Ideology vs. Religion– 4
We have already written 3 parts of this subset topic – Is Islam Ideology or Religion?. The first was primarily definitional. The focus of Ideology is on the individual, “humans employing their personal thinking or interpretation of a social order, to be used, often, for the benefit of a few more than the benefit of all.” When Islam is viewed in this respect we see Allah as a billboard behind which the autocratic leaders hide, having a religious scholar at their side as a subterfuge.
The second looked at the sensitive nature of Muslims when it comes to any form of dispute. Call it persecution; they call it hatred. Under the banner of ‘hate’ legislation it takes direct abuse of an individual to command action, yet Muslims take a global approach considering any verbal or written or stated expression of concern for Muhammad, Allah or Islam as persecution and hatred, even if comic in nature. It attempts to suppress freedom of speech, even freedom of religion, when it is threatened by any individual’s or group’s stated disdain for Islam – allowing at the same time free, even abusive, speech towards others. Religion is used here as the collective nature of a community of believers – which can include Islam, Protestant, denominations of protestants, generic Christians, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, atheists, Humanists, and others. The ‘Islamists’ have taken Islam to an extreme.
The third noted, depending on interpretations of the Quran, greater tolerance. The problem though is each interpretation, harsh or more subtle, can be correct. One reading may suggest treatment of wives, since men support them financially, as chattel, and if men feel they are averse using suasion and not sleep with them. Another reading of the same, men are to admonish and abandon wives in their beds and beat them. The existence of a double standard, men v. women, is most evident, more ideological than religious, when considering God as a loving God. Islam today, as sensed from the dominant extremist theme we experience, is a way of life which takes into account both the faithful and the political. Separation of religion and politics would lead to a more tolerant, in my view, community. There are those who believe, even scholars, some ulama of the Muslim world, that the two should be distinct. Islam is not the ‘great unifier’ as is claimed.
For the future we will employ two terms. The Ummah, or community. It represents the Muslim collective, but note that not all Ummah’s are the same. The second is the ulama, for the scholar of the religion or the faith (the ‘learned ones’), that which constitutes a focus on Allah, distinct from the political realm. Here, as with the Ummah, not all are in concert. There is not one ulama, the ULAMA of all Islam, that speaks for all Muslims. Some incorporate politics more than others. No one voice has the answers to all questions or interpretations of the Quran, the Sunnah/Hadiths, the life of the Prophet (Muhammad) and a knowledgeable response (with which all would concur) to “What would Muhammad Say?” (WWMS) Thus, my claim, is that man, be it a holy man or a politician, has great influence on Islam making it more ideological than respectful of the wishes of God. Man is not God; yet Muslim men, many leaders, feel they are empowered by Allah, “chosen deputies of God”, according to Reza Aslan (his book – No god but God ), and their “actions were…decreed by God.” This is made evident in the methods employed in the governance and control of the Muslim masses.
Emphasis on Ideology alone
What leads to the emphasis on Islam as an Ideology alone, more than a religion, is timing. The religious history of the world in advance of Muhammad contained pluralistic elements, paganism, as well as Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Not all were pure strains, influenced as they were by local cultures, tribal and clan elements. Arab Jews reflected the ways of their tribe as well as a limited understanding of Judaism. Christians in Arab countries knew of Christ and faith in Christ as a means to salvation. Consideration of any of their beliefs has to take into account the events of the time, the environment, the economy and trading, the persons of prominence or control, individuals or clans, methods for survival of communities, and attitudes towards women, the rich and the poor, the masters and the slaves. Today is not the same as the 7th Century, not the same as the time of Christ, and so on.
The environment is most interesting. The area covered by the Arabs has boundaries, focal points, rivers, streams, tells and valleys where Jewish and Christian history abound. Eden, Noah’s flood, Babylon, Bethlehem, Nineveh, Egypt, Mt. Ararat, Jericho, and on and on are locations frequented by Arab travelers and warriors, as well as areas where Jewish leaders and Christian leaders and followers traversed. It is a known fact that the Apostle Paul spent as much as 3 years in Arabia. Muhammad passed through or near many of these locations as the head of caravans carrying trade from Mecca to Syria. Biblical history was compiled and organized by that time as well. Constantine had recognized the Christian religion and the Roman Catholic Church already had a number of Popes. Much was written and available about the Bible and the persons of biblical history. Many of the same persons are mentioned often in Quran that was prepared post Muhammad’s death.
