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August 17, 2017

Aamul Feel or Waqia e Feel in Urdu

Aamul Feel or Waqia e Feel in Urdu

Waqia e Feel is an important incident in Islamic History. Waqia e feel is also known as Aamul feel. It happened before the birth of Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Abraha was the Governor General of Yemen. He constructed a large “Kaleesa” because he wanted that people come to his “Kaleesa” for Haj instead of Kaaba in Mecca. Upon failure, he invaded Mecca with large army to destroy Kaaba. His army had 9 or 11 elephants. Meccans were defenseless and ran to the hills because they don’t have power to fight with this Army. When The Army reached Mecca, Allah Sent small birds with stones in their bills. They dropped the stones on Army of Abraha and the army was destroyed.

In this post you can read about the complete Waqia e Feel in Urdu language.

Waqia e Feel Islamic History

The above mentioned details of Aamul Feel are taken from the book “Al Raheeq ul Makhtoom”, which is considered as one of the best books on Seerat e Nabi.

Ulema In Islam, Meaning & Definition

Ulema In Islam, Meaning & Definition

Literally “those who have knowledge” or “those who know” (singular alim, plural ulama_). The term is most widely used to refer to the scholarly class of Muslim societies, whose main occupation is the study of the texts that make up the Islamic Tradition (religious sciences such as Quran, hadith, Quranic commentary, jurisprudence, and theology, but also the applied sciences such as medicine, biology, astronomy, and mathematics). Members of the ulema class have also been called upon to act as advisors to rulers, or as qadis (judges) implementing the law (sharia) within Muslim societies. The authority of the ulema class in defining doctrine and right practice within Islam has been immense in Muslim history.

Historical Background

In the early period (7th–9th centuries C.E.), a separate class of scholars concerned with the elaboration of knowledge (ilm) took some time to develop. Most historians date the emergence of a scholarly class to the early years of the Umayyad period, when Islamic doctrine was much debated. Debates concerning the constituent elements of faith (iman), or predestination (qadr), as well as the transmission of hadith (from the Prophet or other notable figures) and legal doctrine (fiqh) were the principal intellectual concerns of the emerging scholarly class. Many of the ulema also, it appears, participated in the opposition movements to the Umayyad caliphate.
Some viewed them as deviating from true Islam in their leadership of the Muslim empire, and wished to put forward a more sophisticated religio-intellectual criticism of the Umayyad’s. It was, however, in the Abbasid period that the ulema began to gain both political influence and popular respect, as Abbasid caliphs and their wazirs sponsored institutional schools in which scholars could develop the intellectual foundations of Islam. It was early in this period that the ulema, with the support of some caliphs, became interested in the Greek tradition of philosophy and science, and works in languages other than Arabic began to be translated. These translations mark the beginnings of the incorporation of the applied sciences into the curriculum of learning, to complement the religious sciences, in which the ulema were already considered expert.

Ulema Class & Muslim World

Once established, the ulema class became a fundamental element of Muslim societies. The expansion of the Muslim world, incorporating many different cultures and traditions, did not obviate the need for a scholarly class whose primary functions were to maintain the intellectual tradition and provide religious and scientific guidance to the population. Their fortunes waxed and waned depending on the receptivity of the dynasties to religious influence, but the vast majority of Muslim societies, both past and present, have included a class of scholars, usually given the generic name ulema.
The authority of the ulema in matters of doctrine and law has been definitive. The ulema themselves, though, have been divided on many issues, and hence should not be viewed as a unified group with common aims and intentions. An example of this division can be seen in the famous Inquisition, (mihna) from 829 onwards, when one group of scholars (the Mutazilis) persuaded the Abbasid caliph to persecute (and declare as heretics) scholars who did not adhere to the doctrine of “the created Quran.”

Taqlid & Muqallids

The authority and respect demanded by the ulema has usually been justified on the simple basis of a practical division of labor. Not all members of society have the time, the skills, or the inclination to dedicate their lives to the study necessary to determine right doctrine and practice. Hence, it is argued, a class of society that dedicates itself to this task should be instituted, and since these matters affect each individual’s fate (both in this world and in the afterlife), the guidance of this class is of paramount importance. In the area of legal matters, this attitude was enshrined in the theory of taqlid, whereby the Muslim community is divided between scholars and those who follow the rulings of the scholars (typically called the muqallids).
Apart from this practical justification for the ulema’s authority, scholars also turned to the Quran. Q. 4:59 states “Obey God, the Prophet and those in authority amongst you.” Many Sunni scholars argued that “those in authority” probably refers to the ulema (some also included the political rulers in the category). Similarly, Q. 16:43: “Ask the people of remembrance if you do not know” was interpreted by Sunni scholars as exhorting the people to submit in matters of knowledge to the ulema. There were also convenient hadiths, traced back to the prophet Muhammad, which could be used to establish the ulema’s status. For example, the well-known words attributed to the Prophet, “The ulema are the inheritors of the Prophets,” was interpreted as implying that in religious authority, the ulema were given the responsibility of announcing the message of Islam to the community. Although there were many scholars whose individual charismatic power is well attested, their authority was ultimately based on learning. The ulema deserved this respect, not because of lineage, or familial connections, or even because of individual piety and religiosity. Rather, the ulema were due respect because of they had undergone a particular type of training and education that elevated their understanding of religious matters above the ordinary populace. It was on this basis that the institution of the ulema became an indispensable part of Muslim culture.
In Muslim history, however, the respect due to the ulema did not translate into political power. Most scholars who wrote on the relationship between political power and religious authority accepted that the ulema were advisors who aided the ruler in the maintenance of the religion.

Al Ghazali & his theory about Sultan

Al-Ghazali (d. 1111), for example, argued that the sultan should “exercise coercive power and have authority because the sultan is the representative of God,” whereas the ulema were appointed by the sultan and given the responsibility of enacting the law.
This theory of the dependence of the ulema upon the ruler for their practical authority in society reflected the relationship of the Sunni ulema with political power in historical terms. During the Ottoman Empire the ulema became an increasingly structured class of society, headed by the mufti, who advised the sultan on both religious and political issues, headed the judiciary, and controlled the religious education system in the empire. The situation was not dissimilar in the Indian Mogul Empire.
Al-Ghazali’s influential formulation of the sultan-ulema relationship can be informatively contrasted with the views of Shi_ite groups. Some Shi_ite groups, particularly the Isma_ilis in the medieval period, saw religious authority and political power conjoined in an individual, who was given the title imam. The need for a class of religious scholars who advised the imam was reduced, since the imam was, himself, blessed in a mystical manner with knowledge of doctrinal and legal matters. Twelver Shi_ites also placed an imam at the apex of the ideal political system, but believed that the imam had gone into hiding (ghayba). Since there was no ideal political leader other than this missing imam, Twelver Shi_ites were greatly concerned with the issue of community authority. A theory of “delegation” (niyaba) was therefore needed. The Twelver Shi_ites recognized a succession of Twelve Imams after the death of the Prophet. Only the first of these, Imam _Ali, had succeeded in gaining political power, and the last ofthese had gone into hiding. Reports from a number of these Twelve Imams were interpreted to indicate that the imams had delegated leadership of the community to the ulema in the absence of the Imam.
In works of fiqh, one sees a gradual expansion of the ulema’s role in areas that, in early Twelver Shi_ism, were seen as the prerogative of the Imam. This position faced a serious challenge when the Safavid mystical order came to power in Iran in 1501. The first Safavid Shah, Isma_il, declared Twelver Shi_ism to be the state religion. Jurists either devised means whereby the shah might be considered a legitimate ruler, despite the absence of the true ruler (the imam) or they rejected association with the Safavids and maintained the ultimate authority of the ulema.
The debate over the role of the ulema in the life of the Muslim community has become more acute in the modern period. In Twelver Shi_ism, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini argued that the ulema should rule the Muslim community until the return of the Hidden Imam, a theory he had the opportunity to put into practice following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. In the modern Sunni Muslim world, on the other hand, one can recognize a variety of trends. Many Sunni Muslim governments have used members of the ulema to brand their government as religious in a manner reminiscent of the medieval period. In the revivalist movements, however, one sees a reaction against the ulema, who often are characterized as obscurantist and pedantic, worrying about matters of religious technicalities, rather than the more important issues of preserving Muslim identity in the face of non-Muslim imperialism. The popularist commentaries on the Qur_an of, for example, Sayyid Qutb or Abu l-A_la_ Maududi, represent a rejection of the ulemas and an exhortation to “the people” to approach the divine text without the encumbrance of the scholarly tradition of learning.
This rejection of the ulema’s authority in matters of religion is likely to increase as literacy and the availability of foundational texts of Islam become more widespread in the Muslim world. In some Muslim countries, however, one sees the re-emergence of the ulema as active political agents, working for change. Two examples of this are Saudi Arabia and Morocco. In the recent past, Saudi ulema have challenged the concentration of power in the person of the king and his royal family. Attempts continue to be made to diffuse this power to a larger body, within which the ulema would play a larger role. In Morocco, legal scholars such as Muhammad _Allal al-Fasi have been at the forefront of the modernization of Islamic law. Al-Fasi and others are responsible for the production of an intellectual movement in which the shari_a is considered more responsive to the needs of a society changing under the influence of new technology and science.
The ulema have, then, at different times been loathed and loved by the political establishment. However, their participation in the institutions of power remains an essential component of any Muslim political system wishing to call itself “Islamic.”

Tafsir – History of Tafsir or Interpretation of Quran


Tafsir refers to Quranic exegesis. Tafsir claims to “clarify” the divine word, which serves to make the text “speak” to current social, moral, legal, doctrinal, and political conditions. Through their interpretive strategies, exegeses have struggled to make the Quranic text more accessible to believers, and more applicable to changing environments.

