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(My mercy embraces all things, and I will show it) to those who are Godfearing and pay the alms-tax and those who believe in Our signs.

Sūra 7:156


‘Man's situation is like this: an angel's wing was brought and tied to a donkey's tail so that the donkey perchance might also become an angel thanks to the radiance of the angel's company.’

Thus writes Mawlānā Rūmī in Fīhi mā fīhi to describe the twofold nature of the human being, a duality not of body and soul but of possibilities, a situation meditated upon down through the centuries whenever Muslims discuss the human condition. On the one hand, the Koran speaks in various places of the high and noble rank of man: did not God breathe into Adam from His own breath to make him alive (Sūra 15:29)? Did He not teach him the names, thus enabling him to rule over the creatures and—as the mystics would continue—to understand the working of the Divine Names as well (Sūra 2:31)? Man was appointed khalīfa, ‘representative’ either of the angels or, according to another interpretation, of God (Sūra 2:30), despite the critical remarks of the angels who foresaw his disobedience. But God spoke: karramnā, ‘We have honoured the children of Adam’ (Sūra 17:70). And humans are the only creatures who accepted the amāna, the good which God wanted to entrust to the world but which mountains and heavens refused to carry (Sūra 33:72); man, however, accepted it despite his weaknesses. Is it not astounding, asks Nāṣir-i Khusraw, that the weak human being was chosen over the animals? Only to him were warners and prophets sent, while camels and lions, so much stronger than he, were not blessed with such revelations but are also not held responsible for their actions.1

The frequent use in the Koran of the term sakhkhara, ‘to submit, place under someone's order’, reminds the reader of man's position as the God investeu ruler over the created beings. Man's high position was then emphasized by the ḥadīth according to which God created Adam ‘alā ṣūratihi (AM no. 346), ‘according to His form’ (although the ‘His’ has also been read as ‘his’, i.e. Adam's intended form). The Sufis became increasingly fond of the ḥadīth man ‘arafa nafsahu faqad ‘arafa rabbahu (AM no. 529), a saying that could be and frequently was interpreted as the possibility of finding the deepest mystery of God in oneself. It could also be understood in a more general sense: the North African Sufi al-Murṣī (d. 1287) says ‘he who knows his own lowliness and inability recognizes God's omnipotence and kindness’, and Rūmī elaborates the same idea in the moving story of Ayāz: the Turkish officer Ayāz, beloved of the mighty sultan Maḥmūd of Ghazna (d. 1030), entered every morning a secret closet where he kept his worn-out frock and torn shoes. That was all he owned before Mạhmūd showered his favours upon him, and by recognizing his own unworthiness and poverty he gratefully understood the master's bounty (M V 2, 13ff.).

The human being could, however, also become the asfal as-sāfilīn, ‘the lowest of the low’ (Sūra 95:5), and while one is constantly reminded of one's duty to strive for the education of one's soul, the danger is always present that the animal traits may become overwhelming in one's lower self: greed, ire, envy, voracity, tendency to bloodshed and many more negative trends make the human being forget his heavenly origin, his connection with the world of spirit. For this reason, the Ikhwān aṣ-ṣafā as well as some Sufi writers have thought that these animal qualities will become manifest on Doomsday in the shapes of dogs, donkeys and the like, for the ḥadīth says that everyone will be resurrected according to the state in which he or she dies (AM no. 40; see above, p. 28).

To explain the mystery of man is impossible: man is, as Rūmī says with a comparison that prefigures John Donne's expression, ‘a mighty volume’: the external ‘words’ fit with this world, the inner meaning with the spiritual world. For man, created from dust and returning to dust (Sūra 30:20, 37:53), gains his true value only through the Divine light that shines through the dust, the Divine breath that moves him.

As Ayāz was a slave of Maḥmūd, the human being is first and foremost a slave of God, and the feeling that one is nothing but a slave, ‘abd, makes the poet or the artist, the petitioner as well as the prince, sign his or her letters and works with terms like al-faqīr, ‘the poor’, al-ḥaqīr, ‘the lowly’ and similar terms, while in high speech one used to refer to oneself, in Persian or Ottoman Turkish, as banda, ‘the servant’.

The use of ‘abd for the human being goes back to numerous verses of the Koran, in which human beings and in particular prophets are called ‘abd, as well as to the repeated statements that everything was created to serve God. Furthermore, the Primordial Covenant (Sūra 7:172), when God addressed future humanity with the words: alastu bi-rabbikum, ‘Am I not your Lord?’, to which they answered: ‘Yes, we testify to that’, implies that they, acknowledging God as the eternal Lord, accepted, logically, their role as God's servants until they are asked on the Day of Judgment whether they had remained aware of God's being the one and only Lord whom they had to obey.

But the Koran also offers the basis for interpreting the word ‘abduhu, ‘His [i.e. God's] slave’, as the highest possible rank that man can reach: was not the Prophet called ‘abduhu, ‘His slave’, in the two Koranic sentences that speak of his highest experiences, namely in Sūra 17:1, which alludes to his nightly journey (‘praised be God who travelled at night with His slave…’), and in Sūra 53:10, which contains the vision in which God ‘revealed to His slave what He revealed’? That means for the Muslim that ‘God's servant’ is the highest rank to which one can aspire; and, based on centuries of praise bestowed on Muhammad as ‘abduhu, Iqbāl has summed up these feelings once more in his great hymn in honour of the Prophet in his Jāvīdnāma.

There is only one situation when the human being is freed from bondage: that is in the case of the mentally deranged, who are not ‘burdened’ by the obligations of law; they are, as the poets liked to say, ‘God's freed people’. Therefore, one finds that ‘Aṭṭār, in his Persian epics, puts all rebellious words against the Creator, the outcry of the debased and the unhappy, into the mouths of madmen: they will not be punished for their unbridled behaviour.2

But while the believer always feels himself or herself to be God's servant, mystical Islam, especially in later centuries, has developed the idea of al-insdn al-kāmil, the Perfect Man, who is manifested in the Prophet but whose rank is the goal of the true mystical seeker. Great is the number of Sufi leaders who claimed to be, or whose disciples saw them as, the Perfect Man, and the contrast between the feeling of humility as ‘abd and the claim to have reached the stage of the Perfect Man amazes the reader of later mystical texts time and again. The extreme contrast between these two possible interpretations of humanity has led a number of scholars to claim that Islam has no ‘humanism’ in the European sense of the word: man is not the normative being, the one whose rights are central in interhuman relations and who works freely in the spirit of realization of the ‘human values’, but appears either as the lowly slave or as the ‘inflated’ Perfect Man.3

The Koran has spoken of man's creation in several instances, most importantly in the first revelation Sūra 96. Man was created from dust and then an ‘alaq, a blood clot, and the miracle of the begetting and growth of a child is mentioned several times. The first human, Adam, was created from clay, and later mythological stories have elaborated this creation in poetical images. It is said, for example, that Adam was kneaded for forty days by God's two hands before the Creator breathed His breath into the clay vessel (AM no. 632). Iblīs refused to fall down before him because he did not perceive the Divine breath in Adam but looked only to the dust-form and, being created from fire, felt superior to him.

The human being is made up, as can be understood from the story of creation, of body and soul, and the different parts of the spiritual side of humans are mentioned in varying forms (see below, p. 183). The rūḥ, ‘spirit’, and nafs, ‘soul’, are central as the truly spiritual aspects that keep humans in touch with the higher realities, but the body is indispensable for this life. It is made up of four elements and is perishable as everything composite; it returns to dust, but will be reassembled on Doomsday. And although many pious people have expressed their aversion to the body, this old donkey or camel, to neglect the body or kill it by exaggerated mortification is nevertheless not acceptable, for the body is needed for the performance of ritual duties and should be kept intact to serve for positive purposes, even though the mystics would rather call it a town in which the soul feels like a stranger. The human body in its totality also carries power, baraka.

One of the most important centres of power is the hair. It has therefore to be covered. Not only women should veil their hair, but also men should not enter the Divine presence with bare head (cf. above, p. 94). To tear one's hair is a sign of utter despair, as women do in mourning rites: the marthiyas which sing of the tragedy of Kerbela often describe the despair of the women in Ḥusayn's camp who came to the fore, their hair dishevelled.

The nāsiya, the ‘forelock’, which is mentioned twice in the Koran (Sūra 96:15, cf. Sūra 11:56), belongs to the same cluster of objects: to grasp someone (or an animal) by the forelock means to grasp his (or its) most power-laden part, that is, to overcome him completely.

The offering of the new-born child's first hair during the ‘aqīqa should be remembered in this context as well as the hair-offering of certain dervishes and the taboos connected with hair during the pilgrimage.

Sanctity is also contained in the beard: ‘The beard is God's light’, as a saying goes. Thus Indian Muslims would sometimes dip the beard of an old, venerable man in water, which was then given to ailing people to drink and was especially administered to women in labour.4

When the hair as such is considered to be so filled with baraka, how much more the Prophet's hair and beard!5 Muslim children in Sind had formerly to learn the exact number of the Prophet's hairs, while in the Middle East some authors ‘knew’ that 33,333 hairs of the Prophet were brought to the Divine Throne.6 Taking into consideration the importance of hair and beard, one can also understand, at least to a certain extent, the role of Salmān al-Fārisī in Muslim piety: he, the barber, was the one who could touch the Prophet's hair and beard, and from earliest times one reads that a few hairs of the Prophet, sewn into a turban, served as a protecting amulet. Hairs of the Prophet are preserved in various mosques: the Mamluk sultan Baybars (reigned 1266–77) gave a hair of the Prophet for the miḥrāb of the Khānqāh Siryāqūṣ, the Sufi hospice near Cairo,7 and riots broke out in Srinagar, Kashmir, some years ago when Ḥaz ratbāl, ‘Its Excellency the Hair’, was stolen; this hair was honoured by building a fine mosque in the city around it. Usually, such a hair is preserved in a fine glass vessel which is wrapped in dozens of fragrant silk covers, as in the Alaettin Mosque in Konya, where it was hidden in a wall. But generally, non-Muslims (and in Bijapur's Athar Mahal also women) are not allowed into a room that contains such a treasure. Some Muslims believe that these hairs can grow and multiply: as the Prophet, they contend, is alive, so also is his hair. And as the romantic lover in the West carried his beloved's curl as a kind of amulet, hairs from the beard of a venerated Muslim saint can serve the same purpose.

Like the hair, the nails have special properties, which is evident from the prohibition of paring the nails during the ḥajj. There are special days recommended for paring one's nails, and the comparison used by Persian and Urdu poets who likened the crescent moon to a fingernail (which does not sound very poetical to Westerners) might have a deeper reason than simply the external shape.

As the soul is often thought to be connected with the breath (one need only think of God's ‘breathing’ into Adam), the nose and the nostrils play a considerable role in popular belief; to sneeze means, as ancient Arabic sources as well as Turkish folk tales mention, to be quickened from death (the morning, too, ‘sneezes’ when it dawns). Alternatively, by sneezing one gets rid of the devil, who was hiding in the nostrils: hence the custom of uttering a congratulatory blessing to a sneezing person. The role of the nose as a sign of honour and rank, as understood from many Arabic and Turkish expressions, also explains why one of the ways to deprive a culprit of his or her honour is to cut off his or her nose, a common punishment until recently.8

Breathing is connected with the soul. It is therefore life-giving and healing (as was, for example, Jesus’ breath: Sūra 3:49). In an ingenious ta'wīl, the Suhrawardī saint Makhdūm Nūḥ of Hala (Sind) (d. 1591) interpreted the ‘girl buried alive’ of Sūra 81:8 as the breath that goes out without being filled with the dhikr, the recollection of God.

The importance of saliva is well known in religious traditions. When a saint spits into the food, it brings blessings, and when the Prophet or a saint (whether in reality or in a dream) puts some of his saliva into somebody's mouth, the person will become a great poet or orator.9 The saliva of the beloved is compared to the Water of Life owing to its baraka, and mawlid singers in Egypt—to quote an example from modem times—sing of the ‘licit wine of the Prophet's saliva’.10

It is a similar case with perspiration. Women in the environment of the Prophet—so it is told—would collect his perspiration to use it as a perfume, and the legend that the rose grew from drops of the Prophet's perspiration which fell to Earth during his nightly journey shows the baraka of this fragrant substance.

Blood too can be a carrier of soul substance, and the avoidance of blood in ritual and food is likely to go back originally to the fear of the soul power contained in the blood.

Head and feet are respected, and it is especially the cult of the feet or the footprint which is remarkably developed in Islamic folklore: touching the feet of a venerable person is an old custom to show one's devotion and humility (to ‘become the dust for the beloved's feet’ is a widespread wish in Oriental poetry). The veneration of the Prophet's footprint has been attributed to influences from India, where Vishnu's or the Buddha's feet are highly honoured; but the most enthusiastic poems about the Prophet's sandals, as well as the earliest mention of the cult of his footprint, came from the Arab world. The cult of the Prophet's sandal was substituted for the cult of his foot some time after his death. Maqqarī's (d. 1624) voluminous Arabic work is a treasure trove of poems and pictures of this cult.11

The feet of normal believers are also filled with power, and whether the Sufi kisses his master's foot or the son that of his mother, the wish to humiliate oneself before the power inherent even in the lowest part of the person's body can be sensed. That becomes very clear from the custom of dōsa: the shaykh of the Sa‘diyya ṭarīqa (and in Istanbul formerly also of the Rifā‘iyya) would walk or even ride over the bodies of his followers who were lying flat on the ground; thus they were blessed by his feet's power.12

I mentioned, at the beginning, the belief in the Evil Eye (see above, p. 91), and the negative power of the ‘look’ mentioned in the Koran (Sūra 68:51f.) is something to be reckoned with. However, the eye has not only dangerous properties; rather, the look of the saintly person may bless the visitor, and there are numerous miracles ascribed to the blessings of someone's ‘look’. Sudden conversions are ascribed to the single glance of the spiritual master, and so are healing miracles.13 The rule that women should strictly avoid eye contact with strangers reminds us of the danger of the glance; women therefore often wear dark glasses to cover their eyes.

