Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

July 12, 2020

Umayyad invention of the idea of Islam

Filed under: Religion — Razib Khan @ 11:39 am

A few months ago I wrote The Myth Of Arabian Paganism, And The Jewish-Christian Origins Of The Umayyads. Some readers suggested I look at Sean Anthony’s Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The Making of the Prophet of Islam. After finishing Muhammad and the Empires of Faith there are no major revisions I would make the earlier post. But, there are some changes in the details of my confidence of various aspects of the post.

First, the historical Muhammad existed. This seems to be something I can say with high confidence. Higher than before I read Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. The figure of Muhammad and many banal details of his life seems to be very likely. More likely than the historical Jesus (who I also believe existed as a Jewish reformer and prophet). In addition to Muhammad, something like the Koran in broad form also existed quite early.

Second, I am much more sure than the basis of a crisp and distinct Muslim identity which serves as the core of a universal salvation religion dates to the period in and around the Second Fitna, between 680 and 692. Basically, the texts seem to suggest to me that the Umayyad Caliph who came out of the conflict in victory engaged in fence-mending with the rebel faction, which was based out of the city of Mecca. The last decade of the 690s and early 700s is when we see the proliferation of distinctly Islamic aspects of the Arab Empire, from the phasing out of Greek in administration, to the separation between Muslims and Christians in the church in Damascus where they had earlier worshipped together. This is the period when the formula which we are so familiar with in regards to Muhammad’s prophethood comes to the foreground.

I believe that the middle to late Umayyads formalized and demarcated the sectarian heterodoxies of the Arabs of their Caliphate to create a unified and cohesive ruling elite. But, because the religion emerged out of a Christian matrix within it was the natural opening to conversion by non-Arabs, which had already occurred with assimilated clients of Arab tribes in various forms.

All that being said, I want to distinguish an Islamic identity from the substance and form of what Islam means today. Muhammad and the Empires of Faith makes it clear that the roots of many Islamic traditions and practices do date to the Umayyads (e.g., hadith culture was not created out of thin air). But it is during the Abbassids, after 750, that the flesh was put upon the skeleton of the religion created by the Umayyads. That flesh is a function of the reality that the Abbassid Islam transcended Arab identity through the assimilation of large numbers of Iranians of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Buddhist, backgrounds. Umayyad already had a potentiality of universality, but when Islam truly became multi-ethnic, with non-Arab Muslims retaining their own independent national identities, a rapid consensus of what Islam was and is emerged.

To recap:

– The basic “furniture” to assemble the House of Islam was present in the early 7th century

– The foundations of the house date to the last quarter of the 7th century

– The house was completed in the last half of the Umayyad period and into the early Abbassid period

– The house was furnished, decorated, and painted, in the period between 750 and 900 AD, so that by 900 AD it looks just like the house we know today

July 11, 2020

Looking to the east: a different secularism than the West

Filed under: History,Religion — Razib Khan @ 5:37 pm

Why Hagia Sophia, Turkey And The Charismatic Figure Of Erdogan Bristle With Resonances For India:

The Hagia Sophia reconversion ultimately points to the failure of the Kemalist project of top-down secularism. Much like the state secularism of nationalist authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Iran, Iraq etc had failed to lead to the secularisation of the wider society, it seems Turkey is no longer the exception it was long hoped to be. More fundamentally, the failing secularism of Turkey and India begs the question: is secularism even possible in non-Christian/non-Western societies? Without the Western experiences of Reformation and the Enlightenment, hard-fought victories as they were, can non-Western societies value the principles of freedom and secularism? Why is it that, unlike in the West where democratisation and secularism went hand in hand, greater democratisation has seemed to only bring religious chauvinism in India and Turkey?

Too often non-white intellectuals, in particular those from the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, look only to Europe as their historical exemplars.

There is a legitimate argument that secularism in the Westphalian nation-state context, and using the model of the American republic, is the contingent outcome of the Reformation, and in particular Radical Protestant anti-state sentiment as well as Calvinist disenchantment with the world, and the sieve of the Enlightenment. But I don’t think this is what the author meant. Rather, I think the author is highlighting the importance of religious identity across the world.

In India and Islamic societies, your religion defines you in a very deep way. Religion and state have been deeply connected. The American and French models are objects of emulation but from a deeply alien tradition.

But these are not the only models and outcomes. China, Korea, and Japan are all societies where public religious identity is not nearly as important as it is in the Indian subcontinent and the world of Islam. I am not saying that people in East Asia are not religious or do not have supernatural beliefs. On the whole, they are less religious and more atheistic. But looking at religious affiliation numbers overstates this truth.

Rather, these are societies where religion does not dominate public political life because they have a particular history with organized religion which subordinates it to the political life of the society and nation.

