ruler, conditioned to believe he owes something to his people, and bound by the rule of law than what is termed democracy in the US.

    The Middle East has problems, but the issues you listed aren't it.
    , @Sonic
    Art - that is your belief. The western philosophy, culture, and way of life that you describe came at the expense of true Christianity. All the things the Bible condemned and warned against...have now become symbols of freedom and identity in western nations. Islam will not go down this path, and its spread or destruction is in the hands of God and a matter of faith for those believe (so there is no point in arguing over such matters as we believe differently).

    Why would you think that cultural growth is necessary for the survival of a civilization? Rather, it is resources and security and conquest. Those factors are what gave rise to and sustained the growth of western civilization. How many decades did America wine and dine on cheap Arab and Middle-Eastern oil? What sorts of resources were acquired and extracted from today's third world which gave Europe such a comfortable and secure lead over the rest of the world? If amazonian tribes or south african laborers had done the same to europe: colonized it and took advantage of its resources either directly or through proxies...we wouldn't be having this discussion. When security and economic well being fall apart, there aren't any more sports broadcasts, oscar-winning movies, satanic rock music, or gay parades to behold! The cultural growth you believe in (or cultural regression and extremism as I would label it - particular since a lot of times the dominant, popular, consumer culture of the west ends up overpowering and eating away at the traditional cultures of the various diverse communities found therein) is no longer of value. When comparing the current state of western civilization with the Muslim world, you fail to evaluate the former in relation to the latter.

    The Arab elites you mention who support Israel are apostates on the scales of Islam, and agents of various western powers.

  58. anowow says:
    @Art
    No matter its origin - Arab Islam is a loser. Unless it integrates Western Christian idealistic philosophy (personal freedom, democracy, and its derivatives) into itself - it will die.

    All religions provide a philosophy for living to their adherents. Clearly Arab Islamic philosophy does not allow cultural growth and change. Therefore its people must migrate away from it. It is currently imploding before our eyes. It is unbelievable, but the Arab elite actually support the very thing that is attacking it - Israel.

    Clearly this is not true of all of Islam.

    It remains to be seen if the West will survive its own experiment with “personal freedom, democracy, and its derivatives.” At least in the area of one’s private parts we are taking personal freedom to its logical conclusion, and is it working? Very often democracy devolves into a pathetic joke or self-righteous hypocritical posturing by oligarchs or their puppets. Better to have an actual ruler, conditioned to believe he owes something to his people, and bound by the rule of law than what is termed democracy in the US.

    The Middle East has problems, but the issues you listed aren’t it.

    Read More
  59. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    This is simply not true. The Quran is the literal word of God according to Muslims, and that has even greater meaning than the Bible for Christians since Christian scholars generally agree that humans authored the Bible in the spirit of God’s literal word.

    and then...blah, blah, blah,blah...

    read Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn't for the scholarly literature why i dismiss scripturalism/textualism as a good explanation for why religious people behave and believe the way they do. i don't care what religious people say about their religion. or, more precisely, i don't think they necessarily are accurate in representing their phenomenon in a way that yields predictiveness.

    the analogy to law and a constitution is illuminating. law is often sophistry and rationalization. ('penumbras'). in contrast to mathematics.

    p.s. i've read tariq ramandan write about tawhid at length. it makes as much sense at the trinity. it doesn't. though i'm sure it sounds profound to a believer.

    Razib – or we can write “Secular Incorrectness: Why non-religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t”! The essence of our free will in life is faith. Either one has it or one does not. This separation then defines what type of person you will be and how you will interpret that which you come across, witness, or study.

    i don’t care what religious people say about their religion

    I cannot think of a worse perspective to have. From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) – is still worth listening to. You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view – a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view. I’m disregarding of course things like mockery, jest, humor, spam, and that sort of thing. Surely, you would care what a doctor has to say about medicine, or his particular specialty. You may still go with a second opinion or go with the viewpoint of an alternative medicine practicioner, but you can’t really say that you don’t care what those who specialize in something have to say about that which they specialize in. Sure, you don’t have to care what a religious person has to say about whether you favorite sports team is the best or not (because there is no corrolation there).

    As a practical matter, it is precisely because people in a society don’t listen to those who believe differently (as represented by those who are most passionate about such beliefs) that they dehumanize them and succeed in making propagandah against them which eventually leads to oppression, war, injustice, and slaughter.

    As for predictability, it is a fool’s errand. The more general, the better your odds. The more specific, the less odds your predictions will be correct. Still fun sometimes, but it can easily be overdone. Without understanding the subjective viewpoints of the subjects being studied, your objective (if such a thing truly exists) or outsider (a better term) analysis and predictions aren’t likely to yield much.