As the body is filled with power, certain bodily states in which one loses, as it were, some ‘power’ have to be rectified by a major purification. Such states include the sexual act or any loss of semen, as well as death. No food should be cooked for three days after a death; the neighbours will bring everything required to the home. Pregnant women should not be present during the memorial rites for a family member (women in general never participate in a funeral).14 They are also not allowed, during pregnancy, into a saint's shrine. The time for purification after parturition or death is forty days, the traditional period of waiting and changing for the better.

The spiritual elements of the human being are classified in various ways, but Muslims always know that there is the spirit, rūḥ and the soul, nqfs. The spirit generally appears as the paternal, that is, begetting and impressing power, while the soul is usually taken as the female, receptive part. The spirit, as part of the all-pervading Spirit, is one, but the ‘mothers’ are different for every being.15 The problem of whether or not bodies and spirits were created at the same time is answered differently; philosophers and mystics usually agree that the spirits were created before the bodies.16 The tensions between soul and body, or spirit and body, are alluded to in numerous stories, especially by Rūmī, whose psychology is, however, not very consistent. For him, as for many mystics, the most important part of one's spiritual aspects is the heart, the organ through which one may reach immediate understanding of the Divine presence: a veritable heart, as many mystics hold, has to be born, or else it has to be cleaned of the rust of worldliness to become a pure vessel, a clean house, a radiant mirror for the Divine Beloved. Rūmī even compares the birth of the truly spiritual parts of the human being to the birth of Jesus from the Virgin Mary: only when the birth pangs—sufferings and afflictions—come and are overcome in loving faith can this ‘Jesus’ be born to the human soul.17

Both terms, ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’, have airy connotations: rūḥ and rīḥ, ‘wind’, nafs and nafas, ‘breath’: thus the importance of the breath as a vehicle of the soul can be understood, as can the frequent symbol of the ‘soul bird’, the airy, flighty part of human beings.

The classification of the soul is based upon the Koran, and the three definitions of the nafs, found in three different places, served the Muslims to form a general theory of the development of the soul. The nafs ammāra (Sūra 12:53), the ‘soul that incites to evil’, is ‘the worst of all enemies’ (AM no. 17), but it can be educated by constant fight—the veritable ‘Greater jihād’—against its base qualities to become the nafs lawwāma (Sūra 75:2), a concept not far from Western ‘conscience’, and finally it is called back to its Lord after reaching the state of nafs muṭma'inna, ‘the soul at peace’ (Sūra 89:27). When the word nafs is used without qualification, it denotes the ‘self’ or the reflexive pronoun, but in literary texts, especially in Persian and Turkish, it is usually the nafs ammāra, the negative qualities of the lower self, which is then symbolized in various shapes, from a black or yellow dog to a disobedient woman or a restive horse.

Everyone is made of body and soul-spirit; everyone also participates more or less in the above-mentioned ‘powers’, and yet, despite the emphasis in Islam upon the equality of all believers, who are distinguished only by the degree of their God-fearingness and piety, some people are filled with more baraka than others.18 Myths are woven around ancient prophets and saints who are thought to be blessed with longevity: Noah lived for 900 years, and there is the strange figure of Ratan, a Muslim saint who was discovered in the twelfth century in India and claimed to tell authentic ḥadīth as he had lived in the company of the Prophet; the ḥadīth collected from him are the ratamiyyat.19 In futuwwa circles, Salmān al-Fārisī is credited with a lifespan of 330 years.20 Legendary saints of times long past were sometimes imagined to be gigantic; the phenomenon of the tombs of the naugaza, people ‘nine cubits long’, is well known in Muslim India.

But to come to actual human beings as one encounters them day by day, one has to single out as prime carriers of baraka the parents about whom the Koran (Sūra 17:23) orders: ‘You shall not worship any but Him, and be good to the parents whether one or both attain old age with you’.

Every elderly man can represent the father figure and often functions as the role model for the son. The families are extremely close-knit, as everyone knows who has lived with Muslim families. Yet, in the Koran, Abraham is the model of those who sever the family bonds by turning from idol-worship to the adoration of the One God (Sūra 6:74): true religion supersedes ancestral loyalties (and one can be shocked when hearing how recent converts to Islam sometimes mercilessly consign their non-Muslim parents to Hell).

The child grows under the mother's protection and remains in her house, with the women, until he is seven years old. A beautiful tradition inculcates love of and respect for the mother in the believer's heart: ‘Paradise lies under the feet of the mothers’ (AM no. 488) is a famous ḥadīth, and when the Prophet was asked: ‘Who is the most deserving of loving kindness, birr?’, he answered: ‘Your mother!’ and repeated this thrice, only then mentioning the father. The role of pious mothers in the formation of Sufis and other pious people is a well-known fact and proves that they were given not only a religious education but, more than that, an example by their mothers, and remained beholden to them all their lives (see also below, p. 198).

In many early civilizations, the leader or king is blessed by a special power which is called in the Iranian tradition the khwarena. The farr, ‘radiance’, with which Emperor Akbar was surrounded according to his court historiographer Abū ‘l-Faz l, is—philologically and in its meaning—this very royal charisma. Normative Islam does not know the concept of Divine or sacred kingship; the leader in traditional Sunni life is the caliph, the successor of the Prophet as leader of the community in prayer and war, who has no religious authority and is bound, like every other Muslim, to the commands of the sharī‘a and their interpretation by the ‘ulamā. The goal of the caliphate was not, as can sometimes be read, to establish ‘the kingdom of God’ on Earth but rather to look after the affairs of the community and defend the borders against intruders or, if possible, extend them to enlarge the ‘House of Islam’. The caliph was regarded as a ‘religious’ leader only at a later stage in history, namely when the Ottoman caliph (whose office was in itself, seen historically, a construction without real historical justification) was described as the ‘caliph of the Muslims’ at the time when the Crimea, with its Muslim Tatar inhabitants, was ceded to Russia in 1774; at this point, the Ottoman sultan-caliph was called to act as the ‘religious’ head of the Muslim community. This concept induced the Indian Muslims after the First World War to rally to the khilāfat movement, in an attempt to declare the Ottoman caliph their spiritual head while they were still smarting under British colonial rule. But the khilāfat movement, in which many Muslims emigrated—or tried to emigrate—to Afghanistan and Turkestan, finally broke down when Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924.

While the Sunnite caliph is at best a symbol of the unity of Muslims (as was the case during the later centuries of the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad, which was terminated by the Mongols in 1258), the concept of divine rulership can be found to a certain extent in Shia Islam. The return of the leader of a community after a long time in hiding is an old theme in human history, and this motif was first applied to ‘Alī's son from a wife other than Fāṭima, Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥanafiyya (d. 700). The widespread belief in the return of the hero, who is usually thought to live in a cave, grew among the Shiites to culminate, in the Twelver Shia, in the concept of the hidden Imam who will return at the end of time ‘to fill the world with justice as it filled with injustice’. The Divine light which the imams carry in them gives them a position similar to that of a ‘sacred king’, but the theme is even more pronounced in the Ismaili tradition, where not the hidden but the living Imam is the centre of the community: the ḥāzir imām is not only the worldly but also the spiritual leader through whom the light shines forth and whose darshan, the ‘looking at him’, is believed to convey spiritual blessings to those present. Hence, the term ‘sacred kingdom’ has been used for Ismaili Islam, while this concept is totally alien to the Sunnite tradition.21

A similar aversion to a Divinely inspired or religiously exceptional clergy is typical of Sunnite Islam. There is no priest in Islam in the traditional sense of someone to administer the sacrament, for the only sacrament, sit venia verbo, is the recitation of the Koran in which the individual listens and responds to the words of the Lord.

The central role in the community at large belongs to the ‘ulamā, the lawyer-divines and interpreters of the sharī‘a; for, as the ḥadīth says, ‘the ‘ulamā are the heirs of the prophets’ they are responsible for the maintenance of the Divine Law and the tradition. Thus they have contributed to the stability of the umma, the Muslim community,22 even though they are also blamed, especially in modern times, as those who resist modernization and adaptation to the changing values and customs of the time because they see the dangers inherent in breaking away from the sacred tradition while they themselves are, probably, not acquainted with the opportunities drat a fresh look into tradition may offer the Muslims who have to find a feasible approach to the modern world.

One could speak of a kind of clergy, for example under the Fatimids; and Ismaili Islam, especially among the Aga Khanis or Khojas, has a considerable number of ranks in the religious hierarchy, from the dā‘i, the missionary, and the ḥujjat, the ‘proof’, down to the mukhi, who is responsible for the organization of the local communities. (Interestingly, women can also be appointed to any echelon of these offices.) Yet, it sounds strange to a traditionist ear when a leading religious functionary of the Ismaili Bohora community (who has a ‘worldly’ profession as well) says: ‘I was trained to become a minister’.

The mujtahid in the Twelver Shia can perhaps be called a cleric, as he helps to spread the wisdom of the hidden imam, guiding the community in legal decisions based on a deeper religious insight.

The most important figure with religious charisma, the model and the beloved whose presence and the thought of whom spreads blessing, is, without doubt, the prophet. To be sure, more than a century ago, Aloys Sprenger remarked sarcastically: ‘In Germany, one has deprived the word “prophet” of all is meaning and then claimed that he, Muhammad, is a prophet’,23 Sprenger is certainly wrong from the phenomenological viewpoint; for, as much as Muhammad's contemporaries were prone to compare him to the kāhin, the Arabic soothsayer, or to the shā‘ir, the poet, who by means of his magic knowledge was able to utter satires against the enemies and thus wound them, as it were, with the arrows of his powerful words; and as much as Western critics have been concerned not only with the Prophet's numerous marriages late in his life but also with his political role in Medina, which seemed to overshadow his religious vocation—yet his way is exactly that of a prophet according to the definition in the history of religions. For the prophet is called and has no choice; he has to speak whether he wants to or not (cf. Sūra 96, the Divine order: ‘Read!’ or ‘Recite!’).

Islam differentiates between two kinds of prophets: the nabī, who receives a revelation, and the rasūl, who must preach the message; he is the lawgiver who speaks according to the Divine order.24 The miracles which the prophet shows are called mu‘jiza, ‘something that incapacitates others to repeat or imitate them’; they prove not so much his power but rather the power of the Lord whose messenger he is, and while mu‘jizāt have to be openly shown, the miracles of the saints, karāmāt, should be kept secret. The prophet is also a political personality, for he is concerned with and responsible for his people's fate in this world and the world to come: the archetypal ruler among the prophets is Sulaymān (Solomon), the ‘prophet-king’.

The contents of the prophet's message are basically ethical and culminate in absolute obedience to God, who reveals His will through him. Often, the prophet is an Unheilsprophet: he has to warn people of the impending disaster if they do not listen, for only the rest will be saved. The tales of the earlier prophets which appear in the Koran time and again bear witness to this aspect of prophethood.

The prophet has to be a vessel for the Divine word, hence the importance of the interpretation of the word ummī as ‘illiterate’ even though its primary meaning is different. But he must be illiterate lest his knowledge be stained by intellectual activity such as collecting and adapting previous texts and stories. One could also see him as a mirror that takes in itself the immediate celestial communication; the concept of the ḥajar baht, the absolutely pure polished stone, belongs to this set of images.

The prophet—so the theologians emphasize—has to possess ‘iṣma, that is, he has to be without sin and faults; for, had he sinned, sin would be a duty for his community. As the Sanūsīya,25 the widespread dogmatic catechism stresses further, the prophet must bring the message and cannot hide it. Furthermore, ṣadāqa, ‘veracity’, is a necessary quality of a prophet: he cannot tell lies. Without these essential qualities, one cannot be called a true prophet; but it is possible that a prophet may be subject to human accidents such as illness.

The Koran mentions twenty-eight prophets by name; parallels to the twenty-eight lunar stations and the letters of the Arabic alphabet could easily be discovered. Other traditions speak of 313 prophets, and the plethora of 124,000 prophets also occurs. However, there can be only one God-sent messenger at a time. Each of the previous messengers prefigures in a certain way the final prophet, Muhammad; their actions are basically identical with his, for all of them are entrusted with the same Divine message. There is no problem for the Muslim in recognizing prophets not mentioned in the Koran, provided that they have lived before Muhammad (e.g. the Buddha, or Kungfutse), because Muhammad is called in Sūra 33:40 the khātam an-nabiyyīn, the ‘Seal of the prophets’. He was also understood as the paraclete promised to the Christians, because the word aḥmad, ‘most praiseworthy’, in Sūra 61:5 was interpreted as a translation of perikletos, which was thought to be the word intended by parakletos.26

Although Muhammad himself is called in the Koran a human being who, however, had to be obeyed (Sūra 3:32 et al.), and always emphasized that he was nothing but a messenger, the baraka inherent in him was nevertheless so immense that his descendants through his daughter Fāṭima were likewise endowed with a special sanctity, whether one thinks of the politicco-religious leaders of Sharifian descent in Morocco or of the sayyids, whose veneration is particularly strong in Indo-Pakistan; they have to observe special taboos, and their daughters are not allowed to marry a non-sayyid.