Let me give three examples

– In the 9th century, the Tang dynasty expropriated property from Buddhist monasteries and defrocked monks and nuns. This is due to the fact that Buddhism was starting to become as powerful in China as the Catholic Church was to become in Europe.

– In the 15th century, the Joseon dynasty of Korea suppressed Buddhism in cities and drove the religion to the mountains. The percentage of Buddhists in Korea has actually increased in the 20th century for this reason.

– In the 16th century, Oda Nobunaga broke the power of Buddhist monasteries, in part by burning the down.

There is a history out there that is not European. Read some books.

The triumph of idealism over materialism in the long run

Filed under: Hagia Sophia,History — Razib Khan @ 5:23 pm

1,500 years ago the Justinian the Great had some grand ambitions once he became ruler of the only Roman Empire left. They called him the “Last Roman.” He was the last East Roman (Byzantine) Emperor who grew up speaking Latin as his native language. He was the last Emperor whose vision reflected the polity of the ancient world.

Many things happened during Justinian’s long reign, from the attempt to reconquer the West (partly successful), to an unsuccessful project to unify the Christian factions of the East. But perhaps his biggest success was the Hagia Sophia. Justinian’s theological efforts were forgotten, most of the West was lost in less than two centuries, and for many modern Westerners Byzantium is the “forgotten empire.” But the Hagia Sophia stands in its complete physical form even down to the present.

It is his immortality. Great building projects echo down through the centuries and allow us to grasp a filament of the past, and perpetuate cultural memory in ways that even text cannot.

I have not been to Istanbul. But I have been to Rome, and it’s incredible that buildings such as the Pantheon come down to the present from deep antiquity. In the case of the Pantheon, Parthenon, and Hagia Sophia, the fact that they were used for religious purposes explains why they were left intact. Holiness is a vest of protection (many ancient buildings were mined in Rome for their marble in the medieval period). The Pantheon was turned into a church in the 7th century. The Parthenon was both a church and a mosque. And the Hagia Sophia similarly has been both a church and a mosque.

And today it is at the center of a worldwide controversy about the Turkish government’s proposal to open it up to Islamic worship again, as opposed to what it is today, a historical museum. I do not have well thought out opinions on this issue. Rather, it reemphasizes to me the salience of ideas, and “irrational” ideas at that, in shaping the course of human affairs.

A few years ago Jared Rubin’s Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not convinced me that ideology does matter in relation to religion, despite the excesses of Max Webber and his modern-day acolytes. Joe Henrich’s The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous convinced me even more (his views differ somewhat from Rubin’s, but they are of a piece). But, I think we need to be subtle about this. These views and ideologies are impactful over the long term and on the margin, resulting in systematic differences, but they are harder to discern in the proximate sense, where “rational” behavior is still dominant.

What I’m getting at can be illustrated by the opportunistic behavior of Amalfi, aligning with Muslim corsairs against their rivals, or France with the Ottoman Empire against the Habsburgs. In any particular interaction ideology is not predictive. Rational interest matters. But on the margin, ideological affinities and identities shift civilizations and histories over the long term. The French alliance with the Ottomans always caused issues and major blowback during episodes such as during the Second Siege of Vienna.

When you see Muslims across the world expressing solidarity with the Turkish government, you see the power of ideology and its role in identity signaling. When you see Hindus in India expressing solidarity with Orthodox Christians, and Greece and Russia, you see the role of ideological affiliations and alliances redounding in surprising ways. Operationally it means little, but it illustrates the ideological affinities which may play a role over the long term in shaping cultures and civilizations.

The conversion of the Indian Ocean trading network to Islam after 1000 A.D. is an example of this, as Muslims across the world shared common norms and religious laws, as well as affinities. Once everyone became Muslim then proximate rational considerations became overwhelming, as well as ethnic identities. But this does not negate the role of religion in fostering common identities which might be trans-national.

Secular people, who nominally lack these religious identities, too often reduce everything to material and rational considerations. I myself have done this. But to look at history, and you see that people do irrational things motivated not by self-interest, but their vision of what humans are, and bonds of fellowship and brotherhood which transcend optimization of individual utility. To understand humans we must understand and remember this.

Genetic distance in Europe and South Asia

Filed under: Genetics — Razib Khan @ 3:05 pm


People always ask about genetic distance. Above is a NJ tree of a pairwise Fst.

Here is the raw table.

Please stay chill in the comments.

(used Plink’s Fst with 200,000 markers)

July 10, 2020

Open Thread – Brown Pundits – 7/11/2020

Filed under: Open Thread — Razib Khan @ 4:27 pm

The usual. I’m rather liberal for open threads, but let’s try to diminish the vitriol.

Also, I am appreciating the links some of you are putting out there. I’m actually learning a lot.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!