Origin of Tafsir

The emergence of the word tafsir as both a process and a literary genre is unclear. The word tafsir appears only once in the Quran (25:33), suggesting that no formal science of interpretation was established early in the Islamic tradition. Traditionally, tafsir can be traced back to Muhammad. However, within hadith collections, only a small amount of tafsir is ascribed to the Prophet; much of the early exegesis is attributed to one of his companions, Abdallah ibn Abbas. During the first three centuries of Islam, the words tawil and tafsir were used interchangeably to mean “interpretation of the Quran,” and many authors employed either one of these terms (or none at all) to describe their exegetical enterprises. For example, Ibn Ishaq (d. 768), in his biography of the Prophet (Sirat rasul Allah), surrounds his citing of scripture with contextual detail, which serves to explain many vague, ahistorical Quranic passages; however, his activity was never formalized or labeled as tafsir. Other early exegetical works focus on explicating legal issues or theological rhetoric, such as Muqatil ibn Sulayman’s (d. 804) Tafsir khams mia aya min al-Quran, and Ibn Qutayba’s (d. 889) Tawil mushkil al- Qur_an (respectively), but again, each author uses a different term to describe his activities. After the tenth century, a gradual distinction was drawn between tawil, which came to refer to exegesis based upon reason or personal opinion, and tafsir, which relied on hadith reports going back to Muhammad and his early companions. Throughout history, individual tafsir works emphasize either opinion or tradition, but sometimes rely on both.

With the rapid expansion of Islam, problems arose in non- Arabic speaking communities with regard to the Quran and its translation and interpretation, which called for more formalized exegetical commentary that extended beyond the words of Muhammad or his companions. During the time of the successors, schools of tafsir evolved within distinct geographical regions: Mecca, Medina, and Iraq, along with their corresponding exegetical “specialists” (mufassirun). The justification for the development of tafsir schools rests on Qur_an 3:5–6, which lays out two categories of Quranic verses: clear (muhkamat) and unclear (mutashabihat). The role of the exegete (mufassir) is to reiterate what is already “clear” and to clarify what is “unclear.” Much debate arose concerning what passages fell into either of these categories, as well as to what extent finite human reason could be relied upon to make such determinations. The resolution of this debate served to shape tafsir works (and continues to do so) on into the twenty-first century.

Typology of Tafsir

Generally, tafsir works emphasized four types of issues that required systematized interpretive efforts: linguistic, juristic, historical, and theological. Linguistic efforts focus on the meaning of a word, where to put in punctuation and pauses, the case endings of words, or the rhetorical presentation of information: Why are entire sentences or phrases repeated again and again? A juristic accent stresses what is to be taken as the general or specific application of a command, or what verses were to be abrogated by others. Questions of abrogation (naskh) rely heavily on those tafsir that deal specifically with the occasions of the revelation (asbab al-nuzul), that is, those tafsir that embed a historic Quranic passages within a progressive timeline. Without the exegetical efforts that contextualize specific Quranic passages, the legal tradition, in particular the theory of abrogation, would have no firm basis from which to operate. Theologically oriented tafsir engage such problems as predestination versus free will, the nature of God, or the infallibility of the prophets. Many tafsir works revolve around a single issue; others are composite in nature.

Tafsir studies can be divided roughly into six groups based on discrete literary and methodological features: classical, mystical, sensual, Shiite, modern, and fundamentalist. Classical tafsir emerges with full force in the fourth century of Islam, typified by the work of Abu Jafar Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (d. 923), whose Jami al-bayan an tawil ay al- Quran (The collection of the explanation of the interpretation of the Quran) presents a seemingly objective collection of hadith reports that originated with the Prophet and his Companions. Other classical exegetes include Mahmud ibn _Umar al-Zamakhshari (d. 1144), who looked to Arabic poetry as a valuable source for his linguistic and literary interpretation of the Quran. His work engages both the rhetorical and theological aspects of Qur_anic exegesis. Fakhr al-Din Razi (d. 1210) surveys a whole range of debates in his commentary, in particular the differences between the Ashari and the Mutazili theologians. The Mutazalis, for example, argued that irrational passages could be interpreted to make sense through metaphorical (tawil) interpretation. Other exegetes defend the legal views of one school of law or another in their works, such as Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200), who  supports the Hanbali tradition, or Abu _Abdallah al-Qurtubi(d. 1273), who backs the Malikis. In these examples, commentaries further a variety of theological, legal, or political agendas through formal explication of Quranic passages.

Mystical (Sufi) tafsir favors allegorical interpretation of scripture. Sufi exegetes suggest there are two possible readings of the Quran: the literal (zahir), and the allegorical (batin). They are most interested in allegorical readings, which often counter growing orthodox interpretations. Generally, Sufis are concerned with establishing an intimate relationship with the divine, and look to those Quranic verses that reveal his hidden nature in gnostic fashion. These inner meanings of scripture are accessible only to those who grasp it through intuitive knowledge (gnosis), rather than the intellect (grammatical, rhetorical, legal, and discursive interpretation). Sufi exegesis privileges seemingly random verses in the Quran rather than presenting a symbolic reading of the entire work. Oftentimes Sufi interpretations extract a single sentence from the Quran, give it an allegorical reading, and then use that reading to decipher a whole pattern of non textual symbols through which the inner nature of God is revealed. The relationship between the sign and the signified is not always apparent to the non-Sufi reader, who may expect a more systematized set of interpretative strategies. For example, Quranic references to Muhammad’s “night journey” (al-isra_;17:1), a journey that is taken quite literally by classical exegetes, is treated metaphorically by Sufis, who cast it as a model for one’s ascent along the Sufi path that requires a stripping away of the self so only the divine remains. Sufis understand the anthropomorphic statement in the Quran about God seating himself upon his throne (7:54) to mean God metaphorically setting himself over the heart of Muhammad. Some of the well-known collections of Sufi tafsir includeSahl ibn _Abdallah al-Tustari’s (d. 986) Tafsir al-Tustari (Exegesis of al-Tustari) and Muhyi al-Din ibn al-_Arabi’s (d. 1240) Tafsir Ibn al-_Arabi (Exegesis of Ibn al-_Arabi).

Sufis further interpret the Quran through their emphasis on the recitation of certain Quranic passages (dhikr), and their calligraphic art. Generally, Quranic recitation makes a written text a living text (for Sufis and non-Sufis). The words themselves do not lie static on the page, but rather resound in everyday existence, collapsing ordinary time into sacred time: the moment when God first uttered his revelation to the Prophet; when mystics directly encounter their God. And, just as the mystic finds hidden meanings within the written word, so too does he see the calligraphic form of particular words allowing for deeper reflection upon the dual meanings of their shapes and sounds. The calligraphic form of “Muhammad” or “Husayn” allows one to reflect not just on the word that signifies the person, but on the person’s true qualities and intimate relationship with the divine. These oral and visual forms of tafsir serve to extend the written document into the realm of direct sensual experience.

Shiite tafsir

Shiites are primarily concerned with establishing a line of divinely ordained, infallible leaders (imams) who stem from the Prophet’s family, starting with _Ali, who was the first in a series of twelve. Shiites, like Sufis, rely heavily on the distinction between literal and allegorical readings of the Quran to support their understanding that the concept of the imam (along with the necessity of blood descent for true leaders of the Islamic community) is rooted in and validated by the Quran. For example, the cryptic Quranic statement that likens a good word to a good tree (14:24) is understood by Shiites to refer specifically to the Prophet and his family.

Contrarily, a corrupt word likened to a corrupt tree (14:26) points to the immoral Umayyads, whom Shiites view as usurpers of their rightful leadership. As is the case with Sufis, the connection between the sign and the signified is not readily apparent to those who do not accept Shiite theology. In their interpretive efforts, the Shia move beyond symbolic interpretations to favor textual variants of the Quran that validate their imamate doctrine, including one reference where Sunnis read “umma” (community), and Shia read “a’imma” (imami leaders). Some of the major Shiite tafsir include Abu Jafar al-Tusi’s (d. 1067) al-Tibyan fi tafsir al- Qur_an (The explanation in interpretation of the Quran), and Abu al-Tabarsi’s (d. 1153) Majma al-bayan liulum al-Quran (The collection of the explanation of the sciences of the Quran).

Modern tafsir refers to twentieth-century interpretation. The aim of modern tafsir is to understand the Quran in light of reason, rather than tradition; to strip the Quran of any traces of superstition or legend; and to use the Quran as a source to justify its own claims. Generally, modern exegetes try to make the text more readily accessible to the common person who faces the challenges of modernity in a postcolonial environment where past tradition no longer seems applicable to current concerns. Modern tafsir works differ from classical works in that they no longer focus on issues of grammar, rhetoric, law, or theology, but privilege more immediate social, political, moral, and economic concerns of the day. However, they are similar in that they strive to make the divine word more accessible to those who believe. A major modern work is Muhammad _Abduh’s (d. 1905) “Tafsir al-manar” (The beacon of interpretation), which calls for a rational approach to applying the Quran to modern dilemmas. _Abduh elaborates on the Quranic passage that suggests the taking of four wives is really an impossibility, due to the fact that a man could never treat them all equally (4:129), and argues that such polygamous relationships cause harm to spouses and children. Modernists like _Abdu locate the moral core of the text, and then use their rational capabilities to extend that general moral injunction to a variety of modern issues.

Future Trends in Tafsir

The study of fundamentalist tafsizr is still in its early stages. Many fundamentalists interpret the Quran according to their own political and theological agendas, with little regard for traditional modes of systematic exegesis. For example, in Fi zilal al-Quran (In the shadow of the Quran), Sayyid Qutb (d. 1960), spokesperson for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, denies the established Islamic tradition that jihad is a defensive act of war, and determines that jihad is incumbent upon all Muslims as they abolish corrupt political and religious regimes. In the early twenty-first century, Usama bin Ladin also bypasses the traditional understanding of jihad by reinterpreting the definition of a defensive attack to include the mere occupancy of sacred Muslim lands by foreign powers, or the sheer presence of anti-Islamic values in those lands, such as promiscuity or usury. Like many modernists, bin Ladin searches for the general intent of the Quran—as opposed to traditional statements—and then seeks to apply that general intent to specific political and religious crises. For example, bin Ladin bypasses traditional theories of abrogation of an earlier by a later verse to select and privilege those Quranic verses that most closely support his military goals, in particular verses that urge believers to slay idolaters (9:5) and to smite the necks of disbelievers (47:4). Unnamed members of al-Qaida describe the hijackings of the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City on 11 September 2001 as a kind of sacrificial ritual sanctioned by the Quran. In each of these examples, the fundamentalist exegete discards tradition in favor of his own personal charisma, which ultimately gives him the authority to “interpret the Quran by the Quran.” In each type of tafsir, the Quran is made eternally pliable to offer numerous interpretative solutions to Muslims as they confront changing political, economic, doctrinal, moral, and scientific conditions.

