Cliff Notes for Chapter 1 of “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

Six Questions that make us think about Unity in the face of outright contradiction

  1. What is Islamic about Islamic philosophy? pp 10-19
    1. “”As for Divinely-Prescribed Law (al-shara), one general principle is to be admitted, which is that the Prescribed Law and doctrines (al-milal) that are brought forth upon the tongue of the Prophet are aimed at addressing the masses as a whole. Now, it is obvious that the Realization-of-Truth (al-tahqiq)…cannot be communicated to the multitude…Upon my life, if God the Exalted did charge a Messenger that he should communicate the Real-Truths (al-haqa’iq) of these matters to the masses with their dull natures and with their perceptions tied down to pure sensibilities, and then constrained him to pursue relentlessly and successfully the task of bringing faith and salvation to the multitudes…then He has certainly laid upon him a duty incapable of fulfillment by any man! …Prescribed Laws (al-shara’i) are intended to address the multitude in terms intelligible to them, seeking to bring home to them what transcends their intelligence by means of simile and symbol. Otherwise, Prescribed Laws would be of no use whatever…How can, then, the external form of Prescribed Law (zahir al-shara) be adduced as an argument in these matters?” –Ibn Sina
    2. “It is not so easy and trifling to call me an Unbeliever;

No faith is better founded than my faith.

I am singular in my age; and if I am an Unbeliver-

In that case, there is no single Muslim anywhere!” – Ibn Sina

2. “In other words, a prophet is an uber-philosopher—which in turn implies that all philosophers are, for all conceptual and practical purposes, engaged in the same project as are prophets: that of hikmah, or seeking to know universal truth-as-it-Really-is through the perfection of pure reason…” p 18, “What is Islam” by Shahab Ahmed

  1. When Sufis claim virtuoso ‘friends of God’ are exempt from formal Islamic laws, is this an Islamic or un-Islamic truth-claim? Pp 19-26
    1. “The Law (shari’at) is like a candle that shows the way: Without the candle in hand, there is no setting forth on the road. And when you are on the road, that journey in the Way (tariqat); and when you have reached the destination, that is thre Real-Truth (haqiqat. It is in this regard that they saw “If the Real Truths are manifest, the laws are nullified”, as when copper becomes gold , or was fold originally, it does not need the alchemy that is the law…Or the Law may be compared to learning the science of medicine, the Path to regulating one’s diet in accordance with (the science of) medicine and taking remedies, and the Real-Truth to gaining health everlasting and becoming independent of them both.” -Rumi


3. Are pantheism and relativism Islamic ideas? Pp 26-31

  1. “If they had rejected those (gods/idols), they would have been ignorant of God-the-Truth (al-haqq) in the measure that they rejected them, for in every object of worship there is an aspect of God-the-Truth, which one who knows Him knows, and one who does not know Him does not know. In regard to the Muhammadans, there came (the verse of the Qur’an 17:23) “Your Lord determined that you will not worship other than He” meaning “He established”. The one who possesses knowledge knows who is worshipped and which form He manifests so as to be worshipped….So nothing other than God (Allah) is worshipped in every object of worship”- Ibn Arabi
  2. Are Hafiz poems (ghazals) Islamic? Pp 32-46
    1. example1. “Hafiz: drink wine, live in non-conforming libertinage (rindi), be

Happy, but do not

Like others, make the Qur’an a snare of deception

2. example2. If the jurist admonishes you against love-play

Give him a bowl of wine; tell him to loosen his mind!

3. example3. Ascetic! Since from your prayers nothing is forthcoming:

I shall with nightly drunkenness and secret lover’s talk!

