“I do not view Islam as the enemy of the West or the enemy of Israel…Islam is one of the world’s greatest religions; we have no enmity with Islam. We have a problem with a militant few who want to twist Islam into a perverted ideology of violence and aggression. They not only threaten us; they threaten just about everyone sitting here – perhaps without any qualification.” – Binyamin Netanyahu, 1996. (1)
“It stands for the creation of a just and egalitarian society where there will be no hierarchy of status; where there will be no accumulation of wealth in a few hands; where there will be no master and slaves – physical or intellectual; where there will be complete freedom of conscience and expression; where human dignity will not be trampled upon; where religious, ethnic, racial and territorial differences will not come in the way of human unity; where dogmas will not divide human beings and restrict their freedom; where gender injustice will not be permitted; and where all human beings will hold their heads high. Such is the ultimate vision of Islam.” – Asghar Ali Engineer, 1998. (2)
As concluded in the previous chapter, the discourse of religion forms the structure of time and the basis of society. It follows a cyclical path, where its concentration of belief rises and falls. The path leads into unity amongst a mass of people whilst a ‘true’ authority figure is in place, for example the prophet or the messenger of God. The path then follows disintegration, where the mass fights against and within itself once the true authority figure is no longer present to keep and restore order and faith. This, then, results in a meiotic belief system, where each belief is propagated as being the only correct and legitimate way of life. The multiple systems disassociate themselves from their one, true, original source and provide a multitude of realities, (Lyotard’s) grand narratives and (Baudrillard’s) simulations.
Thus religion is unstable, and Islam is no exception. The theology of Islam bases itself solely on the monotheistic principle of the existence of one god, restoring the “primordial monotheistic religion of Abraham, which had degenerated in Arabia over the centuries”. (3) Islam claims to be the original Word of God, descending from Adam to Abraham to Moses to Jesus, who are also recognised as prophets in their own rights (4) and thus perpetuates Baudrillard’s simulations of reality, where the simulation of information is processed through each prophet. Hence, Islam ultimately portrays itself as being the original form of religion (or reality) for humanity, (5) pre-existing in essence, the religions of Judaism and Christianity. The actuality of these religions are reinforced by the Qur’an through the maintenance of the divine authority of previous Holy Scriptures, these include the Scriptures of Adam (which are thought to have been lost), and the Scrolls of Ibrahim (Abraham). (6) Heavy emphasis lies upon the surviving articles of faith; the Tawrat of Musa (Torah of Moses), the Zabur of Dawud (Psalms of David), and the Injil of Isa (Gospel of Jesus), although the Qur’an relates that these texts have been manipulated and no longer carry the true message of God. (7) According to the Qur’an, we can infer that the God of Judaism is the same God of Christianity who is the same God of Islam: Allah (2:136). (8)
Lyotard’s notion of knowledge as speculative narrative then, whereby knowledge is attained through accumulative human progress, is terms of Islam, is initiated from the divine source. “True knowledge…is composed of reported statements [that] are incorporated into the metanarrative of a subject that guarantees their legitimacy”, (9) where the ‘reported statements’ are the existence of the separate divine scriptures. How, then, does this relate to the conflict, war and disruption in the world and its implications to Islam? To understand these concepts in terms of grand narratives and reality simulations, we must first explore the context of Islam’s emergence.
The pagan Quraysh tribe dominated the social and political conditions in Mecca surrounding the emanation of Islam or indeed, the first revelations that Muhammad received in 610CE. Mecca was the chief trading centre on the Arabian peninsula, and many tribes visited the central shrine, namely the Ka’bah. The tribes consisted of several clans or extended families, which selected by consensus their tribal chief who was “primus inter pares, first among equals”, (10) Muhammad was part of the Hashemite clan.