    What you say about law vs. math is true, yet social scientists in this day and age try too hard to apply the scientific method (a tool meant and brought up in the world of mathematics and the hard sciences) to the social sciences (where variable factors can never be fully controlled or accounted for).

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn’t make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth. While we are at it, why not say that basic arthimetic makes as much sense as quantum theory. I can’t say if Tariq Ramadan has the best explanation of Tawheed as I’ve only listened to him with regards to social and political issues (of which I agree and disagree on some things).

    Thanks

    Read More
    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) – is still worth listening to. You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view – a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view.

    you misunderstand me. i do listen to different views, including those of religious. i've read tariq ramadan, and my tablighi uncle gave me a rather boring book on hadith (in english) that read now and then over the years before getting rid of it. but his logic only seems illuminating if you presuppose the belief. that sounds presuppositionalist, but it is what it is.

    again, the rest of your comments are fine. i get their logic. but i dismiss their premise, so it's a word game in the end. as an atheist i really don't care about salvation, doctrine, etc., except insofar as it impacts material considerations (i.e., are muslims innately violent? do they innately want to dominate? etc.). questions about the trinity or tawhid are basically "not even wrong" for me. i don't care, nor will i ever.

    , @Razib Khan
    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn’t make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth.

    this is an argument you can have with a christian. i don't think there's anything clear about trinity or tawhid, so saying one is polytheism and one is monotheism makes as much sense as saying the number 1 is white and the number 3 is black, and that is clear as day and night (i don't have synesthesia).

    , @anonymous coward

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism.
     
    Muslims believe that the Quran is uncreated and co-eternal with God. Does that sound like 'pure monotheism' to you?

    (Considering the fact that you claim that the Christian Trinity is 'polytheism', it looks like your basic definitions are completely wrong.)
  60. Sonic says:
    @anowow
    Fundamentalist Christian mythology isn't limited to Biblical history, it extends to the Reformation. I've relatives who went to Christian academies, their anglophone-centric history books, many published in Pensacola by Beka, give the impression that England on the verge of the Reformation was filled with people who just wanted to read the Bible in their own language and break with the pope. They ignore the very real top-down approach of the English reformation and the anger caused by destroying crucifixes and the dissolution of the monasteries. Their anglo-centric focus is understandable in that it leads easily to the Puritans which leads to American Exceptionalism. That might be the reason why they gave such little attention to the German or Scottish reformation, which are much better examples of bottom up processes.

    I'm not sure secular Americans are any better. Until I actually read books on Tudor History as an undegrad, I had no clue about this stuff. People know Henry VIII broke with the church, but do they know how unpopular it was? Part of the problem is how quickly the English went from being Catholic to Protestant in their national consciousness. A professor once told me that one of the issues of English history is how the Northwest, a Catholic bastion in the 16th century, was a center of Quakerism and other non-conformist activity by the end of the 17th century and in the 18th century.

    On a different note, I ask how would Fundamentalist Muslims think of older ideas of conversion, such as with the mass conversions of Turkic tribesmen? The reference escapes me, but I recall reading that the attitude was that even if they didn't have a thorough understanding of what they were converting to it was ok because their children and grandchildren would. Get 'em into the community first, then refine their understanding. Something similar was at work in medieval Christianity. Modern Christians would be uneasy with it. I suspect EVangelicals would doubt the efficacy of such conversions and more mainstream liberal believers (Christian or Muslim) would doubt the ethics of such conversions. I don't know enough about Fundamentalist Muslims to say. Is Islam for them still more about orthopraxy and community than individual faith? I did read some pamphlets when I was in Saudi that said to not focus on the internal workings of a person's faith, leaving that up to God. These pamphlets were official materials used for conversion purposes.

    I don’t think we should equate the Puritans with American Exceptionalism. The Puritans are a part of it, but American Exceptionalism encompasses the whole spectrum of the American experience which is very diverse and very secular. Even the most religious communities in the US are a far cry from the more traditional communities of faith. This is because of the spoils of war and success, wealth, empire, and the need to alter your beliefs and traditional way of life in order to do well in a society and culture that must accommodate such a wide variety of beliefs. Moreover, the Puritans and early American colonialists, were the descendants of the European Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation. I would agree with that connection, but also, with the connection between early European colonialism and American exceptionalism. European colonialism had a secular and racial component to it and cut across divisions within the Church and even to a degree, between religious and non-religious viewpoints. After the failure of religious wars both within Europe and against non-Europeans, Europe (which had at that time a decisive edge in military, technological, and natural resources), used other causes and callings to justify their actions, occupations, and wars. Christian missionaries rode in underneath that alternate banner taking advantage of the work of others to try and spread their beliefs…but it was no longer an entirely Christian affair. America (as well as Russia) became the heir of this sort of methodology and exceptionalism.

