Genie-ology & Some Mormon Magic

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The modern practice of learning who our ancestors are (originally a right only reserved for the elite) taps into our deepest, most romantic yearnings. “Imagine, dear son! In our veins runs the blood of kings, queens, rulers, conquerors–you are royalty, child, pure lightning in a bottle!”

Indeed, as can be said for the majority of Europeans today. In recent decades, genomic research has hit us with a rather stunning notion: to be descended from Charlemagne and Eleanor of Aquitaine is not so much a magical exception as it is a foregone conclusion. All prepared for our role as the toad who transforms into a blue-blood prince, the stage production screeches to a halt.

(Considering that roughly 80% of the world’s wealth is in the hands of less than 150 organizations, why not base our aspirational research around tracing the moneylenders in our family?)

Without delving into the gruesome details, I’ll simply note that both geneticists and mathematicians have synchronously realized that, as recently as 700 years ago, all Europeans share a common ancestor, and more incredibly, that every person on earth is chromosomally anchored in one figure who lived only a couple thousand years ago. Similarly, all of us today will probably be the ancestor of every living member of the human race a couple thousand years from now.

There’s nothing quite like deflating scientific statistics to elicit a symphony of eye-rolling, is there?

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, appropriately, my girlfriend and I took advantage of our new proximity to the Mormon Genealogical Library here in Salt Lake City and went for a brisk stroll downtown. Upon reaching our destination, we found ourselves in a pillared, grandiose lobby with well-dressed society-types gliding past us. “This is like something out of Great Gatsby,” I whispered excitedly to Jenifer.

After being detained for some time by my iPhone’s ability to take high-resolution photographs, we finally wandered into the genealogical computer lab. The first thing I noticed was a family tree diagram on the wall linking Joseph Smith, the fabled founder of Mormonism, to several major U.S. presidents and Winston Churchill! As I fumbled with my iPhone to open up its camera, I suddenly heard a polite female voice behind me. “We have handouts for that, would you like one?” Uh, yes ma’am, I would!

Summarily, we were ushered over to adjacent computers and pleasantly guided through the process of hunting through the database for our grandparents’ names. And so on, and so on. I must say, the Mormons have done a great job of making an experience out of the whole thing which, I suspect, deep down is what we all want–that sense of wonder from having connected in some way with our ancestors.

In fact, I encourage anyone to visit the Family Search website and give it a shot. Everything is totally free, which is cool, and the database itself along with the way it’s structured is extremely pragmatic. If you do find royalty somewhere in your heritage, it won’t be by virtue of a fuzzy line. Once you create an account, you can start to thread your family tree together–and there’s no turning back!

And as you may have suspected by now, I did find royalty in my line. An entire buzzing hive of royalty, in fact. My Dad, sister and I, stuffed with turkey and tofurkey (give it a chance) in the aftermath of the Thanksgiving feast, took the family tree for a ride. Before we knew it, we were in 15th century England, stumbling across pompous dukes, duchesses, lords and ladys. A lone Plantaganet popped up, which turned out being the single raindrop before the May shower.

Now we were seeing such lusty names as King Edward Longshanks, James I of Aragon, King Louis IX of France, Richard the Lion-Hearted, and even Isabella “The She-Wolf”, who appeared to be one cold you-know-what. Beside ourselves with astonishment we kept going…and going…and going. On one line was Charlemagne, another Ferdinand The Great (his title is somewhat dubious). On the latter’s, we found ourselves following an unbroken chain of Spanish and Portuguese kings from the 9th century, to the 8th century, to the 7th century, many of them Teudor kings who had originally come from the north.

Now deep in the annals of Western history via the sudden time-machine of our family tree, we arrived at Alaric I, the Visigothic king who sacked Rome in the 5th century. Yes, we had made it all the way back to the fall of Rome! Alaric first invaded Italy at the age of 25, embellishing his conquests with self-mythology and insisting that everyone call him ‘Alaricus’. By 408 and 409 Alaricus had his hands around Rome’s throat, and was thus able to extort 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, and 3,000 scarlet-dyed hides, among other things. What a damnable rogue!

The whole thing became an enjoyably licentious jaunt through Western history, which is kind of fun to witness in such a circumference of propriety as family company! I should note that these historical fireworks are exclusive to my paternal grandmother’s side (RIP Nana Lucille!) and specifically to the line of Bucks and Derryberrys of whom, of course, none of us had ever heard. Which leads us back to the beginning.