While the respect for sayyids and sharīfs is common to Sunni and Shia Muslims (though much more pronounced among the Shiites), emphasis on the companions of the Prophet is natural in Sunni circles. The Shia custom of tabarra’, that is, distancing oneself from the first three caliphs and even cursing them, is considered a grave offence by Sunnis, for after all, even though the Shia claimed that they had usurped the caliphate from ‘Alī, the only legitimate heir to the Prophet, one has still to remember that Abū Bakr was the father of Muhammad's youngest wife ‘A'isha, and ‘Omar was the father of his wife Ḥafṣa, while ‘Othmān was married to two of the Prophet's daughters and is therefore called dhu'n-nūrayn, ‘the one with the two lights’. Especially in India, Sunni theologians wrote treatises in favour of the first three caliphs and even of Mu‘āwiya, the founder of the Omayyad caliphate, in order to counteract the Shia propaganda.

The designation of Muhammad as the ‘Seal of the prophets’ included for Muslim theologians the impossibility of the appearance any other religion and a Divinely-inspired sharī‘a after Muhammad's death. Movements that claimed a continuing revelation, such as the Bābī-Bahai movement in Iran at the beginning of the nineteenth century, or the Ahmadiyya in the Panjab at the turn of the twentieth century, were declared as heresies and, in the case of the Aḥmadiyya, as non-Islamic as late as 1974.27 Hence the merciless persecution in Iran of the Bahais, whose claim to possess a new revelation violated the dogma of Muhammad as the final bearer of Divine revelation.

Iqbāl phrased the concept of the finality of Muhammad's prophetic office in an interesting way which, interpreted wrongly, could lead to heated arguments.

The birth of Islam… is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam, prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition.28

According to popular belief, the Prophet was sent not only to humankind but also to the angels to honour them. But connected with the theme of the ‘Seal’ was the question: what would happen if there were human beings on other stars, in other hitherto unknown worlds? This question, which disquieted some Muslims at the time when they became aware of new discoveries in astronomy in the early nineteenth century, resulted, in India, in a fierce theological debate between Faz l-i Ḥaqq Khayrābādī and Ismā‘īl Shahīd (d. 1831). Could God create another Muhammad in such a case? Ghālib, the poet of Delhi, wrote a line which was quoted with approval by Iqbāl in his Jāvīdnāma:

Wherever the tumult of a world arises,

there is also a raḥmatan li ‘l-‘ālamīn, ‘Mercy for the worlds’.29

For God will not leave any community without prophetic guidance, and humanity was never without prophets until the time of Muhammad.

Prophetology took a different turn among the Shia and in particular in the Ismaili community. The six days of creation (Sūra 25:60 et al.) were connected with six cycles of prophets; Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad; the seventh one will bring resurrection. Each of the seven prophets brings the sharī‘a, the Divine Law, which is then preserved by the wāṣī, the ‘heir’; that was in Moses’ case Hārūn, in Muhammad's case ‘Alī.

The human Prophet, the uswa ḥasana, ‘beautiful model’ (Sūra 33:21) of his followers, was soon surrounded by innumerable miracles, and when attributes like karwānsālār, ‘the caravan leader’, or in Bengal ‘helmsman to the far shore of Truth’ point to this quality as the guide of the community and are therefore generally acceptable, the development of his role as the first thing ever created, as the pre-eternal light that was between the Divine Throne and the Divine Footstool, leads into gnostic speculations disliked by more sober Sunni theologians. When the Koran calls Muhammad raḥmatan li ‘l-‘ālamīn, poets symbolized him as the great cloud that brings raḥma (rain, mercy) to the dried-up hearts; the short allusion to his nightly journey (Sūra 17:1) was elaborated in most colourful verbal and painterly images, and although the Koran and Islam in general strictly reject a soteriology of a Christian type,30 Muhammad appears more and more as the intercessor who will intercede for the grave sinners of his community (cf. AM no. 225), and millions of believers have trusted and still trust in his shafā‘a, his intercession.

He appears as the longed-for bridegroom of the soul, and just as theology sees the virtues of all previous prophets embodied in him, mystically-inclined poets knew also that the beauty of all of mem appears in his beauty. At an early point in history, the ḥadīth qudsī claimed ‘Laulāka…’ (AM no. 546), ‘but for your sake I would not have created the horizons’ (i.e. the world). Surrounded by numerous names—similar to the Divine asmā' al-ḥusnā—he is separated from God only by one letter, as his heavenly name Aḥmad shows: when the m of Aḥmad disappears, mere remains only Aḥad, The One, as a ḥadīth qudsī states.31 Later Sufis composed complicated treatises about the ḥaqīqa muḥammadiyya, the ‘Muhammadan archetype’, the suture between God and Creation; and although in early Sufism the goal was fanā fi Allāh, annihilation in God, it is in later times the fanā fi ‘r-rasūl, the annihilation in the Prophet which constitutes the highest goal, for one can reach the ḥaqīqa muḥammadijya while the deus absconditus in Its essence remains forever beyond human striving. The Prophet, as many people believe, is alive and guides his community through dreams; he can vindicate people who visit his tomb in Medina.

Several Sufi brotherhoods which called themselves ṭarīqa muḥammadiyya emerged in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, although the term goes back to the Middle Ages; they taught the imiiatto muḥammadi, not only in the external practices that were reported about him but also in the deeper layers of faith. At a time when Western influences were increasingly endangering the traditional Muslim world, the example of the Prophet who, as Muslims believed, would appear in dhikr sessions devoted to the recitation of blessings upon him, seemed to be an important stronghold against the threat of Westernization, for he is—as Kenneth Cragg says—‘the definitive Muslim’.

Even though the traditionalists never liked the exaggeration of his veneration, which so permeated popular and high Islam, everyone agrees that it is Muhammad who defines the borders of Islam as a separate religion. It is the second half of the profession of faith, ‘Muhammad is His messenger’, which distinguishes Islam from other religions; when Iqbāl says in his Jāvīdnāma:

You can deny God but you cannot deny the Prophet,

he has expressed the feeling of the Muslims for the man who brought the final and decisive Divine message. Therefore sabb ar-rasūl, ‘slandering of the Prophet’, is one of the worst crimes, liable, according to some authorities, to capital punishment—one has to keep this in mind to understand the Muslims’ reaction to Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

There is no end to Muhammad's external and spiritual greatness. Frithjof Schuon32 has represented him in an interesting model, using his earthly and his heavenly names, Aḥmad and Muḥammad, to show the two sides in him:

Muḥammad Aḥmad
connected with the laylat al-qadr, the night of the first revelation of the Koran; connected with the night of the heavenly journey;
representing the Prophet's role as ‘abd ‘slave’, which manifests His jalāl side; is given the description of ḥabīb, ‘friend, beloved; and thus represents the jamāl side of God;
he is the active messenger, rasūl. he is the ‘unlettered’ ummī, the passive recipient of the message.

Positive activity and receptivity, mysterium tremendum and mysterium fascinans, descent of the Divine word and ascent into the Divine presence, are thus understood from the Prophet's two major names. One can expand the scheme and say, with the traditional scholars and Sufis, that every prophet also carries in himself the quality of the saint, and that the prophet is connected with ‘sobriety’ and qurb al-farā'iḍ, ‘the proximity to God reached through faithful adherence to the religious duties’, while the saint, walī, is characterized by ‘intoxication’ and fanā, annihilation as a result of the qurb an-nawāfil, ‘proximity reached by supererogative works’, a state based upon a ḥadīth qudsī: ‘My servant does not cease drawing closer to Me by means of supererogative works… until I become his hand with which he grasps, his eye by which he sees, his ear by which he hears…’ (AM no. 42).

The question of the superiority of the Prophet or the saint was discussed several times in medieval Islam, but it was generally agreed that the Prophet, thanks to his twofold quality, was superior.

The walī, the friend or ‘protégé’ of God, is, in the beginning, in some respect comparable to the monk in other religious traditions, but ‘there is no monkery, rahbāniyya, in Islam’, as a famous ḥadīth states (AM no. 598), for ‘the jihād [war for religious causes] is the monkery of my community’ (AM no. 599). Monkery was something specifically Christian, and Jesus often appears as the loving ascetic who has no place to put his head and finds no rest even when seeking refuge in a jackal's den: God throws him out from every place of repose to draw him to Himself.

The early ascetics knew their Christian neighbours, hermits in the mountains of Lebanon or Syria, or in the deserts of Egypt, and among these ascetics as well as in later, institutionalized Sufism, practices similar to those in other monastic communities occurred, the most important one being poverty and total obedience to the spiritual leader.33 The Prophet's word faqrī fakhrī, ‘My poverty is my pride’ (AM no. 54), was their guiding principle. But the third vow besides poverty and obedience which the Christian monk would make, namely celibacy, could never become part of Sufi life. Chastity in a wider sense can be seen in the strict following of the rules of behaviour, in the meticulous accepting of even the strictest orders of the sharī‘a. Celibacy, however, was ruled out by the very example of the Prophet.

Part of Sufi life was, again similar to monastic groups in other traditions, meditation and constant recollection of God, dhikr, as was the rābiṭa, the spiritual relation between master and disciples. Unconditioned love of and obedience to the spiritual guide was a conditio sine qua non, ending with the complete merging into the shaykh's identity.34 The tawajjuh, the strict concentration upon the master, is compared by a modern Sufi to the tuning of a television set: one has to be on the same wavelength to enjoy a fruitful relation with the master, who then can spread his himma, his spiritual power, over the disciple and not only guide but also protect or heal him (hence the numerous stories of the master appearing in a faraway place when the disciple needs his help). The shaykh or pīr could be compared in his soul-nourishing activity not only to a father but also to a loving mother who, as it were, breast-feeds her spiritual child.35

While the prophet is called by an irresistible Divine order and forced to speak, the saint is slowly transformed by Grace. The term for ‘saint’ is walī Allāh, ‘God's friend’; it is ‘the friends of God who neither have fear nor are sad’, as the Koran (Sūra 10:62) describes them. The term does not refer, in Islam, to a person canonized by a special religious rite; the Sufi saint develops, one could say, after being initiated into the spiritual chain. The simple concept of the ‘friends of God’ was elaborated into a complicated hierarchy of saints as early as around 900. In this hierarchy, the quṭb, ‘pole, axis’, stands in the centre; around him the world seems to revolve as the spheres revolve around the Pole Star. At least, around him revolve the groups of four nuqabā, seven abrār, forty abdāl, 300 akhyār, etc., among whom the seven abrār or forty abdāl play a special role: in North Africa, some Muslims sing hymns to the ‘seven men of Marrakesh’, that is, the seven protecting saints of the city whose tombs are visited to this day, so that a ‘seven-man-pilgrimage’ is also well known in that area, while the Turkish Kiürklareliü is ‘the area of the Forty’.

The saints are hidden from the world; they are, as the ḥadīth qudsī states, ‘under My domes’ (AM no. 131), and therefore even the most unlikely person may be a saint. The virtue of hospitality, so central in Oriental culture, comprises also the poorest and most disgusting visitor, for—who knows—perhaps he is one of God's hidden friends, for wilāya can even exist independent of the moral qualities of the recipient.

Those Sufis who have traversed the path as sālik ‘wayfarer’, can become masters of others; those who have been ‘dragged away’ (majdhūb) in a sudden rapture, jadhba, are not suitable as teachers, as they lack practical experience of the stations on the path and its pitfalls; an ‘enraptured’ Sufi, majdhūb, is often someone who is demented under the shock of too strong a spiritual ‘unveiling’.

One of the pitfalls on the path is pride in one's supernatural gifts. The Sufis are credited with innumerable miracles of the most diverse kinds, but to rely upon these miracles, which are called karāmāt, ‘charismata’, can induce them to ostentation and thus provoke a serious setback. Therefore, a crude saying was coined to warn them against ‘miracle-mongering’ (as later writers would say): ‘Miracles are the menstruation of men’, that is, they hinder true union with the Divine Beloved due to the individual's impurity.

Among the ‘saints’, one finds the most diverse characters: wild and irascible like the ‘ajamī saints of whom the Egyptians are afraid; saints whose word makes trees dry up and people die; and others who radiate kindness and beauty, harmony and sweetness, and can take upon them the burden—illness or grief—of others. They often claim to be beyond good and evil, as they have reached the fountainhead of everything and are united with Divine will in such a way that they can do things that look inexplicable from a theological viewpoint, comparable to Khiḍr when he shocked Moses by his three seemingly criminal acts (Sūra 18:66ff.).

They are the true ‘men of God’ ‘who take the arrow back into the bow’, as Rūmī says with an allusion to the Koranic address to the Prophet: ‘You did not cast when you cast…’ (Sūra 8:17). To Rūmī we owe the finest poetical description of the ‘man of God’:

The man of God is drunken without wine,

The man of God is full without roast meat.

The man of God is all confused, distraught,

The man of God needs neither food nor sleep.


The man of God, he is a boundless sea,

The man of God rains pearls without a cloud.


The man of God: nor heresy, nor faith,

The man of God knows not of wrong or right


But those who still cling to hope and fear are comparable to the mukhannath, ‘catamite’, while the lowest class of worldlings are just ‘women’. This does not however, exclude, the possibility that women can be counted among the ‘true men of God’, as the hagiographers state.

The Sufi leaders are usually given honorific titles, such as Pir-i dastgīr, ‘the Pir who takes you by the hand’, or Bandanawāz, ‘he who cherishes the slaves’ (i.e. humans); and as a general term for high-ranking religious leaders is makhdūm, ‘the one who is served’, a special saint can be called makhdūm-i jahāniyān, ‘he who is served by all inhabitants of the world’. Often, they are spoken of in the plural: a Sufi in Central Asia is usually referred to as īshān, ‘they’, while Ḥasan Abdāl and Niẓāmuddīn Awliyā bear nicknames that mean ‘substitutes’ (the groups of the seven or forty) or ‘saints’.

