The Tale of the Fall of Spirit and Rise of Radicalism
“There is a growing shadow being cast over Islam’s holiest site”. This was the opening statement of a report by Daniel Howden in The Independent in April 2006. However there must be only a few among Muslims who would dare to question the intention of the House of Saud with respect to the actions this despotic clan has been incessantly engaged in since their evil collusion with the not-so-infamous Abdul-Wahhab that commenced in 1744-45. Interestingly, this foul alliance between Ibn-Saud and Abdul-Wahhab transpired about two centuries prior to the establishment of Saudi Arabia, an entire country named after a bandit Arab clan of Nejd, as a sign of ‘immense gratitude’ for the highly beneficial services rendered by Ibn-Saud to the Throne of England particularly so in the aftermath of WW1. And still more interestingly, albeit discredited as a ‘Muslim Conspiracy’ by non-Muslims and as ‘imaginary fictional narrative, coined deliberately by the British to discredit Abdul-Wahhab and his followers’ by Wahhabi Muslims, the Memoirs of Mr. Hempher: Confessions of a British Spy, said to have been published in ‘prominent German and French newspapers’, overtly points towards the nature and the extent of the role played by the British in manipulating elements among Muslims that held divergent standpoints as far as the essential understanding and interpretation of Islamic Scripture & Tradition is concerned. Diligent and unbiased overview of the history of British involvement in the Middle East in particular, and a study of emerging evidence of the pivotal role played by the Throne of England in prompting and facilitating the rise of what is nowadays termed as ‘Radical Islam’ as well as that of continued harbouring of fascist pseudo-Muslims on British territory in modern history, tend to sway opinion on Memoirs of Mr. Hempher in favour of those who count it as a credible source of otherwise untold history. An authentic endeavour at tracing footsteps of ‘Radical Islam’ back in history in the context of the more contemporary political and social quagmires of modern times, not only indicates the obvious that in more recent times ‘Radical Islam’ has emerged as one of the most effectual and highly valuable Geo-political tools in the hands of global ruling elite as far as designing and instigating ‘controlled conflicts’ in key Geo-strategic regions around the world, but also alludes to a more inclusive actuality: The menace in question is not ‘Radical Islam’, rather the fall of spirit and the rise of radicalism on God’s earth. In fact pollution of the true spirit inherent in the essentially monotheistic revealed Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) tends to surface as a rather continuous process in the history of mankind, impressively subtle, spanning over centuries, underlined by the spirit of falsehood embodied by ancient and modern forms of Paganism.
“Religion is not a departmental affair; it is neither mere thought, nor mere feeling, nor mere action; it is an expression of the whole man” said the renowned philosopher-poet Sir Mohammad Iqbal; it is “a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended” said the philosopher-mathematician Alfred North Whitehead. And that is precisely the reason why the true teachings and traditions of the revealed Abrahamic religions have been at great odds with the less than ethical pursuits of man since ancient times. The element in human nature that finds it highly disagreeable to endure hardship on the path of transformation of character abhors the concept of Divine authority and ethical restraint especially so in instances wherein the ‘dos and don’ts’ outlined by Scripture tend to stand in stark opposition to innate human desires not to mention the arrogance of man in face of sheer incapacity of human intellect to fathom a concept as ethereal as faith in Divine Wisdom and Logic. At the collective level this disagreement, essentially between good and evil, is therefore observed to have translated into a rather understated communal effort aimed at the elimination of the intangible i.e. the spiritual facet of revealed religions, through misinterpretation of the essential tenets preached by the prophets throughout the history of mankind as well as subtle remoulding of the Divine Law to assist with the perpetuation of imperialistic religio-political power structures. Regardless of textual criticism and the subsequent academic debate in modern times as to the question of corruption of Scripture through history, and despite the varying viewpoints on the subject that range from one extreme to another, the one undeniably clear fact dictated by common sense is that the ancientness of times combined with many a facet of human fallibility did play a pivotal role in misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Torah and Injil or Evangel. In ‘The Bible, The Quran and Science’ Dr. Maurice Bucaille points out “The human element in the Old Testament seems to be quite considerable. It is not difficult to understand why from version to version, and translation to translation, with all the corrections inevitably resulting, it was possible for the original text to have been transformed during the course of more than two thousand years… A Revelation is mingled in all these writings, but all we possess today is what men have seen fit to leave us. These men manipulated the texts to please themselves, according to the circumstances they were in and the necessities they had to meet.” The following excerpt from the 1905 Edition of the Jewish Encyclopaedia seems to allude, albeit rather inadvertently, exactly towards what is more simply and brazenly pointed out by Dr. Bucaille: “With the destruction of the Temple (70 A.D.) the Sadducees disappeared altogether, leaving the regulation of all Jewish affairs in the hands of the Pharisees. Henceforth, Jewish life was regulated by the Pharisees; the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view, and a new aspect was given to the Sanhedrin of the past. A new chain of tradition supplanted the older priestly tradition. Pharisaism shaped the character of Judaism and the life and thought of the Jew for all the future.” Here it must be noted the phenomenon of Pharisaism had existed in the Holy Land for approximately 150 years prior to Prophet Jesus and indeed continued into modern times as Rabbinical Judaism without the connotations of sectarianism and hypocrisy that had come to be associated with Pharisaism.