Muhammad was a man, he had revelations and aspirations, he was humble and focused. His goals were not those of his clan, his Ummah, the tribe of The Qurayish. He did not lead a perfect life. He took it upon himself to enforce his personal beliefs, and with those who followed him as their leader grow his own Ummah. He had to leave Mecca, to avoid being killed, and found refuge in Yathrib (today – Medina). A relative unknown moving into an area where there was existing differences between tribes, he provided a means to arbitrate, to provide conflict resolution, having an independent voice. In time that changed as he became stronger and more wanting of his own beliefs, revealed to him as he claimed by God, to become dominant, a unifier as it were. He carried a fire in his belly towards Mecca and his family tribe that found his beliefs a threat to their position in Mecca and their means for financial strength. He always planned an eventual return to conquer, peacefully or otherwise, Mecca – the Ka’ba then to be transformed into a place to worship only his revealed God – Allah.
Muhammad’s Death – A Surprise/Unexpected
Muhammad’s death was a surprise and unexpected. By then he had succeeded in imposing his will on Mecca, and returning to Medina. He had used Medina to compete with Mecca as a divinely inspired Ummah and a location to visit. It was a gathering place where trade was conducted, almost a bazaar, with, as in Mecca the Ka’ba, an attraction. Closer to the major trading routes Muhammad managed to compel trade otherwise bound for Mecca to come to Yathrib. This, as you can imagine, was upsetting to the Qurayish. They controlled the business conducted in Mecca. With Mecca under his, Muhammad’s, thumb, the trade was returned to Mecca and the Ka’ba reestablished as a focal point for Islam, but worshipping only Allah.
The concept of the divinely inspired ‘attraction’ was seen as a money-maker and duplicated by others “throughout the Arabian Peninsula”, (according to Rezah Aslan), local leadership taking the lead, and exhibiting their “own native ideology”. It happened in Yemen (the god – Rahman) and in eastern Arabia (a man named Maslama); these ‘false prophets’ declaring sanctuary cities, fulfilling, Aslan writes, “a definite social and religious vacuum in Arabia.”
When Muhammad died (632) all fell apart, as nothing had been recorded. Islam was still in its formative stages, the Quran neither written nor collected (a few pieces possibly recorded by Companions of Muhammad or his secretary – Zaid). There was no Quran, no Sunna/Hadiths. They came later. Muhammad, dead, was no longer available to clarify the will of Allah. The Prophet was no longer available for any form of conflict resolve. Competition then began for someone to take Muhammad’s place, to have similar authority and continue to grow the Ummah for Muhammad and Muhammad’s revealed Allah. It was an important post and provided an opportunity for anyone who could fill his shoes – religious or otherwise. At first there were Caliphs, secular in nature, suggesting a separation of mosque and state (Abu Bakr’s thinking). Upset were clansmen, from Muhammad’s Banu Hashim clan, who were in the beginning left out of the order of succession. Ali, married to Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, disregarded. Muhammad left nothing as a guide.
Not the same Ummah
Was the Ummah then or has it ever been properly represented since? Or has and does the battle for control of the concept, the opportunity, the domain of Muhammad and Allah continue? Has it become a useful tool, under the religious name of Islam, or an ideological instrument for political power? Is it Sunni or Shiite? Is it the ‘Rationalist’ position (Shiite) or the ‘Traditionalist’ position (Sunni) that is true, or something else? There are many tribes, many ulama thoughts, that all claim to be, to proclaim, to practice, to enforce, to know the truth of Islam – all others are apostasies? Muslims are still to this day vying for positions of power.
It is Ideological power they seek and not the power of the Lord. It is what their Lord, Allah, can do for them; not what they can do for the Lord. It is sinful and wrong. It is not godly. It is opportunistic and selfish.
