The History Of Salafism I

May 5, 2020 Category: History

There is an oft-made claim that Salafism is a uniquely modern-day phenomenon.  The following two-part essay aims to debunk this myth.  This will be done by focusing on countervailing evidence in the historical record–first in discourse, then in deed.

This requires us navigate a skein of highly-varnished pseudo-history.  Ever since the earliest sources were written, Islamic historiography has been a veritable saturnalia of confabulation.  Dubious accounts of the history of Islam include that of the 14th-century Mamluk commentator, Al-Dhahabi of Damascus, whose “Tarikh al-Islam al-Kabir” rambles on for FIFTY VOLUMES.  (That’s in addition to his collection of overwrought hagiographies of exalted Islamic figures: the “Siyar al-Lam al-Nubala”, which runs for a mere 28 volumes.)

For recent examples of (white-washed) historiographies of Islam, see: John Esposito, Fazlur Rahman, Hugh Kennedy, Tamara Sonn, Marshall Hodgson…along with the usual suspects: Karen Armstrong, Reza Aslan, Martin Lings, Zakir Naik, Mark Hansen (a.k.a. “Hamza Yusuf”), Timothy Winter (a.k.a. “Abdal Hakim Murad”), etc. {20}  Alas, there is a long roster of charlatans with which to contend.  The popularity of such material is–to put it mildly–dismaying.

Then again, that so many take such pablum seriously is unsurprising once we realize that there are many who’d much prefer the record not be set straight.  Consequently, those of us who deign to set the record straight are held in contempt.  Rather than honest brokers, we are seen as unwanted interlopers.  (After all, we are meddling in what is supposed to be sacrosanct.)  Acting in good faith is not enough; one is often expected to adhere to the ordinances of pro forma commentary.

If nothing else, weighing in on such matters is seen as very poor manners.  Brute candor is tantamount to insolence in the genteel corridors of academia.  And so it goes.  When it comes to this contentious topic, most scholars opt to demure–as is expected in polite society.  The degree of dissimulation can be exasperating to behold.

But take heart.  One is SLIGHTLY better-off reading “only” marginally white-washed accounts–like Francis Edward Peters’ “Muhammed And The Origins Of Islam”, R. Stephen Humphreys’ “Islamic History: A Framework For Inquiry”, or Chase F. Robinson’s “Rise of Islam”.  Such men are bona fide scholars; yet seem to feel obliged to gloss over certain infelicities so as the remain academics in good standing.

Hence the need for the present essay.  I figured: If nobody else has the gall to take the plunge, it may as well be me.  The key, I found, was not to let my audacity compromise my perspicacity.  (It’s easy to get carried away with one’s own iconoclasm.)  So I have made a concerted effort to keep conjecture–tempting as it might be–in check.  When doing history, it’s usually best to just stick to the facts (viz. the documented historical record; in this case: what happens to be documented in Islam’s most trusted sources.)

The problem–as with most heterodox disquisitions–is that most of those who will bother to read the present essay are those who LEAST need to read it; and the people who most need to read it will be precisely the ones who don’t.  (The latter will typically dismiss such disquisition with a scoff, basking in the warm glow of their own sycophancy.)

Felicitously, not ALL contemporary material is hokum.  For a reasonable historical account of the origins of Islam, one might consult:

  • Albrecht Noth’s “The Early Arabic Historical Tradition: A Source-critical Study”
  • Jonathan P. Berkey’s “The Formation of Islam: Religion And Society In The Near East”
  • Patricia Crone’s “Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World”
  • Robert G. Hoyland’s “In God’s Path: The Arab Conquests and the Creation of an Islamic Empire”
  • Peter Sarris’ “Empires of Faith” (not to be confused with the white-washed documentary entitled “Islam: Empire of Faith”)
  • Fred Donner’s “Muhammed and The Believers: At The Origins of Islam”
  • S. Shoemaker’s “The Death of A Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam”

…among others. {8}

Before proceeding, a very important–if elementary–point must be made.  Islam is neither a religion of war nor a religion of peace.  As with any other religion, it is whatever its practitioners make it…which, over the course of its tenure, has been a wide array of things.  Such is the nature of creeds, which are amorphous by nature.