    In Islam – yes, it is much more important for one to become a believer and understand the basic testimony of faith (the Shahadah) than to have a depth in knowledge of the religion (which can come later or by succeeding generations). What you don’t want though is for those who lack depth in understanding of the religion to gain influence and power over those who have always been believers or who have a more thorough understanding of Islam. This is what appears to have now happened with ISIS given that its central leadership are composed of ex-baathists and those guys are conflicting with the more established Mujahid leaders and scholars. Remember, we are not talking just about a religion as understood in a western, secular context. Islam is a complete system that encompasses the spiritual as well as legislative, economic, political, and governing structures of a society that is ruled by its adherents.

    Read More
  61. Sonic says:
    @Art
    No matter its origin - Arab Islam is a loser. Unless it integrates Western Christian idealistic philosophy (personal freedom, democracy, and its derivatives) into itself - it will die.

    All religions provide a philosophy for living to their adherents. Clearly Arab Islamic philosophy does not allow cultural growth and change. Therefore its people must migrate away from it. It is currently imploding before our eyes. It is unbelievable, but the Arab elite actually support the very thing that is attacking it - Israel.

    Clearly this is not true of all of Islam.

    Art – that is your belief. The western philosophy, culture, and way of life that you describe came at the expense of true Christianity. All the things the Bible condemned and warned against…have now become symbols of freedom and identity in western nations. Islam will not go down this path, and its spread or destruction is in the hands of God and a matter of faith for those believe (so there is no point in arguing over such matters as we believe differently).

    Why would you think that cultural growth is necessary for the survival of a civilization? Rather, it is resources and security and conquest. Those factors are what gave rise to and sustained the growth of western civilization. How many decades did America wine and dine on cheap Arab and Middle-Eastern oil? What sorts of resources were acquired and extracted from today’s third world which gave Europe such a comfortable and secure lead over the rest of the world? If amazonian tribes or south african laborers had done the same to europe: colonized it and took advantage of its resources either directly or through proxies…we wouldn’t be having this discussion. When security and economic well being fall apart, there aren’t any more sports broadcasts, oscar-winning movies, satanic rock music, or gay parades to behold! The cultural growth you believe in (or cultural regression and extremism as I would label it – particular since a lot of times the dominant, popular, consumer culture of the west ends up overpowering and eating away at the traditional cultures of the various diverse communities found therein) is no longer of value. When comparing the current state of western civilization with the Muslim world, you fail to evaluate the former in relation to the latter.

    The Arab elites you mention who support Israel are apostates on the scales of Islam, and agents of various western powers.

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  62. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    from a reformed christian perspective, Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian? the radical reformation introduced the concept of the possibility that only a minority of christians in europe were truly christians, and turned away in some cases from saving all of society as opposed to the few elect professors of true belief and acceptance of grace (separatists like the amish are part of this trend).

    re: muslims. modern muslims seem to view the shahada as binding and sufficient.

    Razib – the Scriptures of Islam outline what you are talking about, while in Christianity it was more the result of a Church doctrine that was greatly removed from Christian Scriptures (though not completely). One thing the Protestant Reformation did do successfully was get at the heart of belief in Christianity (though this movement also, along with other factors and movements, ended up making belief an affair separate from governance via secularism).

    So in Christianity you have a basic belief (like the Shahadah) and this suffices for the Hereafter while good deeds/works doesn’t change your place in the Hereafter. The Church of course, when in power, had to enforce the teachings of the Bible regarding good deeds and works while avoiding all that the Bible condemned and called sinful. But so long as you had basic belief – you would be fine and go to heaven (hence, the sacrifice made by Jesus a.s. in liberating us from accountability for sins).

    In Islam, the belief in the Shahadah and thus, Tawhid, is also the key to one’s ultimate salvation. But, sins and bad works/deeds can lead to punishment in this life (when a legal Shariah system is in place) or punishment in Hell for a time (before eventually being purified and admitted into Heaven). This is a key distinction, and something that requires learning the religion from those who are religious and not from secular historical study, analysis, trends, and so forth. There are certain sins in Islam that do take one out of Islam (excommunication). These are outlined in the Scriptures. The excommunication procedures of the Church were not about basic belief in Christianity but non-biblical doctrines which became a part of how the Church governed and ruled. This example is important because it explains to us the difference between an Islamic state that uses the Scriptures as its constitution, with a Christian theocracy headed by the Church that uses a mixture of doctrines as its constitution.

    Still, an Islamic state is susceptible to innovated doctrines being added to its basic canon (ISIS today, if it can even be called a state, has many such innovations), and some of the things Church rulers did when they had authority over a state did come from direct Scriptural sources and proofs. Altogether, this types of comparisons would be valuable for the kind of historical analysis you do in your writings.

    and Allah knows best.