But it is natural that the lofty ideals of earlier times were often watered down, and the complaints of true spiritual leaders about the numerous impostors who made their living by telling stories to credulous people and who paraded in Sufi dress, purporting to demonstrate miracles, began as early as the eleventh century. Rūmī satirizes these self-styled Sufis with shaved heads and half-naked bodies who pose as ‘men of God’:

If every naked person were a ‘man’,

garlic too would be a man…

(D no. 1,069)

An ancient belief claims that the human being—provided that one possessed baraka during one's life—becomes an even stronger source of baraka after death. Despite the general warning against tomb-worship, the saying; ‘Seek help from the people of the tombs’ is also attributed to the Prophet, and it was customary among the Sufis and members of the futuwwa sodalities to visit the cemetery first when entering a town in order to pray for the deceased.

Such a power is, naturally, greatest in the case of the saintly people, and therefore it is small wonder that almost every place in the Muslim world contains a tomb or a mausoleum. Sir Thomas Arnold has told the famous story about the poor Pathans who smarted under the sad fact that they had no tomb in their village; thus they invited a passing sayyid to stay with them, regaled him and ‘made sure of his staying in the village by cutting his throat’, so that they could erect a beautiful mausoleum for him in order to enjoy the blessings that radiated from his last resting place,36 The statement of an Indian Muslim historian can probably be generalized for the subcontinent:

Many important infidels of the region entered the fold of Islam because of the blessing of the tomb of that embodiment of piety.37

Thus it is not surprising that many saints have several tombs or memorial sites (see above, p. 55).

The role of the ‘mighty dead’ in Islamic history is great, despite the Sunni aversion to it, and when G. van der Leeuw describes burial as a sort of seed-sowing, he seems to translate Rūmī, who asks, in his great poem on travelling:

Did ever a grain fall into the earth that did not bring rich fruit?

Do you believe that the grain ‘man’ will be different?

(D no. 911)

Not only simple people who hoped for the fulfilment of their wishes visited and still visit saints’ tombs; Muslim rulers, too, often came for political reasons to enhance their power thanks to the saint's baraka. The mausoleum of Mu‘īnuddīn Chishtī in Ajmer is a famous case in point.38

Mausoleums may preserve, in a special room, some relics of the saint—his turban, his prayer beads and the like—and in modern shrines one can also find his spectacles or his dentures, all filled with baraka. The baraka can also be inherited: the marabouts in North Africa, as studied in particular by Clifford Geertz and Ernest Gellner, are the most prominent example of this phenomenon; and for the average Moroccan it holds true that ‘Islam is what the saints do’.39 The role of the inherited baraka of Indo-Pakistani Pīr families belongs here too.

If the term walī Allāh, ‘God's friend’, is generally applied to what we translate as ‘saints’, it is used in a more specific way and in an absolute sense for ‘Alī. The formula ‘‘Alī is the friend of God’, ‘Alī walī Allāh, was added to the bipartite profession of faith when Shah Isma‘il had introduced the Twelver Shia as the state religion in Iran in 1501. There are great structural similarities between the quṭb, the Pole or Axis, of Sufism and the Imam as understood by the Shia. For the Shiite, the presence of the imam—whether in the flesh or (since the disappearance of the twelfth imam in 874) in the unseen, ghayba—is deemed necessary, for it is the imam from ‘Alī's and Fāṭima's offspring who is blessed with divinely-inspired religious knowledge and has absolute teaching authority: like the Prophet, he enjoys ‘iṣmat, immunity from error.

‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib was surrounded with the highest honours, which led to his near-deification among the sect of the ‘Alī-Ilāhī, and strange legends are woven around him. In popular piety, he is sometimes called ‘lord of the bees’ because bees helped him in battle; and his proficiency in war, which is connected with the wondrous sword Dhū ‘l-fiqār, is as much praised as his wisdom. The Prophet not only called him ‘the gate to the city of wisdom’ but also said: ‘Whose master, mawlā, I am, ‘Alī is also his master, mawlā’; and religious songs praising Mawlā ‘Alī abound at least in the Indian subcontinent. In him, the ideal of the glorious young hero, fatā, was embodied. Members of his family were surrounded by myths: not only was the ancient belief in the rqj‘a, the return of the hidden leader of the community, applied to them, but also dusk was interpreted by some pious Shiites as the blood of Ḥusayn. The martyrdom of Ḥusayn offered them the passion motif, which added a special hue to Shia piety.

To be sure, the motif of martyrdom also exists in Sunni Islam, for the Koran speaks extensively of the sufferings of the prophets preceding Muhammad, as does the oft-quoted saying ‘ashaddu balā'an al-anbiyā' (AM no. 320), ‘Those who are afflicted most are the prophets, then the saints, and then the others rank by rank’. The Koran stated that ‘those slain in the way of God are not dead but alive’ (Sūra 3:169), and that applies mainly to those slain in jihād.

Those whom the Sufis, and following them many orientalists, regard as the famous martyrs are usually considered heretics by the orthodox: these are Sufis such as al-Ḥallāj (d. 922), the young Persian mystic ‘Aynul Quḍāt (d. 1131) and the philosopher-mystic Suhrawardī (d. 1191) (who is not called shahīd, ‘martyr’, but maqtūl, ‘killed’); the Ḥurūfī poet Nesimi (d. 1405) in the Turkish environment, the Mughal prince Dārā Shikōh and his friend the poet Sarmad (d. 1659 and 1661 respectively). Owing to their unusual, non-conformist attitude, all of them have attracted, as Hamid Algar states with some dismay, the interest of scholars much more than has the normative Sunni believer.

One of these ‘normative’ believers has to be mentioned: it is the so-called mujaddid, the ‘renovator’ who is supposed to appear at the turn of every century of the hegira to interpret afresh the Sunni tradition.40 The concept becomes more central—understandably—in the course of time, the further the days of the Prophet and the companions were away, and although there is a considerable number of people who are considered, by this or that trend in Sunni Islam, to be a mujaddid, one name immediately comes to mind: that is the ‘renovator of the second millennium’, mujaddid-i alf-i thānī, Aḥmad Sirhindī (d. 1624). Coming from the sharī‘a-minded Naqshbandi Sufi tradition, he tried, at the beginning of the second millennium of the hegira, the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century AD, to reform Indian Islam, which he felt had been polluted by adapting to many Indian, pagan customs. Emperor Akbar's attempt to create a dīn-i ilāhī, an eclectic religion that comprised all the ‘positive’ elements of the religions in his vast empire, aroused the wrath of orthodox Muslims (as reflected in Bada'onī's historical work Muntakhab at-tawārīkh). By means of letters, Aḥmad Sirhindī tried to call back the Mughal nobility to the true highway that leads to salvation. His followers were probably not aware of Sirhindī's extremely high claims for himself and his three successors, for he felt himself to be the qayyūm, the one through whom the motion of the world continues—a rank higher even than that of the qiṭb in mystical Islam. Sirhindī's posthumous influence extended over large parts of the central and eastern Muslim world, and the letters of the imām rabbānī, the ‘Imam inspired by the Lord’, have been translated into several Islamic languages.

Later lists of mujaddids continued the sequence with a number of famous religious scholars, such as al-Kūrānī, who propagated Sirhindī's teachings in the later seventeenth century; and even Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khan (d. 1885), the prince-consort of Bhopal and active member of the orthodox ahl-i ḥadīth movement in India, was seen by some as a mujaddid.

The ‘man of God’ was always mentioned as the ideal of the true believers, but one should beware of taking ‘man’ here as gender-related. As Rūmī says:

If one could become a ‘man’ by virtue of beard and testicles, every buck has enough hair and beard!

(M V 3, 345)

A woman can equally be a ‘man of God’, for ‘when a woman walks on the path of God she cannot be called woman’, as ‘Aṭṭār says about the great woman saint Rābi‘a of Basra (d. 801). Yet, the prejudice that women are second-rate creatures and that they have no soul is still very much alive, and especially the mass media in the West like to dwell upon these topics.41

The Koran certainly ameliorated the woman's position compared to previous times. She receives a share of any inheritance, though less than a man, for she is supposed to be maintained by her husband, who had to pay the dower. More than that, she had the right to administer her own wealth and whatever she might earn or inherit during her lifetime; there is no Gütergemeinschaft (joint ownership of property) in marriage. Against these positive developments (of which many uneducated women barely know, for their rights were curtailed in many cases by the ‘ulamā), women are not fully emancipated politically and legally, and are considered half of the man: one needs two male but four female witnesses at court, and the blood money for a woman is half of that for a free man. Marriage is arranged, and, as marriage of cousins is frequent (and easy to practise in large family units), the first wife is usually referred to, in Arabic, as bint ‘ammī, ‘my cousin’.

Polygamy is permitted (Sūra 4:3f.), so that the man can marry up to four legitimate wives; but from the condition that these wives have to be treated absolutely equally, modernists have deducted that this is a hidden suggestion to adhere to monogamy—for who could be absolutely just not only in material sustenance but also in affection? Slave-girls can serve as concubines, and if they bear a child to their master they become free. Numerous caliphs in the Muslim world were sons of slave-girls, who thus wielded a considerable influence upon politics. Divorce is easy and can be pronounced by the husband (Sūra 2:229); after the third ṭalāq, the expression of the divorce formula, the divorce is final, and the man can remarry the same wife only after she has been married to and divorced from another man. Women can include a paragraph into the marriage contract that under certain circumstances (mental illness; impotence of the husband) they have the right to ask for divorce. Temporary marriage is permitted in Shia law; it can last from a few hours to months and years; children from such marriages are legitimate.42

The strange idea that women have no soul according to Islam can immediately be discarded when one reads the numerous Koranic sentences in which the term ‘those who do right, men or women’ (Sūra 16:97) occurs, or where muslimūn wa muslimāt, mu'minūn wa mu'mināt, ‘Muslim men and women, believing men and women’ are mentioned together. Women have to fulfil all religious duties like men: they must perform the ritual prayer, although they are not encouraged to pray in the congregation on Fridays; they fast and go on pilgrimage (in company of a relative, not alone); and it is only during the days of their impurity that they cannot participate in cultic acts—but they have to make up the loss at a later point or, in the case of fasting, by substitute acts.

It would indeed be amazing if Islam were a religion that is against women. As much as later developments may give this impression, the Prophet himself said in a famous ḥadīth, which was taken by Ibn ‘Arabī as the centre of meditation for his chapter on Muhammad in the Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam: ‘God made dear to me from your world women and perfume, and my consolation is in prayer’ (AM no. 182). Muhammad's first wife, the mother of his children, was Khadīja, ‘the mother of the faithful’, whom he loved dearly and who was his greatest supporter during the crises triggered by the shock of the first revelations. Before the Wahhabi rule in Saudi Arabia with its strict prohibition of ‘tomb-worship’, the Meccans used to go to Khadīja's mausoleum and ask for help bi-barakat sittinā, ‘by the blessing of our lady!’43

The position of the Prophet's youngest daughter, Fāṭima, was raised in Shia piety: the mother of the martyred imams became a kind of mater dolorosa, interceding for those who weep for Ḥusayn.44 While her importance in Shia life cannot be overstated, the Shia thoroughly dislike the Prophet's youngest wife, ‘A'isha, the daughter of Abū Bakr, who was to become the first caliph (thus usurping ‘Alī's rightful position, as the Shia held). Young ‘A'isha, a mere child when she was married, was certainly a strange element among the other women—divorced and widowed—whom the Prophet had married after Khadīja's death in 619. A considerable number of ḥadīth about the Prophet's personal habits are related on ‘A'isha's authority, and often the Prophet's address to her—‘Kallimīnī ya Ḥumayrā, Talk to me, oh little reddish one!’—is quoted to show his fondness of her (AM no. 47), Later (656), she played an important political role, riding out on her camel to lead her companions—against ‘Alī.

Women from the following generations appear in legend and piety, such as Sakīna, Imam Ḥusayn's daughter, or Sitt Nafīsa (d. 824), whose mausoleum in Cairo is much visited and whose birthday was celebrated in Mamluk times by the sultan. The mausoleum of Zaynab Umm Hāshim is likewise a centre of popular piety for the Egyptians: this lady is regarded as a kind of director of the day-to-day affairs in the heavenly government (now called, with a ‘democratic’ term, dīvān ask-shūrā), and thus proves resourceful when called for one's daily needs.

The Koran mentions or alludes to only a few women in sacred history: Eve's part in the Fall is not mentioned in the Scripture but was elaborated in the Tales of the Prophets to show her negative role in man's seduction;45 Asiya is the believing wife of Pharaoh who saved the infant Moses; Hajar, the mother of Isma‘il, is closely connected with the Kaaba; but pride of place belongs to Maryam, the only one mentioned by name and extolled as the virgin mother of Jesus.

I mentioned the importance of the mothers in the biographies of great Sufis and pious scholars, and could add the pious wives or daughters of Sufi masters, such as Qushayrī's wife, the daughter of Abū ‘Alī ad-Daqqāq (d. 1015). It is not surprising to find a good number of women who were saints in their own right, all over the Islamic world, not only the noble ladies from the Prophet's family but also princesses or poor, unlettered women—from Princess Jahānārā, the daughter of the Mughal emperor Shāh Jahān (d. 1681) to the poor, love-intoxicated Lallā Mīmūna in Morocco; from Pisili Sultan, ‘she with the kitten’, and Karyağdi Sultan, ‘Miss It Has Snowed’ in Anatolia, to Būbū Rāstī in Burhanpur (d. after 1620), who was a sought-after commentator of classical Persian mystical poetry; from Rābi‘a of Basra (d. 801)46 to Fāṭima of Cordoba (d. after 1200) who, despite her great age, deeply influenced young Ibn ‘Arabī, not forgetting the great number of more or less unknown women saints in Palestine—there is no lack of saintly women. Sometimes they are simply grouped together, like the Haft ‘afīfa, ‘the seven pure ones’ in Sind; and, just as a female visitor is not admitted inside certain shrines, male visitors are kept outside the shrines or enclosures where saintly women rest.

