Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective
Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000
“Islam is in fact the last refuge for those conservative Western intellectuals who wish it were true that the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, in short, ‘the modern world,’ had never come about. Islam is, indeed, the only remaining mental space in which these events have not yet happened.” — Ibn al-Rawandi
“Islam is the stupidest religion.” — Michel Houllebecq
Neo-cons, Paleo-cons and even Alt Righters agree on one thing: Islam delenda est.
But another similarity is that whenever some Lefty says something like “Well, you know, Christianity is (or, more reasonably, has been) just as bad,” they put aside their oh so important differences and all turn into G. K. Chesterton (if not Ignatius Reilly), spewing beer foam and cracker crumbs as they thump a meaty fist on the sturdy old pub bar and shout that they’ll stand for no such nonsense!
Without sticking my gob into this particular barroom brawl, I will say that one definite point where Islam really is a younger, adolescent form of Christianity — sort of an Anglican church that still executes heretics rather than sets up “Become a citizen and vote today” tables at the YMCA — is the way in which the most naïve, literally un-critical account of Islam, its origins, its Book and its Prophet, are still believed; both by the faithful and, incredibly enough, by non-Muslims, even the most virulently anti-Muslim.
For example, Jason Reza Jorjani, in his recent essay “Against Perennial Philosophy” (online here) asserts that “reforming” Islam is a fool’s errand; Islam is by its nature incapable of a Reformation, to say nothing of a Renaissance, primarily due to their very different scriptures.
First, he gives an excellent short summary of the results of the last century or so of the Higher Criticism of the Holy Books of the Jews and Christians:
First of all, the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible or “Old Testament”) is a motley patchwork of the writings of tens of authors over many hundreds of years. Several different versions of key stories, such as the Genesis myth, have been spliced together in ways that riddle the text with contradictions.
As for the New Testament, contemporary Biblical scholars such as Elaine Pagels, Marvin Meyer, Bart Ehermann, Burton Mack, and the fellows of the Jesus Seminar, have found that the Gospels were written based on various collections of the sayings of Jesus that originally included no contextual narrative of events surrounding any given saying. Many Gospels that fundamentally contradict each other were written, possibly tens of them, and only four were chosen as “orthodox” at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD — for two main reasons: first, they most suited the political purposes of the Roman Empire; and second, they more or less agreed with each other compared to the many divergences of the other Gospels. A close reading of the gospels of the New Testament will reveal that even this attempt at orthodoxy, almost three hundred years after the time of Jesus, fails to deliver a coherent picture of the alleged Messiah . . .
This “historically conditioned incoherence of Judeo-Christianity militates against fundamentalist interpretations of the New Testament,” (and paradoxically fuels the development of European rationalism and science), while on the other hand,
[A] single careful and honest reading of the Koran shows that the terms “Islamic fundamentalism” and “political Islam” are redundancies. . . . [T]he Koran itself contains a clear body of divinely mandated civil law, established by a single legislator, namely Muhammad, whose reality as a (relatively recent) historical figure is not in question. The Koran was composed in only 22 years (610-632) by a single man. It was written down in fragments, on rocks and on the bones of the shoulder blades of camels during Muhammad’s own lifetime by scribes, and also memorized by professional bards or ha’afiz. The text, as we have it today, was compiled in manuscript form by Muhammad’s own scribe, Zayd bin Thabit, under the direction of the Caliph Uthman, around 650 — a mere 20 years after Muhammad’s death. [All italics in original]
This is an accurate summary, not only of the beliefs of the most inbred camel-fucker in the lousiest village of the biggest shithole in the Middle East, but also of most historians, religious “scholars,” and even politicians. In short, from Mecca to Georgetown, there is one Book, and Muhammed is its Author.
But how likely is it that Islam, and the Koran, being themselves products of the same Semitic factory of double-and-triple talk, fails to suffer from the same debilities? One of Al-Rawandi’s readers has a suggestion:
The mealy-mouthed and apologetic character of so much Western scholarship on Islam springs from the fact that many of these scholars, were, and are, believers, albeit in the rival creed of Christianity. While they might be willing to show Muhammad in a poor light compared to Jesus, they were not keen to press the non-historical and non-divine arguments too far, since they realised that such arguments could just as well be used against their own cherished beliefs. They preferred a complicity of intellectual dishonesty with the Muslims in the face of an increasingly skeptical and secular environment.
