Middle Eastern Family, Part II: Islam, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i
22 Middle Eastern Family, Part II: Islam, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i
With only a few hundred thousand adherents in 1965 when the emigration barriers from predominantly Islamic countries were liberalized, Islam has grown to the point that it is challenging Judaism’s position as the second largest religious community (Christianity being the largest) in America. Its growth has also propelled it from being the faith of a few ethnic enclaves to a powerful presence in national political debates and in every segment of urban society, due in no small measure to its association with oil and the turmoil of the Middle East. While not yet as well organized as the Jewish community, the Muslim community is rapidly gaining a high level of political sophistication.
Islam’s upward trajectory in the United States suffered a severe setback on September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed airplanes into the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., and the World Trade Center in New York City. The terrorists were quickly identified as Muslims and adherents of an Islamic group called Al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan. American Muslims quickly moved to disassociate themselves from the actions of their fellow Muslims, much as Christian groups had earlier distanced themselves from the Branch Davidians and the People’s Temple. However, the minority and less-known Muslim community had a more difficult task. While continuing to face critics, American Muslims—with the assistance of government officials, the Interfaith community, and the news media—have used the unique moment to communicate their desire to participate as Americans in the social, cultural, political, and religious life of the nation. It remains to be seen how successful they will be.
“There is but one God and Muhammad is His messenger” is the great standard under which Islam has become the religion of one-seventh of the world’s population. Islam means “submission,” in this case submission to Allah, the creator-ruler God of the Muslim faith.
While Muslims believe that Islam started with Adam in the primal Garden of Eden, most scholars trace the origins of Islam to the experiences of Muhammad (c. 570–632), an Arabian, born and raised in Mecca. He married a widow named Khadijah, with whom he fathered a daughter, Fatima, and settled down to a mundane life. Muhammad’s custom was to spend part of each year in the mountains meditating and fasting. Around the year 611, he began to have a series of encounters with the angel Gabriel. The angel spoke to him of the oneness of God (Allah) and of Allah’s distaste of idolatry. The message of the angel would later be written down in a book, the Qur’an (also spelled Koran). Muhammad began to teach in Mecca, but found few converts and a great deal of hostility from leaders of the various pagan tribes. Under persecution, in 622 Muhammad and his followers moved north to Medina, where they were offered refuge. This migration is known as the hijra or hegira. Muslims date their calendars from this time.
Muhammad himself is seen as the last of a series of prophets who have preached the unity of God and warned of the end-time judgment. The twenty-eight earlier prophets include Adam, Noah, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus. The judgment they described is a cataclysmic event when the trumpet will sound for humans to stand and be called to account. Paradise and hell wait to receive the just and the damned.
Belief in Allah, the supreme God, is the essential component of Islamic faith. Allah is seen as the transcendent being, creator and sustainer of the universe. He is the lawgiver, the arbiter of good and evil, and the judge at the end-time. The affirmation concerning Allah is amply captured in the opening lines of the Qur’an: “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful Praise be to Allah, Lords of the Worlds. The Beneficent, the Merciful. Owner of the Day of Judgment. Thee (alone) we worship; Thee (alone) we ask for help. Show us the straight path. The Path of those whom Thou has favored; who go astray” (Marmaduke Pickthall translation).
Existing with God are his angelic messengers. Chief among these is Gabriel, who communicated the Qur’an to Muhammad. (Opposing the angels are the satans or devils.) The Qur’an is the written revelation of God, accepted as transcribed by Muhammad. It is over 6,000 verses in length and is divided into 114 suras or chapters, which are arranged (with the exception of Sura I) in order of length, the longest first. These suras were given at various periods during the last 22 years of Muhammad’s life.
Second only to the Qur’an as authority for Muslims is the Hadith, a collection of stories about and sayings of Muhammad that were gathered in the decades after his death. Muslim scholars had the task of sorting more genuine traditions from spurious ones. Al-Bukhari (d. 870) is remembered for his gathering a collection of some 7,000 believed to be genuine. His work is supplemented by that of al-Hajjah, a contemporary. Shi’a Muslims have a separate collection of traditions about Muhammad.