4. example4. Since the wine-bearer was a moon-faced beloved, and a


Hafiz drank from the wine-cup, and so did the shaykh and

the jurist

  1. What is “Islamic art”? pp 46-57
    1. “By these words, Bihzad’s critics unhesitatingly attribute to him a pneumatic power to like to the power witnessed by the Quran as having been granted in apparent monopoly by God to Jesus…Now, no such statement (whether read literally or metaphorically) could be made or understood without an awareness on the part of both the authors of these statemtns and of their audiences of those Hadithe that tell us, not only that the image makers cannot give life to the work of their hands-but that they will be eternally punished for presuming an undertaking similar to God’s”- Shahab Ahmed, “What is iIslam” p 56


6. Is a Muslim wine drinker Islamic? Pp 57-71

  1. “When one enters a wine gathering….in no case may one stay so long as to become drunk…if a man have a ppor head for wine, he should drink little, or he should dilute it, or he should leave the party earlier…Let him not become involved in the conversstion of drunken men or busy himself in mediation between them; however, where matters eventuate in hostility, he should restrain them from (attacking) each other…Should a malaise overcome him, let him fight it off in the midst of the assembly in such a way that his companions do not become aware thereof, or let him go outside without delay; once he has vomited he may return to the party.” – Nasir-u-Din Tusi in “Manners of Wine-Drinking”
  2. Jahangir’s jade wine-cup inscribed with

“God is Most Great (Allahu Akbar!) The King of the Seven Lands! The Emperor of Emperors who spreads Justice! The Knower of the Signs, the Real and Metaphorical! Abu-l-Muzaffar Nur-ud-Din Jahangir, the King, son of Akbar, the King! Righteous Warrior!


Additional comments:

The role of contradiction in the historical and human phenomenon of Islam, example Jahangir’s coin with his likeness and wine cup in hand.

Balkans to Bengal Complex (1350-1850): “constitutes what we might usefully conceive of as a post-formative stage and condition in the history of societies of Muslims- a stage at which earlier foundational elements are brought together in a capacious and productive historical synthesis that, in turn, provides a maniples yet stable ingrediential base for a further striking forth in a dynamic variety of trajectories of being Muslim. By the thirteenth century (seventh century of Islamic history), the major theological points of dispute which had riven the community of Muslims in its first centuries were for the most part settled, with the theological schools….agreeing to disagree over an agreed set of secondary theological questions.” “What is Islam?” pp 75-76

Sufi self-actualization p 79

Arguments against  ‘elite’ culture/norms

  1. Circulation of norms (poetry, song, tombs)
  2. Upward social mobility
  3. Sufis- tariqas and shrine visits
  4. All those sermons by jurists telling commoners to “clean up” their act/behavior

Islam as a noun of action

Islam (as human and historical)

  1. Personal Islam
  2. Negotiating personal Islam with ‘out there’ Islam
  3. Relationship to community
    1. Individual within community
    2. Communities with other communities




2 thoughts on “Cliff Notes for Chapter 1 of “What is Islam?” by Shahab Ahmed

  1. Ijaz Ali June 5, 2017 / 7:46 pm

    My thoughts on the above…

    1 & 2. The truth was revealed to the Propeht(PBUH) when he was ascended to heaven(Miraj) and that is when all the rules were explained. The laws was most strictly followed by the Prophet(PBUH) as an example for his followers(Sirat).

    4. I am very unsure about it…
    6. As wine is haram in Islam. I am sure the Ulema & Sufis prohibited from it and used the world symbolically to represent heavenly knowledge. As for the kings, they crossed the line between being a Caliph and a king when they inclined towards a more luxurious life, which happened sometime in the later Ummayyad period. As a Caliph is both a leader of the muslim community and an Imam of mosque which, the wine drinker cannot be.

    5. Islamic arts mostly uses geometric patterns which is mostly abstract. And the art of Calligraphy is another most famous part of Islamic Art. They also utilise fruits and zoomorphic patterns such as lions and birds.

    Apart from that, few spelling mistakes…:)


  2. firebrushblog June 6, 2017 / 2:01 pm

    Good to hear from you! Ramadan Kareem!

    More to follow on this book…..


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