Report of the 7th Inârah Symposion, May 4-7, Trier

From 4-7 May, Inârah held its 7th symposium on the origins of Islam and the origins of the Qur’an.

For the first time, the venue was the idyllically located Robert Schuman House in Trier. The leitmotif of this conference was expressed in the chosen motto: “Farewell to salvation history.” In biblical studies or church history, for example, the difference between historiography based on reliable sources and salvation history has long been the academic norm. Islamic Studies, particularly, as it is practised in Western universities, especially with the establishment of seminars of so-called Islamic theology in some German Länder in recent years, represents both an intellectual and an academic step backwards, where this important distinction is still for the most part conveniently ignored.

The conventional, “classical” narrative, actually a fairy tale, of the Qur’anic revelation to Muhammad and the subsequent emergence of Islam, in general a distillation of diverse, late, and largely contradictory literary texts, is regrettably still taught and disseminated academically—as if it were true prophetic word. Historical-critical research usually remains the exception, unfortunately.

The purpose of such conferences is to bring together the few good colleagues and interested people who work on the basis of historically reliable sources and an established philological methodology, so that they can exchange ideas. The goal of the conference, to bid farewell once and for all to the Islamic salvation history, is based on the results of the previous six conferences and the ten volumes published so far. The tome known as the Qur’an, which is evident to every reader, can hardly be imagined to be the written rendering of oral revelations to a prophet named “Muhammad,” or even the written memorandum of an exchange between the “proclaimer and his congregation,” as it is still heard from Potsdam.

In terms of genre, we are dealing [with the Qur’an] with an originally Christian work, perhaps a lectionary in Arabic, which was subsequently reworked several times by theologians, as it clearly shows different editorial strata.

The location of early Islam to Mecca and Medina, as claimed by Islamic traditions, is clearly a later, anachronistic retro-projection. Rather, the language, the script and the theological content [of the Qur’an] point to Mesopotamian northern Arabia. Islam in the proper sense can only be spoken of during and after the epoch of the Abbasids (from ca. 750 AD onwards)—the Umayyads were still (seen from the seat of the then Chalcedonian imperial orthodoxy) heterodox or heretical eschatological Christians, with an immediate expectation of the Parousia.

The historical efficacy of Muhammad, God’s messenger, cannot be gleaned from the hagiographic fables of the later Sira traditions, which arose, among other things, to read the prophet’s biography into the Qur’an. The authors of the later Islamic meta-narratives (Meistererzählung), as already mentioned, offer contradictory information; moreover, the fact that later Islamic works (without source references) can surprisingly offer much more detailed information is striking. The later a tradition, the more it supposedly “knows” about Muhammad and the beginnings of Islam. These authors, such as Tabari, were not historians in the true sense of the word; and although they occasionally do use some historical information (often unrecognisably reworked), they were moralists who set themselves the task of explaining their time on the basis of an imagined past. They created a “prequel,” so to speak (a story that appears to be a continuation of another narrative, but is not). This is therefore not a continuation of the narrative of the past in the proper sense, but rather a retro-projection of the past intended to explain the present situation, which in literary terms belongs to the genre of the “backstory” (toile de fond). The backstory is often used to lend historical depth or credibility to the main plot—the Star Wars sagas may be seen as the present-day equivalent of Islamic historiography.

The task of finding out how the emergence of Islam happened historically is more difficult. This was the actual task of the symposium, undertaken by the international participants from Germany, Algeria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Syria, Tunisia, USA and even surprisingly Canada, as always in four languages (German, Arabic, French and English). We found it very nice that many a foreign participant gave his presentation in German.

The opening speeches on the first evening were on topics of contemporary relevance, such as the importance of our work (Schwab), the intellectually debauched notion of “Islamophobia” (Ibn Warraq) and the influence of our research on social debates in the so-called Islamo-Arab countries (Ghadban).

The second day got straight down to business with topics on the origins of Islam and the history of religion:

  • What does the slogan “Allahu akbar” actually mean (Popp), and the relationship of the Aramaic Ahiqar traditions to the Koranic Luqman (Abousamra).
  • Dequin and Shoemaker showed why Islam’s holy site was originally Jerusalem and not Mecca and referred to some of the possible substrate traditions underlying the Islamic Hajj.
  • Grodzki and Weintritt then presented papers on the source criticism of the alleged hagiography of the Islamic Prophet, the Sira.
  • Von Sivers discussed the misdating of the Doctrina Iacobi and the Nitsarot attributed to Rabbi Simeon b. Yohai, which were written later and thus say nothing about conditions in the first quarter of the 7th century.
  • The last lecture of the day, by a talented young scholar who had just defended his doctorate, discussed how and why the traditions about Muhammad, including the Hadiths, were only invented later as a source of legitimacy for Islamic law (Barsoum).

The third and fourth days were mainly devoted to Quranic topics:

  • The project to finally produce a critical edition of the Qur’an (Brubaker).
  • The biblical background of Suras 105 and 106 (Bonnet-Eymard).
  • On the “mysterious letters” in the Qur’an (Puin).
  • Wuestions of editorial history were discussed by Dye and Da Costa.
  • Younes discussed how later Muslim exegetes manipulated the Quranic text to justify later Islamic dogmas.
  • Striking parallels of an Arabic manuscript of Luke’s Gospel with a Hadith were addressed by Arbache.
  • Groß discussed possible Buddhist influences in Islamic orthopraxis.
  • Decharneux, another young talent who also recently defended his doctorate, and Van Reeth presented the Christian Aramaic theological background of the Qur’an originating in the South (today’s Emirates).
  • And finally, Nickel gave a paper on the unlikely phenomenon of pursuing science on Twitter and other social media.

On the evening of the third day, there was a round table “on the origins of the Qur’an,” moderated by Jean-Claude Muller, in which the topic was debated at great length.

On Tuesday evening, there was no formal programme, as Prof. Dr. Max Otte, who takes a keen interest in our work, generously invited all participants to dine at the Blesius Garten in Trier. We would like to take this opportunity to thank him once again for a very enjoyable evening, the highlight of the congress. Of course, there was further debate on the relevant topics between the fantabulous courses.

According to the feedback we received, the symposium was a success—the important questions were asked and answers sought. The discussions were lively and passionate and lasted long into the night.

The deadline for the submission of papers is the end of August, so it is expected that Volume 11, with the papers presented at Trier during the 7th Symposium, will be published before the end of the year.

To learn more, have a look at the Symposion booklet…

Featured image: Mural from the Apodyterium of Qusayr Amra, Jordan, 8th century.

The Sahel: Setbacks and Insecurity

While all the world is focused on the Russian-Ukrainian war in Ukraine and terrible consequences, calling attention to other regional conflicts might seem diversionary, or even offensive. But the world is a complex and cruel landscape, involving international dynamics and various interest groups which affect the lives of people.

Thus, it is useful to look at the Southern “near abroad” of EU and NATO blocks, where dynamics risk to impact (seriously), with implications for the security of Western states, including military threats, migrations routes, and the energy landscape.

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite efforts to prevent and combat radicalism by local governments and international actors. Jihadism, which seemed to be limited to northern Mali a few years ago, now extends to 75% of its territory, in addition to affecting Burkina Faso and Niger, with an increase, in the Sahel as a whole, of 70% in the number of jihadist actions; and with Burkina Faso in the focus for now, with dangerous and worrying intrusion into Western Guinea Gulf subregion states.

The complicated situation in which the Sahel finds itself, at a time when Operation “Barkhane” is being called to come to an end in 2022, in favour of a new, more modest military deployment, has brough into play various questions about the future of security in the region, where there are emerging more and more problems challenging the confrontation between the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures and Russia in primis (and China in the shadows).

Further, to complicate the matter, analysis, approaches, and management, as a caveat, when mentioning the Euro-Atlantic economic and security architectures, there are various imprecisions, given the divergent agendas and erratic priorities of some partners of these coalitions, like Turkey, or strong national interests, like France (reinforced by an exclusive colonial dominance, established in the region in the second half of the 19th century and which ended in the 1960s; and it should be remembered that since those years, French forces have carried out in Africa at least 50 operations, without considering the secret ones, as secrets, are not recorded).

The Current Stage

What will be the consequences of the end of Operation “Barkhane” on regional security? To what extent can regional governments and, more specifically the juntas that govern Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea (and in a limited extent, also Chad) respond to the articulated security challenges? What alternatives or possible solutions meet the growing regional deterioration, at a time when new external stakeholders, such as Russia, are now on the scene, formally and informally (using the infamous contractors of the Wagner group)?

Nine years after the French intervention in Mali, violent extremism continues to spread in the Sahel, showing remarkable resilience, despite prevention and counter-radicalism efforts by local governments and international actors. The weakening of jihadist groups, following the French intervention in January 2013, proved to be short-lived and the survivors of Operation “Serval,” to which “Barkhane” is the successor, have shown a great ability to recover and adapt quickly to the changing security environment.

In Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger alone, more than 6,200 French military personnel were killed in action. Since 2013, the Sahel is the region where terrorist groups have grown the most, with the Islamic State now replacing the Taliban as the world’s deadliest group and Burkina Faso as the main locus.

Of course, the galaxy of terrorists’ groups is a complex landscape, because of the persistent merging and splitting among its members, as well as allegiance to tribal, ethnic, ideological, and personal elements—all of which makes such groups extremely difficult to track and to identify individuals and trends. As a result, strategical and operational lines, approaches and targets also become difficult to ascertain.

During the early days of Operation “Barkhane” (which began in 2014, and which weakened the presence of French forces in other Francopohone states in the region), jihadist groups, mainly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), managed to survive, thanks to their “low profile” strategy, through which they concealed themselves among the population, thus eliminating the need for operational structures (“katibas”) that would be too large and therefore easily detected and destroyed by an opposing force which had air assets.

In this way, AQIM, supported by the Malian jihadists group, Ansar Dine, gradually reorganised itself to operate throughout Mali, and even extended its actions to Burkina Faso and Niger. Thus, from 40 attacks recorded in 2014, Mali experienced 98 the following year, and 157 in 2016, becoming progressively more complex as armed groups began to operate south of Niger, as evidenced by the spectacular attacks on the Radisson hotel in Bamako (20 November 2015), Ouagadougou (15 January 2016) and Grand-Bassam in Côte d’Ivoire (13 March 2016), all involving Western citizens as targets.

The katibas that moved around AQIM were soon joined by Amadou Kouffa’s jihadist group, Macina Liberation Front (FLM), a group that abruptly emerged in January 2015, with the aim of expanding jihad to southern Mali (and restoring the empire of Macina, which existed from 1818 to 1862). This group, which recruits among the Fulani populations of Mali, trapped between the Tuareg and Malian farmers in the south who reproach them for their pastoralist traditions, demonstrated its operational capacity by taking control, albeit temporarily, of the town of Fakola in the SW of Mali in June 2015.

In March 2017, all Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadist groups reunited in a tactical alliance, self-labelled, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which in turn was the result of the artificial merger of historical terrorist groups Ansar Dine, AQIM, the Macina Liberation Front (FLM) and Al Mourabitoun (a jihadist group created in August 2013 and whose leader, the Algerian Mojtar Belmojtar became notorious in January 2013 with his attack on the Tiguentourine/In Amenas gas facility in Algeria). The new JNIM leader became Iyad ag-Ghali, the head of Ansar Dine, who led the 1990 rebellion of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MPLA) against the Malian government and who is known in the West as an intermediary in the liberation of European citizens in the first decade of the century.

The aim of this merger, despite heavy personal rivalries, was to increase the synergy of their actions, by sharing networks, experiences, and results, but also by following al-Qaeda’s strategy, they distanced themselves from the other branch of international jihadism represented by the Islamic State (a.k.a. Daesh), which was then emerging strongly in the Sahel. JNIM used the strategy of presenting itself as a reasonable actor, a promoter of Islamic governance and capable of issuing apologetic statements when civilians were killed, rather than the bloodthirsty terrorists that Daesh fighters were being labelled as. This group emerged as a Sahelian brand of Daesh in the Middle East, adopting the name, the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (IS-GS) and established itself in the “Three Borders” region (between Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso), in an area particularly neglected by the Niamey, Bamako, and Ouagadougou governance.

The IS-GS took the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, under the Sahrawi, Adnan Abu Walid al-Saharawi, former spokesman of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, or MUJAO in French) and former “emir” of Al-Mourabitoun in Mali.

The IS-GS became particularly prominent in sub-Saharan Africa and was characterised by following the most intransigent and ultraviolent tenets of jihadism, becoming the preferred target of Western forces and local states troops. Its fighters were largely from the MUJWA/MUJAO, established in 2011 by the Mauritanian Hamada Ould Kheira, who had left AQIM because of the group’s internal ethnic-tribal antagonism, under the control of Algerian Islamist terrorist chiefs, such as Droukdel and Belmokhtar, while the fighters were mostly black Africans recruited from among the Fulani, Daoussahaks and Gao Moors (all from Mali).

From its stronghold of Ménaka, and strengthened by its local roots and its egalitarian discourse, the MUJWA/MUJAO became known for its campaign of kidnappings and suicide bombings modelled on al-Qaeda. However, MUJWA/MUJAO was faced with a strong internal struggle, with mutual accusations by Algeria and Morocco, which blamed its historical rival to be supporting the group and undermining the regional security to win advantage for their respective regional leadership ambitions.

Of particular interest is also the relationship between IS-GS and the other Islamic State (IS) franchise operating in the Lake Chad region, under the name, Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP). This group emerged in 2016 as a splinter group of the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, the most active and lethal group in West Africa, which, by 2019, had killed more than 35,000 people, and originated more than two million of IDPs (Internally Displaced People) and connected the Sahel area with the Islamist insurgency in Chad, northern Cameroon, Niger, and NW Nigeria.

Established in 2002, in the Nigerian state of Borno, and led since 2009 by Abu Bakr Shekau, after the death in police custody of founder Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram was characterised by indiscriminate attacks on civilians and spread to neighbouring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.

In 2015, Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) and the group changed its name to ISWAP. Dut due to his extreme brutality, IS decided to remove him in 2016, appointing Al Barnawi, the founder’s eldest son and until then the group’s spokesman, as his successor; thus, creating two factions: Boko Haram and ISWAP.

Both groups pursued the same aim of creating a Salafist-jihadist caliphate in the Shari’a-ruled Boko Haram’s actions, as opposed to ISWAP’s greater concern of gaining the acceptance of the local population. Their phoenix-like operational trend tells a similar story for both, their greatest strength being their ability to use areas with weak state presence to retreat into and regroup, while using a variety of tactics to maintain the flow of resources that have made them deadly and resilient jihadist groups.

However, Shekau’s death in June 2021, and after the rival splinter group stormed his Sambisa Forest fiefdom, has weakened Boko Haram and facilitated the integration of many of its members into ISWAP.

In terms of the relationship between ISWAP and IS-GS, the two jihadist groups are geographically independent, although IS-GS is technically considered a sub-group of ISWAP, according to the Islamic State’s architecture. ISWAP is particularly active in the Lake Chad Basin region, where it has intensified attacks against security forces since mid-2018, and mainly in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon; while IS-GS is more confined to the Liptako Gourma region, with operations in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

Another differential aspect of Sahelian jihadism concerns the relationship between JNIM as an Al Qaeda affiliate and IS-GS as an Islamic State affiliate. For several years there existed, in contrast to affiliates in other regions of the world where they operate, a kind of tacit agreement of non-belligerence, and even cooperation between the two in joint raids against shared enemies; this is what came to be known as the “Sahelian anomaly.”

This made it easier for jihadism to expand its range of action in other Sahelian and West African countries since 2017, taking advantage of porous borders were, rural, poor societies, marginalised by their states, lived.
However, in 2019, this pact was broken, and tensions between JNIM and IS-GS became violent in the “Three Borders” area of the Liptako region. The causes of this rupture must be attributed to several factors; the main one being the ideological hardening of the IS-GS, resulting in its integration into the more radical ISWAP, and the consequent pressure to confront JNIM. To this should be added the tensions that have arisen between the two groups, driven by the growing operational ambitions of the IS-GS, which competes for fighters and resources in the Sahel.

The jihadist threat now look to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Senegal; and although ISIS has been weakened in Mali, through military action by France and its partners and has lost its leader, Adman abu Walis al-Sahrawi, in a spectacular action in September 2021, it continues to seek a foothold in Western Niger and Burkina Faso, even if that means linking up with Boko Haram in Nigeria. The JNIM, whose hatred emir Droukdel was also killed in June 2020 in Southern Algeria, is reportedly trying to strengthen itself in the Azawad region by taking advantage of the lack of reaction from Algeria and in central Mali, where it is forced to coexist with nationalist groups in the Azawad.

To complete the picture of armed (and institutional) threats in the Sahel, there is also the existence of the separatist groups in northern Mali, signatories to the 2015 Algiers agreements (many other such agreements were signed as well before, but without any real impact on the tribalism-separatistm trends of the region), agreements that were supposed to guarantee peace and reconciliation.

These armed groups have formed a kind of parallel army in the Kidal region, dominated by the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), which is an alliance of rebel groups, created in Mali, in October 2014, with the aim setting up a new Touareg-dominated state, named “Azawad,” which would include the northern area of Mali, SE Algeria, West Niger, and SW Libya).

These groups came together in September 2021 to form the “Permanent Strategic Framework” (CSP), which is dominated by Tuareg and Arab nomads, and where Mali’s ajority communities (all Black Africans, like Songhaïs, Peuls, Bellahs) are poorly represented.

Foreign and Regional Military Assets and Actions

As far as Western and Sahelian government military forces are concerned, it is undeniable to admit that, from a tactical point of view, important successes have been achieved in recent years. Operations against armed terrorist groups during 2020 and 2021 have resulted in the targeted elimination of some of the most important jihadist leaders, including Abdelmalek Droukdel (head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM), Bah Ag Moussa (one of the leaders of JNIM), Abu Walid al-Saharoui (head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, IS-GS), or Abu al-Maghrebi (religious leader of JNIM).

These favourable results on the ground have not, however, prevented the spread of jihadist violence to southern Mali and Burkina Faso and to western Niger, and even attacks in Burkina Faso’s border areas, with countries in the Gulf of Guinea. This was the main reason for the double military coup in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, and the coup d’état in Burkina Faso in January 2022.

The deterioration of the situation led French President Emmanuel Macron to decide, after much incertitude and contradictory statements, in early June 2021, to suspend joint operations between French and Malian forces, while assuring that France would remain militarily engaged in the Sahel, but within the framework of an “international alliance associating the states of the region,” a new mission whose precise outline is not clarified.

In fact, this is not a new decision. At the Pau Summit in January 2020, which brought together the G5 Sahel countries (Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad) countries and France, Paris had already expressed its desire to reduce its presence in the Sahel and reiterated the need for African countries to take responsibility for the security of their citizens.

Among the reasons for France’s stance were the frustration over the lack of military and political achievements, the human and financial costs of “Barkhane” and the substantial lack of support from the domestic public opinion, distracted by national economic and social emergencies. However, it was the second coup d’état on 26 May 2021 which ousted interim President Bah Ndaw and made Mali’s hitherto vice-president Assimi Goita as the transitional President, which precipitated the decision to withdraw from Mali, even if not fully completed in the spring of 2022.

The new Malian junta, in a context of growing popular hostility towards the French presence in Mali—the greatest expression of which was the expulsion of the French ambassador in January 2022—demanded the departure of all French and European forces, and the handover of the “Barkhane” bases to the soldiers of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and the Malian army, but also to the Russian private security operators (or mercenaries) of the Wagner group who, in early January 2022, settled at the main military base of the operation, in Timbuktu.

Consequently, the French “redeployment” of forces was an implicit recognition that its counterinsurgency strategy was not working (despite a consistent, prolonged but very discrete support from USA), and that the natural consequence was to reduce the number of troops in the “Barkhane” force by half, in a process that was to be completed by the middle of 2023. The military force would thus be reduced from 5,100 to 2,500 French soldiers redeployed outside Mali, mainly in the “Three borders” area in Niger’s territory, and its mission would be exclusively anti-terrorist, aimed at curbing the expansion of jihadist groups towards the south, a trend that has been increasing recently.

This operational redefinition of the framework for French military action implied—along with a commitment to continue fighting terrorism—a significant reduction of its conventional, elite and SOF (Special Operation Forces) units in favour of a greater increase in SF (special forces), as well as a major reliance on air and space assets (fighter, helicopters, UAVs, ISTAR, satellites) to the detriment of ground capabilities, as “force multiplier.”

The increased use of UAVs since late 2019, combined with SF, would support this troop reduction strategy, as they are more effective at eliminating adversaries than ground forces. As a result, UAVs now account for 40% of air strikes, with the result of operations in the area multiplying.

The reduction of French troops in the Sahel will necessarily affect other French operation in the region, namely, Operation “Sabre,” which has been active since 2009. With its operational base in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, Task Force (TF) “Sabre” is composed of 400 French SF troops and has been primarily responsible for the elimination of most high-value targets (HVTs), such as jihadist leaders.

In the new context of French redeployment, France’s organisational and operational autonomy vis-à-vis “Barkhane” risks being affected by the end of this operation. In fact, TF “Sabre” could lose some of its assets if “Barkhane” disappears, to the benefit of the increased power of the new “Takuba” force that, although European, bases its structure to a large extent on the French SF that have defined the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) and operational procedures.

Activated in July 2020 to make up for the shortcomings of the EU’s training mission in Mali (EUTM)—given the impossibility for military trainers of the mission to accompany Malian soldiers during their operations—the “Takuba” force was planned to reach 2,000 combatants, from several European countries, and to take part in counter-insurgency actions, replacing “Operation Barkhane.”