In the Middle Ages, convents for women existed in Cairo and elsewhere; there, women could spend a span of time, for example after a divorce when they had to wait three months and ten days until they could remarry, or after the death of their husband. Such convents were led by a skaykha who also preached to the inmates and led them in prayer. Women appear now and then as preachers, or reciters of religious poetry, and some even taught ḥadīth publicly (such as Karima of Marw in Mecca).

Benazir Bhutto's appointment as prime minister of Pakistan amazed many in both Muslim and Western countries, yet there were quite a few precedents of a woman ruling a country (provided that she does not claim to be imam in the political sense, or caliph!) such as Raz ia Sultana in Delhi (1236–40) and a few years later Shajarat ad-Durr (1246–50) in Egypt, and, last but not least, the famous Begums of Bhopal, who ruled over the central Indian province in female succession for nearly a century from the 1830s onwards.

The Koran (Sūra 24:31) states that the Prophet's wives should ‘cover their ornaments’, a sentence that has been interpreted in different ways—it resulted in the complete veiling of hair, face, body and hands (a notable Pakistani woman professor even used to wear gloves lest an inch of her skin be visible). Originally, the order to cover oneself decently was meant to make a distinction between noble women and the servants and lower-class women who went out with little more but the necessary clothing; it was a distinction, not an onerous duty. In rural areas, veiling was barely possible, as the women had to work in the fields or woods. The strictest taboos were imposed on sayyid women, because it was held that the rules given to the Prophet's wives should be applied to them—and, as always in such cases, they were exaggerated and hardened over the course of the centuries: a pious woman would leave her husband's house only on the bier (and she has to be buried somewhat deeper than a man).

The insistence upon woman's deficiencies (a term very much used also in the Christian Middle Ages) reveals the ascetic fear of women's power, and the ascetics in early Islam saw in women something horrible but—alas!—necessary. The sunna's insistence on married life left them between their wish to sever completely the bonds with this world (a world that appeared to them, as it did to their Christian contemporaries, as a ghastly old hag, always ready to seduce and then to devour her unfortunate lovers) and a normal and normative family life. Marriage, to be sure, is no sacrament but a simple contract in which the bride is represented by her wālī, ‘representative’.

The institution of marriage is beautifully called one of God's wonderful signs, ayāt, in the Koran (Sūra 30:21) and is explained, in the Tales of the Prophets, by God's creation of Eve, where God is said to address Adam: ‘I gathered My grace in My handmaiden Eve for you, and there is no favour, O Adam, better than a pious wife’. And when they were married, the angels showered coins from Paradise over them,47 as is done in traditional wedding processions (and to this day weddings have remained an occasion to show off, connected with incredible expenses which often impoverish a family).

Man's right (Sūra 4:34) to beat his wife for any misconduct by her has coloured the general image of suffering wives, and the ḥadīth quoted by Ghazzālī, and well known also in India, mat ‘If it were permitted to fall down before anyone but God, women should prostrate before their husbands’ certainly does not convey the idea of equality between the partners. Nor does Rūmī's comparison of married life to an educational process in which the man wipes off his impurities onto the woman speak of a very lofty state—and yet marriage could also become a symbol for creation in general and for worship. For Ibn ‘Arabī, everything that transforms, muḥīl, is a father, and that which is transformed, mustaḥīl, a mother, while the act of transformation is a marriage, nikāḥ. The Prophet is credited with the sayings: ‘The best of you is the one who is best to his wife…’ (AM no. 57) and ‘When he kisses her it is as if he has kissed the pillar of the Kaaba…’. These and similar praises of married life are found in a Persian treatise on the ‘Mysteries of Marriage’, to which Sachiko Murata has recently drawn attention.48 And the very frank descriptions of the happiness of sexual union in Bahā-i Walad's life form, as it were, a bridge between actual marriage and the experience of mystical union. Mawlānā Rūmī, although turning at times to the ascetic aversion to women (despite his own happy marriage to a remarkable woman, Kīrā Khātūn, whom he married after his first wife's death), has found the most beautiful description of women's secret: when commenting (M I 2, 413f.) upon the Prophet's word that ‘many a woman prevails over the intelligent’ (cf. AM no. 57), he suddenly turns from criticism to praise of women:

She is a ray of God, she is not that ‘sweetheart’—

She is a creator—one would almost say: she is not created!

One reason for the deteriorating image (and, as a corollary, position) of women was the old ascetic equation between women and the nafs, the lower soul, nqfs being a feminine term. As the nafs incites one to evil (Sūra 12:53), woman, too, tries to divert man from his lofty goals—or so it was thought. However, as the Koran points to the different stages of the nafs, one could also apply this image to women, and the mystical interpretations of the legends, for example of the Indus Valley, by poets of the western subcontinent are fine examples of the purification of the women who walk on the hard path to the Divine as a true ‘man of God’. Thus the parallel with the feminine, receptive quality of the true seeker's soul becomes evident once more.

Furthermore, not only is the nafs feminine, but Ibn ‘Arabī—who admitted of the possibility of women entering the higher echelons of the mystical hierarchy—found that the word dhāt, ‘essence’, is also feminine. Thus, the feminine aspect of the innermost essence of God was revealed in women. As the discoverer of the ‘Eternal Feminine’, the great Andalusian mystical thinker, in whose life not only his female teachers but also the beautiful Persian lady who inspired his Arabic verse are worthy of mention, could become the ideal interpreter of the Prophet's positive statement about ‘women and scent’. That he was accused of a predilection for ‘parasexual symbolism’ is an understandable reaction from traditionalist circles.49


The ideal Islamic society is, according to Louis Massignon and, following him Louis Gardet, ‘an egalitarian theocracy of lay members’, whatever that means. The community of the believers is central in normative Muslim thought, hence the aversion of some Muslims to the Western interest in exotic figures such as Sufis and the like, as they do not represent the norms and ideals of the umma because the umma is built according to the Prophet's divinely-inspired vision of the perfect society.50 The ‘good life’, the life of a Muslim that should bring him or her happiness here and in the Hereafter, should be organized to its least relevant detail in accordance with the rulings of revelation as interpreted by competent authorities.51

The Koran describes the Muslim community as ummatan wusṭā (Sūra 2:143), a ‘middle’ community, that is, a group of people who wander the middle path between extremes, just as the Prophet often appears as the one who avoided both Moses’ stern, unbending legalism and Jesus’ overflowing mildness; for, as the oft-quoted ḥadīth says, ‘The best thing is the middle one’ (AM no. 187). The members of this group are the ahl as-sunna wa ‘l-jamā‘a, those who follow the sunna established by the Prophet and subscribe to the rules and regulations that determine the believer's life. They are brothers (and sisters) in and thanks to their faith (Sūra 9:11, 33:5, 49:10); rather, they are ‘like a single soul’ (AM no. 109), therefore they are obliged to support each other on the path of salvation by ordering the good and prohibiting the evil, amr bi ‘l-ma‘rūf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar. That means that, by being a member of this umma, one will find the way to heaven and be—it is hoped—protected from Hell. The beautiful legend of the Prophet's pledge to intercede for his community belongs here; when on Doomsday everyone is overwhelmed by horror and calls out nafsī, nafsī, ‘I myself, I myself [want to be saved]’, Muhammad will call out ummalī, ummalī, ‘My community, my community [shall be saved]’. Therefore, the members of his umma feel part of the umma marḥūma (AM no. 79), the community upon which forgiveness is and will be showered, inshā Allāh.

For modern thinkers such as Iqbāl, the umma becomes the true witness to tauḥīd: One God, one Prophet, one Koran, one direction of prayer.52 The umma is, as the same poet-philosopher sings in his Asrār-i khudī (‘Secrets of the Self’), like a rose with many petals but one fragrance, and this fragrance is the Prophet's guiding presence and the umma's love for him.

The importance of the umma is clear from the fact that the principle of ijmā‘, ‘consensus’—which was originally the consensus of the religious scholars of a certain time—was expanded to comprehend the whole community. As Georg Santillana writes:

When the Muslim community agrees to a religious practice or rule of faith it is, in a certain manner, directed and inspired by God, preserved from error, and infallibly led towards the truth… by virtue of a special grace bestowed by God upon the community of believers.

We may call this the baraka of the umma.

The Muslim knows that beatitude and hope of eternal bliss lies in worshipping and serving God, as the Koran repeatedly states; but true ‘ibāda, ‘worship’, can be realized in full only in the umma, by participating in the five daily prayers, the Friday service, the two feasts and the pilgrimage, as well as by paying the zakāt. These duties constitute the fabric of the ideal Muslim life. For the Muslim is not only part of the ahl as-sunna wa ‘l-jamā‘a but also of the ahl al-qibla, those who turn in prayer towards the Kaaba.

The role of the ‘middle community’ has been emphasized in a work by the Egyptian author Tawfīq al-Ḥakīm, who speaks of the ta‘āduliyya,53 the attempt to strike the right middle path between extremes, and this quality of ta‘āduliyya—so it is thought—has inspired the general tolerance of the umma in religious concepts: as long as one accepts the binding truth of the Koranic commands and prohibitions, one remains part of the umma even though one breaks the commandments; it is the denial of the absolute validity of the Koranic revelation that would make a person an infidel. One should also be very careful to practise takfir, declaring someone as a kāfir, ‘infidel, unbeliever’, for the ḥadīth says: ‘He who declares a Muslim to be an unbeliever is himself an unbeliever’, an adage unfortunately lost on some modern, aggressive groups among Muslims. H. A. R. Gibb could state, in this respect:

No great religious community has ever possessed more fully the catholic spirit or been more ready to allow the widest freedom to its members provided only that they accepted, at least outwardly, the minimum obligations of the faith.54

The schisms that have occurred time and again in history were concerned mainly with practical and political issues, not so much with doctrinal problems.

The feeling of belonging to the umma marḥūma makes, it was claimed, every Muslim a missionary who wants his friends to walk on the same highway towards eternal happiness on which oneself is walking. One can even explain the concept of jihād in this way: the aim of jihād, the ‘striving in the way of God’, i.e. war against infidels (the concept of ‘holy war’, as jihād is nowadays usually translated, is un-Islamic!), is the expansion of the dār al-Islām and is thus, as G. E. von Grunebaum formulates it, an instrument to unite the world in the pax islamica.55 This may sound Utopian and incompatible with the harsh political realities; but we are dealing here with ideals and thought patterns.

The concept of the umma has sometimes erroneously been identified with ‘nation’. This, however, is a grave misunderstanding. It is telling that before the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, most tradition-bound ‘ulamā, such as those of Deoband and related schools of thought, refused the idea of Pakistan as a Muslim state, as this seemed to contradict the true concept of the umma. In a similar line of thought, one can argue that in classical times the caliph was never a ‘head of state’ in the modern sense but the head of the umma at large wherever the Muslims lived;56 for the medieval ‘states’ were generally governed by princes or sultans, who would call themselves by titles like nāṣir ‘amīr al-mu'minīn, ‘helper of the Prince of the Believers’, or the like. The later interpretation of the caliphate as something ‘spiritual’ is probably derived from this overarching concept.

The problem of the right government has been discussed by theologians and philosophers down through the centuries without reaching a conclusive form. The parts of the sharī‘a dealing with the ideals of statecraft remained generally theoretical, and the practice looked quite different. The decades-long struggle for a constitution in Pakistan which should be Islamic and modern is a reflection of these difficulties. One thing, however, is clear from history: it is better—according to general opinion as well as theological reasoning—to accept the rule of the dhū shawka, a ruler who has grasped power (even despotically), than to let the country disintegrate into anarchy.

The ideal of the all-embracing umma in which differences of race and colour were unknown, as the Koran defined the community of the believers, had to be realized in a constantly expanding ‘state’ in which an increasing number of new, non-Arab converts who had accepted Islam had to ally themselves with one of the Arab tribes as a mawlā, ‘client’; and only as ‘adopted’ members of the Arab community could they gain full ‘citizen status’, not so much by embracing Islam and believing in the One God and His Prophet. It is understandable that the mawāli soon realized the paradox of this situation and rebelled; the system broke down with the growing numbers, especially of Persians, who often became the true guiding lights of intellectual progress in medieval Islam.

Another problem with which the umma had to deal was that of the dhimmī, the ahl al-kitāb, ‘People of the Book’, that is, the Jews, Christians, Sabians and later also Zoroastrians who were placed under the protection, dhimma, of the Muslim government and had to pay a special tax (cf. Sūra 9:29) but who had the right of self-government under their respective religious leaders (rabbi, bishop and the like), although they were not admitted as witnesses in Muslim courts. They were also exempt from military service. The government rarely interfered with their affairs, and they could occupy almost any profession: the large number of Christian and Jewish physicians, translators and secretaries in the administration (where, for example, the Copts boasted centuries of experience to put at the Muslim rulers’ disposal) is a well-known feature of medieval and post-medieval life. The fact that many of the Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492 chose to settle in the Ottoman Empire, where they enjoyed freedom to live and to practise their skills, shows the tolerance of the Muslim government as compared to that of Christian Spain.57 To this day, Muslim countries have high-ranking officials from the Christian or, in Pakistan, the Parsee community who are fully integrated as High Court judges or ambassadors (to mention only some examples from Pakistan; Egypt's Boutros-Ghali is another example of a non-Muslim serving in a most responsible position).