|18th century||An estimated 15% of the African slaves brought to the British American colonies are of the Muslim faith.|
|1732||James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, frees Ayyub ibn Sulaiman Jallon, a Muslim slave in Maryland, and provides him transportation to England.|
|1807||Yarrow Mamout, an African Muslim slave, is freed. He later becomes a shareholder in the Columbia Bank, second bank chartered in the United States.|
|1828||President John Quincy Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay arrange for the freeing of Abdulrahman Ibrahim Ibn Sori, a former prince from West Africa who resided as a slave in Georgia. He later becomes one of the most documented of African American former slaves.|
|1893||Alexander Russell Webb represents Islam at Parliament of Religions (Chicago).|
|1913||Noble Drew Ali establishes the Moorish Science Temple of America in Newark.|
|1915||Albanian American Muslims build a masjid in Maine and establish an Islamic association.|
|1917||Britain issues Balfour Declaration on Jewish settlement in Palestine (November).|
|1924||Shaykh Daoud Ahmed Faisal establishes the Islamic Mission of America, AKA the State Street Mosque, in New York City.|
|1933||Founding of the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad.|
|1934||“Mother Mosque of America” completed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.|
|1947||Washington Islamic Center founded.|
|1953||CIA aids coup against Iranian leader Mohammad Mosaddeq.|
|1963||Founding of the Muslim Students Association.|
|1965||Assassination of Malcolm X in New York City.|
|1975||Upon the death of Elijah Muhammad, founder of Nation of Islam, he is succeeded by his son, Warith Deen Mohammed.|
|1979||Iranian hostage crisis begins on November 4.|
|1981||Release of U.S. hostages in Iran on January 20.|
|1983||Attack on U.S. and French soldiers in Beirut on October 23.|
|1991||First Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from invading Iraqis.|
|1992||Imam Wallace D. Mohammed becomes the first Muslim to offer an invocation before the U.S. Senate.|
|1993||Bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26.|
|Oslo Accords signed by Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington on September 13.|
|1994||Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) founded.|
|1996||Osama bin Laden announces jihad against United States.|
|1998||World Islamic Front issues declaration against United States on February 23.|
|American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania bombed on August 7.|
|2000||USS Cole attacked in Yemen on October 12.|
|Breakdown of President Clinton’s Israel-Palestine peace talks.|
|2001||Bombing of Pentagon and World Trade Center on September 11. American Muslims decry terrorist acts.|
|United States invades Afghanistan and drives Taliban from power.|
|2003||U.S. forces invade Iraq in March.|
|2007||Yale Divinity School promotes Muslim-Christian dialogue.|
Islam (submission to Allah) has developed around five beliefs or practices known as the five pillars. The pillars symbolize the obligations owed to Allah by individuals. First, in performance and priority, is the profession of faith: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is His messenger.” These words state the Muslim’s commitment to the supremacy of Allah, the one true God, and the singular role of his voice piece, Muhammad. The profession of faith also places the believer in the long tradition of Western monotheism and the previous prophets who proclaimed the one God.
Second, Muslims pray at five specified times each day. That prayer is made to Allah while facing toward Mecca, the Muslim holy city in Saudi Arabia. For the devout Muslim, prayer begins and ends the day and permeates all of life’s undertakings.
Third, devout Muslims are required to tithe (zakat) a percentage of their income to the poor and needy. Depending upon where one lives, the zakat is left at the local mosque or, in a few countries, collected as a formal tax by the government. The zakat should be about 2.5 percent of one’s net worth, and is used to support the poor and needy, especially in emergency situations.
Fourth, each year during the month of Ramadan (which because of the peculiarities of the Islamic calendar occurs at a different time each year on the Western calendar), Muslims engage in a fast by refraining from food, water, and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. The ill and infirm are released from this obligation. Muslims use this time for spiritual reflection, consideration of the needs of others, and various pietistic practices, such as the reading of the Qur’an during the evening meal.
Fifth, at one time in their life, every Muslim attempts to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, during Dhul Hijjah (the month for hajj). The object of the pilgrimage is the Ka’bah, “the House of God,” which, according to the Qur’an, was built by Abraham (the same character whose activities were described in Genesis in the Jewish Bible).
Every year more than one million Muslim pilgrims make their way to Mecca. Only Muslims can enter the holiest of Muslim cities, and many report this as the most significant religious experience of their lives. Pilgrims come to Saudi Arabia by various means and walk the last distance to Mecca.
THE DEVELOPING COMMUNITY
The idea of submission to Allah as a basic maxim of Muslim life has led to a concentration on obedience to the law (shariah) as a means of embodying such submission. Fulfilling one’s obligations are manifest in the adoption of the five pillars into one’s life, and in the desire to propagate Islam worldwide (dawah) and in striving (jihad) in the cause of Islam. The efforts to spread Islam led to its rapid rise and, over several centuries, the establishment of Muslim-led governments in countries from Indonesia to Morocco.
