This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

7.4. Basic Concepts

Koran, hadith, Sunnah, Shariah

Doctrine is obtained in Islam from various sources, some more authoritative and direct than others. The first and foremost of these is the miracle and theophany that is the Koran, which is the verbatim Word of God. We have touched on this above.

After the Koran we have the recorded statements of the Prophet, the Hadith, called in the plural ahadith. Shia and Sunni collections of accepted Hadith differ in what they accept as authentic.

Example hadith are:

“No man is a true believer unless he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”

“Those people who show no mercy will receive no mercy from Allah.”

“You cannot enter heaven until you believe, and you will not truly believe until you love one another.”

“There are heavenly rewards for every act of kindness to a live animal.”

“The best jihad is the conquest of the self.”

“Heaven lies at the feet of mothers.”

Next there is the comprehensive Sunnah, which means ‘path’ or ‘method’ and which is composed of all the social customs and religious norms established by the Prophet and preserved through tradition. The Hadith is technically a part of the Sunnah, but is more distinct by the form taken, which is that of a direct narration or statement.

Lastly, there is the Sharia, which pertains to law specifically, and is the essence of the rules by which Islamic society is governed. The Koran is the basis of the Sharia, with the Sunna and Hadith being complementary sources that follow the Koran itself.

All of these combine to inform legal policy. As an example, consider the following hadith, which recommends erring on the side of innocence:

“Avoid condemning the Muslim to Hudud whenever you can, and when you can find a way out for the Muslim then release him for it. If the Imam errs it is better that he errs in favor of innocence (pardon) than in favor of guilt (punishment).”

One can see that this also follows the general Islamic saying, “Verily, My Mercy prevaileth over My Wrath.”

Monotheism in the Arabic world

Muhammad did not introduce monotheism into a world that had never heard of it. The hanifs had already tended in that direction through their focus on ‘the God’, Allah. Nor should we think that the Arabic world was suffering from materialism, and that Muhammad introduced to them a message about an invisible spiritual world that they had never considered real. On the contrary, his contemporaries lived in a highly spiritualized desert landscape. The distinction of Islam was to insist on monotheism over and against all other forms of devotion. So while Hinduism, for example, can be seen as a tapestry of deities all acceptable as objects of devotion while at the same time teaching that over and above all of them there is Brahma, Islam’s innovation was to wipe the slate clean of all lesser deities and demons so that Allah could be acknowledged as the One and given the praise due to Him as the Real.

Muslims consider this ‘pure monotheism’ to be their contribution not just to the Arabic context but to the religious world as a whole. Christianity for its part erred by deifying Christ and by arriving at a notion of the trinity that can be reconciled with monotheism only after some theological gymnastics; Hinduism, for its part, fails in the way described above. Thus Islam brought monotheist to Arabia and to the world, and this is its central message.

Respect for Jesus as prophet

Although not accepted as God, Christ is given a great deal of respect in Islam. He is, with Adam, one of only two people in the history of the world whose souls were created directly by God. Nor is he emptied of his miraculous powers, even speaking from the cradle as an infant, an event that occurred when Mary first brought Jesus to the temple. When she arrived, she was taunted by all the men, excluding Zechariah, who already knew of the virgin birth. They questioned Mary regarding how she came to be with child while unmarried, to which Mary pointed to the baby Jesus. It was then that, according to the Koran, the infant began to speak of himself and his prophecy.[1]

We can add here that the Koran gives at least as much respect to Mary as the New Testament, preserving even the Catholic doctrines of the immaculate conception. According to the Koran, divine grace surrounded Mary from her birth, and that God preferred her and purified her, raising her above all the women of the worlds. She conceived while aa virgin, through the spirit of God. Although the Koran is silent on the question, Mary’s perpetual virginity is a consensus position among traditional Islamic teachers.

The divergence regarding Christ is not hard to explain. Islam recoils at any doctrine that seems to blur the divine/human distinction, and for this reason it not only denies Christ’s title as God’s son, but also disdains parental analogies in general when describing the relationship between God and man, since this fosters anthropomorphism and to the Muslim does more to bring God down than to lift man up. Nonetheless, especially when we examine the doctrines of regarding Mary and Christ, we see that in a very real way Christians would be justified in feeling a kinship with Islam that they cannot share with Judaism, even though this sense of closeness is, in my experience, never actualized, and this is very unfortunate.