Salafiyya Movement in Islam – Who are Salafi Muslims


Salafiyya is the name given to those who follow the ideas and practices of the righteous ancestors (al-salaf al-salih). This “salafi” approach rejects later traditions and schools of thought, calling for a return to the Quran and the sunna as the authentic basis for Muslim life. The salafi approach emphasizes the application of ijtihad (independent, informed judgment) and rejects taqlid (adherence to established precedents and conformity with existing traditional interpretations and institutions).

The “righteous ancestors,” or salaf, are usually considered to be the first three generations of Muslims, including the immediate companions of the Prophet. Because of the closeness of these salaf to Muhammad, later Muslims regarded the former’s transmissions of the Prophet’s traditions, their informed practice as believers, as having special authority. Major figures in the definition of the salafi perspective and approach are Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855), the founder of the Hanbali School, and Ahmad ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328).

The fundamental concern of modern Salafiyya, who recognize that Muslim power and influence is in decline relative to the West, is the relationship between Islam and modernity.

The goal of the movement is to make Islam a dynamic force in the contemporary world. The modern Salafiyya invoked the classic themes: a call for a return to the Quran and the sunna, a rejection of the medieval authorities (taqlid), and an affirmation of the necessity of independent, informed thinking (ijtihad). In the modern context, this involved an emphasis on the compatibility of reason with revelation, and of Islam with modern science. It also entailed a call for moral social reform.

However, by the end of the twentieth century, the term Salafiyya also came to be applied to extremist movements that advocated violent jihad against existing regimes and social orders, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and that did not adhere to a rigid and literalist understanding of the Quran and sunna. This new Salafiyya often differed from the time honored salafi approach of Ibn Hanbal and Ibn Taymiyya by rejecting independent analysis (ijtihad).

Among those involved in the definition and establishment of the modern Salafiyya, the best-known are Jamal al-Din al- Afghani (1839–1897) and Muhammad  Abduh (1849–1905). Abduh created the broad intellectual foundations for modern Salafiyya. First in exile and then as Grand Mufti of Egypt, he shaped the thinking of generations of Muslim intellectuals.

The theological core was an emphasis on tawhid, which is the assertion of the singleness of God and the comprehensive unity of God’s message. Tawhid was the basis for showing the compatibility of Islam with modern science and revelation with modern reason. Consistent with the earlier Salafiyya, Abduh advocated the informed, independent analysis of the Quran and sunna.

The new Salafiyya did not involve direct opposition to European imperial rule over Muslims. Rather, it saw internal Islamic reform as the first priority, and the key to the implementation of its goals was education and scholarship. Abduh provided the inspiration for many educational reforms and al-Manar, the journal published by his follower and associate, Rashid Rida (1865–1939), was read throughout the Muslim world. Following Abduh’s death, Rashid Rida became the most visible international articulator of Salafi thought, becoming active in organizing Pan-Islamic congresses and, after the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924, in working for the establishment of a modern Arab caliphate. He came to view the efforts of Abd al-_Aziz Ibn Saud to create a state in the Arabian Peninsula based on the puritanical reform traditions of the Wahhabiyya as representing an important manifestation of the reforms necessary for all Muslim societies.

Other important Salafi-modernist movements developed in the late nineteenth century, sometimes relatively independently and sometimes in close coordination with the group around Abduh. In South Asia, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817–1898) emphasized the importance of understanding nature as a reflection of God’s revelation in his teachings, and established the Mahomedan Anglo-Oriental College (which later became Aligarh Muslim University). As the Russian Empire completed its conquest of Muslim areas in the nineteenth century, another Islamic modernist movement, “Jadidism,” developed there under the leadership of Isma_il Gasprinskii (1851–1914). He created a new school curriculum for Muslim children, and his journal, Tarjuman, was important in creating a modern, cohesive sense of identity among Muslims living in Russia.

Many movements throughout the Muslim world were directly inspired by the Abduh tradition, and were in communication with it. In North Africa, Salafis organized movements like the Association of Algerian Ulema under Abd al- Hamid Ibn Badis (1889–1940). Salafi intellectuals and organizations became important parts of Muslim life in Syria and Iraq as well, and in Egypt and many other parts of the Muslim world. In Southeast Asia, the Shi_a Imami, which became one of the largest organizations in the Muslim world, was formed in 1912 to advocate specifically Salafi-style reform, especially through education.

Throughout the twentieth century, individuals and groups built on and developed the modernist Salafi traditions in many different directions. In South Asia, the work of Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938) provided a critical synthesis of modern and Islamic thought in his book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and other works. At the same time, he worked for the creation of Pakistan. Some forms of nationalism were presented in Salafi form, as in the development of the Dustour Party in Tunisia and the drive toward liberal nationalism in Egypt in the first half of the century.

Later, Mahmud Shaltut (1893–1963), as shaykh of al-Azhar  University, confirmed the Abduh tradition at the heart of the Islamic scholarly establishment, and scholars like Fazlur Rahman (1919–1988) further developed modernist methodologies in historical and philosophical studies. By the end of the twentieth century, the term Salafi came to be applied to a very different type of Islamic revivalism. When an ideology of violent jihad against existing Muslim societies and secular modernity developed, it started with a Salafi-style call for a return to the purity of faith exemplified by the righteous ancestors. As this message was developed by later activists, however, the emphasis was placed on militant action, rather than on intellectual effort. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the term was widely applied to advocates of violent jihad. Terrorists like those who destroyed the World Trade Center, along with Usama bin Ladin and his organization, al-Qaida, are called Salafi, as are militants throughout the Muslim world. The older style of Salafi modernism was also significant at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The intellectual content of curricula in Islamic schools and international Islamic universities around the world reflects much of the tradition of Abduh, while organizations like the Muhammadiyya in Indonesia remain a significant part of political and social life.

The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock (Ar. Qubbat al-Sakhra), a large octagonal building in Jerusalem commissioned by the Umayyad caliph _Abd al-Malik in 692 C.E., is the earliest major monument of Islamic architecture to survive. Muslims today consider it the third holiest shrine in Islam, after the Kaaba in Mecca and the Mosque of the Prophet in Medina. Its age and its sanctity, along with its visibility and extraordinary decoration, make it a major monument of world architecture and one of the most important sites in Islam.

The Dome of the Rock is set over a rocky outcrop near the center of the large esplanade known in Arabic as al-Haram al- Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), which was once the site of the Jewish Temple, the traditional religious center of Jerusalem.

The building is a large low octagon divided internally by an arcade into two octagonal ambulatories encircling a tall cylindrical space measuring approximately 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter. A high wooden dome, whose metal roof is plated with gold, spans the central space and covers the rock.

The Dome of the Rock pic

The glory of the building is its decoration. Above a high dado of quartered marble, the exterior and interior walls were once entirely covered in a mosaic of small cubes of colored and gold glass and semiprecious stones. In the sixteenth century the mosaics on the exterior were replaced with glazed tiles, themselves replaced in the twentieth century, but the mosaics on the interior stand much as they did when they were put up in the late seventh century. They depict a vast program of fantastic trees, plants, fruits, jewels, chalices, vases, and crowns. A long (about 250 meters, or 820 feet) band of Arabic writing in gold on a blue ground runs along the top of both sides of the inner octagon. The text is largely Quranic phrases and contains the earliest evidence for the writing down of the Quran. It ended with the name of the patron, the Umayyad caliph _Abd al-Malik (replaced in the ninth century by that of the Abbasid caliph al-Ma_mun), and the date of construction.

In form, materials, and decoration, the Dome of the Rock belongs to the tradition of late Antique and Byzantine architecture that flourished in the region before the coming of Islam. The domed, centrally planned building was a typical form for a martyrium, and the Dome of the Rock is similar in plan and size of dome to the nearby Holy Sepulcher, the building (also raised over a rock) that the emperor Constantine had erected in the fourth century to mark the site of Christ’s burial on Golgotha. Other Christian buildings erected in the area in the eighth century, notably the Church of the Nativity in Bethelem, show a similar use of marble and mosaics, perhaps executed by the same team of mosaicists.

Despite its antecedents and even its workmen, the Dome of the Rock is clearly a Muslim building, commissioned by a Muslim patron for Muslim purposes. Its mosaic decoration, notably its inscriptions in Arabic and its lack of figural representation, immediately distinguishes it from contemporary Christian buildings in the area. It was not intended as a place for communal prayer; that function was fulfilled by the nearby Aqsa Mosque. Rather its domed octagonal form suggests a commemorative function, though its exact purpose is unclear.

Already in the ninth century several alternative explanations for its construction were proposed. One author suggested that _Abd al-Malik had commissioned the Dome of the Rock to replace the Ka_ba, which had fallen into enemy hands. This explanation, however, is simplistic and undermines one of the five central tenets of Islam, though the building could have functioned (and does today) as a secondary site of pilgrimage. Another explanation, also current from the ninth century, associates the building with the site of Muhammad’s mi_raj, his miraculous night-journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and back. However, the Qur_anic inscriptions around the interior of the Dome of the Rock, the only contemporary source for explaining the building’s purpose, mention neither of these subjects. Rather, they deal with the nature of Islam and refute the tenets of Christianity. The inscriptions suggest that the building was intended to advertise the presence of Islam. Together with the traditional identification of the rock as the place of Adam’s burial and Abraham’s intended sacrifice of his son and of the esplanade as the site of Solomon’s Temple, the inscriptions suggest that the Dome of the Rock was meant to symbolize Islam as the worthy successor to both Judaism and Christianity.

The Dome of the Rock continued to play an important role long after it was built. The Abbasids, who succeeded the Umayyads, restored it several times, and the Fatimids restored it in the eleventh century after the dome collapsed in the earthquake of 1016. The Crusaders considered it Solomon’s Temple itself and rechristened the building Templum Domini. Saladin, the Ayyubid prince who recaptured Jerusalem for the Muslims in 1187, had the building rededicated as part of his campaign to enhance the city’s sanctity and political importance. The Mamluks, rulers of Egypt and Syria from 1250 to 1517, had the wooden ceilings of the ambulatory and the central dome restored. The Ottoman sultan Suleyman (r. 1520–1566), whose name is the Turkish form of Solomon, ordered the building redecorated as part of his program of embellishing the holy cities of Islam. It was restored six more times in the twentieth century and has become a popular icon of Islam, decorating watches and tea towels and replicated in miniature models made of motherof- pearl and plastic. The first great monument of Islamic architecture, it has taken on a new life as the symbol of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

East Asian Culture and Islam – A Brief History


Within the field of Islam in East Asia, the major developments and most lasting influences between Islam and the indigenous peoples have taken place in China, where Muslims traders first settled in the early decades of the hijra. This early interest in China as a destiny for Muslim travelers is reflected in the famous hadith, “seek knowledge, even unto China.” Despite centuries of relative isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, the Muslims in most regions of China have managed to sustain a continuous knowledge of the Islamic sciences, Arabic, and Persian. Given extended periods of persecution combined with periods of intense government efforts to legislate adoption of Chinese cultural practices and norms, that Islam should have survived, let alone flourished, is an extraordinary historical phenomenon. Although some scholars have attributed the survival of Muslim communities in China to their ability to adopt Chinese cultural traditions, when asked themselves, Chinese Muslims usually attribute their survival to their strong faith and God’s protection.