Again, we have established that you are more the exception if you aren’t related to European royalty rather than if you are. Any sense of privilege derived from such a thing has been effectively annihilated in the world of modern science. Still, that’s not as disappointing as it sounds. Rather, I think we should change our approach to the matter of royal descent. Researcher Mark Humphreys has said it best:

“You can ask whether everyone in the Western world is descended from Charlemagne, and the answer is yes, we’re all descended from Charlemagne. But can you prove it? That’s the game of genealogy.”

The privilege, then, comes not in being connected to these glitzy monarchs–since we all are–but rather in exhuming the unique path that leads your family back to those heralded networks in the first place. And personally I think, despite the all-encompassing statements made by these geneticists, that genealogy is more defined by the delicate subtlety of degrees. Sure, it’s accurate to draw a big circle around the human race, but, as they say, the devil’s in the details! I think it’s far more interesting–and yes, romantic–to trace how we’re interrelated. It’s bound to be different for every family!

For example, it’s one thing to say that every U.S. president is related to European royalty, which on the surface must be accepted as true in the same way that it is for every European, and entirely another to say that every U.S. president is related to European royalty. The latter suggests a far closer, less incidental proximity to potentates past. And while that’s an entirely different–and fascinating–subject, perhaps you can see my point.

So in conclusion, I have to take my hat off to the Mormon Genealogical Library. For whatever it’s worth, they’ve provided me a great diversion and also seriously educated me on the fine points of my heritage, both amazing and banal. And as for our endless quest for edifying historical identity, well…the good news is that we’re all fantastically dynastic, and the “bad news” is that we’re all fantastically dynastic. Ultimately, it’s what we make of it–and that determines what it makes of us.

About the author

Mihdisiatic

11 comments

  • good read. as a Muslim, this was an interesting read. tracing genealogy has always been important for specially Arabs but Muslims in general. The prohibition of fornication serves this purpose as well as the fact that a woman doesn’t take her husbands last name when getting married.

    This has consequences when it comes to marriage and also some legal rights for those who trace their ancestry back to the Prophet Muhammad (which is a big honor and is something that Muslim do all over the world, so you have Moroccan, Chinese and Senegalese Muslims etc that are related to him i different ways). My mother used to be very much into this and has found past relatives that migrated to the States (we live in Sweden) and even knows now where they are buried.

    i guess i might try to keep our non-basketball related conversations here instead. i’m sure many of the slam guys find literature and such annoying on a basketball site

    peace

  • if marriage is the only legal way to have intercourse (and that is actually followed in practice) then everyone would know without a doubt who both their parents are/were. in the case were it is not practiced and there are multiple partners involved for example, then the lineage would be in doubt (there is also a mandatory waiting period for a woman to re-marry after divorce for this reason, i.e. the former husband (not knowing) got her pregnant before the divorce for example and then if she remarried right away the former husbands child could be attributed to the new husband). this has consequences when it comes to rights of inheritance and also relationships in the next generation. for example, two people who never knew who their father was could meet and get married while actually having he same father which would mean that half-siblings got married which would be an invalid and illegal marriage in Islam.

    the Muslim community in Sweden is growing. in a population of about 10 million the Muslims probably make up slightly less than 5%. The majority of them are actually born in Sweden which makes them grow up feeling at least partly like a part of Swedish culture. Most of them are second or third generation children of immigrants. The biggest immigrant groups amongst the Muslims are from Somalia, Bangladesh, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Bosnia and Kurdistan (at least according to my observations). There are also estimates that there are a few 1000 native converts (me being one of them, i’m born here but my father was not (spend almost 5 years in L.A. btw). A lot of the Muslims here just like anywhere else are very secularized. Like with most things, there are degrees to how devout and practicing Muslims are. We unfortunately have the second highest amount of people joining isis per capita in Europe, trailing only Belgium. That is a huge problem for us off course, as well as the growing number of people that are joining the extreme right in this country which have some very worrisome xenophobic and islamophobic ideas. A trend that has been seen elsewhere in Europe. Holland and Denmark being good examples where these types of political parties actually have a substantial amount of power in the government. Which reared it’s ugly head in a major way in Norway a few years back if u remember when there was a person that committed a terrible attack that left many innocent people killed. A few months ago in Sweden we had a guy that put on a mask and went into school with a sword (!?!) and killed two people of immigrant background and targeted several more. so yeah……

  • and i agree that a lot of the basketball junkies need to get a taste of a different discourse every now and then. i know some of them get irritated if it’s like a constant theme. some are definitely down to go “off road” and have interesting non- basketball discussion. unfortunately when it’s things like politics and religion some people can’t leave their ego out of it and it gets heated and emotional

  • i’ll be glad to share my thoughts on this lol, it might get long though. interesting also that u were raised Baha’i. We actually have a small Baha’i center in my city. i used to run into Baha’i in LA, because it’s LA and there is everything there i guess. Many people in Sweden have no idea what Baha’i is, most have probably never heard of it.