Indeed, Islam can be–and, indeed, has been–many different creeds to many different people…at different places around the world, at different times in history, for different reasons.  So we mustn’t mistake the present survey–which focuses on the more depraved parts–as an exhaustive account of the religion and its history.

In conducting the present précis, it’s worth bearing in mind that Reformers do not dwell on what Islam has been; they focus on what it could be.  They focus on its potential rather than its baggage.  The blights on the creed’s record do not pose a problem for their aspirations; as they recognize that pursuing a noble vision does not require one to deny a checkered past.  Legacy is not destiny.

Yet, as mentioned, there is a oft-circulated canard that the fundamentalist version of Islam is only a recent development in the religion’s long history.  Such a gratifying claim would be anodyne if it did not preclude the ability to accurately diagnose the abiding dysfunction that continues to afflict the Ummah–a dysfunction that, as we shall see, has existed since Islam’s inception.

Purveyors of this ingratiating farce expect bystanders to not know any better, so it continues to propagate–unabated by reality-checks.  This is a problem; as genuine Reform requires that we all fess up to the nature of that which is (ostensibly) being reformed.  Those sincerely interested in progress recognize that one cannot solve a problem until one first accurately determines what, exactly, the problem is.

What has made–and continues to make–Islam “fundamentalist” is what makes virtually ANY religion “fundamentalist”: Reactionary (puritanical, doctrinaire, hyper-traditionalist) thinking–which is to say: a fanatical commitment to inherited dogmas and chimerical legacies.  The trait that sets Islam apart from virtually every other major religion, though, is that it is inherently political–to wit: theocratic.  Hence one is forced to DEPART FROM its original formulation (wherein political governance and sacred doctrine are seen as one in the same) in order to posit the separation of mosque and State.  According to those in the thrall of tradition, such departure is sacrilege…and thus beyond the pale.

In traditional Islam, integral to the notion of “sharia” (which simply means the path to an oasis) is the unity of religion and rule–per the doctrine of “wilayat al-faqih”.  This is a long-established precedent that can only be upended via a significant paradigm shift.  In other words: Islam is BY DEFAULT theocratic; and remains so insofar as people STICK WITH its original formulation.  By contrast, in the event that Judaism and Christianity were MADE theocratic (the former by the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the latter by the Edict of Thessalonica in 380), the religions were obliged to DEPART FROM their nominal framework.  Abraham did not mandate a Sanhedrin; Jesus did not envision a Vatican.

Hence reform in Islam means divorcing the creed from politics.  That entails “moving on” from the way that Islam was initially conceived.  In this sense, a Reform Islam is–among other things–a DE-POLITICIZED Islam; which–to repeat–is a divergence from the religion in its earliest form.  Here’s the catch: This does not require anyone to pretend that a liberalized Islam is how it has existed all along.  (The spirit of “sharia” can be retained even as it is shorn of its theocratic facet; as the term pertains to no PARTICULAR set of statutes.  It is–in essence–a civic order of which god would approve.)

Hence the need to come to terms with the past.  Evolution does not require delusion.  And Progress is illusory if it is based on fallacy.  We don’t need to lie in order to Reform.  In fact, Reform REQUIRES that we–as it were–fess up to the facts of the matter.

Before proceeding, a few preliminary points can be made.  Starting with the establishment of the original “Ummah” in Yathrib-cum-Medina, all questions were thought of as theological questions.  Consequently, all “final answers” had to be theological answers.  The problem there was obvious to impartial observers: Casting EVERYTHING in terms of the Sunnah couldn’t help but stymie intellectual endeavor (read: philosophy / science; free inquiry; revolutionary thinking).