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  63. @Sonic
    Razib - or we can write "Secular Incorrectness: Why non-religious People Believe What They Shouldn't"! The essence of our free will in life is faith. Either one has it or one does not. This separation then defines what type of person you will be and how you will interpret that which you come across, witness, or study.

    i don’t care what religious people say about their religion
     
    I cannot think of a worse perspective to have. From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) - is still worth listening to. You don't have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view - a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view. I'm disregarding of course things like mockery, jest, humor, spam, and that sort of thing. Surely, you would care what a doctor has to say about medicine, or his particular specialty. You may still go with a second opinion or go with the viewpoint of an alternative medicine practicioner, but you can't really say that you don't care what those who specialize in something have to say about that which they specialize in. Sure, you don't have to care what a religious person has to say about whether you favorite sports team is the best or not (because there is no corrolation there).

    As a practical matter, it is precisely because people in a society don't listen to those who believe differently (as represented by those who are most passionate about such beliefs) that they dehumanize them and succeed in making propagandah against them which eventually leads to oppression, war, injustice, and slaughter.

    As for predictability, it is a fool's errand. The more general, the better your odds. The more specific, the less odds your predictions will be correct. Still fun sometimes, but it can easily be overdone. Without understanding the subjective viewpoints of the subjects being studied, your objective (if such a thing truly exists) or outsider (a better term) analysis and predictions aren't likely to yield much.

    What you say about law vs. math is true, yet social scientists in this day and age try too hard to apply the scientific method (a tool meant and brought up in the world of mathematics and the hard sciences) to the social sciences (where variable factors can never be fully controlled or accounted for).

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn't make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth. While we are at it, why not say that basic arthimetic makes as much sense as quantum theory. I can't say if Tariq Ramadan has the best explanation of Tawheed as I've only listened to him with regards to social and political issues (of which I agree and disagree on some things).

    Thanks

    From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) – is still worth listening to. You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view – a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view.

    you misunderstand me. i do listen to different views, including those of religious. i’ve read tariq ramadan, and my tablighi uncle gave me a rather boring book on hadith (in english) that read now and then over the years before getting rid of it. but his logic only seems illuminating if you presuppose the belief. that sounds presuppositionalist, but it is what it is.

    again, the rest of your comments are fine. i get their logic. but i dismiss their premise, so it’s a word game in the end. as an atheist i really don’t care about salvation, doctrine, etc., except insofar as it impacts material considerations (i.e., are muslims innately violent? do they innately want to dominate? etc.). questions about the trinity or tawhid are basically “not even wrong” for me. i don’t care, nor will i ever.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sonic

    but his logic only seems illuminating if you presuppose the belief. that sounds presuppositionalist, but it is what it is.
     
    Razib - This can be said about anything – or anything beyond the most basic types of math and hard science. Anything beyond the limitations of logic (as Thomas Aquinas has wrote about). It can be said about the metaphysical over the physical, the paranormal over the normal, the soul over the body, and above all else, the Creator over the creation < which is the heart of our differing viewpoints.

    And that was my point to begin with - hence, why I began my comments on here regarding faith and belief as the foundation of who we are and the cornerstone of the analysis we give or write or publish. Even the most ardent scientist can’t argue otherwise. They are limited to observable phenomena and yet, no matter how much they observe and how many questions they answer…there will always be another question (another “why”) that comes after that. There will always be the possibility of another layer of the unseen that we do not account for (as scientists of the past dealt with before the invention of the microscope and other advanced instruments).

    Dealing with the social sciences (as your article here does), matters become even more subjective and questionable (with our own personal beliefs becoming the standard “control” with which we compare and judge everything else). So presupposition is in reality a part of our nature, and I find the connections and conclusions you’ve drawn to also only be illuminating to those who presuppose your belief (which is to have a lack of religious belief). Again, this isn’t with regards to saying event A happened during time frame B. But when you start to say that this is why event A happened in time frame B, and then start go through a whole list of other events and time frames using limited resources (which will always be limited as we can never have full or complete material knowledge) to interpret the various events and time frames…that is when it becomes much less about objective fact and much more about subjective interpretation. Our natural presuppositions affect the latter.

    You see events in a natural and evolutionary progression where events can be explained away by preceding events, while we see a Divine force guiding all the various circumstances and scenarios to their eventual conclusion. I’ll take faith over the arrogance of man, but it is what it is :).
  64. @Sonic
    Razib - or we can write "Secular Incorrectness: Why non-religious People Believe What They Shouldn't"! The essence of our free will in life is faith. Either one has it or one does not. This separation then defines what type of person you will be and how you will interpret that which you come across, witness, or study.

    i don’t care what religious people say about their religion
     
    I cannot think of a worse perspective to have. From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) - is still worth listening to. You don't have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view - a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view. I'm disregarding of course things like mockery, jest, humor, spam, and that sort of thing. Surely, you would care what a doctor has to say about medicine, or his particular specialty. You may still go with a second opinion or go with the viewpoint of an alternative medicine practicioner, but you can't really say that you don't care what those who specialize in something have to say about that which they specialize in. Sure, you don't have to care what a religious person has to say about whether you favorite sports team is the best or not (because there is no corrolation there).

