by James Stephens

February 15, 2010

It would be very wrong to overlook the work of Snouck Hurgronje in understanding Islam historically

The following is an extract from:


Lectures on Its Origin, Its Religious and Political Growth, and Its Present


C. Snouck Hurgronje

Professor of the Arabic Language in the University of Leiden, Holland


This extract from the above weighty tome by Hurgronje explains some of the idealist (as opposed to materialist) roots of Islam

[Begin first extract from Hurgronje here]
Allah, who had given him power, soon allowed him to use it for the
protection of the interests of the Faithful against the unbelievers.
Once become militant, Mohammed turned from the purely defensive to the
aggressive attitude, with such success that a great part of the Arab tribes
were compelled to accept Islâm, “obedience to Allah and His Messenger.” The
rule formerly insisted upon: “No compulsion in religion,” was sacrificed,
since experience taught him, that the truth was more easily forced upon
men by violence than by threats which would be fulfilled only after the
resurrection. Naturally, the religious value of the conversions sank in
proportion as their number increased. The Prophet of world renouncement
in Mecca wished to win souls for his faith; the Prophet-Prince in Medina
needed subjects and fighters for his army. Yet he was still the same

Parallel with his altered position towards the heathen Arabs went a
readjustment of his point of view towards the followers of Scripture.
Mohammed never pretended to preach a new religion; he demanded in the name
of Allah the same Islâm (submission) that Moses, Jesus, and former prophets
had demanded of their nations. In his earlier revelations he always points
out the identity of his “Qorâns” with the contents of the sacred books of
Jews and Christians, in the sure conviction that these will confirm his
assertion if asked. In Medina he was disillusioned by finding neither Jews
nor Christians prepared to acknowledge an Arabian prophet, not even for the
Arabs only; so he was led to distinguish between the _true_ contents of the
Bible and that which had been made of it by the falsification of later
Jews and Christians. He preferred now to connect his own revelations more
immediately with those of Abraham, no books of whom could be cited against
him, and who was acknowledged by Jews and Christians without being himself
either a Jew or a Christian.

This turn, this particular connection of Islâm with Abraham, made it
possible for him, by means of an adaptation of the biblical legends
concerning Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael, to include in his religion a set of
religious customs of the Meccans, especially the hajj.[1] Thus Islâm became
more Arabian, and at the same time more independent of the other revealed
religions, whose degeneracy was demonstrated by their refusal to
acknowledge Mohammed.

[Footnote 1: A complete explanation of the gradual development of the
Abraham legend in the Qorân can be found in my book _Het Mekkaansche Feest_
(The Feast of Mecca), Leiden, 1880.]

All this is to be explained without the supposition of conscious trickery
or dishonesty on the part of Mohammed. There was no other way for the
unlettered Prophet, whose belief in his mission was unshaken, to overcome
the difficulties entailed by his closer acquaintance with the tenets of
other religions.

In the following extract from Hurgronje we see a palgiarizing of Judaism especially, and the key role of Muslim Armies in this new faith

[Begin second extract from Hurgronje here]

When Mohammed, taking his stand as opposed to Judaism and Christianity,
had accentuated the Arabian character of his religion, the Meccan rites of
pagan origin were incorporated into Islâm; but only after the purification
required by monotheism. From that time forward the yearly celebration of
the Hajj was among the ritual duties of the Moslim community.

In the first years of the strife yet another duty was most emphatically
impressed on the Faithful; _jihâd, i.e._, readiness to sacrifice life and
possessions for the defence of Islâm, understood, since the conquest of
Mecca in 630, as the extension by force of arms of the authority of the
Moslim state, first over the whole of Arabia, and soon after Mohammed’s
death over the whole world, so far as Allah granted His hosts the victory.

For the rest, the legislative revelations regulated only such points as had
become subjects of argument or contest in Mohammed’s lifetime, or such as
were particularly suggested by that antithesis of paganism and revelation,
which had determined Mohammed’s prophetical career. Gambling and wine were
forbidden, the latter after some hesitation between the inculcation of
temperance and that of abstinence. Usury, taken in the sense of requiring
any interest at all upon loans, was also forbidden. All tribal feuds with
their consequences had henceforward to be considered as non-existent, and
retaliation, provided that the offended party would not agree to accept
compensation, was put under the control of the head of the community.
Polygamy and intercourse of master and female slave were restricted; the
obligations arising from blood-relationship or ownership were regulated.
These points suffice to remind us of the nature of the Qorânic regulations.
Reference to certain subjects in this revealed law while others were
ignored, did not depend on their respective importance to the life of the
community, but rather on what happened to have been suggested by the events
in Mohammed’s lifetime. For Mohammed knew too well how little qualified he
was for legislative work to undertake it unless absolutely necessary.