In the same vain, all “problems” (real and perceived) were seen as RELIGIOUS problems.  Consequently, all “solutions” had to be religious in nature.  Addressing all matters according to fiqh / tafsir (decrees issued from faqih, mufassir, qadi, ulema / allamah, kyai, wali, etc. on doctrinal matters) and fatwas (edicts issued from POLITICAL figures like caliphs, muftis, amirs, shahs, pashas, mullahs, sheikhs, sultans, ayatollahs, etc.) inevitably fettered the development of civil society.  All theocratic impresarios–from the local imam to the grand vizier–were (by their very nature) Reactionary.  Such a paradigm was intellectually-stifling; and an impediment to the realization of a civil society (which does not operate from the top down; and in which the concentration of wealth / power is attenuated).

Hence, political theory within the Ummah was limited to a myopic (read: fundamentalist) conception of “sharia”–an exigency that drastically constrained any / all critical inquiry…with only a few iconoclasts breaking from precedent.  This despotic mindset persisted insofar as every decree was seen as being delivered from “on high”; and capitulation was seen as appeasing the godhead.  This went for any figurehead–whether an “ustad” or a head of state.

A backward-looking zeitgeist invariably ensued.  For any given issue, the assumption was as follows: If things don’t go well for us, then we are being punished for having strayed from the right (“straight”) path: “Sirat al-Mustaqim” (alt. “hal al-wahid”).  Therefore–in order to set things aright and realize our divinely-ordained destiny–we need to go back to our roots.

So goes the thinking of all religious fundamentalists.

Such reactionary thinking is not a recipe for progress on ANY front–especially when it comes to the treatment of women.

Whenever so-called “reform” HAS occurred in the Ummah, it has been a matter of REVERSION, not of progression.  After all, Reactionary thinking is a reaction to PROGRESS, not to stasis.  That is to say: It is push-back against moving forward; an effort to arrest development…and, ultimately, GO BACK (to how things originally were).

Which brings us back to the task at hand.  The trope “Islamism is merely a product of modern geo-political exigencies” is based on a hyper-romanticized historiography (read: faux history) of the religion’s past.  Such ingratiating farce continues to propagate because it is promulgated by unscrupulous Islamic apologists–of which there are legions.

This flattering narrative percolates through even the more “liberal” circles like a candy-coated opioid.  It has appeal primarily because it serves as a palliative for those who want to attribute religious FUNDAMENTALISM to something other than RELIGIOUS fundamentalism.  It should come as little surprise, then, that the aforementioned trope–insofar as it is stupendously gratifying–has become a hallowed part of Islamic boilerplate.

As is often the case, self-ingratiation–and an abiding need to pander–trumps intellectual integrity.  For too many careerist academics, mendacity tends to supercede perspicacity when it suits them.  So the discipline has become a veritable orgy of conflicts of interest. {37}

So we find that GENUINE Reform requires a reality-check.  In order to move forward, it is important to know where one currently is…which involves recognizing how one got there in the first place.  One does not plan the future by eliding the past.  Forging a brighter future does not require denying the sordid history that brought us to the present point.

* * *

So where shall we begin?

The risible claim that fundamentalist Islam is a recent phenomenon–and only an aberration at that–is so preposterous that it would not merit attention but for its dismaying popularity.  Remarkably, it seems to be taken seriously even by those who claim to be vaguely familiar with world history.  For–as we shall see forthwith–the thesis does not withstand even cursory scrutiny.

The meanings of our terms must be made clear: “fundamentalist Islam” is not “radical”; it is TRADITIONAL.  That is to say, it is simply unreconstructed–and undiluted–Islam.  It should go without saying that any religion becomes more liberalized by being tempered (read: secularized). {1}  Salafism has subsisted to the degree that Islam has resisted the natural progression of secularization that has effected the liberalization of, well, every other religion ever to exist.

Salafism exist NOW not because it was recently concocted; but because it has been PRESERVED.  The militant Islamic fundamentalism that we see metastasizing in the modern world was not conjured from star-dust; it has been part of tradition of Salafism going back to the Salaf themselves.  “Salaf” simply means someone from the first three generations of Muslims, starting with the Sahabah [companions]; then the “Tabi-un” / “Tabi-een” [successors]; and including the “Rashidun” caliphs (along with their acolytes).  Short of contending that the Salaf themselves were not Salafi, we can’t do anything but trace what is NOW Salafi back to what was INITIALLY Salafi.