As the Arab says, the enemy of my enemy . . .
Comes now one “Ibn al-Rawandi,” pseudonymous author of Islamic Mysticism: A Secular Perspective. The historical Al-Rawandi was a rather famous Islamic sceptic; this “al-Rawandi” tells us only a bit about himself: he joined a Sufi order in Cyprus in 1985 and which he left in 1988; he did “Muslim outreach” in London but now writes for the likes of Philosophy Now and New Humanist.
Towards the end he tells us that his aim in this book was to “offer arguments for [leaving Islam] and provide the intellectual basis on which it can be done.” This accounts for the misleading title; “mysticism” accounts for only a small part of the book, but as the author tells us, it is the aspect of Islam that most attracts the intelligent Westerner, scholar or not, and presents the “kinder, gentler” face of Islam to the world. The author plans to pull the rug out from under Sufism (and Western Perennialism of the Schuonian sort) by not only critiquing mysticism itself, but by undermining its basis in Islam and the Koran; this accounts for the rest of the book, which will be of more general interest.
From the structural point of view, Al-Rawandi’s book is a model of objective, unbiased presentation of evidence. There are four chapters, “Origins [of Islam]”, “[Nature of] Islam,” “Sufism or Islamic Mysticism,” and “Islam in the Modern World”; each is divided into two parts, “Islam’s View of Itself” and “A Secular Perspective.”
Alas, from the point of view of content, it’s also about the most “objective” — in the bad sense — book imaginable; rather like one of those old histories of philosophy or theology that provide the facts but offer no new or personal perspective whatsoever.
That said, the general reader would do just as well to skip the first chapter of each part, as it’s simply the Received Wisdom that We’ve Heard Before and still do, from both fundamentalists and most Western “Islamists” and even “anti-jihadis.
The real interest is in the “secular view,” where the reader will get some insight into what a surprisingly small handful of real academic scholars have managed to figure out (rather than the Neo-conish “Islam sucks” clichés that titling it as the “secular view” might suggest).
It’s both refreshing, compared to the orthodox view – which manages to be both naïve and banal – and fascinating as well, like being around in the 19th century when the scaffolding of Christianity was first being torn down.
Part One presents “The Origins.” The conventional academic/fideist fundamentalist view of Mohamed and the origins of Islam is presented and then submitted to a withering critique by a surprisingly small and surprisingly recent group of scholars such as John Burton (Professor Emeritus at the University of St. Andrews), John Wansbrough (London School of Oriental and African Studies) and, perhaps most radically, Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, who “first presented their views at a colloquium on the first century of Islamic society held at Oxford in 1975, which were later published as Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (1977).”
The “great achievement” of this work being “to explode the academic consensus and demolish deference to the Muslim view of things, thus making it possible to propose radical alternative hypotheses for the origins of Islam.”
Once one rejects slavish adherence to mere tradition, and examines the documentary evidence itself — or the paltry amount that could bear that name — the picture that emerges is indeed quite like that of what we know of the origins of Christianity: a kind of Copernican revolution in which there is no Prophet Mohamed, no Koran, and indeed no Islam as we know understand it; all of which are later fictions invented to provide explanations and justifications for the brute fact of Arab conquest:
Once the Arabs had acquired an empire, a coherent religion was required in order to hold that empire together and legitimize their rule. In a process that involved a massive backreading of history, and in conformity to the available Jewish and Christian models, this meant they needed a revelation and a revealer (prophet), whose life could serve at once as a model for moral conduct and as a framework for the appearance of the revelation; hence, the Koran, the hadith, and the sira [the Prophet’s “biography”] were contrived and conjoined over a period of a couple of centuries. After a century or so of Judeo-Muslim monotheism centered on Jerusalem, in order to make Islam distinctively Arab, the need for an exclusively hijazi [i.e., Meccan] origin became pressing. It is at this point that Islam as we recognize it today — with an inner Arabian biography of the Prophet, Mecca, Quaraysh, hijra, Medina, Badr, and so forth — was really born as a purely literary artifact, an artifact, moreover, based not on faithful memories of real events but on the fertile imaginations of Arab storytellers elaborating from allusive references in Koranic texts, the canonical text of the Koran not being fixed for a hundred years or more. This scenario makes at least as much sense of the sources as the traditional account and eliminated many anomalies.