Judaism and the Jewish culture, in the natural course of events, underwent dramatic changes in the era between the first and the second destruction of The Temple, a period that spans more than six centuries (587 BCE-70 CE). Essentially in the absence of a Judean monarchy, under the reign of Cyrus the Great, who ended the exile of the Jews from the Holy Land, the Judean priests progressively emerged as the dominant authority, ‘the authority of the Temple in civic life was amplified’, while scribes and sages dominated the study of Torah and maintained the Oral Tradition. It was only during what is termed as the ‘Hellenistic period of Jewish History’ that new political and cultural changes led to a rift between priests and sages; the following times not only witnessed liberation of Jerusalem and the restoration of The Temple but also the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty that in essence served to institutionalize priesthood as a political and religious authority. Given the fact the Hasmonean dynasty lacked legitimacy conferred by descent from the Davidic dynasty, among other Jewish sects the Pharisee emerged as a group of sages and scribes, who unlike the Sadducee, held the opinion the oral tradition of interpretation of the Mosaic Law was as significant as the ‘Written Law’. Thereafter at various points in time the Pharisee existed as a school of thought as well as a socio-political movement; viewed both as ‘preservers and innovators’, they were initially thought to be ‘eclectic, popular and more democratic’, however their insistence upon upholding the Tradition of the Elders despite the undertone of inconsistency in comparison with the spirit of the ‘Written Law’, turned into one of the key points of contention with Prophet Jesus thereby challenging the religious authority of the Pharisee. “The Woes of the Pharisee recorded in the Gospel illustrate the differences between inner and outer moral states. Jesus portrays the Pharisee as impatient with outward, ritual observance of minutiae which made them look acceptable and virtuous outwardly but left the inner person unreformed.” It would not be inaccurate to speculate the suggestion associated with the term Pharisee i.e. ‘a hypocritical and arrogant person who places the letter of law above its spirit’ is not as much the consequence of bias arising from the competition between Early Christians i.e. Judeo-Christians and the Pharisee, as suggested by certain academics and scholars, rather it has a more concrete basis in human nature. Human intellect has an unusual fondness for the tangible, that which can be perceived and comprehended by way of the five senses. An individual’s mental construct of dogma, which plays a very critical multi-layered role in man’s understanding of the tenets of religion, tends to take form less painstakingly by focussing upon the ‘letter of law’ as opposed to walking the seemingly paradoxical path of divine rigour in an attempt to accomplish an experiential synthesis of ‘the perceptible letter’ and ‘the imperceptible spirit’. Hence “outward, ritual observance of minutiae” tends to present a less complicated way toward becoming “acceptable and virtuous outwardly” and that for a vast majority of men serves the purpose, albeit this approach to religion does leave “the inner person unreformed”.
In spite of substantial academic input that attempts to articulate the origin of Christianity in the historic context, viewpoints on the subject are highly varied as to what exactly transpired after Prophet Jesus, nonetheless one fact does tend to surface as plausible aftermath of this most intriguing occurrence in the history of revealed religions i.e. the departure of Prophet Jesus from earth: After the young Prophet, who had dared to confront the authority of the Pharisee, was falsely indicted for blasphemy and sentenced to crucifixion, the true followers of Prophet Jesus faced severe persecution. The aim of the Jewish elite as voiced by Mevlana Rumi in Masnavi was starkly singular ‘…that there may not remain a single Christian in the world, neither one whose religion is manifest nor one who is concealed”. These early devotees of Prophet Jesus were men and women who understood “Twas the epoch of Jesus and the turn was his: he was the soul of Moses, and Moses the soul of him”; they recognized the Divine message preached by him was not a contradiction of the Mosaic Law rather intended to revive and preserve the true spirit of the ‘Written Law’ that had been overshadowed by the Oral Tradition or the Tradition of the Elders during the fifteen or so centuries since Prophet Moses. Yet, the earliest writings that eventually came to constitute part of Christian Scripture do not date back any further than 50 CE and these are the Epistles of Paul, a highly controversial figure in the history of Christianity who “had not known Jesus during his lifetime and he proved the legitimacy of his mission by declaring that Jesus, raised from the dead, had appeared to him on the road to Damascus.” In ‘A New Representation of the Origin of Christianity: Judeo-Christianity’, Cardinal Daniélou observes: During the first century after Prophet Jesus, Paul and the Judeo-Christians stood in conflict, especially in relation to pagan converts to Christianity; the Judeo-Christians viewed Paul as a traitor and accused him of “tactical double dealing… Judeo-Christianity represents the majority of the Church… Paul remains an isolated case”. But in the aftermath of the second destruction of The Temple in 70 CE the Hellenistic people of Christian persuasion gained an upper hand and that greatly aided with propagation of what would be more accurately termed as Pauline Christianity. Politically and socially Christianity separated from Judaism although culturally speaking Judeo-Christianity continued to dominate. And it was during these times of fierce socio-political struggles the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John emerged “after having existed as an almost exclusively oral tradition for thirty or forty years”. Here it would be worthy to note an interesting remark made by the British Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby: “We should remember that the New Testament, as we have it, is much more dominated by Paul than appears at first sight… the earliest writings in the New Testament are actually Paul’s letters, which were written about AD 50-60, while the Gospels were not written until the period AD 70-110. This means that the theories of Paul were already before the writers of the Gospels and coloured their interpretations of Jesus’ activities. This is of course, not the whole story, for the Gospels are based on traditions and even written sources which go back to a time before the impact of Paul, and these early traditions and sources are not entirely obliterated in the final version and give valuable indications of what the story was like before Paulinist editors pulled it into final shape… Rival interpretations, which at one time had been orthodox, opposed to Paul’s very individual views, now became heretical and were crowded out of the final version of the writings adopted by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Testament”. Hence Dr. Bucaille is not off the mark when he determines “Paul created Christianity at the expense of those whom Jesus had gathered around him to spread his teachings”. Parallel to the establishment of Pauline Christianity, another significant development also reached a critical high-point during the era preceding 5 CE. A written version of the ‘Tradition of the Elders’, that constituted one of the key points of confrontation between the Pharisee and Prophet Jesus, was eventually compiled and circulated, first as the Jerusalem Talmud (350-400 CE) and then as the more extensive Babylonian Talmud (500 CE). And over the course of centuries since, Talmud, which principally constitutes of the ‘Oral Torah’ – the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis (dating from before the Common Era through to the 5th century) on a variety of subjects – has in reality substituted the ‘Written Law’ for the followers of Judaism except a few sects that still hold dissenting viewpoints.
