World Religions: Islam – Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

Note: This lecture was quite heavy with lots of detailed history but my real take-aways from it were higher level and more conceptual.  If you want the history, you’ll need to to watch the course.

The Muslim faith is divided into two groups.  The Sunni, which comprise 85% of the population and the other 15% are Shia.  The two only disagree on one key point which pertains to the selection of a leader.  The Sunni believe the most qualified person should lead but that his powers are limited to only the political realm.  Shia believe the direct descendants of the prophet should lead and that this leader should be both a political and a religious one.  Early in Muslim history the preferred Shia leader was martyred by the majority Sunni and thus the Shia have a long-standing feeling of being disenfranchised.

During the first few hundred years of its existence, Islam expanded quickly by assimilating its neighbors and by 750 the Umayyad Caliphate stretched from Spain and North Africa to Iraq and Pakistan.  Rather than destroy culture and infrastructure during conquest, the Caliphate preferred a process of assimilation in which local custom was adapted and the conquered could choose to either convert to Islam, pay a poll tax or if they refused even that they would be killed.  This policy was much less strict than that exercised by the Byzantine or Persians during their conquests of the same area.

The Golden Age of Islam stretched from the 8th century through the 13th and saw a great surge in the development of art, architecture and the sciences.  In fact, during the last half of the era, Europeans gained key knowledge from the the Caliphate including the recovery of some key Greek works that were previously lost and only found again through their Arabic translations.

The Crusades stretched from 1095 though 1453 and represented, among other things, an attempt by the Papacy under Pope Urban II to advance the political position of the church in Europe.  By 1099 Jerusalem is captured and Muslims, Jews, women and children are butchered and much of the city destroyed.  When the city was recaptured in 1187 the proceedings were much less bloody.  The Crusades ended in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

12 Comments

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12 responses to “World Religions: Islam – Lecture 5: The Muslim Community – Faith and Politics

  1. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 1 – Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow | The Tattered Thread

  2. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam | The Tattered Thread

  3. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 4 – God’s Word: The Quranic Worldview | The Tattered Thread

  4. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 6: Paths to God – Islamic Law and Mysticism | The Tattered Thread

  5. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 7: Islamic Revivalism – Renewal and Reform | The Tattered Thread

  6. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 8: Contemporary Resurgence of Islam | The Tattered Thread

  7. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 9: Islam at the Crossroads | The Tattered Thread

  8. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 10: Women and Change in Islam | The Tattered Thread

  9. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 11: Islam in the West | The Tattered Thread

  10. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 12: The Future of Islam | The Tattered Thread

  11. Pingback: World Religions: Islam – Lecture 3 – Muhammad as Prophet and Statesman | The Tattered Thread

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