To be sure, Muslims reverted time and again to the Koranic warning: ‘Don't take Jews and Christians as friends!’ (Sūra 5:51), and edicts were issued that the dhimmīs should distinguish themselves from the Muslims by dress and demeanour. The first known edict that ordered the Jews to wear honey-coloured veils and belts was issued in 849, and the yellow colour remained associated with them down through the centuries (as it was the case in Europe). When early Persian poets described an autumnal landscape, they thought that the trees ‘put on a Jewish garment…’58

Conversions of the dhimmīs were not encouraged in early times for financial reasons: a special tax, as well as the land tax which they had to pay, was a welcome addition to the treasury. Yet, conversions were rather frequent. The concept of dhimmī was extended to Buddhists and Hindus when Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim conquered Sind in 711–12, a measure which meant that Muslims did not need to lead jihād against the native inhabitants of the country, which would have been next to impossible for the tiny group of Muslims settling in the western subcontinent.59 Conversions in the fringe areas of Islam especially in India but also in Central Asia and, somewhat later, in Africa, were largely due to the activities of the Sufi orders, not—as usually claimed—by ‘fire and sword’ or by ‘forced circumcision’. The exact mechanics of conversion, however, are not yet fully understood and explained.60

Similar to the attitude of the earliest Arab conquerors towards the mawālī, the new Muslims of Hindu background in India were regarded by some traditionists as second-class citizens: the historian Baranī (d. after 1350) harshly ruled out the possibility of a naw musulmān's occupying a responsible position in the state. The true Muslim was (now no longer the Arab but) the Turk, for the successful Muslim conquerors of the north-western subcontinent from the days of Maḥmūd of Ghazna (reigned 999–1030) had been predominantly Turks.61 In general, too, many Muslims tended to regard the convert with a certain distrust because they suspected that his conversion was mainly due to practical—financial or political—reasons, not for the love of Islam. (Conversions for the love of a human being occurred too; as a Muslim girl is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim, such conversions play a role perhaps even more in our time than earlier as result of the mobility of social groups, educational facilities, and the like.)

The community, embracing Muslims of different political and dogmatic approaches to the central truth as well as the ahl al-kitāb and other small groups, was thus far from uniform. In the long run, even something like Muslim ‘castes’ developed, especially in India.62 Occupational stratification was common, and the relations among members of certain classes or groups continue to this day. ‘Horrible—my aunt was buried close to a mirzā [member of the Turco-Persian nobility in Indo-Pakistan!]—what a disgrace for a sayyid lady!’ I heard this remark in Lahore in 1983.

But how to deal with those non-Muslims who were also not ahl al-kitāb? The problem of jihād, the ‘striving on the way of God’, was and still is one of the greatest obstacles for non-Muslims to understanding Islam. Some of the Sūras revealed in Medina deal with the problem of warring for the sake of the true faith, but this is to be understood primarily as the fight against aggressors and apostates. Yet, the fact that Muhammad, in the course of his prophetship, became increasingly sure that he was sent not only to the Arabs but to the ‘ālamīn, all the inhabitants of the world, involved a missionary claim; and thus, in the end, it was revealed to him: ‘Fight against those who do not believe in God nor in the Last Day, who prohibit not what God and His messenger have prohibited, and who refuse allegiance to the true faith from among those who have received the Book, until they humbly pay tribute out of hand’ (Sūra 9:29). The translation of jihād as ‘holy war’, as is now current even among Muslims, cannot be justified on philological grounds; the term ‘Holy War’ was first coined in medieval Europe for the undertakings of the Crusaders. Rules for the treatment of prisoners, women and children are given, but one should always keep in mind that jihād is not a ‘Pillar of Islam’; rather, it is a farḍ al-kifāya, a duty to which the community in general is called. As Sūra 2:256 states: ‘There is no compulsion in religion’, it was impossible to declare jihād as one of the absolutely binding pillars of Islam.

A ḥadīth makes the Prophet say: ‘The difference of opinion in my community is a sign of Divine mercy’. This ḥadīth, however, does not intend the different opinions and strata inside the variegated umma but rather the differences between the legal schools which came into existence in the first two centuries of Islam. Their leaders developed legal systems based on the Koran and sunna, and added—as was necessary in a time of fast expansion of Islam into areas with completely different values and traditions—the principle of analogy, qiyās, which enabled the jurists to decide cases according to precedents. One may also add ra'y, speculation and use of independent judgment. The systematization of the given data and their elaboration constituted the field of fiqh, ‘understanding and pondering’, that is, the human interpretation of the Divinely-given shari‘a.

The legal schools (sometimes wrongly described as ‘sects’) are called madhhab, ‘the way on which one goes’, a word which is nowadays sometimes used for ‘religion’ in its historical aspects (ta'rīkh al-madhāhib means at times simply ‘History of religions’, for din, ‘religion par excellence’, is only one). The madhāhib differ generally only in minor points, such as the position of the hands in prayer, the necessity of ablution after touching a non-related woman's skin, and questions in personal status law. Out of a larger number of legal currents, such as the school of al-Awzā‘ī (d. 774) and the Żāhirites, four have remained active to this day. The Hanafites are followers of Abū Ḥanīfa an-Nu‘mān, whose madhhab is generally accepted in Turkish areas, including northern India, and is regarded as being most prone to a rather ‘free’ interpretation of the law. Mālik ibn Anās (d. 795) is regarded as the representative of the traditionalist school of Medina; the Malikites are mainly found in the western part of the Muslim world. Ash-Shāfi‘ī (d. 820) takes a stance between the two earlier masters; his school is probably the most widespread one, while the fourth school is connected with the stern traditionist Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 855). The Hanbalites are characterized by adhering unswervingly to the words of Koran and sunna, disallowing human reason to solve problems. Out of this group grew, later, the Wahhabis, who rule today in Saudi Arabia and deny all bid‘a, innovations, in the legal sphere.

The madhāhib are not hermetically closed. One can refer to a lawyer from a madhhab different from one's own if one sees this as useful, and members of the same family can belong to different legal schools. But once one has chosen a madhhab, one has to follow the rulings found by the previous generations. This taqlīd, ‘imitation’, was meant to ensure that the spirit in which earlier lawyers had solved a problem was kept intact, but it soon deteriorated into a narrowing traditionalism: the ‘ulamā and fuqahā (those who deal with the fiqh) were no longer permitted to use their own intelligence to investigate the Koran and sunna but were bound, instead, to accept the results originally arrived at and hallowed by general acceptance, ijmā‘. As Islamic fiqh comprises not only legal but also religious and what we would call ‘profane’ acts and duties of the believer, ijmā‘ carried over many medieval customs and ideas which, in themselves, were only derivations and not actually based on the veritable roots of fiqh, i.e. Koran and sunna. Fiqh also established, on a Koranic and sunna basis, the personal status law and the duties of the human being towards God as well as towards fellow humans, and defined transgressions and the different kinds of punishment according to strict rules. One should keep in mind that it is in law that the position of the human being is defined and interpreted, not in theology (as largely in Christianity); the law establishes exactly who is mukallaf, ‘burdened’, with performing which duty.

Thus, the institution of ijmā‘, once thought to open the way for a development of the Muslim patterns of life, slowly became an impediment to new developments because, from around AD 1000 onwards, it was held that the gate of ijtihād, ‘free investigation into the sources’, was closed. Yet, time and again, individuals opened this gate for themselves, and the aversion to taqlīd became more and more outspoken among modernists, who perceive the dangers of fossilization of the community and its way of life and rightly believe that a fresh investigation into the uṣūl al-fiqh would serve Muslims to find a way to prosper in modern times as they once prospered. One has also to keep in mind that the gap between the sharī‘a and the sharī‘a-basted legal systems on the one hand and that of customary and ‘secular’ law had been steadily widening—the caliphs had not only the qāḍīs, who administered and judged according to the sharī‘a, but also lawyers concerned with non-religious law, by which many of the punishments were handled and state taxes imposed.

One speaks of seventy-two or seventy-three ‘sects’ inside Islam, one of which is the firqa nājiya, the ‘group that will be saved’. Yet, one cannot call ‘sects’ in the classical sense of the word the numerous religious and theological groups which lived side by side down through the centuries. Again, Gibb's remark comes to mind:

It would not be to go too far beyond the bounds of strict truth to say… that no body of religious sectarians has ever been excluded from the orthodox community but those who desired such an exclusion and as it were excluded themselves.63

True ‘sects’ appear, however, at a very early point in Muslim history, beginning with the battle of Siffin in 657, when one group of ‘Alī's partisans retreated from the battlefield because their leader accepted his adversary Mu‘āwiya's suggestion to leave the decision to a divinely-ordained arbitrium. The Kharijites (from kharaja, ‘to walk out, secede’) were the first group to shape themselves into what they felt to be the ideal Muslim community. They were ethical maximalists, overstressing the ‘arm bi ‘l-ma‘rūf, and have rightly been called the Puritans of Islam. By declaring an infidel anyone who commits a major sin, they limited the community and cruelly fought against those who did not accept their rigid ethical standards. This attitude led Muslims to ponder the problem of the relation between faith and works—to what extent do works influence faith? Can faith increase or decrease by works? This, again, was connected with the question of the right leader of the community—should Muhammad's successor be from his family, his clan, or was it solely piety that determined the choice? The Kharijites advocated the opinion that, according to the Koranic words ‘The one most honoured by God among you is the most pious’ (Sūra 49:13), only piety counted, and coined the famous sentence that the most pious could be the true caliph even though he be an Abyssinian slave—because he has the necessary moral qualities.

Such extremist views could not possibly be accepted by the umma wustā, and after several battles the Kharijites slowly receded into fringe areas such as North Africa and Oman. Under the name Ibadis, they continued to live in North Africa, and their teaching offered a practical framework for dynastic, especially Berber, rebellions which flared up from time to time in the Maghrib.

The problem of faith and works as well as that of predestination versus free will occupied the minds of several theological groups, who answered the question of whether a person committing a grave sin was still a Muslim in different ways, or decided to leave the judgment to God, who alone knows what is in human hearts. Out of these discussions grew the Mu‘tazila, who was to cause major theological discussions in the late eighth and ninth centuries, centring upon God's unity and his justice (see below, p. 222). Yet, even these theological movements cannot be termed ‘sects’.

One can say, with undue simplification, that the battle of Siffin was indeed the event that gave birth to the two major sects of Islam, the Kharijite on the one hand and the Shia on the other.64 While the Kharijites stressed the ethical qualities of the leader of the community, the shi‘at ‘Alī, ‘‘Alī's party’, insisted upon the inherited sacred quality of the leader. One can juxtapose the positions concerning authority in Shia and Sunni Islam, which softened the Kharijite approach to achieve once more the golden mean, as follows:

Sunnite Shia
Adhering to the Prophet's words and example. Authority is contractual. Authority is inherent in the leader by virtue of an inherited sacred knowledge.
The leader of the community is, at least in theory, elected from Muhammad's clan Quraysh. The caliph has no teaching and interpreting authority. The imam's rule is God-given and necessary.
The caliph is the leader of the community in prayer and war. The imam possesses a luminous substance.

That means that, according to Sunni opinion the caliph is the first of the believers, while the imam in the Shia tradition is distinguished by the inherited sanctity of Prophetic descent.

The Shia split into numerous groups. Zayd, son of the only surviving son of Ḥusayn, Zayn al-‘Abidīn, is the imam after whom the Zaydiyya or Fiver Shia is called, who ruled in the Middle Ages in Tabaristan and until the 1960s in Yemen. They profess an active imamate and expect the leader to fight and defend his community. Every Alid, whether from Ḥasan's or Ḥusayn's progeny, can become the imam; no secret inherited knowledge is involved.

While the Zaydites teach active participation in the fight against injustice, many Shiites consider the miḥan, the ‘tribulations’, part and parcel of Shia life. As many members of the Alid family were persecuted (under the Abbasids the persecution was sometimes stronger than under the Omayyads, because the Abbasids had to fear the dynastic claims of their Alid relatives), suffering plays an important role in the Shia mentality, and many believe that mourning for those that have suffered or were martyred has a redemptive quality. This attitude has been contrasted—though not completely correctly—with the ‘success-oriented’ Sunnites.

Shia leaders practised the da‘wā, the rebellious call to revolution to avenge the injustice done to their imams, but in order to survive they were allowed to use taqiya, ‘dissimulation’ of their true faith (based on Sūra 3:29). Later Shia authors tended to include in their historical surveys many people who are known as Sunnis; but, according to the Shia view, these poets, literati or whatever, must have been Shiites who practised taqiya to survive in the inimical Sunni environment. This tendency becomes stronger after the Twelver Shia was introduced as the state religion in Iran in 1501 by the young Ismā‘īl the Safavid, scion of a Shia Sufi family in Ardabil. If leading mystical poets like ‘Aṭṭār and Rūmī had not been Shia, how could one accept and love them?65 And, as there is among many Sunnites a certain tashauyu‘ ḥasan, a tendency to express one's love for the Prophet's family and descendants, such an interpretation was not difficult.

Two aspects of Shia life are connected with the very beginning of the sectarian development in Islam, that is, with the question of the caliphate. These are tabarra’ and walāyat—to refuse the first three caliphs (who were often cursed from the pulpits) and to cling faithfully to the true walī Allāh, ‘Ali and his descendants, the imams who alone can guide the community thanks to their inspired wisdom.