The most damning attempt aimed at complete obliteration of the monotheistic spirit that stood at the core of the Divine message preached by Prophet Jesus, Son of Mary, was brought about by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early 4th century when the Council of Nicaea ‘determined the Nature of God’ in terms of what came to be known as the Holy Trinity – a concept rooted in the triads of Paganism and Greek Mythology, the very complexity and incongruity of which betrays its contrived character. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica “Neither the word Trinity, nor the explicit doctrine as such, appears in the New Testament, nor did Jesus and his followers intend to contradict the Shema in the Old Testament: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord’ (Deut. 6:4)… The doctrine developed gradually over several centuries and through many controversies. . . By the end of the 4th century . . . the doctrine of the Trinity took substantially the form it has maintained ever since”. Thomas Jefferson articulates the same in a letter to theologian James Smith in 1822 far more candidly: “No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius… The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs”. And the same historical occurring is also summed up by Dr. R. W. Bernard in ‘The Historical Apollonius Versus the Mythical Jesus’ yet more brazenly: “In the year 325 A.D. was perpetrated one of the most colossal frauds and deceptions in the annals of history. This was the date of the Council of Nicaea, whose task it was to create a new religion that would be acceptable to Emperor Constantine“. Thereafter “The day was to come when the Nicene party won out completely and then the emperors… decreed that one who denied the Trinity should be put to death” (The Church of our Fathers – 1950).
Here it will be helpful to recognize yet another facet of the context in which the Nicene party won out: Mithraism, an ancient religion practiced by pagan Aryans that spread from Persia to Rome and is believed to have reached the apogee of its popularity during the 2nd and 3rd centuries so much so that it came to consider Christianity as a serious rival, met a rather ‘sudden demise’ during the 4th century under Constantine’s reign. Despite scanty information regarding the ‘apparent demise’ of Mithraism in Rome, an objective viewpoint dictated by logic, does tend to assert this pagan religion did not in fact see a speedy end at the time, rather Mithraic ideology coupled with Pauline Christianity eventually overshadowed the canons of Christian Scripture & Doctrine on authority of the First Council of Nicaea under the direction asserted by Constantine’s imperial ambition. Constantine, contrary to the widely circulated belief, was no saviour of Christianity, rather merely an intelligent politician. He used Christianity as ‘the glue’ that would hold his Empire together, given the historic context of continued unrest caused by persecution of Christians in the pagan Roman Empire, which commenced in 64 CE and only seemed to have come to an end after the Milan Edict in 313 CE, whereby the Empire was declared to stand neutral in regards to peoples’ choice of religious worship. Hence in the preface to Edward Gibbon’s ‘History of Christianity’ we read: “If Paganism was conquered by Christianity, it is equally true that Christianity was corrupted by Paganism. The pure Deism of the first Christians . . . was changed, by the Church of Rome, into the incomprehensible dogma of the trinity. Many of the pagan tenets, invented by the Egyptians and idealized by Plato, were retained as being worthy of belief.”
We have previously noted the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty essentially served to institutionalize priesthood permitting it to emerge as a religio-political authority among the followers of Judaism in times subsequent to the first destruction of The Temple. An exceedingly similar, if not far more inclusive, objective was achieved by Constantine in 325 CE. The 11th edition of the Britannica alludes to this as follows: “Constantine showed a determination to assert his supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs, holding no doubt that, as the office of Pontifex Maximus gave him the supreme control of religious matters throughout the empire, the regulation of Christianity fell within his province… and it is significant that henceforth we meet with the undisguised assertion that the will of the emperor, in whatever form expressed, is the sole foundation of the law. Constantine, in fact, embodies the spirit of absolute authority which, both in church and state, was to prevail for many centuries”. In ‘State Church of the Roman Empire’ Ben H. Swett further elaborates: “The Council of Nicaea was a pivotal event in the history of Christianity. The sudden adoption of a quasi-philosophic term to define the historic Jesus as equal to God was a major departure from scripture and tradition. Further, the use of this term ‘trinity’ in a Creed meant that, from 325 on, Nicenes could and did proclaim other dogmas that have no basis in Scripture“. Albeit mainstream Christianity was made the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 CE, the reign of Constantine basically strengthened the already recognised practice of an advantageous partnership between political and religious elite with the sole objective of ensuring supremacy of their commonly shared imperialistic mind-set. In the aftermath of the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, the centralized power structure of the Christian Church not only remained intact rather it subsequently emerged as the sole source of theological authority in Medieval Europe. The Church succeeded in establishing itself as an icon of stability for the masses during these chaotic times, and also as the ‘King-maker’ with strong influence upon secular politics as Germanic tribes went about conquering territories around Europe. Clearly this was a continuation of the marriage of convenience that had transpired between the Church and the Roman Empire, albeit characters changed, and Romans were replaced by Kings of Germanic origin. The Encyclopaedia Britannica therefore notes “The church, which formed the only organized institution, became the seat of temporal as well as spiritual power”. The following centuries were marked by a dramatic struggle between the emperors and popes, hence the political manipulation of the church hierarchy; during the 12th and 13th centuries great rise in papal power was witnessed but then St. Thomas Aquinas, a great scholar of the age, declared the state a ‘necessary good’; and with the rise of nationalism in the 14th century, papal power finally met with disaster. The subsequent process of Reformation diminished the power of the church even further and “Christianity in its fractured condition could offer no effective opposition to strong rulers, who now claimed divine right for their positions as head of church and state”. Despite the debate vis-à-vis ‘Church & State’ that has continued well into modern times, and in spite of the progressive rise of liberal and secular thought in the Western society, many variations of the relationship between the ‘Church & State’ can be observed to this day as noted by the New World Encyclopaedia: “In every European country church and state are intertwined in some way or another depending on the nation’s history and culture.”
