Monday, July 24, 2017

"Muslims were always ready to learn from other cultures, and in the late fifteenth century they did so from the heirs of Genghis Khan. The Ottoman Empire in Asia Minor, the Middle East, and North Africa, the Safavid Empire in Iran, and the Moghul Empire in India would be created on the basis of the Mongol army state and become the most advanced states in the world at the time. But the Mongols also unwittingly inspired a spiritual revival. Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207–73) had fled the Mongol armies with his family, migrating from Iran to Anatolia, where he founded a new mystical Sufi order. One of the most widely read Muslims in the West today, his philosophy is redolent of the refugee’s homelessness and sense of separation, but Rumi was also enthralled by the vast extent of the Mongol Empire and encouraged Sufis to explore boundless horizons on the spiritual plane and to open their hearts and minds to other faiths.

But no two people will respond to the same trauma identically, however. Another thinker of the period who has also achieved great influence in our own time was the “fighting scholar” Ahmed ibn Taymiyyah (1263–1382), also a refugee who, unlike Rumi, hated the Mongols. He saw the Mongol converts, now fellow Muslims, as kufar (“infidels”). He also disapproved of the suspension of ijtihad: in these fearful times jurists needed to think creatively and adapt Shariah to the fact that the ummah had been weakened by two ruthless enemies: the Crusaders and the Mongols. True, the Crusaders seemed a spent force, but the Mongols might still attempt the conquest of the Levant. In preparation for a military jihad to defend their lands, Ibn Taymiyyah urged Muslims to engage in the Greater Jihad and return to the pure Islam of the Prophet’s time, ridding themselves of such inauthentic practices as philosophy (falsafah), Sufi mysticism, Shiism, and the veneration of saints and their tombs. Muslims who persisted in these false devotions were no better than infidels. When Ghazan Khan, the first of the Mongol chieftains to convert to Islam, invaded Syria in 1299, Ibn Taymiyyah issued a fatwa (“legal ruling”) declaring that despite their conversion to Islam, the Mongols were infidels, because they observed the Yasa instead of the Shariah, and their Muslim subjects were not bound to obey them. Muslims had traditionally been wary of condemning fellow Muslims as apostates, because they believed that only God could read a person’s heart. The practice of takfir, declaring that a fellow Muslim has apostatized, would take on new life in our own times, when Muslims have once again felt threatened by foreign powers."

— Karen Armstrong, Fields of Blood - Religion and the History of Violence, Vintage 2015, pp. 200-201

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