From its home base in Saudi Arabia, Islam spread initially to Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. These countries became the core lands of a new Arab religious culture. Subsequent expansion carried it west across North Africa into Spain, northward into Turkey, south along the eastern coast of Africa, and east into India and Central Asia. Further growth carried the faith into China and Southeast Asia, Indonesia being the most populous Muslim country as the twenty-first century begins. The movement into Europe in the fifteenth century was finally blocked at Vienna in 1521.
As Islam spread, it divided into various schools of thought around the interpretation of the law. Four commentators on the law would emerge as founders of major schools of inter-pretation—Abu Hanifah (699–767), Malik ibn Anas al-Asbahi (713–795), Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafii (767–820), and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855). These schools all agreed on basics, those items clearly taught and implied in the Qur’an and Hadith, but varied on larger issues in philosophy and secondary issues in law. Abu Hanifah, for example, suggested the use of analogical reasoning as a basic tool for reaching decisions, while Ahmad ibn Hanbal rejected such an approach. The variant schools had their greatest differences on matters of inheritance and the format of activities at the local mosque.
The Hanifite school became dominant in the Ottoman Empire that ruled over the largest block of Arab Muslims. The Malikite school is dominant in North and West Africa, and the Shafiite school is strongest in India and eastward to Indonesia. The Hanbalite school, the most conservative, dominates in Saudi Arabia and several adjacent countries. Mosques of these several schools of the dominant Sunni Islam often are found in close proximity and each have recognized the validity of the other.
However, within orthodox Islam, a major schism occurred in the seventh century among the followers of Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam and the son-in-law of Muhammad. Ali assumed the role of caliph, the spiritual and temporal ruler of Islam, in 656. He moved his capital to Kufa in present-day Iraq. While he was in Kufa, leadership in the Muslim community was focused there. But upon his death in 661, only five years later, political power shifted back to Syria, a development that the Iraqis disliked. Their political goals found religious expression in a new doctrine—the exclusive right of the house of Ali to the caliphate. In forming this doctrine, the house of Ali had to repudiate the first three caliphs: Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, three revered companions of Muhammad. The Arabs who held this doctrine are called Shi’a and are distinguished from the main body of orthodox or Sunni Muslims.
Shi’a Muslims recognize the leadership of twelve imams who descended from Ali through his two sons, al-Husayn and al-Hasan. These twelve leaders did not have an easy time and few died a natural death. In 878 the twelfth imam disappeared before his death. Rather than naming a new caliph, he became remembered as the hidden imam destined to return at the end of the age to usher in an era of true Islam. In contemporary Shi’a Islam, the highest spiritual leaders are known as ayatollahs, a title most famously connected to the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (c. 1902–1989), who led Iran after the exile of the shah in 1979.
As the Shi’a community has spread and suffered its ups and down, a number of Shi’a subgroups have arisen. A set of them accept only seven of the twelve imams. They saw the lineage of the imam passing through Ismail al-Mubarakhad (d. 760), the son of the sixth imam, who died before his father. They are today known as Ismailis, the largest group of which is led by the Aga Khan, an honorific title. Prince Karim alHussaini became the leader of the Ismailis on July 11, 1957.
THE ISLAMIST MOVEMENT
The twentieth century has seen the rise of a new form of Islam, generally referred to as the movement but called Islamic fundamentalism by many in the West. This movement began as a reaction to the end of the Ottoman Empire in the years after World War II (1939–1945). For many, the center of the Muslim world had been the Arab Empire established in the decades following Muhammad’s death, the lineage of which had been assumed by the Ottoman rulers in the Middle Ages. The final fall of the empire meant the loss of an Islamic theocracy and the necessity for all Muslims to face the realities of secularization and the dominance of modern nation states.
Fundamentalist Muslims often trace their modern ideological roots to the Wahhabi movement founded by Mohammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (c. 1703–1791), a reformer who assailed any Islamic practice not rooted clearly in the Qur’an and Hadith. His movement found a response among the more conservative Hanbalite Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula and long-lasting support from the Saud family that in the early twentieth century established the modern state of Saudi Arabia.
Militant Muslims also look to the Muslim Brotherhood and its founder al-Imam Hassan al-Banna (1906–1949) for ideological roots. Al-Banna advocated a revival of true Islam through Quranic emphasis and the development of social programs rooted in the Qur’an’s call for justice. By the time of al-Banna’s death at the hands of an assassin in 1949, his
ideas had found their way to India, where one of the most impressive of the modern Islamic theorists, Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903–1979) would arise. Operating in the context of Indian independence and the separation of Pakistan as a Muslim nation, Mawdudi developed a broadly based program for the revival of Islam. In 1941 he founded the Jamaat-eIslami to launch his program, which has, if falling far short of reforming Pakistan, brought many into a more devoted relationship with their faith.