[1] Koran 19:27-33.

Original sin

Perhaps another important distinction to be observed, especially for Christian readers, is that for Islam God created man “of the best stature” and does not seem to acknowledge any kind of catastrophic fall. If we search Islam for a corresponding idea to the Christian ‘concupiscence’, we might point to the notion of ghaflah, which is rather a forgetting or a general tendency to forget. This paints the problem of a lost humanity in a different light, and the difference is important. Man possesses a nature that is good, but he forgets where he came from and to whom he owes his existence, and his task is to be recalled to the remembrance of his Creator.

The Five Pillars

Islam’s gift to its followers is a character of specificity that is lacking in Christianity. Islam speaks on almost every area of life with a definiteness that is unusual to us and which is relished by Muslims, providing them with clear answers to many questions that, for Christians, are left vague and therefore susceptible to various interpretations as to what it means to actually conduct oneself as a Christian and what is required in order to actually be a Christian.

To summarize the Islamic teachings on how one is to live, we come to the Five Pillars: the confession, canonical prayer, the giving of charity, observance of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage. We will make brief comments on each of these below, but returning to each as necessary throughout later discussions.

Pillar One—Shahadah, or the confession

Christians are familiar with the concept of the creed, and other religions too have succinct summaries of their message, permitting easy memorization and ensuring that all believers are ‘on the same page’, at least with regard to the essential. Here, Islam is more concise than most, and in comparison to the Nicene Creed, it is quite simple. In its entirety, is composed of two statements:

La ilaha illa’ Llah, Muhammadun rasul Allah.

“There is no god but God, and Muhammad is His Prophet.”

This is the ‘profession of faith’ for the Muslim, and must be carefully recited at least once in a lifetime. The first half is of course a proclamation of monotheism, the central tenet of Islam, and could also be translated, perhaps with more precision, as: ‘There is no deity but Allah’, emphasizing the point that ‘God’ in this context is not a general noun but a proper and true name. The second half is an acknowledgement of the authority through whom the doctrine has been received, which is the person of the Prophet Muhammad, and therefore a confirmation of the authenticity of the Koran.

While presented as the confession of a convert, the Shahadah is in reality repeated constantly throughout a Muslim’s life, and so it is not only a doctrinal creed but a devotional support.

Pillar Two—Salat, or canonical prayer

Around the year 621, during the month of Ramadan, Muhammad experience one of the most important moments of his career, known traditionally as the Night Journey.

On this night he was swept up to Heaven via Jerusalem, riding a white horse. He was carried through the seven heavens and into the presence of God. There God instructed him and said that Muslims were to pray fifty times per day. With this he descended back toward earth but at the sixth heaven he ran into Moses, who exclaimed that fifty was far too much and could never work, and he told Muhammad to return and ask that the number be made reasonable. Muhammad did so. When he returned to Moses, the number was now forty, but this too was too high in Moses’ view, and so he kept sending Muhammad back before God, four more times to be precise, and each time the figure was reduced, fifty to forty, forty to thirty, thirty to twenty, twenty to ten, and ten to five. At five Moses again told him to go back, but this time Muhammad rejected him:

“I have asked my Lord till I am ashamed, but now I am satisfied and I submit.”

And so five became the prescribed number.

Without getting too much into the details of the prayers and how they are performed, we can say that they vary in small ways between the Sunni and Shia groups, that the prayer is preceded by ablutions such as washing one’s hands, face, and feet. It is all very specific in terms of the formula, progression, and physical postures.

Always the prayers are done while facing Mecca. This is an important point because in Islam there is not the same emphasis on congregational worship that we find in Christianity. There is no equivalent to the Hebrew Sabbath (Saturday) or the Christian Lord’s Day (Sunday). To closest thing we find is the Friday noon prayer which, in Islamic cultures, does take on a collective aspect.

It is perhaps worth elaborating on this point: that prayer in the mosque is not equivalent to the Catholic Mass, nor the Christian worship service. In Christianity, Christ is at the center, and the believers form so many parts of his ‘mystical body’ which gives to them a sense of fellowship, and for Catholicism in particular the collective worship is necessary for the sharing of the Eucharist. It is simply not possible to ‘do Catholicism’ in isolation, since to follow the command ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ depends for its realization on the priestly hierarchy and the collective participation of the faithful.

