Aramaeans vs. Arabs: The fight between Civilization and Barbarism within Islam
The Shu'ubiya and the Mutazilites (two key Islamic movements) created dynamic debates and disputes that constitute sufficient sources for the proper historical understanding of the Aramaean – Arab cultural clashes that shaped the historical Islam, a religion that has nothing to do with the Arab cultural and behavioral reductionism.
By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis, Orientalist
In previous articles we underlined the Aramaean ethnic – racial identity of the Arabic speaking people throughout vast parts of the Asiatic parts of the Middle East, stressing the point that the Aramaean speaking people may look today like a minority among the Arabic speaking people of Iraq, SE Turkey, Syria, SW Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Emirates, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, but they simply constitute the most authentic part of the same people, i.e. the Aramaeans, who got arabized linguistically only, not racially – ethnically, not culturally (http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/8-9-2005-74536.asp). We underscored the fact that for the Aramaeans the gradual process of Islamization did not mean cultural arabization, but the contrary happened in reality: the Arabs by accepting the Islam were culturally de-arabized and literarily speaking aramaized. We analyzed why Islam is not an Arabic cultural phenomenon, but – quite contrarily – an Aramaic cultural phenomenon that, preached among the Arabs by Prophet Muhammad was geared to civilize – and therefore de-arabize – the nomads of Hedjaz.
The reasons for which these realities are passed by silence and remain unknown to many people, contributing therefore to confusion about the Middle East and the issues related to the Islamic Terror are many; with them we will deal in a forthcoming article focused on the misrepresentations of Islam from the times of Medieval Europe to the modern Colonial Era. In the present article we are going to check whether Islam achieved one of its announced missions, namely to uproot any Arabic cultural element from among the Arabs.
Vindication of Islam by non Arabs: Shu'ubiya
Less than 80 years after the expansion in Jerusalem, Damascus and Ctesiphon, Islam started being vindicated by Persians. The movement of the Shu'ubiya does not represent any 'Nationalism' as its name lets us think; it was rather a historical-cultural evaluation and a socio-anthropological interpretation of the phenomenon of the rise of the Islamic Civilization, already in Umayyad times. The Shu'ubiya did not pretend that Iranian Culture was superior to Islamic or to Arabic, as erroneous modern interpreters attempt to say. They basically tried to explain to whom the Rise of the Islamic Civilization was due, and they stressed that it was owed to non-Arabs, not particularly to the Persians. The fact that we possess few historical sources about this movement, and the parallel rise of Persian culture in supremacy within Islam misled scholars to conclude that the Shu'ubiya represented a sort of rising Iranian nationalism within Islam; and this is wrong.
There were various cultural influences within the early Islamic Civilization, Aramaic, Persian, Jewish, Yemenite, Greek, Coptic. They were all stronger than the Arab element that was persisting whatsoever. The early Islamic expansion covered a vast area from NW Africa to Central Asia. Arabs from the Hedjaz moved to and settled in various cities allover the Caliphate. In parallel, many proselytes, Aramaeans, Persians and people from Central Asia, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, Africans and Yemenites, moved to Medina and Mecca, the holy area (Haramayn) where the Prophet if the new religion they accepted had lived. So, the cultural clash took place allover the surface of the Caliphate.
It was clear that, after the preaching of Islam, and thanks to their direct contact with the Aramaic world, the Arabs were influenced by late Aramaic rationalism, a current that can be delineated as back as Tatianus in the 2nd century CE. They attempted to interpret the phenomenon of the then rising Islamic Culture and Civilization as a consequence and a derivative of the Islamic religion. Reflecting a narrow-minded and uncultured background, the Arabs stressed what we would call an over-generalized reductionism.
Arab cultural and religious reductionism
1. Methodological reductionism signified that every subject tackled was reduced to the simplest element and meaning / understanding possible. To start with, this approach reduced the Coran, and consequently the Hadith, to flat, graspable, 'permeable' texts easy for all to understand. An example is Ahmed Ibn Hanbal's method of accepting the mutashabihat (unapparent meanings of the Coran and the Hadith) as they have come without saying how they are meant. It was 'normal' for the uneducated and the uncultured Arabs of the 7th century to present the new religion's Holy Book as their 'acquisition', as something easy for nomads to perceive, because only in this way they would be able to levy political – economic profit as ruling class and military (rather than administrators) in the vast Caliphate. Arab religious leaders and preachers denied in the Coran any symbolism, any mysticism, and any mythical – metaphorical element and/or dimension, preventing therefore adequate and pertinent understanding.
2. Theoretical reductionism implied that other religions, ideologies, philosophies, cultures and civilizations were to be replaced by Islam, not because Islam was a new one superseding all the previous, but because Islam had existed since times immemorial as the religion of all the previous prophets (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus), and Muhammad's preaching was only a refinement or completion of the 'older' Islam. Combined with the methodological reductionism, it prevented any interest in search, research, comparison and knowledge.