In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), a period of extreme political violence and chaos when Muslims together with other minority groups were persecuted, Muslim communities throughout China actively sought to reclaim their religious identity and revive Islamic education.

Islam and East Asian Culture pic

In addition to repairing and rebuilding mosques returned to them after the revolution, Muslim communities have also pooled their resources to build new mosques and Islamic schools. These schools are filled with students of all ages, including the elderly, who after decades of government control are anxious to study Islam and Arabic. More recently a growing number of Chinese Muslims are pursing advanced Islamic studies at international Islamic centers of learning. Although there are now Muslims present in virtually every region of China, there have undoubtedly been many communities that were either completely destroyed during government military campaigns, or that simply assimilated to the point of dissolution. One interesting example of a community that came to the brink of complete assimilation, only to be revived for political reasons, was documented by an anthropologist in the early 1980s. In Quanzhou (known as Zaytun in the Arabic sources), a city located along China’s southeast coast, a large clan existed whose members had so assimilated to local customs as to be completely indistinguishable from the local Han Chinese. They took part in the full range of traditional religious practices, many of which had to do with  honoring one’s ancestors. They knew nothing of Islam, ate pork, and drank alcohol. There was one slight difference though: During the annual sacrifices made to one’s ancestors, when preparing food to offer ceremoniously to their ancestors, they would not include pork or alcohol. This tenuous connection to their ancestors (Muslim traders and officials who had first settled in this region in the early years of the hijra) was called upon in 1981 when this extended family sought government recognition as one of the officially recognized minority groups. As they had the genealogical records to prove their descent from Muslims, they were able to change their status from Han Chinese to Hui (Chinese Muslim).

Mosques and Calligraphy

Mosques and the calligraphy within them have also served as an interesting barometer of the waxing and waning of traditional Chinese influences on the development of indigenous Chinese Islamic traditions.

Although no mosques dating back to the pre-Mongol period have survived, it is assumed that mosques during this  period reflected the architecture of the immigrant Muslims who built them, as they were required to live in special districts separate from the general population. By the Ming period in the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, however, there was significant pressure for Muslims to outwardly conform to Chinese traditions. The Huajue mosque in Xian, which dates back to the Ming period and has survived down to the present, is an exquisite example of how Chinese Muslims were able to incorporate traditional Chinese motifs,  decorative arts, and temple architectural styles into the structureand decoration of mosques. In this mosque, as in most others in China, Arabic calligraphy is interspersed with carvings and paintings of traditional Chinese images of flowers, fruit, mythical animals, and Chinese calligraphy. The rooftops are protected by small animal figures along the ridges of roof tiles, and the minarets take the form of pagodas. In addition, the Arabic calligraphy is a highly stylized form that differs from region to region and reflects local calligraphic traditions that have evolved in relative isolation over centuries. However, in recent years, in part as a result from pressure from outside funding sources and the growing number of Chinese Muslims going overseas for the hajj and to study, many communities have torn down these traditional mosques and replaced them with ones believed to be more “authentic.” Over the past twenty years untold numbers of mosques dating back centuries have been destroyed. Nevertheless, in some parts of China in recent years, there has been a growing movement among Chinese Muslims to protect their unique architectural traditions.

Local Celebrations

As there are Muslims communities in every part of China with their own histories and local traditions it would be difficult to generalize about the ways in which Islamic practices have been influenced by other local Chinese traditions. However, by looking at local celebrations of _Id al-Fitr and the Maulid (birthday of the prophet Muhammad) one can gain some sense of the variety of ways in which these interactions have developed. For example, in Yunnan province in southwest China, Muslim communities spread throughout the region. Many are direct descendants of Sayyid _Ajall Shams al-Din, a Muslim from Bukhara, who served as an  official under the Mongol Yuan dynasty and settled in Yunnan at the end of the thirteenth century. Seven centuries later, during the annual celebrations of _Id al-Fitr, after communal prayers at the mosque, Muslims from different areas travel to the site of Sayyid _Ajall’s grave where special prayers are held.

First there are readings from the Qur_an, then the tomb is swept and cleaned (reminiscent of the traditional Chinese Qingming festival held once a year when Chinese go to the graves of their ancestors, sweep and clean the area and then make food offerings), and then the accomplishments of Sayyid _Ajall are retold. In conclusion, a special service is held to honor the hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed during the Qing dynasty, and the hundreds killed more recently in this area during the Cultural Revolution.

In another region of Yunnan, a group of Muslim villages spread out over a vast plain have developed there a way of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, which allows them to  reassert their ties to one another. Every year the Mawlid is celebrated in the fall over a period of two months beginning with the end of the major harvests. Each village is assigned a weekend when it will host all the other villages in a Mawlid celebration. Although the dates clearly are not connected with the Islamic calendar, their tradition allows them to share their bounty with their neighboring Muslim communities and strengthen their networks.

Meanwhile, in northwest China, the decision of when to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday is influenced not by seasonal harvests, but rather by the desire to offer younger Muslims an alternative activity during the widely and elaborately celebrated Chinese New Year. In recent years local Muslim religious leaders in Xian have considered scheduling celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday to coincide with the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The Role of Women

Another example of how local histories and traditions within the diverse communities of Muslims in China have evolved  over the centuries can be seen in the roles of women in different communities. In central China there is a long tradition of active involvement by women in both Islamic education and religious leadership. Not only is there a long  history of women imams in this region, there is also a tradition of separate women’s mosques. In northwest China, however, women have tended not to play an active leadership role within Muslim communities, and usually they do not pray in the mosques with the men. According to Muslims in other parts of China, these attitudes in the northwest toward women are the result of the Muslims adopting local Chinese views, which are considered quite chauvinistic. In southwest China, however, women play an active role within Muslim communities and are also widely credited with insuring the survival of the Muslim population in the aftermath of a brutal massacre that took place in the 1870s. In most mosques men and women pray side by side with a half curtain dividing the prayer hall. Although over the centuries many Chinese Muslim women adopted the custom of footbinding, historically and down to the present, the Muslim community has not adopted the widespread practice of female infanticide. In conclusion, although maintaining their religious beliefs and practices over the centuries has been a continual challenge, Muslims in China have always been confident of their identities as both Muslims and Chinese. Although some Western scholars have presumed that these identities were somehow inherently antagonistic if not mutually exclusive, the survival of Islam in China belies these assumptions. Islamic and Chinese values have both proven to be sufficiently complementary and dynamic to allow for the flourishing of Islam in China.

Islam in East Asia – How Islam spread in China, Japan& Korea

Islam in East Asia

Islam has spread to all parts of East Asia, a region that features  some of the world’s major centers of Islamic influence.

Islam in China

With a Muslim population conservatively estimated at twenty million, China today has a larger Muslim population than most of the Arab countries of the Middle East, and yet few scholars have concentrated on this unique community located at the far reaches of the Muslim world. Of China’s fiftyfive officially recognized minority peoples (China’s majority ethnic group is known as Han Chinese), ten are primarily Muslim: the Hui, Uighur, Kazak, Dongxiang, Kirghiz, Salar, Tajik, Uzbek, Bonan, and Tatar. The largest group, the Hui, are spread throughout the entire country, while the other nine live primarily in the northwest.

As a result of the extensive sea trade networks between China and Southwest Asia dating back to Roman times, there have been Muslims in China since shortly after the advent of Islam. Small communities of Muslim traders and merchants survived for centuries in cities along China’s southeast coast, the most famous settlements being Canton and Quanzhou (Zaitun in the Arabic sources). During the first several centuriesthere was limited intermixing between the Muslim traders  and the local Chinese population. It was not until the thirteenth century with the establishment of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty (1278–1368) that thousands of Muslims from Central and Western Asia were both forcibly moved to China by the Mongols as well as recruited by them to assist in their  governance of their newly acquired territories. Although some of the higher-ranking Muslim officials may have been able to arrange marriages with women from their places of origin, it is generally assumed that most of the soldiers, officials, craftsmen, and farmers who settled in China during this early period married local women. Despite centuries of intermarriage, the Muslims who arrived at this time were able to establish communities that have survived with many of their cultural and religious traditions intact down to this day.

Islam during Ming Dynasty 

During the early part of the Ming period (1368–1644), the emperor Yongle ordered Zheng He, a Muslim eunuch from Yunnan in southwest China, to lead a series of massive navalexpeditions to explore the known world. In all, between 1405 and 1432, seven major expeditions were launched involving hundred of Chinese vessels and thousands of tons of goods and valuables to be traded throughout the southeast Asian  archipelago, the Indian Ocean, and as far as the east coast of Africa. The success of these trading expeditions was no doubt in part due to Zheng He’s religion and his ability to interact with many of the Muslim rulers and merchants encountered along the way. However, shortly after the death of the Yongle emperor, China’s cosmopolitan and international initiatives gave way to a period of conservatism and the redirection of imperial resources toward domestic issues and projects. During this period numerous laws were passed requiring “foreigners” to dress like Chinese, adopt Chinese surnames, speak Chinese, and essentially in appearance become Chinese.

Despite these restrictions and requirements, the Muslims of China continued to actively practice their faith and pass it on to their descendants. By the end of the Ming dynasty there were enough Chinese Muslim intellectuals thoroughly educated in the classical Confucian tradition that several scholars developed a new Islamic literary genre: religious works on Islam written in Chinese that incorporated the vocabulary of Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist thought. These texts, known as the Han Kitab, were not apologist treatises written to explain Islam to a non-Muslim Chinese audience, but were rather a reflection of the degree to which the Muslims of China had become completely conversant in intellectual traditions of the society in which they lived. Moreover, as more and more Chinese Muslims lost their fluency in Arabic and Persian, it became clear that in order to insure that future generations of Muslims were able to have a sophisticated understanding of their faith, religious texts had to be written in Chinese.