The fabrication of Mecca, for example, is remarkably similar to the fabrication of Nazareth in the New Testament: Jesus having been referred to as a “Nazarene,” presumably meaning that at some point he was taken to be a wandering ascetic, like Samson, the gospel writers — unfamiliar with the geography of Palestine — invented a little town of Nazareth for him to be from. The problem of there not being such a town was latter solved by enterprising natives who founded just such a town, where credulous Christians visit each Christmas to “walk where our savior was born.” I’ve always found this to be a neat little synecdoche of the whole Christian imposture: part blunder, part con game.
We’ve seen that the academic/fundamentalist account of Islam’s origins is fictitious; in particular, that Mecca, the supposedly thriving trade city, either never existed, or if it did, was not a thriving center of trade. The implication of this, as al-Rawandi says in Part Two, are “quite literally shattering”: if Mecca is fake, then so is the Koran, since its own origin story has it being revealed in . . . Mecca.  Strike two!
Part Two distinguishes “two broadly opposed ways in which Westerners approach Islam,” the rational-analytic, which study Islam “from the outside and seek to know how it came to be the way it is”; and the mystical-romantic, which “studies Islam from the inside and accepts it at its own estimation . . . and treat the traditional explanations as divinely guided.” Examples of the first are the aforementioned Cook, Crone and Co., along with some older figures such as John Burton and Montgomery Watt. The most prominent among the latter are the “Traditionalists,” most of whom are familiar to Counter-Currents readers; and whose “senior proponent” in the West today is Seyyed Hossein Nasr, of whom more later.
Al-Rawandi then examines their views on the value of the Koran and the interpretive traditions or hadith, and notes that despite producing “separate literatures on Islam that barely acknowledge each other’s existence,” both schools are “indelibly Western in that neither could have arisen within the Muslim world,” which is entirely subjective and self-contained.
Moreover, as we have noticed at the beginning, the more self-consciously Christian a rational-analytic critic is, the more his conclusions tend to support fundamentalist Islam, since the same critical procedures would strip Christianity of historical veracity as well. Christianity once more stands revealed as the fifth column among us.
If believers were to encounter the critique of Muslim origins already offered, they, like Christians, can either “avert their eyes, denounce it all as the work of shaitan and go on believing the traditional account”; or, they can “adopt the posture of the mystical-romantic school” and dismiss the relevance of such criticisms to a faith that does not “depend on historical origins but on an inner knowledge of God, the accompaniment and reward of piety.” In other words, mysticism.
And in this way, we are led to Part Three: Sufism or Islamic Mysticism. And here most of the work has already been done: since Sufism holds to the traditional account of the origins of Islam, and assumes the beliefs of Islam as sanctioned by the Koran and the hadith, Sufism is exposed to the same critique from the analytical school presented in Parts One and Two.
Sufism is as much a late construct resulting from the Arabs’ acquiring an empire as Islam itself. The chains of descent (silsila) of the Sufi brotherhoods, which include Muhammad and Ali, are simply one more fantasy on top of all the other fantasies that pass for history in Islam.
Other than its Islamic cloak, the specifically mystical ideas of Sufism are simply another irruption of the such perennial mystical notions as “could have been uttered by anyone, anywhere, at any time” and have simply “found their way into texts that are distinctly Islamic in other respects,” showing that
Mysticism is a common feature of human nature and can raise its head in any context, thereafter taking on the color of its milieu, in this case by adding references to Muhammed and the Koran.
For example, the “isthmus or barzakh, the world of imagination (alam al khayal)” of which scholars like Corbin make so much, is simply “the Islamic equivalent of the astral plane, familiar in Western occultism” such as the Theosophical Society, The Order of the Golden Dawn, or the “precise instructions” and “salutary warnings” of Aleister Crowley.
Al-Rawandi then moves on to examine the topic of mysticism in general; the usual works from Stace to Staal to Katz are invoked, mostly to critique the rather smug certitudes of Traditionalists like Schuon, Lings, and Chittick; but although he may provide interesting leads to the uninitiated, the discussion is too brief to contribute much to these ongoing debates themselves; above all, he and his Prometheus Books crowd fail to see how smug their own “scientific” certainty is.