As for “Takuba,” it is important to specify its institutional framework, which in a way, has impacted on its operational capabilities. “Takuba” is activated outside of the EU official defense and security architecture, led by EEAS framework, and it is closer to the scheme of the “coalition of the willing,” which led the establishment of the multinational naval force which operates in the Persian-Arab Gulf, the EMASOH (European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz).

This choice, strongly pushed by France, aimed at having more agile and lethal capabilities of the forces deployed, which by the way, never reached the planned level. Their deployment is an implicit recognition of the inability of French forces to control the vast territory of the Sahel, except temporarily and in specific areas, and of the weakness of local armed forces, especially in Mali. Thus, the constituent purpose of Task Force “Takuba” is to integrate local forces with European SF teams, thereby creating a critical mass of assets capable of defeating any opposing group and better protecting the population. This would obviously not solve the structural problems of local armies, but it would allow them to be more effective on the ground and to quickly do more. And in counter-insurgency warfare, the principle is that hitting the enemy is good, but controlling the terrain is better, with the combination of the two effects producing the best results. This principle works well in theory, but it remains to be seen whether it could yield strategic results in the Sahel scenario.

Moreover, TF “Takuba” is suffering from serious structural problems, stemming from its slow deployment, and the reluctance of some states to participate in it, despite the strong pressure by Paris on its partners. For example, the Danish component was withdrawn from Mali when it arrived, on the grounds of bureaucratic shortcomings, the small number of its components, which did not exceed 800 troops, half of them French, and the fact that they cannot operate in Mali, where the centre the insurgency is located.

Also, it should be remembered that Sweden, few days after the notification from the Bamako authorities to expel the Danes, to avoid a similar humiliating situation which was likely approaching, withdrew its own contingent.

Finally, the “Takuba” concept suffered from the perceptions of many of its potential contributors, reluctant to risk their precious assets of SF, on behalf of France and its benefits, which is not generous in opening economic spaces in what Paris considers an exclusive domain.

As far as training missions are concerned, they remain today the EU’s main and most substantial contribution to security in the Sahel. Although the will of Europe is to strengthen its means and capabilities, to support the security forces of the countries in the region, an objective it considers crucial in increasing the protection of local populations and bringing about stability of the region, its survival will depend, in any case, on whether the necessary conditions are met, as recognised in the EU-AU joint declaration of 17 February 2022, in the side-lines of the 6th EU-AU Summit in Brussels.

These conditions include a strict separation between its activities and those of the Russian group Wagner, which is increasingly active in the Sahel, and a guarantee that EU-trained Malian soldiers will not subsequently join units operating under Wagner’s orders. Despite the lack of consensus on the future of EU operations in Mali, with several member states in favour of suspending the mission, and while others are reluctant to do so, the European Council decided on 12 April of this year to close and withdraw it (EUTM-Mali was activated on February 2013), formalizing and finalizing a long-standing crisis between Brussels (and Paris) and Bamako.

It should be said that despite an important growing in staffing (more than 600 personnel between trainers and support staff), resources, and assets, the EUTM-Mali suffered several problems due to, among others, the existence of non-coordinated training paths between the national teams of trainers. It is useful to be reminded that the other EU-led presence in Mali, EUCAP-Sahel Mali is in limbo; but given the persistent hostility of the Bamako military junta, it will be withdrawing as well.

The other two forces on the ground will not produce tangible results in improving the stability situation, due to a lack of equipment, poor financial means, and poor transnational coordination. The G5 Sahel Joint Force—created in 2017 and officially composed of 5,000 men drawn from the elite units of the armed forces of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—is conditioned by the need for greater regional cooperation to prevent each of them pursuing their national interests above all else. Moreover, reliance on the support of other military structures, such as the “Barkhane” force for training and MINUSMA for operational support, does not facilitate operational performance, either.

The G5 Sahel Joint Force was established following the activation, in 2014 of the G5 Sahel, a sub-regional organisation set up to deal with conflict management in the Sahel, when it seemed unlikely. Some analysts were already describing a “security traffic jam” in the region.

This concept emerged when Chad offered, but out of the G5 framework, additional forces, and AU a multinational brigade; the Chadian troops, briefly deployed in the “Three Borders Area” were called back due to the institutional crisis following the death of the President Deby, who fell fighting Islamist elements in his country (and who was replaced by his son); the AU brigade of 3,000 troops, despite being officially announced, was never deployed.

There is a wide range of stakeholders involved in conflict-management in the Sahel; but this multiple presence is based on uncertain approaches and weak actors, especially at the local level, where the G5 Member States may be easy labelled as “failed states” for their economic and social performances.

The multinational force of the G5, in theory formed by the elite elements of their respective armed forces, never reached an effective operational level, not even the ancillary roles of relieving the French forces of “Barkhane” and garrison duties of main urban areas and major communication axes.

Thus despite, an important flux of assets and finance (however not well coordinated) from donor countries, the local actors remain intrinsically weak, as noted by the strong report of a UN Security Council delegation visit in the region, in October 2021.

In the case of MINUSMA (UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission) in Mali—present in Mali since 2013—its work is hampered by the fact that its mandate is limited to the territory of Mali. With France’s withdrawal, the UN Security Council has announced an increase in personnel from 13,000 troops and 1,700 police officers to 17,300 to fill the territorial gaps created by the “Barkhane” withdrawal and to prevent security vacuums. But this risks falling, once again, in the typical mistake of UN-led peacekeeping missions, because of “Mission creep:/”Mandate creep.”

Further, the capability of MINUSMA is affected by divergent views of the Western major players in the area, France, and US, thus keeping the operation in a conceptual vacuum which does not help in formulating a proper approach, but only a limited confrontation to the Islamist insurgency.

The reduction/withdrawal of “Barkhane” worsened the burden on the Mission, and the future remains uncertain, without the permanence of MINUSMA, at least in the medium term.

However, as with the G5 Sahel Joint Force, MINUSMA suffers from lack of material, financial and intelligence capabilities; and the fact that its mission is exclusively to support the authorities and not fight counterinsurgency, make it difficult for it to replace the role of the French. Further, the mission’s effectiveness is threatened by the reduction and/or withdrawal of contingents from Western countries, leaving an additional burden on the poorly trained and equipped Third World country troops, who represent the bulk of the mission.

To better understand the current military (and political) stalemate which affects Mali and the region (and to be fair, it is not new), it is useful remember that in parallel deployment of “Serval,” the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) deployed, with the support of a NATO air bridge, the AFISMA (the African-led International Support Mission to Mali) sent to support Bamako against Islamist rebels in Northern Mali.
The mission was authorized with UN Security Council Resolution 2085, passed on 20 December 2012, which “authorizes the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali for an initial period of one year,” and which reached a peak of 8.000 troops (these troops, when MINUSMA was activated, were ‘re-hatted’ to blue berets).

On the other hand, there are regional armies and self-defence forces that have spontaneously emerged from within the civilian population because of the deteriorating security situation. Their performance falls far short of internationally accepted standards. And the Malian army’s overreaction against Fulani tribe civilians, accused of harbouring both JNIM and IS-GS militants, is having the opposite effect of increasing local recruitment and this has driven many in the population to seek protection from the jihadists. Indiscriminate attacks against the local population by government-affiliated forces, according to MINUSMA, has resulted in more civilian casualties than actual jihadist casualties by 2020.

In other cases, it is local communities that have set up rural self-defence militias, with the consent of the state, who then violently impose their own law. This situation has also spread to Niger, a large and poor country, currently threatened on five of its seven borders, by major jihadist groups. Niger is considered the best French alternative for deployment after the expulsion of its forces from Mali.

The “Alien”

As mentioned above, another actor that has emerged strongly in the security arena in recent years is Russia, which is increasingly active across Africa. But how has Moscow managed to push the French out of several countries that Paris lazily assumed were “acquis?”

A Wagner group financier, and the spearhead of Russian influence on the continent, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who made his fortune in the restaurant business, is one of the most important oligarchs within Putin’s entourage. Since hosting the first Russia-Africa summit in October 2019 (the next one is planned in November 2022) in Sochi, President Vladimir Putin has been striving to make his country play a leading role in Africa, extending geopolitical competition, as in the Cold War era.

In the Sahel, as before in Syria, Central African Republic and Libya, Russia has taken advantage of the insecurity and the vacuum created by the announcement of the departure of French forces from Mali, and is seeking to replace Paris’ influence there, and extend it in the region through regular and irregular means. To this end, its strategy, which began in December 2021, has relied on disinformation by facilitating the activities of the private military company (PMC) Wagner, linked to the Kremlin through the Ministry of Defence and the Federal Security Service (FSB), and by capitalising on a growing anti-French sentiment spreading across the region.

As in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, Wagner has taken advantage of the Malian junta’s turn towards Russia to secure regime protection services and security for senior Malian officials against any coup attempt, while securing significant financial benefits through financial and mineral concessions.

It should be recalled that Mali since independence (1960), was never a docile member of the so-called “FranceAfrique” and had an historical proximity with Moscow (before as USSR and now with the Russian Federation).

However, it cannot be assumed that the use of Wagner guarantees success, considering what happened in Libya, where 1,200 Russian mercenaries failed to deliver victory to Field Marshal Haftar, in his offensive against Tripoli, in the spring of 2020. Moreover, if we take into account their poor operational results in carrying out similar missions—for example, in 2019, against the Islamist insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province—and add to this the high legal and humanitarian costs they impose, including serious allegations of human rights violations, it could be concluded that Wagner is more of a tool to increase Russian areas of influence on the continent than an element to increase security and regional stabilisation. In any case, its influence on the region’s political future will depend greatly on the outcome of the war in Ukraine, where Russia’s attention is currently focused.

To What End?

The major transformations in the security situation in the Sahel in recent times, with the announcement of the “end of Barkhane,” the emergence of a strong regional hostility towards French policy and the multiplication of ad hoc agreements with JNIM-affiliated jihadist groups in both Mali and Burkina Faso, seem to pave the way for the relaunching of a possible negotiation at a national level, initially in Mali, but which could be extended to other countries affected by the Islamist insurgency.

Eventual negotiations would be favoured by a regional context in which jihadist groups have been able to exploit local grievances and bad governance—using rhetoric based on anti-colonialism—to stir up local sentiments, presenting themselves as indispensable actors to expel foreign forces.

To this end, JNIM’s recent willingness to enter into negotiations with the Malian state authorities seems to indicate a certain strategic flexibility, albeit based on a non-negotiable extremist ideological position on jihad, whether global or local. No matter how many setbacks and delays they suffer and no matter which regime they face, their mission to turn the Sahel into an Islamic emirate remains a priority.

This negotiating position, whose interlocutor is the terrorist leader Iyad Ag Ghali, is supported by Algeria, which is concerned about the evolution of the political and security situation among its southern neighbours, especially in Mali, and which has always been wary of the Barkhane operation, an anti-terrorist action led by the former colonial power.

Moreover, the G5 Sahel initiative, still supported by France, is also viewed with some caution by Algiers, which would have preferred the management of the continent’s security issues through the African Union and regional and bilateral collaboration between states, such as the Joint Operational Military Staff Committee (CEMOC) launched in 2010 and based in Tamanrasset.

Algeria, whose counter-terrorism policy has traditionally oscillated between the carrot and the stick—a counter-terrorism policy based on conventional operations, but leaving open the possibility of jihadists surrendering in exchange for some form of amnesty—now favours strengthening the JNIM vis-à-vis the CMA, albeit conditional on any agreement having the approval of Algiers, which looks with suspicious the idea of “Azawad.”

However, reaching a possible agreement does not seem to be an easy task. It would also require the current JNIM fighters to lay down their arms, something that can only happen if they are offered significant rewards through an ambitious disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) process, funded by the international community (UN?). In this scenario, it is quite possible that the IS-GS, a group that categorically rejects any dialogue, would attract all those disgruntled people who, for ideological or personal-interest reasons, will not accept a negotiation process with the governments.

Future Outlooks for Security in the Sahel

The outlook for security in the Sahel remains uncertain in the short to medium term. Jihadist groups have been demonstrating great resilience in adapting quickly to the dynamics of operations on the ground, even when faced with tactical defeats. Every time an African government has declared that a group is “defeated,” the claim has been disproved shortly afterwards. Military efforts to defeat them on the battlefield, the preferred option for restoring security, have been disappointing. The military efforts of French and local forces, despite having taken out many of the jihadist leaders, as well as regional initiatives, such as the G5 Sahel Joint Force, or military training provided by EUTM-Mali, have not yielded the expected results and, surprisingly, have failed to overcome local jihadist groups as reliable providers of security and services.

In this regard, experience over the years indicates that military strikes against jihadist organisations tend to displace them by forcing them to seek refuge, rather than eradicate them, so that once military pressure diminishes, they return stronger and expand further, unless the capabilities of the state, in which they have been operating, have substantially improved.

On the other hand, and regardless of the difference in approach or ideology, the new security reality in the Sahel is marked by the bitter rivalry between regional Islamic State and al-Qaeda franchises, exacerbated by pre-existing structural vulnerabilities, which have resulted in increased violence and conflict.

However, competition between the two branches of jihadism in the Sahel may be a favourable factor in the new context of French withdrawal and may contribute to the weakening of these groups and the depletion of their resources, effectively diluting the threat they pose.

But the opposite can also happen: direct competition for new recruits and the support of locals can lead to a “bidding up” process using increased levels of violence to demonstrate their commitment and relative power vis-à-vis the competing organisation. Such competition between jihadist groups can aggravate the insecurity situation by encouraging operational innovation, increasing recruitment and pushing civilians to choose sides, contributing to the prolongation of the conflict, as well as to the resilience and adaptability of competing groups. If this were to happen, it would further complicate the security landscape in an already fragile region.

Moreover, the change in the mechanism of Operation “Barkhane,” to delegate responsibility for counter-insurgency to local armies and “Takuba,” comes too late, and does so at a time when protests by local populations and the French authorities’ inability to communicate strategically are showing the limits of external military action.
It seems fundamental, therefore, in order to have a minimum guarantee of success, to achieve a greater “hybridisation” between international forces and local armies that avoids possible rejection, so that the former appear as a support element and not as those responsible for counter-insurgency action.

Finally, the progressive intromission of a new stakeholder (Russia) has changed the strategic view of the Western actors in the region, re-focusing their action to expelling Wagner from Mali so that Moscow does not gain influence in Burkina, Guinea, Niger and Chad.

Enrico Magnani, PhD is a UN officer who specializes in military history, politico-military affairs, peacekeeping and stability operations. (The opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations).

Is Islam Our Future? A Conversation With Jean-Louis Harouel

This conversation with the eminent French historian Jean-Louis Harouel examines the long-term consequences of multiculturalism, especially the settlement of large numbers of Muslims in the West. He is Professor Emeritus at Paris 2 University and the author of about twenty very important books, such as Les droits de l’homme contre le peuple (2016), which was translated into Italian and Hungarian. His most recent book is L’islam est-il notre avenir? (Paris, La Nouvelle Librairie, 2021), which forms the basis of this interview which is made possible through the courtesy of Breizh-Info.

Breizh-info (B-I): Yet another book on Islam, I am tempted to say. What did you want to bring to the debate on the Islamization of Europe?

Jean-Louis Harouel (J-L H): I wanted to say that it is totally unrealistic to let millions of Muslims reside on our territory who keep the ways of thinking and the morals of a Muslim country, and at the same time hope to continue to live in France and in Europe as we used to live there, while practicing a freedom of thought and expression proscribed by Islam. In many parts of its territory, France, which is the European nation with the largest number of Muslims on its soil, has today become a country other than France: a Muslim country. This is what Éric Zemmour recently felt when he returned to the northern suburbs where he had spent his childhood and concluded that we had changed countries: “We are no longer in the same country.”

I wanted to show that Islamist killings are a danger inherent in a massive Muslim presence. In a large Muslim population, there will inevitably be a percentage of people who will take Sharia law to the letter and want to kill infidels and blasphemers, as prescribed by certain passages of the Koran, or as the Prophet repeatedly urged his followers to do. The possibility of assassination as a punishment for freedom of thought, or other forms of impiety, is an inherent risk of Islam. The multiplication of this violence in France is the result of the fact that it has been allowed to become, in large parts of the land, a Muslim country. But, in a Muslim country, there is an obligation to show respect for Islam and offenders are severely punished.

Jean-Louis Harouel.

The beheading of Samuel Paty and the death threats against any teacher considered to be offensive to Islam are only the logical consequence of the insane situation in which political leaders have progressively trapped France over the last fifty years: welcoming millions of Muslims while scrupulously respecting their beliefs, and at the same time expecting them to adhere to a freedom of thought that Muslim law considers a crime and punishes with sentences that can go as far as death.

To try to keep our freedom of expression, and even more fundamentally the future of our existence as a people, there is only one way: to make sure that this Muslim country which was constituted on French soil is reintegrated into France, that it becomes French again. If we fail to do so, our very existence as a people will be compromised, because we will have allowed another civilization to snatch away our right to “historical continuity,” according to the beautiful formula of Bérénice Levet. We have known this since Valéry: our civilization can die because civilizations are mortal and history is their tomb. It is up to the peoples of Europe to decide whether they want to die or continue to live, and whether they are ready to do what it takes to do so.

B-I: Doesn’t the demographic question settle today, and in the medium term, the fate of Europe and Europeans in the face of an increasingly numerous Ummah?

J-L H: Indeed, it is demography that will be the key to our future and that will indicate to the Ummah whether or not France and other Western European countries have become fruit to be picked; whether they are ripe to fall almost of their own accord into the hands of Islam. It is well known that there has been a millenary Muslim will to conquer Europe. And it is by pushing back the conquering enterprises of Islam, or by freeing itself from the occupations that it had established (Spain and southern France, Sicily, Hungary, Balkans) that Europe succeeded in remaining Europe. Otherwise, it would have become in the field of civilization what it is geographically, i.e., a small corner of Asia.

Now, because of the extent of the Muslim presence on our soil, at a time when our capacity to resist is diminished by the submission of Western societies to the religion of human rights, there is no doubt that Western Europe has become once again what it was in the Middle Ages; that is to say, a land to be taken, a prey for Islam. This has been said in no uncertain terms by senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; but it is not only the Islamists who are to blame. Many Muslims who are considered moderate are also in this logic of patient, hushed, unspoken conquest. They know that demographics play in favor of Islam, thanks to the number of children born to Muslim women and the constant arrival of new Muslim immigrants. They know that sooner or later, the situation of Islam will be strong enough for it to somehow take over France and perhaps other European countries as well. If nothing is done in the meantime to reverse this process, the tipping of France and other Western European countries into the orbit of the Muslim world seems inevitable within a few decades.

B-I: Your book evokes the impossibility for the Muslim world to get rid of religion, which is intrinsically linked to it. In what way would what has been possible for other religions not be possible for Islam?

J-L H: In fact, the only religion that has fully experienced this phenomenon is Christianity, of which Marcel Gauchet wrote that it had historically been “the religion of the exit from religion.” Under the effect of the logic inherent in Christianity, and without this having prevented the maintenance of “a religious life at the scale of individuals,” European societies have progressively left “the religious structuring of societies.” This does not mean that the Church did not oppose this abandonment of “religion as structure” as much as it could. But, since Christianity is a religion exclusively turned towards spiritual ends, the Church has never directly punished irreligion with earthly sanctions. She has let the State do it for her. Only when the State freed itself from the Church and secularized itself, did it stop punishing the impious and the blasphemous. And since the Church could only inflict spiritual punishments on them, they ceased to be punished concretely.

In contrast to this process, Islam did not need the state to enact laws to punish the ungodly, since the Muslim holy texts contain a whole code of law that fulminates terrible punishments against bad Muslims. Thanks to the weapon of the allegedly divine penal law which it carries, Islam has from the outset protected itself against any challenge by threatening death to those who would challenge its dogmas and its hold on society.

B-L: You explain that it is fear that has allowed Islamic regimes to maintain themselves for centuries and centuries in the Muslim world. On the other hand, there are also examples of countries that have taken Islamists out of history, notably in the Arab world, again through fear and violence. Explain this to us.

J-L H: There are two very different things. On the one hand, some Arab rulers have indeed, without in the least questioning the prestige of Islam and its domination over society, used violence and fear against the Islamists, such as Nasser and then Sadat in Egypt, who was finally assassinated by them. And then, on the other hand, there is the repressive mechanism of the terrorist nature inherent to Islam, which protects it against the freedom of the spirit. And this concerns Islam considered as normal, as moderate compared to Islamism.

When, in 1981, in Sadat’s Egypt, one of his ministers of state calmly explained to the foreign press that the assassination of a Muslim who converted to another religion “does not go against the freedom of religion,” this statesman was not speaking as an extremist or an Islamist. He was simply giving the point of view of a good Muslim who knew his holy texts well. Islam locks human thought into a bigoted conformity to all the prescriptions and prohibitions laid down in the texts that Muslims claim to be divine law. From a Muslim point of view, there are many things one is not allowed to say or do. Breaking these rules is done at the risk of one’s life, as Muslim criminal law has prescribed penalties for these crimes that can go as far as death. As a result, with rare exceptions, intellectuals of Muslim origin have not dared to stand up openly against Islam, and Muslim societies have not experienced the great revolt against the domination of religion that characterized Christian societies in Europe from the 18th century onwards. Islam has been and remains preserved from all contestation by fear.

B-L: Is Europe, in all this, not finally a victim of the religion of human rights, which finally condemns a civilization to suicide, if nothing changes?