The wealth of the Quraysh was based on the merchandising of pagan idols within the Ka’bah where more than three hundred separate idols were being worshipped. Muhammad preached to fellow keepers of the Ka’bah, the public at large and Arabian tribesmen in 616CE to remove these idols, and return to the religion of Ibrahim. The Quraysh denounced him as being an “impostor” and a “madman” and severely attacked the early Muslims to keep trade from falling, as Muhammad had already converted many small clans, as well as Christian and Jewish individuals. Eventually, the Quraysh offered Muhammad the kingship of Mecca and untold wealth if he no longer preached. He refused, and they retaliated by prohibiting the trading merchants belonging to the Hashemite clan, this was eventually lifted in 619CE through “tactical compromise”. (12)
During this period leading up to 621CE, Muhammad and his followers moved to Medina after he received the revelation that war with the Quraysh was imminent, and advocated Islam to the tribal leaders of Medina, many of whom converted (initially being Jewish). With the number of followers significantly increased, Muhammad returned to Mecca and preached for the need to overthrow the ‘ungodly’ ways of the Quraysh, who in turn forced his expulsion from the Hashemite clan for his derogoatory comments. This would have removed the protection he was guaranteed as keeper of the Ka’bah, and enable the Quraysh to command Muhammad’s execution without fear of reprisal from within the clan to which he belonged. This resulted in the voluntary exile of Muhammad and his followers from Mecca in 622CE, trekking through two-hundred-and-fifty miles of Arabian desert to seek safety in Medina. The journey is known as the Hijrah, or departure. (13) The first Muslim community thus originated in Medina, where the first masjid, house of prayer or mosque, was built and where the first rules and regulations for a Muslim society were formulated.
The Hijrah is an event, which is doubly important for Muslims as it marks the beginning of jihad, a spiritual and physical holy war. (14) The spiritual war encompasses a Muslim’s personal and “inner struggle against evil, the struggle for self-discipline” (15) required to follow Islamic teaching. The physicality of war, the concept of which is perhaps more familiar in the West, pertains to the restructuring of ‘corrupt societies’ by overthrowing ‘tyrannical regimes’ through intense struggle and hardship, in order to establish the ‘morally sound’ narrative of Islam. This implies that Islamic truth and knowledge is rooted in morality, in order “to set humanity free from suffering” (16), as “Muslims must not live under tyranny…they must remake their lives elsewhere if necessary in order to practice their faith” (17). This notion of jihad then, is linked to Lyotard’s grand narrative of emancipation, and is violently reinforced in the Qur’an (see Appendix 2) although its preference for usage of violence is embedded in the notion of extreme circumstance or retaliation.
The prophet Muhammad died in 632CE (18) and the stability of Islam was then directed to a council consisting of the “consultation of elders and companions”. (19) The ‘khalifa’, or caliph, designated as “the rightful ruler of Islam” (20) was chosen by this council to succeed Muhammad and further caliphs thereafter. It is argued that the decline of Islam occurred either after the assassination of the second caliph ‘Umar Ibn (644CE), or after the assassination of the fourth caliph ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (660CE). (21)
However, the cyclical path of religion implies that the destruction of Islamic ideology would have begun from the actual death of Muhammad, as he was no longer present to perpetuate and promote the ‘truth’ as and when it was received from God. Islam was only constant in its solidity during the Prophet’s lifetime, where he would have been seen as an active point of righteous knowledge and guidance, in the same way that the Qur’an is believed to possess divine content and value, because it was written through Muhammad during his lifetime; the Islamic metanarrative. The current notion of Islam is to unify Muhammad’s symbolic actions with the divine elements of the Qur’an, instead it continually becomes the narrative of repressed emancipation. The Islamic metanarrative is a transcendental system of knowledge that can no longer be reached. It has been distorted through contemporary “Muslim subjectivity [that] is undermined by notions of class and ethnicity, kinship and caste or tribe and clan” (22); the following prescribes.
Further chaos occurred within the Islamic community only twenty-four years after Muhammad’s death, a massacre of ten thousand Muslims took place at the hands of fellow Muslims during the Battle of the Camel, on the borders of Syria. The struggle for power between ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, representing his position in the moral authority as the rightful caliph, and Muawiyah, as the materialistically powerful and wealthy governor of Syria, were the driving forces behind the slaughter. (23) The continuing demise of Islam lies in the fact that nobody has been able to replace the role of Muhammad after he died, or indeed even agree upon a suitable successor. As a result of this, Islam is at war with itself, even before it is at war with the economical and political status of the world at large, as it is embodied in the capitalism and materialism of the West. Thus, the current conflicts in the world in association with Islam are due to these specific partitions within its ideological spectrum.
The link between the mass and God was severed through Muhammad’s passing, and thus corruption had already set in as a matter of course regarding the succession of the Prophet. This resulted in a division of Muslims into two sects; Shi’ite Muslims and Sunni Muslims, where a shift in the politics and rule ordained and followed by Muslims, was also split. The implication of this division resulted in the first inscribed difference in the reality that Muslims believed and faced.
W. M. Watt, “a leading biographer of Muhammed” (24), argues that Shi’ites derived their beliefs from South Arabian tribes where the ancient tradition of divine kingship, and intrinsic authoritative power, were thought to be leadership characteristics. (25) This theory bases itself in the notion that Shi’ites believed that the caliphate should be descended through Muhammad’s bloodline via ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law through his daughter Fatima (born of first wife Khadija). ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib was also the first male Muslim. (26) Therefore, the leaders of the Shi’ites, or ‘imam‘ as they came to be called, were believed to hold Muhammad’s inherent charisma and divine authority.
