Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Terrestrial Religion

"We see a resurgent Islam and wonder how to deal with it - and start by witlessly taking for granted that the proper article is 'a,' that there is just one Muslim world and they're all a bunch of Arabs."
-Poul Anderson, "The Discovery of the Past" IN Anderson, Past Times (New York, 1984), pp. 182-206 AT pp. 193-194.

No religion is a single group with a single purpose throughout history. Religious institutions survive social changes by changing their base of support. Thus, in different historical periods, mosques and imams have been funded by:

Arabian traders;
imperial bureaucrats, landowners and merchants;
and modern industrialists -

- while meanwhile offering consolation to the poor and oppressed.

Popular Islam has incorporated older religious practices like cults of saints or relics regarded as idolatrous by the orthodox;

Sufis emphasize mystical and magical experiences rejected by fundamentalists;

Khomeini denounced 1,300 years of Muslim history, claiming that true Islam had lasted for only a brief period after its inception.

Appropriately, in Past Times, "The Discovery of the Past" immediately precedes "Flight to Forever" - from the interpreted past to the imagined future.

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