In sum: Salafism has been Salafi since the lives of the very Salaf that it commemorates.  As a way of upholding the Faith of the Salaf, it is predicated on uncompromising doctrinal fealty; and–consequently–an unabashed aversion of progress of any kind. {24}

The point is that Salafism did not magically appear in the modern era out of an ideological vacuum.  It has a historical background.  Indeed, it is based on NOTHING BUT historical background; which is simply to say that it is an emulation of the mindset of the exalted “Salaf”…which has existed, without interruption, since the ACTUAL DAYS OF said Salaf.

In other words: Salafism, BY DEFINITION, has been around for fourteen centuries.  It is not a putrefaction of the some pristine incarnation of the religion from yesteryear.  It is a re-instantiation of its autochthonous form.

Understanding this elementary fact, we see that there is nothing radical about Salafism (or Wahhabism)…any more than there was something radical about, say, Puritanism in Christianity or Haredism Judaism (a fact that becomes blindingly evident upon assaying each sect when it had its respective resurgences in modern times).  These Reactionary movements were all REVIVALIST in nature, and thus the antithesis of Reformist.  By stark contrast, reform is NOT reactionary.  It entails progression, not regression (or, as the case may be, reversion).  It is about moving forward; not trying to get back to square one. {10}

The distinction here (Revivalism vs. Reform) is as crucial as it is glaring.  Various examples illustrate this.  Contrast what John Calvin sought to do with what Francis Bacon sought to do (in the 16th century).  Then contrast what John Winthrop sought to do with what Baruch-cum-Benedict Spinoza sought to do (in the 17th century).  Then compare what Jonathan Edwards did to what Thomas Paine did (in the 18th century).  By juxtaposing such divergent ideals (within their respective contexts), we can see the massive gulf that separates revivalist designs from reformist endeavors.  The former is predicated on a stolid, doctrinal mindset; the latter (epitomized by the likes of Ahmad Kasravi and Farag Foda) embrace free inquiry.

Recall that Calvin (one of the most deranged fanatics in the history of Christianity) had the pioneering Spanish physician, Michael Servetus, burned at the stake for his (heretical) medical insights.  When Torquemada was overseeing the inquisition, he was not trying to “reform” anything.  And when Winthrop called for a Puritan utopia in the New World (New England), he was not undertaking a Reformation; he was DOUBLING DOWN on the most reactionary elements of his professed Faith.  Such is not how Christianity NEEDS to be; yet it is unfortunately how it often HAS BEEN.

So it goes with Islam vis a vis religious fundamentalism.

Thus it is easy to distinguish between the world that, say, Sayyid Qutb envisioned from the world that, say, Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned.  Such examples have shown that revivalism (associated with the vaunted “ihya”) is the antithesis of reform (associated with the reviled “bid’ah”).  Without this fundamental distinction, we may as well call Calvin, Winthrop, and Edwards (as well as every practitioner of Salafism / Wahhabism) “reformers”…thereby going completely through the looking glass.

It should be noted up front that the “Well, X were just as bad; or even worse” tac is a dead end.  The depravities of medieval Christianity (spec. Roman Catholicism) rival the depravities found within Dar al-Islam during the Dark Ages.  However, this fact does not exonerate Islam; nor does it somehow exculpate the impresarios of Islamic fundamentalism.  Nobody is exempt from moral culpability simply because others have been guilty of similar transgressions.

Moral principles are not circumstantially universal (as they are not recognized universally); they are CATEGORICALLY universal (as they exist irrespective of being recognized).  There are, after all, absolute moral standards–which transcend culture, as they endure independently of any / all historical accident.

More to the point: Rectitude is not relativistic; it is deontic.  So it behooves any thinking person to assess things from the standpoint of simply being human; as all humans qua humans have access to the same moral principles.