Now let us move onto the last and perhaps the most widely, readily, and harshly vilified Abrahamic religion: Islam. The late 6th and the early 7th century witnessed the advent of Islam in essentially Pagan Mecca wherefrom it spread in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. The Arabian Peninsula was also home to Jewish tribes, nomadic and sedentary. Jews had migrated to the region at various points in history, dating as far back as the first destruction of The Temple, namely in order to escape the ‘yoke of the Roman Empire’, and quite ironically by 6-7 CE there was considerable Jewish population in Hejaz particularly so in and around Medina, a city that was to be later known as The City of the Prophet. Jews were not only considered ‘people of knowledge and the book’ but also exercised massive control on the local economy that to a large extent thrived on revenue generated by an interest-based lending system. To start with, the Jewish tribes of Medina did extend a hand of friendship toward Prophet Mohammad however, it was not long before the Jews realized their grip on the affairs of people, in monetary and communal terms, was beginning to weaken given the principles introduced by Islam, not to mention the sense of challenge vis-à-vis religious authority that was quite naturally invoked in the Jewish rabbis given the presence of yet another Messenger of God after Jesus, Son of Mary. As noted by R.V.C Bodely, in wake of the Jewish betrayal of the ‘Charter of Medina’ at the time the city was under a siege laid by the Pagans of Mecca, the fate of the Jews could have been different had they resolved to choose the Prophet as their arbitrator instead of Sa’d ibn Muadh, a leader of their formal tribal allies: “They should have chosen Muhammad himself – the embodiment of mercy – to be their judge. If they had, he would have allowed them to depart from Medina with their baggage and their animals, and the incident would have been closed… He (Sa’d ibn Muadh) declared treason to be an unpardonable offense, and his verdict was inexorable. He invoked the Torah, the Scripture of the Jews, and sentenced all men to death, and women and children to slavery… (Thereafter) the Jews ceased to be an active force in the social, economic and political life of Medina.” Therefore it was no surprise that after Prophet Mohammad’s death in 632 CE the socio-political composition of Arabia progressively came to furnish a near ideal environment wherein embittered “Zoroastrians of the defeated Persian Empire, Christians of the defeated Eastern Roman Empire, and Jews who had been expelled by the Muslims from Yathrib (Medina) grieved for the old days” and were only too eager to take advantage of the slightest discord among the early Muslims. Not so unexpectedly, socio-political disagreement in the Muslim community also continued to grow during this time period. Nurtured by such perfect pretexts, the first breach of unity among Muslims eventually shaped up in the aftermath of the killing of Osman, the third Caliph of Islam. And the infamous Kharijite surfaced as the first sect to uphold a highly inflexible and uncompromising interpretation of the tenets of Islam, exceedingly similar to what is nowadays termed as Radical Islam. Here it must be noted the presence of renegades, whose influence later contributed to the formation of Kharijite as a sect, had been known to exist from the times of Prophet Mohammad, and as more than one authentic tradition hold, the Prophet explicitly warned against the hypocrisy of these elements and prophesied this ‘phenomenon’ shall appear as a trial and tribulation for Muslims in various times and ages of mutual strife. These treacherous men were first recognised when they challenged the integrity of the Prophet regarding distribution of revenue among various tribes and claimed they were the more worthy recipients of this material advantage. And decades later the adherents of this school of thought accused Imam Ali, Prophet’s cousin, companion, and son-in-law, a revered symbol of intellect and knowledge, intimately conversant with the wisdom of the Prophet as well as the deepest and most hidden dimensions of the revelation, of having agreed to substitute human judgment for God’s clear injunction, and proclaimed Ali’s caliphate null and void along with denouncing anyone, who did not accept their point of view, as an infidel. The aforementioned instances are not only poignantly symbolic, but also exceptionally reflective of the ignorant mind-set that progressively came to pollute the true spirit of Islam during the following centuries. In fact it would not be an exaggeration to say the eventual martyrdom of Imam Ali at the hands of a Kharijite in 661 CE was an ironic manifestation of the killing of spirit and perpetuation of fanaticism on God’s earth. The next most pejorative attempt at annihilation of the spirit of truth was witnessed 19 years later i.e. in 680 CE when Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson, and the majority of his 72 companions was ruthlessly murdered at the order of Yazid, the second Caliph of the Umayad dynasty, during the battle of Karbala, simply because Imam Hussein dared to question Yazid’s right to succession of leadership, not only because his appointment was a breach of an earlier peace treaty agreed to by Yazid’s father Mu’awiyah, but also because of Yazid’s own utter lack of worthiness for the position. Certain Muslim scholars have indeed had the audacity to proclaim Yazid “a just, noble, religious and administratively efficient ruler” and that “his nomination by his father Mu’awiyah as caliph was proper”. However the truth of this historic occurrence could not have been articulated better than Professor Edward G. Brown who writes in A Literary History of Persia “…a reminder of that blood-stained field of Karbala, where the grandson of the Apostle of God fell, at length, tortured by thirst, and surrounded by the bodies of his murdered kinsmen, has been at any time since then, sufficient to evoke, even in the most lukewarm and the heedless, the deepest emotion, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger, and death shrink to unconsidered trifles…” Essentially, for the last 1400 years or so, the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, at the hands of a Kharijite leader named Shimr, who had supposedly professed allegiance to Yazid, has continued to live on as an allegorical reflection of ‘the collision of good versus evil, right versus wrong, and virtue versus impiety’ irrespective of the division of the Muslim community into two major sects: Sunni & Shiite.