J-L.H: The tragedy of France and more generally of Western Europe comes from their adherence to a new utopia which is supposed to establish the reign of good on earth: the secular religion of human rights. This new avatar of the religion of humanity has taken over from the communist one, with the difference that the class struggle has been replaced by the fight against discrimination, but in the service of the same objective, which is the emancipation of humanity through the establishment of equality.

The religion of human rights is the basis of a fiercely anti-national ideology that has radically changed the content of democracy, which is now identified with the cult of the universal, with the obsession with openness to the other. As a fundamental principle of democracy, the sovereignty of the people has taken a back seat and has been replaced by the reign of the dogmas of the religion of human rights, with judges as their priests. In Western democracies, perverted by the religion of human rights, as in the former so-called democracy of the Soviet world, citizens are crushed by ideological taboos whose transgression is severely punished by criminal law: human rights totalitarianism has taken over from communist totalitarianism in the desire to prevent the Western individual from thinking and acting freely. Violating the founding disjunction of the West between politics and religion, this secular state religion deprives the French and more generally the Europeans of their liberties and forbids them to protect themselves against the invading presence of other peoples, other civilizations.

B-I: What optimism, what prospects do you offer to readers for our near future?

J-L H: The truth is, not much. We are in such a deadlock that it is not clear how we will get out of it. And this is because of the West’s submission to the dogmas of the official religion of human rights. Exerting a profoundly dissolving effect on European societies in the name of the hunt for discrimination, presenting cosmopolitanism as the absolute good, forbidding the European peoples to value and love each other, digging the demographic void of Europe by a strong incitement to abortion and filling this void by the arrival of populations mainly of African origin and of Muslim civilization, the religion of human rights is leading the Europeans to their own annihilation. And it is very difficult to reverse this suicidal mechanism, as long as this objectively disastrous state of affairs for the European peoples is perceived as just and good by government officials and by the globalized business community; as long as it is in conformity with the virtuously self-destructive morality that underlies the ideology promoted by the religion of human rights. Like the communist religion, it has taken over from, this secular religion forbids seeing reality and forces people to live in an imaginary world. As a result, good and evil are no longer defined by an understanding of reality, but by the ideals of this dream world. So that what was good has become evil, and vice versa. The measures in favor of immigration and the complacency for the Islamization of Europe being considered as good by the elites who govern us, one should obviously not count on them to fight them.

The only small note of hope that it is possible to introduce, in spite of everything concerning France, is the totally atypical way in which the pre-campaign for the presidential election is currently taking place there, due to the shock wave provoked by the probable candidate Éric Zemmour, with his unprecedented way of refusing all wooden language and calling things as they really are. He thus forced the candidates claiming to be from the governmental right to renounce their usual conformist preaching, in order to take a clear stand on the issues of immigration, Islamization, and the paralysis of political power by the priest-judges of the cult of human rights, both national and supranational.

Even, in this context of liberation of speech and thought, the president and future candidate Macron felt compelled to give to the Algerian leaders a speech of reality at the antipodes of the genuflections and repentant prostrations to which he had given himself up until now. In short, Zemmour has succeeded in a few weeks in doing what the National Rally to achieve despite all its efforts—forcing the political class to leave the imaginary world of human rights and return to the real world. This is crucial, because the process of the conquest of Europe by Islam can only be countered to the extent that it is recognized for what it is, and not perceived as a normal or even desirable phenomenon. This recent—but fragile—return to the world of reality is a welcome ray of light in the night that is falling on France.

And then, more fundamentally, a touch of optimism for Europe can be added to this gloomy picture, thanks to the realistic policies courageously pursued by several countries of the former communist bloc, foremost among them Hungary and Poland. Having suffered for half a century under the boot of communist totalitarianism, these peoples and their leaders are more capable than we are of perceiving the totalitarian and suicidal character of the religion of human rights that has taken over from it, so much so that they refuse the immigrationist ideology that it claims to impose on Europeans and that they are the basis of a resistance to the Islamization of Europe.

Featured image: “Héroïque fermeté de saint Louis à Damiette, mai 1250” (Heroic Resolve of Saint Louis at Damiette, May 1250), by Guillaume Guillon Lethière, painted in 1827.

Two Moorish Jesuits: Juan de Albotodo And Ignacio de las Casas

After the conquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs on January 2, 1492, the Muslim population that remained in the old Nasrid kingdom was a constant source of problems because of their lack of integration. After the War of the Alpujarras, between 1568 and 1571, the Muslim population was dispersed throughout the other kingdoms of Spain, until its definitive expulsion in 1609.

The Ignatian Moriscos

During this long century, the attempts at evangelization multiplied; but the authentic conversions were always sporadic, and even less numerous were the converts who entered into religion. Two of them were Juan de Albotodo (1527-1578), and his disciple Ignacio de las Casas (1550-1608), both Jesuits, followers of the project of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who wanted to assign a large number of Moorish religious to the evangelization of North Africa.

Miguel Ángel García Olmo, PhD in Cultural Anthropology, lawyer and philologist, author, among other works, of Las razones de la Inquisición española (The Reasons for the Spanish Inquisition) has written an essay on both these Jesuits Moriscos, which won him the Pascual Tamburri Bariain 2021 Prize, an award that furthers the legacy of Pascual Tamburri Bariain, professor, intellectual and journalist from Navarre, who died prematurely in 2017, at the age of 47.

The essay, published in issue 228 of Razón Española (a magazine founded in 1983 by Gonzalo Fernández de la Mora), and entitled, “The Ignatian Moriscos,” highlights Fathers Albotodo and Las Casas for their powerful personality and apostolic constancy, but also as an example of “the poor harvest that the Church was able to reap after a century of exhausting and disheartening sowing in the hermetic field of the Moorish soul.”

The converts from Islam to Christianity had a double merit: not only did they have to face their communities of origin, but also the reticence and mistrust of the Spanish society of their time, obsessed with the cleanliness of blood due to the presence of the Judaizers. When they then entered religion, their natural desire was to preach among their brethren.

Standard Of Charity

Albotodo, son of Moors and grandson of Moors, well expressed his intention to “preach especially to Moriscos and Moors… and to give tidings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is not known,” in gratitude for the “so great mercy and benefit” that he had received from Him with the light of faith.

On feast days he gave such tiding, in Arabic, in the Albaicín of Granada, where there were six thousand new Christian homes, to whose children he taught the Christian doctrine. His preaching in the neighborhood, or in his missions in the Alpujarras shocked his listeners, particularly the women, whose conversion was fundamental because they were the ones who, in the discretion of the home, transmitted the Mohammedan beliefs from generation to generation.

Father Albotodo was also devoted to charity; and thanks to his efforts, a hospital for the poor and a school for children and adolescents was opened, sponsored by the famous Archbishop Pedro Guerrero, a prominent figure in the Council of Trent. In its heyday, it had 550 students.

But what was the fruit of such an enormous apostolic effort? García Olmo points out the contrast between the triumphalist letters sent to Rome and the “growing pessimism” in the face of the “sterility of the colossal effort” which did not bear fruit.

The Jesuits considered shutting everything down, but Albotodo did not give up (supported by St. Francis of Borgia) and remained as the only priest in the neighborhood, assisted by five Jesuit brothers, until the final farewell in 1569, when the War of the Alpujarras completely changed the relationship with the Muslim community.

Support For The Crown

This community, which a few years earlier had asked for Jesuits for the neighborhood, conceived a “bitter resentment” towards them, because the sons of St. Ignatius, who knew the reality they were facing, had approved the military actions of the Crown against the Moorish uprisings. They made an attempt on the life of Albotodo, who escaped unharmed; and on Christmas Eve 1568 the Muslims assaulted the Jesuits’ house looking for him to kill him, from which he escaped at the last moment.

Although he supported the repression of the Moorish uprisings, Father Albotodo protected his relatives and obtained from Don Juan de Austria, in command of the royal forces, guarantees for their lives.

He then devoted himself to other apostolic work, among the prisoners, where he stood out; and there is a record of at least one conversion, that of a Moor condemned to death and executed in 1573.

Christianity And Islam: An Impossible Convergence

Father Ignacio de las Casas, a disciple of Albotodo, continued his work, although in a very different style. If the master had done the work mainly through charity, Casas devoted himself to an effective public defense of his people. He did so without any relativism, because in the same way that he advocated a deep and orderly study of the Koran to better approach his followers, he encouraged—in his words—to “hate and abhor the sect of the perverse Muhammad.”

In fact, in the famous polemic of the Plomos del Sacromonte he opposed any compromise between Catholicism and Islam. In 1595 some pages were discovered in a strange Latin mixed with Arabic that pretended to be a fifth gospel, with supposed revelations of the Blessed Virgin and of the Apostle Saint James, looking for a compromise between the Christian faith and Mohammedan beliefs. A forgery—probably the work of elite Moors anxious to reduce the tension between both communities—but this work did not deceive Las Casas.

Even so, he sought compassion rather than confrontation, and did not hesitate to make in his letters and writings, explains García Olmo, “an emotional and at the same time reasoned vindication of the moral qualities treasured by the Moorish people.” At the same time, he denounced the contradictions of the assimilationist policies of the Crown and the Church, which combined mass baptisms with “isolation” and “contempt” for the neophytes.


Las Casas, like Albotodo, was motivated by a sincere desire for an authentic conversion, thanks to a true catechesis, instead of a policy of pacts that was satisfied with the purely external submission of the Moriscos, only to have to subdue them by force when, resentful of their own double life, they rebelled. He himself went to the King and the Pope to censure this way of acting.

The truth is that the evangelizing work of Albotodo and Casas did not obtain the expected results, because of the closed resistance of their recipients, who ended up seeing the Jesuits as mere agents of power to strip them of their identity and their traditions.

And both men also understood and supported the subsequent decisions of the Crown when that stubborn resistance translated into open insubordination, accompanied by crimes and martyrdoms against Christians. Both men were good and zealous shepherds of souls—souls of the people to whom they belonged by blood—but they did not hide from the danger of interior Islam as a cancer of Christianity, the people to whom they belonged by faith.

Carmelo López-Arias is a Spanish historian and writer. This article through the kind courtesy of Religión en Libertad.

Featured image: “The Moorish Proselytes of Archbishop Ximenes, Granada, 1500,” by Edwin Long; painted in 1873.

The Claws Of The Sphinx: René Guénon And The Islamization Of The West


The profound historical and spiritual transformations that will determine the future of humanity are so distant from our media, from our university life, and generally from all public debates in this country, that what I am about to say in this article will certainly seem stratospheric and alien to immediate reality.

The incurably ill patient who groans in pain on a hospital bed is hardly interested, at that moment, in the medical, biochemical, and pharmacological controversies that are going on in distant countries and in languages he doesn’t know, but from which may come, one day, the cure for his disease. What is most closely related to his destiny seems distant, abstract, and alien to his pain.

Those who are interested in the future of Brazil should pay attention to what I am going to tell you here; but it will be very difficult to make them see that one has something to do with the other.

I will start by analyzing the review of an author unknown in this country [Brazil] who is reviewing the book of another author equally ignored here.

The book is False Dawn: The United Religions Initiative, Globalism, and the Quest for a One-World Religion, by Lee Penn, which I have recommended many times but few have read it, because it is a long and boring tome. The reviewer is Charles Upton, author of The System of the Antichrist, which has been even less read, which I have also recommended but with less emphasis and constancy. The review was published in a more recent book by Upton, Findings: In Metaphysic, Path, and Lore, A Response to the Traditionalist/Perennialist School.

Lee Penn’s book describes and documents, with an abundance of primary sources, the formation and development of a bionic world religion, with all the characteristics of a satanic parody, under the auspices of the UN, the US government, virtually all the major Western media, and a handful of the mega-wealthy. Started in 1995 by William Swing, bishop of the Episcopal Church, under the name, United Religions Initiative [URI], although unofficially it had existed since much earlier (going back to the Lucis Trust, founded in 1922 by Alice Bailey), the enterprise, sustained by incalculably vast financial resources and backed by a whole cast of show business and political stars, has even won the informal support of Pope Francis.

With the beautiful goal of creating “a world of peace, sustained by engaged and interconnected communities committed to respect for diversity, non-violent resolution of conflicts, and social, political, economic, and environmental justice,” the movement brings together, in festive so-called “ecumenical” celebrations, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Animists, Spiritists, Theosophists, Ba’hais, Sikhs, followers of New Age, Wicca, Satanism, Reverend Moon, Hare Krishna and any indigenous or ufological cult that presents itself, and giving to everything a sense of universal brotherhood that blurs with smiles of mutual condescension the most obvious and insurmountable incompatibilities among these various beliefs.

All religions and pseudo-religions added together, merged and mutually neutralized, are thus reduced to an auxiliary instrument of the globalist project, aimed at creating a World Government.

Roughly speaking, the ideology that sticks these heterogeneous and irreconcilable elements together is the low brow universalism of the “New Age,” which, copying badly the language of the Hindu tradition, proclaims that all religions are nothing more than local and accidental aspects assumed by a single Primordial Revelation, from which it follows that, by this or that path, everyone will reach the highest stages of human or even superhuman spiritual realization sooner or later.

This ideology had precursors in the 19th century, such as Allan Kardec, Helena Petrovna Blavatski, the famous Theosophist and—literally—pickpocket, Jules Doinel, founder of the French Gnostic Church (1890), Gerard Encausse, better known as “Papus,” Jean Bricaud, and, in general, all the components of the movement which was to be called “occultist.”

This “universalism,” which at the beginning of the 20th century sounded only like an exotic fantasy, ended up penetrating so deeply into the common sense of the multitudes that today the equivalence of all religions in dignity and value is a dogma subscribed to by all the great world media, by the parliaments, by the legislations of almost all countries, and by most of the religious authorities themselves.

Far from being a spontaneous phenomenon, this radical transformation of collective beliefs reflects the incessant work of the omnipresent agents of URI, to whose interference no socially relevant organization is immune.

It is not necessary, therefore, to emphasize the importance of this project within globalist plans, nor, of course, is it possible to deny the value of Lee Penn’s work in gathering and sorting out more than enough documentation to prove the unity of inspiration and strategy behind phenomena that to the lay observer may seem scattered and unconnected.

The reviewer, Charles Upton, praises the merits of the book and adds a clarification that, he says, he had already transmitted personally to the author, with his full agreement.

The clarification is this: the parodic “universalism” of New Age and URI should not be confused with the high-brow universalism of the so-called “traditionalist” or “perenialist” school inspired by René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and their continuators.

It’s true. They are very different. Long beforehand, the founder of the school, René Guénon, had already subjected to devastating critical analysis the entire “occult” ideology that decades later would come to form the doctrinal basis—if one can use the term—of “New Age” and URI.

A member and even bishop of the Gnostic Church in his youth, Guénon soon came out swinging and took no prisoners. Nor did he leave intact the spiritualism of Allan Kardec, the theosophy of Madame Blavatski, and a thousand and one other movements in which Guénon saw the very embodiment of what he called “pseudo-initiation” and “counter-initiation”—the former constituting the simian imitation of spirituality, the latter its satanic inversion.

In fact, the contrast between the universalism of URI and that of the Guenonian-Schuonian current goes far beyond the mere difference between low-brow and high-brow, although this difference is obvious to anyone who compares them.

On one side we see a pastiche of inconsequential syncretisms, reinforced by some sentimental or futuristic humanitarian rhetoric (sometimes “progressive,” sometimes “conservative,” to please everyone) and adorned at most, here and there, by the superficial adherence of some fashionable writer, like Aldous Huxley and Allan Watts.

On the other side, sophisticated intellectual constructions, a deep and organized understanding of the religious and esoteric symbols of all traditions, a full command of the revealed sources, and a comparative technique that approaches, in precision, almost an exact science. In addition, some of the most consistent analyses of the civilizational crisis of the West in its various expressions: cultural, social, artistic, etc.

The difference is obvious to any educated reader. In contrast with the syncretistic mix of the “New Age,” we have here a universalism, in the strong sense of the word, a comprehensive and ordering vision that not only grasps with extreme sharpness the common points between the various spiritual cosmo-visions, but gives the reason and basis for their diversity, so that to this articulation of the one and the multiple is subordinated, in fact, the entire universal history of ideas and beliefs, theories and practices. In a word: everything that the human being has done and thought in his journey on Earth. There is practically nothing, no phenomenon, no thought, no fabulous or inauspicious event, that somehow does not find some efficient and persuasive, if not irrefutably certain, “perennialist” explanation.

From the point of view of the ordinary seeker who, coming from revolutionary, modernist and atheistic circles, is alerted to the importance of “spiritual” themes and, after a temporary illusion with the “New Age,” becomes disillusioned with its superficiality and goes in search of more nourishing food, the passage to the traditionalism of Guénon and Schuon is a formidable intellectual upgrade, an unculturating impact, almost an inner transfiguration that will suddenly isolate him from the surrounding mental environment, marked at one time by the discredit of religions and the endless vulgarity of omnipresent occultism, and will leave him alone, face-to-face with his conscience. Thus is fulfilled, on the individual scale, the famous prophecy issued by an anonymous biographer of René Guénon soon after the master’s death:

“The time will come when each one, alone, deprived of all material contact that can help him in his inner resistance, will have to find in himself, and only in himself, the means to adhere firmly, through the center of his existence, to the Lord of all Truth.”

Rare, very rare are those who reach this point—most fall by the wayside—but for those who do, it is difficult to resist the impulse to make personal contact with Guenonian and Schuonian circles, in search of relief, support and guidance. It is by this process of spontaneous selection that the “intellectual elite” is formed, which, as we shall see later on, Guénon had in view in the 1924 book East and West.

For it is clear that among the various worldviews in struggle, the most comprehensive one, which absorbs and explains all the others, is at the top. It is the summit of the consciousness of an age, the nec plus ultra of intelligence and the intelligible.

What gives even more authority to the Perenialist teaching is the repeated affirmation by its expounders that it is not their invention, but the mere transfer, in current theoretical language, of immemorial revelations that go back to a single original Source, the Primordial Tradition. An affirmation identical, on the surface, to that of the “New Age” proponents, but now based on a superabundance of documental proofs, rational arguments, and an organized science of universal symbolism and comparatism, from which are born intellectually dazzling tours de force such as René Guénon’s Symbols of Sacred Science and A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom, by Whitall N. Perry, one of F. Schuon’s closest collaborators in the USA. Schuon in the USA, a monumental collection of sacred texts organized in such a way as to illustrate, beyond any reasonable doubt, the essential convergence of the doctrines and symbols of the great religious and spiritual traditions, the “Transcendent Unity of Religions,” as Schuon called it in the title of a book that none other than T. S. Eliot considered the greatest achievement of all times in the field of comparative religion.

Any resemblance to the “universalism” of URI is misleading.

In the first place, all the Perenialists, without exception, insist that the doctrines, symbols and rites of the various traditions in particular, although they always point to a supreme Reality which is the same in all cases, have their own integrity, and cannot be subject to fusion, mixture or syncretism. In other words: they cannot undergo the kind of unifying operation that precisely characterizes the “New Age.”

Secondly, not everything that presents itself under the name of religion, spirituality, esotericism or the like can enter this synthesis. On the contrary, the precise, strict and even intolerant distinction between Tradition, Pseudo-Tradition and Antitradition is common to all Perenialists. Much of the material compacted in the “New Age” falls into these last two categories; and, far from integrating the unity of the primordial source, represents the parody or negation of everything that comes from it.

Third and most important, the transcendent unity of religions is really transcendent, not immanent. The religions there are unified only by the top, the summit and the living core of their doctrinal conceptions, and not by the irreducible variety of their liturgies, their moral codes and their different “paths” of spiritual realization. And where, precisely, is this core and summit? It is in their respective metaphysical conceptions, which are in fact convergent, as the simple collection organized by Whitall Perry suffices to show beyond all possibility of controversy. In this sense, religions and spiritual traditions can be seen, without distortion, as adaptations of the same Primordial Truth to the historical, cultural, linguistic and psychological conditions of various times, places and civilizations. The various exotericisms reflect, in their differences, the unity of the same primordial esotericism. Those who have clearly grasped the unity of this esotericism have intellectually overcome the difference between religions; but since they are not made of pure intellect and still have a historical-temporal existence as flesh and blood people, they remain subordinated to their respective religious tradition, without being able to merge or mix it with any other. The classic example is the great Sufi master Muhyi-al-din Ibn’ Arabi. Explicitly stating that his heart could assume all forms—that of the Hindu Brahman, that of the Kabbalist Rabbi, that of the Christian monk, or any other—he remained, in his life as a real and concrete individual, entirely faithful to the strictest Islamic orthodoxy.

But that’s where the trouble starts.


This conception demands, besides the “horizontal” differentiation between the various traditions in time and space, a “vertical” or hierarchical distinction between the “inferior” and “superior” parts of each one. The “lower,” or exoteric, parts are historically conditioned, and by them the traditions move away from each other to the point of mutual hostility and total incompatibility. The “higher,” esoteric parts, reflect the unchanging eternity of Truth, where all traditions converge and meet.

There is, in short, a popular religion, made up of rites and rules of conduct, equal for all members of the community; and an elite religion, only for “qualified” people, who behind the symbols and laws can grasp the ultimate “meaning” of revelation. By practicing the aggregation rites that integrate them into the religious tradition, and by obeying the rules, the men of the people obtain the post-mortem “salvation” of their souls. Through initiation rites, the members of the elite obtain in life, and far beyond mere “salvation,” the spiritual realization that takes them away from the simple “individual state” of existence to transfigure them into the Ultimate Reality itself, or God.

