Islam: Between Message and History

Translated by David Bond
Abdou Filali-Ansary
Sikeena Karmali Ahmed
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In what is essentially a 'Guide for the Modern Muslim', Charfi spells out what for him is the essential message of Islam, followed by a history of its unfolding through the person of the Prophet Muhammad.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-4207-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Abdelmadjid Charfi, the author of this book (published in the English translation under the auspices of the Aga Khan University, Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations in London), is one of the most outstanding researchers in the field of religious studies and Islamic thought. He is one of a few thinkers distinguished for their deep insight, their rigorous methodology and their sound analysis. His accurate interpretation is grounded in detailed knowledge of the original sources and careful reading of contemporary insights in the humanities and sociology. Charfi has closely followed developments in this wide and complex field with its...

  4. Part One: Characteristics of the Message of Muhammad
    • 1 History and Theory
      (pp. 27-36)

      Defining a prophetic message in a general sense is relatively easy; it can be described as the discourse that a prophet communicates to his contemporaries, his community and to people in general. However, the interpretations of prophecy and its content are many and varied. Prophecy and inspiration are among the most difficult terms to deal with, as their meaning changes over time, along with religions and cultures. These terms are also connected with the term “God”, “that mystery which divides us even as it reveals itself and binds us together when it inhabits us”.¹

      The task of defining the term...

    • 2 The Preaching of Muhammad
      (pp. 37-48)

      Compared with the founders of other religions, such as Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses and Jesus Christ, Muhammad’s life is relatively well documented, although the oldest existing historical elements have been in large part mingled with mythology, a dominant influence on traditional Arab and Islamic thought. Representations of the Prophet’s personality and life draw on pre-Islamic examples of hagiography as well as examples from other civilisations, and introduce numerous mythical elements far removed from historical reality.¹ The only corrective to this tendency is what the Qur’an says of the Prophet. The Qur’an is constantly present in the lives of Muslims, and...

    • 3 Distinctive Characteristics of Muhammad’s Message
      (pp. 49-58)

      Before studying the outcome of the preaching of Muhammad’s message, it is initially worth examining a number of ways in which it has been interpreted, rectifying these interpretations and putting them in their correct context.

      A religion, whatever its nature, cannot be reduced to its simple historical manifestation. However, that does not mean that it cannot be studied from an historical viewpoint. A distinction can be made between “open” and “closed” religion, to use the Bergsonian classification,¹ between the initial preaching and the forms of religiosity in which ritual plays an important part and fulfils various social functions designed to...

    • 4 Legislation
      (pp. 59-76)

      The first observation would be that revelation does not speak in terms of the Sharī‘a as a divine law; it speaks of it as a way¹ for the believer to follow.² From this point of view it is a binding commitment. The actual details of conduct are only sketched out; they are solutions to particular challenges facing the community at a given moment. This is why the solutions are diverse, reflecting as they do the variety of situations arising. Most questions, relating either to conditions prevailing at the time of Muhammad or to subsequent eventualities, are not explicitly addressed in...

    • 5 The Seal of Prophecy
      (pp. 77-84)

      From these and similar examples one can deduce that the religious message of Muhammad had one significant distinguishing feature. This message belonged to what Muhammad Iqbal called “the ancient world”, not merely, as Iqbal pointed out, because of its source, but also because his message included a number of elements rooted in the society of the time. However, as Iqbal says, “insofar as the spirit of his revelation is concerned, he belongs to the modern world”.¹ The need for an invisible source of power, the presence of images drawn from mythology, for rites uniformly accomplished with no room for variation...

  5. Part Two: The Message in History
    • Introduction
      (pp. 87-88)

      This part will not be concerned with the detail of historical events, despite the need for a critical examination of the history of the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet, during the time of the rightly-guided caliphs,¹ and the subsequent Umayyad period (41/661–126/744).² It was only towards the middle of the second/eighth century that the period after the death of the Prophet began to be documented. This documentation was incomplete and influenced by the partisan rivalries of the different factions involved. Some Muslims accepted the official version of events, others contested it, while yet others gave tacit...

    • 1 The Prophet’s Successors
      (pp. 89-100)

      There were a number of possible scenarios for the transitional period after the Prophet’s death which saw the message of Muhammad begin to take on a socio-political dimension.

      (1) A return to the status quo prevailing in the Hejaz before Muhammad. This was inconceivable in the light of the new situation created by the preaching of the Prophet in the Hejaz and in the Arabian peninsula, with the interpersonal and collective solidarities created by Islam transcending traditional tribal structures. The initial signs of social fragmentation had already appeared before the beginning of Muhammad’s preaching, accompanied by a vague yet powerful...

    • 2 Institutionalised Islam
      (pp. 101-110)

      The core beliefs and initial message of all religions tend to undergo a process of organisation and institutionalisation, and Islam was no exception in this respect. The basic principles of the message of Islam could not take form in the setting of the history of the first/seventh century without undergoing a similar process. Institutionalisation involves passing from theory to application, from what is potentially present to that which exists in reality. This inevitably means that first principles will lose a greater or lesser degree of their initial élan, and acquire characteristics that reflect a specific historical situation with all its...

    • 3 The Elaboration of Institutional Theory
      (pp. 111-156)

      Having studied how Islam inevitably took on the characteristics of an institutional religion, we can go on to demonstrate how this affected the theories elaborated by Muslim scholars in the different fields of Islamic thought. These fields were not, originally, independent of one another; tafsīr, for example, was not an autonomous speciality, nor were hadīth or fiqh clearly defined. The areas of theological research were not yet delimitated, while the study of the origins of fiqh came into being only after the development of fiqh itself in order to set out the methods by which laws could be established through...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 157-179)
  7. Index
    (pp. 180-186)