    As a practical matter, it is precisely because people in a society don't listen to those who believe differently (as represented by those who are most passionate about such beliefs) that they dehumanize them and succeed in making propagandah against them which eventually leads to oppression, war, injustice, and slaughter.

    As for predictability, it is a fool's errand. The more general, the better your odds. The more specific, the less odds your predictions will be correct. Still fun sometimes, but it can easily be overdone. Without understanding the subjective viewpoints of the subjects being studied, your objective (if such a thing truly exists) or outsider (a better term) analysis and predictions aren't likely to yield much.

    What you say about law vs. math is true, yet social scientists in this day and age try too hard to apply the scientific method (a tool meant and brought up in the world of mathematics and the hard sciences) to the social sciences (where variable factors can never be fully controlled or accounted for).

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn't make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth. While we are at it, why not say that basic arthimetic makes as much sense as quantum theory. I can't say if Tariq Ramadan has the best explanation of Tawheed as I've only listened to him with regards to social and political issues (of which I agree and disagree on some things).

    Thanks

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn’t make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth.

    this is an argument you can have with a christian. i don’t think there’s anything clear about trinity or tawhid, so saying one is polytheism and one is monotheism makes as much sense as saying the number 1 is white and the number 3 is black, and that is clear as day and night (i don’t have synesthesia).

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    • Replies: @Sonic

    so saying one is polytheism and one is monotheism makes as much sense as saying the number 1 is white and the number 3 is black, and that is clear as day and night (i don’t have synesthesia).
     
    No, it is more comparable to saying that 1 = 0. We know that is not the case, but in advanced calculus, mathematicians have written out long proofs to make 1 and zero equal to another (contradicting basic arithmetic). This represents a flaw in their methodology and mathematical analysis (despite the rigors they attribute to the foundational principles of their craft).

    So your response is actually much more like that of a Christian. The Christian would say that 3 is actually this color and by doing so, change the very definition of the number into something that is a color! Whereas I would expect a secular, non-religious person to simply say that I don't care if there is 1 or 3 or 30,000...I simply don't believe in numbers of attributing value to anything!

    But definitions are important and without them, we could not have meaningful communication. Mono means one, while poly means many. Simple.

  65. Sam Shama says:
    @Razib Khan
    three points

    1) i the egyptian point is good. but i doubt akhenaten 'invented' monotheism. i think it's an idea that's probably a natural part of the human cognitive portfolio. in particular, monalotry and henotheism, seem pretty obvious as practices. the monotheism, well, that came later for the jews, and i think being part of the cosmopolitan world and perhaps even greek philosophy (distantly) might have influenced that.

    2) i should have been clear, but i don't make a big distinction between mesopatamia and persia here. obviously there are huge differences, but since the conquest of babylon i think it is hard to tease the two apart, rather like the co-dominion of greek and latin in the classical west.

    3) i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can't happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.

    i think you need to be qualified re: polygyny. these were ashkenazi, right? did the italian or sephardim go along with that? i know that even today some yemeni jews promote the practice, though it can’t happen in israel, last i heard israel will accept polygamous marriages from places like morocco.

    Quite true re: ashkenazi rejection of the practice. Certainly common to this day among yemenis, less so but not entirely rare among some indian jews (baghdadis that moved to israel)

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  66. Anonymous says: • Disclaimer
    @Razib Khan
    what is your take on why those Muslim Arabs were so successful in conquering such a large swath of territories in such a short amount of time?

    it's over-determined. it's not that surprising that every now and that a group with a large pastoralist component can 'roll over' whole civilized states. as khaldun would say, they have assabiyah, while more traditional modern historians often observe that pastoralists can mobilize a much larger fraction of males as a fighting force. the bigger issue is why the arabs developed their own religious-cultural ideology, rather than that of those whom they conquered. the latter is what pastoralists usually do. at which point their conquest fades away as they either get assimilated, or native elements expel them (as was the case with the yuan in china). i think hoyland gave me a not unreasoable answer: the arabs conquered two civilizations, so assimilating into one would alienate the other. the umayyad period in particular had a more 'western' orientation, with greek speaking administrators being relatively prominent before 700 AD. the abbasids are generally considered more 'persian.' but persian religion, which was explicitly at the heart of some rebellions in the 8th and 9th century, could never be the dominant ethos of the abbasids, because they had christian egypt and the near east, as well as arabia, which was muslim. so the solution was the development of a new ideology, which had its roots in the 7th century among arabs who were partisans of a new distinct monotheism that was to become islam. but, it was in the 8th century with the mass influx of eastern people (persian and central asian) that the basic outline of islam as we understand it arose.