Islam is far less hierarchical and although the Muslim might benefit from local leadership and knowledgeable teachers, and is of course encouraged to pray in the mosque with his brothers when able, there is nothing that prevents him from living out his faith in isolation from other Muslims. In this sense Islam is far more of a ‘leveling’ faith than the hierarchical Church of the West.

The schedule for the prayer is as follows: on waking, when the sun reaches its highest point, when the sun is midway in decline, at sunset, and before going to bed.

Pillar Three—Zakat, or almsgiving

The word zakat means ‘purification’ and this conveys the idea that the payment of the zakat is what legitimizes the remainder of one’s wealth and possessions. All things ultimately belong to God, and the zakat makes this ‘real’ and not only benefits the individual in terms of spiritual growth, but benefits the community by working to eliminate inequalities.

The practice does not come directly from the Koran but from the hadith, and is often summarized in five principles:

  1. One must declare his intention to pay the zakat.
  2. It must be paid on the day that it is due.
  3. After the payment, the payer must not exaggerate on what was paid.
  4. Payment may be in kind, thus wealth may be paid by money, or else compensated by good deeds.
  5. The zakat must be distributed in the same community from which it was taken.

It would be possible to call this pillar ‘charity’, and some use that term, but this is misleading to modern readers because ‘charity’ has lost its structural and compulsory character in the West. When we here ‘charity’ we tend to imagine either a vague sense of affection for our neighbor, or else a kind of giving of our money that has no specifics attached to it and that is given purely at the individual’s discretion: it is not compulsory. This way of envisioning ‘charity’ or almsgiving is a very late development and it is not only different from what Islam teaches, but is actually far different from what Christianity taught and implemented during the Middle Ages.

We must keep in mind again that Islam is somewhat unique in its practicality, that Muhammad was not a secluded mystic but a savvy businessman and politician. Thus, we should not be surprised to find that almsgiving in Islam is practical and specific, and is not purely to benefit the individual giver, who learns detachment and sacrifice, but to bring about a just society.

The amount is one-fortieth or 2.5 percent of one’s income and holdings. This is no small thing and would obviously have very little impact on the poor but massive implications for the wealthiest members of society.

We have implied that this ‘graduated tax’ was a means of stabilizing society, and it would not be incorrect to say that it is an excellent means of realizing one of the several phases of justice in economic orders, called distributive justice, which is a prerequisite to social justice, and both of these being added to justice in exchange, which tends to be the only phase or type of justice acknowledged in capitalist theories, and the only one that registers in the Western mind. This was, as we have said, not the case in the West of the medieval period, but even here we should not be too quick to make Islamic almsgiving the equivalent of the Christian tithe, which has typically been implemented as a way of supporting the Church itself, which then managed the hospitals, schools, poorhouses out of its own purse. As just and appropriate as that form of seeking social justice might be, it is not quite the same in Islam where there is no ‘church’, so to speak, and so the giving of alms is more directly social in its implementation.

Pillar Four—Sawm, or fasting during Ramadan

Ramadan is the most significant month on the Islamic ‘liturgical calendar’. It is Islam’s holy month. It is said that during this month Muhammad experience the Night of Power, the initial revelation; much later, but during this same month, the Hijrah (migration) from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina) took place. In observance of this sacred time, any Muslim not ill or involved in some crisis must fast. The fast extends from dawn until sunset, during which time no food or drink is taken. This Islamic calendar is lunar and this means that Ramadan shifts eleven days each year.

We will add here that the Koran distinguishes between ritual or prescribed fasting, fasting as form of repentance, and ascetic fasting or fasting as a spiritual discipline. It is only the ritual fast of Ramadan that is obligatory, but again, this obligation does not extend to: young children, the ill or elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding women, etc.

Pillar Five—Hajj, or pilgrimage

Each and every Muslim who is physically and financially capable, must make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in life, and this is to be carried out during the 12th month of the lunar calendar. Upon reaching Mecca or before, the pilgrim cloth themselves in two simple white sheets, symbolizing the equality of every believer in the presence of the God who is One. The Hajj involves various rituals such as walking seven times around the Kaaba, touching the Black Stone, and symbolically stoning the devil.

Respect shown toward other religions

When visited by Christians, it is reported that Muhammad invited them to conduct their religious services in his mosque. “It is a place consecrated to God,” he said, and so why shouldn’t these guests worship Him within it? This is no small thing and demonstrates the respect held for other ‘People of the Book’.

