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morleyjw
21 May 2007 @ 11:25 am
Morley Weston
Islamic Traditions

Fourteen hundred years ago, Muhammad, a Bedouin from the powerful trading city of Mecca, launched the religion of Islam that has grown to be one of the most powerful spiritual and political influences in the modern world. Beginning with only thirty members, it has spreading across a vast swath of civilizations, and absorbing one fifth of the world’s population. At the hub of this faith is the Qur'án, the book believed to be the direct word of God, delivered through Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. It is the central religious text and considered the highest legal authority in Islam. The books prominent position leads Muslims to be wary of distortion or alteration to its script or meaning. However, the Qur'án has adapted to each new region as it spreads, changing with each cultural interpretation.
According to orthodox Islam, the Qur'án is the direct word of god, passed through Muhammad without interpretation or alteration. Most Muslims will deny Muhammad’s involvement in the composition if the Qur'án, citing the belief that Muhammad was illiterate, and therefore unable to produce such sophisticated poetry. Sura 53 of the Qur'án states, “Your companion has not lost his way nor is deluded / He does not speak out of desire / This is a revelation.” (Q: 53, 2-4) It implies that Muhammad (“Your companion”) was merely a means to express God’s message. He is believed to be unlike the poets of the time, who were thought to be possessed malicious spirits known as Jinn, and motivated by worldly desires. He is simply a conduit through which the Qur'án was revealed, placing him in a line of prophets tracing back to Adam, but making him spiritually unimportant. His significance comes, however, from the fact that he is considered the last prophet, finally revealing the complete word of god without change or elaboration, as opposed to previous prophecy, which involved human interpretation. In fact, the word Qur'án comes directly from the word ‘Iqra’ which means ‘to recite’, implying that the Qur'án is not an invention but rather a prophecy of divine origin. However, many examples in the Qur'án suggest that its contents had been influenced by Muhammad and his environment.
Although strict Muslim belief denies any human involvement in the shaping of the Qur'án, much of its meaning is a reaction the environment in which the text was written. No religion exists without outside influence, and Islam and its holy book are no exception. Arabia is positioned in the center of the Silk Road, which, through trade, allowed the influence of many of the adjacent religions to be incorporated into the Qur'án. Jewish and Christian history has found its way into Islamic canon, and many Islamic concepts, such as the oneness with the universe and the belief that God is omnipresent, found especially in Sufi traditions, are taken from Eastern tradition.
Arabian culture itself has also affected the book, most prominently in its format and style. There are very few detailed visual descriptions in the Qur'án, and almost none in Islamic art. Because of the relative monotony and barren expanse of the desert, Bedouin art has focused mainly on poetry, which has translated over the ages into a deemphasization of visual art altogether. This is partially due to a rejection of idol worship, but may also have to do with the stark landscape of the region. In fact, the vast majority of Muslim art is contained in its calligraphy; which in itself is a means to display Qur'ánic poetry. A prime example of this simplicity and non-representational style lies in a comparison of religious architecture in India. While Hindu temples focus mainly on expressing the concept of infinity in their design, principally by covering them in as many sculptures as possible, Islamic architecture of the region tends to be stark in comparison, focusing on outer lines and form. Digressions aside, the poetic form of the Qur'án serves to underline the pure monotheistic message of Islam, its style stems from an overall aesthetic of the region.
The Qur'án, and Islam as a whole, partially arose as a response to the need for unity and peace in the region, provided by this all-encompassing religion. Life in the Arabian Desert was difficult; resources were scarce, and life depended on the trade routes connecting the surrounding areas. This may have first originated the feeling of submission to god (Islam), through the belief that life depends on God’s mercy, diminishing the role of nature in it’s importance to Islam. Sura 88 of the Qur'án describes the downtrodden of Arabia in this way; “their only drink a hot spring boiling / their only food, bitter-thorn / which cannot nourish/ or assuage the pangs of hunger.”(Q: 88, 5-7) The vast majority of wealth was concentrated in a few powerful trading families, leading to a feeling of resentment among the lower cases and poorer cities. This, in turn, caused a great deal of tribal warfare between the various Arab towns. Islam provided respite from this in the creation of the Umma. The Umma is the community of Muslims, based on the values of submission to the community and equality under god, which, it could be argued, are the central premises of Islam. It is so important, in fact, that the Islamic calendar begins with the creation of the first Umma, when Muhammad and his followers fled Mecca to escape religious prosecution, an act known today as the ‘Hijra’. Islam also incorporates its own system of laws and regulations, the Sharia, which serves to abolish tribe loyalties and unify the Muslim community under one legal system. Sharia is still the basis for law in most Islamic countries today. Its sources come both from the Qur'án and from Muhammad’s actions during his life.