Mawdudi’s thought formed the basis of the ideas of alBanna’s intellectual successor, Sayyid Qutb (1906–1966). Qutb, having rejected a decadent American society and finding himself caught up in the secular world of Egyptian ruler Gamal Nasser (1918–1970), developed his own program to return his homeland to a truly Islamic state. He called for a revolutionary vanguard to rise up and take over the government. His mature thought is given in his book, Milestones (Ma’alim fi al-tariq). Qutb’s radicalism earned him imprisonment in 1954 and execution on August 29, 1966.
During the Qutb years, the Muslim Brotherhood ideals would spread through the Middle East. In the changing scene of the Middle East, the use of violence would be among the most hotly debated of questions. Also, building on Qutb, many would ask about the role of the West in the falling away from Islam. Ruminations would lead in 1980s to the thought of Abd al-Salam Faraq (d. 1982), who redefined the nature of Islamic warfare. He suggested that the whole of the West was responsible for making cultural warfare on the Muslim world, and hence all of the West’s citizens were legitimately subject to retaliatory action. Faraq’s brief but significant pamphlet, “The Neglected Duty” (1980), laid the groundwork for subsequent terrorist activity against civilian populations that has become so much a part of one wing of the Islamist movement. It would lead directly to the rationale justifying the actions of Osama bin Laden (b. 1957) against the United States.
While acted upon by only a tiny minority of Muslims, the idea of bringing violence to civilian populations who support certain governments has had a dramatic effect in perpetuating the crisis in Palestine and Israel and in focusing attention on the United States and its European allies as enemies of Muslims. The actions of bin Laden’s group, Al Qaeda, in attacking America facilities overseas and then on September 11, 2001—the bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon—have altered the development of the Muslim world internationally, and the role of Islam in American society.
MUSLIMS IN AMERICA
There is probably no group whose presence in American history has been as well hidden as that of the Muslims. Like many minority groups, the Muslims appeared in the New World in the days of the colonies. Istfan the Arab was a guide to Franciscan explorer Marcos de Niya in Arizona in 1539. Nosereddine, an Egyptian, settled in the Catskills of New York in the 1500s and was burned at the stake for murdering an Indian princess.
In the seventeenth century, the possibility of Muslims settling in America was noted by Roger Williams (c. 1603–1683), founder of Rhode Island, who sought to create a colony that welcomed “even the Turks” and their unconventional (by Christian standards) worship. A number of Muslims did arrive in America in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, but they did not come of their own accord. They were slaves captured from among the West African tribes that had converted to Islam. Once in America, however, their religion was as little welcomed as that of other Africans, and suffered the same destruction. The first Arab Muslims to arrive in America as the beginnings of the present-day Arab Muslim community came in the nineteenth century. One of the first of these Arab immigrants became a folk hero. His name was Haj Ali, and he assisted the U.S. Army with their experiments with breeding camels in the Arizona desert in 1850s. He is remembered today under his corrupted name, Hi Jolly:
Hi Jolly was a camel driver, long time ago.
He followed Mr. Blaine a way out West.
He didn’t mind the burning sand,
In that God forsaken land,
But he didn’t mind the pretty girls the best.
Hi Jolly! Hey Jolly!
Twenty miles today, by golly.
Twenty more before the morning light.
Hi Jolly, Hey, I
Gotta be on my way
I told my gal I’d be home Sunday night.
As early as the 1860s, Syrians and Lebanese, fleeing the invading Turks, came to the United States. But the first serious attempts to establish Islam in America followed the conversion of Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb (1846–1916) in 1888. Webb was the American consul in Manila at the time of his conversion, but he returned to New York in 1892. The following year, he opened the Oriental Publishing Company and began a periodical, The Moslem World, of which he was editor. He also wrote a number of booklets. In 1893 he was the only defender of the Islamic faith to be presented at the World’s Parliament of Religions at Chicago.
Contemporaneous to Webb’s activities was the beginning of large-scale immigration from the eastern Mediterranean—Syria, Lebanon, Iran, India, Turkey, and other predominantly Muslim countries. These immigrants fanned out across the United States and into the Upper Midwest. Three thousand Polish Muslims and a small community of Circassian (Russian) Muslims also settled in New York. The American Muslim community was distinguished by two characteristics: it was heavily male in population and extremely clannish. National and subnational communities formed in northern urban centers, particularly Detroit. Little effort either to keep records or to reach out toward non-Muslim neighbors was made.