Sufism is a form of sophisticated apologetics designed to make implausible ideas appear slightly less implausible. This is combined with a method . . . designed to induce experiences in conformity with the doctrine, thus rendering them worthless as evidence for anything objective.
Part Four: “Islam in the Modern World,” examines the ways Islam has dealt with the triumph of the modern world. This is a particular problem for Islam, since things were not supposed to work out this way: Islam, submissive to Allah, should have brought the whole world under its benevolent dictatorship; the West, rejecting the clear Truth, should have run aground, or else been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah for its evil. Instead,
By not believing, by doubting and questioning everything, including religion and revelation, the West has achieved the most glittering success the world has ever seen.
Just as we’ve seen Sufism as the relatively friendly “esoteric” alternative to the unlovely face of “exoteric” Islam, so there are two responses to modernity. The first is to affirm the existence of some kind of “Islamic science” which, like “Islamic democracy,” is simply a contradiction in terms.
The “foremost representative” of the other, esoteric or mystical, approach is the aforementioned Seyyed Hossein Nasr. If we look behind the mysteriously well-funded plethora of well-produced, indeed, downright glossy publications and high-profile academic posts of Nasr and his fellow Traditionalists, we find suitably “esoteric” views on science and religion that represent a vanishingly small fraction of actual Muslims, and which on their own merits have been subject to withering critiques from actual academic experts.
For example, David King, reviewing the “impressive-looking” Islamic Sciences (1976) concludes that “he seems to be quite out of touch with much recent scholarship in the field of Islamic science”; as for religion, Muhammad Salman Raschid concluded his review of Nasr’s 1981 Gifford Lectures (published as Knowledge and the Sacred):
It does not represent the expression of Islamic (i.e., Quranic) ideas. It is rather based upon a confused mixture of what could be characterized as Neoplatonized Semitic Theism with an admixture of distorted Vedanta. If this sounds like an extraordinarily incoherent formulation, I submit that it is a direct reflection of the basic incoherence of Nasr’s whole case.
Of course, Nasr, like Huston Smith, is “little more than an apparently respectable academic front man for traditionalism,” which espouses what it modestly refers to as Truth.
This Truth is known to be true by means of . . . Intellect. This means that the Truth of traditionalism is known to be true only by an Intellectual and moral elite . . . which accounts for the arrogant and dogmatic tone of much traditionalist literature.
Even if this is a plausible position in general (we’ll soon have reason to question that), we must subject any particular claim to being an “intellectual and moral elite” to serious scrutiny. Al-Rawandi thus examines the works of Frithjof Schuon, the most prolific and respected (indeed, literally worshiped) of those who have carried on the project begun by René Guénon. Nasr, for example, says that Schuon seems like:
The cosmic intellect itself impregnated by the energy of divine grace surveying the whole of reality surrounding man and elucidating all the concerns of human existence in the light of sacred knowledge.
What then can we say of this personage? Al-Rawandi wisely eschews philosophical wrangling and focuses on Schuon’s qualifications as a member, indeed a leader, of a moral elite; something never discussed by those promoting his books.
How many, for example, know that Schuon ran a secret Sufi group (including “academic front men” like Huston Smith) for decades, basing his qualifications (remember those “chains of descent” mentioned above?) on an initiation he received from a long dead Sheikh, in a dream? Or, that subsequent “revelations” led such doctrinal innovations as these:
Schuon regarded himself as both the lover and the adopted son of the Virgin, the paraclete, an incarnation of the Logos, and a unique avatara who embodied the quintessence of all the religions at the end of time . . . His body was a living sacrament that radiated divine blessings, especially when naked. Among Schuon’s female followers, this blessing was conveyed by physical contact . . .
One wants to add, “of course it would be.”
When children were added to the “primordial gatherings” the law became interested, and a bit of a scandal developed. Our interest in this is not in scandal-mongering but only in the reactions of Schuon’s fellow Traditionalists (and secret cult members, as we now know). Martin Lings, the author of that well-received “biography” of Muhammed — “based on the earliest sources” — simply said “Schuon is divine.” And Nasr told the local media that “He belongs to a different world. He is very much a pre-modern man.” And that’s a good thing, right?
