Thursday, August 03, 2006

To what extent is the medieval Western preconception about Islam still prevalent today?

“Maumet” was also used [in medieval times] in the sense of idol. He who smashed the hundreds of idols at the Kaaba, whose followers pride themselves on being the only Unitarians and authorize no idols, images or icons, himself was made by Western fablers a deity and an idol” (Hitti, Islam and the West, 1962, p. 55). Explain and analyse this quote. To what extent is the medieval Western preconception about Islam still prevalent today? Examine possible reasons for its existence and persistence.

In this article we will consider the issue highlighted by Hitti’s quote and the question posited, that being whether or not medieval perceptions are still prevalent and/or propagated concerning Islam. We will consider medieval attitudes toward Islam, and the actuality of the doctrine of that faith, considering the attitude at the time of the crusades and consider the effect of the time spent in the Levant on the knights, and subsequent accusations against them. We will reflect on the pre Islamic period known as the ‘Asr al Jahiliyah’ or ‘Time of Ignorance’, and how this not only set the stage for the revelation to bring the pagan Arabs back to the faith of Ibrahim/Abraham, but also plays a part in the propagation of Islam as a pagan and idolatrous faith in the contemporary world. As supplemental we will look at how this contributes to the continuation of the accusation against Islam today as idolatrous, pagan, and even ‘satanic’.

Prior to embarking on a disputation of the claim against Islam of idolatry, we must first look at the basis for the cross accusation of defamation, whether it be from the past or contemporary eras. The historical context for the general misinformation and what has been called ‘psychological warfare’ (Adolf, 1957, p.107) was the advance of Islam out of the Arabic peninsula, and relevant to Christendom westward, specifically into Spain, which can be seen to manifest in the Holy Land itself with the crusades. It is thus from within this standpoint that the historic threat to ‘Christendom’ (read as Rome) must be viewed. It becomes immediately obvious in light of the actual doctrine of Islam and Mohammad the need for it to be misrepresented, as arguably the creed of Jeheshuah was with the syncretism which manifested as the Roman faith, and one might argue continued hegemony, albeit that that was temporarily suspended within Europe. It can clearly be seen that it was as a counter-revolutionary tactic, as Morris delineates and in relation to the messages of both Jeheshuah and Mohammad ‘in the great majority of cases, a prophetically announced religion of redemption has had its permanent locus among the less-favoured social strata’ (Morris, 2000, p.76, citing Gerth & Mills, 1948, p.247), and was it not for this very sedition that one of the thirteen hung at Golgotha. It is surely a high irony when one considers the rite of Sol Invictus/Apollo Helios, the resurrection myth, the Roman faith, the emperor Constantine and the previously mentioned syncretism, that in the Chanson de Roland (circa 1100) the Saracen worship idols one of which is Apollyon (Cruz, 1999, p.57), unfortunately it is of beyond the remit of this paper to dissect the Revelation to St. John. The Muslims were also accused, as cited by Cruz (1999, p.57) of worshipping Mohammad/Mahomet, but also as worshipping ‘Tervagant’ (ibid.) which is thought to come to the English by way of the Italian ‘Trivigante’ meaning ‘thrice wandering’ which is thought to refer to the triplicity of the goddess(es) as manifest by the moon (Hoad, 1996), which will be touched upon when we revisit the Qurayshi Meccan cult, and the contemporary Salman Rusdie/ ‘Satanic Verses’ affair. According to Cruz in ‘later epics’ (circa 1200) writers ‘continue to treat Saracens as idol worshippers’ but that they are ‘even more wickedly and cruelly portrayed’ as ‘the authors of all evil, hating God and actively seeking Satan’ (Cruz, 1999, p57). The triumph of Christendom over Islam is characterised as ‘the victory of Christ over Antichrist’ though Cruz is at pains to point out that this view ‘represents only a portion of Europe’. The whole situation can certainly be seen as a political intrigue eclipsing any present day manipulation. The crusades are oft’ thought to have been found during the papacy of Gregory VII with the pope declaring that ‘Christians in the Holy Land were ‘being destroyed by the heathen with unheard-of slaughter and are daily being slain like so many sheep’ (Cruz, 1999, p.62, citing Correspondence of Gregory VII, 57.) juxtaposed to a letter to a Muslim leader, in which the pope writes,

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the apostle, ‘He is our peace who hath made both one’
(Cruz, 1999, p.62, citing Correspondence of Gregory VII, 94.)