The linguistic challenges of transliterating Arabic and Persian religious terms and proper names into Chinese also facilitated the blending of Chinese and Islamic principles as Chinese Muslim authors sought to create new Chinese terms to replace Arabic and Persian ones. Several of these terms are striking in their ability to use traditional Chinese characters to reflect fundamental Islamic concepts: God is translated as zhen zhu, or “the true lord”; Islam is qingzhen jiao, or “the pure and true religion”; the five pillars of Islam become the five constants, wu chang; and the prophet Muhammad is known as zhi sheng, or “utmost sage.”

Islam in East Asia map

Islam during Qing Dynasty

In 1644, the Qing dynasty was established, marking the beginning of a period of unparalleled growth and expansion, both in terms of territory and population. Travel restrictions  were lifted, and the Muslims of China were once again allowed to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and study in the major centers of learning in the Islamic world. During this period several Hui scholars studied abroad and upon their return they started a movement to revitalize Islamic studies by translating the most important Islamic texts into Chinese and thus making them more accessible.

Despite the opportunities for travel and study that arose during this period, the Qing dynasty also represented a period of unparalleled violence against the Muslims of China. As reform movements led by Muslims who had studied overseas spread, conflicts arose between different communities.

In several instances the government intervened, supporting one group against another, leading to an exacerbation of the conflict, outbreaks of mass violence and the eventual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and several rebellions.

In southwest China, it was the growing number of Han Chinese migrants moving into areas where Muslims had lived for centuries that led to violent conflicts. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China experienced a massive population explosion resulting in millions of Han Chinese moving into the frontier regions. As more immigrants moved into Yunnan province along the southwest frontier, there were increasing clashes with the Hui who had settled there in the thirteenth century and whose population is estimated to have been one million. In a series of disputes between newly arrived Han migrants and Hui who had lived there for centuries, local Han Chinese officials (who themselves were not local residents), repeatedly decided to support their fellow Han Chinese against the local residents. Fighting escalated and eventually a Chinese Muslim leader led a rebellion and in 1856 established an independent Islamic state centered in Dali, in northwest Yunnan. The state survived for almost sixteen years, and the Muslims worked closely together with other indigenous peoples. Eventually, however, the Chinese emperor ordered his troops to concentrate their efforts on destroying it. The massacres that ensued wiped out the majority of Muslims in Yunnan. Some fled to nearby Thailand, and their descendants still live there, while others fled to Burma or neighboring provinces. Estimates of those killed range from 60 to 85 percent, and more than a century later, their population has still not recovered its original number. Another consequence of the rebellion was a series of government regulations severely restricting the lives of Muslims.

In the aftermath of the rebellions, the first priority of the survivors was to pool their resources, rebuild their mosques, and open Islamic schools. Having lost most of their material possessions, they were clearly determined not to lose their religious legacy. This period saw renewed contact with other centers of learning in the Muslim world and the establishment of schools that concentrated equally on secular and religious education.

The collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911 was followed by a period of unrest and warlordism. After the rise of the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party, a civil war ensued, in which both parties sought the support of the nation’s largest minority groups with promises of religious freedom and limited self-government. Many of the Muslims chose to support the Communists, and in the initial period of the People’s Republic of China, the Muslim minority peoples enjoyed a period of religious freedom. However, during subsequent political campaigns, culminating with the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the Muslims of China found their religion outlawed; their religious leaders persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed; and their mosques defiled, if not destroyed. During this period all worship and religious education were forbidden, and even simple common utterances such as insha_allah (God willing), or al-hamdulillah (thanks be to God) could cause Muslims to be punished. Despite the danger, Muslims in many parts of China continued their religious studies in secret.

In the years immediately following the Cultural Revolution, the Muslims of China lost no time in rebuilding their devastated communities. Throughout China, Muslims began slowly to restore their religious institutions and revive their religious activities. Their first priority was to rebuild their damaged mosques thereby allowing communities to create a space in which they could once again pray together, but also so that the mosques could reassert their role as centers of Islamic learning. Over the next two decades mosques throughout most of the country organized classes for not only children and young adults, but also for older people who had not had the opportunity to study their religion. Beginning in the late 1980s and continuing to the 1990s Islamic colleges have also been established throughout most of China. Within China, when asked how to explain the recent resurgence in Islamic education, community members cite two main reasons: a desire to rebuild that which was taken from them, and the hope that a strong religious faith would help protect Muslim communities from the myriad of social problems presently besetting China in this day and age of rapid economic development. Chinese Muslims studying overseas reiterate the need to equip themselves and their communities for their future in a state that seems to be ideologically adrift.

Islam in Korea

In some respects, the history of Islam in Korea mirrors that of China, but more as a faint reflection than as a comparable historical phenomenon. Little archaeological evidence has survived but it is commonly believed that some of the Muslim sea traders who regularly traveled to the southeast coast of China also made it as far as Korea. Arabic geographers note the existence of al-Sila, a country beyond China, and it is believed that this name is derived from the Korean dynasty Silla (668–935). Although there is some archaeological evidence of goods from Western and Central Asia being found in ancient tombs in Korea, it is not known if they were brought there directly or acquired by Korean traders in China, which had much more extensive sea and land trading routes with the rest of Asia. During the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1278–1368), Korea also fell under the control of the Mongol empire. As they had a policy of recruiting tens of thousands of men from Central and Western Asia to help them in administering their newly acquired territory, it is probable that some of these Muslims ended up serving in Korea, and that many of them settled there. However, it appears that over the centuries those who settled completely assimilated to Korean society and culture.

It was not until the modern period that Muslims returned to Korea. Beginning in the 1920s, thousands of Muslims escaping the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia fled overland through Korea, and many settled there before being forced to leave in the 1940s. The next group of Muslims who arrived were Turkish soldiers sent under United Nations auspices during the Korean War. Several soldiers settled in Korea, establishing the first mosques in Seoul, Pusan, and Taegu. Today the fledging community of Muslims living in Korea is made up of some converts, but primarily recent Muslim immigrants from South Asia.

Islam in Japan

Although Muslim traders had sailed the seas off the coast of Japan for centuries, there is no known evidence of any Muslim communities settling in Japan until the early part of the twentieth century, when of the thousands of Muslims who fled Russia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, several hundred were granted asylum in Japan. Many were settled in Kobe and Tokyo, which became the sites of Japan’s first two mosques, built in 1935 and 1938. In the years leading up to the Second World War, the Japanese military government became increasingly interested in encouraging scholarship on Islam as part of its policy to portray itself as a protector of Islam to the Muslim communities of China and southeast Asia. As Japan invaded neighboring countries under its “Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere” campaign, it justified its actions in part as a plan to safeguard all of Asia from Western imperialism, but also to protect Islam.

At present there are an estimated 100,000 Muslims living in Japan, the overwhelming majority of which are immigrants from South Asia and Iran; only a few thousand are Japanese who have converted. Scholarly research on the Middle East and Islam has developed tremendously since the early 1980s, with several research centers at major universities around the country.

Islam in Balkans – How Islam spread in Southeast Europe

Islam in Balkans

Since the late fourteenth century there have been Muslim communities in southeast Europe. For most of their history they were an important and integral part of the Ottoman Empire. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when ethnic-based nation-states came to power in the Balkans, most of these Muslim communities lost prominence and some disappeared. Recent attempts by certain nationalist forces to erase the history of Muslims in the Balkans have led to new interest in these Muslim peoples of Europe.

Expansion of Islam into Southeast Europe

Ottoman armies and Sufi missionaries brought Islam into southeast Europe in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Beginning with the conquest of eastern Thrace in the mid-1300s, the Ottomans soon took Macedonia. They fought Serbian prince Lazar and his Balkan army at Kosovo in 1389, and defeated Bulgaria soon after in 1393. Along with military conquest, the Ottomans brought Muslim settlers from Anatolia to occupy main march routes and river valleys. In 1456 Athens fell to the Ottomans, followed by Bosnian and Albanian lands, and finally Belgrade in 1521.

There was significant conversion of local people to Islam, principally among Bosnians and Albanians, but also across the Balkans. This conversion was gradual, continuing throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and even later among some Albanians. Except for the devsirme, the forced recruitment of Christian boys for special military and governmental service, this conversion to Islam was voluntary. The Balkans had been a region of contention between western, or Latin, and eastern, or Byzantine, forms of Christianity. In Bosnia and Albania neither form of Christianity had been well preached or well established. In contrast the Sufi missionaries brought a tolerant form of religion and the Ottoman state a system of order based broadly on religious affiliation. The advantages of being Muslim were economic and cultural and included exemption from the head tax, privileges in land owning, and opportunities in state administration and the military, as well as links with the vibrant culture and society of Istanbul.

islam in balkans map

History and Main Developments

During the Ottoman period, lasting from the fourteenth century to the early twentieth century, the history of Muslims in the Balkans largely parallels the history of the empire itself. When the Ottoman Empire was at its height in the sixteenth century, the Balkan cities of Edirne, Sarajevo, and Salonika (the latter with a significant Jewish population) were rich cosmopolitan centers of trade and learning, with impressive mosques, madrasas (schools), and bridges. Three of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s grand wazirs—Ibrahim the Greek, Rustem the Bulgarian, and Mehmet Sokullu, a Slav from  Bosnia—were converted Muslims from the Balkans. At the end of the seventeenth century, Albanian Muslims from the Koprulu family (Mehmet, Ahmed, Mustafa, and Husein) served as grand wazirs and provided well-needed stability in a century of decline. For, as western European countries gained power in trade routes and military prowess, formerly the purview of the Ottomans, the Ottoman Empire weakened economically and the Austro-Hungarian Empire took territories from the Ottomans, including Hungary, part of presentday Croatia (1699), and later Bosnia (1878). The position of Muslim communities gradually declined as well until the breakup of Ottoman power in the Balkans left many of them vulnerable. The following period in the history of Muslims in the Balkans, the time of growth of nation-states, began variably in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with southern Greece becoming independent in 1821, followed by Serbia (whose northern part had been autonomous since 1815), Romania, and Bulgaria, all in 1878, and later by Albania in 1912.