As Al-Rawandi concludes, “such is the honesty and judgement of some of the most prominent apologists for Islam in the West.”
The author then devotes some pages to Sheikh Nazim, to whom some have turned for Truth, including, one suspects, the author himself. This was rather fascinating, as this figure was unknown to me, and as al-Rawandi notes, he represents a bhaktic approach in contrast to Schuon’s gnostic one. Yet no scandals here, just that “stock in trade of lunatic conspiracy theorist,” the Jews control everything. But ultimately, the Sheikh is quite as useless: “the cause of all problems is lack of Islam, and the solution to all problems is more Islam.”
And that’s the problem: dress it up for Westerners with all the trappings of Sufism or Traditionalism or Islamic Science, it all boils down to a demand for unchallenged belief in some Book and its supposed Messenger; a demand that the West has indeed already rejected, with indisputably successful results, however much Islam’s conservative despisers refuse to admit it.
Finally, al-Rawanda offers an appendix on the number 19 theory of Rashad Khalifa, late founder of the Quran-only/anti-Hadith sect now called “The Submitters.”
It’s of limited interest for the average reader, but his point in interesting: if there is an insanely intricate pattern involving the number 19 in the Koran, it was likely put there to “convince” readers than only God could have revealed such a complex work; in reality, it actually proves that the Koran is a fake, random passages stitched together by fellow humans attempting to pull a fast one on a credulous audience. D’oh!
Although the author mentions Plotinus and Neoplatonism several times (being the true sources of the “Islamic mysticism” of the title, as well as Nasr’s Truth) he does not mention that the posthumously published edition of the writings of Plotinus, The Enneads, was assembled by his disciple Porphyry in just such a manner: 9 divisions (hence, “enneads”) each containing 9 treatises. Of course, to do so, he had to edit, cut and paste a considerable amount, mucking up Plotinus’s already cloudy thoughts processes and making a small cottage industry for scholars and Ph.D. candidates reverse-engineering the process to produce “reconstructions.”
Nor is this an irrelevant parallel from secular literature; the Greeks, and later Romans, tended to treat their philosophers as sages and at least semi-divine beings. Thus, Porphyry prefaces his Enneads with a “Life of Plotinus” that, again, is less than helpful for moderns seeking merely “biographical” information, being written on the pattern of the many “lives of the sage” in which one knows, deductively, that X being divine, his birth must have had such and such characteristics.
And thus is the biography of Muhammed concocted, and thus, despite centuries of Christian naivety, the supposed biographies of Jesus going under the name of “Gospels,” which simply fill in the mere handful of data in the Epistles with a more or less elaborate story based on pagan hagiography and quotations drawn from the Old Testament.
Speaking of the Old and New Testaments recalls that we started out noting the strange immunity of Islam to the Higher Criticism that has been allowed, by contrast, to largely wipe out Christianity from serious consideration. One suspects that however much they hate Islam, its more “conservative” Western critics refrain from deploying this weapon lest they admit that their own branch was sawn off long ago.
Although I counselled skipping the “Islam’s View of Itself” sections, the one on the Modern World has an interesting turn of phrase worth pondering:
If the world as such is distraction, dispersion, and lack of center, the modern world raises these negative qualities to the status of principles and ways of life. From the point of view of that world, Islam can only appear a case of arrested development, a virtual stopping of history that traps a whole section of humanity in a “biblical” mentality. . . . [But to Islam] the events that produced the modern world are not signs of life in contrast to the cadaverous rigidity of Islam but signs of a Promethean betrayal that refuses the demands of heaven.
To reject the modern world’s scientific materialism as “an obscuring of vision that ceases to see anything beyond the material” and as a consequence is “blind to the metaphysical transparency of phenomena,” in favor of either the supposedly revealed Truth of a religion or the supposedly intuited Truth of a “transcendental unity” behind all religions is a powerful temptation; who does not want to take comfort in the fixity of the Absolute?