The idea that the Mahdi from the Prophet's family will appear at the end of time ‘to fill the world with justice as it is filled with injustice’ is a dogma in Shia Islam, while Sunnites accept this idea only sporadically—yet the numerous Mahdi figures who emerged in the Muslim lands every now and again to fight against injustice show that the concept was widespread. Suffice it to mention the Mahdi of Jaunpur (d. 1505), who preached a mystically-tinged Islam with strong reliance upon dhikr instead of prayer, or the belligerent Mahdi of the Sudan (d. 1885), who caused so much horror among Europeans and who became a symbol of the Muslim fight against the colonial powers (thus in a moving chapter in Iqbāl's Jāvīdnāma).

While the so-called Twelver Shia, whose twelfth and last imam disappeared as a child in 874, constitutes the mainstream of Shia Islam and largely shaped intellectual and spiritual life in Iran and parts of India, not to mention smaller pockets in Syria and other countries, the Ismaili currents split off with a dispute over the seventh Imam, the son of Ja‘far aṣ-ṣādiq (d. 765), one of the most influential scholars and sages, whose important role in mystical tradition as well as law is also accepted in Sunni Islam. Instead of his son Mūsā al-Kāẓim (through whom the chain of the Twelver continues), the line was continued to Ismā‘īl ibn Muḥammad. The different branches of the so-called Ismaili movement have incorporated much of gnostic thought, with ‘Alī's role becoming more and more important until even a kind of deification was reached (thus among the Nuṣayris and ‘Alī Ilāhīs, called ghulāt, ‘exaggerators’, even in Shia sources).

The Ismaili movement, to which medieval Islam owes highly important philosophical speculations, assumed its visible shape in the Fatimid caliphate in Egypt (969–1171). The glory of eleventh-century Cairo was described by the great Ismaili philosopher-poet Nāṣir-i Khusraw in his Safarnāma, the ‘Travelogue’, and in some of his autobiographical poems. The movement split with the death of the caliph al-Mustanṣir (reigned 1036–94), once more over the question of succession. One group accepted the birth rights of Mustanṣir's elder son Nizār, while others were in favour of the younger son Musta‘lī, who succeeded his father in Egypt. His dā‘īs went to Yemen, where one still finds Ismaili villages and which was regarded as the basis of the true da‘wā. Yemenite scholars were brought to India to teach in the families whose ancestors were converted to Ismaili Islam from the late twelfth century onwards. This group, centred mainly in Bombay and Gujarat, is called Bohoras (‘traders’) and constitutes to this day a wealthy trading community. They still follow the legal code established by the Fatimid jurist Qādī Nu‘mān.66 The highest authority among the Daudi Bohoras is His Holiness Sayyidna, whose ancestor came to India in the mid-sixteenth century; his rule can be compared almost to that of a pope (without celibacy, of course). His commands are to be obeyed exactly, otherwise excommunication is practised. Lately, Sayyidna has promulgated an even harder line in accordance with the increasing fundamentalist tendencies in mainstream Islam. A smaller group, the Sulaymanis, who remained faithful to the Yemeni connection, were and still are a remarkably progressive community. They played a role in politics: Badruddin Tayyabjee, first Muslim president of the Indian National Congress; A. A. A. Fyzee with his interesting modern interpretation of Islam; and Atiya Begum, the fighter for women's education in the first decades of the twentieth century, were part of the Sulaymani Bohora community.

Followers of Nizār, who was brought to the Persian fortress of Alamut, where his line continued, acted also as dā‘īs in the Indian subcontinent and converted a considerable number of Hindus in Sind and Gujarat. Smaller pockets of this faction are found in Syria (once the seat of the mysterious shaykh al-jabal, the Old Man of the Mountain, of Crusader fame); eastern Iran, northern Afghanistan and Central Asia have small Ismaili groups, and an important area where the Ismailis are the true political leaders is Hunza in the Karakoram region of Pakistan, close to the area of Badakhshan where Nāṣir-i Khusraw spent the last fifteen or twenty years of his life. The leader of the Ismailis, who had received the tithe from his followers everywhere, left Iran for India in 1839 to join his community in Bombay and adjacent areas; he was given the tide Aga Khan. His grandson, the famous Sultan Muhammad Aga Khan III, was able, during his long reign, to transform the so-called Khoja groups into a modern community in which, for example, education of women is given a very special place; he also encouraged the migration to East Africa of numerous families from Sind, Gujarat and the Panjab. Most of them, however, have recently left Africa in the wake of racial unrest and persecution of minorities to settle in the west, mainly in Canada.

Contrary to the Twelver Shia, the Khojas do not emphasize the suffering of the imams or indulge in commemorating the event of Kerbela; rather, they feel blessed by the presence of the Aga Khan, the ḥāz ir imām through whose firmans they receive Divine guidance. Like the Bohoras, the Khojas have a highly structured organization, a true hierarchy with defined duties for everyone. The literature of both groups comes to light only slowly due to the secrecy with which the beliefs are surrounded; the gināns of the Khojas (see above, p. 168) reflect a deep mystical piety in which all the longing of the soul is directed towards the Imam through whom the Divine light radiates.67

Another group inside Islam, which is not ‘sectarian’ in the strict sense of the word but whose ideals have influenced the Muslim community deeply, is the Sufi ṭarīqa, a term translated as ‘order, brotherhood, fraternity’.68 Ernest Gellner has called the establishment of Sufi ṭarīqas, which began in the mid-twelfth century, ‘a reformation in reverse’, because the Sufi orders created a quasi-church with the shaykh or pīr forming the centre around whom the different strata of members were—more or less—organized.69 Early Sufism was ascetic and certainly very averse to the world and what is in it; government was generally equated to evil and corruption. Later, the Sufis assumed, wittingly and unwittingly, an immense political power. The Sufi shaykh was thought to have a direct influence on political events and material destiny of the realms where his spiritual authority was exercised. That is true not only in India but also for Sufi ṭarīqas in many other parts of the Muslim world. Offence against a shaykh could be regarded as a reason for a ruler's downfall or a mighty person's sudden misfortune: thus some Sufis explained the Mongol invasion of Iran and the adjacent countries in 1220 and the following decades in part due to the misbehaviour of some Muslim rulers towards the ‘friends of God’.70

The faces of the Sufi orders differ widely; one finds rural and urban orders, and the teachings of the different ṭarīqas appeal to every stratum of society. Some ṭarīqas are connected, at least loosely, with certain professions: the Mevleviyya (which never crossed the borders of Ottoman Turkey) attracted artists, poets and calligraphers, and represented the sophisticated educational level; the Turkish Bektashis, strongly inclined towards the Shia and notorious for admitting women to all their meetings, were the order that worked with the Ottoman elite troops, the Janissaries, and thus lost some influence after the Janissaries’ fall in 1829; and adherence to the Shādhiliya with its sober, refined literature was often preferred by members of the upper middle class, who felt attracted by the emphasis on quietude, purity and meditation without begging and ecstatic rites, as these are so often part of dervish orders. It is typical that one of the Shādhiliyya's offspring, the Darqāwiyya, has attracted several important Western converts to Islam. On the other hand, the musical sessions of the Indian Chishtis are the joy of those who try to find God through the mediation of sacred music. Ecstatic groups with wild dhikr meetings and a tendency to perform dangerous-looking miracles, like eating glass or taking out their eyes, live beside others who practise silent dhikr and retire in nightly vigils from the outside world to find strength for their daily occupation, in which they may be highly successful (the Naqshbandis and their subgroups are among these). Others work for the benefit of the community as do the Muridin of Ahmadu Bambu in Senegal;71 and while medieval history knows of a number of Sufi rebels against the government (Qāḍī Badruddīn of Simavna (d. 1414) in Ottoman Turkey, Shāh ‘Ināyat of Jhōk in Sind in the early eighteenth century)72 or, like Sharīatullāh, against the rich landlords in Bengal, other Sufi families are very involved in politics.73

In short, the influence of Sufism is visible in almost every walk of life, for—as Marshall Hodgson writes—‘they developed a picture of me world which united the whole dār al-Islām under a comprehensive spiritual hierarchy of pīrs’.74

However, the Sufis have been and still are harshly criticized for introducing foreign, ‘pagan’ customs into Islam and polluting the pure, simple teachings of the Koran and the Prophet by adopting gnostic, ‘thoroughly un-Islamic’ ideas. Strange dervishes, wandering mendicants in exotic attire, or half-naked faqirs were the first representatives of ‘Sufism’ which Western travellers encountered and from whom they gained the impression that Sufism was something alien to Islam, a weird movement of drug-addicts who did not know anything of the legal and theological foundations of Islam. The inner values of Sufism were discovered only slowly. But me degeneration of Sufism in general and the quest for more political man spiritual power was undeniable, so much so mat many Western observers considered Sufism the greatest barrier to a modern development in Islam. Muslim thinkers like Iqbāl joined them, claiming that molla-ism and pīr-ism were the greatest obstacles to truly Islamic modem life, and that the influence of ‘pantheistic’ ideas in the wake of Ibn ‘Arabī's teachings and the ambiguous symbolism of—mainly Persian—poetry and the decadence that was its result (or so he thought) were ‘more dangerous for Islam than the hordes of Attila and Genghis Khan’.75 And yet, Iqbāl's own interpretation of Islam owes much to the intense love of God and the Prophet that are typical of classical Sufism.

Out of Sufism, and often parallel with it, grew another movement, called futuwwa. Futuwwa, the quality of the fatā, the virtuous young hero, is based, as its adherents say, on the example of ‘Alī, the true fatā. The leaders of the futuwwa groups also reminded their followers of the appearance of the term in the Koran, where Abraham (Sūra 21:60) as well as the Seven Sleepers (Sūra 18:10) are called fatā or (plural) futyān. The futuwwa groups apparently developed in the late tenth century and were a kind of sodality permeated by Sufi ideas. Some members of the movement sometimes turned against the establishment, and its offshoot, the ‘ayyārūm, can be compared to the classical mafia. The Abbasid caliph an-Nāṣir (1182–1220) gave the movement a proper organization and sent out the Sufi leader Abū Ḥafṣ ‘Omar as-Suhrawardī to invite the princes of adjacent areas to join the futuwwa, thus creating, as it were, a political network of allegiances. Its initiation ritual was apparently more formal than that in many Sufi orders; the novice was girded and invested with special trousers, sarāwīl al-futuwwa, and had to drink salty water, a sign of loyalty, perhaps endowed with a certain apotropaic power. Franz Taeschner has described the details of this initiation and translated handbooks from medieval Arabic and Turkish so that one can form an almost complete insight into this hierarchically-organized Männerbund whose members were subject to stern ethical roles—only men from respectable families and professions were accepted.76

The futuwwa sodalities were connected with the artisans’ guilds, although the problem of whether and how guilds are at all related to Sufism and futuwwa has been debated intensely among scholars. The guilds—if we can use this term—had a patron saint, and as late as in 1953 the cotton-carder, ḥallāj, in Istanbul who cleaned my mattress told me proudly the story of his patron saint, the martyr-mystic al-Ḥallāj. The guilds and sodalities such as the Akhi, who represented the Turkish offshoot of the futuwwa, impressed visitors from other countries, as can be understood from Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's travelogue: he was highly grateful to the Akhis in Anatolia, whose honesty and hospitality he praises.

All the groups were involved, in one way or another, in defending the dār al-islām, and the political changes brought about by colonial powers had to be met by new interpretations. For instance, was an Indian province now under British rule considered to be dār ul-ḥarb, which could entail that no Friday prayer could be performed?77 The problem of Muslim minorities in a non-Muslim majority area is to this day difficult to solve, especially in the West. Can they, as minorities, play an important role in society? How are they to prove that they are real Muslims?78 Can their approach to education help to ward off the dangers of backwardness of which the Muslims are often accused? Innumerable questions have arisen which were never discussed in previous centuries but which may lead to a fresh self-understanding for Muslims.79 For most reformers have reminded their co-religionists of Sūra 13:12: ‘Verily God does not change the fate of a people until they change what is in themselves’.

The new Muslim presence in the West also requires an increased dialogue, but it is unfortunate that, often, abstract theological and philosophical issues are raised instead of seeking the vital meeting point, namely the concept of God and the human soul's relation to Him. Wilfred Cantwell Smith was right when he remarked that, in such meetings and in conferences about Islam and Christianity, ‘much talk about Islam can be heard but very little about God…’.80

  • 1.

    Nāṣir-i Khusraw (1929), Dīvān, p. 214.

  • 2.

    See the numerous examples in H. Ritter (1955), Das Meer der Sale.

  • 3.

    H. H. Schaeder (1925), ‘Die islamische Lehre vom Vollkommenen Menschen’; L. Massignon (1947), ‘L'Homme Parfait en Islam et son originalité eschatologique’. See also H. S. Nyberg (1919), Kleinere Schriften des Ibn al-‘Arabi, p. 99ff., and Tor Andrae (1918), Die person Muhammads in glauben und lehre seiner gemeinde for the development of Muhammad as the Perfect Man.

  • 4.

    Jafar Sharif (1921), Islam in India, p. 22.

  • 5.

    S. M. Zwemer (1947), ‘Hairs of the Prophet’. The cult of the Prophet's hair was apparently more prominent among Turks and Indian Muslims than among the Arabs.

  • 6.

    R. Burton (1851), Sindh, p. 135. G. Schoeler (1990), Arabische Handschriften, Teil II, no. 94 (Ms. or. oc. 2319), futuwwetnama with an explanation of the ceremony of shaving off one's hair.

  • 7.

    J. A. Williams (1984), ‘The Khānqāh of Siryāqūṣ’, p. 118.

  • 8.

    T. Kowalski (1924), ‘Nase und Niesen im arabischen Volksglauben und Sprachgebrauch’.

  • 9.

    About spitting, see also E. Doutté (1908), Magie et religion, p. 440.