Before moving onto the religio-political dimension of the affairs of Muslims during the times that followed, it seems necessary to outline a few highlights pertaining to various schools of thought (theological, spiritual & philosophical) that developed among Muslim scholars during this period. Despite the fact Muslims had continuous access to well-preserved Scripture in a living language, with the passage of time, not much unlike former People of the Book, they came to neglect the Divine Book and concentrate on the conduct of the Prophet thus setting up the possibility of confusion between Koran and Hadith (Oral Tradition). During the 8th and 9th centuries a new type of religious leadership (Ulama) emerged based upon expertise in memorising and expounding Reports (Oral Tradition)… and… the number of Hadiths (Reports) began to multiply in suspiciously direct correlation to their utility. Albeit great care was presumably taken by scholars of Oral Tradition so as to determine the authenticity of recorded Reports as far as the chain of transmission, content criticism seems to not have been their prime concern; not to mention common sense renders it improbable that the process of compilation and interpretation of Oral Tradition could have not been influenced by a myriad of human factors, individual and collective, inclusive of the volatile political environment that heavily surrounded this entire development. One cannot refute the fact Oral Tradition constitutes a significant source of guidance for Muslims as it tends to acquaint them with how the Prophet exemplified the principles introduced by Koran, however it is equally true that stoked by the emerging religious leadership i.e. Ulama, excessive emphasis on Oral Tradition began to take roots among Muslims as had been the case with the ‘former people of the Book’ thereby setting up similar pitfalls. The highly textual/literal approach adopted by the Traditionalists also seemed to seriously influence the process of formation of the Islamic Law i.e. the Sharia Law. This surge in theological Traditionalism also tends to explain the insistence of Muslim academics, inclined toward the Greek school of thought, upon ‘human reason’ as ‘the judge of truth’ contrary to the approach adopted by the Traditionalists. Interestingly, during these times a third force also emerged in the guise of Arab and Persian Sufi Saints, dedicated to the quest of mystical reunion with the Creator. Highly mistaken in the West in modern times as the ‘Occult face of Islam’ these early Sufi Saints were in fact mystics who understood “the essence of religion is faith and faith, like the bird, sees its trackless way unattended by intellect which, in the words of the great mystic poet of Islam (Mevlana Rumi), only waylays the living heart of man and robs it of the invisible wealth of life that lies within’. However as noted by A.J. Arberry “The early years of the 10th century witnessed the climax of a sharp orthodox Muslim reaction against the individualistic transcendentalism of the Sufis when the Persian-born al-Hallaj, who declared himself to be the Truth, was executed for blasphemy in Baghdad in 922. Thereafter the majority of vocal Sufis laboured to effect reconciliation with traditionalism and acceptance of theology.” In essence, the Sufis attempted to bring about perfect practice and faith by developing the inner qualities implied, but not necessarily actualized, by correct activity and correct thinking, and the Rationalists insisted upon judging truth through reason as a prerequisite for correct thinking, while the Traditionalists emphasized upon correct activity in strict accordance with textual/literal interpretation of Scripture and Oral Tradition. There is no contesting the fact each of these approaches adopted to understand Scripture and Tradition embody generic modes of acquiring knowledge known to mankind and the method of certain scholars of Islam did indeed employ all three modes, however given the self-obvious fact that an awareness of the necessity of character transformation and rational thinking are arenas that remain most unrefined and under-developed in a vast majority of men, it is not a surprise that over the course of time, broadly speaking Muslims seem to have developed a greater fondness for the Traditionalists’ viewpoint. Hence the widespread prominence enjoyed by textual/literal approach to understanding Scripture and Oral Tradition; albeit this rather imbalanced attitude adopted to interpret a phenomenon as sublime and transcendent as religion has inadvertently contributed to facilitating a more inflexible outlook among those Muslims who are naturally inclined toward an intellectually and spiritually less rigorous approach to life, principally focussed upon ‘correct activity’ that would presumably render them ‘acceptable and virtuous’ in the eyes of God and their fellowmen.
Despite the centuries old debate that originates from and relies upon interpretation of Scripture and Tradition, it is difficult to conclude that Islam outlines any fixed notion vis-à-vis leadership and succession. Just as Koran focuses on general ethical and moral principles and furnishes only a few specific laws, Islam does provide an underlying foundation to societal life and basic political interactions, but does not lay out in ‘black and white’ as to who among Muslims is worthy of leading and as to what sort of a process may be employed in order to appoint such a leader. The inferred concept of a singular entity, a Caliph, who is considered God’s vicegerent on earth, and therefore holds authority over temporal and spiritual matters, has been indeed the most widely recognised during the history of Muslims right up until recent times, not only as a mode of governing and as a subject for animated intellectual discourse, but also by isolated sects among Muslims who have exhibited a mind-set strikingly similar to that of the Kharijite in more contemporary history. Now tribal rivalry was still a prevalent mind-set among a good number of Arabs who remained essentially untouched by the spirit of the message preached by Prophet Mohammad and only aligned with Islam because they viewed it as a growing religion with mega socio-political power in the region and beyond. Combined with man’s innate penchant for power, aspects of tribal psyche therefore manifested as historic battles with far-reaching consequences, first when Mu’awiyah opted to stand against Imam Ali and later when Yazid attempted to subjugate Imam Hussein. Both these incidents were an embodiment of man’s appetite for power in the post-Islam tribal culture of Arabia. The battle of Karbala and subsequent establishment of the Umayyad dynasty under Yazid, the murderer of Imam Hussein, stands as a symbolic instance in the history of Muslims, very similar to Constantine’s damning impact on Christianity. Driven by their craving for power and realizing they could not do away with the legacy of the Prophets Jesus and Mohammad, they both attempted, in their own way, to annihilate the very spirit of truth symbolized by early Christianity and Islam. Thus it will not be inaccurate to say Caliphates that followed the Rashidun Caliphate (the first four Caliphs who were companions of the Prophet of Islam) used the notion of Caliphate namely as far as it served earthly purposes. These Caliphates were in fact dynasties, just like any other monarchy which has its basis in hereditary succession; broadly-speaking, with the exception of a few individual Caliphs, none of these Caliphates seemed to project genuine inclination to adhere to the ethical and moral spirit which constitutes the very foundation of societal life for Muslims or to fulfil the inferred obligations that come associated with the perception of Caliph. Hence as Crone puts it “an extraordinary amount of medieval Islamic political thought was devoted to legitimization of the dynasty in power”. And as Anthony