Although al-Rawandi was undoubtedly thinking of his publishers, Prometheus Books, we can see here a reference to the aforementioned Jason Reza Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas, where the Persian-American academic asks us to reject both closed-minded science as well as Abrahamic revelation, and spurning the static “Truth” of a perennial philosophy as well, demands that we have the Nietzschean courage to allow ourselves to leap into the abyss, taken over, indeed possessed, by the true archetypes of our Western heritage, the Titans Prometheus and Atlas; as it is inscribed on the walls of Rockefeller Center in this apparent paradox: “Wisdom and Knowledge Shall be the stability of the Times.”
Speaking of Prometheus Books, this is a typical production of theirs, anti-religion is a mild, old-school way; as my teacher, Dr. John Deck, once said of Walter Kaufman’s work, it’s usually accurate but never profound. Al-Rawandi is clearly someone who has fought to free himself from Islam and a modern Sufi cult; but perhaps to preserve his anonymity, none of this biographical detail comes through, and the book is really just a marshalling and summary of various critics of Islam, from historians to philosophers of mystical experience. As such, it is easy enough to read, and recommended to all, especially to those critics of Islam on the Right who, as Ayn Rand would say, need to “check their premises” when it comes to their own religions, as well as their revolt against the modern world.
1. “A man is, whatever room he is in.” Bert Cooper’s “Japanese saying” from Mad Men (Season One, Episode 12, “Nixon versus Kennedy”).
2. Wikipedia says: “Carthago delenda est”, or “Delenda est Carthago” (English: “Carthage must be destroyed”) is a Latin oratorical phrase which was in popular use in the Roman Republic in the 2nd Century BC during the latter years of the Punic Wars against Carthage, by the party urging a foreign policy which sought to eliminate any further threat to the Roman Republic from its ancient rival Carthage, which had been defeated twice before and had a tendency after each defeat to rapidly rebuild its strength and engage in further warfare. It represented a policy of the elimination of the enemies of Rome who engaged in aggression, and the rejection of the peace treaty as a means of ending conflict. The phrase was most famously uttered frequently by the Roman senator Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), as a part of his speeches.” Or, as the Alt Right would say, “Remove kebab.”
3. Oh, shut up, of course they did.
4. It didn’t used to be so: For Gibbon the Koran was an “incoherent rhapsody of fable,” for Carlyle an “insupportable stupidity.” See The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book, ed. Ibn Warraq. Prometheus Books; Introduction online here.
5. All italics in original. Jorjani accurately delineates these as “one Jesus that is a zealous (perhaps Essene) Jewish rabbi whose only concern is for “the children of Israel,” who is taken to be a Jewish King in the royal Davidic line, and who opposes the Pharisees in Jerusalem only because they have departed from the orthodox faith by ingratiating themselves with the pagan Roman occupiers. We have another Jesus who is a reformer of the Jewish religion, a universal Savior and a future enthroned judge of the conscience of all mankind. This second Jesus may have been molded in the wake of Paul’s mission to extend the gospel to the Gentiles and reshape Jesus more along the lines of Jupiter or Mithras. Finally, we have a third Jesus, the gnostic philosopher — who believes that the Jewish creator-god is the Devil and arch-deceiver, whose doctrine represents a synthesis of pagan mystical philosophies such as Hermeticism and Pythagoreanism, and who is here to abolish organized religion and free the spirits of the elect from the material world of pain and power.”
6. For example, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources (Islamic Texts Society & George Allen and Unwin, 1983, London), by Martin Lings, who was both a legitimate academic and a disciple of Frithjof Schuon. The sources may be “early” but what is their value?
7. Although only a rhetorical flourish, I dare say that a “single reading,” however “careful and honest,” would hardly suffice to give an accurate sense of the history of a text, especially a history as long as the Koran itself is incoherent. Here is what the German scholar Salomon Reinach thought: “From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time absorbing it.” See Classic Essays on the Koran, op. cit.
8. “The tradition asserts both A and not A, and it does so with such regularity that one could, were one so inclined, rewrite most of Montgomery Watt’s biography of Muhammad in reverse.” — Patricia Crone, cited by al-Rawandi
9. Review of Why I Am Not a Muslim originally published in the New Humanist, online here. Since one of the few biographical details given by our pseudonymous author is that he writes for this journal, I suppose this may be “al-Rawandi” himself for all we know.