    To understand the emergence of isis we have to go way back. And we also have to understand that the U.S. is a war economy that thrives when there is an enemy (or several) that it can fight against to fuel their war economy. For a long while it was communism that was the big threat which enabled them to be very active central America for example. Islam is the most recent “threat” to the U.S. or as the U.S. likes to call, threat to the “west”. (Notice the dichotomy, west vs. Islam, good vs. evil, modern vs. outdated, and you have to pick a side, can’t stay neutral).

    In my opinion this goes all the way back to colonialism. The Ottomans were seen as a great threat to the European powers. Both militarily and ideologically. And the driving force for them was Islam (even though he Ottomans where very secularized during their last period, nonetheless, they were good at representing a united vision for Sunni Muslims). Europe wanted to destabilize this empire. They were very effective at it (Muslims as a whole still haven’t recovered psychologically from the trauma), they colonized much of the Islamic world and were successful in dividing it up into nation states that were under heavy influence by their respective colonizers (the culmination of this being the end of ww1 when the heart region of the Ottomans was divided up into what we now know as Turkey, Syria, Palestine etc). Along with this they also attacked Islam itself by destroying the Muslims’ traditional educational system. Also forcing countries to adopt European script and educational models (in some cases banning Arabic as an language of teaching at the highest institutions (keep in mind the extremely respected and high position that Arabic has in the Islamic sciences).

    They were also shrewd enough to realize that they could weaken the Muslims by making them fight against each other. Enter Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab. The founder of wahhabism (also known as salafism, even though salafism arose separately the two ways of thinking more or less merged and are today hard to distinguish from each other, most of the adherents prefer to be called salafi though). He came out of Arabia and had some followers amongst the Bedouin tribes, he was originally from a family of learned Hanbali scholars (the Hanbali school being one of the 4 Sunni schools of law that Muslims have followed since they originated only a few generations after the passing of the Prophet Muhammad). He developed a theology that went against the traditional Sunni and Shia schools and went as far as declaring them non-Muslim due to their beliefs and enabled him and his gang to engage in war against the Sunnis and Shia (including the Ottomans off course) on the basis that they were all non-Muslims. He aligned with the tribe of ibn Saud (from were the name Saudi Arabia gets it’s name). And their agreement was that the Adbul-Wahhab would control the religious aspect of their kingdom (once they became successful) and Saud would control the secular/political side. And alignment that is still in effect today in Saudi Arabia.

    The British caught wind and sponsored the wahhabi/Saud coalition against the Ottomans, and the outcome was that they were eventually successful when the Ottomans finally fell. Which brings us to isis. They base their whole ideology on being the only true Muslim which means that those that don’t agree with them as far as ideology are not Muslims. (Sounds familiar right? Same claim that the wahhabis made) And they use wahhabi theology to strengthen their claim, even to the point that they declare many wahhabis as not being Muslims. So the monster was created over a hundred years ago.

    Now, has the U.S. and it’s allies directly created isis? i think there is a strong case to be made. (Let’s not forget now many of their own enemies they have created in the past, including Saddam and al-Qaida (which isis comes out of)) For many though, that just sound like too much of a conspiracy and your average Joe won’t buy it. What he should by though if he is rational enough is that the U.S. has created them indirectly by being in perpetual war in the region for almost 15 years now. Imagine the psychology of 20 year old that has seen war his entire life and has seen his close relatives being killed either by the U.S. or the civil war they created. That is the type of person that will become desperate and crazy enough to join isis and will also be open to the type of brainwashing that goes on.

    So i think that the ideology itself was promoted by the west in attempt to weaken traditional Islam and that the fundamentalist fervor that u mention (which is a real thing) is promoted by the recent military involvement by the west in that region. In other words, i think u are correct in your idea of isis’s creation, but personally i think it has a lot of layers and that it stretches back in time as far as causes go.

    Book related: you have to read Guantanamo Diary if u haven’t already. And i left a link the the post up were we talked about don winslow, were he talks a little about his writing style and how he gets his own political opinions known through characters in his books. if u didn’t see that link, let me know and i can leave it here.