Muhammad himself was also an important influence in the content of the Qur'án. Many of the moral reforms the Qur'án implemented in Arab society were a direct relation to his personal experiences in society. He was orphaned at a young age, leaving him essentially without a strong sense of family and subject to hardship in the largely patriarchal society. This, along with giving him a sense of indignation toward his community, allowed to him observe his society from the outside, giving him the perspective to instigate social change. After revealing the Qur'án, he was prosecuted in Mecca for his beliefs, even forced to flee the city and later raise an army to fight for his religion. His resolve is shown in Sura 93: The Morning Hours, which reads, “What is after will be better than what came before / To you the lord will be giving / You will be content” (Q:93 4-6) This seems to be a direct response to Muhammad’s difficulties, and a motivation to his followers.
The Bedouin tribal religion was unsatisfactory from Muhammad’s standpoint. It was a largely commercialized faith, in which its adherents could buy salvation and good fortune, most notably through the Kaaba. The Kaaba, believed to be a temple built by previous prophets Abraham and Ishmael to worship the Islamic god, had been turned into a source of income for the Meccans, by renting out space within to store and worship polytheistic idols, a practice anathematic in many ways to Muslim beliefs. Also, because the pre-Islamic Arab religion was largely an amalgam of localized tribe-based customs, it lacked a clear moral code, and permitted unjust practices to occur, such as the burying of unwanted female infants and the manipulation of religion for financial and political gain. Islamic scripture refers to this condition as ‘Jahiliyah’, or age of ignorance. Muslims believe Jahiliyah to be an inevitable human tendency, to forget our spiritual inclinations. All people, it is said, experience Jahiliyah for much of their lives, as it is believed that thinking of anything but God is considered forgetfulness.
Many parts of the Qur'án are a direct rebuttal of the seen religious corruption of the area. The Qur'án specifically forbids idol worship; establishing a true monotheism, and condemns even Judaism and Christianity for straying slightly from pure belief in one god. It even goes so far as to forbid the depiction of Muhammad for fear of inadvertent idolization of him. Islam fought against the corrupt Polytheistic Arab religions; exemplified in Sura 104: “The Slanderer”, which states, “Woe to the backbiting slanderer / who gathers his wealth and counts it/ thinking with his wealth he will never die.” (Q: 104, 1-3) This could be interpreted as a direct attack the leaders of Mecca at the time, who controlled the corrupt Bedouin religion, as well as a condemnation of the society in general. Islam attempts to replace this hoarding of wealth with a tradition of Zakat, or alms giving, as a way to eliminate greed and foster equality.
Even supposing that the Qur'án is the direct word of god, it allows space for interpretation that gives it flexibility to adapt to other cultures. The goal of the Qur'án is to establish a global umma under Islam, and to do this requires a large degree of plasticity. This is exemplified in the wide differences in traditions observed by Muslims. For example, in Bosnia, most Muslims have no clear prohibition against drinking, whereas Indian Muslims forbid it entirely. The Indians are also known for their unique interpretation of Islam that allows for the worshipping of saints, a practice viewed as anathematic in the rest of the Muslim world. Islam also varies widely in its philosophy, from the strict Wahabi sect centered in Saudi Arabia, which attempts to remove all non-Islamic practices from society, to the Sufi mystics, who follow and entirely different set of practices. The latter have borrowed much from other religions, such as Zorothustranism and Hinduism. The fact that all Islamic traditions place their foundations in the Qur'án displays the book’s versatility and adaptability.
Whether or not the Qur'án is the direct word of God or Muhammad’s reaction to the problems of Arabia, it is largely influenced by the conditions in which it was introduced. Arabia’s disparate nature needed some binding authority, which was provided by the Muslim holy book. It united the warring tribes of Arabia under a unified umma, and later established a vast empire whose influence is felt even today. Muhammad, a driving force behind Islam’s spread, was incensed by the wrongs of Bedouin society at the time and made it his duty to use his revelation to force social change, rejecting the religion of his ancestors for a true, direct monotheism. Its political goal is to provide a unifying framework for society, and therefore reflects the social environment in which it was created. That being said, its interpretation varies through the vast range of cultures that have adopted Islam.

