    i wonder how well explored are syrian or armenian historical sources or monastic sources contemporary to the mohammed period or thereabouts, these seem to be the best bet to throw light on early islam from a non islamic standpoint

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    • Replies: @Kamran
    Early Xtians considered islam a xtian heresy I think. See: John of Damascus.
  67. Kamran says:
    @Anonymous
    i wonder how well explored are syrian or armenian historical sources or monastic sources contemporary to the mohammed period or thereabouts, these seem to be the best bet to throw light on early islam from a non islamic standpoint

    Early Xtians considered islam a xtian heresy I think. See: John of Damascus.

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  68. @Sonic
    Razib - or we can write "Secular Incorrectness: Why non-religious People Believe What They Shouldn't"! The essence of our free will in life is faith. Either one has it or one does not. This separation then defines what type of person you will be and how you will interpret that which you come across, witness, or study.

    i don’t care what religious people say about their religion
     
    I cannot think of a worse perspective to have. From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) - is still worth listening to. You don't have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view - a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view. I'm disregarding of course things like mockery, jest, humor, spam, and that sort of thing. Surely, you would care what a doctor has to say about medicine, or his particular specialty. You may still go with a second opinion or go with the viewpoint of an alternative medicine practicioner, but you can't really say that you don't care what those who specialize in something have to say about that which they specialize in. Sure, you don't have to care what a religious person has to say about whether you favorite sports team is the best or not (because there is no corrolation there).

    As a practical matter, it is precisely because people in a society don't listen to those who believe differently (as represented by those who are most passionate about such beliefs) that they dehumanize them and succeed in making propagandah against them which eventually leads to oppression, war, injustice, and slaughter.

    As for predictability, it is a fool's errand. The more general, the better your odds. The more specific, the less odds your predictions will be correct. Still fun sometimes, but it can easily be overdone. Without understanding the subjective viewpoints of the subjects being studied, your objective (if such a thing truly exists) or outsider (a better term) analysis and predictions aren't likely to yield much.

    What you say about law vs. math is true, yet social scientists in this day and age try too hard to apply the scientific method (a tool meant and brought up in the world of mathematics and the hard sciences) to the social sciences (where variable factors can never be fully controlled or accounted for).

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn't make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth. While we are at it, why not say that basic arthimetic makes as much sense as quantum theory. I can't say if Tariq Ramadan has the best explanation of Tawheed as I've only listened to him with regards to social and political issues (of which I agree and disagree on some things).

    Thanks

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism.

    Muslims believe that the Quran is uncreated and co-eternal with God. Does that sound like ‘pure monotheism’ to you?

    (Considering the fact that you claim that the Christian Trinity is ‘polytheism’, it looks like your basic definitions are completely wrong.)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Sonic
    anonymous coward - Did you read what you wrote? Someone who says that believing and worshiping in the Oneness of God is Monotheism while dividing God into three (whether as three distinct beings or incarnations/forms of one another or whatever) is polytheism, have very clear definitions of what those terms mean?

    1+1+1 = 3

    1 x 1 x 1 (and no matter how many more ones you add) is still not the same as…

    1

    That is what we believe. Many people get the last two mixed up (although in the case of Christian trinity, it is much more clear as it falls into the first category above).

    Allah means "the" God in Arabic (and is also found in the Arabic Bible). God has no son or daughter or siblings or partners or equals. God is distinct from the creation and the creation is completely unlike the Creator (the Most High).

    The Quran is the literal word of God. But whether the neurons we use to understand and interpret the Quran or the sound waves of our recitation or the ink and paper (or bits and bytes) upon which we read and write and learn the Quran on...these are all created. The speech of God itself is uncreated (for it is an attribute of God).

    The speech of God or the will of God or the might of God or the love of God or the pleasure of God or the wrath of God...these are attributes of God. They are Divine, Eternal, Infinite, outside the bounds of space and time, and without beginning or end. The attributes of God just like the essence of God: they are unique, high, and transcendent. That means they cannot be likened to or compared with or given any sort of similitude to the creation. As another example, God's love is perfect, while our temporal and created love is not perfect and not in any way, shape, or form comparable to the attribute of Divine Love.

    Whatever we understand in regards to God – God has allowed this (and it then becomes the basis of our test in this life alongside our genuine free will). But our understanding can never fully comprehend God or the attributes of God. God is light upon light (and this may well be more of a metaphor than literal). Go outside and stare at the sun. How long will you be able to do it for? Yet, the sun is just one small example of all that is in the heavens and the earth. So how can you look at (or imagine and comprehend) that which created all of this? Again, this is just an example.