  • addendum: i really want to emphasize how detrimental the destruction of the traditional institutions in the Muslims world was. Traditionally students there were taught Islamic law in accordance with one of the 4 Sunni schools (i’m speaking of the Sunni world here) and theology based on of the 2 traditional Sunni schools of theology as well as the science of tasawwuf (known in the west as Sufism, although things come to mind for many when they hear Sufism that is not what that teaching is truly about). What this did was that it enabled your average Muslim to identify heretical sects as soon as they sprung up because they were in seen in contrast to the tradition they had studied. This has become a huge problem now amongst Sunnis since we have the wahhabi/salafi group deviating from traditional Sunni Islam in issues regarding law, theology and tasawwuf while claiming be the true Sunnis. Shia are left out of this conflict since they have specific characteristics that won’t make them mistaken for Sunnis. So people today are growing up in an environment that is lacking the traditional structure of traditional education, even though it still exists in many places in the Muslim world off course, it has been watered down and lost much of it’s traditional authority. Leaving way for new interpretations to emerge which claim to be Sunni and the uneducated masses are not able distinguish between them and many good hearted young Muslims fall for the propaganda and end up falling into modern sects all while believing that they are following traditional Sunni Islam. And then these are the people, if they fall into the wrong crisis or wrong company, that can later be manipulated to follow and join the most extreme of the extreme.

  • “how can you not, as a young man native to that country, become a freedom fighter…or as they say, “terrorist”? At the very least, it must be understood that this is an outcome of colonialism, as well as postmodern corporate colonialism.” first off all, great point. it really shows how the media controls the semantics of the discourse. the Afghanis were freedom fighters when they were helping the U.S. to get rid of the evil Soviets. Then when the tables of political interest turned they became terrorist and were fair game by any means. it’s so hard for most to even think about how we would react if an occupying force came to let’s say Alabama or Sweden for example and started patrolling the streets and sending our economy and infrastructure back to the middle ages.

    ” Wahhabism has been very, very good for business.” yes, specially since oil was found. they (the western powers) really struck gold with this alliance. not only for political purposes, when oil was found u have a steady supplier from the region. the irony of the modern day wahhabi/saud alliance is that it doesn’t seem like it can hold up in the modern world and there have been splits already were the clerics that support the royal family get criticized for it a lot (those clerics have also been called non-Muslims by isis for their support of the royal family which is a de facto support for the U.S.).

    “It sounded like he had a political mission to specifically destabilize standard Muslim orthodoxy, which was extremely convenient for the British Empire’s motives. ” This, i agree with. But i don’t think the British created him in that way. ibn Abdul-Wahhab was born in the 1700’s. Western academia at the time was not close to what it is today when comes to understanding Islam. Orientalist studies at that time were extremely shallow. in other words i don’t think the British think tank of the time were clever enough or had access to enough information to able to create that type destabilizing force from the ground up. What i think happened was that M.i.Abdul-Wahhab was led astray by trying to be an autodidact (his teaching are often characterized by the use of a literal interpretation of the sacred texts, which in many cases lead to anthropomorphic understandings of God. This is one of the major dividing issues between the wahhabis and traditional Sunnis (and don’t forget that the wahhabis and the likes of isis portray themselves as the true Sunnis, so when i use traditional Sunnis i do so to refer to those that follow the 4 schools of law and the 2 theological schools which has represented Sunni Islam for over 1000 years)) . Like i said before, he comes from a very learned family, his brother Suleyman i.A.W. was a big scholar and has written a refutation of his rebellious brother after Muhammad i.A.W. left the Hanbali teachings and Sunni orthodoxy. So i think his rebellion was fueled by his own conviction in his new interpretation as well as the possibility of gaining religious and political authority if he aligned with Saud. So once the British were became aware it was like: hand, meet glove. They scratched each others backs, the interests were mutual.

    I have to really emphasize one thing that might not be clear from an outsider’s perspective. And it has to do with the long civil war that was fought in the Arabian peninsula between the wahhabis against the Sunni and the Shia (the Shia are in some cases declared as non-muslims by wahhabis, something that isis will also do without exceptions). The KEY was to get control of the two holy sanctuaries: Mecca and Medina. If was a back and forth, with the wahhabis gaining control, then losing it and later regaining it. These two cities and their surrounding areas have an very prestigious status in the eyes of Muslims. The Kaba being our prayer direction and being situated in the middle of Mecca’s great mosque and also being visited by every pilgrim each year during the pilgrimage. And the Prophet Muhammad’s grave is situated inside the mosque of Medina, which basically every pilgrim visits before or after making the pilgrimage to Mecca.