Bibliography:

Esposito, John L. Islam: the Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Sells, Michael. Approaching the Quran. Ashland: White Cloud Press, 1999.
"Indian Architecture." Wikipedia. 19 May. 2007. 20 May. 2007 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_architecture>.
 
 
morleyjw
20 May 2007 @ 10:43 pm
im posting this so I can get it on the SU computers tomorrow; dont bother reading it; I wouldnt want ot be associated with an essay this crappy.


Fourteen hundred years ago, Muhammad, a Bedouin from the powerful trading city of Mecca, launched the religion of Islam that. has grown to be one of the most powerful religious influences in the modern world. Beginning with only thirty members, it has spreading across a vast swath of civilizations, and absorbing one fifth of the world’s population. At the hub of this faith is the Qur'án, the book believed to be the direct word of God, delivered through Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. It is the central religious text and considered the highest legal authority in Islam, leading Muslims to be wary of distortion or alteration to it’s script or meaning. Despite this, the Qur'án has adapted to each new region as it spreads, changing with each cultural interpretation.
According to orthodox Islam, the Qur'án is the direct word of god, passed through Muhammad without interpretation or alteration. Most Muslims will deny Muhammad’s involvement in the composition if the Qur'án, citing the belief that Muhammad was illiterate, and therefore unable to produce such sophisticated poetry. Sura 53 of the Qur'án states, “Your companion has not lost his way nor is deluded. He does not speak out of desire; This is a revelation.”, implying that Muhammad (“Your companion”) was merely a means to express God’s message. He was unlike the poets of the time, who were thought to be possessed malicious spirits known as Jinn, and motivated by worldly desires. He is simply believed to be a conduit through which the Qur'án was revealed, placing him in a line of prophets tracing back to Adam, but making him spiritually unimportant. In fact, the word Qur'án comes directly from the word ‘Iqra’ which means ‘to recite’, implying that the Qur'án is not an invention but rather a prophecy of divine origin. Orthodox Muslim beliefs lead one away from the theory that the Qur'án was a reaction to Muhammad’s environment, but its more liberal interpretations provide evidence to the contrary.
Although strict Muslim belief denies any human involvement in the shaping of the Qur'án, much of it’s meaning is a reaction the environment in which the text was written. No religion exists without outside influence, and Islam and its holy book are no exception. Arabia is positioned in the center of the Silk Road, which, through trade, allowed the influence of many of the adjacent religions to be incorporated into the Qur'án. Jewish and Christian history has found it’s way into Islamic belief, and many Islamic concepts, such as the Tawhid, or ‘oneness with God’ are taken from Eastern tradition.
Arabian culture itself has also affected the book. There are very few detailed visual descriptions in the Qur'án, and almost none in Islamic art. This is partially due to a rejection of idol worship, but may also have to do with the stark landscape of the region. Because of the relative monotony and barren expanse of the desert, Bedouin art has focused mainly on, which has translated over the years into a deemphasization of visual art altogether. In fact, the vast majority of Muslim art is related to its calligraphy; which in itself is a means to display Qur'ánic poetry. A prime example of this lies in a comparison of religious architecture in India. While Hindu temples focus mainly on expressing the concept of infinity in their design, principally by covering them in as many sculptures as possible, Islamic architecture of the region tends to be stark in comparison, focusing on outer lines and form. Digressions aside, the poetic form of the Qur'án serves to underline the pure monotheistic message of Islam.