Religious tolerance and religious violence

To the myth of Islam being spread by the sword and maintained by the sword, we can reply with the direct words of the Prophet: “Will you then force men to believe when belief can come only from God?”

If comparisons mean anything, we can cite many examples in which the Islamic response to other religions was more benevolent and respectful than the Christian one.

When Spain was under Islamic rule, the Jews who lived there enjoyed a kind of golden age; when Christians came to power the result was the expulsion and disenfranchisement of both Jews and Muslims alongside the infamous Inquisition, a development that has no corresponding event in Islamic history.

At roughly the same time Spain was coming under Christian rule, the opposite was happening in Anatolia (present day Turkey). The result of the Islamic victory there, however, looked much different. While every Muslim was being driven from Spain, Constantinople (present day Istanbul in Turkey) remained the seat of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, with no real effort on the part of Muslims to either expel or convert the now vulnerable spiritual center.

The attitude of Muhammad toward other religious groups who existed under his rule was one of tolerance and mutual respect. He demanded of the Jews (and later the Christians) who lived in his lands merely that they pay a special tax in lieu of the Zakat, in this way contributing to the general welfare of the community, as is proper. Regarding the practice of their religion, he made charters, stating:

“the Jews who attach themselves to our commonwealth shall be protected from all insults and vexations; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices: the Jews…and all others domiciled in Yathrib [Medina], shall…practice their religion as freely as the Muslims.”

The teaching of the Koran was clear on the question of forced conversion: “There can be no compulsion in religion.”[1]

What permits this attitude of tolerance is the allowance in Islam for the existence of other revelations that have a very real validity. This kind of openness, by and large absent from Christianity, is explicitly stated in the Koran:

“To every one have We given a law and a way…And if God had pleased, he would have made [all humankind] one people [of one religion]. But he hath done otherwise, that He might try you in that which He hath severally given unto you: wherefore press forward in good works. Unto God shall ye return, and He will tell you that concerning which ye disagree.”[2]

And this is further expanded in another surah, that other messengers were sent by God, some mentioned and some not:

“Verily We sent messengers before thee, among them those of whom We have told thee, and some of whom We have not told thee; and it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a portent save by Allah’s leave, but when Allah’s commandment cometh (the cause) is judged aright, and the followers of vanity will then be lost.”[3]

On the other hand, we should acknowledge that this tolerance was generally limited to other ‘People of the Book’, and that there are definite instances where Muhammad his enemies with the choice between conversion or death. Yet we should take care to understand what this meant. When an enemy was defeated, and if this enemy was one of the ignorant or godless peoples that surrounded the new faith, and because Islam was not strictly a ‘belief system’ but was, in a sense, identifiable with the political and economic orders as well, to insist on ‘submission’ in the Islamic sense is merely to insist that the enemy admit defeat and not remain an enemy. What else could we expect? This is not the same thing as searching out minority sects in one’s lands and placing them on the rack in order to discern how authentically they professed one faith or another. The situation is complex but we must be willing to draw distinctions, and when it was a question of conversion by force, it could usually be better framed as a question of survival and the establishment of a modicum of peace in a terribly violent context.

In closing we can simply say that the Muslim’s response to the accusation of being a ‘violent religion’ would be that Islam is, at the very worst, no more violent that Christianity. This is obvious to any objective appraisal of history, and is only veiled in the modern context because Christian nations no longer carry out their violence in the name of God, and in this way they are permitted to remain violence and to carry out violence all over the globe while congratulating themselves on how peaceful a religion Christianity is. They have created a convenient dichotomy wherein their violence is atheistic or at least secular while elsewhere they claim a Christian spirit, and who can disagree with such a one?

[1] Koran, 2:257.

[2] Koran 5:48.

[3] Koran 40:78.

Tawhid—the One God

The sublime idea of Islam, around which all other ideas revolve, is the contemplation of the One God, the God Who is One, and this is what is meant by tawhid.

In the Muslim view, tawhid is not only the central doctrine of Islam but of all revelation and all religion throughout all of history. That is to say, it is a reaffirmation of the first line of the Nicene Creed of the Christians: “We believe in One God…”

This is an important point because it expresses that the heart of Islam is universalist, embracing all previous revelations and all previous prophets all throughout the world. The prophets of the Old and New Testaments are the prophets of the Koran, and while there are numerous debates in Christian circles as to whether or not Christians and Muslims ‘worship the same God’, the question, from the point of view of tawhid, is nonsense: who else could anyone worship?