Early organization attempts were made wherever large Muslim population centers developed, though the first mosque (after the one opened by Webb in New York City) was built in rural Ross, North Dakota. A second mosque appeared in Highland Park, Michigan (a Detroit suburb), in 1919, and within a few years centers were operating in Michigan City (Indiana), Chicago, Toledo, Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee, Akron, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Within communities, divisions developed along national lines. About this time, with the arrival of Shakh al-Hajj Daoud Ahmad (1891–1980) from Bermuda in 1920, the story of African-American Muslims became intertwined with that of the Middle Eastern immigrants.
A major event in the American Muslim community was the dedication in 1957 of the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. Built in part with money from 15 sponsoring countries with the idea of serving the diplomatic community, it also has served as a symbolic point of unity for the diverse Islamic community.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, the Muslim community, long confined to a few ethnic pockets, underwent a dramatic expansion. Spearheading the faith’s rapidly expanding presence in the United States was large-scale immigration from predominantly Islamic countries (from Pakistan and Iran to Egypt and Turkey, with the Pakistani and Indian Muslims constituting a particularly large percentage of the American Muslim community). Seemingly overnight, mosques were springing up in every major urban area, with a strong concentration in the Midwest, southern California, and the New York metropolitan area. Assisting in this spectacular growth has been the discovery of Islam by many African Americans. While the primary attraction to Islam came in what the mainstream of the community considers a heretical form of the faith (that preached by the old Nation of Islam, with its intense racial teachings), as the Nation moved toward adoption of orthodox Islamic teachings, most of the members moved into the orthodox Muslim camp.
Estimates of the size of the Islamic community in America vary widely. On the low end of the scale, some suggest less than one million. They argue that even though many have moved to America from Muslim countries, a large percentage of these immigrants were Christians seeking a more hospitable religious climate. On the other end, some argue that Islam is already the size of the American Jewish community, five to seven million, and ready to outnumber them in the near future.
Given the significant Muslim presence in America, it was not surprising that several organizations arose to speak for the community on national issues. Most prominent of these are the American Muslim Council, the Council on Islamic American Relations, and the Islamic Circle of North America.
The importance of such groups was vividly demonstrated when they were called to respond to the events of September 11. They were able to mobilize Muslims nationwide to present the case for the majority perspective among American Muslims that decried the violent attacks and mourned the deaths of Muslims and others killed that day. They were also effective in gaining airtime on television and radio to present the basic teachings of Islam to a nation still largely ignorant of the tradition. They were able quickly to stem the reactionary tide of feeling that threatened to target American Muslims. In this endeavor, they found support from the national government, including the White House.
No one knows when the first black Muslim came to America, but it is well known that Africans south of the Sahara had developed Islamic centers prior to the time of the slave trade, and that Muslims were among the first slaves in the United States. Morroe Berger notes that Muslim slaves tended to be viewed as superior by both themselves and other slaves; they were often educated, and they resisted acculturation and assimilation, thus retaining their faith longer.
Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), while in New York, recorded a visit with a slave from the South who told him stories of other Muslims. William B. Hodgson (1801–1871), an ethnologist, mentions five Muslim slaves in an 1852 work. One, Bul-Ali, was a slave driver on a Sapelo Island, Georgia, plantation. C. C. Jones (1804–1863), a missionary who authored The Religious Instruction of the Negroes in the United States, noted that Muslim slaves, under pressure from Christianizing forces, would try accommodation to the new faith by equating God with Allah and Jesus with Muhammad. Berger concluded that, while no definite connection can be made between twentieth-century black Muslims and those who might have survived the slave era, nevertheless, “It is quite possible that some of the various American Muslim groups of the past half century or so had their roots in these vestiges, that the tradition was handed down in a weak chain from generation to generation” (Berger, “The Black Muslims,” 1964, pp. 49–64).
A new era for Islam within the African-American community began in 1913 when Noble Drew Ali (born Timothy Drew, 1886–1929) initiated the Moorish Science Temple of America. Ali’s thought was, to say the least, a very different version of what orthodox Muslims might consider Islam. For example, he published a Qur’an that he had put together from American occult literature, rather than issuing either a translated or edited version of the Muslims’ Qur’an. Ali died in 1929 and while his movement continued, the thrust into the black community he began was picked up by a new group, the Nation of Islam. Also in the 1920s, the Ahmadiyya Muslims, a movement that originated in India, began a mission to proselytize Americans in 1921. As it turned out, their major successes were also in the African-American community, and the North American branch of the movement, through no prior intention, became largely a black movement.
Black Muslims are to be partly understood in terms of Black Nationalism, a movement to locate liberation from white oppression in the ownership and control of land, specifically a land that black people could call their own. Sometimes that aspiration was focused upon Africa, as expressed, for example, in the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the organization founded by Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) early in the twentieth century. It advocated a turn toward Ethiopia (symbolic of all of Africa) as a national homeland through which African Americans could shape their identity. The Nation of Islam took the idea even further and called for the establishment of a black nation in North America to be carved out of several southern states.