    So just by occupying these two areas you ipso facto have a tremendous influence and status. And in recent times, with the discovery of oil, it has enabled them to promote the wahhabi ideology in an unprecedented way. Their publishing houses are extremely effective in printing material that is filled with their ideology, sometimes even taking classical orthodox Sunni texts of law and theology for example and imposing their own interpretations on them an in a few cases even tampering with the original text itself. This obviously spreads through pilgrims that come there and leave with material (some of them coming back to their local communities with an elevated status now that they are pilgrims) as well as through worldwide donations were written material is sent for free (they have A LOT of money) to mosques around the world. And also by sponsoring and building mosques were they as the donors or supporters have influence ( i also think there is sincere charitable work done by many Saudis when building mosques, not all of them have an agenda to push an ideology. So i’m not generalizing here, there are many very good and honest Saudis and many of them don’t sympathize with the wahhabis at all.) another powerful instrument is the universities that they have were they train young people from all over the world in the wahhabi teaching and then many of these students move back to their native lands and teach with the authority they receive after they have studied in Medina. So Mecca and Medina is CRUCIAL. There influence would not even be a fragment of what it is now if they for example had control of a big city in India for example or a major city in North Africa like Tunis. Their influence then would probably be restricted to the few local followers, which is the case with other Islamic sects. Like the Ibaadis in Oman for example. They have extremely strong influence in Oman but no one outside of the country is really affected by their interpretation of law and theology.

    On to sufism. Tasawwuf is the name for what we in English call Sufism. It has more than one name in Islam, tasawwuf being one of them. Others include ihsaan, tazkiyah etc. i wrote earlier “although things come to mind for many when they hear Sufism that is not what that teaching is truly about”, this need to be clarified.

    What Sufism really is, is that it’s the spiritual dimension of Islam. And it is a science that is dedicated to purifying your soul. Purifying if from sicknesses such as greed, love of power, envy, fear of poverty, jealousy, looking down on people etc. And filling the soul/heart with virtuous qualities such as love, patience, generosity, humbleness, kindness, sincerity etc. things that perfect your character. Over time this science got institutionalized. Just like law for example got systematized in the form of the 4 schools (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali). So Sufi orders appeared. Each taking on it’s own methodology for how to achieve spiritual advancement. This is were “although things come to mind for many when they hear Sufism that is not what that teaching is truly about” come into play. So we have things dancing and such (not saying that it’s wrong, it’s just not the purpose of the science) and other things that are more like folkloric practices (one example would be people that do a lot of chanting to get some spiritual high but then proceed to neglect the 5 daily obligatory prayers). These things the wahhabis have major problems with and they often unfortunately throw out the baby with the bath water and disregard tasawwuf completely. Even though if you confront them about it ask them about things like purifying the soul, they agree and the argument sometimes comes down to semantics. The truth is though the that sufism, theology and law are all part of Islam as the Prophet himself mentioned them all together when defining Islam in a very famous hadtih (saying of the Prophet Muhammad). So in that sense Islam is 3 dimensional, consisting of belief, action and morals, with sufism representing the moral dimension. Many traditional Muslims and amongst them the Sufis went into philosophy which is another one of the Islamic sciences, it is not specific to sufis though. It is however another of the aspects of traditional Islam that the wahhabis many times oppose.

    and interstingly enough the Muslim philosophers influence the west much more than they influence the Muslim world. Many times credit is not given though. But when u see names like Avicenna and Aviroes, know that in reality those persons are ibn Sina and ibn Rush. So their names were “latinized” in order to mask their Muslim identity. There was a very interesting philosopher from Spain named ibn Tufayl. He wrote a novel in the 12th century that deals with philosophy and rational theology. Extremely interesting read, and there is an English translation too.
    http://www.amazon.com/Ibn-Tufayls-Hayy-Yaqzan-Philosophical/dp/0226303101/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449823345&sr=1-1&keywords=ibn+tufayl

    • it’s great to discuss these things with someone like u that has an outside perspective, is well read in general and rational enough to see through the shallow media representation of current affairs. so i’m just glad to share my perspective. i don’t hang out on Muslim forums or Muslim youtube videos and engage people in debates. It gets dark there really fast and people can’t keep their emotions in check and the name calling usually follows and straw man after straw man is thrown around. it’s pretty depressing actually. Other Muslims might give u a different perspective, specially if they are salafi proponents. I think the was majority of Sunni and Shia would agree with my overall perspective though. Worth mentioning is that the wahhabi/salafi version of Islam has spread tremendously in the last few decades. For the reasons i mentioned in the last post but also through mass media in the Muslim world. TV stations, Internet etc. Leading to a stronger influence in urban areas where people have the means to be reached by the message. In rural areas in the Islamic world it seems like most people are still very much traditional in the sense that salafism hasn’t changed their understanding and that they follow the tradition handed down to them through the generations. But if we weigh the current number of Salafis against the Sunnis and Shia throughout our 1400+ year history then they still constitute a very small minority, even if that minority today is much more substantial.

