In The Realms of Practice and High Culture

The Salat and Hajj are two elements that define Islam and exert huge influence over the one and half billion people that follow this religion. They work in similar yet different ways and this post will look into addressing their similarities briefly before analysing their differences in the Islamic world.

In a certain right, they could be seen as identical rituals played over different timeframes. Both allow for Muslims to try intimate with God “in an attempt to transcend himself in the direction of the highest perfection” as noted by Brohi in looking at what the purpose of prayer is (138). Indeed, the Hajj provides a chance for Muslims to follow in the footsteps of Muhammad and try experience God through a few days of frantic ritual while the daily Salat allows for the Qur’an to be heard and contemplated each day. Throughout both of these activities, followers are reminded to avoid evil and do good; whether is in the form of “dealing [Satan] a mortal blow” in Mina or asking daily that God may “guide us in the straight path” during daily Salat it becomes clear that each of these serves a vital role in avoiding the temptations that many face to disregard religion (296 Peters, 132 Brohi). The sole dedication to God is continually reminded through the countless recitations of “God is Greatest!” occurring in each Rak’a and the three Tawafs performed around the Ka’ba respects the place of God that Abraham built (132 Tabbarah). While these two events allow Muslims to declare their loyalty to God we must acknowledge the disparity in how they are practiced and the meaning they will have to those performing them.

The first difference we must acknowledge is that the Hajj has become a very rare event for Muslims to attend and “the vast majority of Muslims will never be able to afford it” while Salat is happens five times a day (66 Bianchi). To be sure, the experiences at Mecca will imprint themselves powerfully in the minds of those who come but this tradition of the few being able to take part has diverted from when Arabian Muslims “were accustomed to making the Hajj at their leisure, and many came every year” (58 Bianchi). Indeed the parallel between the Hajj “expiate[ing] the sins of a year” done “consecutively” according to Hadith links up neatly with Salat offering a “river” that “God obliterates sin with” (15 Murata and Chittick). Muslims now have to hope that they may be able to fulfil this “obligation incumbent on all competent Muslims” perhaps once in their lives (281 Peters). It is clear that the Hajj does not offer the yearly clense from sin that daily prayer has to offer and even more crucially it openly will not be undertaken by all Muslims. Does this leave it as a ritual offering religious satisfaction of the highest calibre to those wealthy (and healthy) enough to take part? I believe that it acts as a safeguard of Islams history and tradition that provides all with a clear aspiration. Continuing a ritual that Abraham is believed to have started grants Islam much authority within the eyes of their followers and cements the history passed down from generation to generation (admittedly not perfectly). Alongside this it forces the traditions practiced to be relevant to modern Muslims that may stray from the fundamentals proposed in the Qur’an without these demanding measures. The historical importance derived from this yearly event centres the Islamic world on Mecca and unifies Muslims from across the globe in a specific shared heritage. In this it plays a crucial role in keeping Islams higher culture healthy with a tradition that solidifies the beliefs and practices around the world. Contrasting with this, Salat offers Muslims a rigorous way to interact with God daily that will strengthen their obedience while allowing their own problems to be raised. This is crucial in shaping a society that is conscious of the Qur’an (thus God’s word) in everything they do. Here it becomes clear that one major difference is the net impact on the Islamic world: a Hajj has a worldwide effect through the actions of a few while the Salat cements the ideals preached in the Hajj from day-to-day. Without the Hajj Islam would lose a major constituent of their global identity while an Islam without Salat would lose influence of the daily actions of its followers.

One of the more interesting aspects of the Hajj is how it has become politicised in a way that the Salat never could be. Considering the well detailed steps within the Salat, little could be done to change it into something that can be taken advantage of by contemporary powers. The Hajj on the other hand is used constantly by politicians looking to earn quick favour with their constituencies by offering fully paid or subsidised Hajjs and championing the increase in quotas assigned to their regions. This leaves many Hajjis without the support offered in another region and further diminishes the religious satisfaction enjoyed by minority Muslims.

Overall, it is crucial to point out that to many the Hajj is a once in a lifetime event that allows them to sincerely express their religion. This doesn’t diminish its role in the Muslim world but can’t be compared to an act taken in complete seriousness every day with the express intention to come closer to God, especially considering the loss of contemplation enjoyed by contemporary Hajjis who to lend all focus to staying alive. These daily remembrances show why Hadith suggests that “God loves the Salat more than every other human act” (11 Murata and Chittick). In some ways, Hajj stands as the pinnacle of godly devotion while the Salat serves as the foundation a Muslim requires to get there.