Tawhid is first and foremost an attestation about the Absolute, but it also serves as the goal of the spiritual life and gives shape to the Islamic method. Spiritual realization for Islam is the integration of multiplicity into Unity, and in this through knowledge, and in this light we can begin to see commonalities, even if only vaguely, between tawhid-as-spiritual-way and the Vedanta of the Hindus, the purpose of both being the realization that there is none other than Brahma, the One.

Orthodoxy and authority for the believer

Islam differs from Christianity by not having a strict hierarchical order. There is no official ‘magisterium’ by which the Muslim is judged orthodox. To a large degree the attestation of tawhid is the baseline for orthodoxy, and from this testimony, simple in itself, the individual may proceed to realize Divine Unity more or less depending on his abilities and inclinations, but without strict reference to an external authority or a sacramental economy. While there have been (and still are) exceptional situations where a group took it upon themselves to judge the faith of other Muslims, this has not been the norm, and there has never been anything in the Islamic world that even loosely resembled the Inquisition in the West.

It may be that this egalitarianism is what has permitted certain interpretations to flourish that were often combatted in Christianity, to its own detriment. We are thinking here of the way Sufism has been accepted and perceived in Islam, as opposed to the way the mystics of Christianity have been dealt with in Christianity. It has been said that in the Islamic world there is not a ditch digger who is not familiar with some poem of Rumi; on the other hand, in Christianity, no one but stuffy academics and fringe groups are familiar with Meister Eckhart.

This seems paradoxical, for what it means is that the egalitarian, levelling framework of Islam seems to have resulted in a more effective popularization of the work of the loftiest contemplatives of that tradition, while in Christendom, with its carefully constructed dogmatic systems, the average believer dwells at the baseline and is rarely exposed to the more colorful heights of their own spiritual heritage.

We do not, of course, make these comparisons in order to illustrate the inferiority or superiority of one tradition over another: we could easily highlight the advantages of the Roman hierarchical approach. Rather, we frame Islam here for its strengths and its victories, acknowledging that these are its own gifts and never offering them as recommendations for another tradition to emulate. Christianity is precisely what it ought to be, and what is important for us to convey here is that Islam too has its reason for being and brings with it, for the world for which it was made, certain advantages that no other revelation could have provided.

Human nature and the ‘fall’

A primary distinction between the Islamic and Christian anthropologies is the way they interpret the frailty of human nature and likewise what is to be done about it.

In the Koran, we do not find a ‘fallen’ man, powerless against ‘sin’ and in need of redemption before he can gain access to salvation. Here “[God] created man in the best of stature.”[1] Man has a nature that is what it is and has not been permanently damaged or altered, although it is susceptible to forgetfulness about its origins and therefore about God.

Man possesses knowledge of the Divine already, he need only remember it and cultivate the truth in order to be saved. Soteriology for Islam revolves not around the sacrifice of a lamb but around knowledge of the truth.

One way of describing this difference of point of view is to say that Islam envisions man as intelligence rather than will, while Christianity tends to emphasize man as will. The resulting views of human frailty correspond to this emphasis: in Christianity the will is weak and so many falls into sin and cannot ‘do what is right’; in Islam far less emphasis is placed on action and frailty of will, and it is the intelligence that has been weakened through ages of neglect, and so man does not ‘know what is right’.

It is evident that lack of knowledge can be rectified by a Messenger, hence Muhammad; but a broken will is hopeless without some kind of supernatural intervention, hence Christ the Redeemer.

Since man, in Christianity, is will, then to disobey is the great sin, and this makes Christianity moralist from the start; since man, in Islam, is intelligence, the great sin of Islam is the forgetting of God.

The ultimate and unforgiveable sin of Islam is ‘association’ or the making of additional gods or the setting up beside God equals, the confusion of the Absolute with the relative. This intermingling is shirk, the ultimate vice, because it is the direct denial of tawhid, the Oneness of God, which his the essential message of Islam.

[1] Koran, 95:4.