Black notes “Arabo-Islamic ways were being mingled with monarchical ideas and practice taken over from conquered Iran… The Umayyads began to express a monarchical view of the Imamate in religious language… They also began to use Islamic ideas in support of monarchical authority… It has been argued that this was not mere rhetoric, that it meant that the Caliph could claim the all-important function of overseeing and organising the Religious Law”. However, for this to occur in an evolving socio-political setting wherein the presence of the Ulama class, namely the Traditionalists, who had come to acquire more mainstream religious authority than intellectuals or scholars of any other school of thought, a certain level of mutual understanding between the ruling and religious elite was rendered necessary; in fact this pattern of collaboration did continue during subsequent Caliphates right until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and has also worked its way through to modern times in one way or the other. Quite interestingly, Sufism also made a rather mainstream comeback following a period of reconciliation with tradition and theology in the aftermath of the execution of Al-Hallaj. In the Sufi spiritual life, old political disputes and divisions changed or lost their meaning and Sufism crossed sectarian divides between different branches of Sunnism, and between Sunnis and Shiites. Hence the popular appeal that it came to enjoy, in spite of the growing insistence on religious orthodoxy that began to surface as a rather common response to the Crusades. During the Mongol invasions not only Ulama but also Sufis came to act as the mainline of communication between the Mongols and their subjects, however in response to the third Mongol invasion we do note an inflexible stance advocated by Ibn-Taymiyyah, a forceful Muslim theologian and political activist of the 14th century, who was driven out of his home-town at the tender age of 6 or 7 following its destruction at the hands of Mongol invaders. Probably one of the most controversial Muslim thinkers whose disciples made him appear like a mere religious preacher and missionary, Ibn-Taymiyyah has been both vilified and praised in modern times, namely for the divisive ruling i.e. fatwa issued by him in wake of the third Mongol invasion of Syria. This ‘fatwa’ not only broke new Islamic legal ground because “no jurist had ever before issued a general authorization for the use of lethal force against Muslims in battle,” but also provided ‘self-righteous ground’ to politically oriented groups among later generations of Muslims so they could justify their own use of violence against others whom they did not consider ‘true Muslims’ or ‘believers’. Here it is crucial to acknowledge this fatwa came through after a series of Mongol invasions that stood in breach of promises made and kept by earlier Mongol rulers, who had not accepted Islam. It is said troops of the Mamluke Empire were unwilling to fight the now-Muslim Mongols hence the Mamluke allegedly enlisted Ibn-Taymiyyah’s assistance that resulted in the aforementioned fatwa. Ibn-Taymiyyah argued Mongols could not be true Muslims because they continued to rule under the Yassa code instead of the Islamic Law thereby making it not only permissible but obligatory for ‘true Muslims’ to engage in combat against them. Irrespective of the debate regarding the contextual correctness of the said fatwa, what can be seen as undisputed objective reality is this instance of collaboration between the political and religious authorities of the time and the very nature of the issue that led to the fatwa, did set up a perilous historic precedent with extremely far-reaching consequences.
In this historic milieus it was not the least unusual that in the mid-18th century the ruling elite of the West, namely the British, reckoned it exceedingly befitting to subtly yet systematically infiltrate the Muslim community in Arabia, with the sole objective of securing political influence that would in turn safeguard their financial interest in the Muslim dominated territories, especially so in the wake of their new-found strategic and commercial interest in the Middle East as well as the Indian Sub-Continent. Large parts of the Middle East had become a war ground between the Ottomans and Iranian Safavid Empire since the early 16th century, and by 1700 the Ottomans had been driven out of Hungary with the balance of power shifting decisively in favour of the West. The stage was set for the British to exercise their colonial strategy of ‘divide and rule’ in the Middle East and it was about this time i.e. 1740, that Abdul-Wahhab made his appearance on the scene and started promulgating his teachings in the oasis town of Ḥuraymilāʾ or perhaps as some records indicate, Uyaynah. Following his expulsion from his home town, due to the heretic ideology he spoke of, he eventually struck a chord with Emir Ibn-Saud of Al-Diriyyah, allegedly with the assistance extended by the mediation of the British who were then taking control of the richer and more valuable parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Quite obviously the British figured a religio-political alliance between Ibn-Saud, who were primarily engaged in banditry, and Abdul-Wahhab, who seemed both ambitious and passionate about introducing reforms based on his own interpretation of the principles of Islam, could prove instrumental in creating a decisive split among Arab Muslims and eventually lead to a revolt against the Ottomans. And the British were not too inaccurate in their calculation. Abdul-Wahhab seemed to employ arguments introduced by Ibn-Taymiyyah on certain key issues such as the wide-spread Muslim practice of visiting shrines of saints with the intention of requesting intercession with God, the spirit of which is much akin to asking a saint to pray for you. Wahhab however claimed this was an idolatry practice and rendered such Muslims apostates thereby making it permissible to fight them. Despite the attempt made by Sharif-e-Mecca, the rulers of Hejaz, who seemed to have discerned an ulterior motive behind this move and wished to put the matter to rest through debate, Abdul Wahhab, whose emissaries failed to convince scholars from Mecca and Medina, went on to declare Holy War (Jihad) in alliance with Ibn-Saud in 1746, against all who did not share their understanding of Islam. Thus they effectively legalized the practice of pillaging in the name of monotheism. Politically speaking this move naturally placed them in direct opposition to the Ottoman rule, more explicitly so when Wahhab declared himself the leader of Muslims world-wide and ordered Holy War against the Ottoman Empire. Until 1811 the Wahhab-Saud duo in cahoots with the British, one way or the other, wreaked havoc across Arabia; the holy cities of Mecca and Medina were plundered mercilessly and much of the history of early Islam that had been preserved in the form of books, art work, and other relics was wiped off the face of earth. The city of Karbala also fell to their coldblooded Holy War; they massacred in thousands, and plundered the revered shrine of Imam Hussein. The Ottomans eventually made a move to eliminate this religio-political menace, but after suffering an initial defeat at the hands of the Empire, as well as the Arabs who had been agonized by them, the next generation of the Wahhab-Saud brotherhood resurfaced in a few decades with renewed vigour and set out on the path of annexation of Arab territories, both in political and religious terms. And as before, the British link was established, undoubtedly well-timed, given at this point the British were not only looking to consolidate their dominance of the Persian Gulf but also beginning to lay plans for the dismemberment of the Ottoman State. As the Ottomans lost territory, the Empire found itself entangled in a financial quagmire that resulted in