Dar al-Islam does not fair well even with COMPARATIVE virtue when contrasted with the contemporaneous non-theocratic world.  That is, it fairs poorly even when the bar is set abysmally low (i.e. when juxtaposed against much of the rest of human society during the Dark Ages).  And as will be shown: To the degree that it faired well in isolated pockets during certain times (the storied “Golden Age” of Islam), it was always IN SPITE OF, not because of, the Sunnah.  To wit: It faired well to the degree that it managed to secularize–thereby un-tethering itself from the dictates of its sacred scriptures; and distancing itself from the example / teachings of the purported “Last Prophet”.  (I will explore this point more in a forthcoming essay: “Islam’s Pyrite Age”.)  This is plain to see upon reviewing the headway made in–say–Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan in the three decades following the Second World War. 

The larger point is worth reiterating: Reform is ultimately about what Islam CAN BE; not about what it HAS BEEN.  Dwelling on the past is not a recipe for a way forward; as atavism plays no role in Progressivism. {2}

The truth of the matter is as follows: Islam in its original formulation was the epitome of what is commonly known as “fundamentalist Islam”–that is: unadulterated Islam (or–as it were–Islam in its undiluted form).  Thus a Reform Islam would–ipso facto–be a divergence from the religion as it initially existed.

To contend that Islamic fundamentalism is entirely disconnected from Mohammedism is to demonstrate a glaring ignorance of what Mohammed of Mecca–and the Salaf–actually said and did (according to their own sources).  After all, it’s called “fundamentalism” because it is based on the fundamentals that the Salaf instantiated in the 7th century.  In trying to peddle the myth that Islam in its most fundamentalist incarnation is some drastic divergence from the religion’s original formulation, one may as well deign to disassociate present-day Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Watchtower Society. {3}

When it comes to religious fundamentalism PER SE, it boils down to what the FUNDAMENTALS happen to be.  (Obsessions only make sense once we’ve identified what’s being obsessed over.)  So it is important to cultivate an understanding of the Salafi strain of Islam when assaying the HISTORY OF Islam.


Prescribing a solution requires that one first accurately identify and diagnose the root of the problem.  That, in turn, requires one recognizing the larger context within which things have come to pass.  And THAT requires coming to terms with the HISTORY OF the problem, since the day it emerged.  That problem is not Islam PER SE; it is Islam in its original (fundamentalist) incarnation.

Here, I provide highlights from Islam’s sordid history in an attempt to demonstrate this.  I will do so in two stages (hence the two-part essay).  As they deal with two aspects of the thesis, the two parts need to be read together in order to get the full picture.

I will start with the theological underpinnings of Islam via a survey of its most prominent proselytizers.  I will then show how the prevailing ideology was made manifest in the actions of those in power.  In other words: I’ll start with the creed, then assay the policies enacted BASED ON that creed.  The integral connection between doctrine and deed will be shown to be incontrovertible. {31}  After all, zealotry does not arise ex nihilo.

Hence the first part of this disquisition will focus on (the history of) the DOCTRINE BEHIND the actions…in order to show that actions did not emerge from the aether.  The second part will focus on (the history of) the actions themselves…in order to show that beliefs have repercussions.

In highlighting certain people / events from the long, meandering history of Islam, I limit the present survey to those which were indicative of religious fanaticism.  This is not to say that there were no (intermittent) periods of amity…in certain regions…under certain circumstances.  Nor does this mean that the spread of Islam NEVER involved good will.  (Indeed, it sometimes DID involve a modicum of good will.)  Whenever such fortuitous eventualities occurred, it is attributable to a panoply of factors–NONE of which were a matter of more stringently hewing to the Sunnah. {32}

I will address the estimable episodes of Islam’s history in a separate essay (focussing on the religion’s “Golden Age”: “Islam’s Pyrite Age”).   There, I enumerate all the major instances that attest to the fact that liberal elements have sporadically cropped up in the Dar al-Islam over the centuries.  However, with regard to the present purpose, such instances are a moot point. {33}  The point HERE is to see how a specific hypothesis (“Fundamentalist Islam is only a recent development”) holds up to the facts.  Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.  At all.

Hence I will be INTENTIONALLY selective when summarizing broad sweeps of history.  I am doing so not to mis-characterize a Faith, but solely to refute a specific proposition often made ABOUT that Faith.  Devoting special attention to countervailing evidence is not the same as cherry-picking.  The former is perspicacious; the latter is perfidious.