During these times there were forced migrations, massacres, and expulsions of Muslims, especially from the eastern Balkans, for the new nation-states were largely conceived as ethnic units tied to language and a form of Christianity. In contrast, many Balkan Muslims, who did not fit in the new nation-state design, were seen as allied with the Ottomans who had been increasingly ineffective and oppressive in the last century of their rule. Thousands of Muslims were forced to flee to Turkey. This would continue throughout the twentieth century with Balkan Muslims from Greece, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria emigrating to the safety of Muslim Turkey. The exceptions to this were Muslims from the western Balkan lands of Albania and Bosnia. Most stayed in the Balkans throughout these times, although some Bosnian Muslims did emigrate in and after 1878.

The large part of Bosnian Muslims, themselves Slavs, continued as landowners and free peasants under Austria-Hungary’s rule, and remained later as part of Yugoslavia. As for the Albanian Muslims, some led the Albanian nationalist movement for independence; overall, Muslims made up 70 percent of the new independent state of Albania. There were also smaller communities of Slavic Muslims, Albanian Muslims, and Roma Muslims who stayed where they were and thus became minorities in different Balkan lands. Nationalism also came to the Turks. It is interesting that an Albanian Muslim from Struga in present-day Macedonia, Ibrahim Temo, was one of the four founding members of what became known as the Young Turks. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, was a Balkan Muslim from Salonika.

Later in the twentieth century, the Muslims in Bosnia came to be seen as an ethnic group as well. Before World War II they were considered a religious community. But after the war, with the secularization of the Communist Party and growing importance of “nationalities,” they officially became an ethnic group under the label “Muslim” in 1968. Just as “Jew” in the United States can have both ethnic and religious meaning, so “Muslim” had both meanings in Yugoslavia. With the warfare in the 1990s, this ambiguity became a problem so that today the ethnic term for Bosnian Muslim is “Bosnjak.”

Characteristics and Cultural Achievements

The Muslims of the Balkans are largely Sunni of the Hannafi school. There are also Sufi communities with more inclusive theologies, including the Sunni Naqshibandi, as well as the Halveti, Mevlevi, Qadiri, Rifa_i, Sa_di, Melami, and Bektashi orders. Of these, the Bektashi rose to special prominence in Albania in the twentieth century, only to become a target of Communist Enver Hoxha’s regime (1944–1991). Also in Bulgaria there are communities of Ali_ids. As in other parts of the Ottoman world, religious poetry known as merthiyes and nefes stems from these orders, and mevluds and ghazels from the larger Muslim communities.

Better known to the broader world than religious poetry is the remarkable architecture of Muslims in the Balkans. This includes the older sections of cities with their bazaars, mosques, fountains, hamams (baths), türbes (mausolea), madrasas (schools), and old Ottoman homes. One of the masterpieces of Ottoman architecture is the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (1575) by Sinan. Also well known were other remarkable mosques like the Ferhat Pasha Mosque of Banja Luka (1579), the Aladza Mosque in Foca (1550), and the Gazi Husrevbegova Mosque of Sarajevo (1530), all in Bosnia, as well as the famous Ottoman bridge at Mostar in Herzegovina (1566).

Contemporary Situation and Concerns

The war in Bosnia (1992–1995) between Serbian and Croatian nationalists and Muslim Bosnians led to the destruction of the famous mosques of Banja Luka and Foca and the severe damaging of the Gazi Husrevbegova Mosque in Sarajevo, as well as the destruction of many more Islamic sites throughout Bosnia. The famous bridge at Mostar, and the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, where important historical documents of the Ottoman period were housed, were both deliberately targeted and destroyed. The war in Kosovo (1999) led to the destruction of many Islamic monuments and documents there as well. One of the purposes of these civil wars was to erase the Islamic heritage of these regions of the Balkans. This is not new. There were once many mosques in Belgrade that were destroyed in the late nineteenth century. Such destruction was in marked contrast to the usual Ottoman policy that had promoted tolerance for Christian and Jewish institutions.

Nevertheless there remain Muslim communities in the  Balkans. The greatest number of Muslims are still in Bosnia, although many were killed in the war and many more became refugees. The next largest population of Muslims in the Balkans is in Albania, but many were secularized during the long communist rule. Albanians in Kosovo are also mainly Muslim. But of all the Albanian Muslims in the Balkans, those in western Macedonia are among the most observant. They form at least one-third of the population, but have been kept out of most state jobs and universities. Bulgaria has three different Muslim populations: Turks, who are the largest group; Pomaks, who are Slavs living in the southern mountains; and Roma, who are largely Muslim. During communist rule in Bulgaria, there were at times direct policies to “bulgarize” the Muslim peoples by forcing them to change their Muslim names to Slavic Bulgarian ones, and there were prohibitions against circumcision. In the 1980s over 300,000 Turks from Bulgaria went to Turkey rather than submit to these policies. Since then, some have returned and the policies in post-communist Bulgaria are not as restrictive. Romania has two small Muslim communities. In Greece, most Muslims left or were part of the population transfers in the early 1920s. There remain, however, the Turkish Muslims of western Thrace in northeast Greece.

An irony of the fighting in Bosnia at the end of the twentieth century is that the attempt of Serbian and Croatian nationalists to eradicate the Islamic history and the Muslim people of the region has resulted in a reinvigoration of Islamic practices there. The Bosnians, who were once among the most secularized of Muslims, now include those who are more observant. But the long tradition of tolerance and mutual respect of Balkan Islam, for which places like Sarajevo were justly famous, has been severely damaged.

Abbasid Caliphate – Brief History of Abbasids

Abbasid Caliphate 

The early Islamic empire fell to Abbasid control with the overthrow and decimation of the Umayyad house in 750 C.E. The “Abbasid revolution” followed an extended period of clandestine organization centered in the eastern province of Khurasan. Modern scholarship has devoted considerable attention to the formation and execution of the anti-Umayyad movement. Opposition to Umayyad rule appears easier to explain, however, than the movement itself. Factors contributing to the collapse of the Umayyads included the deleterious effects of several rounds of civil war; divisions within the Syrian-based armed forces; persistent problems of legitimacy fueled by charges of fiscal corruption and impious conduct on the part of the caliphs and their kin; serious military setbacks along the frontiers of North Africa, Armenia, and Central Asia; and a fierce ideological challenge posed by leading _Alids and their Shi_ite partisans that gave rise to repeated uprisings, particularly late in the Umayyad period.

Abbasid success against the Umayyads was due in part to support emanating from Shi_ite quarters as well as, it appears, the broader populace of mawali (non-Arab Muslim “clients”).

The leadership of Abbasid partisans, key among them Abu Muslim (d. 775), and the strength of the Khurasan-based forces under his command, tipped the balance in favor of the Abbasid movement. As Elton Daniel has made clear, alongside other historians, modern scholarship remains divided on at least two questions.

The first question concerns the point at which the Abbasid family assumed leadership of the anti-Umayyad movement. Evidence indicates that the movement remained clandestine until a very late point and that its propaganda was kept deliberately vague. In an attempt to appeal to _Alid sympathies, the slogans of the movement spoke only of restoring “a chosen one” (from the Prophet’s family) rather than a member of the Abbasid house specifically. The Abbasids only showed their hand at a very late point; assuming control of  the caliphate, the dynasty alienated the _Alids and their Shi_ite backers. The second question relates to the composition of the movement itself. One view is that the movement, however broad-based it later became, only succeeded because of the participation of Arab tribesmen that had settled in Khurasan during the early Islamic conquest period. In response to the “Arabist,” and hence largely ethnic, argument, other scholars have sought an explanation based variously in the socioeconomic conditions of eighth-century Khurasan and the religiopolitical appeal of Shi_ite ideals for Arab and non-Arab Muslims alike.

Abbasids caliphs

Beginning of Abbasid Khilafate

The reigns of the first two Abbasid caliphs, Abu ’l-Abbas al-Saffah (r. 750–754) and al-Mansur (r. 754–775), began with a period of consolidation that led to the elimination of Abu Muslim among other leaders of the revolutionary movement.

A period of sustained prosperity, if continued political unrest, ensued. Al-Mansur established Baghdad in the 760s and is properly viewed as the real founder of the dynasty. At its height, under al-Mansur’s immediate successors, al-Mahdi (r. 775–785), al-Hadi (r. 785–786) and, most significantly, Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809), the Abbasid empire stretched from the central Maghrib across the Middle East and southern Anatolia into Transoxiana. Sustained civil war, initially a conflict between the sons of al-Rashid, Muhammad al-Amin (r. 809–813) and _Abdallah al-Ma_mun (r. 813–833), followed by the effort at consolidation by al-Ma_mun over Baghdad and its hinterland, initiated the gradual dissolution of the empire. Despite the skilled leadership of later caliphs, by the end of the ninth century, local dynasties and semiautonomous governing families had come to the fore in Egypt, Khurasan, Spain, and the Maghrib.

Fragmentation of the imperial domain and a dissolution of dynastic legitimacy set in by the first quarter of the tenth century with an eclipse of Abbasid authority at the hands of bureaucratic families and condottiere. By the 940s, Syria, Iraq, Fars, and western Iran were divided into principalities under Hamdanid or Buyid (Buwayhid) control; members of both families had served in the Abbasid military before asserting control over regions of the empire. Egypt, by the 970s, fell to the control of the Fatimids, an Isma_ili Shi_ite dynasty created in the central Maghrib earlier in the tenth century; the dynasty controlled Egypt, and, for extended periods, Syria and the Hijaz, into the second half of the twelfth century. Buyid rule gave way in the mid-eleventh century to a Sunni Turkish dynasty, the Seljuks, whose reign was largely defined by rivalry with the Fatimids, conflict against the Crusader states, and the onset of an extended period of Turkish domination of Near Eastern political life.

From the Buyid period on, the Abbasids themselves usually wielded little more than the trappings of authority; in Iraq, Abbasid history came to an end with the Mongol invasion in 1258. A branch of the family retained a wholly symbolic role under the Mamluks in Egypt until the Ottoman invasion of 1517 that brought an end to Abbasid claims upon the caliphate.

Politics and Administration

Taking their lead from the Umayyads, the early Abbasids worked quickly to fashion a highly centralized state. Like their predecessors, the Abbasids drew inspiration from  Sassanian, Byzantine, and more deeply rooted patterns of Near Eastern imperial statecraft. For example, the caliphs relied upon elaborate systems of monarchical ritual and symbolism, such as the use of screens used to shield them during open sessions of the court. More dramatic still was the plan of Baghdad: The city, known as the Round City, was originally built around a massive circular core containing the caliphal residence, mosque, treasuries, and barracks. Historians understand the plan in terms of the assertion, through symbolic means, of the coming of a new imperial age. No less than earlier dynasties, the first Abbasids thus devoted themselves to massive building programs. In Baghdad, Samarra, and elsewhere, extensive palace complexes emerged alongside congregational mosques, extensive markets, and an impressive infrastructure of roads, canals, way-stations, and the like.