It is good not to talk too much about these things before the general public, who may be scandalized by the decipherment of a mystery that must remain opaque for their own spiritual protection. The story of the Sufi Mansur Al-Hallaj (858-922) is well known, who after reaching the ultimate “spiritual realization,” came out shouting “Ana al-Haqq!” (“I am the Truth”) and was beheaded by the exoteric authorities. Al-Haqq does not only mean “the truth” in the generic and abstract sense. It is one of the ninety-nine “Names of God” printed in the Koran, so that Al-Hallaj’s statement was literally equivalent to “I am God.” From the point of view of esoteric orthodoxy, this resulted in denying the Koranic principle of the oneness of God, and constituted a crime that was punished by death. Later Islamic jurists admitted that statements made by Sufis in a state of “mystical rapture” escaped the purview of ordinary justice and were to be accepted as undecipherable mysteries.

In the explicit, legal, and official sense, the distinction between exotericism and esotericism exists only in one tradition: Islam. It corresponds to the distinction between shari’ah and tariqat. On one side, the religious law obligatory for all; on the other, the spiritual “way,” of free choice, only for interested and gifted people. The application of this distinction to all other traditions is merely suggestive or analogical—a figure of speech, not a proper descriptive concept. With that the whole edifice of “perenialism” begins to sway a bit.

Are there, for example, exoterism and esoterism in the Hindu tradition, precisely the one whose vocabulary René Guénon uses most frequently, because he thinks that Hinduism has achieved maximum clarity in the exposition of metaphysical doctrine? Evidently not. The caste distinction is something completely different. First, because entry into the upper caste is not free choice: the subject is born shudra, vaishia, kshatryia or brâhmana and remains so forever. Second, because accidentally members of the lower castes can reach the highest levels of spiritual attainment without changing caste. Third, because there is nothing secret or discreet about the upper caste rites, or brâhmana: any Joe-Shmo can know about them; he is just not allowed to practice them.

Is there such a thing as “Christian esotericism?” Things get formidably complicated. There were and there are, here and there, esoteric organizations professing to be Christian and which, by means of special rites, different from the sacraments of the Church, transmit initiations. The Companionship, the Fedeli d’Amore, Freemasonry and the Templar Order are examples. More modernly, numerous occultists, such as Madame Blavatski, Rudolf Steiner and Georges Ivanovich Gurdjieff have presented their teachings as modalities of Christian esotericism.

But there remain a few facts that are enough to demolish these claims.

First of all, there is no trace of any Christian esoteric organization in the first ten centuries of the Church. Secondly, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself stated flatly, “I have taught nothing in secret.” Even His parables, whose meaning was not immediately evident to everyone, were spoken in public, not to a reserved circle. How is it possible then that the core of the Savior’s teaching was kept secret for ten—or twenty—centuries?

In contrast, in Islam the difference between exotericism and esotericism is clear from the very first moment. Upon seeing a group of the Prophet’s companions practicing certain strange rites, different from the five daily prayers, the faithful went to ask him what they were about. He explained that they were voluntary devotions, meritorious but not obligatory. This was the first sign of the existence of tasawwuf or “Sufism,” Islamic esotericism.

Third, and most decisive: the sacraments of the Church are not mere “rites of aggregation.” They are initiatory in their own right. They give access not only to the community of the faithful—or to their “egregora” or collective consciousness—but, Deo juvante, to the most intimate knowledge of the Ultimate Reality to which a human being can aspire. “It is no longer I who exist,” says the Apostle, “it is Christ who exists in me.”

John Paul II, in his Catechism, explicitly states that the sacraments are the steps “of Christian initiation;” and it is inconceivable that in such a formally doctrinal text he would use the term as a mere figure of speech.

Father Juan González Arintero, in two memorable books that probably constitute the summit of mystical literature in the 20th century, demonstrates with abundant arguments and examples that the way of the sacraments was opened precisely to give everyone, without exception, access to the highest levels of spiritual realization. The distinction between exoteric and esoteric is only used here as a metaphor to designate the different spiritual benefit obtained by this or that individual according to his aptitudes, his commitment and the movements of divine Grace.

All Christians who have received the sacraments are, therefore, initiates, in the strict sense that perenialism gives to this word. The difference between the various spiritual results obtained can be explained by a concept developed by René Guénon himself, that of virtual initiation. Not all initiation rites immediately produce their corresponding spiritual results. These effects may remain withheld for a long time until some external factor—or the evolution of the recipient itself—calls them into full manifestation.

To complicate things a little further, Schuon himself recognized that the Christian sacraments had initiatory scope. For one to appreciate how thorny this question is for the Perenialist school, it is enough to recall that, when Schuon’s opinion on the subject was published, Guénon reacted with indignation and fury, even breaking off relations with his disciple and continuator.

Guénon continued to maintain that the Christian sacraments were only rites of aggregation and that authentic initiations only existed in certain secret or discrete organizations, such as the Companionship or Freemasonry. To support this thesis, he invented one of the most artificial historical hypotheses anyone has ever seen—that Christianity initially emerged as an esotericism; but in view of the general decadence of Greco-Roman religion, it was forced ex post facto to popularize itself, eventually being reduced to an exotericism. There is absolutely no sign that this ever happened. Quite the contrary, Jesus spoke openly to the crowds from the very beginning of His preaching, and the sacraments have not undergone any substantial changes in form or content over the ages. Whatever his errors may have been in other areas, on this point Schuon was right.

It is also only as a figure of speech that the distinction of exoterism and esoterism—or of aggregation rites and initiation rites—can apply to Judaism, since the cabalistic mystery cultists there are none other than the very priests of the official cult.

So inappropriate is the application of this pair of concepts to extra-Islamic territory that members of the Perennialist school itself have ended up having to acknowledge the existence of “exo-esoteric” and even “exoteric” initiations alongside the properly “esoteric” ones, which is enough to show that these concepts serve little purpose.

Guénon’s lack of reasonable arguments, and his disproportionate reaction to what could have been a discussion among friends, suggest that in this episode he might have been hiding something. Unable to argue clearly, he appealed to an absurd hypothesis and tried to reduce the interlocutor to silence by a display of authority, which Schuon politely rejected.

What was the reason why Guénon would have chosen to forcibly fit all traditions into a pair of concepts that did not properly apply to any of them except Islam in particular? Why did this man, so judicious in everything else, allow himself such arbitrariness, thus putting himself in a vulnerable position that was jeopardized as soon as Schuon raised the question of sacramental initiations? He almost certainly had reasons for doing so which, at least at that time, could not be openly discussed.

But even before clarifying this point, another question needs to be raised.


That materially different traditions converge toward the same set of metaphysical principles is something that can no longer be seriously doubted. The thesis of the Transcendent Unity of Religions is victorious in every respect.

There is only one detail: What exactly is metaphysics? I do not use the term as the denomination of an academic discipline, but in the very special and precise sense that it has in the works of Guénon and Schuon. What is metaphysics? It is the structure of universal reality, which descends from the infinite and eternal First Principle to its innumerable reflections in the manifested world, through a series of levels or planes of existence.

The fact that it is essentially the same in all traditions indicates that there is a normal perception of the basic structure of reality, common to all men, of any age or culture.

This perception requires a clear consciousness, or at least a presentiment of the scalarity of reality, that is, of the distinctions between different planes or levels of reality, from the sensible objects of immediate perception to the ultimate Reality, the absolute, eternal, immutable and infinite Principle, passing through a series of intermediate degrees: historical, terrestrial, cosmic, angelic, etc.

The perfect submission of human subjectivity to this structure is implied in all traditions as a conditio sine qua non of religious life and, even more so, of spiritual realization. Its denial, mutilation or alteration is the root of all the errors and follies of humanity.

This is why Schuon proposes a distinction between essential heresy and accidental heresy. The word “heresy” comes from a Greek root that has the meanings of “to choose” and “to decide.” A heresiarch is someone who, of his own volition, chooses from the total truth the parts that interest him and ignores the others.

Accidental heresy, according to Schuon, is the denial, mutilation or alteration of the canons of a particular tradition, such as monophysitism in Christianity (the theory that Jesus had only divine nature, not human nature) or associationism in Islam (associating God with other beings).

Essential heresy is the denial, mutilation or alteration of the very fabric of reality—an error, therefore, condemned not only by this or that particular tradition, but by all of them. Materialism or relativism, for example.

This is all very well, but there is a logical problem. If metaphysics is common to all traditions, how can it be the top and supreme perfection of each of them? By definition, the perfection of a species cannot be in its genus—it has to be in its specific difference. The perfection of the lion and the flea cannot reside in the simple fact that they are both animals.

It is admissible that in the individual’s initiatory climb, the arrival at the Supreme Reality, which raises him above his individual state and absorbs him into the very Being of divinity, is the culmination of his efforts. It would also correspond, according to perenialism, to the moment when the differences between spiritual traditions are definitively transcended, while continuing to apply to the empirical existence of the initiate on the earthly plane. It is Muhyi-al-din Ibn ‘Arabi being Christian, Zoroastrian or Jewish “inside,” without ceasing to be orthodoxly Muslim “outside.”

But, for this very reason, metaphysics can only be the culmination of traditions, as such, if we accept an indistinction between the order of Being and the order of knowing, which, according to Aristotle, are inverses. The top of the initiation ladder cannot be, at the same time, the culmination of religions because, being common to all of them, it is only the genus to which they belong and not the supreme perfection specific to each one.

More reasonable would be to suppose that the primordial Tradition is the common basis not only of all spiritual traditions, but of all cultures and, ultimately, of the core of sound intelligence present in all human beings. Starting from this base, or origin, the various traditions develop in different directions, each seeking to reflect more perfectly the absolute Principle and to give men the means of returning to it. In this sense, the culmination of each tradition is not the Principle itself, but the success it achieves in the operation of return. And there is no reason to suppose that, of the various species, all express equally well the perfection of the genus: fleas and lions are equally animal’ but the flea does not express the perfection of animality as well as the lion, to say nothing of the human being.

Schuon asserts that the claim of each religion to be “better” than the others is only justified by the fact that they are all “legitimate;” that is, they reflect in their own way the Primordial Tradition; but that, seen on the scale of eternity and the absolute, this claim is illusory. However, if the perfection of a species cannot reside in its genus alone, but rather in its specific difference, there is no reason to take for granted that all species equally represent the perfection of the genus. All religions refer to a Primordial Tradition. Five, but do they all represent it equally well? The question is entirely legitimate; and nowhere has the Perenialist school offered—or tried to offer—an acceptable answer to it. In fact, it has not even asked the question. Will we find even in these high places the phenomenon of the “ban on asking” that Eric Voegelin discerned in mass ideologies?


“The generation of the Traditionalist School gathered around Frithjof Schuon,” writes Charles Upton, “presented and revealed the religions in their celestial essences, sub specie æternitatis.”

If the celestial essences of the religions are substantially the same, the difference between them is purely terrestrial and contingent; the particular forms of each having nothing sacred in themselves, without the nourishment they receive from the Primordial Tradition: only the one, the Religio Perennis, is true in the strictest sense. The others are symbols or imperfect appearances of it, clothed in its various earthly incarnations.

But,” continues Upton, “these revelations are considered branches of the Primordial Tradition; but this Tradition is not presently in force as a religious system; it is not a religion that can be practiced. The only viable spiritual paths exist in the form of—or within—the present living revelations: Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”

But these paths lead only to “salvation” in a post-mortem life. To climb a little higher in the present life, one must, without abandoning them, join an esoteric organization and practice, besides the rites and commandments of the popular religion, some special rites and commandments of an initiatory character.

In other words, popular religion is a certificate of qualification required of the postulant at the entrance to the initiation path. For the Muslim, this is not a big problem. Although they have a separate existence, tariqas (turuq in Arabic) are generally recognized as legitimate by the official religion, so that the interested believer can move freely between the two types of practices.

For the Hindu, this is not a problem either; even though there is no proper Hindu esotericism, Hinduism accepts and absorbs all the practices of other religions, so that—apart from the political conflicts between Hindus and Muslims—nothing prevents a Hindu from joining a tariqa, Freemasonry, a Chinese Triad, or any other esoteric organization without changing his status in his society of origin.

In the case of a Catholic, however, things get complicated. According to Guénon, all Christian initiation organizations disappeared after the Middle Ages, leaving the poor faithful limited to a spiritually capricious exotericism. All that remained were the remnants of extinct organizations and… Freemasonry.

It turns out that a sentence of Pope Clement XII, in 1738, condemned to automatic excommunication any faithful Catholic who affiliated with Freemasonry (or any other secret society). The decision was reinforced by Pope Leo X in 1890 and formalized by the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The new Code of Pope John Paul II, in 1983, spoke only of “secret societies,” without mentioning Freemasonry by name, which briefly gave the impression that the excommunication had been suspended, until the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in November of that same year, clarified that this was not the case at all; that the prohibition to join Freemasonry remained in force.

In other words, the faithful Catholic who read René Guénon and believed in him, seeing in the loss of the initiatory dimension the root of all the evils of the modern world, was pressed to the wall by the choice between giving up esotericism once and for all, being content with exotericism more and more reduced to an external moralism, or seeking Masonic initiation and being excommunicated; that is, losing the exoteric affiliation which, according to Guénon himself, was the conditio sine qua non for entering esotericism.

The conflict was not only of a legal order. Although it had remote origins in professedly Christian esoteric organizations, Freemasonry had become, in various parts of the world, an ostensibly and violently anti-Catholic force, encouraging persecutions and killings of Catholics, especially in France (during the Revolution and then again in the early 20th century); in Mexico (where this provoked the Cristero War); and in Spain, where, with the barely disguised connivance of the Masonic republican government, priests and the faithful were killed in large numbers, and many churches destroyed even before the Civil War broke out.

That is to say: the Catholic who affiliated with Freemasonry not only incurred automatic excommunication, but became a traitor to his murdered coreligionists.

Catholic Guenonians like Jean Tourniac went to great lengths to prove that Masonic doctrines were compatible with Catholicism; but, of course, this remained theoretical. Talks between Catholic and Masonic leaders in search of an agreement came to nothing. Excommunication was still in force, and the moral hazard was still very high.

Beginning in the 1960s, when these problems began to become the subject of more open discussion in the circles of those interested in traditionalism, the perenialist group began to suggest to the trapped Catholic the following possible solutions:

  1. Drop everything and convert to Islam.
  2. Seek shelter in the Russian Orthodox Church, where there is still a residue of esotericism and whose sacraments, after all, are accepted as valid by the Catholic Church.
  3. Join the multi-faith tariqa of Schuon, where you can practice Islamic initiation rites without formal conversion and while keeping at a prudent distance from exoteric Muslims.

The first option was certainly the most traumatic. After all, Schuon himself had written that “changing religion is not like changing country—it is like changing planet.”

The second was more comfortable, but it ran into an obstacle that I have never seen any Perenialist author even mention—the Russian Orthodox Church was infested with KGB agents, and it was almost impossible for the newcomer to find his way through that savage jungle of conspiracies and pretenses. Not coincidentally, the KGB was at that very moment organizing and training Islamic terrorist organizations for war against the Christian West.

That left the third, the easiest and most natural. Schuon’s tariqa was, in fact, full of members of Catholic origin—starting with Schuon himself and some of his closest collaborators, such as Martin Lings, Titus Burckhardt, and Rama P. Coomaraswamy, of whom the first two converted to Islam, the third remained a Catholic at least in public, while still paying the sheikh the statutory vow of total obedience required in the tariqas.

In the souls of those who remained Catholics—ex professo or in heart only—the plan that René Guénon had been outlining for the entire West since 1924 was thus being realized on a microscopic scale.


After describing with the somber colors of a genuine Apocalypse the spiritual degradation of civilization in the West, attributing it to the loss of the “true metaphysics” and the links between the Catholic Church and the Primordial Tradition (links that could only have been maintained through initiatory organizations), René Guénon foresaw three possible developments for the state of affairs in the West:

  1. The definitive fall into barbarism.
  2. The restoration of Catholic tradition, under the discreet guidance of Islamic spiritual masters.
  3. Total Islamization, either through infiltration and propaganda or through military occupation.

These three options were basically reduced to two: either a plunge into barbarism or submission to Islam, either discreetly or ostentatiously.

The outbreak of World War II seemed to show that the West preferred the first option’ and it is an ironic detail that important Islamic religious authorities gave the Führer their full support, especially on the question of the extermination of the Jews. Macabre coincidence or self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t know.

After the War, the close collaboration between Islamic governments and Communist regimes in the joint anti-Western effort came to be so notorious that there is no need to dwell on this point. It is also worth remembering that today the world left, which is committed to corrupting the West “until it stinks,” as André Breton advocated, is the same one that ostensibly supports the Muslim occupation of the West through mass immigration, as well as boycotting by all means any serious effort to combat Islamic terrorism, so that there is between the two blocs a kind of Leninist agreement to “foster corruption and denounce it.” Again, the same question from the previous paragraph applies, with the same answer.

For the aspirant from a Catholic background, all the tariqa offered was the choice between becoming a Muslim or being a Catholic under Muslim guidance. The same choice that Guénon was offering to the entire Western world.

I believe that this makes Guénon’s intention to squeeze all religions, especially the Christian one, into the forced mold of an Islamic descriptive concept, the exoterism-esoterism distinction, clearer. Indeed, how can one dominate an entire civilization without first framing it within the intellectual coordinate system of the dominating civilization, where it will cease to be an autonomous totality to become part of a comprehensive map? It is also obvious that it was not enough to do this in theory; the most valuable, most intellectually active elements of the target civilization’s elite had to be won over to this new view of things. Only when the latter began to understand themselves in the dominator’s terms, instead of their own, would they be ripe to accept, without further reaction, a wider operation of cultural occupation. All the more so because the reduction of Christianity to the binomial exoterism-esoterism, accompanied by the gloomy diagnosis of the loss of the esoteric dimension, inexorably culminated in the conclusion that the “restoration of Christianity,” of its connections with the Primordial Tradition and therefore of the higher dimensions of its spirituality, could only take place under the direction of a “living esotericism,” that is, Sufism. To use Guénon’s own terms, it was necessary to submit the West to the “spiritual authority” of Islam before submitting it to its “temporal power.”

Schuon’s theory that the Christian sacraments retained their initiatory power seemed to mitigate somewhat the force of the Islamizing argument, but in fact it did not do so at all. Without the proper spiritual instruction, which only a “living esotericism” could offer him, the bearer of a “virtual initiation” remained unaware of having received it and not only remained paralyzed in the middle of the initiation climb, but risked, as a result, suffering all sorts of spiritual and psychic disturbances. Only Sufi spirituality—embodied, in this case, in the person of Schuon—could save Catholics from themselves.

The Islamization of the West—discreet or overt, peaceful or violent—is the central, and indeed the only, objective of René Guénon’s entire work. The entire work converges on this goal, not as a mere logical conclusion, but as a kind of only way out to which the reader—and, ideally, the entire West—is being led, within the walls of a labyrinthine construction, by a sense of inexorable fatality. Apart from this objective, his work is nothing more than a collection of purposeless theoretical speculations, an edifice of beautiful and unrealizable spiritual possibilities, which he always denied.

If an explicit confession were necessary to confirm this, it would suffice to recall that at the very moment when Schuon was returning from Algeria with the title of “sheikh,” vaunting his intention to “Islamize Europe,” Guénon declared that the foundation of Schuon’s tariqa in Lausanne, Switzerland, was the first and only fruit produced by his decades-long effort.


What can make this goal nebulous or even invisible to the public eye are two factors:

First: Guénon repeatedly affirmed his total contempt for any political activity, current, or ideology, assuring that his interests had nothing to do with the struggle for power, and his turn exclusively to the sphere of the spiritual and the eternal. This seems to place him, in the eyes of many, incomparably above the current dispute between Islamic countries and the West.

This way of seeing is not exactly false, it is just empty. It is obvious that Guénon is not disputing political power. He is disputing something that is infinitely above it and of which, as he himself explains, political power is only a secondary, almost negligible, reflection—he is disputing spiritual authority. He is disputing with the Catholic Church, placing himself far above it and claiming to guide it from the sublime heights of Sufi spirituality (not necessarily in person, of course).

He is very explicit on this point. The Catholic Church, at some point in its history, he says, has lost contact with the Primordial Tradition and no longer even has an understanding of the “higher parts” of metaphysics; it stops at pure ontology, or theory of Being, without penetrating the supreme mysteries of Nonbeing (Schuon prefers to say “Suprabeing”).

I have already explained on other occasions what seems to me to be the intrinsic absurdity of the doctrine of Non-Being, and I will not return to this subject here. What matters for the moment is to point out that, according to Guénon, Catholicism, from this initial mutilation, came to decline sharply until it was reduced to a mere sentimental devotion for the masses.

Since only those who can raise it from this abyss are the ones who still possess the original connection with the Primordial Tradition, it is evident that the salvation of the Church and, through her, of the entire West, can only come from outside. From where, precisely?

Not from Buddhism, since Guénon does not even consider it a fully valid tradition.

Nor from Hinduism, because it cannot be practiced outside India nor by anyone who is not of Indian nationality. All that Hinduism can provide is a deeper understanding of metaphysical doctrine—and indeed Guénon resorts abundantly to Hindu texts for this—but mere theoretical understanding, while indispensable, cannot by itself even remotely provide authentic “metaphysical realization.”

Of Judaism, even less so, for it would be inconceivable that the Church, having been born of it, would return to its mother’s womb without ipso facto annulling itself and ceasing to exist.

From Freemasonry? Impossible, not only because of the incompatibilities pointed out above and never overcome, but because, according to Guénon, Masonic initiations are only of “Small Mysteries,” secrets of the cosmos and society that do not even remotely touch the heights of the supreme metaphysical realization, the “Great Mysteries.”