For a short period of time Islam had a king (from Caliph to King). The capital city was Damascus. It was the Umayyad Dynasty and the Ummah had an empire. This exercise lasted less than 100 years (651-750). The Caliphate concept was over – in practice. The last Caliph, Uthman, “in his capacity as the Successor to God, authorized a single universally binding text of the Quran in about 650”, according to Reza Aslan. He literally set fire to any other version that was available then at a grand burning in Medina. Leaders in Iraq, Syria and Egypt were upset by Uthman’s actions, having overstepped his authority, a secular authority at that. Uthman, similar to actions today, branded the opposition, his dissenters, ‘apostates.’ His dissenters rose up to defeat and kill Uthman, sparked by deceptive practices or not, they found little in Uthman they respected; God could protect him no longer. The Medina Ummah was disrupted. Ali, loyal through and through, became his successor, reluctantly history claims, but not as Caliph, as leader, as a cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet, as ‘Commander of the Faithful.’
Now we have the Umayyad group (Syria) and Ali’s Medina contingent – two Ummahs.
Muhammad’s wife Aisha did not care for Ali and led an army of Meccans against him. Picture this young woman (married Muhammad when she was 9), daughter of the first Caliph Abu Bakr, riding atop a camel heading this army against Ali. Civil War – The Battle of the Camel. It was a battle over Ideology, over the function of the Caliphate. What were the ideals that governed the political structure of the Ummah? Did it require one leader and who would that be? Aisha’s contingent lost. Ali pardoned, forgave them all and set them free to return to Mecca.
Ali would be the beginning of the Shiite faction, descended from the Prophet, in support of political and religious ideas of Muhammad.
There was another group that wanted the Caliph, up until then considered secular, not religious, to have religious authority – to be theocrats. It was not popular at that time. This group attempted to define what a Muslim was, and argued, as told by Reza Aslan, “that salvation comes solely through membership in the Ummah, which they considered to be the charismatic and divine community of God.” Aslan refers to this group as the Kharijites – the ‘People of Heaven’ – the first Muslim extremists.
Arabs at the time loved poetry. The spoken language was harmonic and offered solace to listeners. The words of Muhammad, the revelations expressed in the language of the time became a standard, eloquent, compelling and useful for teaching. The enjoyment and compulsion offered through the words spoken, memorized and repeated, became known as the Word of Allah, some sensing it created by God (Allah), Allah speaking directly to the people. There would be gatherings where the memorized verses were performed, the listeners enwrapped by the voices and the sentiment expressed. It has been claimed by some the words revealed, as experienced by the Prophet, are the miracle of Islam, the Quran the result. But the Quran came years after Muhammad’s death and was written by many, compiled by more than one, humans all, sinful men all, and the final selection chosen by Uthman – his personal preference. Is this an evolved Ideology thus recorded? The Quran was not the Law, Sharia Law; the Law of Islam came centuries later.
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We will develop this theme further in future Blogs. In summary the timing of the written word of Islam, the Quran, suggests man’s hand and desires in preparation. The Bible was foundational to the structure of this religion. The inputs of Muhammad essential, but as given consideration by third-parties post-mortem. The third-parties provided and modified Muhammad’s stance on many issues, one can only assume, the desires of those who rose to power, the post, the position of the leader of the Ummah, whichever Ummah it was, enabled to impose their will, in the name of Allah and Muhammad, on the populace.
Based on the poetic phrasing of the Quran it became a pleasant journey towards an expression of God spoken by men incorporating their personal ideals for the system of governance and justice. It appears to be more a perversion of biblical history, modified by Arab men to their liking and befitting the lifestyle they themselves enjoyed as members of their clan, their Ummah, or the Ummah as newly created by Muhammad for purposes unique to the culture. The Quran is a linguistic instrument of Arabic, useful for learning, helpful in centering the mind on Islam, and infectious through repetition, memorization, and an established standard that is difficult to translate.
The claim that is made – the Quran corrected mistakes made by man in the Bible. The Quran is thus the corrected word of God. That is the position of the men who wrote the Quran – they were the editors, tribal leaders, of the Word of God. How self-righteous! My position is that God is still the God of the Old and the New Testament. Allah may be the same God, but not as expressed today by the extreme wing of the Islamic nation, not as most Muslims believe, and not as distorted by the Quran. One prime example is the statement that Allah is the best of all Deceivers. (read Sura 3:54) Why would the true God take pride in lying?
The Muslims have assumed rights to what may well be a false impression of the truth. If so, that is a sad commentary on a religion that has captured the hearts and minds of over a billion people. How can so many be so wrong? What am I missing?
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Grace and Peace.