10. Despite the book’s title, this is the only discussion of “Islamic mysticism.”
11. “The problem is the very mode of origin of the tradition, not some minor distortions subsequently introduced. Allowing for distortions arising from various allegiances within Islam such as those to a particular area, tribe, sect or school does nothing to correct the tendentiousness arising from allegiance to Islam itself. The entire tradition is tendentious, its aim being the elaboration of an Arabian Heilgeschichte, and this tendentiousness has shaped the facts as we have them, not merely added some partisan statements we can deduct.” Patricia Crone, Slaves on Horses: The Evolution of the Islamic Polity (1980).
12. And perhaps no “Mohammed” at all; see Robert Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2012).
13. “Hagarism was a Jewish messianic movement intent on reestablishing Judaism in the Promised Land, with little Arabic about it apart from the language.”
14. “Under the influence of the Samaritans, the Arabs proceeded to cast Muhammad in the role of Moses as the leader of an exodus (hijra), as the bearer of a new revelation (Koran) received on an appropriate (Arabian) sacred mountain, Mt. Hira. It remained for them to compose a sacred book.” Ibn Warraq, op. cit.
15. “Eventually storytellers made a good living inventing entertaining Hadiths, which the credulous masses lapped up eagerly. To draw the crowds the storytellers shrank from nothing. ‘The handling down of hadiths sank to the level of a business very early. Journeys (in search of hadiths) favored the greed of those who succeeded in pretending to be a source of the hadith, and with increasing demand sprang up an even increasing desire to be paid in cash for the hadiths supplied.’” Ibn Warraq, op. cit.
16. The same, of course, is true of Christianity, replacing “Jewish and Christian models” with “Jewish and pagan models.”
17. Kenneth Humphreys, in Jesus Never Existed: An Introduction to the Ultimate Heresy (Nine-banded Books, 2014) has the fascinating suggestion that the bogus geography of the NT is intended to suggest Jesus travelling around a huge, open-air auditorium; see my review, “Tales of the Christos Mythos,” here.
18. Apart from nonexistence, the other problem was how to reconcile this with the notion of the Savior coming from the city of David, Bethlehem. This was solved by the invention of a “world census” (as unattested in Roman history as the rise of Islam) that nonsensically required Joseph to travel — with his 9 months’ pregnant wife! — to the “city of his birth,” Bethlehem, and then drag everyone back to Nazareth.
19. Apart from giving opponents of Islam some ammunition, this chapter is also useful for inculcating into the typical Westerner the destabilizing notion that all these Semitic faiths are just fairy tales and double-talk, and that if he insists on taking them seriously, he should at least insist as well in asserting his freedom to interpret them in any way he sees fit — no matter how loudly the visiting Anglican bishop from Uganda — a couple generations from the cannibals himself — shouts “But it is written!” Tell your own stories if you must, White man, but don’t expect me to be impressed when you let an African lecture you about Leviticus.
20. Like the literally earth-shaking events of the New Testament, pagan sources are remarkably silent about it. “Cook then looks at the non-Muslim sources: Greek, Syriac, and Armenian. Here a totally unexpected picture emerges. Though there is no doubt that someone called Muhammad existed, that he was a merchant, that something significant happened in 622, that Abraham was central to his teaching, there is no indication that Muhammad’s career unfolded in inner Arabia, there is no mention of Mecca, and the Koran makes no appearance until the last years of the seventh century. Further, it emerges from this evidence that the Muslims prayed in a direction much further north than Mecca, hence their sanctuary cannot have been in Mecca.” Ibn Warraq, op. cit.
21. The Nazareth story by contrast is only a momentary embarrassment, overshadowed by far larger problems, though one might imagine someone using it as the thread which when pulled leads to the whole fabric unravelling. Hence, the Abrahamic insistence on “faith.”
22. Although Evola’s interest in Islam was favorable enough to lead some to assert he was in fact a secret Moslem (see Julius Evola: The Sufi of Rome — Kindle edition by Frank Gelli), he goes unmentioned here, no doubt because the author seems to have encountered Traditionalism through what we might call the “orthodox” or Schuonian school.