      ” I know you’re aware that one of the biggest criticisms of Islam is that it ‘expounds violence’ within its core teachings. I’ve always been dubious, at best, of this claim. Are Westerners unknowingly talking about Wahhabism when they say this? ”
      Yes and no in my opinion. I think it’s fair to say that many of the contemporary Muslim groups that are violent in an unjust way (so i’m eliminating people that have the right to defend their homelands from invaders) have roots in the wahhabi ideology, like isis, al-qaida etc. like mentioned before. That i think is fair to say and also it’s fair to say that they are breaking away from the traditional Sunni perspective here when it comes to rules of war (which are outlined in detail in the 4 schools books of jurisprudence) since they take such liberties as killing innocent non-combatants, women, children, diplomats etc. Things that are agreed upon by the Sunnis to be prohibited.
      But i think that we have had Muslims in history, before and after the advent of the wahhabis that have been violent. Let’s not forget that the KKK is a protestant Christian organization and that Opus Dei is a Catholic organization with a very dark and violent history. And we are aware of the same for groups linked to Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism etc. And there has off course been secularists that have been extremely violent and if we look at the 20th century i think a good case can be made that the wars and persecutions that were fought on secular ideological grounds out shadows the religiously linked groups when it’s comes to violence. So in that sense i think that media has cherry picked Muslim incidents and used them to promote their own agenda(s). Those perpetrating atrocities though amongst the Muslims in modern time are usually linked to the wahhabi ideology in some way. A good example of the media cherry picking is the recent San Bernadino shootings. Since Muslims supposedly did it, it becomes a headline for several weeks and is still talked about. When just a few days before someone shoots up an abortion clinic and is praised by extremist Christians on social media, it’s swept under the rug (since that doesn’t fuel any agenda that the mass media in west wants to support).

      As for the Sunni Shia conflict, i don’t think that the wahhabis have made it an effort to turn to groups against each other. They seem content to fight the Shia themselves since the Shia in their view is more heretical that the traditional Sunnis. The Sunni Shia conflicts is very old and goes back to very beginning. Like with many other things when it comes to religions violence, i think much of the violence between the two groups was politically motivated rather that religiously motivated. i think most of it had to do with territorial and economic control and influence. The leaders who wanted to push their agenda obviously gave these interests a religious character and by using preachers close to them who were able to mobilize people, making them think that they were fulfilling a religious duty by fighting their co-religionists. Just like what goes on today, most of these agendas are purely political.
      Montgomerry Watt has a very good book called History in Islamic Spain. He makes a great case in that book that many of the Christian vs. Muslim conflicts the Iberian peninsula were purely political, showing that Christians for example would ally with Muslims to fight other Christians to gain territory for their kingdom and vice versa. It seems though that the common population got along very well, Christian, Muslim and Jew alike. Until the inquisition. Same i think holds true in Jerusalem were Muslims and Jews had no problems with living next to each other and sharing their lands until colonialism showed it’s ugly head.

      “I’ve always enjoyed such Sufi poets as Rumi and Hafiz, and their spiritual concepts and philosophies have influenced me greatly. How saddening that this important arm of Islam is being severed from the body.” 100% agreed. It hurts to be honest. I think that if this side of Islam was more emphasized, not only in media but also in academia, many western intellectuals would be more inclined to looking into Islam for what it really is and try to appreciate what it can bring to the discourse in the modern world.

      “One last question…what is the nature of those two Sunni theological schools that you mentioned? Perhaps this will interweave with my other question above…”
      This is a big question. I hope i can answer it in a good way. The two Sunni theological, just like the schools of law and the science of Sufism and other Islamic sciences (such as grammar, hadith science, Quranic interpretation, Quranic reading (the actual pronunciation)) are believed to be handed down from their respective founders in an UNBROKEN chain to the present day. In other words if you study one of the 4 schools of law or one of theological schools, your teacher (if he is a real teacher that has been given permission by his own teacher to teach) should be able to show you who his teacher is and who his teacher’s teacher was etc. (eventually linking your teacher to the founder of the school who has a chain that goes back to the Prophet himself, since the founders of the schools are only a few generations removed from the Prophet Muhammad) And this is one of the major arguments of the traditional Sunnis against the salafis/wahhabis, that they don’t have this unbroken chain of transmission. They came up with a lot of their own things a few hundred years ago and disregarded over thousand years of scholarship and therefor can’t trace their tradition back to the Prophet Muhammad. What they do instead in many cases that try to go to the source material directly while ignoring the scholastic chain, and they come up with their own conclusion that in many cases goes against what the vast majority of Muslims agreed upon for over a thousand years.