  • 10.

    Information from Dr Kamal Abdul Malik, Toronto, from his PhD thesis about songs in honour of the Prophet.

  • 11.

    Maqqarī (1916), Fatḥ al-mula ‘āl fi madḥ an-ni‘āl; Anastase Marie de St Elie (1910), ‘Le culte rendu par les musulmans aux sandales de Mahomet’.

  • 12.

    See EI, s.v. dawsa, and, for Istanbul, MW 13 (1923), p. 185.

  • 13.

    About the glance, see R. Gramlich (1976), Die schiitischen Derwischorden, vol. 2, p. 209; for more examples, idem (1987), Die Wunder der Freunde Gottes.

  • 14.

    Jafar Sharif (1921), Islam in India, p. 19.

  • 15.

    S. Murata (1992b), The Too of Islam, p. 144.

  • 16.

    H. S. Nyberg (1919), Kleinere Schriften des Ibn al-‘Arabi, p. 125. The idea was common among the mystics; see A. Schimmel (1975a), Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 192, and the numerous references in, for example, Rūmī's work.

  • 17.

    Fīhi mā fīhi (1952), end of ch. 5.

  • 18.

    The classification of ‘people with baraka’ used here follows F. Heiler's (1961) model (Erscheimmgsformen und Wesen der Religion, p. 365ff.). Quite different is the number of ‘people of Eminence’ as described by Shāh Walīullāh, where one find the ḥakīm, ‘wise man, philosopher’, the walī, ‘friend of God’, the caliph, the muḥaddath, ‘one to whom God has spoken’, the ford, ‘singular man’, the mujaddid, ‘renewer’, the ‘ulamā, the philosophers, and the mutakallimūn, ‘scholastic theologians’, that is, people distinguished more by knowledge than by baraka. See J. M. S. Baljon (1986), Religion and Thought of Shāh Walī Allāh Dihlawī (1703–1763), ch. 9, p. 116ff.

  • 19.

    J. Horovitz (1910), ‘Baba Ratan, the Saint of Bhatinda’.

  • 20.

    F. Taeschner (1979), Zünfle, p. 439.

  • 21.

    H. S. Morris (1958), ‘The Divine Kingship of the Aga Khan: a study in theocracy in East Africa’; P.—J. Vatikiotis (1966), ‘Al-Ḥākim bi-Amrillah, the God-king idea realized’.

  • 22.

    Fazlur Rahman (1966), Islam, p. 169.

  • 23.

    A. Sprenger (1869), Das Leben und die Lehre des Muhammad, 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. ix.

  • 24.

    Fazlur Rahman (1958), Prophecy in Islam.

  • 25.

    For the ‘aqīda sanūsiyya, see Frederick J. Barney (1933), ‘The creed of al-Sanūsī’, German translation and commentary of the ‘aqida in R. Hartmann (1944), Die Religion des Islam, pp. 43–50.

  • 26.

    The number of books about the Prophet published by Muslims and non-Muslims is much too great to be mentioned. For a brief survey, see A. Schimmel (1988), And Muhammad is His Messenger, bibliography. For a moderate Western view, see W. M. Watt (1961), Muhammad, Prophet and Statesman, as well as his numerous other works. Also of particular interest are M. Hamidullah (1959), Le Prophète de l'Islam, and Martin Lings (1983), Muhammad.

  • 27.

    Y. Friedmann (1989), Prophecy Continuous. Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and its Medieval Background.

  • 28.

    Iqbāl (1930), The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 126; cf. A. Schimmel (1963a), Gabriel's Wing, p. 168f. See also Fazlur Rahman (1966), Islam, p. 220.

  • 29.

    Daud Rahbar (1966), ‘Ghālib and a debatable point of theology’.

  • 30.

    Fazlur Rahman (1966), Islam, p. 247. Nevertheless, although the Koran is the veritable centre of Islamic faith and the dharma the central concept in Buddhism, both the Prophet and the Buddha each gained a position much higher than that of a simple carrier of revelation or preacher of the right path, and both of them were endowed with a soteriological and a cosmic aspect.

  • 31.

    For this development, see Tor Andrae (1918) Die person Muhammads, and A. Schimmel (1988), And Muhammad is His Messenger.

  • 32.

    Frithjof Schuon (1989), In the Face of the Absolute, p. 230; and idem (1987), ‘The spiritual significance of the substance of the Prophet’.

  • 33.

    Tor Andrae (1948), I Myrtenträdgarden (English translation by Birgitta Sharpe (1987), In the Garden of Myrtles), deals with the earliest phase of Sufism.

  • 34.

    Bikram Nanda and Mohammad Talib (1989), ‘Soul of the soulless: an analysis of Pīr-Mūrid relationships in Sufi discourse’, p. 129.

  • 35.

    J. ter Haar (1992), ‘The spiritual guide in the Naqshbandi order’, p. 319.

  • 36.

    Sir Thomas Arnold (1909), ‘Saints, Muhammadan, India’, ERE, vol. 11, the story of the Pathan, p. 72.

  • 37.

    C. Troll (ed.) (1989), Muslim Shrines in India, p. 7.

  • 38.

    Carl W. Ernst (1992a), Eternal Garden, is a good survey of the relations between the shrines in Khuldabad/Deccan and the rulers.

  • 39.

    C. Geertz (1971), Islam Observed, p. 51.

  • 40.

    Y. Friedmann (1971), Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi. An Outline of His Thought and a Study of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity. For later definitions of the mujaddid, see J. O. Hunswick (1984), ‘Ṣāliḥ al-Fullānī (1752/3–1803). The career and teachings of a West African ‘ālim in Medina’.

  • 41.

    The number of books and articles about Muslim women increases day by day. A solid introduction is Wiebke Walther (1980), Die Frau im Islam.

  • 42.

    S. Murata (1987), Temporary Marriage in Islamic Lands.

  • 43.

    C. Snouck Hurgronje (1925), Verspreide Geschriften, vol. 5, p. 60.

  • 44.

    Ali Shariati (1981), Fatima ist Fatima. Fāṭima was also Iqbāl's ideal, as becomes clear from his Rumūz-i bēkhudī (1917).

  • 45.

    Kisā'ī (1977), Tales of the Prophets, p. 44f.

  • 46.

    Margaret Smith (1928), Rābi‘a the Mystic and her Fellow Saints in Islam.

  • 47.

    Kisā'ī (1977), Tales of the Prophets, p. 33.

  • 48.

    S. Murata (1992a), ‘Mysteries of marriage—notes on a Sufi text’.

  • 49.

    Fazlur Rahman (1966), Islam, p. 146.

  • 50.

    T. Naff (1984), ‘The linkage of history and reform in Islam’.

  • 51.

    G. E. von Grunebaum (1958), Muhammedan Festivals, p. 5.

  • 52.

    About Iqbāl's view of the umma, see A. Schimmel (1963a), Gabriel's Wing, pp. 64–5.

  • 53.

    The concept of wasaṭ, ‘middle’, was praised in both normative (Ibn Taymiyya) and mystical literature in Islam. See Merlin L. Swartz (1973), ‘A seventh-century AH Sunni creed: the ‘Aqiqa Wāsiṭiyya’: ‘Doctrinal error or heresy results when one element of the truth is elevated to the whole, so that the integrity and dialectical tension that ought to exist between the parts of the whole are destroyed’ (p. 96). That means that the healthy equilibrium in the umma is the most important thing.

  • 54.

    H. A. R. Gibb (1949), Mohammedanism, p. 119. The Santillana quote is also from this book (pp. 96–7).

  • 55.

    G. E. von Grunebaum (1969), Studien, p. 26, note 5, referring to a Turkish statement of 1959.

  • 56.

    ‘Alī ‘Abdur Rāziq, quoted in K. Cragg (1965), Counsels in Contemporary Islam, p. 70.

  • 57.

    For a special case, see B. Braude and B. Lewis (eds) (1982), The Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire. The Functioning of a Plural Society.

  • 58.

    Khāqāni (1959), Dīvān, pp. 133, 428; Mas‘ūd ibn Sa‘d-i Salmān of Lahore (1960), Dīvān, p. 471.

  • 59.

    Derrick N. Maclean (1989), Religion and Society in Arab Sind, especially p. 41f.

  • 60.

    Sir Thomas Arnold (1896), The Preaching of Islam, is still the basic introduction to this topic, although the question of conversion has been discussed frequently during the last decades.

  • 61.

    Żiyāuddīn Baranī (1860–2; 1957), Tārīkh-i Ferōzshāhī, deals with this problem. See also A. Schimmel (1974), ‘Turk and Hindu, a poetical image and its application to historical fact’.

  • 62.

    Satish G. Misra (1963), Muslim Communities in Gujarat, Imtiaz Ahmad (1978), Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India; idem (ed.) (1976), Family, Kinship and Marriage among Indian Muslims.

  • 63.

    H. A. R. Gibb (1949), Mohammedanism, p. 119.

  • 64.

    H. Halm (1988) Die Schia, English translation (1992), The Shia; Allamah Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabātabā'ī (1975), Shiite Islam; S. A. A. Rizvi (1985), A Socio-intellectual History of the Isna Ashari Shiis in India; A. Falaturi (1968), ‘Die Zwölfer-Schia aus der Sicht eines Schiiten’.

  • 65.

    Shushtari (1975), Majālis al-mu'minīn, is a good example of this tendency. For the problem, see Habibeh Rahim (1988), Perfection Embodied. The Image of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib in Non-Shia Persian Poetry.

  • 66.

    For a very critical statement about this sect, see Asghar Ali Engineer (1980), The Bohras.

  • 67.

    Farhad Daftary (1992), The Ismailis, Azim Nanji (1978), The Nizari Ismaili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistani Subcontinent; S. H. Nasr (ed.), (1977) Ismaili contributions to Islamic Culture; Ismail K. Poonawala (1977), Bibliography of Ismaili Literature.

  • 68.

    For a general survey, see A. Schimmel (1975a), Mystical Dimensions of Islam. J. Spencer Trimingham (1971), The Sufi Orders in Islam, is a wide-ranging survey. For Iran, see R. Gramlich (1965–81), Die schiitischen Derwischorden Persiens, a work that by far surpasses its rather limited tide and gives an introduction into beliefs and customs of some orders. See further O. Depont and X. Coppolani (1897–8), Les confiéries religieuses musulmans, A, Popovic and G. Veinstein (eds) (1986), Les ordres mystiques dans l'Islam; R. Lifchetz (ed.) (1992), The Dervish Lodge: Architecture, Art, and Sufism in Ottoman Turkey; R. Eaton (1978), Sufis of Bijapur, 1300–1700; J. Paul (1991), Die politische und soziale Bedeutung der Naqs̆bandiyya in Mittelasien im 15. Jahrhundert; John K. Birge (1937), The Bektashi Order of Dervishes; Sorayya Faroqhi (1981), Der Bektaschi-Orden in Anatolien; A. Gölpiünarfiü (1953), Mevlâna’ dan sonra Mevlevilik.

  • 69.

    E. Gellner (1972), ‘Doctor and Saint’, p. 255.

  • 70.

    L. Lewisohn (ed.) (1992), The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism, p. 30. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1923), Verspreide Geschriften, vol. 3, p. 190ff., speaks of the influence of different Sufi ṭarīqas on the Ottoman Sultan ‘Abdul Hamīd.

  • 71.

    D. B. Cruise O'Brien (1971), The Mourides of Senegal.

  • 72.

    F. Babinger (1943), Die Vila des Schejch Bedr ed-Dīn Maḥmūd. The Turkish leftist poet Nazĭm Hikmet devoted a group of powerful poems to Bedreddin. For the less well-known Sindhi rebel, see A. Schimmel (1969), ‘Shāh ‘Ināyat of Jhōk’.

  • 73.

    Sarah F. D. Ansari (1992), Sufi Saints and State power. The Pirs of Sind, 1843–1947. See also H. T. Lambrick (1972), The Terrorist.

  • 74.

    Marshall G. S. Hodgson (1974), The Venture of Islam, vol. 3, pp. 211–2.

  • 75.

    Iqbāl, Foreword to Muraqqa‘-i Chughtay, a collection of paintings by Abdur Rahman Chughtay; his aversion to ‘Sufism’ is evident from his verdict against Ḥāfiẓ in the first edition of the Asrār-i khudī (1915) and his numerous poems against the ‘Sufi’.

  • 76.

    H. Thorning (1913), Beiträge zur Kenntnis des islamischen Vereinswesens auf Grund von Basṭ madad at-taufīq, was the first study of the futuwwa phenomenon. See also A. Gölpiünarliü (1962), Islam ve Türk illerinde fütüvvet tes kilaliü ve kaynaklariü. The most comprehensive collection of studies is F. Taeschner (1979), Zünfte und Bruderschaften im Islam.

  • 77.

    Not all Indian Muslims were critical of British sovereignty; rather, Sir Sayyid Aḥmad Khan and his friend Ḥālī were grateful for the blessings of the Raj, which protected them against the growing political aspirations of the Hindus. See also Maulana Muhamed Ali's speech for the khilāfat Movement 1920, in Aziz Ahmad and G. E. von Grunebaum (eds) (1970), Muslim Self-Statement, p. 112.

  • 78.

    F. Meier (1991), ‘Über die umstrittene Pflicht des Muslims, bei nichtmuslimischer Besetzung seines Landes auszuwandem’. American Muslims have sometimes compared their situation to that of the Prophet's companions who emigrated to the Christian country of Abyssinia.

  • 79.

    The Journal of Muslim Minorities Affairs, issued in Jeddah, is an important publication in this field.

  • 80.

    Quoted in S. D. Goitein (1966), Studies, p. 30.