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 question of theology, or kalam, in the Islamic world

The Islamic world was constituted as a true traditional world, and this means that at its heart is its doctrine, and that all life and fields of knowledge are but applications of the principles contained in this doctrine. We thought it worth pointing this out because we are about to bring up the distinction between theology, which is called kalam, and Shariah, which is the sphere of juridprudence or law.

This is important because the divisions we have been discussing hitherto, such as the four main branches of Sunnism, pertain mostly to interpretations of Shariah and not, strictly speaking, to kalam. The difference being that kalam is thought about the nature of God properly speaking, while Shariah pertains to the world of applications and daily life, which is very much world of man, although it derives from the Koranic revelation.

Islamic places its emphasis primarily on orthopraxy (right practice, authentic Shariah) as opposed to orthodoxy (right belief, authentic belief), and it is another distinguishing characteristic of the Islamic caste of mind in contrast to, for example, Christianity, where orthodoxy is first and foremost and orthopraxy often forgotten completely because not specific in the original revelation.

This distinction now in view, it will make more sense when we mention certain fundamentalist strands of Islam that reject theology altogether, for example the Wahhabis and the Wahhabi-domination Saudi Arabia, where kalam (theology) is forbidden even in religious universities. Such an idea would, to the average Christian, make no sense at all, since ‘Christianity’ is sometimes envisioned as equivalent to ‘theology’ and if theology is forbidden or left unexplored then what is there left of Christianity to discuss? For Islam, the answer is simple: the whole of orthopraxy, which involves the Koran, the Sunnah and Hadith, and all of the subjects mentioned above concerned the various branches of the Islamic religion. In other words, from a certain point of view, Islam can get along quite well by ‘doing what the Koran says’ and not asking why, but rather taking it, roughly, at face value. Now we say ‘from a certain point of view’ because Islam nonetheless has a profound history of theological exploration and there are only certain minority groups who actually take such an exclusively non-intellectual approach to their religion. The point is simply that those who do give little though to orthodoxy are able to do so and remain fervent Muslims, a fact that is completely in-line with the nature of Islam and is rather in its favor than against it, although it is somewhat hard for the average theologically-oriented Christian to grasp.

We will again note that we do not imply that Islam is superior in its approach, and that Christianity’s orientation and emphasis are precisely what they were meant to be, although it is advantageous here, having outlined an alternative arrangement, to point out that the Christian way of doing religion does have disadvantages that come into start relief once compared to Islam. Primarily, we should point out that the vast majority of people are not at all pre-disposed to the intellectual labors involved in working out theological problems and figuring out how they are properly applied in a particular situation: this means that Christian believers depend on a healthy, living priestly class, for if left to their own devices they risk losing touch with orthodoxy altogether. The theological emphasis of Christianity necessitates a magisterium, since individual are in no way up to the task for maintaining theological truth beyond a bare, elementary minimum. This danger, which is the weakness of a primarily theological faith, has become the reality today throughout the Protestant world, which is in a strange way wishing it was what Islam actually is, but which it can never be. That is to say, the very nature of Christianity prevents it from being able to abandon the magisterium without immediately dissolving into a sort of vague religiosity driven by platitudes.

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