Here it is plain to see that at least at the higher echelons of Christendom there was an understanding of the monotheism of Islam, known as Tahweed, with the pope even holding the pretension that the Roman faith worshiped the same God, certainly something that was not propagated widely within Christendom, and even after the crusades a ‘better knowledge of Islam was not one of the results’ Cruz, 1999, p.63). This was true of the main population in Europe, but may not have been true of the returning knights or their orders. This can be clearly seem in the accusations against the Order of the Temple in 1308, where the accusation of idolatry, heresy and Satanism were wheeled out again,

Those who framed the charge that the Templar worshipped idols…aimed to exploit certain persistent popular beliefs. In general terms they were implying that the Templars were corrupted by Islam, pandering to the idea, long since rejected by the educated, that the Moslems worshipped idols.
(Barber, 1993, p.185)

The accusations which included the denial of the divinity of Jesus, denial of the crucifixion, and worship of idols namely known as ‘Baphome’t and ‘YaAllah’ (Barber, 1993, p.62) lead to the subsequent trials ultimately resulting in the martyrdom of fifty-four Templar in 1310, followed by those of the last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, and the Preceptor of Normandy, Geoffroi de Charney, in 1314.

It seems appropriate at this point to briefly consider the Islamic concept of Tawheed or Unity, which can be considered the foundation of monotheism upon which the five pillars of Islam, Arkan ul Islam, (Sarwar, 1984, p.40) stand. We will look at how the Islamic cosmology is figured in relation to the absolute and infinite beyond the creation, considering selected ayat from the quran, and hadith directly in relation to these ayat. The first ayat to be considered is ‘Ayat al Kursi’ (2:255), which may be considered one of the most recited verses of the Quran. Although the word ‘Kursi’ is often translated as ‘Throne’ it is considered more correct in its Quranic context to consider it as ‘footstool’

Allah! There is no god but He, The Living, The Self-subsisting, Supporter of all, No slumber can seize Him nor Sleep. His are all the things in the heavens and on earth. Who is thee can intercede in His presence except as He permitteth? He knoweth what (appeareth to his creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass aught of his knowledge except as He willeth. His Footstool doth extend over the heavens and the earth, and he feeleth no fatigue in guarding and preserving them for He is Most High, The Supreme (in glory). (Quran, Surah 2, Ayat 255)

This when considered in light of modern scientific cosmology (Ar Rahaman At Tarjumana, 1980), could signify that the Footstool extends over the heavens. The ‘heavens’, may indeed be taken to mean our own created universe. If the universe exists, as posited by modern scientific paradigm, as spherical, then the Kursi that extends over it must encompass it. ‘Al-Arsh’ or ‘The Throne’ is considered to lie at an unperceivable distance beyond ‘Al-Kursi’, beyond what is referred to as a sea, and just as the Kursi extends over the creation, so does the Arsh extend over Paradise. Despite being unable to verify this cosmology via scientific method, when asked of the relation between the Kursi and the Arsh;

It is confirmed from Abu Dharr that the Prophet said; “The seven heavens are to the Kursi but like a ring thrown in a desert land. And the superiority of the Arsh compared to that of the Kursi is like the superiority of that desert compared to the ring. (Al-Sa‘di, 2003, p.274, note 147)