The Qur'án, and Islam as a whole, partially arose as a response to the need for an all-encompassing religion to become a unifying factor in the region. Life in the Arabian Desert was difficult; resources were scarce, and life depended on the trade routes connecting the Western and Eastern world. This may have first originated the feeling of submission to god, through the belief that one could only stay alive through divine will. Sura 88 of the Qur'án describes the downtrodden of Arabia in this way; “their only drink a hot spring boiling / their only food, bitter-thorn / which cannot nourish/ or assuage the pangs of hunger.” The vast majority of wealth was concentrated in the upper classes, leading to a feeling of resentment among the lower cases and poorer cities. This, in turn, caused a great deal of tribal warfare for control over the major routes through the wilderness, as that was almost the sole source of income in that phase of Arab development. Islam provided respite from this in the creation of the Ummah. The ‘Ummah’ is the community of Muslims, based on the values of submission to the community and equality, which, it could be argued, are the central premises of Islam. It is so important, in fact, that the Islamic calendar begins with the creation of the first Ummah, when Muhammad fled Mecca to escape religious prosecution, known today as the ‘Hijra’. Islam also incorporates it’s own system of laws and regulations, the Shár’ia, designed to unify the Muslim community and abolish tribe loyalties.
Muhammad himself was also an important influence in the content of the Qur'án. Many of the moral reforms the Qur'án implemented in Arab society were a direct relation to his personal experiences in society. He was orphaned at a young age, leaving him essentially tribeless and subject to hardships resulting from such. This, along with giving him a sense of moral injustice, allowed to observe his society from the outside, giving him the perspective to instigate social change.
The Bedouin tribal religion was unsatisfactory from Muhammad’s standpoint. It was a largely commercialized faith, in which its adherents could buy salvation and good fortune, most notably through the Ka’aba. Also, because it was largely an amalgam of localized tribe-based customs, it lacked a clear moral code, and allowed unfair practices to occur, such as the burying of unwanted infants and the manipulation for financial gain. Islamic scripture refers to this condition as ‘Jahilliah’, or age of ignorance. It is believed that Islam is the natural human condition, but that people are forgetful and become ignorant.
Many parts of the Qur'án are a direct rebuttal of the seen religious corruption of the area. The Qur'án specifically forbids idol worship; establishing a true monotheism, and condemning even Judaism and Christianity for straying slightly from pure belief in one god. It even goes so far as to forbid the depiction of Muhammad for fear of inadvertent idolization of him. Islam fought against the corrupt Polythiestic Arab religions; exemplified in sura 104: “The Slanderer”, which states, “Woe to the backbiting slanderer / who gathers his wealth and counts it/ thinking with his wealth he will never die.” This could be interpreted as a direct attack the leaders of Mecca at the time, who controlled the corrupt Bedouin religion, as well as a condemnation of the society in general.
Even supposing that the Qur'án is the direct word of god, it allows space for interpretation that gives it flexibility to adapt to other cultures. The goal of the Qur'án is to establish a global ummah under Islam, and to do this a large degree of plasticity. This is exemplified in the wide differences in traditions observed by Muslims. For example, in Bosnia, most Muslims have no prohibition against drinking, whereas Indian Muslims forbid it entirely. The Indians are also known for their unique interpretation of Islam that allows for the worshipping of saints, a practice viewed as anathematic in the rest of the Muslim world.
Whether or not the Qur'án is the direct word of God or Muhammad’s reaction to the problems of Arabia, it is largely influenced by the conditions in which it was recited. Arabia’s disparate nature needed some binding authority, which was provided by the Muslim holy book. It united the warring tribes of Arabia under a unified ummah, and later established a vast empire whose influence is felt even today. Muhammad, a driving force behind Islam’s spread, was incensed by the wrongs of Bedouin society at the time and made it his duty to use his revelation to force social change, rejecting the religion of his ancestors for a true, direct monotheism. Its political goal is to provide a unifying framework for society, and therefore reflects the social environment in which it was created. That being said, it’s practice varies through the vast range of cultures that have adopted Islam.
 
 
morleyjw
15 January 2007 @ 07:26 am
india.
 
 
Feel what Morley feels:: india
Hear what Morley hears:: india.