The Sunnis on the other hand, accepted the caliphate as chosen by the council, where a “representative sampling of the people had bestowed their approval by means of an oath of allegiance”. (27) Sunni teaching afforded for potential rulers to prove their effectiveness through military success and upholding the law were proof of genealogy from Muhammad was not required. Instead, it was of significantly higher importance to gain the consent of the ‘umma‘, a term pertaining to a community with a common religion: the (Sunni) Muslim community. (28) In contrast to Shi’ite beliefs, the Sunnis believed that the intrinsic qualities of Muhammed had been passed on to the umma through “imitation of the precedent of Muhammad who was the perfect embodiment of the will of God”. (29) The umma had institutionalised the memory and living traditions of Muhammad through their own attitudes and habits, (30) also known as ‘sunnah‘ meaning path or system. (31)
The pursuit of Muhammad’s thoughts and actions or the sunnah are embodied in the ‘hadith‘ (sayings of the Prophet). However, this does not make up any body of text within the Qur’an, but instead is an anthology of proverbs, sayings or stories collected for over a century after the Prophet’s death. There are six authenticated collections of hadith which are regarded in the same reverence as the ‘Shari’ah‘ (Islamic Laws set out in the Qur’an). The Shari’ah endorses Muhammad’s way of life, and thus sunnah and hadith are also therefore endorsed:
“Ye have indeed
In the Messenger of Allah
A beautiful pattern (of conduct)
For any one whose hope is
In Allah and the Final Day,
And who engages much
In the Praise of Allah.” (33:21)
The Shari’ah further comprises of ‘ijma‘, or consensus, and ‘qiyas‘, or analogy, both concepts of law must still bear direct relation to the Qur’an. Ijma, is the process by which agreement must be present amongst a majority of the umma representatives in order to attain a ruling or decision where no clear conclusion can be acquired from the Qur’an. The notion of qiyas must be applied where guidance from the Qur’an is unavailable, and a solution is reached through the deduction process via comparison with a similar situation from past times. (32) For example, Muslim jurists have been able to extend the prohibition on alchohol from wine, which was present at the time of Islam’s emergence, to other alcoholic beverages such as vodka and whisky, which had been cultivated only after Muhammad’s lifetime and thus after the writing of the Qur’an. (33)
The Shari’ah, then, can be read as a static and generally unchanging system of law unless circumstances afford for the correction or implementation of new laws, as is for example, the civil law of the West. (34) The process of interpretation of general law regarding the West and Islam are fundamentally the same here. For example, Great Britain does not allow for the sentence of the death penalty whereas in the United States of America it is permitted. In the same way, Islamic governments using the Shari’ah such as Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia enforce violent criminal punishment whereas in Egypt, Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan, the Shari’ah has no legal validation. (35) Islamic legislation then, is dependent on the interpretation taken on by those individuals or communities in powerful positions of state, forcing the reality(-ies) of Islam upon their followers in direct opposition to the reality(-ies) initially offered by Muhammad; the simple belief and worship of a monotheistic God.
Indeed, the concept of religion or God is still as eminent in contemporary society throughout the world today, as it has been since the ‘beginning of history’. (36) The member of any religion of sect believes that God will protect and give strength to only them. This reinforces their perceived view of reality, and authorises their position as being ‘the right way’ or, Islamically, ‘the straight path’. For example, Khomeini and many Muslims offer the prayer ‘Bismillah-i-rakhma-nirahim‘, translated as ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Most Merciful’, at the beginning of their speeches and literature (see Appendix 1). On the other hand, United States presidents and politicians use ‘God Bless America’ at the end of their speeches (see Appendix 3). This translates further into spiritual and physical elements; Muslims use the name of God to praise and ordain God: the spiritual. American politicians, on the other hand, use God to praise America: to praise the physical ‘human being’ and the ‘human’ constructs of American ideologies, in the same way that the British use ‘God Save the Queen’ to praise the human individual. The West has substituted its position with God, the position of “divine omnipotence and absolute moral legitimacy” (37), to enable the physicality of its self-appreciation. Material wealth insists upon the death of God where we are able to satisfy temporary lusts and desires, rather than sustaining spiritual longevity. This leads us into the following discussion where the Western rhetoric of God pertains to the blessing of consumerist materialism, placed in opposition to a dying spirituality of religion.