‘Firdaws’, the highest part of paradise is described thus,

The highest of the degrees of Paradise is al-Firdaws, as it was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “… When you ask of Allaah, ask Him for al-Firdaws, for it is in the middle of Paradise and is the highest part of Paradise, and above it is the Throne of the Most Merciful, and from it spring forth the rivers of Paradise.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2637; Muslim, 2831. (The degrees and levels of Paradise and Hell, Web Resource)

The Quran states that Allah, ‘The Most Gracious is firmly established on the throne.’ (Quran, Sura 20, Ayat 5), and Islamic scholarly edict makes plane the separation between Allah and his creation with Imam `Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi renowned statement ‘Whoever believes that Allah permeates the Heavens and the Earth, or that He is a body sitting on His Throne, is a disbeliever, even if he thinks he is a Muslim.’ (Kabbani, 1996, p.86). This concept of Tawhweed, added to the actions of Muhammad of, as cited by Hitti in the title, smashing ‘hundreds of idols at the Kaaba’ in the vein of his ancestor Abraham makes plainly absurd the accusation of idolatry against Islam. Tawheed is revolutionary within the modern paradigm of physics, and certainly it would have appeared the same for the system that accused Gallileo of heresy in 17th Century for his heliocentric beliefs in regard to our stellar system. Science has a deep root within the Islamic sciences with Imam Al Ghazali writing in 11th Century ‘sight also looks at a star and sees it as something small, the size of a dinar; then geometrical proofs demonstrate that it surpasses the earth in size’ (McCarthy, 2000, p.21), and the contemporary accusations of Allah as a moon god(dess) that will shortly be touched upon again seem illogical in light of the Quranic verses relating to what may be termed ‘heavenly bodies’, as again highlighted by Al Ghazali in the 11th Century, ‘the sun, moon, stars and elements are subject to God’s command’ (McCarthy, 2000, p.35).

It now seems opportune to consider together things alluded to during the progression of this paper, these being the pagan idolatry of the pre-Islamic period specifically the ‘daughters of Allah’, the Italian word ‘Trivigante’ and how this may relate to ‘the only well known triad of pre-Islamic deities…al- ‘Uzza, al-Lat, and Manat’ (Septimus, 1981, p.528), the relationship of these three and the disputed ‘satanic verses’ ascribed by some as Quranic revelation and the source of Rusdie’s novel by that name, the ascription of Allah currently propagated as a Moon god(dess), and thus how medieval misconceptions not only survive currently, but are actively encouraged by some quarters. In the time immediately prior to Muhammad’s revelation Mecca and the Kabba, as delineated by Hitti’s quote within the title, were home to many idols. Chief amongst these were the cited ‘daughters of Allah’ beloved of the Quraysh. Muhammad thus considered that by smashing these idols he was returning his people to the religion of their father, Ibrahim, in fact Muhammad’s actions are seen to be directly repetitive of the deeds of Ibrahim himself. There is no doubt, nor is it disputed my Muslims that this was the case, with it actually considered a part of Muhammad’s raison d’etre in regard to his own house.

Thus to conclude it is the proposed theory that the defamation suffered by Islam historically was as a result of the scholarly threat posed to the ideas of the times, whether scientific or theological, and indeed from an Islamic perspective if in actuality there is a difference. It was thought that Islam was a real threat to the Latin faith with the hierarchy believing ‘it was impossible to convert the Muslims’ being ‘alarmed at the number of Christians who had gone over to Islam’ (Munro, 1931, p.343) and ‘the awesome possibilities of international Islam’ (Kagay, 1999, p.122). It does not require the writer of this paper to propose why such ideas concerning Islam have persisted, and as shown continue to be propagated in the contemporary world for the motivations are borne from the same mother. As Benjamin Kedar writes ‘the availability of correct information’ does not ‘guarantee its acceptance by all the learned, to say nothing of the unlearned’ (Cruz, 1999, p.65, citing Kedar, 1984).


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