All authentic revelations are Islamic

Islam is a principle, and is named after an idea, and aside from Buddhism is the only religion named thusly. Accordingly, it is believed that all valid religions possess this principle, and that, to the degree that they testify to tawhid and ‘surrender to the One God’, are al-islam.

This is why Abraham is called muslim: he was a man who knew the One God and surrendered to His Will even to the point of sacrificing his son. Thus, he was in a state of al-islam, and it matters little that he was situated within Judaism.

All believers who testify and surrender are muslim, and all religions that speak of the One God are Islamic.

That is not to say Islam itself does not distinguish itself from these: as has already been said, only Islam brought this idea out with perfect clarity according to the verbatim word of God that is the Koran: the other religions are al-Islam to a certain degree, but Islam is the perfect of what is elsewhere only approximated in a more or less imperfect and often corrupted form.

The absence of theodicy and the Islamic conscience

Theodicy deals with the question of evil and is an effort to vindicate divine goodness and providence in view of evil’s existence in the world. Theodicy tries to answer the question, “How can a good who is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, create a world where evil exists?”

What is interesting is that this question has not bothered Muslims nearly so much as it has bothered Christians. In Christianity there is a ceaseless stream of literature seeking to assure Christians that God could not possibly be responsible for the existence of evil, and every sort of logical argument is deployed to demonstrate this.

Nonetheless, it has always seemed to us that theodicy, or the impulse to engage in the project of theodicy, is an expression of skepticism, at best, and the production of such a body of apologetic literature on this subject is, I think, telling about the Christian conscience. It expresses a deep concern for who exactly is to blame. If Adam, then what justice holds the world responsible? If God, then what of His Goodness?

We will not delve into that question from the point of view of Christianity, for which is pivotal given that it leads directly to the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice. Here we only wish to point out that for Muslims it does not really seem to be much of an issue, and to suggest that this is tied to the Islamic view of man as one who still possesses the goodness good imparted to him and merely needs to remember it, and also to the centrality of submission to God’s will.

Moreover, the Islamic understanding of creation, which implies separation from Perfection, necessitates that all things created will be marked by imperfection. To use the words of Christ: “Only God is good.” Islam agrees: and so to create anything that is ‘not God’ is to permit imperfection to come into existence, which is another way of saying that in order for God to create anything that is not identical to Himself, by this very decision He is ‘permitting’ evil to exist, since evil is the absence of pure and perfect goodness in the things created. No evil, no creation. It is as simple as that.

Since Islam does not have reason to dwell so much on the need for a sacrificial lamb and therefore a Redeemer, it has no reason to dwell on problems of man’s ‘original sin’ and guilt: instead everything is taken in stride as the only way things could possibly be, and if evil must come with existence, then we are thankful for it because it is the condition of our being created in the first place.

Salvation through knowledge and the purpose of creation

According to a famous hadith, the purpose of creation is that God should be known, by Himself, but through his created agents. It is expressed thusly:

“I was a hidden treasure. I loved to be known. Therefore, I created the creation so that I would be known.”

In other words, God achieves His Self-realization by creating human beings capable of the knowledge of God and then by leading them to the knowledge of Himself, and in this way He ‘knows Himself’ through our coming to know Him. To know God is to fulfill his purpose for us on earth and therefore it is identical with our salvation.

Connected to this is the idea that every created thing is a theophany. God is the hidden treasure, hidden in everything. The cosmos is a kind of textbook on God to those with eyes to read it.

To put it another way, creation and revelation are, in a sense, identical, not to exclude other specific forms of revelation, but only to say that creation is a form of revelation.

The temptation of Adam and Eve

Although the Koran follows the biblical account of creation to some extent, one important divergence is on the details of the temptation that occurred in the garden.

In the Koran, Iblis tempted Adam and Eve together. It was not Eve who fell and then, in turn, tempted Adam to fall. Rather, they cooperated in the tasting of the ‘forbidden fruit’, which, interestingly, is wheat and not an apple.

It should go without saying that this minor difference in narrative has consequences. Any Christian knows the type of misogyny that can be produced in certain Christian circles where the biblical account is used to place undue blame on woman as a morally inferior being, not to mention leaving the way open for resentment against woman, and offering a ‘biblical’ justification for this resentment.

