CH-03 - 3. Muslim "Church Government" In Islam, unlike...

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In Islam, unlike Christianity, there is no tradition of a separation of church and state, of religious organization as contrasted with political organization. At least, this is the oft-repeated statement contrasting the two religions. There will be occasion to suggest important modiFcations to this assertion, but let it serve as a point of departure. One simple reason for this difference between Islam and Christianity is that Islam knows no “church” in the sense of a corporate body whose lead- ership is clearly deFned, hierarchical, and distinct from the state. The orga- nizational arrangement of Muslim religious specialists, or ulama, 1 makes an institutional confrontation between Muslim church and Muslim state vir- tually impossible. An ‘alim may speak out against a ruler, but there is no canonical way he can summon a Muslim “church council.” Nor has he any opportunity to pass his charges up the Muslim religious hierarchy until a Muslim equivalent of pope or council or synod renders a judgment binding on all members of the “church.” This, at least, holds as a broad generaliza- tion (with reservations and exceptions to be noted) for Sunni Islam. As for Twelver Shi‘ism, the actions of Ayatullah Khomeini and the mullahs in Iran suggest that the clergy there are more nearly a recognizable “church” hier- archy. This Sunni-Shi‘i distinction calls for separate treatment. Sunni Islam Taking the majority Sunni case Frst, to argue that no distinctive corporate body equivalent to the church in Christianity exists in Sunni Islam is not to 3. Muslim “Church Government”
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suggest that the ulama have no group identity or that the ulama, individu- ally or collectively, have had little impact on politics. On the contrary, throughout the ages Muslim religious spokesmen have confronted Muslim rulers—ever so circumspectly at times, but occasionally in thundering con- demnation. The ulama have often led or been intimately involved in move- ments toppling rulers from power. The contrasting roles in the modern era of Muhammad ibn Abd al- Wahhab ( 170 3– 1787 ) and Shaykh Muhammad Abduh ( 1849 1905 ) exem- plify the range of ulama involvement in this-worldly politics. The former represented the typical Muslim challenge from the periphery to the politi- cal center. He preached a rigorous puritanical religion from the central Arabian Peninsula, and his followers took up arms against other Muslims seen as lax to the point of apostasy. Egypt’s Muhammad Abduh, by contrast, was trained at al-Azhar and spent his life not in the hinterland but at one of the representative urban centers from which political power and cultural norms have radiated throughout Islamic history.After a brief Firtation with radical politics in his early years, Abduh chose the path of meliorist reform while working with the powers that be, including foreign overlords, the British having estab- lished their military occupation of Egypt in 1882 .
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This note was uploaded on 07/12/2008 for the course MC 441 taught by Professor Ayoob during the Spring '08 term at Michigan State University.

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CH-03 - 3. Muslim "Church Government" In Islam, unlike...

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