Islam: Between Divine Message and History

Abdelmajid Sharfi
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Why this book? What can it add to the many works that have already explored Islam as a history, a doctrine, a law, and a code of ethics? The bulk of Islamic thought nowadays is either a repetition of and rumination about what the ancients have already said, or the tackling of partial issues that falls short of a comprehensive view and a theoretical framework. All too often ideology replaces real knowledge. This work attempts to introduce the characteristics of the Mohammedan Mission, with the aspiration to be faithful to its essential purposes and to historical truth at the same time. The author thus illustrates the different ways in which people have understood the Mission and the reasons that led them to those various interpretations. The book presents several alternative interpretations that actually existed but did not enjoy widespread acceptance and popularity.

    eISBN: 978-615-5053-75-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [iv]-[iv])
    (pp. 1-9)

    What is the purpose of this book? What can it add to the many writings that have already probed Islam as a history, a doctrine, a law, and a code of ethics? I believe that the bulk of Islamic thought today is either a repetition and regurgitation—often distorted by oversimplifications—of what the ancients have said, or an adaptation and projection in which ideology replaces real knowledge, or a discussion of partial issues which lacks a comprehensive view and a clear theoretical framework. What Islamic thought produces today is at best a voicing of intentions and a proclamation of...

      (pp. 13-26)

      The prophetic mission in a general sense can relatively easily be defined as a message that the prophet-messenger took upon himself to convey to his contemporaries and, through them, to a specific nation and to all humanity. However, the exegeses of this mission and its content remain infinitely diverse. Determining the meaning of nubuwwa (prophethood) or waḥi (revelation) is one of the most difficult tasks that may confront a scholar. It is a variable concept, which changes with different religions, cultures, and times. Moreover, it relates to God, “that mystery which separates us when revealed and which unites us when...

      (pp. 27-44)

      If we were to compare what we know of Mohammed with what we know of other great men—such as Confucius, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, and Jesus—who had a profound and lasting influence on history, we find that Mohammed, unlike them, was always in the spotlight. Nevertheless, even the earliest and most reliable reports on his life that have reached us are tinged by the mythical mentality that dominated the thought of the ancients. The Muslims’ aspiration to emulate their prophet’s personality and way of life was influenced by pre-Islamic and non-Islamic role models. This led to a deviation from...

      (pp. 45-57)

      Before embarking on the study of the outcome of the Mohammedan Mission, we must first consider some of its exegeses, in order to rectify them and to place them in their proper context. This will provide us with a solid base on which to proceed. I am well aware that religion—any religion—is not identical with the form in which it is manifested in history, but this does not preclude a historical study of religions. Moreover, it does not cancel the differentiation between “open” religions and “closed” religions, to use the terminology of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, nor...

      (pp. 58-85)

      If the situation is correctly summed up at the close of the previous chapter, and we have every reason to believe that it is, we must seek a radical solution that will go beyond spurious compromises, reconcile the contemporary Muslim with his religion, and rid him of the dualism that impedes creativity, hampers initiative, and thwarts the spirit of adventure. That is the reason for our interest in the legislative aspect of the Qur’ān, which has been subject to more arguments and disputes than any other. The first point worthy of note in this context is that the revelation (waḥī)...

    • Chapter Five THE SEAL OF PROPHECY
      (pp. 86-96)

      What we can conclude from such examples is that the Mohammedan mission is distinguished by a unique and deeply significant feature. On the one hand, it belongs to what Mohammad Iqbāl calls the “ancient world,” not only with regard to its source but also with regard to its inclusion of many aspects of the environment from which it emerged. On the other hand, it belongs to the “modern world,” “in so far as the spirit of the revelation is concerned.”89 Moreover, the need for a metaphysical recourse, the existence of many mythic conceptions, the resort to rituals of worship performed...

      (pp. 99-100)

      In this part I am not concerned with the historical events in themselves, even though what befell the Muslims after the Prophet’s death and throughout the Rashidun and Ummayid reigns is definitely still in need of critical study.101 The information available on the first century after the Prophet was not recorded until about the middle of the second. It lacks comprehensiveness and is influenced by the disputes in which all the parties were involved, either actively through support or opposition or passively through acquiescence and silence. However, my aim in the study of these events is to arrive at an...

      (pp. 101-116)

      Let us consider the theoretical possibilities for the materialization of the mission in the real social and political circumstances after the prophet’s death:

      1. First, we note that at that moment in history (after Mohammed’s death), it was no longer possible to go back to what things were like in Ḥijāz before the mission. The Islamic call had created a new situation in both Ḥijāz and the Arab Peninsula, which made the tribal system incapable of responding to the bonds forged by Islam between individuals and groups, particularly since that system had begun to show symptoms of disintegration, even before Mohammed...

      (pp. 117-130)

      Like other religions and doctrines, Islam was subjected to the requirements of organization and institutionalization. The principles carried by the mission could not have materialized in history, and particularly in the seventh century, had they not answered such requirements. Institutionalization is in fact the transition from theory to practice, from what exists potentially to what exists actually. In this transition the principles inevitably lose part of their power and acquire certain particularities dictated by the characteristics, divergences, and contradictions of reality. Thus, it is quite understandable that a certain exegesis, from among the many that are theoretically possible or that...

      (pp. 131-191)

      Having observed the effects of institutionalization on Islam, I will now examine the traces of this process in the theoretical works of scholars in the different fields of Islamic thought. It is common knowledge that initially these fields were not separate from each other: Qur’ānic exegesis (tafsīr) was not yet an independent science, and neither Ḥadīth nor jurisprudence (fiqh) had definite borders or terms of reference. Similarly, research in scholastic theology was not yet confined to those subjects that would later define that science. The fundamental principles of jurisprudence only came into existence after the establishment of jurisprudence itself, as...

    (pp. 192-198)

    The comparison of the Mohammedan Mission, on the one hand, and its applications in history, on the other, raise many critical issues that the Muslim must face honestly and boldly. Although my survey may have thrown a negative light on the manifestations of the Mission, as seen from our modern perspective, it is not permissible to generalize. What may seem negative in our view, may have been viewed positively in its own time. Thus, our task is not to pronounce judgments for or against the exegeses and solutions of the ancients, but rather to respond to the requirements of the...

    (pp. 199-205)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)