increased dependence upon its friends in the West; a new relationship thus began to develop between the Ottoman Empire and the West which evoked diverse responses among intellectuals in the Muslim world culminating in the twin movements of modernism and Islamism. On one hand movements, such as Young Ottomans and Young Turks, came to embody voices that appeared to second the line of thought adopted by modern Muslim thinkers like Afghani and Abduh, who are also believed to have been deeply influenced by the spirit of Free Masonry, which had begun to make a foothold in Muslim territories after rather wide-spread establishment of Masonic Lodges in the West. On the other hand, the Traditionalist element within the Ottoman Empire voiced its call for reforms in wake of Ottoman military defeats, and blamed insufficient devotion to religious fundamentals, as well as mysticism fostered by the Sufis for the decline in imperial power. Intellectually speaking, the voice of such Traditionalists among the Ottomans appeared to strike a rather cordial tune with the followers of Abdul-Wahhab who were bent upon instituting ‘supremacy of ritual over intention’ in the Land of Spirituality – the Land of Prophets. Thus history yet again witnessed ‘the letter of law’ forcefully weaving its path to another victory upon ‘the spirit of law’; another religio-political conglomerate was set to sail for a new explosion of Puritanism and Fundamentalism, under the umbrella of a new Geo-political alliance.
The Wahhab-Saud brotherhood continued to work toward the establishment of a pseudo Muslim Caliphate in Arabia; ultimately they came to hold reign over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and by way of that upon Muslims world-wide, all the while propagating a highly distorted Puritan version of Islam i.e. Wahhabism. Reinforced by its hybrid forms, such as the Salafi and Takfiri movements, the Wahhabi Church continued to pollute the spirit of Islam through various facets of Puritanism while growing political and economic hegemony of the West in Muslim territories, Egypt in particular, only poured fuel on fire. The wide-spread sense of injustice among Muslims subjected to colonial rule began to give birth to a new breed of Muslim intellectuals of the likes of Hassan Al-Banaa and Syed Qutb, who eventually came to father the now infamous, highly suspicious, and almost exposed Masonic Muslim Brotherhood. In spite of some voices of sanity among Muslim scholars, who essentially advocated the ‘middle way’ to understand Scripture and Tradition, Wahhabism succeeded in laying the basis for centuries of Islamic fundamentalism, and ultimately terrorism, in response to global changes. As noted by Alex Alexiev propagation of the Wahhabi dogma has been ‘the largest worldwide propaganda campaign ever mounted’. On one hand educational institutes, Islamic centres, and mosques have been established world-wide, and millions of copies of Koran accompanied by doctrinal texts based on the Wahhabi interpretation, have been distributed by the House of Saud at the cost of billions of petrodollars so as to ensure wide-spread dissemination and recognition of this Puritan version of Islam. While on the other, funds have continued to pour into the Muslim Brotherhood that has acted as a clever technique to recruit agent-provocateurs. Whether the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood was inspired by the British, as claimed by Dr. John Coleman, or their imperial hunger later figured the common appeal enjoyed by the Brotherhood could be manipulated to their own Geo-political benefit, the truth is the Muslim Brotherhood has been effectively used as the standard-bearer of an ancient, anti-religious (pagan) heresy that has plagued Islam since the establishment of the Islamic community (Umma) by the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century. The lowest (brain-washed) ranks may sincerely believe they are defending Islam, and confronting Western imperialism, however the top tier uses the Brotherhood as a tool of the Britain-based Globalists whose main objective is to overthrow the established world order and create a new one-world system of global governance. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood envelopes a host of radical minded brotherhoods and societies among Muslims, while the real Muslim Brothers, are the bankers and financiers who stand behind the curtain, members of the old Arab, Turkish, or Persian families whose genealogy places them in the oligarchic elite, with smooth business and intelligence associations to the European Black Nobility and, especially, to the British oligarchy. It would therefore not be inaccurate to state: “Without the British, radical Islam would have remained the illegitimate, repressive minority movement that it has always been…”
Prior to moving onto conclusive remarks, let us succinctly recap the key developments in the history of the revealed Abrahamic religions as detailed earlier on: The Hasmonean Jewish dynasty, which essentially institutionalized priesthood thereby setting up one of the first recognised religio-political structures in the history of mankind, also gave birth to various reactionary forces inclusive of the Pharisee. The classic ignorance and obstinacy exhibited by the Pharisee, in spite of the reminder God had chosen to send forth to the Children of Israel through Prophet Jesus, came to manifest itself as the now rather infamous Talmud. Thus 2,000 years after Prophet Moses had carried the ‘Written Law’ down from Mount Sinai, advocates of Tradition & Interpretation managed to stage their first triumph upon the spirit of truth embodied by the Mosaic Law, as they effectively replaced it by a compilation of man’s own constricted opinion of the Divine Law. Comparable assaults were carried out upon the spirit of truth symbolized by the teachings of Jesus, Son of Mary. First it was Paul, whose Hellenistic mind-set came to overshadow the Oral Tradition as the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were written and compiled, and then it was Constantine, whose imperial ambition combined with the fanaticism of Athanasius, caused the ultimate corruption of the pure deism of early Christians. Not only did Constantine solidify and refine the practice of shaping advantageous religio-political partnerships, he in effect succeeded at destroying the very notion of God’s oneness that held centre-stage in the teachings of Prophet Jesus. The one Supreme Being worshipped by the early followers of Prophet Jesus was made to morph into a three-headed ancient Trinitarian god of pagan origin while God’s beloved Prophet, whose birth and ascension can be easily termed as one of the greatest miracles known to mankind, came to be worshipped as the ‘Son of God’ instead of being revered as the Prophet of God, Jesus, Son of Mary. How ironic an observation that the very blasphemy, the young Prophet was falsely accused of and sentenced to crucifixion for, was in fact made to perpetuate in his name, while anyone who could have held light to this historic felony was persecuted ruthlessly – persecution that continued for three centuries. Lastly, it was Islam’s turn to bear the brunt of man’s continued self-deception when yet another Messenger was sent to remind mankind of the holiest of truths, the truth of God’s oneness. And once again, the spirit of truth embodied by the Divine message, this time put forth through Koran, came to be misrepresented through gross liberties taken with translation and interpretation, while the Tradition of yet another Prophet of God was subtly employed to inflict man with the ancient ailment of ritual observance in dire want of spirit. Not to forget, the continuation of the tradition of forming religio-political conglomerates, the path for which was categorically defined by the establishment of the first Muslim dynasty in the aftermath of the battle of Karbala.