      What the two Sunni schools do, the Maturidi and the Ashari schools, is that they basically codify articles of belief. They state what the Muslims need to believe in order to be safe in the next life. They base this primarily on the Quran and the hadith. So things like: you u have to believe in God, His Prophets, His Angles, His Books, Judgment Day etc. These two schools, being formed a few generation removed from the Prophets time also start answering questions that appeared when heretical sects appeared amongst the Muslims that went against the majority community (like the Muatazila/rationalists, the Jabbariya (who denied free will) the Qadariya (who denied predestination) etc.). And they also answer questions that appear as Islam starts spreading east and west. So they had to confront theological questions that the Christians posed and that the Hindus posed as well as many of the philosophical questions that came out of the Hellenistic tradition which the Muslims now encountered. This is something that some didn’t like, namely the Athari school which preferred to just stick to the revealed texts and not get into what we may term rationalists theology. This school seems to be a Sunni school but it never acheived the same status as the Maturidi and the Ashari Schools. It simply didn’t have that many followers. (i haven’t been able verify if this school actually has the same type of unbroken chain as the Maturidi and Ashari schools do. it seem for sure though that the Athari school never achieved the status of the other two school and in many classical Islamic texts the Sunnis are defined as those that follow the Maturi and Ashari schools in theological questions)
      What happened historically is that the schools of law aligned with the theological schools, for example, most Hanafis became Maturidis and most Shafi’is became Asharis. The Hanbali school had adherents that took on the Athari school. This Athari school is what many modern salafis claim to follow (remember that Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab came out of the Hanbali tradition and it would not seem strange to me if as a consequence of studying without qualified teachers (as he rebelled against his families school) he would study the Athari text and take the literal meaning of the texts, which is something that the modern salafis often do) . The contention of the Sunnis is that: no, u claim to follow it but you take things too literal in many cases and deviate from the approach of the early Atharis that just followed the text. So the problem that a lot of Salafis have with the Maturidi and Ashari schools is that they talk about things like philosophical question and theological minutia that are not based on the Quran or the hadith. Which is a fair thing to say i think, BUT the Sunni schools answer that: we HAD to do this out of necessity, people bring us new questions that we never heard of before and we to answer and clarify what the Muslim position is on these things. Personally i think this is a very rational approach that makes a lot of sense. We live in a modern world were people talk about evolution, big bang etc. as Muslim we to answer these questions in a rational way if we want to be part of the modern discourse. We can’t just refer to our own texts when talking to non-Muslims about these things since it will be seen as circular reasoning and we will get laughed out the room.
      And i think that this is one of the real beauties of Islam, that it has so much material and methodological ground work available that it can engage the modern world in questions of ethics, international law, science, philosophy, interfaith dialog, theology etc. And to deem all this as un-Islamic (which some Muslims seems to do) i think is to not appreciate the sophistication of the Islamic tradition and civilization.
      As for the Maturidi and Ashari schools, they differ on a few fine points. Almost more like semantic differences in some cases. They are very close to being the same.

      I hope that shed some light on the schools. They are somewhat complex and personally i have always had a harder time understanding their development than understanding the development of the schools of law which seems much more straight forward.

  • i couldn’t reply to your comment for some reason. so i’m making this a new comment instead of a continuation.

    ” I admire the lengths to which original Islam went to ensure the integrity of its systems, especially the unbroken chain of teachers going straight back to the source. ” THIS is the key in my opinion. and the major critique that the traditionalists have of the modern salafis. Without transmission, anyone can make up whatever they like and claim it to be a representation of the Prophetic teaching. They might gain a few uneducated followers, but they can’t influence even the marginally educated masses who can see their methodological flaws right away. the chain of transmission is really the most powerful thing to me in the Islamic tradition, even orientalists almost have a consensus now that the Quran we have today is the same as at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. So the issue is: does a person accepts the source of the teaching in the Prophet Muhammad, not if it preserved or not.