From obstacle to obstacle—there is no need to examine all the alternatives—the inexorable conclusion is that the labyrinth of impossibilities has only one way out—Catholicism can only be returned to its original integrity if it consents to submit itself to the guidance of Islamic masters. Either that, or the occupation of the West by Muslims. Tertium non datur.

That, en passant, Guénon and his followers made several valuable contributions even to the understanding of Catholicism by Catholic intellectuals themselves, especially with regard to symbolism and sacred art, is something that no one in his right mind could deny.

But there again, that is nothing to be surprised about. What authority could a Sufi master claim to exercise over Catholics if, at least on some select points, he did not prove to understand their religion better than they did themselves?

Guénon’s “Catholic” articles published in Regnabit between 1925 and 1927 do not prove, or even suggest, that he accepted the independence, much less the superiority of Catholicism over Islam. They only prove that, at that period, he still believed in the possibility of directing the course of things in the Catholic Church by means of gentle persuasion and infiltration. His departure for Egypt in 1930, with the firm decision not to return and to communicate with his public henceforth only through the journal Études Traditionelles, marked the moment when he lost this hope and, integrating himself more and more into Egyptian esoteric circles (even marrying the daughter of the prestigious Sheikh Elish El-Kebir), passed the ball back to the Islamic authorities who had by far guided his actions in the European framework. How things evolved from that point to the adoption of the policy of terrorism and “occupation by immigration” (which, of course, would never have happened without the blessing of the Islamic spiritual authorities), is a story that we do not know and that can only be told, perhaps, several decades from now. What is absolutely certain is that Guénon, from the very beginning of his public activity, declared that he did not speak in his own name but strictly followed the guidance of “qualified representatives of the oriental traditions,” among whom, it is now known, was mainly Sheikh El-Kebir himself. It is utter nonsense to say that Guénon “converted to Islam” in 1930. He had been a regular member of a tariqa at least since he was twenty-one, which is enough to show that he had been long prepared for the very difficult mission he was about to undertake.


The second factor that makes it difficult to perceive Guénon’s identity as an Islamic agent is the very impact of his work on his disciples. Qualified as “the most dazzling intellectual miracle of our time,” this work sheds so many unforeseen lights on the religious phenomenon and on the spiritual decadence of the West, and so great is its contrast with all modern atheistic or Christian thought, that the temptation to regard it really as a miracle, a divine intervention in the course of history, becomes almost irresistible. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in Knowledge and the Sacred, does not hesitate to present the entire intellectual history of the West as if it were a long, groping, half-hearted preparation for the advent of Guenonian lights. Viewed in this way, Guénon’s work seems like a supra-historical message coming from the dawn of time, from the Primordial Tradition itself, and not from a contemporary Egyptian sheikh.

The desire to erase his contemporary roots and to hover above historical contingencies is manifest in several passages of this work, and is further reinforced by several expressions of contempt for the “mere” historical perspective, according to Guénon an illusory veil of passing appearances covering up the reality of eternal things. He even criticizes the attachment of the Western mentality to “facts” as if it were a vice of thought.

Jean Robin characteristically proclaims Guenonism a providential intervention and “the last chance for the West.” It is an inalienable right of the enthusiastic disciple to celebrate the master’s work with the most emphatic qualifiers. But a qualifier means nothing when separated from the substance it qualifies. It is one thing to speak generically of a “last chance for the West”—and we all know that the West needs one. But it is quite another to make it clear that this is not just any chance, an abstract and generic “restoration of spirituality,” but rather salvation through Islamization. Jean Robin simply omits this point.

It is also very fair to privilege the eternal and immutable above the temporal and transitory. But any faithful Catholic accustomed to the sacrament of confession understands that the leap to the eternal, without passing through awareness of the factual details of earthly life, so often humiliating and depressing, is not spirituality, it is angelism. The apostle who affirms “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” is the same one who confesses to carrying “a thorn in the flesh” to the end of his days.

The desire to fly into the world of eternal archetypes by leaping over concrete historical reality appears not only in the hagiographic profiles of “René Guénon’s mission,” but in at least three books by important perenialist authors on Islam.

Ideals and Realities of Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Comprendre l’Islam by Schuon, and Moorish Culture in Spain by Titus Burckhardt, barely conceal their rhetorical strategy of showing Muslim life only for the eternal archetypes it symbolizes; contrasting them, explicitly or implicitly, with the gross factual miseries of the materialistic West. It is all even a little naive. Even a child realizes that it is not fair to compare the virtues of one with the defects of the other, instead of virtues with virtues and defects with defects.

All this makes it difficult, both for the newcomer reader and sometimes for the spokesmen of Perenialism themselves, to admit the obvious: the work of René Guénon can have all the providential and salvific character one wants, on the condition that one clearly admits the obvious—that, in the end, it has never offered any other way of salvation for the West except Islamization.

It is also true that any intelligent Christian, Catholic or otherwise, can benefit from the teachings of René Guénon without adhering to the Guénonian project. But how can one refuse adherence without knowing or wanting to know that the project exists? Every useful idiot is an idiot and useful to the same extent that he denies the existence of the one who uses it.

Many Christians, Catholic or not, have been so outraged by the teachings of René Guénon that they have made several attempts to refute and even deride him. These attempts only proved the intellectual superiority of the opponent and fell into ridicule or oblivion.

In this respect, Guénon’s disciples were not entirely wrong in considering him unsurpassable (the “infallible compass,” Michel Valsân said). But Guénon need neither be fought nor defeated. By adopting the pseudonym “Sphinx” in his early writings, he knew that those who did not decipher his message would be swallowed up and reduced to obedience. Those who lurch between cries of revolt will not fail to render him obedience, begrudgingly or even unconsciously. Once deciphered, however, the Sphinx has no remedy but to gently release its prey, which will emerge from its clutches not only free, but strengthened.

Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) was a Brazilian philosopher who lived in the United States. His books cover a wide array of topics, including Aristotle, Descartes, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Christian philosophy. For his work, he was honored with the Grand Cross of the Rio Branco Order, Brazil’s highest award, by President Jair Bolsonaro. His most recent book in English is Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion.

Featured image: “Prayer in Cairo,” by Jean-Leon Gerome, painted in 1865.

East Versus West

This is Chapter XVI of my book, A Marcha dos Abismos. A Dupla Tragédia da Utopia (The March to the Abyss. The Double Tragedy of Utopia), which I have not yet been able to finish for publication. Written in 2017, this is one of innumerable writings and class recordings that prove, to the supreme disappointment of Ninguens [the nobodies, ordinary folk] and Ninguensists [those that claim to stand for the nobodies], the insurmountable critical distance that separates me from all Guenonian-Schuonian “perennialism.”

The destruction of the West, however, would not even be conceivable if the real and supposed evils of the targeted civilization were opposed only by criticism, however corrosive it might be. Thus, it was necessary to raise on the horizon the image of an alternative, an anti-model, invested with all the virtues that the civilization under criticism lacked. Only in this way would criticism lose its air of mere theoretical objection and become practical guidance toward a real goal. This goal, in turn, could not be reduced to the embellished image of a future socialism, which, precisely because it was only a hypothetical ideal, lost half of its attacking force.

This is how the accursed West ended up being opposed, almost automatically, by the most obvious and easiest alternative model whose simple location in space seemed to predestine it to that role: the East.

The invasion of Eastern ideas began in the 19th century with Madame Blavatski’s Theosophical Society, university orientalism, and the fashion for Eastern themes in the fine arts and music. It soon underwent a considerable upgrade at the hands of Carl-G. Jung, the erudite Romanian historian Mircea Eliade, and numerous scholars of the first order, such as Heinrich Zimmer, Count Dürckheim, and Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

But until then everything was nothing but the rescue of spiritual, intellectual, and aesthetic heritages of genuine value, which could in no way harm Western civilization. On the contrary, the fact that it opened itself to these values only showed the authenticity of its universalistic pretensions and its capacity to absorb, without prejudice, all kinds of knowledge.

The cult of the East only took on the features of a bellicose confrontation through the works and influence of a personage considered to be one of the greatest incarnations of reactionary traditionalism in the 20th century, whose decisive contributions to the “spirit of ’68” are still the best kept secret the world has ever seen.

I refer to the French doctrinaire René Guénon (1886-1951), who ended his days in Egypt as a devout Muslim. His 1924 book East and West, under the appearances of a mere comparative study, is a veritable declaration of war, culminating in the outline of a plan for the cultural and even military occupation of the West by Eastern forces, especially Islamic ones.

Whether through genuine ignorance or cunning, Guénon reduces the civilization of the West to a mixture of capitalism, scientistic materialism, and popular pseudo-religions. The last residues of spirituality he sees in it are the decadent Freemasonry and Catholicism reduced to an “exoteric” perspective, no longer in touch with the “sources of the primordial Tradition.” Sources located, of course, in the East, more specifically in the regions of Central Siberia, Malaysia and Tibet, which Ferdynand Ossendowski visited in 1920, according to the narrative in Bêtes, Hommes et Dieux, where the famous explorer says he entered the underground sanctuary of the “King of the World” himself. Coincidence or not, these regions are the same where most of the “Seven Towers of the Devil” are concentrated, irradiating centers, according to Guénon himself, of diabolical influence over the entire planet.

Of all the signs of the Catholic spiritual boom at the time—the apparitions of Fatima, the miracles of St. Padre Pio, the flourishing of Catholic intellectual life in the first half of the 20th century—Guénon wanted nothing to do with any of it. For him, anything that did not have a direct channel with the unknown temples of Agartha and Shambhala was at most exotericism, if not antitradition, pure and simple.

From this one-sided picture of a spiritually devastated West, Guénon saw only three possible ways out: the ultimate fall into barbarism, the restoration of the Catholic Church under the secret guidance of Islamic spiritual masters, and the occupation of the West by Islam, either by cultural invasion or manu militari.

In contrast to the cartoonish reductionism of his vision of the West, his image of Eastern civilizations was so charmingly idealized that he even proclaimed that Bolshevism would never penetrate China, so solid were the “spiritual defenses” of the Chinese tradition. Not only did it penetrate, but it installed a lasting genocidal tyranny whose violence far surpassed that of the Soviet Union and satellite countries. A powerful magnet in the vicinity must have disoriented for a moment the needle of the “infallible compass” that Michel Valsân believed he saw in René Guénon.

The next generation of Guénonians did not change their rhetoric. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in Knowledge and the Sacred (1981), describes the entire intellectual history of the West as mere preparation for the advent of the Savior, René Guénon, and, in Ideals and Realities of Islam (1966), only confronts the beautiful ideals of Islamic civilization with the sad realities of the West, without it occurring to him that this comparison of the virtues of the one with the defects of the other might well be reversed.

For decades Orientalist devotion was a private cult within groups of intellectuals and wealthy aficionados, inspiring innumerable pilgrimages in search of “wisdom” and the creation of centers of meditation and spiritual retreat such as Monte Verità in Ascona, Switzerland, Hermann Keyserling’s “School of Wisdom” in Darmstadt, Germany, and Georges Gurdjeff’s famous chateau at the Prieuré des Basses Loges in Avon, France.

From the 1950s on, however, promoted in large part by the show business industry and by celebrities in letters and the arts, the fashion for oriental doctrines and practices expanded to huge swaths of the population in Europe and especially in the U.S., constituting a phenomenon that can only be correctly described as mass de-culturation—surely the heaviest blow suffered by Western civilization before the Islamic invasion that was to come in the 1990s.

The contribution of the Beat generation poets to the popularization of Eastern fashion was not small:

“The Beats not only adapted the wisdom teachings of the East to a new, specifically American terrain; they also articulated these teachings in a vernacular, jazzy, street rhythm, opening to the popular audience what had been the domain of stifling academics and pompous translators…The voice of American poets retold the teachings of the Buddha to the general public for the first time.”

By 1962, with the founding of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the “spiritual” revolt against the modern West had reached the dimensions of a unified, self-conscious movement. The Institute quickly became the agglutinating center of what would later come to be called the New Age.

To make matters worse, in America as in Europe, the Orientalist wave came together with a new style of cultural criticism that spread rapidly in the media and in universities, represented by the Frankfurt School and by the likes of C. Wright Mills, Margaret Mead, and Saul Alinsky, among others, from whose writings modern Western civilization emerged, at best, exactly as René Guénon had described it: an anomaly, a deviation from the universal human pattern, a disease that had to be eliminated at all costs. Although operating in seemingly distinct fields, culturally New Age and the New Left were working toward the same end. In fact, without the concomitant contribution of New Age, the New Left would have been limited to the superficial field of politics stricto sensu, without support in the tremendous revolution of customs, feelings, and lifestyles that marked the 1960s-1970s.

Here the strictly observant Guénonian or Schuonian may claim that his masters, as well as all “authentically traditional” esoteric organizations, abhor New Age and therefore can have nothing to do with the vulgar Orientalism of Esalen and the Beats or with any other form of “pseudo-initiation” or “counter-initiation.” But this argument is innocuous, for, as one of René Guénon’s most eminent disciples and interpreters observed,

“Hostile on principle to a world governed by that metaphysical ‘Newton’s law’ which goes by the name of ‘cyclic degeneration,’ initiatory organizations and secret societies can only play a double role, apparently contradictory but, in re, complementary: to restore, for each ‘qualified’ individual, the original level of consciousness, designated as the primordial or adamic state, and, less avowedly, to accelerate in a ‘subversive’ mode the process of collective decadence which alone will allow the advent of a new cycle.”

A more explicit confession of the discrete partnership of “initiation” with “pseudo-initiation” and “counter-initiation” cannot be asked for.

Olavo de Carvalho (1947-2022) was a Brazilian philosopher who lived in the United States. His books cover a wide array of topics, including Aristotle, Descartes, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Christian philosophy. For his work, he was honored with the Grand Cross of the Rio Branco Order, Brazil’s highest award, by President Jair Bolsonaro. His most recent book in English is Machiavelli or the Demonic Confusion.

Featured image: “Le Rapt” [“the Abduction”], by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux, painted in 1844.

The Five “Gods of Noah” In The Qur’an

We often hear about alleged polytheism in Arabia during pre-islamic times, the so-called ǧāhilīya, which was seemingly filled with mušrik practicing various forms of širk in honour of various deities. Naturally, this Arabic root does not refer to a plurality of deities, but rather to “partnering” or associating others with Allah who is unique (tawḥīd)—it is a polemic reference to the Christian notion of the Trinity, in which Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost also participate equally (šarika) in the Godhead.

The question is to what extent polytheism still persisted in the Greco-Roman Middle East of Late Antiquity, which, as was the case with the Roman Empire in general, seems largely to have been permeated by monotheistic traditions before the seventh century. The Qur’an would seem to support this notion—it is (un)surprisingly vague in this regard. In the alleged Satanic Verses (53,19-20), “Have you thought of al-Lāt and al-‹ Uzza and Manāt, the third, the other?” we find a vague reference to three pan-Semitic goddesses, who were venerated by many peoples in many places at many times. The only other concrete reference is 71, 23: “And they say: Forsake not your gods, nor forsake Wadd, nor Suwa’, nor Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr,” the gods of those condemned to perish in the Deluge (cf. Gen 7,24-8,14).

The mention of these five deities of antediluvian times, and allegedly worshipped by Arab tribes until the arrival of Islam, understandably caused some unpleasant difficulties for later Islamic exegetes, not to mention the modern reader—how can the knowledge or the cult of them have survived that global eradication? According to Ibn al-Kalbī’s Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Aṣnām), a compendium of legends and not an historical source, they are said to have washed up on the beach of Jeddah (the nearest port city from Mecca) after the Flood, where they gradually silted up until the fortune teller Amr ibn Luhai was told their location by his demon Abu Ṯumāna.

Be this as it may, we must remember that the Quranic account is based on (see above) the biblical one, which in turn, probably during the Captivity, was derived from Mesopotamian myths (e.g., the Atraḫasis epic, and the reworking of this narrative in the Twelve Tablet version of the Gilgamesh Epic): in the Mesopotamian version, the myth serves to explain why humans die, and does not function, as in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, as a divine punishment for otherwise unspecified sins. In Mesopotamia (lit. “Land between rivers”), inundations were rather commonplace, in contrast to Israel or more to the point, the arid Hijaz (and we note here in passing, that the Greek flood story around Deucalion also has a Semitic background [cf. Lucian, De dea Syria 13], cf. Iapetós of the “Catalogue of Women,” attributed to Hesiod, probably has something to do with the son of Noah, Japheth, Gen 10,2 ).

In any case, these Quranic deities are unknown in Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian literatures. Their mention here remains Delphic, as has been noted in the past, e.g.: “Why Muhammad lists five deities as Noahite in Sur. 71,22ff. cannot be explained” (Fr. Buhl, Das Leben Muhammeds, reprint Hildesheim 1955, 74). “Admittedly, they must have been rather insignificant local deities at that time and in Mecca only known by name, if Muhammed can put them into the pre-Flood times” (J. Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums, reprint Berlin 1961, 13).

The first god mentioned in this Quranic verse, Wadd, i.e., “beloved” in the non-sexual sense (wdd – therefore probably more of an epithet than a divine given name) is known from numerous inscriptions as the chief god of the Minaeans, a Yemeni kingdom which especially during the last centuries before Christ dominated trade along the incense route, eventually being subjugated by the Sabaeans after the campaign of Aelius Gallus in 25/24 BC. At first sight, we are dealing with an authentic old-Arabian god, which could indeed have been worshipped in the Hijaz. However, epigraphic finds are by no means limited to Ma‛īn, but is, as is to be expected with such a trading empire, spread further beyond the actual homeland. So, for example, a bilingual Greco-Minaean inscription on a marble altar was found on the Greek island of Delos, dated to after 166 BC, which mentions this deity in both languages:

Minaean (RÉS 3570)

1) Ḥnʾ w-Zydʾl ḏy Ḫḏb Ḥnʾ and Zydʾl, the two of the tribe Ḫḏb,
2) nṣb mḏbḥ Wdm w-ʾlʾlt built this altar to the Wdm and the gods
3) Mʿn b-Dlṯ of Maʿīn on Delos.

Greek (ID 2320)

Ὄδδου [Belonging to] Oaddos/Wadd
θεοῦ the god
Μιναίων of the Minaeans
Ὀάδδῳ [Dedicated to} Oaddos/Wadd.

This find alone makes it clear that the cult of this god, or rather this divine epithet, although certainly originating in Yemen (which is not a synonym with Hijaz, but an entirely different culture), had travelled far beyond, accompanying his worshippers on their mercantile journeys. We thus have a deity that on the one hand was not originally at home in the Hijaz, but could have been brought there sometime by Minaean traders; on the other, however, as with the three goddesses mentioned above, he attracted some following in a geographically vast region.

As for the second deity, Suwāʿ our only sources are contradictory reports from later Islamic traditions, some of which mention him, others which do not (e.g. Wāqidī mentions the destruction of his idol in Mecca, but this is not mentioned in the Prophet’s hagiography by Ibn Isḥāq)—”these stories of the destruction of the idols on behalf of Mohammad become more and more complete as the tradition moves further away from its origin, and the narratives are contradictory” (Wellhausen, op. cit. 19). Apart from such historically worthless information and some possible attestations as a theophoric element in early Islamic onomastics, we know literally nothing at all about this god. Did he even exist? I rather have the impression that there is a polemical intention behind this name, cf. Syriac šū/ōʿā (šwʿ >arab. swʿ) “stone, rock,” i.e., “petrified,” in the sense of a stone idol (Arab. waṯan, a loan-word from Sabaean, where the word has the meaning “boundary stone, stele”), which later was misunderstood not as a generic term for an idol, but rather as the name of a specific idol.

As for the third of the three here, Jaġūṯ, we again find colourful discrepant and paradoxical stories in the Islamic tradition. But as Jaġūṯ in Arabic means “he who helps—the helper” (possibly related to Jeush in Gen 36,14), this term is rather an epithet that could be applied to any (benevolent) god. Even if the Islamic tradition(s) actually contain(s) authentic materials here and there, it would be impossible to determine whether one and the same deity was meant in all cases.

The fourth God supposedly revered by Noah’s contemporaries according to the Qur’an, Jaʿūq remains shrouded in even more mystery than his already mentioned partners. There is no independent evidence for this god, and even his name does not seem to be Arabic. Wellhausen, who noted (op. cit. 23) “we are dealing with a South Arabian name,” thought of the closely related Ethiopian verb jǝʿuq (basic meaning “to observe, to be careful, to preserve; to manifest (reveal)”), although this root seems to be not of Semitic but rather of Cushitic origin, i.e., an African loan word in the Ethiosemitic languages.

Our findings up till now are somewhat meagre, even antediluvian with regard to what we actually know. It is thus of some relief that about the fifth god, Nasr, we actually have some data. In modern Arabic this word means “vulture” (perhaps originally denoting a totem animal). In the Talmudic treatise Avoda sara 11b, in a discourse on idolatry, we find the assertion:

אמר רב חנן בר רב חסדא אמר רב ואמרי לה א”ר חנן בר רבא אמר רב חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים קבועין הן אלו הן בית בל בבבל בית נבו בכורסי תרעתא שבמפג צריפא שבאשקלון נשרא שבערביא

“Rav Ḥanan bar Rav Ḥisda says that Rav says, and some say that it was Rav Ḥanan bar Rava who says that Rav says: There are five established temples of idol worship, and they are: The temple of Bel in Babylonia; the temple of Nebo in the city of Khursei; the temple of Tirata, which is located in the city of Mapag; Tzerifa, which is located in Ashkelon; and Nashra, which is located in Arabia.”