    Tawhid deals not just with a loose interpretation and understanding of Monotheism, but rather, a strict and concise and complete understanding of Monotheism. In this, it deals with both the essence and attributes of God. No one worships the attributes of God (though they can disbelieve in these attributes or attribute such attributes to the creation, which is what the Christians have done).

    You've never heard a Muslim worship the Quran and say that this is God, or that this is God in book form or this is an uncreated incarnation. Likewise, no Christian ever says - I worship the love of Jesus or I worship the kindness of Jesus and then replace such terms/attributes with Jesus (as) himself. Your implication above is the same as accusing us of worshiping an attribute of God in place of God. That is assuming you made the distinction between the uncreated speech of God, and the created understanding and presentation of God’s word.

    But, the Christians do worship Jesus and (in most sects) say that he is either the literal son of God, or an incarnate of God. This despite the fact that we know (from the Christian and Muslim point of view) that Jesus (as) was born to a virgin human mother and spent 9 months in the womb and had to eat and drink and be cared for and so forth. So that is an example of mixing the Creator with the creation. Doing this, whether with a human or a statue or a celestial body or animals/plants or aliens and messiahs...is clear polytheism.

    Remembering the attributes of Divine Oneness, Highness, Uniqueness, and Transcendence will help you understand the basics of Islamic Tawhid and lead you to further study regarding The Creator, His Divine Attributes, and His Divine Message – a Message given to righteous examples for us to know and follow - which are the Prophets of God (not celebrities or video game characters or athletes or politicians or tyrants or whatever).

    and Allah knows best

  69. Sonic says:
    @anonymous coward

    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism.
     
    Muslims believe that the Quran is uncreated and co-eternal with God. Does that sound like 'pure monotheism' to you?

    (Considering the fact that you claim that the Christian Trinity is 'polytheism', it looks like your basic definitions are completely wrong.)

    anonymous coward – Did you read what you wrote? Someone who says that believing and worshiping in the Oneness of God is Monotheism while dividing God into three (whether as three distinct beings or incarnations/forms of one another or whatever) is polytheism, have very clear definitions of what those terms mean?

    1+1+1 = 3

    1 x 1 x 1 (and no matter how many more ones you add) is still not the same as…

    1

    That is what we believe. Many people get the last two mixed up (although in the case of Christian trinity, it is much more clear as it falls into the first category above).

    Allah means “the” God in Arabic (and is also found in the Arabic Bible). God has no son or daughter or siblings or partners or equals. God is distinct from the creation and the creation is completely unlike the Creator (the Most High).

    The Quran is the literal word of God. But whether the neurons we use to understand and interpret the Quran or the sound waves of our recitation or the ink and paper (or bits and bytes) upon which we read and write and learn the Quran on…these are all created. The speech of God itself is uncreated (for it is an attribute of God).

    The speech of God or the will of God or the might of God or the love of God or the pleasure of God or the wrath of God…these are attributes of God. They are Divine, Eternal, Infinite, outside the bounds of space and time, and without beginning or end. The attributes of God just like the essence of God: they are unique, high, and transcendent. That means they cannot be likened to or compared with or given any sort of similitude to the creation. As another example, God’s love is perfect, while our temporal and created love is not perfect and not in any way, shape, or form comparable to the attribute of Divine Love.

    Whatever we understand in regards to God – God has allowed this (and it then becomes the basis of our test in this life alongside our genuine free will). But our understanding can never fully comprehend God or the attributes of God. God is light upon light (and this may well be more of a metaphor than literal). Go outside and stare at the sun. How long will you be able to do it for? Yet, the sun is just one small example of all that is in the heavens and the earth. So how can you look at (or imagine and comprehend) that which created all of this? Again, this is just an example.

    Tawhid deals not just with a loose interpretation and understanding of Monotheism, but rather, a strict and concise and complete understanding of Monotheism. In this, it deals with both the essence and attributes of God. No one worships the attributes of God (though they can disbelieve in these attributes or attribute such attributes to the creation, which is what the Christians have done).

    You’ve never heard a Muslim worship the Quran and say that this is God, or that this is God in book form or this is an uncreated incarnation. Likewise, no Christian ever says – I worship the love of Jesus or I worship the kindness of Jesus and then replace such terms/attributes with Jesus (as) himself. Your implication above is the same as accusing us of worshiping an attribute of God in place of God. That is assuming you made the distinction between the uncreated speech of God, and the created understanding and presentation of God’s word.