It appears as well that the early Abbasids sought to imbue their office with religious as well as political meaning. Commitment to holy war (jihad), a presiding role in the hajj, patronage of religious scholars: All were efforts to perpetuate the caliph’s moral leadership. The claim found little sustained support within the religious community. For the ulema, the traditions of theocratic monarchy contradicted the model of leadership crafted by the prophet Muhammad and the first generation of caliphs. The problem of delineating lines of authority was gradually resolved by the middle Abbasid period as the scholars asserted a near-monopoly over legal and social authority. No less significant a source of challenge to Abbasid legitimation were the sectarian movements of the Kharijites and the various Shi_ite tendencies, all of whom viewed Abbasid authority as illegitimate. Early Kharijite rebellions under the first Abbasid caliphs were suppressed at a moderate expense to the state. Far more costly, in ideological and political terms, was the challenge of their Shi_ite detractors. If the emergent Twelver Shi_ite tendency in Iraq and elsewhere remained relatively quiescent, by the early tenth century, a prominent Isma_ili movement had won support from local forces in the central Maghrib (modern-day Tunisia) and laid the foundation for the Fatimid state.

The considerable wealth of the early Abbasid empire drew predictably on agricultural production and commerce. Al- Mansur’s decision to build a new capital beside the two major Iraqi rivers and in the midst of the extensively farmed areas of central and southern Iraq, had much to do with assuring control over both sources of income. To assure a reliable flow  of money and goods, the early Abbasids continued late Umayyad efforts to systematize tax collection. These efforts, initially successful, ultimately came up short as the health of the Abbasid economy fell victim to the civil war that followed the death of al-Rashid in the early ninth century and, some decades later, the turmoil sparked by the assassination of al- Mutawakkil (r. 847–861). By the early tenth century, the Iraqi agrarian system was in sharp decline. Commercial activity flourished in the early to mid-Abbasid periods, fueled by rapid urbanization in the Near East and the related rise in investment opportunities, urban surplus wealth, and the spread of new products, chief among them paper, cotton, and sugar. Merchant networks would play a key part in the dissemination of Islam into Central Asia, the Pacific Basin, and Saharan Africa from the ninth century on.

To administer their empire, the Abbasids relied on skilled bureaucrats, many of Persian or Christian origins. These officials (kuttab) oversaw a growth in the Abbasid bureaucracy to a size and complexity unknown under the Umayyads. The offices (diwans) of the Abbasid administration included the chancery, treasury, police, and intelligence-gathering services, and a special court of appeals (mazalim) presided over by the caliph. Control of the treasury and access to the imperial family allowed key families to build extensive networks of influence as exemplified by the eastern Iranian (and originally Buddhist) Barmakid family under al-Rashid. In 803, al-Rashid, having long tolerated Barmakid authority, finally turned against the family. By the first half of the tenth century, however, his successors, such as al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932), proved incapable of resisting pressures exerted by their top bureaucrats. High-level bureaucrats retained no less crucial a role under the Buyids and Seljuks; prominent civilian officials played a similar part in Egypt, particularly late in the Fatimid period.

To defend its borders and assure political calm, the Abbasids, like the Umayyads, relied upon a semiprofessional army largely supplied and paid by the state. The mainstay of the earliest Abbasid armies were the Khurasani troops that had fought to bring the dynasty to power. A number of these regiments were settled in Baghdad by al-Mansur and his successors, and naturally viewed themselves as integral to the fortunes of the new state. The civil war that brought al- Ma_mun to power in the early ninth century witnessed the defeat of these regiments at the hands of a new generation of eastern troops recruited by the new caliph bolstered by a new-style regiment of Turkish slave troops led by his brother, and successor, Abu Ishaq al-Mu_tasim (r. 833–842). In good part to house these new forces, al-Mu_tasim founded a garrison center in Samarra, north of Baghdad; his successors would administer the empire from Samarra for the next halfcentury. The practice of using slave regiments, many of which were drawn from Turkic peoples of Central Asia, would be emulated by later Near Eastern dynasties. The heads of the Samarran Turkish regiments, however, would rely on their troops, and close ties to the caliphate, to interfere in caliphal decision-making; the result was a period of violence and instability in Samarra that sapped the resources of the caliphate and set the stage for the humiliations of the tenth century.

Culture and Society

A revival of Near Eastern urban culture, rooted in Umayyad history, was a hallmark of the Abbasid period. The early Arab garrison centers, among them Basra, Kufa, Fustat, and Qayrawan, were now functioning towns while, under Umayyad and then Abbasid rule, Damascus and other pre-Islamic centers witnessed rapid population growth and cultural development. Constructed expressly as an imperial center, and occupied probably by the late 760s, Baghdad quickly emerged, however, as the nexus of early Islamic culture and scholarship.

(Samarra, the imperial administrative seat for much of the ninth century, never replaced Baghdad in this sense.) Much of this activity was directly tied to the patronage of the imperial state and networks of elite urban families. Historians are divided, however, over the question of whether to credit the  support of the caliphs and elite urban society with the complex translation movement that rendered, in Arabic, nearly the entire corpus of Greek scientific and philosophical work over a period of roughly two hundred years beginning under al-Mansur in the later eighth century. Equally significant was urban literary production. The list of writers, poets, musicians, and cognoscenti that flourished in the Iraqi urban milieu included such luminaries as the grammarian Sibawayh (d. 793); the poet Abu Nuwas (d. 810); the essayist, linguist, and theologian al-Jahiz (d. 868); and the tenth-century polymath Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi (d. 1023).

Urban patronage and the demands created by steady conversion to Islam throughout the empire explain the formation of a community of sophisticated and increasingly selfconfident religious scholars (ulema). Their efforts yielded seminal contributions to Qur_anic exegesis, hadith scholarship, and Islamic law. In the Sunni regions, four major schools of legal interpretation emerged: the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi_i, and Hanbali. The work of the great exegete and historian Abu Ja_far al-Tabari (d. 923) exemplifies both the remarkable scholarly achievements of the ulema and their ambivalent stance vis-à-vis the caliphal state. Ulema served the empire in their capacity as judges, market inspectors, and the like; their role in imperial administration was crucial. As noted earlier, however, they were loath to provide yet further backing to the caliphate. The trajectory to socioreligious prominence of the scholars occurred as the fortunes of the Abbasid state sharply declined.

Hazrat Ali ibn Talib Biography & History

Hazrat Ali ibn Talib

Ali ibn Talib, born in Mecca about 600 C.E., was the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, father of the Prophet’s grandsons Hasan and Husayn, and fourth caliph (656–661) of the Muslim umma (community of believers). At a very young age, _Ali was adopted by Muhammad, who brought him up like his own son. When Muhammad received the divine revelation, _Ali was still a very young boy. He was the first male to accept Islam, and to dedicate all his life to the cause of Islam. _Ali’s courage became legendary because he led several important missions.

Hazrat Ali Ibn Talib as Caliph

At the Prophet’s death, the community split into two major groups contending for political succession. During a gathering of the ansar (helpers), Abu Bakr was elected first caliph. A group led by Ali and his supporters (Zubayr, Talha, Miqdad, Salman al-Farsi, and Abu Dharr Ghifari, among others) held that Ali was the legitimate heir of the Prophet. To preserve the unity of the Muslim umma, Ali is said to have kept a low profile and concentrated his efforts on religious matters. The first version of the Quran was attributed to him by some of his contemporaries. In the period preceding his caliphate, Ali, known for his learning in Quran and sunna, had given advice on secular and spiritual matters. On several occasions, he disagreed with Uthman (the third caliph) and criticized him on the application of certain Islamic principles. Following Uthman’s murder, the ansar invited Ali to accept the caliphate and he agreed only after a long hesitation.

All through his brief governing period, Ali faced strong opposition. First he was opposed by Aisha, Muhammad’s wife, but the strongest opposition came from Muawiya, who had his stronghold in Syria. Two companions of the Prophet, Talha and Zubayr, already frustrated in their political ambitions, were further disappointed by Ali, in their efforts to secure for themselves the governorships of Basra and Kufa. Thus they broke with him and asked to bring Uthman’s murderers to trial. Ali appointed Abd Allah b. Abbas governor of Basra, and went to Kufa in order to gain support against Muawiya. He formed a diverse coalition, comprised of men like Ammar b. Yasir, Qays b. Sad b. Ubada, Malik Ashtar, and Ashat b. Qays Kindi.

Hazrat Ali & Muawiya

Ali opened negotiations with Muawiya, hoping to gain his allegiance. Muawiya insisted on Syrian autonomy under his own leadership. Thus he mobilized his Syrian supporters and refused to pay homage to Ali, on the pretext that his people had not participated in his election. After a few months of confrontation, Amr b. As advised Muawiya to have his soldiers raise parchments inscribed with verses of the Quran on their spearheads; the goal was to bring about the cessation of hostilities between the people of Iraq, who formed the bulk of Ali’s army, and the people of Syria. _Ali saw through the stratagem, but only a minority wanted to pursue the fight. Hence he ended the fight and sent Ash_at b. Qays to find out Muawiya’s intentions. Mu_awiya suggested that each side should choose an arbiter; together, the two men would reach a decision based on the Qur_an. This decision would then be binding on both parties. _Amr b. _As, the Syrian representative, and Abu Musa Ash_ari, the Iraqi representative, met to draft an agreement, but in the meantime _Ali’s coalition began to collapse. The arbiters and other eminent persons met at Adruh in January 659 to discuss the selection of the new caliph. Both parties agreed to the choice of _Ali and Mu_awiya and were willing to submit the selection of the new caliph to an electorate body (shura). In the public declaration that followed, Abu Musa kept his part of the agreement, but _Amr b. _As deposed _Ali and declared Mu_awiya caliph.

