Muslim Theology and “Book-Culture” in Early Islamic Society
The Muslim community started dividing into sects only thirty years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death, disagreeing among themselves on who should lead the Muslim community after his demise. Thus were born the religio-political sects of the Kharijites and the Shi’ites, who at first staged rebellions but later mostly replaced militancy with writing statements and books about their respective beliefs and refutations of their opponents’ beliefs. They were joined in the book-writing activities by other groups who studied the theological aspects of Islam and formed “schools,” the most influential of which were the Mu’tazila and the Ash’aris. Members of these schools debated their positions with their opponents, but mostly wrote books on their positions on such issues as the nature of God’s attributes, pre-destination versus free will, whether deeds are necessary for faith, and the fate of children in the hereafter. In their writings, those theologians used Greek logic in formulating their arguments, and several of them engaged in debates with non-Muslim groups within the Muslim community, particularly Christians and Jews, and also wrote books either defending Islam against the attacks of the non-Muslims or refuting the dogmas of these non-Muslims. Individuals, then groups, arose in early Islamic society who wrote and spoke, in sermons and books, on the importance of leading an ascetic life in this passing world, in order to earn an ever-lasting life in heaven. Sufis, or mystics, emerged from these groups, lifting the role of the spirit over the body, the esoteric over the exoteric, and the personal relationship with God over the formal one. They, too, wrote books describing their positions and beliefs and refuting the writings of their opponents, thus contributing to the book-production culture in Islamic civilization. And when those sufis became organized in differentiated orders, tariqas, they enriched this book-culture by further adding each tariqa’s devotional chants and prayers, in addition to their histories and hagiographies.
Islamic Sufi Orders on the World Wide Web. Ed. Fariduddien Rice. Link to resource (accessed April 30, 2010).
Valiuddin, Mir. “Mu’tazilism.” A History of Muslim Philosophy. Link to resource (accessed April 30, 2010).
Avalon Foundation Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Studies, Emerita, Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, University of Chicago
1. How did the power struggle within the Muslim Community affect the social, cultural, and political dynamics of Islam after the Prophet’s death, and does this struggle continue to have a significant effect?
2. What were the outcomes of the intellectual interaction/dialogue between Muslim scholars, thinkers, and their non-Muslim counterparts?
3. How was book-culture instrumental in establishing a dialogue between various cultural and religious groups?