This passage in turn is reminiscent of one found in the famous Doctrina of the Apostle Addai (Phillips edition, p.23f.):

ܿܡܢܘ ܗܢܐ ܢ ܼܒܘ ܦܬܟܪܐ ܥܒܝܕܐ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܃ ܘܒܝܠ ܕܡܝܩܪܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܂ ܗܐ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܟܘܢ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܠܒܪܬ

ܢܝܟܠ ܐܝܟ ܚܪ̈ܢܝܐ ܫ ̈ܒܒܝܟܘܢ܂ ܘܠ ܼܬܪܥܬ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܡ ̈ܒܓܝܐ܂ ܘܠܢܫܪܐ ܐܝܟ ܥܪ̈ܒܝܐ܂ ܘܠܫܡܫܐ ܘܠܣܗܪ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܫܪܟܐ ܕܚܪ̈ܢܐ ܼ

ܕܐܟܘܬܟܘܢ܂ܠܐܬܫܬܒܘܢܒܙܠܝ̈ܩܐܕܢܗܝܪ̈ܿܐ܂ܘܒܟܘܟܒܬܐܕܨܡܚܐ܂ܠܝܛܗܘܓܝܪܩܕܡܐܠܗܿܐ܂ܟܘܠܿܡܢܕܣܿܓܕ ܼ

ܠܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ܂ ܐܦܢ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܗܝܢ ܒܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ ܕܐܝܟ ܪܘܪ̈ܒܢ ܡܢ ܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ܂ ܐܠܐ ܟܢ ̈ܘܬܐ ̈ܐܢܝܢ ܕܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ ܐܝܟ ܕܐ ܿܡܪܬ ܼ

ܠܟܘܢ܂ܟܐܒܐܗܘܓܝܪܡܪܝܪܐܗܢܐܕܠܝܬܠܗܐܣܝܘܬ ܿܐ܂

“Meanwhile, I saw this city teeming with paganism, which is against God. Who is this Nabû, [but] an idol [made by men] whom you worship, and Bêl whom you worship? Behold, there are among you people those who worship Bath Nikkal such as the people of Harran, your neighbours, and Taratha [as venerated by] the people of Mabug, and Nashara by the Arabs, or as are the Sun and the Moon worshipped by the rest of Harran, as you do too. Do not be deceived by rays of light and by the bright star, for all creatures will be cursed by God.”

Nabû was a well-known Mesopotamian god of the first millennium BC (the son and quasi successor of Marduk, whose name means “the announcer, the called one”—cf. Nebuchadnezzar, Nabī “prophet”); Bêl is the Mesopotamian, and later Aramaic realisation of Baal, whose cult was well-known, i.a. at Palmyra; Bath Nikkal (“the daughter of N.”)—Nikkal is a goddess known in the Western Semitic world and among the Hurrians (derived < Sumerian NIN.GAL “great mistress”); the Sun and Moon, resp. Shamash and Sîn were naturally also worshipped in Mesopotamia as deities. Taratha is apparently another designation of the well-known goddess, Atargatis or the Dea Syria, who was worshipped at Ashkelon (cf. Diodorus Siculus, Library, II.iv.2, where, among other things, it is described how and why she took the form of a fish—cf. the fish symbolism in Christianity: ΙΧΘΥΣ). Of particular significance is the fact that Nashara is also regarded here as a god of the Arabs. This god is particularly well known among the Mandaeans in southern Mesopotamia and in Iran (e.g., the Mandaean Great Book of John, §73), and also attested by Jacob of Serug (451-521), who reports that the Persians were tempted by the devil to create an “eagle” (Nashara) as an idol. A similar account can be found in the Armenian History by Movses Khorenatsi (where the gods are called Naboc’us, Belus, Bathnicalus and Tharatha).

In all of these cases, including Qur’an 71,23 (supra), we are dealing with a formulaic warning against apostasy, that is to say against a falling away from the true faith in the one true (Jewish, Christian, Mandaean or Islamic understanding of) God. In all cases, his (exclusive) worship is contrasted in a list of five heavenly idols which were seemingly self-explanatory at the time. The Talmudic passage would seem to have used the same, or very close to that of the Doctrina Addai, although somethings seem to have been lost in transmission:

Mapag (מפג) is not a deity but, as in Syriac, the place

Mabug (ܡܒܘܓ “the spring” or Hieropolis, because it was the cult centre of the Dea Syria; today Manbij);

Tirata (תרעתא) as already mentioned is Atargatis resp. the Dea Syria and not a place(-name)—a well-known site (see above) of her cult was Askelon. The gods mentioned here are חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים בתי עבודת כוכבים “the five temples of star worship.” that is, celestial bodies: Nabû= Mercury, Bêl=Jupiter, Nikkal= a moon goddess, Taratha=Venus, and Nashara is the name of a star (see P. De Lagarde, Geoponicon in sermonem syriacum, 5:17 1860 ,Versorum quae supersunt, Leipzig,  ܥܕܡܐ ܠܕܢܚܗ ܕܢܫܪܐ ܕܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܡܢ ܢܐܘܡܝܢܝܐ ܕܟܢܘܢ ܐܚܪܝ “until the rise of the Naschara, which is the beginning of the month of January;” The seven wandering [planets]…

ܕܐܝܬܝܗܘܢ ܫܡܫܐ ܘܣܗܪܐ ܘܟܐܽܘܢ ܘܒܝܠ ܘܢܪܝܓ ܘܒܠܬܝ ܘܵܢܒܘ

…are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, Venus and Mercury”—C. Kayser, The Book of Truth, or, The Cause of All Causes, Leipzig, 1889, 55:5).

The mention of Arabia, in connexion with Nashara, cannot be taken as confirmatory evidence in support of the assertion made by Islamic tradition that Nashara had been a deity in and around Mecca. Perhaps this was so—but we simply do not know. The Arabs who venerate “a bird” as god can here only be the Arabs of Mesopotamia—the Talmud as well as the Doctrina Addai do not concern themselves with the Hijaz

This area, roughly identical to the so-called Ǧazīrat al-‛Arab, comprises the lowlands of the Chabur, Euphrates and Tigris in northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iraq. It was also referred to as “Arabia” in ancient times. Here we find e.g., a Ἀραβάρχης (“Arab-archēs—Arab princes”) in Dura-Europos (cf. C. B. Welles et al., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report V, Part I [New Haven, 1959], 115 No. 20, 5); in Sumatar Harabesi, present-day Turkey, five inscriptions are documented which were found at the old cemetery and bear the Syrian equivalent of this term:- šulṭānā d-ʿarab “Governor of Arab(ia)” (cf. H. J. W. Drijvers & J. F. Healey, The Old Syriac Inscriptions of Edessa and Osrhoene [Leyden, 1999], p. 104f. et passim); in Hatra, a mlk’ dy ʿrb(y) “King of Arabia” is documented (see B. Aggoula, Inventaire des inscriptions hatréenes [Paris, 1991], 92 No. 193, 2; 135f. See also Pliny’s Natural History, V.xxi.86: “Arabia supra dicta habet oppida Edessam, quæ quondam Antiochia dicebatur, Callirhœm, a fonte nominatam, Carrhas, Crassi clade nobile. Iungitur præfectura Mesopotamiæ, ab Assyriis originem trahens, in qua Anthemusia et Nicephorium oppida. … 87] ita fertur [scil. Euphrates] usque Suram locum, in quo conversus ad orientem relinquit Syriæ Palmyrenas solitudines, quæ usque ad Petram urbem et regionem Arabiæ Felicis appellatæ pertinent. This is also the “Arabia” that Paul must have visited (Gal 1:17). It is noteworthy that Fredegar (Chronicon lxvi) locates the Hagarenes even more to the north: “Agareni, qui et Sarraceni, sicut Orosii [Boh. Eorosii] liber testatur, gens circumcisa a latere montis Caucasi, super mare Caspium, terram….” This location can explain the Mandaean and Iranian evidence (see above) of Nashara.

This area, in the north of Mesopotamia, is where historical-critical research locates the crucible of Islam. It is here that the linguistic (the forerunners of Quranic Arabic as well as the heavy Syro-Aramaic impact on the Quranic theological vocabulary) as well as other theological and cultural threads come together, where the Christians in the Sassanid Empire, after the conquest of Heraclius, were suddenly confronted with Christological formulations (Chalcedon) foreign to them, after over two and a half centuries of separation, since the death of Julian Apostata. Here, the only unambiguously identifiable deity of Sura 71,23, scil. Nasr, seems to be certainly at home. Locating his cult to the South, in Arabia deserta, in the empty Hijaz—whose historical and cultural vacantness would only later become the ideal(ised) theological projection surface—has no historical support—and in addition, one would not only have to invent Christianity in the Hijaz, but also Manichaeism!

Sura 71/Sūrat Nūḥ deals with tergiversation, abandoning God/Allah: Noah has warned his contemporaries at God’s behest—”My Lord, I have called my people by night and day (to faith). But my call only caused them to run away more and more: and whenever I called them that Thou mightest forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, and wrapped themselves in their garments, and persisted (in their state), and became overly arrogant. Then I called on them in public. Then I preached to them in public, and I spoke to them in secret, and I said: ‘Seek forgiveness from your Lord: for He is Oft-Forgiving: He will send down rain for you in abundance; and He will strengthen you with good things and with children, and He will give you gardens, and He will make rivers flow for you…’” (71,4-12). Furthermore, in verses 14-15 Noah asks, “Have you not seen how Allah created seven heavens stacked one on top of the other and set the moon as a light in them?”—i.e., the sky with all its contents, including the sun and moon, bear witness to the existence of God; they themselves are not gods. But Noah finds no hearing; the people remain on their chosen path and say, “do not leave your gods; do not leave Wadd, nor Suwāʿ, nor Jaġūṯ, Jaʿūq and Nasr.”

Contextually speaking, this interpretation of the latter passage fits in the theme of the Sura as a whole, and is quite similar to the admonition found inter alia in in the Doctrina Addai. Taken in this light, we have here a not unfamiliar pious topos, which here the Koranic authors put in Noah’s mouth because it was apparently felt to be somehow appropriate. The theonyms, however, as is also the case in the Talmudic example, where they were conflated with toponyms, have become garbled, yet a further indication that polytheism had long since ceased being an historical reality.

It is in this understanding, however, that this Quranic verse becomes understandable, seeing that, as was just noted, the creation of the heavens, moon, sun etc.—i.e., they are not to be understood as gods, is mentioned just several verses previously. The inexplicable gods mentioned in verse 23 may be just local epithets of the (divinised) celestial bodies, Nsr, the “eagle,” at the same time an astronym, would seem to favour such a proposal. In a Minaean dedicatory inscription (RÉS 2999 from Barāqish in the southern Jawf), the builders self-identify themselves as ʾdm Wdm S2hrn “servants (cf. Arabic ʾādam) of Wdd, the moon.” In this light, it is clear that Wdd could be understood as a(n epithet of) lunar deity. Perhaps then one might be partial to interpreting Suwāʿ as an Arabic realisation of Aramaic shrʾ “moon?” Jaġūṯ, as already been mentioned, is etymologically transparent, “the helper,” a term that might be appropriate for the moon (as attribute) or possibly the sun god?

Be that as it may, however one may choose to etymologise the five “Gods of Noah” in the Qur’an, they are most certainly designations for the (divinised) Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. As we have sown in the preceding the Classical planets, designated variously, were a common theme in Jewish and Christian polemics against the true faith in the one God. The Qur’anic renditions, as the Talmudic, have been somewhat garbled by later copyists. It is clear that we are dealing here with a topos known in the Syro-Mesopotamian region of Late Antiquity. This is by no means antediluvian and also has nothing to do with the Hijaz, nor originally even with Islam.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

Featured image: The Almaqah Panel, which bears a Sabaean inscription, mentioning the god Wadd. Likely Ma’rib, Yemen, ca. 700 BC.

The Meaning Of The Surah Al-Kawthar In The Qur’an

The shortest Surah of the Qur’an is the 108th. In the Sahih International translation and in transcription it reads:

bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīmii
(In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful)
al-Kawthar. ˈinnā ˈaʿṭaynāka l-kawṯaraa
(Indeed, We have granted you, [O Muhammad]),
fa-ṣalli li-rabbika wa-nḥar
(So pray to your Lord and sacrifice [to Him alone]).
‘innā šāniˈaka huwa l-ˈabtaru
(Indeed, your enemy is the one cut off).

On the basis of this very short textual segment, one of many of such disparate origin that were later compiled into the book we know today as the “Qur’an,” almost all principles and methods of historico-critical textual interpretation can be demonstrated. The common Muslim understanding is that the three verses of Surah 108 refer to an event in Muhammad’s life, who is then regarded as the addressee of this urgent revelation. The “one who hates you” (šāniˈaka) mentioned in verse three is then in this view his adversary, whom God apparently cursed. But let us now treat this short Sura verse by verse in order to show some textual and exegetical problems, pars pro toto, for the holy book of Islam in its entirety and to offer possible explanations: often, the usual modern translations are by and large based on exegetical understandings of classical (secondary) Islamic commentary culture, and as such are mere speculations or exemplifications.

Firstly, for the introductory formula, the Basmala, which in the Qur’an, with the exception, generally speaking, of the first Surah, is not counted as a verse, much could be said. For Muslims it is controversial whether this formula belongs to the revealed text of all Surahs, or whether it is an introductory formula later seen as necessary, a posterior editorial addition. Bismi, literally “in the name,” here as in nomine Dei, is a widespread formula and not at all specifically Islamic. The two ornamental adjectives following the name of God “Allāh” are also of pre-Islamic, of Christian and Jewish (‘Ha-Rachaman’) origin (originally “uterus” = σπλάγχνα). But as far as the name of God Allāh itself is concerned, it should not be translated as “God,” despite the common objection that Muslims, Jews and Christians believe in the one God, the same God. But this is obviously a logical fallacy: etymological relationship does not mean that the common term denotes an identical entity.

In the initial two verses, the addressed person is, according to traditional Islamic exegesis, reminded of the benefits (verse 1) rendered by Allāh and the resultant obligations (verse 2). Almost all non-Muslim explanations follow this received interpretation without criticism. Wherever possible, the underlying exegetical method tries to see in Quranic sentences a reference to the hypostasised founding figure of Islam, i.e., Muhammad, and alleged events in his life in the sense of the “occasions of Revelation” (Asbāb an-nuzūl). In other words, a prophetic hagiography was secondarily read into the Qur’anic text.

Although this understanding of these verses has gradually become generally accepted, it is ultimately based on unfounded assumptions, since the three key terms on which this interpretation is based, namely al-kawṯar (usually “the fullness”), nḥar (usually imperative sing. “sacrifice”) and al-abtar (usually verbatim “the cut-off”) are only found here in the Qur’an (so-called hapax legomena). Their actual meanings are therefore difficult to determine; and different explanations, mostly without much linguistic support, can be found in the commentary literature. Kawṯar in verse 1 is either interpreted as “abundance” or as a proper name. In the first case—according to Muslim tradition, this term also comprehends the entirety of divine benefits, but especially the revelations of which the Qur’an consists—the word would then have an unusual linguistic form, since in Arabic this is the noun kathīr, which, by the way, is well attested in the Qur’an.

However, here the diphthong -au- (compare in English “Beer” vs. “Bear”), remains without any convincing explanation. The second interpretation follows the “proven” pattern of explanation: “If you cannot understand or interpret the word, then it must be a proper name.” In this explanation, which is dealt with extensively, especially in various hadiths, i.e., in later sayings attributed to Mohammed, the word is understood as the name of one of the rivers of paradise or its source, to which believing Muslims are led on the Day of Judgement. The last unusual Arabic word al-abtar, perhaps literally “cut off”, i.e., either from Allāh’s goodness or—from descendants (i.e., emasculated, or literally “dickless”). How “sacrifice” (nḥar) is to be understood in the light of Islamic orthopraxis remains obscure.

Since the orthography of the early Qur’ans did not use the diacritical points that distinguish the consonants—i.e., these are secondary—the next step, even if seen as controversial by some nowadays, can be to attempt to read the respective letters without or with different pointing. The many “linguistic-alchemical” details necessary for this, such as the shifting of reading points and the exchange of vowels (also added later), cannot be dealt with in detail here.

1) Kawṯar would then be an Aramaic borrowing from kuttārā/ܟܘܬܪ (consonantal kwtr, i.e. according to the Arabic Form كوتر testified here) meaning “Duration; steadfastness; persistence.”

2) Naḥara (ن-ح-ر) is read as Syriac ngar/ܢܓܼܪ (in Arabic script ن-ج-ر – both have the same consonant skeleton [rasm]; namely, “be persistent, steadfastness) ں-ح-ر

3) Abtar/ابتر without diacritics is identical to اتبر\atbar: ا-ں-ں-ر), probably from an Aramaic root ܬܒܪ often used in the Qur’an “completely smashed, destroyed, ruined;” or the Arabic form of this root ṯbr/ثبر – also identical when written without dots.

By this comparative linguistic approach, common in philology and especially biblical studies, otherwise unattested lexemes are avoided—the influence of Syro-Aramaic vocabulary, especially in the domain of theological terms found in the Qur’an is well-known. The resulting text reads:

1. We have given you firmness!

2. So pray perseveringly to your Lord!

3. Truly the one who hates you (scil. the devil) will be shattered!

One might consider reading the first word of the third verse as anna and not as إِ َّن inna, i.e., “That truly the one who hates you will be shattered”.

If one works with methods that are more controversial in Quranic scholarship, although well-established in textual criticism, the text becomes, as can be seen in this case, easier to understand. In order to avoid the accusation that we have imposed an interpretation on the text or read it into it, it should be said here that Syro-Aramaic loanwords are omnipresent in the Qur’an; Aramaic was, after all, together with Greek, the cultural language of the Arabs in Late Antiquity (much like Latin during the European Middle Ages). And, the text is now better both grammatically and in terms of content. The central idea of this Surah is then perseverance in prayer together with patient trust in God, a motif that occurs frequently in the Qur’an, mostly and for which most often the Arabic verb ṣabara (nominal ṣabr) “patiently persevere, persevere, persist” is employed. Examples are:

2:45: wa-staʿīnū bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa-ṣ-ṣalāti wa- ˈinnahā la-kabīratun ˈillā ʿalā l-ḫāšiʿīna (And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]).

2:153: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ṣ bi-ṣ-ṣabri wa- ṣ-ṣalāti ˈinna llāha maʿa ṣ-ṣābirīna (O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient).

3:200: yā-ˈayyuhā llaḏīna ˈāmanū ˈāmanū ṣbirū wa- ṣābirū wa-rābiṭū wa-ttaqū llāha laʿallakum tufliḥūna (O you who have believed, persevere and endure and remain stationed and fear Allah that you may be successful).

And of course, this passage reading will make sense to those familiar with the Bible, e.g., “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (I Peter 5, 8-9).

This interpretation of Surah 108 fits much better into the corpus of Quranic texts; or rather can be contextualised in a meaningful way, and is no longer an impenetrable oddity.

Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).

Featured image: Surah Al-Kawthar, Naskh calligraphy, by Mirza Ahmad Neirizi, late Safavid era (18th century).

The Beginnings Of Islam: A Conversation With Hela Ouardi

We are pleased to present this interview with Hela Ouardi who has recently published the third volume of the series, Les califes maudits (The Cursed Caliphs), Meurtre à la mosquée, Murder in the Mosque). She has previously published Les Derniers Jours de Muhammad (The Last Days of Muhammad). In these works she seeks to demythologize and thereby humanize the founder of Islam. Professor Ouardi teaches French literature and civilization at the University of Tunis.

Here, she is interviewed by Annie Laurent, for La Nef, through whose kind courtesy we are bringing you this translation.

Annie Laurent (AL): Your work challenges the history of early Islam as it is generally transmitted, You teach French literature at the University of Tunis. How did you decide to dive into this work of a historian and is both iconoclastic and titanic?

Hela Ouardi (HO): There are two important points in your question. The first one concerns “questioning.” I think I am doing exactly the opposite insofar as I am trying to restore the true history of the beginnings of Islam and to highlight the mythical and mystifying character of the version “generally transmitted” as you say. At the beginning of my investigation, I asked myself this double question: where is this authentic version? Who is in charge of transmitting it? The answer to both questions is: nowhere and nobody. All that the Muslim knows about the genesis of his religion are bits of legendary and incoherent stories. So, I believe that my investigation is based on two major tasks that have nothing to do with any subversive attitude: to bring order to this history and to make it intelligible. The narrative approach in my books allows me to achieve this double objective.

Hela Ouardi © Albin Michel.

As for the relationship with my academic specialty, that speaks for itself. My literary training, far from making me a stranger to the work of historical investigation on the Muslim Tradition, has prepared me very well for it. The corpus of this tradition is a literary corpus par excellence (and we have only this to inform us about the beginnings of Islam—there is no archaeological trace dating from the period of the Prophet and even of his first successors). The historian of Islam is thus condemned to analyze a literary tradition. And here I must admit that I am a bit “like a fish in water” because my great familiarity with the analysis of texts puts me in a very good predisposition in this regard. The only notable change in relation to my previous research (French literature and civilization) is that of the language. However, as I am bilingual, the study of texts in Arabic and their rendition in French do not pose any particular problems for me.

AL: Your investigations refer to a multitude of Islamic sources, both Sunni and Shiite. How were you able to access them when many of them seem to be untransmitted, as if one wanted to make them suspect, so as not to interfere with the hagiographic approach to history?