Thus we see how human nature, highly susceptible to falling for the tangible and exceedingly vulnerable to becoming unmindful of the intangible, has time and again fallen prey to the ‘perceptible letter of law’ whilst turning a blind eye to the ‘imperceptible spirit of law’, albeit the letter is unquestionably governed by the spirit. In wake of this human weakness, the historical supremacy of Tradition & Interpretation has only tended to aid with solidification of a mind-set that finds it much more convenient, and ‘tangibly fruitful’, to engage in ritual observance of minutiae, as well as debate endlessly upon the intricacies of correct activity, while remaining utterly oblivious to the fact correct activity reduces to mere husk if the spirit that forms the kernel is rendered the least of man’s concerns; besides the vast arena of disunion that opens up in communal life as a consequence of this imbalanced approach. Naturally, after the Prophets left earth subsequent generations of their followers felt the need to interpret the code of belief revealed through Scripture and embodied by Prophetic Tradition, but as common sense dictates this process of interpretation could not have remained unaffected by various facets of human fallibility, both individual and collective, over such a long passage of time. The political, social, cultural, and economic circumstances of any age are never neutral entities, especially not so when they come into interaction with the phenomenon of religion, the spirit of which intrinsically encompasses every facet of human life whether or not human ego permits acceptance of this truth. Hence the significantly vast scope that allows subtle influences to weave their way into the consciousness of predominantly well-meaning exegetes of Scripture and Tradition; and the latitude thus afforded to the religio-political partnerships permitting them to employ Divine Law to their benefit as and when deemed necessary. It can be certainly argued whether supremacy of Tradition & Interpretation has been the natural consequence of the evolution of human thought regarding Scripture or this triumph of the interpreted ‘letter of law’ over the inexplicable ‘spirit of law’ shows tell-tale signs of a rather subtle endeavour aimed at diminishing the very semblance of truth embodied by the Divine message preached by the Prophets. The most likely scenario however appears to be one wherein the disingenuous intention of men, essentially certain socio-political and religious elite of the age, ambitious to acquire supreme temporal power, rather indiscernibly manipulated the natural evolution of man’s understanding of religion thereby reducing it to a mere commodity – albeit the best-selling commodity in the history of mankind. Thus the emergence of mutually beneficial yet rather unarticulated religio-political partnerships which continued to surface as a common highlight of the process that ensued man’s formal introduction to Divine Authority throughout history. As if each time God decided to send forth a merciful reminder to mankind as to the true purpose of its existence on earth, some men, time and again, opted for a defiant rejoinder. They could not possibly undo the natural consequences of the larger than life presence of God’s Messengers among His creation nor could they do away with the legacy each of these Prophets left behind for mankind, however they did continually exhibit a deep desire to diminish the impact of these divine interventions by polluting the truth inherent in the message preached by the Prophets. It would not be an overstatement to say that in essence the very phenomenon of religion has been persistently employed as one of the most effectual Geo-socio-political tools that guarantees supremacy of religious & secular elite alike, in their respective spheres, which interestingly tend to overlap largely when it comes to monetary interest. Even with conflicts that have arisen from time to time among the beneficiaries of this practice, it has not only survived but has been refined and made more sophisticated, in fact it has morphed into newer forms that are more in keeping with the changing times and trends and it has been globalised, yet the core principle remains the same: ‘Crucify the spirit and worship the body’. How pagan an expression of the radical element in human psyche! The ineptness of human intellect, as far as comprehending the inexplicable, combined with innate human penchant for self-centred pursuit of the tangible in life, has in fact steered man into worshipping his own caprice in one perceptible form or the other. And the axiom ‘placing the letter of law above the spirit of law’ has been effectually engaged, from ancient times to modern, as a tool that has subtly drained the very essence of Scripture thereby reducing the true teachings and traditions of the revealed Abrahamic religions to the level of man-made doctrines subject to remoulding as and when necessary and/or mere rituals for show, devoid of substance. Woe unto mankind that has not risen above the ‘Pharisee Syndrome’ since Jesus, Son of Mary, departed from earth over 2000 years ago, having confronted exactly the same sordid facets of human nature.