This rough sketch of what Islâm meant when it set out to conquer the world,
is not very likely to create the impression that its incredibly rapid
extension was due to its superiority over the forms of civilization which
it supplanted. Lammens’s assertion, that Islâm was the Jewish religion
simplified according to Arabic wants and amplified by some Christian and
Arabic traditions, contains a great deal of truth, if only we recognize the
central importance for Mohammed’s vocation and preaching of the Christian
doctrine of Resurrection and judgment. This explains the large number of
weak points that the book of Mohammed’s revelations, written down by his
first followers, offered to Jewish and Christian polemics. It was easy for
the theologians of those religions to point out numberless mistakes in the
work of the illiterate Arabian prophet, especially where he maintained that
he was repeating and confirming the contents of their Bible. The Qorânic
revelations about Allah’s intercourse with men, taken from apocryphal
sources, from profane legends like that of Alexander the Great, sometimes
even created by Mohammed’s own fancy–such as the story of the prophet
Sâlih, said to have lived in the north of Arabia, and that of the prophet
Hûd, supposed to have lived in the south; all this could not but give them
the impression of a clumsy caricature of true tradition. The principal
doctrines of Synagogue and Church had apparently been misunderstood, or
they were simply denied as corruptions.

The conversion to Islâm, within a hundred years, of such nations as the
Egyptian, the Syrian, and the Persian, can hardly be attributed to anything
but the latent talents, the formerly suppressed energy of the Arabian race
having found a favourable soil for its development; talents and energy,
however, not of a missionary kind. If Islâm is said to have been from its
beginning down to the present day, a missionary religion,[1] then “mission”
is to be taken here in a quite peculiar sense, and special attention must
be given to the preparation of the missionary field by the Moslim armies,
related by history and considered as most important by the Mohammedans

The last extract from Hurgronje touches upon the real kernel within Islam which is Fascism. the present pope of Rome touched upon this in his Regensburg lecture, Septyember 2006, then withdrew

[Begin last extract from Snouck Hurgronje here]

Thus, in Islâm, a whole system, which could not even pretend to draw its
authority from the Sunnah, had come to be accepted. It was not difficult
to justify this deviation from the orthodox abhorrence against novelties.
Islâm has always looked at the world in a pessimistic way, a view expressed
in numberless prophetic sayings. The world is bad and will become worse and
worse. Religion and morality will have to wage an ever more hopeless war
against unbelief, against heresy and ungodly ways of living. While this
is surely no reason for entering into any compromise with doctrines which
depart but a hair’s breadth from Qorân and Sunnah, it necessitates methods
of defence against heresy as unknown in Mohammed’s time as heresy itself.
“Necessity knows no law” is a principle fully accepted in Islam; and heresy
is an enemy of the faith that can only be defeated with dialectic weapons.
So the religious truths preached by Mohammed have not been altered in
any way; but under the stress of necessity they have been clad in modern
armour, which has somewhat changed their aspect.

Moreover, Islâm has a theory, which alone is sufficient to justify the
whole later development of doctrine as well as of law. This theory,
whose importance for the system can hardly be overestimated, and which,
nevertheless, has until very recent times constantly been overlooked by
Western students of Islâm, finds its classical expression in the following
words, put into the mouth of Mohammed: “My community will never agree in an
error.” In terms more familiar to us, this means that the Mohammedan Church
taken as a whole is infallible; that all the decisions on matters practical
or theoretical, on which it is agreed, are binding upon its members.
Nowhere else is the catholic instinct of Islâm more clearly expressed.