By 1960, Islam had spread through the black community, primarily because of the development of the Nation of Islam. During the 1960s and 1970s, the African-American Muslim community went through a disruptive and even violent era. This is noted most significantly in the assassination of Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little, 1925–1965). Following the death of Elijah Muhammad (1897–1975), longtime leader of the Nation of Islam in 1975, things began to change. Wallace D. Muhammad, Elijah Muhammad’s son and successor, began to lead the movement into the orthodox Muslim camp. While losing some support, such as that of Louis Farrakhan, he was able to take most of the movement with him, and today many centers have been welcomed and integrated into the larger Islamic community.
The word Sufism is used to describe a wide variety of mystical and disciplined orders found throughout the Islamic world. No one knows the origin of the term, and several explanations vie for acceptance. Some relate the term to suf, or wool, denotative of the wool garments worn by some Sufis. Others see a connection to the Hebrew en sof, the name for the infinite divine in Jewish mysticism. Still others derive it from safa, the Arabic word for purity, or from sophia, the Greek word for wisdom.
Whatever the origin of their name, the Sufis appear to have developed from the ascetic pietism evident from the very first generation of the followers of Muhammad. From these early ascetics arose the gussas or storytellers, popular preachers of the Qur’an, and from the storytellers came the idea of the madhi, the divinely guided one who will help bring the ultimate victory of Islam by means of a cosmic event. In the eighth century, the ascetic movement began to take on a mystical aspect, and true Sufism emerged.
Once launched, Sufism became a popular religious movement that developed its own forms and peculiarities. The ecstatic experience offered the immediate knowledge of God, as compared to the secondhand knowledge of the theologians, who were replaced by the Sufi leaders, the shaikhs. These official teachers gained their position through charismatic authority. Outstanding shaikhs became founders of new schools of Sufism and were often regarded as saints after they died. Also, in contradistinction to the Qur’an, which looks down upon the unmarried state, many Sufi leaders practiced celibacy.
Sufism has often been an eclectic movement, drawing on Christian and Gnostic elements. A pantheistic theology sometimes emerged in various Sufi masters. More popular was a nontheological approach that accepted orthodoxy but included mysticism. The Sufi emphasis on God’s love, epitomized in the poems of Rumi (1207–1273), is the best antidote to theories that Islam makes no room for confidence in God’s care.
Sufism was in a constant battle for existence with the ruling orthodox religious leaders until the twelfth century. The change from persecution to acceptance is possibly attributable to the career of al-Ghazali (b. 1111), a man of marked intellectual acumen and religious insight. Beginning with a search for ultimate reality, he pursued a course through theology and philosophy and ended with the personal experience of God and Sufi mysticism. Al-Ghazali’s greatest contribution seems to have been the creation of a religious synthesis through which Sufism could be accepted in an orthodox system, and orthodoxy could become an acceptable framework for the Sufis.
The changes that came with al-Ghazali allowed the development of the Sufi schools. He promoted the idea that disciples should move in close association to their shaikh, who then began to assume a status like that of a Hindu guru. Brotherhoods built around a shaikh grew, and initiation ceremonies were adopted. Initiates would often leave to found affiliated groups. A popular school thus could spread (and on occasion did) throughout the Islamic world. When the leader died, an initiate would inherit the former leader’s role and prayer rug.
According to Sufi tradition, twelve orders were founded prior to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire. The first was the Uwaisi, founded by Uwais following a vision of the angel Gabriel in 659, less than forty years after the hegira. Uwais pulled all of his teeth out in memory of Muhammad, who lost two teeth in a battle. His imposition of that same sacrifice for members insured that the Uwaisi remained small in size. The remaining eleven schools or orders, most of which have taken the name of their founder, are: Illwani, Adhani, Sustami, Qadiri, Rifai, Nurbakhshi, Suharwardi, Qubrawi, Shazili, Mavlana, and Badawi. (Spelling of the names of the various Sufi orders varies from author to author as each tries
|Number of Muslim Congregations by State (2000)|
|Adapted from Association of Religion Data Archives|
to render the sound of the name into English. No standard spellings have yet been developed.)
Since the establishment of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent spread of Islam from Indonesia to Albania, the number of orders has grown immensely and no catalog exists (though detailed lists for some countries do exist). The main orders in India at present are the Chishti, the Qadiri, the Suharwardi, and the Naqshbandi, two of which are of later origin. Other orders are prominent in other countries. Orders also have split into suborders. For example, both the Nizami and Sabiri suborders of the Chishti Order have a following in the United States, in the Chishti Order in America and the Sufi Order (headed by Pir Vilayat Khan [1916–2004]) respectively.