23. For a far more interesting, profound, and positive discussion of such paranormal realms, see Jason Reza Jorjani, Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016); my review is here. In particular, with regard to Katz’s well-known critique of the impossibility of a mystical — or any — experience being available outside of language and hence not already wrapped up in some worldview, we might recall Feyerabend’s insistence that all observations are “theory laden;” he even uses the same examples as al-Rawandi, such as the Merkabah or “chariot” mysticism of the mediaeval rabbis, and various methods of ascending sphere after sphere of the seven heavens. The difference is that Feyerabend celebrates the variety of worldviews, and seeks to learn from them all, declaring that “anything goes;” while the Katzes of the world seem to argue, or imply, that this renders the observations of mystics unworthy of study. Jornani takes his lead with regards to the paranormal from William James, unmentioned by Al-Rawandi
24. Once again, we notice that Western Islamic “scholarship” — here, the very foreign and “sophisticated” literature of Sufism — is actually analogous to Christian apologetics.
25. Again, anti-Islam conservatives don’t like to admit that the West’s success comes from doubting “religion and revelation” of the Christian sort. When our author says that those who praise Islam’s scientific heritage should admit that “whatever material success the Muslim world ever achieved was despite Islam, not because of it,” he unwittingly echoes Evola’s response to those who talk of Chistendom: whatever the Roman Church gave to Europe was from the Roman part, not the Church part.
26. Which reminds me of Homer Simpson’s toast “To alcohol! The cause of . . . and solution to . . . all of life’s problems.”
27. “Our greatest enemy . . . is not Islam, but the Traditionalist mentality . . . that cannot tolerate fundamental uncertainty and honest intellectual conflict.” Jorjani, op. cit.
28. A great name for an indie-rock band in Londonistan.
29. For more, if you must, see Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience by Martin Gardner (Norton, 2001).
30. Homo homini lupus est.
31. George Bernard Shaw said that the miracle stories in the NT were an attempt to forcibly persuade its readers, but which actually backfires, detracting from the original noble moral message and making it read like the biography of a cheap stage magician.
32. It famously begins with “Plotinus seemed ashamed of being in a body,” and thus less than forthcoming about biographical details, and ends with his spirit escaping at his death in the form of a snake that slithered out from his bed.
33. “When we want to know about Christ, we read the New Testament. But the early Christians had no New Testament. They read the Old Testament, and interpreted it as needed.’ Robert A. Price. See my review “Lovecraft’s Bible: Robert M. Price & the [Un]-Making of the New Testament,” here.
34. See Frithjof Schuon, To Have a Center (Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom, 1990, 2015).
35. James Wetmore gives a rather lucid exposition of this Traditionalist doctrine in “On Earth As It Is In Heaven” in Merhdad Zarandi and Merhdad M. Zarandi, Science and the Myth of Progress (Bloomington, Ind.: World Wisdom, 2003), where is serves as the metaphysical tertium quid between materialistic biology and Biblical Creationism. For his part, Jason Reza Jorjani draws on Schelling and Rupert Sheldrake to present a rather different but equally anti-materialistic account of the interaction of archetypes and physical instantiations in Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016), reviewed here.
36. As pointed out in my review, Jorjani, somewhat ironically, spurns the Higher Critical point of view and takes the Bible as a literal history, but one of encounters with, and manipulations by, malevolent powers; while in his more recent “Against Perennial Philosophy” he displays an accurate grasp of the results of the last century of critical scrutiny of the scriptures.
37. A point made more definitively in his essay “Against Perennial Philosophy,” op. cit. “If a society believes that there is an eternal, unchanging Wisdom that can be definitively attained by a person living within the present time, and that another intelligent person need only to study under such a sage to have this knowledge imparted to him, then that society will never see the kind of scientific and political revolutions that are catalyzed by genuine philosophers . . . Our greatest enemy . . . is not Islam, but the Traditionalist mentality . . . that cannot tolerate fundamental uncertainty and honest intellectual conflict.”
38. It must be said, though, that “refusing the demands of heaven” does indeed recall the “magical” or alchemical traditions favored by Evola though eschewed by Guénon and the other “Traditionalists.” see Evola, The Hermetic Tradition (Inner Traditions, 1995) esp. the Introduction to Part One, “The Tree, the Serpent and the Titans,” and my discussion of Lucifer in the title essay of Green Nazis in Space! (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2016).