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The enigma of Islam

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The Standard Islamic Narrative (SIN), from where we know all about Islam, developed during ninth and tenth centuries of Christian era during the time of Abbasid Caliphate. Abbasid Caliphate was the third Caliphate after Rashidun and Ummayad Caliphates. SIN tells us that Muhammad established victory over Mecca in 630 AD and before his death two years later; Muhammad could defeat and unite different Arab tribes of the peninsula into a cohesive religious community under Islam. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, four successive Rightly Guided Caliphs ruled over Islamic Ummah for next 29 years. That was the first Caliphate and known as Rashidun Caliphate. It is claimed in the SIN that each of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs was chosen by the believers.

In 661 AD, Umayyad Caliphate, in form of a dynasty, took control of the Caliphate. In 750 AD Umayyad Caliphate was overthrown by another dynasty called Abbasid. The Abbasid Caliphate ruled till 1258 AD before Mongol invasion destroyed that Caliphate. As per SIN, the Rashidun Caliphate greatly expanded Islam beyond Arabia, conquering all of Persia, Syria (637), Armenia (639), Egypt (639) and Cyprus (654). Subsequently, Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates expanded Islamic Ummah from Spain to Afghanistan via Northern Africa and parts of Central Asia. Though Rashidun Caliphate ruled from Medina, Umayyad shifted the capital to Damascus (present day Syria) and during Abbasid Caliphate; capital was located in Baghdad (present day Iraq). The term Caliphate was coined in the SIN first. There is no cross reference for us to sanctify all the above-mentioned claims of SIN about the birth and expansion of “Islamic” Caliphate before Abbasid rule. In all probability those were “Arab” expansions.

The basis of SIN has been hearsay, folk stories and the available texts of Sirat, that is, biography of Muhammad written most probably in Cairo (present day Egypt) by ibn Hisham (died 833 AD) and two earliest Sahih Hadith, (that is, authentic sayings and doings of Muhammad) which were written by Muḥammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari (810 AD to 870 AD) in Bukhara (present day Uzbekistan) and Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj (822 AD to 875 AD) of Nishapur of present-day Iran. It is interesting to note that Medina lost its importance after Rashidun Caliphate and Islamic capitals went more than a thousand Kilometer to the North of Medina.

Though some scholars claim that first reference to Islam and Muhammad is available from late seventh century of Umayyad Caliphate, but that claim lacks in objectivity. It is not before early ninth century, we come to know about Muhammad, his life, religion and teachings. 

There is no contemporary objective Arabic, Byzantine, Sasanian or Syriac-Christian source recording the life and deeds of Muhammad. Al Tabari wrote the history of early Islam as late as in tenth century in Persia during Abbasid Caliphate. SIN gives the impression that it was the Arabs of Medina who started conquering lands in early seventh century, but Islam got its actual form 150 to 300 years after Muhammad’s death and with substantial supports from the people far away from Medina.  

The history of Quranis very confusing. Present day Arabic Quran is written in Imla’ei script with long vowel and diacritical markings. But this was not the case in earlier centuries. The seven original manuscripts containing claimed contents of Quarn, available today were written in Hijazi or Kufic script of old Arabic language without vowel and diacritical markings. The Carbon dating of the seven manuscripts tells that these were from mid sixth century to early tenth century. These manuscripts in no way could also link Muhammad as a Prophet (as we are told today) and contents of manuscripts as revelation from Islamic Allah to Prophet Muhammad.   

Then after about a millennium from tenth century, we got the current Quran in present form. It was canonized by the Islamic scholars in Al Azhar University, Cairo during 1924. Textually, the present Quran is found to be plagiarized, in parts, from Torah, Old Testament, Injil, New Testament, Ginza Rabba, and the Book of Arda Viraf (Zoroastrianism) etc..  

It is quite plausible that before 1924 there was no standard Quran. Hence it was canonized by the Islamic scholars in Al Azhar University when Islamic Caliphate was crumbling down. The question comes up how Islam was practiced before 1924. The five pillars of Islam, circumcision, Ramadan fast, two annual Eids, call to prayer, Jummah, Sharia, Haram-Halal, other rituals and dos and don’ts of Islam have come from Sahih Hadith which were compiled in ninth century. Practice of Islam was/is thus less dependent on Quran. Its verses were read in Namaz (also called Salat) and Muslims before 1924 were surely not bothered about some variations in reciting Quranic verses during Namaz in different parts of the world.  

The oldest manuscript containing a small part of Quran, kept in Birmingham (UK), Carbon dated to be from the period when Prophet of Islam was alive as per SIN. But connecting the both (manuscript and Muhammad) is not easy in absence of objective evidences to that effect. In all probability, Muhammad was possibly an Arab tribal warlord with some successes in the wars. Ibn Hishamal Bukhari, and Al Tabiri and others made a prophet out of him centuries later to serve the imperialistic need of Abbasid Caliphate. Islam, as a religion, had also crystallized during ninth and tenth centuries.  

Abbasid Caliphate was also the cradle of two other important developments. Those were Mutazilah movement and ‘Golden Age’. Mutazilah, a rational Islamic theology, flourished and died as a theological movement in Basra and Baghdad of present-day Iraq during ninth and tenth centuries. The Mutazilites considered the injunctions of Allah to be accessible to rational thought and inquiry and that reason, not “sacred precedent”, is the effective means to determine what is just and religiously obligatory. The movement reached its political height between 833 AD and 851 AD when the Abbasid caliphate instituted religious persecution of both Sunni and Shia religious scholars who did not conform to Mutazilah doctrine. But when tenth Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil withdrew the royal support from Mutazilites, it started crumbling down before the orthodox Islamic theology. 

‘Golden Age’ was a period of cultural, economic, scientific and intellectual flourishing in the history of Abbasid Islam, which persisted from 786 AD to 1258 AD (till Mongol invasion). During that period vast body of knowledge available in Greek, Latin, Persian and Sanskrit was translated to Arabic to give path breaking openings into Medicine, Surgery, Mathematics, Physiology, Chemistry, Pharmacology, Logic, Navigation, Astronomy and Philosophy. 

As we know, Islam too was evolving into a formal religion during Abbasid Caliphate. The growing orthodox school of Islam was bitterly against the Mutazilites, as well as, the scholars, scientists and philosophers of ‘Golden Age’. The sustained violent attack on Mutazilites destroyed the theology within decades after Caliph al-Mutawakkil. Ironically, though today’s Muslims feel absolute pride in its ‘Golden Age’, most of the open minded and secular scholars, scientists and philosophers of that age was labeled as heretic, hypocrite and even Kafir by the orthodox school of Islam. 

The Islam we see today in South-East Asia is a spillover from that orthodox school of Arab-Persian-Turkic expansionist cult with its regimentation, aggression, violence, exclusiveness, intolerance and hatred towards Kafir as common attributes.  

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