Islam and the multiplicity of revelations

The more universal a doctrine, the more it is capable of embracing the multiplicity of doctrinal adaptations that are found in the world and throughout history. This seems counterintuitive to some who imagine consider their doctrines universal but in the sense that they think their doctrines out to be accepted universally and these people usually end by trying to impose them in precisely this way. On the contrary, what is truly meant by a universal doctrine is a doctrine that is capable of permitting an authentic interpretation of reality as divinely ordained. And what we find in reality is a multiplicity of revelations and multiplicity of prophets sent to proclaim their messages, each to a different people.

To put it succinctly, multiplicity in revelations is a side-effect of creation itself. Creation implies multiplicity and revelation in the face of multiplicity means revelations.

The Koran, for example, has it that humanity proceeds from a single soul: “He created you from a single soul.”[1] This soul was then diversified into various races and tribes. Unity proceeds into multiplicity, which implies a diversity of human types, and revelation, therefore, necessarily occurs in the context of this multiplicity.

“To every people [We have sent] a messenger”[2] and “For each [people] We have appointed a Divine Law and a way. Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will then inform you concerning that wherein ye differed.”[3]

In other words, God could perhaps have revealed Himself once and for all only if He had been performing for an audience of one. To insist on one authentic revelation only is to insist on the idea that humanity is so homogenous as to form one uniform community with one mentality, and this is a view that the Scriptures themselves, both the Koran and the Old Testament, emphatically deny.

Christians in particular will struggle with this notion, since in modern times the evangelical interpretation of the Gospel has been carried to absurd lengths and interpreted in a way that virtually excludes respect for any non-Western community. We deal with this question at length, therefore, in the section of this manual dedicated to religious expansion. Here, we will simply reiterate that whenever we see the Gospels speak of ‘the world’ and the role of Christ for ‘the world’, we should take all these references together and in context, at which point it becomes clear that ‘the world’, for these writers, was coextensive with the Roman Empire at that time. Interpreted any other way, certain New Testament statements sound nonsensical. For example, it is stated that “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world,” and it is obvious that the writer here did not mean the globe, but would clearly have been referring to the ‘world’ of the Roman Empire. It is the modern, globalist conception of ‘the world’ that confuses the matter, and it is enough to acknowledge that for the ancients there was not so much ‘the world’ as globe but rather there were ‘worlds’. This is the same sense in which the term would be used much later, when Columbus made is ‘discovery’ of the ‘New World’, by which it is obvious that no one meant a ‘new planet’.

Thus, since every world roughly corresponds to a human type, each requires its own revelation and its own prophets. Islam considers itself heir to the line of prophets developed throughout the whole Bible, up to and including Christ, and also the perfection of the ‘Gospel’ contained in every revelation anywhere, which is that ‘God is One’.

[1] Koran, 39:6.

[2] Koran, 10:48.

[3] Koran, 5:48.

Umm al-kitab—the Mother Book

The word ‘book’ or kitab in Islam has a very broad meaning. It refers to the Koran as the verbatim word of God, but this Koran itself one ‘book’ and the same term is used for all sacred scripture, which is why, after becoming familiar with the Hindu doctrines, Islam accepts Hindus as ‘People of the Book’. This is because, according to the Koran, there is in Heaven the ‘archetypal book’ which is itself the source of all particular revelations. This is the Umm al-kitab, the Mother Book. This is why all authentic revelations convey basically the same message, but in the language of the people to whom the message is given, so that they may understand it: “We never sent a messenger save with the language of his people.”[1]

Thus, much like Catholicism when it speaks broadly of ‘the Church’ as the global community of believers, when the Koran says that the religion of God is al-islam, it is speaking of the universal doctrine of submission to God and His Oneness that all religions possess, and in this way Muslims are well-situated to show respect to members of other religious traditions.

[1] Koran 14:4.

A prophet is beholden to no one but God

We should, after emphasizing the universality of Islam and its acceptance of a long line of prophets, take care to note that, despite acknowledging this succession, it does not claim any kind of strict linear connection between its doctrinal details and those of the Gospel or the Old Testament. While Christians tend to try to reconcile in strict detail every line of the New Testament with every line of the Old, in order to prove that Christ was the fulfillment and not the reject of the Old, Islam is not so concerned, for here the Prophet is beholden to no one but God and the message he is given to proclaim. This is true of all prophets, but for Muslims the principle is very much taken at face value and so there is less compulsion to try and demonstrate why the Koran appears to be discontinuous on such-and-such a point with whatever have been said by the prophets of old.