(If one aims to refute the claim that X had always been a primarily vegan movement, focusing exclusively on all the instances in which meat-consumption was prevalent in X would not be a matter of “cherry-picking”; or of mischaracterizing X.  Such selectivity is simply how falsification works.)

Those interested in genuine Reform are interested in disabusing themselves of any and all illusions about that which they are trying to Reform.  Consequently, it is imperative to dispel the myths that persist as a result of the dubious historiographies that still propagate throughout the Ummah.

The bottom line here is simple: Knowing where we’re going–and how to get there–involves coming to terms with how we got here in the first place.  Generally speaking, moving forward entails moving on.  This goes for ANY religious fundamentalism.

So rather than give an exhaustive account of ALL things Islamic, I specifically emphasize the FUNDAMENTALIST–especially militant and anti-democratic–elements of Dar al-Islam’s checkered history.  In this vein, it is only natural that I have deliberately highlighted whatever involved Islamic fundamentalism.

To repeat: The sole aim here is to bring to light the odious legacy of Salafism; not to slander Islam IN GENERAL.  This, then, is not the whole story; but it is the whole story of that with which we are presently concerned: the history of Islamic fundamentalism.

As it turns out, over the course of the past fourteen centuries, Reform in Dar al-Islam has–regrettably–been far more the exception than the rule.  While noting those exceptions is very important (a subject for another day), it is not warranted here.

Another point before we begin.  It is important that we do not confuse a collection of dots with a connection of dots.  The following survey does far more than offer a hodgepodge of hand-picked anecdotes; it reveals a difficult-to-ignore pattern.  This isn’t a smattering of “gotcha” moments; it is an adumbration of touchstones that–taken together–constitute an overwhelming trend.

What came to be dubbed “Salafism” began with the ministry of Mohammed of Mecca (hereafter: “MoM”); and has existed in numerous iterations ever since.  Unsurprisingly, within generations of MoM’s death, we saw the rise of the “takfiri” approach to the Faith.  In this hyper-puritanical movement, followers were encouraged to persecute any follower who was deemed inadequately doctrinal.

This obsession with heresy shall be our point of departure.

Genesis Of An Ideology:

One would think that of all the thousands of verses in his last message to mankind, the Creator of the Universe would have thought to mention in passing–just once–that human solidarity might be a good idea.  No such luck.  Not even once do we encounter an enjoinder to love one’s fellow man.  The Mohammedan theme was made explicit by MoM himself when he exclaimed: “I have been made triumphant with terror” (Bukhari 52/177; alt. no. 2977); then made his creed primarily a function of submission; and his geo-political movement primarily about plunder and enslavement.

Starting in the 7th century, members of the Khawarij (endonym: the “Shurah”; alternate exonyms: “Kharijis” / “Kharijites”) denounced any Muslim less doctrinal than themselves,.  They tarred insufficiently pious member of the Ummah as de facto apostates (per the tenet of “takfir”; ref. Bukhari 4/63/260).  The Khawarij could be described as the most puritanical–and militant–of the first Salafis.  They were vehemently anti-Ali’d (that is: Anti-Shia).  Those who assassinated the fourth Caliph did so in their name.

The divisive practice of “takfir” (denouncing those who show insufficient fealty) was also pioneered by the “Azraqis”.  “Daesh” was only the latest manifestation of this movement, which dates back to the days of the Salaf.  (Note, though, that ISIS did not fancy itself as Khariji, as it associated the Khawarij with the detested Ibadi movement.)

The fixation way back then–as it is today amongst Islamic fundamentalists–was on “those who recite the Koran, but [the recitation] does not go beyond their throats” (to quote a famous ahadith).  The hostility here is directed toward purported Muslims who don’t put their money where their mouth is.

Ideological purity was the name of the game; as it still is amongst Reactionaries within Dar al-Islam.

This didn’t come out of thin air.  The “takfiri” call-to-arms was exhibited by the noted Sahabah, Abu Musa Abd Allah ibn Qays al-Ash’ari of Zabid (Yemen)–a man who was eventually appointed governor of Kufa and Basra by the Rashidun caliph: Umar; and then given the imprimatur of Uthman. {9} 

Thereafter, this singular doctrinal obsession persisted through a succession of prominent medieval theologians–as we’ll see.