A faithful Mohammedan student, after having struggled through a handbook of
law, may be vexed by a doubt as to whether these endless casuistic precepts
have been rightly deduced from the Qorân and the Sacred Tradition. His
doubt, however, will at once be silenced, if he bears in mind that Allah
speaks more plainly to him by this infallible Agreement (_Ijmâ’_) of the
Community than through Qorân and Tradition; nay, that the contents of both
those sacred sources, without this perfect intermediary, would be to a
great extent unintelligible to him. Even the differences between the
schools of law may be based on this theory of the Ijmâ’; for, does not the
infallible Agreement of the Community teach us that a certain diversity
of opinion is a merciful gift of God? It was through the Agreement that
dogmatic speculations as well as minute discussions about points of law
became legitimate. The stamp of Ijmâ’ was essential to every rule of faith
and life, to all manners and customs.

All sorts of religious ideas and practices, which could not possibly be
deduced from Mohammed’s message, entered the Moslim world by the permission
of Ijmâ’. Here we need think only of mysticism and of the cult of saints.

Some passages of the Qorân may perhaps be interpreted in such a way that we
hear the subtler strings of religious emotion vibrating in them. The chief
impression that Mohammed’s Allah makes before the Hijrah is that of awful
majesty, at which men tremble from afar; they fear His punishment, dare
hardly be sure of His reward, and hope much from His mercy. This impression
is a lasting one; but, after the Hijrah, Allah is also heard quietly
reasoning with His obedient servants, giving them advice and commands,
which they have to follow in order to frustrate all resistance to His
authority and to deserve His satisfaction. He is always the Lord, the King
of the world, who speaks to His humble servants. But the lamp which Allah
had caused Mohammed to hold up to guide mankind with its light, was raised
higher and higher after the Prophet’s death, in order to shed its light
over an ever increasing part of humanity. This was not possible, however,
without its reservoir being replenished with all the different kinds of oil
that had from time immemorial given light to those different nations. The
oil of mysticism came from Christian circles, and its Neo-Platonic origin
was quite unmistakable; Persia and India also contributed to it. There were
those who, by asceticism, by different methods of mortifying the flesh,
liberated the spirit that it might rise and become united with the origin
of all being; to such an extent, that with some the profession of faith
was reduced to the blasphemous exclamation: “I am Allah.” Others tried to
become free from the sphere of the material and the temporal by certain
methods of thought, combined or not combined with asceticism. Here the
necessity of guidance was felt, and congregations came into existence,
whose purpose it was to permit large groups of people under the leadership
of their sheikhs, to participate simultaneously in the mystic union. The
influence which spread most widely was that of leaders like Ghazâlî, the
Father of the later Mohammedan Church, who recommended moral purification
of the soul as the only way by which men should come nearer to God. His
mysticism wished to avoid the danger of pantheism, to which so many others
were led by their contemplations, and which so often engendered disregard
of the revealed law, or even of morality. Some wanted to pass over the gap
between the Creator and the created along a bridge of contemplation; and
so, driven by the fire of sublime passion, precipitate themselves towards
the object of their love, in a kind of rapture, which poets compare with
intoxication. The evil world said that the impossibility to accomplish this
heavenly union often induced those people to imitate it for the time being
with the earthly means of wine and the indulgence in sensual love.

Characteristic of all these sorts of mysticism is their esoteric pride.
All those emotions are meant only for a small number of chosen ones. Even
Ghazâlî’s ethical mysticism is not for the multitude. The development of
Islâm as a whole, from the Hijrah on, has always been greater in breadth
than in depth; and, consequently, its pedagogics have remained defective.
Even some of the noblest minds in Islâm restrict true religious life to an
aristocracy, and accept the ignorance of the multitude as an irremediable

Throughout the centuries pantheistic and animistic forms of mysticism have
found many adherents among the Mohammedans; but the infallible Agreement
has persisted in calling that heresy. Ethical mysticism, since Ghazâlî, has
been fully recognized; and, with law and dogma, it forms the sacred trio of
sciences of Islâm, to the study of which the Arabic humanistic arts
serve as preparatory instruments. All other sciences, however useful and
necessary, are of this world and have no value for the world to come. The
unfaithful appreciate and study them as well as do the Mohammedans; but,
on Mohammedan soil they must be coloured with a Mohammedan hue, and their
results may never clash with the three religious sciences. Physics,
astronomy, and philosophy have often found it difficult to observe this
restriction, and therefore they used to be at least slightly suspected in
pious circles.

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