    But, the Christians do worship Jesus and (in most sects) say that he is either the literal son of God, or an incarnate of God. This despite the fact that we know (from the Christian and Muslim point of view) that Jesus (as) was born to a virgin human mother and spent 9 months in the womb and had to eat and drink and be cared for and so forth. So that is an example of mixing the Creator with the creation. Doing this, whether with a human or a statue or a celestial body or animals/plants or aliens and messiahs…is clear polytheism.

    Remembering the attributes of Divine Oneness, Highness, Uniqueness, and Transcendence will help you understand the basics of Islamic Tawhid and lead you to further study regarding The Creator, His Divine Attributes, and His Divine Message – a Message given to righteous examples for us to know and follow – which are the Prophets of God (not celebrities or video game characters or athletes or politicians or tyrants or whatever).

    and Allah knows best

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  70. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    From my point of view, a person who believes differently (or claims to not have faith in anything) – is still worth listening to. You don’t have to change your beliefs, but you have to understand their point of view – a point of view which is *best* understood by listneing to those who most advocate that point of view.

    you misunderstand me. i do listen to different views, including those of religious. i've read tariq ramadan, and my tablighi uncle gave me a rather boring book on hadith (in english) that read now and then over the years before getting rid of it. but his logic only seems illuminating if you presuppose the belief. that sounds presuppositionalist, but it is what it is.

    again, the rest of your comments are fine. i get their logic. but i dismiss their premise, so it's a word game in the end. as an atheist i really don't care about salvation, doctrine, etc., except insofar as it impacts material considerations (i.e., are muslims innately violent? do they innately want to dominate? etc.). questions about the trinity or tawhid are basically "not even wrong" for me. i don't care, nor will i ever.

    but his logic only seems illuminating if you presuppose the belief. that sounds presuppositionalist, but it is what it is.

    Razib – This can be said about anything – or anything beyond the most basic types of math and hard science. Anything beyond the limitations of logic (as Thomas Aquinas has wrote about). It can be said about the metaphysical over the physical, the paranormal over the normal, the soul over the body, and above all else, the Creator over the creation < which is the heart of our differing viewpoints.

    And that was my point to begin with – hence, why I began my comments on here regarding faith and belief as the foundation of who we are and the cornerstone of the analysis we give or write or publish. Even the most ardent scientist can’t argue otherwise. They are limited to observable phenomena and yet, no matter how much they observe and how many questions they answer…there will always be another question (another “why”) that comes after that. There will always be the possibility of another layer of the unseen that we do not account for (as scientists of the past dealt with before the invention of the microscope and other advanced instruments).

    Dealing with the social sciences (as your article here does), matters become even more subjective and questionable (with our own personal beliefs becoming the standard “control” with which we compare and judge everything else). So presupposition is in reality a part of our nature, and I find the connections and conclusions you’ve drawn to also only be illuminating to those who presuppose your belief (which is to have a lack of religious belief). Again, this isn’t with regards to saying event A happened during time frame B. But when you start to say that this is why event A happened in time frame B, and then start go through a whole list of other events and time frames using limited resources (which will always be limited as we can never have full or complete material knowledge) to interpret the various events and time frames…that is when it becomes much less about objective fact and much more about subjective interpretation. Our natural presuppositions affect the latter.

    You see events in a natural and evolutionary progression where events can be explained away by preceding events, while we see a Divine force guiding all the various circumstances and scenarios to their eventual conclusion. I’ll take faith over the arrogance of man, but it is what it is :).

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  71. Sonic says:
    @Razib Khan
    Trinity is clear polytheism while Tawhid is pure Monotheism. To suggest otherwise doesn’t make much sense, but feel free to explain that statement in more depth.

    this is an argument you can have with a christian. i don't think there's anything clear about trinity or tawhid, so saying one is polytheism and one is monotheism makes as much sense as saying the number 1 is white and the number 3 is black, and that is clear as day and night (i don't have synesthesia).

    so saying one is polytheism and one is monotheism makes as much sense as saying the number 1 is white and the number 3 is black, and that is clear as day and night (i don’t have synesthesia).

    No, it is more comparable to saying that 1 = 0. We know that is not the case, but in advanced calculus, mathematicians have written out long proofs to make 1 and zero equal to another (contradicting basic arithmetic). This represents a flaw in their methodology and mathematical analysis (despite the rigors they attribute to the foundational principles of their craft).

    So your response is actually much more like that of a Christian. The Christian would say that 3 is actually this color and by doing so, change the very definition of the number into something that is a color! Whereas I would expect a secular, non-religious person to simply say that I don’t care if there is 1 or 3 or 30,000…I simply don’t believe in numbers of attributing value to anything!

    But definitions are important and without them, we could not have meaningful communication. Mono means one, while poly means many. Simple.

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  72. sonic, your comments have hit diminishing marginal returns for your audience. time to call it a day.

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