ISLAMISTS MAKE USE of a tendentious reading of history to justify their causes, for the putative ‘Islamic Nation,’ for the call for the Sharī‘a, for the Caliphate, or for the existence of a ‘perennial struggle’ against the forces of Disbelief. This pre-supposes a view of the universe which does not see history as a sequence of events each with their own conditioning factors. Instead, historical events separated by centuries can be linked up and used to explain a preordained thesis, a ‘metanarrative’ that determines all the contours of history, hermetically sealed from the effects of events that contradict this thesis.

History is unfolding according to a pre-determined logic. The Muslim is held to be part of a great historical enterprise unfolding. This history is constantly repeating itself. Or rather, it is a permanent constant – the past and the present are indissolubly merged. The same formula applies down through the centuries and this provides the correct basis on which to engage with current and future events, for it is essentially one and the same contest – the Primordial Struggle between the forces of Truth and Falsehood. It is a formula of conflict that enables Islamists ideologues to claim that:

the conflict of cultures and the hatred has been burning since long before our attacks and in fact before Huntington and Fukuyama with their books on the Clash of Civilizations. This war has been going on ever since the existence of Faith and Disbelief.                                                               [Abū Muhammad al-Maqdisī]

As a self-contained entity, the Islamist revision of history immunizes its user intellectually, in much the same way as a fundamentalist doctrine immunizes the believer from challenge. In both cases, the immunization is a key tool to enable the exponent to avoid the implications of contradictions to the system.

Left unchallenged the Islamist historical narrative is a radicalizing force. There is therefore a special responsibility placed on the shoulders of the historian to educate the reader to understand the complexities of actions, reactions, developments and evolutions, against the highly manipulable shorthand of the conspiratorial ‘connecting thread.’ The authors of the articles in this section are taking on this responsibility.

Hassan Mneimneh

While the various Salafist tendencies (scholastic, da‘wā, jihadist, reformist) differ in their prioritisations, they all agree in their insistence on expanding the arena of what is to be considered ‘constant’ and in narrowing that which is to be considered ‘variable’.

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Nidhal Na‘isa

About two years ago, on October 5th 2009 in an incident that stirred up much uproar and controversy at the time, the former Shaykh of al-Azhar, the late Muhammad Sayyid al-Tantawi (1928-2010), the spiritual head and the most senior person in the greatest of conservative Sunni Islamic religious foundations, al-Azhar,

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A Note on the Library Collection

 

Authors contributing to Almuslih and its section on Islam in History frequently make reference to major works of modern scholarship on matters related to the origins of Islam. To answer to the requests both of readers and contributors, it has been deemed useful to provide a library resource for these works.

The documents collected here are in the public domain, and have been assembled from various sources wherever they could be found, irrespective of the nature or purpose of the sites hosting them. Inclusion of these documents in the Almuslih catalogue therefore does not imply an endorsement or validation of these sites, nor does their inclusion imply any judgment by Almuslih as to the ultimate accuracy of these works, some of which have been superseded by later studies. The intention is not to host a library of religious polemics but rather to provide, as far as is possible, access to the source material used by our authors.

Many of these works have been authored by non-Muslims trained in modern historiographical methodologies of analysis, which include amongst other things archaeological investigation, philological study of Arabic and non-Arabic sources, comparative religious phenomenology and literary criticism, and to which the terms ‘revisionism’ or ‘scholarly Orientalism’ have been variously applied. On the issue of the value of this ‘Orientalist’ scholarship, and in the light of some criticisms made as to their purpose and value, the reader is referred to the following works published by Almuslih: Lafif Lakhdar: A word on the Orientalists and Hashem Saleh: In Praise of Orientalism; Orientalism and the historicization of the Islamic heritage.

The Almuslih Library cannot in any sense be considered a bibliographical resource, or have any pretensions to comprehensiveness. The criterion for selection has been governed by online availability and merely seeks to provide a useful categorized source of complete works that may be downloaded (or where relevant read online). Since the field of research on early Islamic history is rich and extensive, documents will be added to the Almuslih Library incrementally and in so far as these reflect the interests of our authors and readers.

 

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