Cited works:

Peters, A Reader on Classical Islam, 279-89 and 294-8 Princeton University Press

Bianchi, Guests of God, 7-21 and 49-75 Oxford University Press

Tabbarah, The Spirit of Islam, 129-147

A Brohi, Islamic Spirituality, 131-43 Crossroad New York

Murata and Chittick, The Vision of Islam, Paragon House

In The Realms of Practice and High Culture

Islam and the Gaming Community (Part 1): Openly Sacriligious

For me this was a pretty clear transgression of respecting religion. Having scripture from the Qur’an in a place expressly forbidden (if we are to believe what the creator of this video says) then it shouldn’t have been done in the first place but mistakes can be made. How someone at Infinity Ward can explain going through the effort to do this is another question. Furthermore I don’t really understand the technical details behind why they removed the map from circulation instead of patching out the offending object but the reaction from the gaming community was absolutely shocking and what I want to point out.

I’m not going to go into the details of this reaction but I’m sure you can imagine. If you can’t and haven’t been onto the internet apart from this assignment here is a (relative to others, tame) video posted after Favela was removed (which I actively suggest avoid watching unless you haven’t been exposed to what happens when people can hide from the consequences):

Noting of course that I am generalising and picking out the worst cases, these people are still the product of a culture that a) doesn’t know much about certain other cultures and b) uses online anonymity to say whatever they feel like. This is something that runs rampant online where anything goes and gets on like a house on fire when Islamophobia is added to the mix.

The main issue here is perhaps a bit more subtle than I am letting on, in the way that we discussed in class that non-Muslims will not appreciate the importance of a piece of scripture central to religion.

Then again, does anyone actually care about someone calling himself “Potato”?

Islam and the Gaming Community (Part 1): Openly Sacriligious

A Chance and Two Power-Players

The astounding success of Islam as both a state and religion in Arabia in the 7th century is interesting to analyse by itself and especially so if it we are going to assign the term “inevitable” or not. For the purposes of this post, “inevitable” implies that no other action from any of the relevant powers could have prevented Islam from its rise to power in this region. In order to judge whether this was the case this post will first look at why any similar religion could have taken hold and then move onto exactly how Islam was suited to the situation it found itself in. The latter point will conclude that Islam’s success in Arabia was inevitable through the situation it inherited (typicalist basis) and through Muhammad’s, specifically, strong interaction with a prophetic tradition as well as the Qur’an (exceptionalist basis).

The first thing to analyse is the serious power hole that had developed within the region. The Byzantine and Sasanian empires had very little motivation to control Arabia even at the best of times so after prolonged war had devastated both nations they did not have the resources or inclination to exert any form of power there. Sells points out that this “region [was] considered a no-man’s land by the leaders of the great empires of the day (Roman, Persian, and Ethiopian)” directly after describing the gradual growth of Islam from a “small circle” to a “major world religion and an international civilization”, clearly implying the importance of the former (6). Under the evangelistic and intolerant rule of Byzantium the fragile flowering of Islam might not have happened. While other rulers such as the Sasanians may have proven more tolerant it is important to note that closer connections to another civilization would have brought a stronger presence of the majority religions which would result in to persecution of minorities that could have halted Islam’s growth. This means that despite the “bitter rivalry and feuds” of the “ten clans of pagans” around Yathrib/Medina that existed, it was not on the level of state sponsored religious indoctrination and expulsion (35 Donner).

Without likening it too much to an economic market for religion, there was a demand for something that wasn’t present in the spiritual environment at the time. This is evidenced by the presence of the Hanifs who sought “the religion of Abraham” or Hanifiyya. While not large in number, this small group helped to form the nucleus of Islam as it developed under Muhammad. This was strengthened by the strong prophetic tradition throughout the region with examples like “The Story and Bahira” showing the power and standing Muhammed was able to garner through long held beliefs about a messenger arriving (79,80 Cumberledge). The receptive environment was cultivated by the “prophetic utterances of pre-Islamic seers (khins) and especially with the poets (sh’irs) of Arabia” (7 Sells)

Combining these two together, a religion that claimed to be descendant of Abraham would not only have an easier time finding a following to start but would operate in the favorable conditions of no imperial constrains. The issue of other clans fighting could almost be seen as an advantage too because conquering/converting smaller groups to expand would prove much easier than the united front of an organised state. The next point will analyse why Islam was particularly suited to excel in this situation.

