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:
- 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.
- 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.
- There is no third thing. I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.
Lecture 7: Islamic Revivalism – Renewal and Reform
Note: This lecture in particular becomes very specific and talks in great detail about specific movements and various persons within those movements and their own personal roles and motivations. In these notes I have endeavored to eschew the specific and instead focus on the big-picture of what is being described. As a result, this section has boiled off more completely than others and will appear relatively short. This brevity is not a reflection of the relative importance of this topic over others.
In the 17th through 20th centuries Islam went through a bout of moral and social decline. The Quran teaches that each century a Mujaddid will appear at the turn of each century to revive Islam and cleanse it of improper elements.
All movements had to deal with a few fundamental questions:
- Firstly, what is the role of the West? Is it a source of corruption or is it a force for modernity to be adapted to and learned from?
- Which portion of the Muslim faith is eligible for change and modernization and which ones are not? Some movements went as far as to allow logic and reason to supersede even the direct written word of the Quran.
- What caused the social decline of the Muslim community in the first place? Was it because it had become too backward or failed to keep up or did the Western world invade and make it stray from the right path?
Conservative or Fundamentalist movements tended to condemn Sufi practices and many important artifacts and monuments were destroyed even those related to the prophet himself. These movements rejected modernization and considered the influence of the West as a purely corrupting influence. The correct path, they would argue, is to return to the simplest underlying tenants of Islam and leave it at that.
Modernist movements rejected outright the idea of regression to a previous age and argued that the reason for stagnation stemmed directly from the tendency to cleave on to antiquated modes of thinking. If Islam was to survive, it must adapt as it always had and return to the Golden Age of Islam in which the community had become a keen patron of the sciences.
View 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