In their homeland, members of orders can frequently be distinguished by the peculiar clothes they wear. Apparel will vary in color and style, especially the headgear. Several of the orders have become famous for their peculiar ritual formats, which include the whirling dances of the Jerrahi and the howling of the Rifai.
The first Sufi group to become visible in America was the Sufi Order, founded in the early twentieth century by Hazrat Inayet Khan (1882–1927). During the 1970s, representatives of many Sufi groups migrated to the United States and set up their separate organizations. Also, since the end of World War II, the Middle East, like India, has become the site for pilgrimages by spiritual seekers looking for mystic teachers. Several who found their guru in a Sufi shaikh returned to the United States to found American branches of their shaikh’s orders.
Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) was a Persian prophet and religious teacher of the seventh century b.c.e. who worked a monotheistic revolution in his native land. According to tradition, Zoroaster, when he was about 30 years of age, was admitted into the presence of Ahura Mazda, the supreme being, and was personally instructed in the doctrines of the new faith. Over the next few years, he received visions of the six archangels, the chief attendants and agents of Mazda. After 11 years of frustrating work, he was able to convert Vishtapa (Hystaspes), one of the rulers of Iran, who aided Zoroaster in spreading the new faith with two holy wars.
Zoroaster’s faith was monotheistic. Mazda is the all-wise creator and absolute sovereign. Mazda demands righteousness and promises to help those who follow truthfulness and justice and foster agriculture. The righteous will attain heaven. In the oldest Zoroastrian texts, Angra Mainyu appears as an evil spirit, but only in later years was he to arise as the evil counterpart of Mazda, thus transforming Zoroastrianism into a thoroughgoing dualism. The main representatives of this dualistic Zoroastrianism are the Parsees, many of whom have migrated to North America in recent decades.
Among the newest of the several religious traditions to grow beyond the country of its founding into an international movement, the Baha’i World Faith originated in Persia (now Iran) in the mid-nineteenth century. Baha’is generally date their founding to the work of Siyyad Ali Muhammad of Shiraz (1819–1850), a prophet who declared himself the Bab, that is, the Gate, through whom people would know about the advent of another messenger of God. His proclamations were made within the context of Islamic expectation of the madhi, the successor of the previous messenger, Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The Bab began his prophetic work in 1844, but after gaining a large following he encountered the opposition of the country’s Muslim leaders. He was eventually imprisoned by the shah and, in 1850, executed.
Among the Bab’s followers was Mirza Husayn-Ali (1817–1892). During the time of the Bab’s imprisonment, at a conference of his followers, he assumed the title “Baha,” and emerged as one of the principal figures in the Babi community. In 1852 Jinab-i-Baha, as he was then called, was imprisoned in another wave of anti-Babi persecution. While languishing in a Tehran jail, he received the first intimations that he was, in fact, the one of whom the Bab spoke, “Him Whom God shall make manifest.” Soon released from prison, he gradually assumed the prime leadership role among the Babis. Finally, in 1863, to a small group of family and friends, he announced his conviction that he was the promised one foretold by the Bab.
Jinab-i-Baha’s initial proclamation came just as a large segment of the Babi community was beginning an exile, first in Constantinople and then in Adrianople (now Edirne, Turkey). In Adrianople, he openly proclaimed his new role and new name, Baha’u’llah, “the Glory of God,” through a series of letters, called tablets, sent to many world rulers and political leaders.
In 1868 Baha’u’llah and his family were further banished to Akka (now Acre) in Palestine, where he lived the remainder of his life, first at a penal colony and from 1879 in a residence in the city. During this period, he wrote his most important book, the Kitab-i-Agdas (Most Holy Book), the book of laws for Baha’is, as well as numerous shorter works, all now considered to have the authority of scripture.
Baha’u’llah was succeeded by his son, Abbas Effendi (1844–1921), who took the name Abdu’l-Baha, “the Slave of Baha.” A devoted follower of his father even before the initial proclamation of his role in 1863, he followed Baha’u’llah into exile and wrote the first history of the movement in 1886. He assumed control of the movement under the authority of his father’s will.
As the center of the covenant, Abdu’l-Baha directed the international spread of the movement. Following his confinement from 1901 to 1908 and the discontinuance of travel restrictions in 1911, he made the first of several foreign tours. A world tour the following year brought him to the United States, where he dedicated the grounds for the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Illinois. Returning to Palestine just before World War I (1914–1918), he settled in Haifa, where Turkish authorities again confined him until the British took control.
