All facets of Islam

Both as a religion and as a civilization, Islam is struck today by cacophony and a worrying reduction of its plurality, both by its apologists and by its detractors. THE shock of ignorance is much more real than a pretend clash of civilizations.

The work is dedicated to the younger generations, so the author really no longer expects anything from the older generations.? The introduction rightly denounces the ease of essentialism and the harmful use of inappropriate terms which mask the plurality of the history of Islam-civilization. Faced with apologetic speeches on the one hand and hateful speeches on the other, the researcher's words become valuable today, because they establish a healthy distance to affirm a very simple thing in the end: Islam is in essence neither a violent religion nor a religion of peace that these two contrary theses can also mean? On a scientific level absolutely nothing in any case. As the author reminds us, classical Islamic law overwhelmingly prohibited intoxicating drinks but, at the same time, the greatest poets of Islamic civilization described and extolled its pleasures, so let us not confuse the normative truth of legal texts with the real societies. This distinction is still valid today: slavery is legally abolished throughout the world and it is certainly morally condemned by the entire planet but, in fact, it still persists.

Aside from a few inevitable typos, the work is very well made and achieves its stated objective of making available to a non-specialist public a synthesis of a number of works produced by researchers, both from the medieval and contemporary periods.

Some evidence from research

The author very usefully introduces the relationship to ancient Arab sources, the importance of orality in Arab society of VIIe century (p. 18), the necessary distinction between hagiography and scientific biography of the Prophet (p. 19), the discordant theses of specialists regarding the authenticity of the sources (p. 19-20), the plurality and sometimes the contradictions between the available stories around events as well known as the episode of the revelation of the Koran (p. 20), the evolutions of Koranic exegesis over time. An example: who according to the Koran was the son sacrificed by Abraham? For ancient Muslim exegees until the 10the century it was Isaac, while for later it was rather Ismal (p. 24). It also recalls certain stories known to the ancients, but often ignored by contemporary Muslims, e.g. of that of satanic verses (p. 29) where the Prophet is said to have recited as a passage from the Koran a verse recognizing the truth of the intercession of the Prislamic Arab divinities (arnq), this story appears today in the Koranic exegesis of the famous Sunni scholar of thee century, abar, a controversial episode that most traditionists reject and which was the subject of a famous passage in the novel by the writer Salam Rushdie published in 1988.

The author recalls in a very relevant way again the inevitable hybridizations between different cultural and religious areas which are nevertheless in competition, even in conflict: the borrowings of Islam from the Byzantine and Persian systems (p. 59-61) as well as the monetary reform of the caliph Abd al- Malik wanted to stop the porosity of certain religious practices relating to the three monotheistic religions (blessings, healings, disenchantment, etc. (p. 61-63)); the border so sharp today between Sunnis and Shiites was not at that time so clearly established (this is the famous example of the Shiite imam Jafar al-diq whose tomb remained Medina a place of veneration for both Sunnis and Shiites until its destruction by the Wahhabis in start of XXe century (p. 76-77); These known facts, certainly, are more than necessary for specialists to recall these days.

Instrumentalizations of history

The author debunks a very often propagated idea that wine flowed freely in the Abbasid Empire and that this practice was ultimately accepted. He recalls in fact (p. 83) that the ulmas were hostile to the consumption of intoxicating drinks and that they made it known, which obviously did not prevent the powerful of the court from indulging in it and frequenting Christian monasteries for that purpose (p. 83). This fact alone introduces a necessary distinction often neglected between what was done in wealthy circles and the life of the mass of subjects of the empires of Islam: wine and bacchanalian sessions (malis al-amr) could be sung and put into verse by brilliant poets, including the famous Ab Nuws (d. 815), but this did not necessarily become the common norm. This argument around the circulation of wine is often used by authors in good faith to counter religious fundamentalism.; However, it is doubly ineffective to rely on such scientifically fragile arguments because, in addition to the very real difference at the time between mass (mma) and lite (ssa), the fundamentalist currents have in any case what to do with the Abbasid era, because their reference period does not reside in the VIIIe XIIIe centuries but rather the period between 610 and 661 (which corresponds to the life of the Prophet and that of the four caliphs).

By unwinding the same thread we also arrive at another overused idea, both by fundamentalists and by those obsessed with Islam: the classical civilization of Islam did not separate politics from religion. The example of wine tends Conversely strongly qualify this media assertion: a tension existed between the political and religious powers, they were in no way merged, the ulmas could therefore condemn the practices of the Muslim elites as much as they wanted, this did not change the legitimacy of power. And if by chance the political power felt threatened by the religious authority of the ulmas, it had complete latitude to torture, imprison, and dismiss the latter from their functions. The powers were indeed distinct, although not strictly separate; the medieval Christian world also knew this tension between these two sources of legitimacy.