HO: As I told you, there is no “official version” of Islamic history. On the other hand, I do not entirely agree with the idea of suspicion that you evoke: Muslims venerate the sources of Tradition without reading them and without knowing them; and all my work consists in revealing the contents of these books, to make them accessible by breaking a little the glass cage in which they have been imprisoned over the centuries.

AL: You point out that no text written by Muhammad or dictated by him to his secretaries has been preserved, even though, contrary to legend, he was not illiterate. Can you enlighten us on this point?

HO: Muhammad’s alleged illiteracy is a theological ruse to support the dogma of the Qur’anic miracle. In order to show that the Qur’an is a divine work and not a human work, the idea was conveyed that an illiterate man was not capable of producing such a scholarly and well-written book. In my books, I provide irrefutable evidence from the Muslim tradition that destroys the legend of the illiteracy of the Prophet of Islam. This legend has moreover imposed itself thanks to the semantic vagueness that surrounds the Arabic adjective “ummî” with which Muhammad is often tagged. This word designates at the same time the illiterate, the follower of a religion without a Book (at the beginning, Mohammed’s detractors refused to recognize his prophecy because he did not bring a sacred book). Finally, the word “ummî” can also designate a man from Mecca who was nicknamed “Umm al-qurâ” (this nickname appears in the Koran). So, you see, the vagueness surrounding Muhammad’s illiteracy is the pure product of lexical polysemy!

AL: The “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” This is the name reserved for the first successors of Mohammed, who are presented as models to be imitated even though they were particularly violent. Do you think you can convince your Muslim readers of the validity of the label “cursed Caliphs” that you attribute to them?

HO: I don’t want to convince anyone. I make Montaigne’s famous phrase my own: “I do not teach, I report.” So, I report facts that are not at all of my own invention or even the fruit of my interpretation. Thus, the label “cursed caliphs” does not reflect a personal position on these historical figures. It emphasizes a very specific event (on which Sunnis and Shiites are curiously agreed): the first two caliphs were cursed by Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter, because they disinherited her; abused her so much that she died of grief (or of something else less natural!) only a few weeks after her father. This is a fact reported in great detail in all the sources, and I defy anyone to contradict me on this point.

AL: Your series stops at Omar, the second Caliph (634-644). Will you continue your research on the following ones?

HO: That is planned, of course; but the next two (Uthman and Ali) will not be included in the cycle of the “Cursed Caliphs;” they will be the subject of separate monographs.

AL: Don’t you fear being accused of disbelief or suspected of discrediting Islam as a religion at a time when it is presenting itself under worrying aspects from which Muslims also suffer?

HO: And you, when you get on the road, don’t you fear to have an accident? I don’t think about virtual threats because if I did, I wouldn’t do anything. Besides, whoever accuses me of being a disbeliever and of undermining Islam is in fact only accusing the “venerable” authors of the Muslim tradition, because I am only reporting what they say.

AL: In recent years, a growing number of Muslim intellectuals have called for a reform of Islamic thought. Do some of them join you in your enterprise of historical deconstruction? In other words, can Islam reconcile itself with history without risking annihilation?

HO: I prefer to speak of “historical reconstruction” because the mythification and the ideological instrumentation of the past have literally annihilated the history of Islam and have made of this religion a mummy, a timeless and anachronistic object. I regard my work as a restoration-reconstruction. I want to give life to this fossilized memory, by giving back to the founding characters of Islam their human dimension which would show them closer to us. So, Islam, by reconciling itself with history, does not risk annihilation; on the contrary: it will revive.

AL: Many emphasize the need to put an end to the dogma of the “uncreated” Koran, which blocks the contextualization of the most inappropriate passages for today’s world (the status of women, the legitimization of violence, etc.), while others stress the absence of a recognized authority that could assume such a responsibility. In what form do you see this resurrection?

HO: The resurrection will not take place at all on a dogmatic level, but by working on representations, such as, for example, humanizing the character of the Prophet and his Companions in films, serials, and documentaries that portray them so that they cease to be disembodied ghosts. And there, I think that the aesthetic appropriation of the history of Islam by artists, creators, playwrights, etc., could cause a lasting influence on the minds. The Renaissance in Europe was accompanied by atrocious religious conflicts. However, this period continues to shine on universal history, precisely because it was the bearer of a decisive aesthetic project. Islam awaits the aesthetic revolution that will revive it from within.

Featured image: The Angel of Bounty and the Arrival at the Second Heaven by Muhammad. Timurid Herat, ca. 1465.

Inventing The Fantasy Of The Convivencia In Al-Andalus

1. Al-Andalus Propaganda

The notion of the Convivencia began with the studies of the philologist, Américo Castro, which he put into writing during his American exile. Contrary to the traditional, nationalist discourse of the eternal nature of Spain and the Spaniards, which marginalised the role of Islamic-Arab rule, Castro sought to ascribe a central role in the formation of the “homo hispanicus” to precisely this historical period.

In his first work on this subject, España en su historia. Christianos, moros y judíos which appeared in 1948 and was later reprinted in a revised edition in 1966 and also published in English translation, Américo Castro explained the “convivencia de christianos, moros y judíos” (“the Convivencia of Christians, Moors and Jews”) by way of “tolerancia islámica (“Islamic tolerance”). Castro explained that during the period of the caliphate, this led to a unique fusion of the three religious “castes.” The attitude of the subjugated population was characterised by submission and at the same time by admiration for the superiority of the conquerors; but then also by the endeavour to overcome the position of inferiority, whereby later military victories over the Muslims are said not to have changed their admiration for them.

Kenneth Baxter Wolf, Maya Soifer Irish, Bruna Soravia and especially Eduardo Manzano Moreno have all made insightful contributions to this concept of the Convivencia. Manzano Moreno’s studies show that Spanish al-Andalus experts are on the whole very critical of the Convivencia myth, and have been so since the 1960s. It was and is considered an ideological construct that has neither foundation in real history nor a basis upon the sources available to us.

According to the unanimous assessment of most Spanish historians, Américo Castro had mainly indulged his personal convictions, relying selectively on individual literary passages, while neglecting the available historical sources. Manzano Moreno lists in detail several points of criticism from a historian’s point of view: Castro’s scant interest in the chronological sequence of historical events; the mixing of data from numerous different and distinct periods; the search, taken to an extreme, for parallels, even the most far-fetched, in various literary texts; the far-reaching neglect of all economic factors; and finally, the idea that only native-born Spaniards could adequately understand their own history.

Postmodern and postcolonial humanities scholars, mostly in Anglo-American academia, took up this idea and went on to reinterpret the presumed utopia of the Convivencia as a kind of distribution station for the unimpeded flow of cultural and artistic paradigms from the Arab to the European worlds, as a symbol of a beneficial globalisation process that resisted the narrow-minded local interests of individual nations.

This glorification of al-Andalus goes hand-in-hand with a blatant misjudgment of the real circumstances and events, indeed with a general ignorance of the primary and secondary sources, unless they are available in English. In addition, the unscientific, anti-historical and anti-philological attitudes of many American postmodernists was spurred on by post-colonial studies, especially the completely baseless attacks on European Oriental studies by Edward Said. The most significant representative of such is the late María Rosa Menocal, formerly Sterling Professor of Spanish Studies at Yale.

Menocal used many of the arguments and some of the same examples that Jewish historians of science in the 19th and 20th centuries used to justify the concept of a “Golden Age” in al-Andalus. However, unlike the Jewish historians of science, she consciously employed anachronistic concepts. Thus, for example, when she defines the Middle Ages as being “postmodern” vis-à-vis Modernity, it fits very well with her desire to tell the story “in the lyric mode.” Naturally, this was very popularly received in the mass media and at university campuses, where departments of comparative literature, and especially those of cultural studies, enthusiastically embrace all new fads, such as, postmodernism and postcolonial studies, irrespective of their scientific merit.

Such utopian and idyllic views of Islamic rule in al-Andalus, propagated by Menocal and her followers, are further promoted by mass culture because of political demands for fruitful dialogues between cultures and by the culture industry’s need for simple models and solutions to complex problems. Such tendencies, however, naturally also have an impact on academic studies, as can be clearly seen in the section devoted to the literature of al-Andalus, edited by Menocal, in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature.

According to Menocal, the resplendent culture of the Court of the Caliphs in 10th century Cordoba is linked to a great respect for the Other and a willingness to accept one’s own contradictions. This, she says, triggered a tremendous creative surge that manifested itself in significant intellectual, artistic and social achievements. The most positive thing about the Islamic tradition would thus have been a resultant attitude that accepted and integrated the most diverse world-views, religions and tendencies without renouncing the particularities of its own identity. One looks in vain in her essay in the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature for evidence that this narrative has any factual foundation in reality.

Unrealistic praise of Islamic Spain is, however, not limited to the academic world. This can also be found on the UNESCO website. Long before 9/11, UNESCO had already granted Convivencia propaganda a large international platform. Al-Andalus in particular was praised as a model of a society with free interreligious dialogue: The “fruitful dialectic between the three great monotheistic religions” led to the flourishing of a universalism in the light of which “the rationalist, philosophical and scientific thought of ancient Iran and Greece” was reformulated, wrote Haïm Zafrani, for example.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, Pierre Philippe Rey (“Al-Andalus: Scientific Heritage and European Thought”) underlines the importance of Andalusia as the crucible of European rationalism. According to him, no figure stands so clearly for this origin as “Ibn Rushd (Averroes) physician, jurist and philosopher;” and also his contemporary “Ibn Maimūn, a Jew by religion (known in mediaeval Europe as Maimonides).” Tolerance and inter-religious cooperation in al-Andalus are also highly praised on the UNESCO page. Mohamed Benchrifa, for example, says: “Throughout the period of Islamic rule, Andalusia… was home to forms of tolerance not observed until modern times. It was a genuine land of dialogue, a dialogue that was both serene and lively.”

A more differentiated view of the historical conditions in al-Andalus (a view certainly not very widespread among Anglo-American academics, such as the humanities scholars mentioned above) can hardly be expected from politicians or Muslim imams. First and foremost, the Islamic terrorist attacks of 9/11 strongly promoted political yearnings to see Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion, and al-Andalus seemed to offer itself as a historical archetype, a legendary dream-destination of religious tolerance, at least according to academic propaganda.

Therefore, it was only logical for the New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to propose “Cordoba House” as the name for the Islamic centre planned near the destroyed New York towers (now Park51). In this city, after all, “Muslims, Christians and Jews would have co-existed in the Middle Ages, during a period of great cultural enrichment created by Muslims.” He thus indirectly echoed a comparable assessment of Islamic Spain by then President Barack Obama in a speech at Cairo University, in the course of which he referred to the “proud” tradition of Islamic tolerance: “Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance – as we see in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” It was also Islam, Obama continued, that brought forward “the light of learning” and paved the way for the European Renaissance and Enlightenment.

The chronological reference “during the Inquisition” is, of course, nonsensical. The Christian Inquisition was not officially introduced until the end of the 15th century – but its critical mention here is probably intended to make the radiant splendour of a peaceful, tolerant and scientifically productive Islamic rule shine all the brighter in contrast to the Christianised West, which remains “ignorant” of the Islamic roots of its modernity!

2. Islamic Orthodoxy, Intolerance And Violence

However, as Manzano Moreno has already pointed out, the documented history of the period of Islamic rule does not confirm the aforementioned intellectual and political praise of the conditions in Córdoba, since most of the rulers of this period made a name for themselves primarily as strict guardians of intolerant Sunni Malikite orthodoxy. Mention should be made, for example, of the persecution of the followers of Ibn Masarra, the first independent thinker in al-Andalus, the suppression of all Shiite and Ismaili movements; or, in the case of Almanzor, the destruction of the philosophical and astrological books of the great library in Córdoba.Charges of heresy (zandaqa) were brought against theologians, philosophers, literary figures and poets. However, it is not known what the charges consisted of, in detail. In many cases, Muʿtazilite theorists, for example, but also scientists, such as, the Andalusian “Euclid” ʽAbd al-Raḥmān b. Ismāīl ibn Badr, who had made a name for himself in geometry and with a compendium of Aristotle’s Organon, fled to the seemingly more tolerant Orient.

If such violence could erupt within the ruling population group itself, it was all the more a permanent and imminent danger towards those of other faiths. The Arab sources, however, are generally rather silent about them. We learn about the situation of the Christians mainly thanks to the hagiographies of the “voluntary martyrs” of Córdoba, who caused a sensation in the 9th century and were executed during the time of the caliphate.

Violence though was generally nothing out of the ordinary in pre-modern times. This is why it is also to be expected in Islamic societies and hence its idealisation by the Convivencia propagandists is simply out of touch with history. First and foremost, of course, was politically motivated violence, which could also be directed inner-dynastically against one’s own children and family members. This was possible even among the Ṭāʾifa kings of Seville, who are viewed as having been particularly liberal and obsessed with poetry. Veritable orgies of violence and murder in the power struggles characterised the rule of the Naṣrids in the 14th century, who are praised in Convivencia propaganda above all as the builders of the Alhambra in Granada.

During periods of weakened central power, the administrators of the rulers, fighting for influence, then rampaged murderously against each other. In addition to the regular judiciary with its prisons, the Cordovan seat of power, set up its own penal regime which were not controlled by any Islamic judge, and in which, as a rule, no one was supposed to survive. And finally, there were murders not only of Christians but also of the Jewish population, often but not exclusively religiously motivated, especially in the 1066 Granada massacre, in which thousands of Jews perished.

3. Native Christians: From Participation In Public Governance To Oppression And Marginalisation

For several decades, autochthonous Christians and Saracens allegedly shared the church of San Vicente in Córdoba. If it were true, this would speak for tolerance in the context of a conflict-free coexistence in the early days of al-Andalus, i.e., at a time when Sunni Malikite law was not yet known. However, this claim is only found in later Arabic sources.

ʽAbd al-Raḥmān, the first Umayyad emir, is then said to have bought the church from the Christians in 785 and destroyed it in order to build a new house of prayer in its place. The third emir, al-Hakam I, had no confidence in his Arab palace guard in view of the unrest in Cordoba and bought slaves to make a new force, whose commander he appointed the leader of the Cordovan Christians, the Comes Rabiʽ, son of Theodulf of Orléans.

However, the Emir’s son, ʽAbd al-Raḥmān II, had the Christian count Rabiʽ crucified in order to secure the sympathies of at least parts of the Muslim population and the Islamic jurists. Rabīʾ had been accused of misconduct both towards the “faithful” and towards the Christian community. Above all, he was said to have been guilty of having set up a public granary where wine was sold and thus given cause to public transgression. The religiously and morally indignant emir, who was himself known for his dissolute and wine-fuelled festivities, had the granary razed to the ground. The judges, however, had disavowed Rabīʾ both his Christianity and his origin from the indigenous Visigothic population, for he was executed both as an “infidel” (kāfir) and as an ethnic or linguistic stranger (ʿağām).

In the mid ninth century, the famous protests of the Cordovan Christian martyrs occurred. By 858, almost 50 Christians publicly confessed Jesus Christ, rejected Islam as false doctrine and called Mohammed a false prophet. They were all executed. On the one hand, these Christians were monks, including those who had come to Spain from the Orient, that is, priests – but, on the other, also lay people, some of whom came from Christian families; others from mixed Christian-Muslim families. Since the fathers in these families were Muslims, the children were also legally Muslims. So, if they professed Christianity and insulted the Prophet, they had to be punished by death, not only for blasphemy but also for apostasy from the Muslim faith. At least, this is what the Malikite law (discussed below) unequivocally requires. In some cases, their bodies were crucified as a deterrent, and hung on the city gates. However, when it became known that their bones were collected and venerated as relics, the sentences of the executioners stipulated burning them and then scattering the ashes on the Guadalquivir.

John V. Tolan has justified the critical attitude of the voluntary martyrs towards Islam with the argument that they had countered the culture of the colonisers with their own culture of resistance. In doing so, they would have been doing exactly what Edward Saïd defined in Culture and Imperialism as the right of the oppressed to affirm their own oppressed values and culture. This right implied the right to attack the positions of the colonial masters. According to Tolan, the martyr Eulogius used hair-raising insinuations to this end, which could in no way be substantiated by Muslim tradition. As an example, he cited the accusation that Mohammed had announced that he would deflower the virgin Mary in the afterlife. However, this criticism should be countered by the fact that a hadith does indeed report an announcement by Muhammad that God would marry him to the virgin Mary in the hereafter.

Tolan’s justification of the Christian martyrs is an exception in recent historiography. Other, equally serious, historians are not afraid to take the executions of the martyrs as proof that the Muslim “authorities” behaved in a particularly tolerant and profoundly reasonable manner (“…the incident… does show the tolerance and essential reasonableness of the Muslim authorities”). For such friends of al-Andalus, anti-Muslim rebellion and criticism of Islam can apparently only be explained by blindness to reality and ingratitude towards their Muslim masters (For example, Georg Bossong’s Die christliche Märtyrerbewegung gefährdete das gute Zusammenleben zwischen den Religionen (“The Christian martyrdom movement endangered good coexistence between religions”). But on the basis of which set of values are the executioners of the critics of Mohammed to be regarded as particularly tolerant and peaceful?

During the period of the governors and emirs, Christians had long been able to play an increasingly important role in the administration of al-Andalus. This changed with the accession of Emir Muḥammad I (852-886). Even before that though, the ʽulamā had stirred up public resentment against Christians and Jews in high offices. These offices were henceforth finally to be entrusted to Muslims alone. Under Muḥammad I, his Christian secretary Qūmis b. Antunyān therefore converted to Islam. He aspired to the office of vizier and hoped to be able to accommodate this growing anti-Christian propaganda through his conversion, which, however, only affected himself, not his family. But his conversion was considered spurious. He was convicted of apostasy and the Emir therefore confiscated his not inconsiderable property.

Muḥammad I’s policy of weakening the Christians of Córdoba and al-Andalus in general by dividing the clergy bore its first visible fruit at the Synod of 862. Here, there was a split among the bishops, with the forces allied with the Emir initially gaining the upper hand. Bishop Hostegesis, who had been condemned by Abbot Samson (Sansón de Córdoba) for heretical theological teachings, succeeded on this occasion in having Samson himself expelled from the Christian community by the other bishops and barred from all offices when Samson refused to oppose a traditional Spanish antiphon.

Hostegesis had acquired the episcopate of Malaga by purchase at the age of 20. His father, who had previously held it, had converted to Islam in order to avoid conviction for serious fraud against Christians under Christian Visigothic law, which secured him immunity from prosecution. Hostegesis excelled in extreme tax extortion of Christians, which he had had authorised by Córdoba, and squandered the wealth he acquired in this way way, among other things, orgies with high Islamic dignitaries in the capital of al-Andalus. On behalf of the Emir, he worked closely with the head of the Cordovan Christians, Servandus, with whom he had agreed not only to fleece Christians for taxes, but also to spread heresies and propaganda for conversion to Islam.

Most of the bishops, at the insistence of Valentius, Bishop of Córdoba, later withdrew their condemnation of Samson, reinstating him in office. Nevertheless, the power of the Christian enemies Hostegesis and Servandus was not broken. Thanks to the authoritative intervention of Muḥammad I, they unceremoniously deposed Valentius as Bishop of Córdoba and appointed as his successor, supported by Muslim legal advisors, one Stephanus Flacco. A church assembly, to which all the Christians of Córdoba were invited, but most of whom did not appear out of fear and were replaced by Jews as well as Muslims, approved this procedure, which contradicted all canonical regulations.

Thus, Islamic rule, in cooperation with corrupt and heretical bishops, ensured that the organisational foundations of Christian life were increasingly destroyed. It was already being eroded by the pressure to conform and by excessive taxation, as well as by the legal discrimination, which corresponded with the enforcement of Malikite law.

4. Intolerance And Oppression Of Women In Sunni Malikite Law

I. The Introduction And Dominance Of Sunni Sharia Law

In almost all accounts of al-Andalus, the rule of Islam is seen to have lasted from 711 to 1495. However, such a sweeping view undercuts the fact that inscriptional evidence for terms such as “Islam” and “Muslim” from the first half of the 8th century is just as unattested as is the Sunni Malikite law that later shaped jurisprudence in al-Andalus. Contrary to traditional historiography, the latter was not already established by legendary companions of the Prophet or their descendants, nor, as is often reported, by the Syrian Muʿāwiya b. Ṣāliḥ al-Ḥaḍramī (d. 158/774), but only in the 9th century, primarily, though not exclusively, by Ibn Ḥabīb.

Therefore only from the 9th century on could Islamic rulers gradually begin to enforce Malikite law. Then, however, it became binding for the Muslims of al-Andalus for centuries and in this respect became thereafter a defining feature of the Islam that prevailed there. That it would have encouraged tolerance, which is supposedly so characteristic of this Andalusian Islam, is certainly not justified by the code itself.

The most widespread legal treatise here was the Kitāb al-Tafrī (collection of Malikite legislation by the scholar al-Tafrī) from the 10th century, which was translated into an Aragonese-tinged Romanesque using the Arabic script in the 14th century. It retained validity for Muslims even under Christian rulers into the 16th century. The latest manuscript dates from 1585.

Similarly important were: the North African Mudawwana from the 9th century and its supplement, the ʿUtbiyya; the Risāla fī al-Fiqh (10th century); the Maḍāhib al-ḥukkām fī nawāzil al-aḥkām (12th century); Ibn Āṣim al-Andalusī’s (1357-1414) Tuh’fat al- ḥukām fī nukat al-ʿuqoūd wal-aḥkām; and Ibn Rushd’s (1126-1198) – known in the West as the great Aristotelian Averroes – Bidāyat al-Muğtahid wa-Nihāyat al-Muqtasid.