    For the rules of war you would have to dig into books of jurisprudence from the 4 schools do get an outlined and detailed description. But in general an few points can be made to give and overall perspective. The rules deals with all aspects of war really. Treaties, negotiations, declaration of war, POWs, civilians etc. The 4 schools differ on some details but are also in agreement in some areas. For example, they all agree that killing women and children that are not fighting is impermissible. And the 4 schools also agree that it is impermissible to kill monks, elderly, peasants, traders, in other words males not taking part of the battle. Also the prohibition of destroying crops, trees, livestock and such. Those are some examples.

    “I like the idea of early Islamic scholars fielding questions from Hindus, Christians and proponents of the Hellenistic school. I’m sure there is some great literature that has come from those early confrontations, at least I would hope! ” Many if not most books on Islamic theology and philosophy are filled with issues resulting from these confrontation. Often though, i think that they are not spelled out like that. So the reader has to be able to read between the lines. So many questions about contingency for example and God being independent and in no need of the world are rebuttals of the idea of the trinity. And issues dealing with the Quran as the word of Allah and the nature of the Quran are there as response to the idea of the Logos in Christianity.
    I don’t know how much of this was the Muslim scholars seeking out these questions and how much was questions that was brought to them as a natural consequence of their geographical expansion. One thing is for sure though, they didn’t shy away from answering them and in some cases even borrowing to strengthen their own positions. Imam al-Baqilani for example, a person with a high rank in the Ashari school is by many credited to have invented the atomic theory (Which in reality is not an atomic theory but a theory that the world is made up of indivisible parts. The atom can obviously be divided, his theory being that u will reach a point were division is no longer possible). Some believe that he actually was influenced by the Buddhists when coming up with this theory. Imam al Ghazali (11th century/5th Islamic century) is probably the one that writes the most about both theology and philosophy. He tackles all the big questions and many of his works are available in English. Extremely interesting person. A film was made about his life too called the Alchemist of happiness, i haven’t seen it in a very long time but it was available on youtube.

    I haven’t read anything about the Kabala in the Islamic texts that i have read. If goes into the cult of folkloric practices i’m sure there could be influence. That is something that i can’t really speak of.

    I would like to know how it was to grow up Baha’i. That might be too general of a question. But i would like to know about some things about Baha’i Faith when it comes to practice and also belief that outsiders might not be aware of. Also, do you still adhere to the faith?

  • thanks. always nice to hear from someone within a tradition as opposed to reading information de-contextualized. i have a few follow up Qs.

    “So on the local level you have the Local Spiritual Assembly, a group of nine elected members who get together on a weekly or monthly basis to privately consult important matters that require decisionmaking. ”
    Who elects them? Do you have to be an official member to elect them or anyone who claims the faith can vote? Does seniority and/or scholarship get prioritized amongst the people running for the election (or do members even run for election)? Can women get voted in? Just interested in general, the concept of mutual consultation is pretty strong in Islam so i’m just looking for correlation and differences.

    “Our Holy Lands are in Haifa, Israel, which I have had the blessing of visiting, and it just makes you wonder…why would the Israeli state host the Holy Lands of an Iranian religion from the 19th century?”
    That would raise some ? with me as well. For someone who seems as investigative as your self i’m this made u raise an eye brow or two when u learned about it or maybe rather later when u found out more about Israel’s political role in the modern world.

    “Why is it that hundreds of texts from the Bab and Baha’u’llah still haven’t been translated and released?” are the original documents in Persian (if so, is Persian an emphasized language as far as learning goes)? and for the unreleased ones, where are they kept?

    “Personally, I think it’s silly to require a marriage certificate from the State acknowledging a legal marriage in order to somehow “spiritually” authenticate or legitimize a union between a couple. ”
    Not following. Does a state (nation state?) have to acknowledge a Baha’i marriage in order for it to be valid? i’m asking this in contrast to the Islamic position, which is that as long as you fulfill the religious rites and conditions for the marriage contract, then the marriage is accepted by Islam (regardless of whether the state, like Sweden for example, doesn’t recognize the contract)

    ” As you can see, I have a lot of questions that would make the average Baha’i a bit uncomfortable, and even scornful towards me for asking them”
    This is a problem in probably all religions, at least in certain segments within each religion. In my experience, the people that are most against this type of inquiry are people who might not have deeply rooted knowledge themselves. I think that questions need to be encouraged though and when seeking the truth, the hard and uncomfortable questions sometimes need to be asked. So it’s important to have high level scholars within each tradition to provide answers and explanations to both it’s members as well as outsiders who have honest questions or even those with misconceptions and have an ax to grind.

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