Another idea received and shared by both defeated apologists and obsessive detractors of Islam: the allegedly immutable character of the notion of ara crystallizes misunderstandings and manipulations. Under the Abbasid Empire, this term was used by Arabic speakers of the three monotheistic religions to designate any legal system established by a prophet (p.94); it was only gradually that he designated among the ulmas the part considered as revealed of religious law in opposition to the interpretative work of jurists (fiqh). Let us not forget that the era of the Abbasids coincides with the birth of the classic legal tradition of Islam during which, very paradoxically, Muslims were still in the minority in the immense empire that they governed (p. 96), Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians constituting the majority: it is not It is therefore not surprising in this context that the traditions relating to religions interpenetrate. Sources from this period report numerous cases where Muslim parents baptize their children by Christian priestsnot to convert, but in the name of belief in the effectiveness of the baptismal rite (p. 96).

through the eyes of Ibn Baa

I would like to note here the narrative originality of chapter 6, the author chooses to travel the Muslim world of XIVe century through the writings of the famous Moroccan traveler Ibn Baa. There we discover the omnipresence of Sufism (the mystical current of Islam) which structured the daily life of Muslims. The author recounts the famous Damascus meeting of the Moroccan traveler with the learned theologian Ibn Taymiyya, the ultimate reference today for currents mainstream of world Sunni Islam, or even Baghdad, when this same traveler reported that the tomb of Ibn Anbal did not have a dome and that, each time one was built, it was destroyed by the power of God (p. 163). This story, whatever its authenticity, constitutes in the eyes of Ibn Baa (of the Malikite rite) a real curse against the rival school, that of the Anbalites, a paradoxical reversal because, today, the ulmas rather consider the absence of a dome on a famous tomb as a mark of strict orthodoxy. It is very interesting to note these major theological modifications between Islam understood by the ulmas in XIVe century and as it is professed seven centuries later by authors referring to this same past!

Chapter 7 offers a very synthetic summary of the three great main Islamic empires of the pre-modern era and, examining the political-strategic alliances of the latter, we quickly realize something that is still quite basic for a researcher: even at the time, religion was not the primary driving force behind alliances; short and medium term strategic interests prevailed. What then can we say about our very contemporary era, a time when religion structures the imaginations of societies much less than in the past??

The recent period

Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the contemporary period, a period so rich that it is of course impossible in a work of synthesis like this to grant it the necessary space. The author proceeds in small steps and they are rather relevant for non-specialists. Thus chapter 9 begins judiciously with a personality as original and interesting as the Sudanese reformist Mamd Muammad h (1909-1985). This Sufi activist of the anti-imperialist cause was also able to propose a radical reform of the normativity of the founding texts, and in particular of the Koran, by arguing that only the verses of the Meccan period should henceforth be authoritative, and not those of the period Medinese which were posterior to them and contingent. This was to call into question not religion, but indeed the entire structure of the Sunni religious institution and its mastery over souls. He was executed by decision of the Sudanese political power with the active complicity of the conservative political movements of his country.

Wahhbism is in a good place in this chapter and this is justified since it is the dominant current of contemporary Sunnism. The author shows that the latter had multiple legitimation beltsboth from the British and then the Americans, but also from figures as recognized today in contemporary Islam as the Syrian-Egyptian thinker Rad Ri (p. 246) or the Algerian scholar Ibn Bds and his famous journal al-ihb in the 1930s. Until recently, and we have not yet completely emerged from it in reality, a number of thinkers such as Rad Ri, and others much more critical, were placed in the only vague category of reformersand this, despite the great discordance between their political project and their reading of classical heritage texts (tur). The author therefore does well to mention that this famous figure of Egyptian Islam from the beginning of the XXe century evolved towards almost unconditional support for the Wahhbism of the young Saudi state, which became Saudi Arabia in 1932, and whose official doctrine was gradually renamed into Salafism. It is always important to emphasize this because this current no longer has anything to do with what many still call salafiyyalocated in the period that the historian Albert Hourani called liberal age of islam (XIXe – first third of XXe century) and which has since ended with loss and crash; But this is another story.

In view of all the above, it is clear that this work will be very useful in the hands of a large non-specialist audience who will be able to nourish their general culture thanks to the insight of a rich material and equally anchored in contemporary debates. on Islam-religion and on the long history of Islam-civilization which, whatever some amnesiacs say, is at least on the same level as Roman and Chinese civilizations.