Meanwhile, Mu_awiya had followed an aggressive course of action by making incursions into the heart of Iraq and Arabia. By the end of 660 _Ali, who was regarded as caliph only by a diminishing number of partisans, lost control of Egypt and Hijaz. He was struck with a poisoned sword by a  Kharijite named _Abd-al-Rahman b. Muljam while praying in a mosque at Kufa. _Ali died at the age of sixty-three and was buried near Kufa in late January 661. _Ali’s death brought to an end the era of Rashidun, the four “rightly-guided” caliphs. The Sunnis believe that the order of merit corresponds to the chronological historical order of succession of the four first caliphs (Abu Bakr, _Umar, _Uthman, and _Ali). The Shi_ites preferred _Ali over the first three caliphs; they never accepted Mu_awiya or any later caliphs, and took the name shi_at _Ali, or _Ali’s Party.

Several places are mentioned as _Ali’s shrine. But most Shi_ite scholars are in agreement that _Ali was buried in Ghari, west of Kufa, at the site of present-day Najaf. These scholars explained the discrepancies among the various reports by maintaining that _Ali himself requested to be buried in a secret place so as to prevent his enemies from desecrating his grave. Under the Safavid Empire, his grave became the focus of much devoted attention, exemplified in the pilgrimage made by Shah Isma_il I (d. 1524) to Najaf and Karbala. Today a gold-plated dome rises above _Ali’s tomb. The interior is decorated with polished silver, mirror work, and ornamental tiles. A silver tomb rises over the grave itself, and the courtyard has two minarets. The recitation of special prayers over _Ali’s grave is considered particularly beneficial in view of _Ali’s role as intercessor on the Day of Judgment. Sunni polemicists have often accused the Shi_ites of preferring pilgrimages to the tombs of _Ali and other imams over the pilgrimage to Mecca.

It is important to note that _Ali’s position became important to different groups of Muslims starting from the early period. For the Shi_a, he is said to have participated in the Prophet’s ascension (mi_raj) to heaven and acquired several honorific titles. The _Alya_iyya believed in the divinity of Muhammad and _Ali, and gave preference in divine matters to _Ali. Among Sufis he is renowned as a great Sufi saint for his piety and poverty as well as the possessor of esoteric knowledge. The early Shi_ite traditions regarded _Ali as the most judicious of the Companions and the Prophet nicknamed him Abu Turab (Father of Dust) because he saw him sleeping in the courtyard of the mosque. Some sources agree that _Ali was a profoundly religious man, devoted to the cause of Islam and the rule of justice in accordance with the Qur_an and the sunna. One of the basic differences between Shi_ism and Sunnism concerns the question of the respective roles of _Ali (and the other imams) on the one hand, and Muhammad on the other.


Shiism shares with Sunnism the belief that Muhammad, as seal of the prophets, was the last to have received revelation (wahy). Classical Shi_ite doctrine holds that _Ali and the other imams were the recipients of inspiration (ilham). But it is only the legislative prophecy that has come to an end, that is, the previous prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, the last of the legislative prophets, introduced a new religious law while abrogating the previous one; the guidance  of humanity must continue under the walaya (Institution of the Friends of God) of an esoteric prophecy (Nubuwa batiniyya). Thus _Ali, the first imam, is designated as the foundation (asas) of the imamate. He is the possessor of a divine light (nur) passed on from Muhammad to him, and later from him on to the other imams. The Sunnis believe that the Prophet did not explicitly name his successor after his death; the Shi_ites, on the contrary, hold that he explicitly named his successor _Ali at Ghadir Khumm, an oasis between Mecca and Medina.

According to the Shia, a passage in the Qur_an (2:118) shows that the imamate is a divine institution; the possessor thereof must be from the seed of Ibrahim: “And when his Lord tested Abraham with certain words, and he fulfilled them. He said, ‘Behold, I make you a leader [imam] for the people.’ Said he, ‘And of my seed?’” Even the Sunnis hold that the true caliph can only be one of the Quraysh tribe, but based on this verse the Shi_a maintain that the divinely appointed leader must himself be impeccable (ma_sum). The primeval creation of _Ali is therefore a principle of the Shi_ite faith. According to them, as expressed by Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1698), Muhammad explicitly designated (nass jali) _Ali as his successor by God’s command: When the ceremonies of the pilgrimage were completed, the Prophet, attended by _Ali and the Muslims, left Mecca for Medina. On reaching Ghadir Khumm, he [the Prophet] halted, although that place had never before been a halting place for caravans. The reason for the halt was that verses of the Qur_an had come upon him, commanding him to establish _Ali in the Caliphate.

Before this he had received similar messages, but had not been instructed explicitly as to the time for _Ali’s appointment. He had delayed because of opposition that might occur. But if the crowd of pilgrims had gone beyond Ghadir Khumm they would have separated and the different tribes would have gone in various directions. This is why Muhammad ordered them to assemble here, for he had things to say to _Ali which he wanted all to hear. The message that came from the Most High was this: “O Apostle, declare all that has been sent down to thee from thy Lord. No part of it is to be withheld. God will protect you against men, for he does not guide the unbelievers” (5:71). Because of this positive command to appoint _Ali as his successor, and perceiving that God would not countenance further delay, he and his company dismounted in this unusual stopping place. The day was hot and he told them to stand under shelter of some thorn trees . . . when the crowd had all gathered, Muhammad walked up on to the platform of saddles and called _Ali to stand at his right. After a prayer of thanks he spoke to the people, informing them that he had been forewarned of his death, and saying, “I have been summoned to the Gate of God, and I shall soon depart to God, to be concealed from you, and bidding farewell to this world. I am leaving you the Book of God [Qur_an], and if you follow this you will not go astray. And I am leaving you also the members of household [ahl al-bayt], who are not to be separated from the Book of God until they meet me at the drinking fountain of Kawthar.” He then called out, “Am I not, more precious to you than your own lives?” They said “Yes.” Then it was that he took _Ali’s hands and raised them so high that he showed the whites of his armpits, and said, “Whoever has me as his master (mawla) has _Ali as his master. Be friend to his friend, O Lord, and be an enemy to his enemies. Help those who assist him and frustrate those who oppose him.” (Donaldson, p. 5)

This sura concluded the revelation: “This day I have perfected your religion for you, and have filled up the measure of my favors upon you, and it is my pleasure that Islam be your religion” (5:5). The event of Ghadir Khumm is not denied by Sunnis but interpreted differently by them. For the Sunnis, Muhammad wanted only to honor _Ali. They understood the term mawla in the sense of friend, whereas the Shi_a recognized _Ali as their master; the spiritual authority of _Ali was passed afterward to his direct descendants, the rightful guides (imams). The successor of the Prophet, for the Sunnis, is his khalifa (caliph), the guardian of religious law (shari_a), while for the Shi_ites, the successor is the inheritor (wasi) of his esoteric knowledge and the interpreter, par excellence, of the Qur_an. Since Muhammad was the last Prophet who closed the prophetic cycle, the Shi_a believe that humanity still needs spiritual guidance: the cycle of imamate must succeed the cycle of prophecy. Another tradition gives us some insight into the key role of _Ali, based on the status of Aaron: “O people, know that what Aaron was to Moses, _Ali is to me, except that there shall be no prophet after me.” (Poonawala and Kohlberg, p. 842). The imamate is a cardinal principle of Shi_ite faith. It is only through the imam that true knowledge can be obtained. _Ali, as the Wasi, assisted Muhammad in his task. The Prophet received the revelation (tanzil) and established the religious law (shari_a), while _Ali, the repository of the Prophet’s knowledge, provided its spiritual exegesis (ta_wil). Thus the imamate, the heart of Shi_ism, is closely tied to _Ali’s spiritual mission. For Sunnis, the imamate is necessary because of the revelation and is considered a law among the laws of religion. For them, the imamate is not part of the principles of religion and belief, whereas for Shi_ites, the imamate is a rational necessity and an obliged grace (lutf wajib).

From the beginning, Shiite Islam has emphasized the importance of human intellect placed in the service of faith. The origins of the encouragement given to intellect goes back to _Ali the commander of the faithful (amir al-mu_minin). According to a saying attributed to him, there is an intimate bond between intellect and faith: “Intellect [_aql] in the heart is like a lamp in the center of the house” (Amir-Moezzi, p. 48). The heart’s eye of the faithful can see the divine light (nur) when there is no longer anyone between God and him; it is when God showed Himself to him, since _aql is the interior guide (imam) of the believer.

Hazrat Ali & Sufiism 

In early Sufi circles, Ali was especially renowned for his piety and poverty. He is said to have dressed simply. His biographies abound in statements about his austerity, rigorous observance of religious duties, and detachment from worldly goods. He is also described as the most knowledgeable of the Companions, in terms of both theological questions  and matters of positive law. Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d.910) considered _Ali as his “master in the roots and branches[of religious knowledge] and in perseverance in the face of hardship” (Poonawala and Kohlberg, p. 846). With the growth of Sufi doctrine in the tenth and eleventh centuries, increasing emphasis was placed on _Ali’s possession of a knowledge imparted directly by God (_ilm laduni). Most of the Sufis believe that each shaykh or pir (sage) inherited his knowledge directly from _Ali. The investment of the cloak as a symbol of the transmission of spiritual powers is closely associated to _Ali: the two precious things shown to Muhammad during the mystical ascent (mi_raj) were spiritual poverty and a cloak that he had placed on _Ali and his family (Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn).

Sufi orders flourished particularly in Central Asia and Persia; Muslim scholars became imbued with Shi_ite speculative theology and Sufism. One of the earliest representatives of this trend was _Ali b. Mitham Bahrani (d. 1281), who saw in _Ali the original shaykh and founder of the mystical tradition.

For them _Ali’s mission is seen as the hidden and secret aspect of prophecy. This underlying idea is based on the Khutbat albayan: “I am the Sign of the All-Powerful. I am the Gnosis of mysteries. I am the companion of the radiance of the divine Majesty. I am the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden. I am the Face of God. I am the mirror of God, the supreme Pen, the Tabula secreta. I am he who in the Gospel is called Elijah. I am he who is in possession of the secret of God’s Messenger” (Corbin, p. 49). Or this next one: “I carried Noah in the ark, I am Jonah’s companion in the belly of the fish. I am Khadir, who taught Moses, I am the Teacher of David and Solomon, I am Dhu al-Qarnayn” (Poonawala and Kohlberg, p. 847). According to another tradition (Amir- Moezzi, p. 30), Muhammad and _Ali were created from the same divine light (nur) and remained united in the world of the spirits; only in this world did they separate into individual entities so that mankind might be shown the difference between Prophet and Wali. It is only through him that God may be known.