All the works listed refer primarily to the teachings (muwaṭṭa: “The Well-Paved Path”) attributed to Mālik ibn Anas (8th century), cited here according to the compilation transmitted by Yahya Ibn Kathīr al-Andalusī. More often than to Mālik ibn Anas himself, however, the ʿUtbiyya referred to the Malikite jurist Ibn al-Qāsim. In al-Andalus, Malikite law aspired to permeate all aspects of private and public life.

II. Jihad, Ğizya (“Poll Tax”) And Other Forms Of Discrimination Against Non-Muslims

The interpretation of jihad as war to be waged against all “infidels” for the purpose of spreading and defending Islam is often confronted with the objection that jihad first and foremost means, according to the Qur’an, the “inner struggle on the path of God,” i.e., as in an “effort for personal purification and avoidance of evil.” Those who understand this term in this way, however, overlook the fact that this spiritual understanding was a special feature of the Ṣūfīs, i.e., it did not apply to the Sunni world as a whole, in which, by the way, the Ṣūfīs were repeatedly subjected to persecution. This is also true of Muslim Spain.

The military significance of the jihad provision, according to which its aim is to fight the idolaters or the infidels (dār al-ḥarb), is completely undisputed in the literature. Armed struggle for the purpose of spreading Islam can only cease when the whole world is subjected to the rule of Islam (dār al-islam). This is how jihad is understood throughout the early literature from aṭ-Ṭabarī, al-Buḫārī or Ṣaḥīḥ Tirmiḏī to Ibn Saʾd or as-Suyūṭī. From the Sunni perspective, Muslims of other religious observances, such as Shiites or Kharijites, are also considered “infidels,” and thus are to be fought.

The bellicose meaning of jihad described above also existed in Muslim Spain, at least since the introduction of Sunni Malikite law. It unequivocally demands war against infidels unless they submit, and it promises paradise to those who wage this war.

The great Aristotelian Ibn Rushd (Averroes), who was also a jurist in the Malikite tradition, in his writing Bidayat al-Muğtahid also considered jihad as armed struggle, obligatory if the opposing infidels do not accept Islam after being asked to convert. If they do not convert, however, they can be left alive, provided they submit and pay the poll tax (ğizya). It is nevertheless permissible to enslave them, both men or women. But it is also permitted to kill them immediately. According to Mālik Ibn Anas, only the chronically ill, the blind, old people incapable of fighting, the feeble-minded and hermits were exempt. Scholars are not in complete agreement about these exceptions, however. If golden crosses were found in churches during the conquest, they were to be broken before being distributed to the soldiers as booty. The holy books of the Christians, however, should be made to disappear.

Such intolerant rules do not really need any further comment. They show manifestly enough that it was not “Islam” to which we owe the development of European rationalism, for which, according to the UNESCO website, Ibn Rushd/Averroes is a prime representative. For him, “Islam” is clearly defined by the deeply intolerant Malikite law.

The poll tax (ğizya) was not an invention of the Muslims. What distinguished the Muslim poll tax from the taxation practised in the Roman Empire, for example, was its religious discriminatory function. It did not exist for Muslims, but only for “protected” (better, “tolerated”) infidels or ḏhimmīs. Mālik ibn Anas’ Muwaṭṭa explained the difference between dues that a Muslim had to pay and those imposed on the ḏhimmī by saying that the zakat (“almsgiving”) was necessary for the purification of Muslims and brought them honour, while the ğizya served to humiliate the ḏhimmī.

Thus, the focus here was not on the idea of protection, which is always emphasised as central in the literature, but on humiliating the “unbelievers.” In addition to the poll tax, a tax was levied on income from agriculture (ḫarāğ). The “protection contract” (ḏhimma – much like a “protection racket”) was, of course, only valid if the “protected” also paid on time and meticulously fulfilled all other (unilateral) contractual obligations. Otherwise, they were deprived of their rights and could be killed without further ado.

Darío Fernández-Morera has compiled a whole series of further rules applied by Muslim al-Andalus to the ḏhimmī, at least some of which I will mention here with reference to the relevant sources:

  • A Muslim who raped a free Christian woman was whipped; a Christian who raped a free Muslim woman was killed.
  • A Muslim who slandered a Muslim was flogged; a Christian who slandered a Christian was not whipped. A Muslim who killed a Christian was not executed. Such a murder counted for half as much as the murder of a Muslim. A Christian, on the other hand, was to be executed whether his murder of a Muslim was insidious or not.
  • If a debtor converted to Islam before he had paid his debt to a member of his former religion, he was (according to the Mudawwana) immediately free of debt.
  • A Muslim could have a Christian slave, but a Christian could not have a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to have sex with a Christian slave, but a Christian was not allowed to have sex with a Muslim slave.
  • A Muslim was allowed to marry a free Christian woman, but a Christian was not allowed to marry or have sex with a Muslim woman. This was punishable by death. All children fathered by a Muslim were to be raised as Muslims themselves, even if their mother was not a Muslim. Since Muslims were allowed to have up to four wives and as many concubines as they could afford, this legal provision led to an inexorable shift in the demographic balance in favour of Muslims, who were already attracted by the other legal and above all fiscal privileges.

In disputes with Muslims over property, trade and market issues, Christians and Jews could appeal to Muslim judges or other officials, but they had to bring an officially recognised witness for their accusation. Whether this gave them equal legal rights, however, is not only uncertain, but actually unlikely because of the requirement for official recognition of such witnesses – for non-Muslims could not in principle be recognised as witnesses according to the Muwaṭṭaʾ and the Mudawwana, not even in disputes betwixt non-Muslims. Only if they were indispensable experts, such as in medical matters for example, was it permitted for their testimony to be taken into account.

Business relations with Muslims were encumbered for Jewish lenders or lessors by the general assumption that Jews would invariably try to cheat Muslims. Therefore, in legal disputes in which Jews sought to recover their loans or leased land from Muslims, an oath by the defendant Muslims that they owed nothing to the Jews was sufficient to leave the Jews empty-handed.

The primary concern of the Muslim jurists was and remained the possible defilement of Muslims by touching things and food that had previously been touched by impure non-Muslims. They were unclean mainly because they might have eaten forbidden food, such as, garlic or pork or even drunk wine. But this Islamic jurisprudence also made the ground unbelievers, i.e., Jews and Christians, walked on with their bare feet unclean. In order to avoid touching them, as early as the 9th century, Christians and Jews were supposed to wear a distinguishing piece of cloth or belt. Food bought from unbelievers could be eaten, but meat had to be slaughtered in accordance with Islamic rules, etc.

The demand for fundamental distancing from all non-Muslims, which contradicts all Convivencia myths, is also articulated in the fatwa issued more than a hundred years later by another respected jurist, who was able to refer directly to the Qur’an for this purpose: “It is better for you if you do not enter into any kind of association with anyone who adheres to a religion other than yours” (Sura 60: 13; 3: 118-119).

III. Oppression Of Women And Genital Mutilation

In depictions of al-Andalus, which are primarily concerned with promoting Muslim Spain as a model of a tolerant and open society, it is often emphasised that women in al-Andalus enjoyed a much higher degree of self-determined freedom than women in the Christian world of the Middle Ages. Such propaganda, however, is only possible if one closes one’s eyes to the evidence of Muslim legal decrees.

This, in the case of the Malikite regulations on female genital mutilation, is claimed, for example, even by researchers who have otherwise dealt with the situation of women in al-Andalus in an extremely learned and thorough manner, such as Manuela Marín, Janina Safran or Soha Abboud-Haggar.

How self-evident female circumcision was for the author of the Muwaṭṭa is shown by the fact that it is only mentioned in connexion with questions that were apparently considered more important, such as, when a great ritual ablution or the repetition of the pilgrimage was necessary. They are necessary when the circumcised genitals of sexual partners have met. The circumcision of women is explicitly discussed in later Muslim legal literature. Thus, the Risāla of al-Qayrawānī states: “Circumcision is an obligatory tradition (sunna) for men, and for women (clitoral) circumcision (khifaḍ) is a recommended practice;” “…male circumcision is a sacred duty (sunna), and for women (clitoral) circumcision is a recommended practice.” The work by al-Tafri, which was particularly important for Spanish Muslims until the 16th century, also states that circumcision is obligatory for men and honourable for women.

Incidentally, women were not allowed to go out in public alone, but only in the company of their husbands or a male relative with whom no sexual relationship was possible due to kinship. Otherwise, they were only allowed to go out in the street in the company of women; and even then, only for an important reason. And, of course, veiled.

Manuela Marín relates the following anecdote from 10th-century Umayyad Cordoba: A scholar takes his wife and son, who is still a child, to a jurist for a legal opinion concerning the wife and child. The woman is said to have been veiled when she left the house. The jurist, after the scholar had sat down, allowed the child to sit down as well. The mother, however, remained standing. The jurist pointed to her and asked the child who that was. The child replied that it was his mother. Although the legal issue related to her as well, she played no further role. Her husband spoke exclusively on her behalf and her identity was witnessed by the child. She was not permitted to speak for herself.

5. Discriminatory Sunni Malikite Regulations In The 12th Century

From the time of the Almoravid rule in al-Andalus, we have, for example, the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish statements of a legal scholar or market overseer from Seville, Ibn ʽAbdūn. The discourse found in chapter 169 of this treatise is particularly discriminatory:

“One must not allow any tax collector, policeman, Jew or Christian, to wear the splendid clothes of an honourable person, neither those of a lawyer, nor even those of a decent man; on the contrary, one must rather detest and shun them. Nor should they be greeted with the formula, ‘Peace be with you,’ for ‘Satan has taken complete possession of them and made them forget the name of God; they are the party of Satan, and, verily, the party of Satan is the party of those who lose.’ They must wear a badge that they may be recognisable and that they may be abased.”

The fact that splendid raiment is forbidden for Jews as well as Christians and that they are supposed to wear identifying insignia on their clothing could be suggestive that there may well have been “unbelievers” in splendid attire and without discriminatory insignia. However, whether this was actually the case can no longer be clarified today. Even from the following prohibitions or precepts, it is not easy to draw reverse conclusions:

“A Muslim must not massage a Jew or a Christian, nor take away their rubbish or clean their latrines, for the Jew and the Christian are better suited for these hard jobs, which are jobs for the inferior people. Nor must a Muslim take care of a Jew’s or a Christian’s mounts, nor serve them as a muleteer, nor hold their stirrups; and if one learns that someone does, then he should be rebuked for it. And Muslim women must be forbidden from entering the detestable churches, for priests are libertines, whoremongers and sodomites.”

The ban on ringing church bells (“The ringing of bells in Muslim territory must be forbidden, for they should only ring in the land of the infidels” ), which was also pronounced in this context, could indicate that such demonstrations of ecclesiastical presence, which had already been banned in the 9th century, were practised again during Ṭāʾifa rule and therefore now had to be banned again under Sunnite Almoravid rule.

6. Convivencia At The Caliphal Court?

In the Arabic sources dating to the period of the caliphate, the heyday of interreligious cooperation according to al-Andalus propaganda, only one Bishop Recemundus (or Bishop Rabīʾ ibn Sid al-Usquf or Bishop Ibn Zaīd) has attracted greater attention as a collaborative partner, namely, as translator and envoy (to the German emperor Otto I, to Byzantium and Jerusalem); and then also as co-author (the other author being the Arabic physician and historian ʽArīb b. Saʽīd) of the famous Calendar of Cordoba, in both Latin and Arabic. Particularly noteworthy are the notes on medicine attributed to him, which are inserted at the beginning of each month, as well as the details on agricultural questions and administrative matters that he provides.

The scientific traditions relevant to the explanations of astronomy in connection with meteorology are, on the one hand, of Latin-Mozarabic origin, insofar as they deal, for example, with the festal days of saints and their dates relevant to agriculture. In addition, pre-Islamic oriental traditions play a role, for example, in the area of meteorological predictions. Furthermore, we find Greek-Alexandrian traditions, which go back to the physicians Hippocrates and Galen. Finally, the Calendar also contains elements of the “new astronomy,” which hearkens back to Indo-Iranian and Ptolemaic investigations.

Bishop Recemundus, who operated in different cultures, also provides the template for the hero of a best-selling novel in modern Spain that is suitable for the prevailing propagandistic views. A voluntary Christian martyr would certainly not have been particularly suitable as a prototype.

Christians and ecclesiastical officials, such as Recemund, could be successful at the caliph’s court and be accepted as collaborative partners in important publications. Recemund’s student, Bishop Abū-l-Ḥārith al-Usquf, is also said to have belonged to a religiously mixed work group, which is said to have worked on philosophical writings concerning logic. However, nothing more specific is known about this bishop or the results of this working group.

Christian doctors also seem to have played a larger role. Ibn Juljul al-Andalusī (b. 943) mentions in his “Categories of Physicians and Scholars” (Kitāb ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ wa-l-ḥukammā) for the late 9th and early 10th centuries a total of six important physicians by name, five of whom were Christians. Even later in the 10th century, the caliph ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III still consulted a Christian physician (Yaḥyà b. Isḥāq).

However close the connection of these doctors may have been with the court, they can no more make us forget, as Recemundus did, that ʿAbd al-Raḥmān III enslaved thousands of Christians whom he was able to seize in his raids against Christian territories. Nor can they conceal how difficult the situation of Christians was, generally speaking, during this period. They were obliged to obediently submit to the will of the rulers, if they wanted to continue living at all in that society with the Muslims.

According to the Vita Johannis Gorziensis, written by John of St Arnulf in Metz, St John of Gorze rebuked Recemundus for the fact that the Cordovan Christians had made themselves subservient to the Muslims. They had adopted not only their eating habits but also their circumcision ritual (“et melius omnino fuerat, hominem christianum famis grave ferre dispendium, quam cibis ad destructionem aliorum consociari gentilium. …ad ritum eorum vos audio circumcisos” – “and it would have been better for a Christian man to bear the suffering of a grievous famine than to be associated with food for the destruction of other gentiles… I hear you circumcised according to their rite”).

Recemundus justified this behaviour with the coercion exercised by the rulers (“Atque ille, ‘Necessitas’, inquit, ‘nos constringit; nam aliter eis cohabitandi nobis copia non est’” – “And he said, ‘Necessity forces us; otherwise we would not be able to live together”). They would have to submit to the Caliph if they wanted to continue to be able to live in Muslim al-Andalus. But since the Christian faith itself was not affected by this, they could otherwise obey their Muslim masters (“…quia religionis nulla infertur iactura, cetera eis obsequamur, iussisque eorum in quantum fidem non impediunt obtemperamus.” – “because no loss of religion is inflicted, let us go along with them and the rest, as far obeying their orders, as much as they do not hinder the faith”). At any rate, this attests as much to a “tolerant” and “peaceful” attitude towards Christians and Jews, in a modern understanding of coexistence, at the time of the first caliph, as it does for a fruitful dialectic between the three religions.

7. Al-Andalus As The Cradle Of Modern Sciences?

The myth of “Islamic Spain as the birthplace of rational thought and the European sciences,” for which names, such as Averroes or Maimonides are repeatedly invoked, has, as was mentioned in the first section (“Al-Andalus Propaganda”), become conventional wisdom, not only of such honourable international institutions as UNESCO, but by politicians such as Barack Obama, as we have already noted. However, the fact that the great Aristotelian Averroes, not only in accordance with the Malikite legal tradition (see above on “Jihad”), called for jihadist enmity on all non-Muslims, and even all non-orthodox Sunni Muslims, but in addition also demanded submission to the rules of the Sharia even in questions of practical philosophy and jurisprudence, is regularly overlooked or suppressed.

Neither Averroes nor his predecessors ever considered addressing the question of whether the understanding of reason and rationality that applied to theoretical philosophy as a matter of course should not also apply to practical philosophy, as it did to Aristotle. For this reason, Franz Schupp, for example, thinks, or rather fears, that he must reproach the “commentator” Averroes, similar to Arnaldez, with a certain blindness in this philosophical question. At no point in the “decisive treatise” did Averroes consider it worthwhile to derive the rules of Islamic law from general theoretical principles. In his eyes, the law is sufficiently legitimised by the Prophet and the consensus of Muslims (§ 15). With regard to its interpretation, he also does not refer to theoretical principles, but solely to the customary procedures of Islamic jurists (§ 4). There are no dark passages in the law that would require scientific explication. Only in theoretical questions, but not in practical ones, is there room for philosophical interpretation. Practical science, as Averroes explains in § 38, only requires obedient observance of the rules, namely, the observance of jurisprudence (fiqh) for external actions, and the observance of “asceticism” (zuqd) for mental actions. Any justification of the revealed law by philosophy is out of the question.

In the case of Maimonides, on the other hand, whom UNESCO merely praises as evidence of the importance of Islamic Spain, as the fountainhead of European rationalism, no mention is made of the fact that he, the greatest Jewish scholar of the Middle Ages, had to flee from al-Andalus to North Africa and from there to Cairo because of religious persecution. In his letter to the Jews of Yemen, he described the Muslims at that time as the worst of all Jew-haters and persecutors. Never had a nation oppressed, humiliated, belittled and hated the Jews as much as the Muslims.

Incidentally, the myth of al-Andalus as a sanctuary of enlightened thought, science and philosophy was already dismissed by Ignaz Goldziher, well over a hundred years ago. Goldziher, one of the founding fathers of critical Oriental studies, who is still regarded as an internationally respected Islamologist, summarised the results of his research on this subject in 1877 to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as follows:

“The first Spanish caliph to promote and cultivate the sciences was al-Ḥakam II in the 4th/10th century; he himself was also a scholar of the first rank. But already under his successor, his majordomo, Ibn Abī ʽĀmir, had won the favour of the people and Islamic religious scholars by destroying al-Ḥakam’s library and all his scientific output. But since Andalusia had not yet produced any important and free-thinking philosophers at all in the 4th/10th and 5th/11th centuries, the fanaticism of Ibn Abī Amir destroyed only the Eastern philosophical literature. Then, in the 6th/12th century, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), Ibn Bāǧǧa (Avempace), Ibn Ṭufaīl (Abubacer) and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), and Ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar), a few philosophers emerged among the Spanish Arabs; for a short time, at least, their personal security was guaranteed by the Almoravid Caliph Yūsuf ibn Tāšfīn, who was himself a friend of scholarship. Later, however, after a “golden age” of a few decades, philosophers and scholars were forced to withdraw from public life or leave al-Andalus under pressure from the ʿUlamāʾ and the proletariat. Their persecution put an end to the entire philosophical movement in Islamic Spain. Averroes, who owed his fame in the history of Aristotelianism to his outstanding influence on Christian scholasticism and Jewish religious philosophy, was almost completely forgotten by the Arabs. His work was not continued; although it must be said that Averroes’ scholarship was neither dependent nor linked to Spanish Islam, but was rather a continuation of Eastern Islamic philosophy, where it had developed organically over centuries. These two circumstances clearly show that Arab Spain was not a suitable milieu for philosophy, a fact that the historian of Arab Spain, al-Maqqarī, also acknowledges when he writes: “Philosophy is a science hated in Spain, which can only be studied in secret…”

While numerous liberal movements, both relating to science and in everyday life, manifested themselves in Eastern Islam, we look for such in vain in Western (Spanish) Islam, which is because of the different circumstances and conditions in which these two branches of Islam emerged. The history of Arab sciences begins with their contact and intermingling with the Persians. And the initiators of this scientific movement, which later developed into a separate Islamic in its own right, were mostly non-Arab foreigners, especially Persians…”

Muslim authors of the Middle Ages such as Ibn Ḥazm (994-1064) or Ibn Ṭumlūs (1164-1223) also mentioned the limited interest in philosophy and the low currency of philosophical works in al-Andalus. Compared to North Africa, al-Andalus was renowned for its unusually rigorous suppression of philosophy and Greek science, which the orthodox religious teachers and judges there considered un-Islamic. The intellectuals affected by this suppression were Muslims, but their philosophical works oriented towards Greek philosophy were however not viewed as being “Islamic.”


Our criticism of the lack of seriousness with regard to the Convivencia-construct mentioned at the outset of this article has been elucidated in the preceding through the sketch of historical developments and the discriminatory, intolerant regulations of Islamic law, which we have proffered.

Furthermore, we have shown inter alia that the contemporary accolades for the purported promotion of science by Islamic rulers, and that of Averroes, for example, as the alleged founder of a European rationalism are in need of nuanced differentiation. At the very least, they need to be accompanied by an account of the oft anti-scientific, blind adherence to Islamic law. We must not forget that only this law was Islamic and binding, but not, however, e.g., Aristotle’s commentary on natural philosophy.

Of course, we are still a long way off from a representation of the real social conditions and the real forms of interreligious coexistence in al-Andalus, although not so distant as the portrayals of the Convivencia propaganda. Our insufficient knowledge of the real living conditions is primarily because of the fact that we hardly have any first-hand testimonies of the victims of Islamic rule, apart from those of the voluntary Christian martyrs touched upon in the preceding. It was all the more important for us to make critical distinctions between the otherwise mainly positive self-portrayal of Islamic rule itself, i.e., the narrative by perpetrators and their adherence to Islamic law which legalised their actions.

Johannes Thomas is a Classicist and Romanist at the University of Paderborn. He is also the founding senator of the University of Erfurt. He is the author of Engel und Leviathan, Logik des Zufalls. Kunstkritik im Kontext von Moderne, Postmoderne und Antike and many other articles and books. This article is translated from the German by Robert M. Kerr.

The featured image shows, “The Flagellation of St Engratia,” by Bartolomé Bermejo; painted ca. 1474-1478.