Thursday, April 24, 2008

Islam as a religion for the Arabs

As I've been reading the book "Islam" by Karen Armstrong, I've been learning much of the early history of Islam and the various theological movements within the religion. Probably the thing that struck me the most was the Muslims' treatment of non-Muslims as the Muslim empire expanded. I was very aware of the practice of allowing the conquered non-Muslims to retain their religion as long as they paid the jizya tax. However, what I didn't realize was that the Muslims actually discouraged their new constituents from converting to Islam. Initially, Islam was viewed as a religion for the Arabs. Early Muslims believed Islam was for Arabs, Judaism was for the Israelites, and Christianity was for the Gentiles (I have no idea, Christianity was already so wide-spread by this point).

Many of the conquered peoples did convert to Islam but, initially, converts had to be adopted and sponsored by an Arab tribe, perpetuating the fact that Islam was a religion for Arabs. Since this is the case, there can only be two possibilities. Either Islam was seen as a closed religion and all others were damned or it was a closed religion and others could still be saved. From what I read, the latter seems to be much more the case; Islam was right but Judaism and Christianity, even with their corruptions, were still right enough. It wasn't until over a century after Muhammad that conversions of non-Arabs were finally encouraged.

However, a quick search on Google shows that Karen Armstrong has many many critics who accuse her of bending the truth to accomplish her own goals. A friend of mine had similar reservations about her as an author, having done much of his own studying on the subject.

In any case, aside from that book, I've heard, read, or had conversations that all stress a more universalist attitude and apparently it's having somewhat of an effect on me. Rather than thinking that there can be only one right path, I'm starting to wonder if there are different paths that all lead to God. Just as people can eat differently or exercise differently but still lead healthy lives, maybe people can also worship and practice religion differently but still be spiritually healthy.

I'm hoping this will be just the beginning of this subject and I'd very much like this to be the beginning of a multi-party dialog so if you have any comments or thoughts, please post them.


Len Rosen said...

Early Islam borrowed much of its approach to other religions from Jewish influences. Hence it was not a faith that actively pursued new converts. Only upon assuming a large part of the Byzantine Empire with its many Christian sects (remember there was a schism between the Christians in Egypt and Syria and the Christians of the Balkans and Asia Minor)that the culture of conversion was adopted and encouraged. This became quite pronounced under the Umayyads who moved the center of faith to Damascus, formerly a Christian city. The early Umayyad Empire was dominated by the Eastern Roman Greek population and the language of empire was Greek. The Umayyad's actively pursued assimilating this Greek intelligentsia into Islam for government purposes as much as for the value placed on the principles of Islamic faith.

Anonymous said...

The Muslim empire is long gone, but it was a place all humans felt safe, all humans got justice and all human rights were respected. The Muslim empire had a legal system that permited the "conquered" people to take even the emporer (Khalifa) himself to court, and get justice. The early Egyptians liked the fact that they could have their Arab governor, or his son, whiped as an equel if he harmed any of them.

The Muslim's wars with ROme and Persia are very well documneted, but you must understand that there was zero civilain death, no homes were looted or entered, no women harmed or raped, all houses of worship and their clergy were respected and treasures left untouched - and even the Christian priests Rome had exiled from Egypt and Syria were returned home. The Khalifa himself had to go slow in the expansion because Taqwa made him terrofied (sp) of harming even the "conquered" people's pets and live stock.

The one Eyptian religous practice that was stoped by Islam was the throwing of a young woman each year into the Nile - it's been over a 1,000 years and the Nile does not seem to mind.

Jizya was paid without tax colectors, and returned if the Muslims could not protect a city. It was not required of the poor and those joining Jihad were not required to pay it - and the amount was low enough to let the conquered people prosper like never before.

Arabs before Islam were the worst monsters in Egyptian, Palestinian and Syrian history, but Islam changed Arabs into a people that the "conquered" people still love and respect. It was not their religon or language, it was just how they treated nice people, the weaker a conquered nation was the more Taqwa there is in helping them. When Egypt and Syria became again 100 times more powerfull than Arabia they saught no revenge or persecuation for there was no reason for it, all crimes commited by Arabs were punished by Muslim judegs, fairly.

This is my translation of an important Hadeeth: Their is no difference between Arabs and Ajam other than Taqwa (Ajam is someone who does not speek Arabic). An Egyptian with more Taqwa than an Arab was better than that Arab in the eyes of Muslims - so the Arabic languge spread along with Islam - a non Muslim Arab is just as "Arab" as I am, we just compete in the Taqwa departmnet.

The relation between Arabs and Islam is the Quran, it can not be translated - nor can it be changed in Arabic, while in other languages it can be changed. The words and phrases of the Arabic Quran have much greater meaning and impact than in other languges.

Mr. Rosen mentioned the Umayyad Empire, that started with the 5th Khalifa and signifies the start of the decline becuase Islam then became an Empire while before that it was just a people.

One interesting note - the very first Imam in Islam was Sohayib the Roman (raa). He was chosen to lead the prayers when Mohamed (pbuh) died and the Arab companions were busy chosing the first Khalifa. He would have been accepted and welcomed to rule but Islam was still confined to Arabia and the non-Muslim desert Arabs would have not accepted him for racial reasons and fought to last man to get rid of him.

Islam exists despite the ancient Arabs, for Islam was the only religion to ever enter the desert and they resented it for race reasons, Islam did not offer them postitions or power and pointed out very clearly how wrong they were in incredably logical words. Islam used the Arabic language against the Arabs, and for the first time in history they became sane and learned some Taqwa to.


Anonymous said...

No Rush, I got bored waiting and got the rare mood to write a lot again ;)

Arab = anyone who speeks Arabic, those with the best grammar are the most Arab - those who are considered authorites in Arabic grammar are called "Arab alArab", the most Arab of Arabs.

The more Arabic you know, the more the Quran effects you - this is hard to prove to a non Muslim, but to non Arabic speeking Muslims it makes it a good language to learn.

Many Romans and Greeks stayed in Egypt when the original Arabs arrived and like the original Egyptians they picked up Arabic names - they converted to Islam and learned Arabic to read the Quran - thus became Arabs, and still are.

Here is a clip of a person on the way to becoming an Arab in the Gulf:

"An Atheist Converts to Islam"

I think he'll be more Arab than me in a few months inshaAllah. I've have 4,000 years of pure Arab blood - and Mohamed (pbuh) was a half Arab - so as an Arab Muslim I do not take race serously (sp), or I go to hell - as the Quran clearly states in great Arabic.