This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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The geographical range of the Islamic world

Perhaps it is helpful, before discussing doctrinal differences withing Islam, to discuss its geographical range. This is helpful because in the West, the Islamic world is typically imagined as being coextensive with the Arabic world. This was true in its origins, just as Christianity was once coextensive with a portion of the Roman Empire, but just as Christianity spread and became integrated with various cultures, as we see in its Eastern Orthodox zone, so also Islam spread throughout the world and the extent of its expansion is an illustration in space of its intellectual, theological, and cultural diversity, which is harder to see.

Sayyed Hussein Nasr, a prominent Muslim scholar, identifies six Islamic zones. We will follow his model here.

First and most familiar, there is the Arabic zone, ranging at its eastern limit from Iraq to the Persian Gulf, and at its western limit, from the Iberian Peninsula through Morocco and as far south as Mauritania. As mentioned above, although this is often viewed as the entirety of the Islamic world, this vast area is nonetheless home to only one-fifth of all Muslims. This zone is often divided further into its eastern and western portions, the dividing line running through Libya.

Second, both in this list and in terms of the historical expansion of the Islamic religion, is the Persian zone. This area includes Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and parts of Uzbekistan. While the Arabic world is unified first and foremost by the use of Arabic (despite its ethnic diversity), the Persian zone shares the Persian language, also called Farsi.

The third zone in Nasr’s list is Black Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to over 150 million people and is composed of a remarkable diverse range of cultures.

Fourth is the Turkic zone, composed of people who speak one of the Altaic languages, primarily Turkish but including a few others as well. This zone extends from Macedonia to Siberia and as far north as Vladivostok.

Fifth is the Indian subcontinent, which includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

The sixth and final Islamic zone is Southeast Asia, which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and some of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Although it is the ‘youngest’ Islamic zone, it is home to over 220 million Muslims.

This rough outline of the geographical range of the Islamic world will hopefully provide a corrective lens and permit the reader to better understand what unifies and what distinguishes Muslims from one another, not only in terms of geography, but also in terms of how each group relates to the sacred, and how this expresses itself in philosophy and religious practice.

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