As the interpreter of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha summarized the major themes of the new faith revealed by his father. He emphasized its universal character: that all religions were essentially one and that all the prophets of God, the Great Manifestations, taught the same religion. He expounded the eleven principles of the Baha’i faith: (1) the independent investigation of truth; (2) the oneness of the human race; (3) that religion should be the cause of love and affection (not hate); (4) the conformity of religion to science and reason; (5) the abolition of religious, racial, political, and patriotic prejudice; (6) the equal opportunity to the means of existence; (7) the equality of persons before the law; (8) universal peace; (9) the noninterference of religion in politics; (10) the equality of the sexes; and (11) the power of the Holy Spirit as the means of spiritual development. He also advocated a universal language and universal compulsory education.
Abdu’l-Baha was succeeded by his nephew Shoghi Effendi (1896–1957), who did much to develop the international organization and administration of the faith. Under Shoghi Effendi, the Baha’is established a following on every continent. Since his death, a more collective form of leadership has emerged.
BAHA’IS IN AMERICA
The Baha’i faith was brought to America in 1892 by a Lebanese convert, Ibrahim Kheiralla (1849–1929). A former businessman, Kheiralla proved to be an energetic teacher and soon gathered groups of eager students. The first Baha’i groups were formed in Chicago, New York, Boston, and Kenosha, Wisconsin.
During the 1890s, there were almost no English translations of the writings of Baha’u’llah in print. In the absence of published volumes, Kheiralla taught a full course on the Baha’i faith, but presented what Baha’is soon discerned was a highly distorted version influenced by Kheiralla’s occult speculations. Eventually, Kheiralla published his peculiar teachings in several books.
Kheiralla’s deviations from Baha’i teachings reached a crisis during a pilgrimage by American Baha’is to meet Abdu’l-Baha during the winter of 1898 to 1899. Abdu’l-Baha’s discovery of the content of Kheiralla teachings led to a heated argument and to Abdu’l-Baha’s rejection of Kheiralla’s speculative presentation of the faith. Kheiralla in turn rejected Abdu’l-Baha and, continuing in his own presentation of the faith, took supporters from the Chicago and Kenosha Baha’i groups and established a rival organization. The Behaists, as Kheiralla termed his followers, existed for several decades, but then disbanded. Kheiralla is now remembered as a covenant breaker, a term applied to individuals who attempt to establish rival Baha’i organizations.
In addition to the majority Haifa/Wilmette group, rival Baha’i groups include: (1) the Orthodox Baha’i Faith, following Joel B. Marangella: (2) Bahais Under Provisions of the Covenant (Leland Jensen); (3) Bahais Under Provisions of the Covenant (Neal Chase); (4) Tarbiyat Bahá’i Community (Rex King group); (5) Bahá’i Under the Living Guardianship (Donald Harvey as the third guardian and Jacques Soghomonian as the fourth guardian); and (6) the Reform Bahai movement, under the leadership of Frederick Glaysher.
BAHA’IS IN CANADA
Baha’ism in Canada began in 1898 when Gus Magee, a Chicago newspaperman who had interviewed an early Baha’i believer, passed on what he had learned to a niece who lived in London, Ontario. The niece told her mother, who traveled to Chicago with her two daughters for lessons in faith. The faith began in Quebec in 1902 when May Bolles (1870–1940), who had married Canadian architect William Sutherland Maxwell (1874–1952), moved to Montreal. The Maxwell home became the center of Baha’i activities, which received a boost in 1912 when Baha’u’llah came to Montreal. Later, Shoghi Effendi, the guardian of the faith, married Mary Maxwell (1910–2000), their daughter.
Originally, the Baha’i work in Canada was incorporated under the care of the Spiritual Assembly, which was headquartered in the United States. It grew slowly until the 1930s, but in 1937 a seven-year plan was inaugurated that led to the formation of at least one Baha’i local assembly in every state and province of the country. In 1949 the work in Canada had grown to the point that it was set apart from the United States, and its own Spiritual Assembly was incorporated.
Islam: General Sources
The study of Islam in America has grown primarily in the religious studies departments of various universities, but it has been given focus in The Muslim World, a quarterly journal published by the Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian/Muslim Relations, c/o Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman St., Hartford, CT 06105. Those seeking information on the American Muslim community may contact the American Muslim Council, 121 New York Ave. NW, Ste. 525, Washington, DC 20005.
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Muslims in America
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The Baha’i center in Wilmette, Illinois, houses the American Baha’i Faith Archives and Library, which can be contacted for further information on the Baha’i faith. It is located at 535 Sheridan Road, Wilmette, IL 60091.
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