In order to be advantaged by the prophetic tradition and galvanise the masses to follow, Islam needed a leader. Muhammad served Islam exceedingly well on both accounts. As mentioned before, his interaction with the religious seers granted him a religious authority that strengthened his position as humble messenger who developed the “Qur’an as direct revelation” from God (15 Sells). His existence allowed for the unaltered word of God to form the Qur’an which gave it an appeal and power at the heart of Islam. Yet while he remained a “servant to whom revelation has come”, his role certainly extended further than simply scribing God’s word (24 Schimmel). His powerful “blending of religion and politics” that came from an obligation to “use worldly means to propagate the message” united people under his teachings. The fact that almost every aspect of his life has been held onto dearly by the Muslim world through the collections of hadiths chronicling his sunna and outward beauty speaks to the extraordinary (and exceptionalistic) role that Muhammad played in the traditions of Islam.

Any understanding of Islam must place the prophet as subordinate to the Qur’an and it is truly this work that binds the Muslim world together and allowed for it to occupy “from what is now Spain to Afghanistan” without losing its core identity (6 Sells). Forming the core of Islamic social, religious, and historical beliefs it provides an “Islamic way of life, shari’a” that has survived through to modern times. The content and style itself provides an experience which many learn from childhood to fully understand and appreciate the “combination of majesty and intimacy that makes the Qur’anic voice distinctive” (3 Sells). Apparently English is insufficient in replicating this which speaks to a compelling and unique experience that Muslims undergo when studying this text. Indeed the miracle Muhammad is able to claim when demanded to verify his connection with God is the Qur’anic verse that none could replicate. Such an incomparable work provides not only the glue to hold a society together with rules but the credence for people to follow it.

When we look at these factors it seems inevitable that Muhammad would lead Islam into the rise it undertook in 7th century Arabia through both an opportunity present and the unique efforts of its book and prophet.

Works cited:

Annemarie Schimmel. And Muhammad Is His Messenger. The University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill and London. 1985. 10-51

Michael Sells. Approaching The Qur’an. White Cloud Press. 1-81

Geoffrey Cumberlege. The Life of Muhammad. Oxford University Press. 1955. 79-683

C.C. Held. Patterns of Peoples and Culture. Westview Press. 1989. 84-94.

A Chance and Two Power-Players

I Don’t Even Know Where to Start Here

A lot happening here. Starts off with a sensationally intolerant and insulting protest and then happy ending after a brief visit to a mosque. I’m not going to get into what it takes for people to put the effort into finding out about a specific practice of Islam just to violate it publicly because the story of one of those people changing their minds is more interesting.

If all that it took for someone to have a 180 degree turn of faith is a quick guided tour of Muslim worship then maybe there is some real hope for rapid change. This points to a systemic lack of understanding and knowledge about Islam which means that even the most basic of public education would put a real dent into Islamophobia across the world. I’m not saying that we could remove all the die-hards but removing their lukewarm to middling supporters would cut their collective power drastically.

In all honesty this article is probably a cute scenario that certainly addresses part of the problem faced but probably will never be scaled up. There are many people who hear what Islam teaches and decries it as a facade for the true nature of Islam. Yet I still hold onto the belief that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and hope that in the future we will see something brilliant in this sphere.

I Don’t Even Know Where to Start Here

A True Role Model

(To avoid the unnecessary cricketing details just read paragraphs 3-19)

Hashim Amla has proven himself over the last few years to be one of best batsmen in world cricket today. However, as we see in this article, it was not without troubles and race issues in the start. At this point in time he was still working to prove himself in a first class team and the press was at his heels for being a possible beneficiary of the controversial quota system that has allegedly lead to weaker colored players replacing their white counterparts in a few South Africa sports.

Following this, we would not be surprised if his reaction to such an insensitive comment was one of outrage and exasperation at a public that could not look past his religious choices. In my first reading I was astonished by his tolerant and almost carefree treatment of the commentator (Dean Jones). Not only is he able to understand and forgive such a prejudiced comment but he is able to use this as a platform to teach a largely uninformed population about some of the aspects of his religion.

Indeed for Amla “to share knowledge is a duty” and his prominent position as a celebrity in the eyes of cricket-watching people around the world provides him with an opportunity to spread understanding through his media exposure. With such a humble and tolerant man as Islam’s face in South African sports it is easy to see how such news-makers can shape the popular sentiment on religion for better (or worse). In this case Islam is lucky to have such a well-meaning and inspirational figure.

Yet for all of the tolerance and understanding of Jones’ ignorance that Amla showed, we have to wonder if there is a need for more condemnation of such thinking. If people believe that calling all Muslims “terrorist[s]” is something tolerated and forgiven so easily then there may be a difficulty in preventing this kind of situation in the future. The question comes down to where you draw the line between understanding others’ mistakes and making it clear that this kind of thing is not acceptable.

A True Role Model