Alas, the Kharijites were not an aberration.  The preoccupation with marginalizing–and even persecuting–those who exhibited insufficient doctrinal fealty continued on through the 8th century.  Consider the preeminent fuglemen of Salafism: Malik ibn Anas.  Imam Malik is widely considered the preeminent “faqih” of Islam’s earliest age.  His treatise on fiqh, the “Muwatta”, emphasized martyrdom [“istishad”] as the most laudable achievement for those engaged in “jihad”.  Needless to say, one does not become a martyr on the battlefield by engaging in an inner “spiritual” struggle (nor does one acquire “spoils of war”). {25}

In the 10th century, the renown Persian “mu-ta-kalim” [theologian; “kalam” means theology], Abu Said Hasan of Siraf (that is: Fars), was the preeminent “faqih” / “qazi” [municipal judge] in Baghdad.  He disdained what he called “Greek logic”.  To get a sense of his degree of dogmatic commitment, he insisted that the reputed eloquence of Arabic grammar was sufficient measure of the soundness of any / all Koranic statements (which, by then, had been rendered in Arabic).  In other words, Arabic grammar trumped logic; so Truth could be ascertained NOT by critical analysis, but explicitly by how well it was articulated in Islam’s liturgical language. (!)

By the year 1011, Abbasid caliph Al-Qadir commissioned the “Baghdad Manifesto” in a ham-fisted attempt to mitigate the incidence of “fitna” (that is: anything that was seen to have caused disruption to “sharia”, as understood by the powers that be).  He was especially concerned with the (Shia) Fatimid-supported Ishma’ili sect.  The document sought to delegitimize Ishma’ilis by bringing their purported lineage back to Ali into question.  Such a position was in keeping with the treatment of “subversive” activity by any totalitarian (esp. theocratic) regime.

Put plainly: Al-Qadir denounced free-thought (read: science and philosophy) as sacrilegious.  He painted critical thinking–which, at the time, was associated with the despised Mu’tazila–as heretical.  Hence the emergence of the term “zindiq”, which equates freethinkers with heretics.  As a consequence of this draconian policy, the literalism-based jurisprudence of Ibn Hanbal was made official policy.  Hence “takfiri” prosecution was re-instituted for any incidence of “ridda” [apostasy].  Moreover, “ijtihad” (anything that might have been seen as independent thought) was forbidden.

In 1075, Mahmud al-Kashgari referred to Tengri-ists as “infidels–may God destroy them!”  Why?  “Because they call the sky Tengri.”  It was for non-Muslims’ BELIEFS that he saw fit to slaughter them.  Anything that was not in accord with the Sunnah was to be eliminated.

It might be argued that these intellectually-stifling measures precipitated the demise of Islam’s so-called “Golden Age” (a period that I discuss in a forthcoming essay).  For the Sunnah–as it had existed theretofore–could only nourish (circumscribed) intellectual activity within Dar al-Islam for so long before its potential was exhausted.  Once the Dark Ages had run their course, society had matured beyond the point for which the creed–in its original Mohammedan form–was geared.  After all, it was tailored to medieval minds–that is: minds unacquainted with the fruits of the Enlightenment.  So the putative “golden” epoch of Islam had a limited capacity.

Suffice to say: By the time of the European Renaissance, the halcyon era of Muslim luminaries like Avicenna and Averroës had come and gone; and there was no equivalent of a Francis Bacon or Rene Descartes or Baruch-cum-Benedict Spinoza or Disiderius Erasmus or John Locke or Nicolas Copernicus ANYWHERE in the Muslim world.

Shortly after the “Baghdad Manifesto” was composed, a man from Tus in Khorasan (eastern Persia) rose to prominence.   He would become the loadstar of Salafism going into the modern era.  The timing of this auspicious figure (the late 11th century) is important with regard to the present thesis; as he evangelized almost a thousand years ago.

His name was Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali.

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