3. Religious reductionism diffused the erroneous idea that all the events and the developments can be reduced to religious – Coran-based explanations. It accentuated the ignorance about beliefs of other peoples who lived among Muslims, and even worse it led to the irrationalization of the beliefs of the others, as for instance the Sabians, who were centered on Harran and present day Eski Sumatar.
4. Linguistic (Arabic) reductionism diffused the baseless belief that everything can be described in Arabic with a limited number of core concepts and their combinations.
5. Ontological reductionism was formed on the basis of the previous dimensions, and consisted in the aberration that everything is made from a small number of basic substances that behave in regular ways. It pulled several Islamic theological and philosophical systems to Monism.
6. Teleological reductionism involved the belief that everything is made to serve one purpose only, and nothing escapes the prospects and targets set by God. This leads to Eliminativism, and ultimately to Radical Behaviorism, which is at the epicenter of the Islamic Terrorism. For the Islamic Radical Behaviorism everything that matters is a Muslim's behavior.
7. Moral reductionism propagated the erroneous idea that there can be Divine intercession in the Hereafter, which contradicts the Divine Justice. By diffusing the devious idea that in the Hereafter the Muslims, who committed the grave sins and then became the grave sinners before they died, will be met with Divine intercession, Arab origin bogus-Muslim theologians forcefully changed some of the basic concepts of Islam, promoting among their uncultured fellow countrymen moral negligence and absolute lack of real discipline. If God intercedes the grave sinners, and takes them out of the Hell after they have completed their punishments in the Hell, as the Ashari theologians pretended, morality is reduced to a meaningless non-sense.
What is the quintessence of Arab reductionism?
One has to bear in mind that the change imposed upon the Arabs at the times of Prophet Muhammad with the imposition of Islam was a tremendous event that was difficult for average Arab nomads to accept. When it became clear that Islam would finally be imposed, masses of Arabs realized that they could not avert the event, but they could make it relatively or mostly ineffective or harmless to their past identity and customary way of life.
It is clear that for an Arab of Mecca or Medina in 625 or 628, converted or not, the advent of a great culture and the rise of a brilliant civilization (as we attested them in the Arts, the Letters, the Sciences and the Philosophy of Damascus, Baghdad, Cordoba, Shiraz, Kairwan, Samarqand, Ispahan and Istanbul), as a result of the diffusion of Islam among other peoples, was not expected at all; they could not imagine at all the impact of the Islam on the other peoples because they did not know the civilizations and the cultures developed by other peoples and, in addition, they had not understood Islam in the way many other peoples did. They ignored the link among religion – philosophy – behavioral system – knowledge/erudition – culture. What they expected at the best was a limited change in their lives and customs. They did not perceive Islam as a system based on principles, and they could not conceive the social impact of the loyalty to principles, which is the generating factor of cultures and civilizations.
Very early, and before the diffusion of Islam in Yemen (630) and in the Aramaean-populated provinces of the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Empire of Iran (636 – 640), the Arabs were involved in thunderous ideological, philosophical and theological debates, which was quite new for them. Of course, it would be futile and misleading to compare the level of the arguments employed to the high conceptual thinking of Muslim erudite scholars, intellectuals and philosophers 200 or 300 years after the death of the Prophet. However, the early debates and disputes brought forth two categories of Arab followers of Islam, namely:
a) those who were more open to the surrounding world and the other Oriental cultures, so able to cope with and achieve cultural – behavioral improvement, and
b) those who were totally barbaric and foreign to any conceptualizing.
As it can be easily surmised, the latter viewed Islam as a religion preached by Prophet Muhammad to Arabs, so as an Arabic religion, preached to them by an Arab Prophet.
They consequently viewed the Islamic expansion as expansion of their religion, namely of the Arabic religion, and they made of the early acceptance of Islam by other peoples a bogus-legend of 'conquest' and 'epics' in a due effort to be compared to earlier – and of course immeasurably greater and braver – Roman and Persian exploits and heroic deeds. This was the 'party' that around 'Abu' Bakr, Omar and Othman opposed Ali as First Caliph, as he should be, and became later known as Sunni. We do not imply that all the Sunnis in later periods accepted such trivialization; quite contrarily, Mutazilite Sunni Muslims of mostly Aramaean origin rejected all this explicitly. At this point, we want mostly to underscore the fact that these ideas were shared by the early group of Arabs out of which emanated the Sunnis. A typical example of these people was Muawiyah, the murderous thug, who had Caliph Ali assassinated, prosecuted Ali's two sons, and massacred the youngest so that the way is free for him to become caliph. He then called himself 'Khusraw of the Arabs', which is quite indicative of his idea of Islam.
Contrarily to this group, the 'party' around Ali, the First Imam after the death of the Prophet, was more conscious of the fact that Islam as the correct religion, preached by the last Prophet, was a universal phenomenon, and that the Arabs, in order contribute to the making of Islam a universal religion, had to educate themselves and be able to expose the reasons of Islam to people of higher culture. These Arabs proved able to absorb other cultures' elements, acquire a refined non-nomadic behavioural system, and change themselves accordingly. These are the very early Shia, but at those days the present divide existed under totally different terms.
Aramaean – Arab cultural clashes in early Islam
Here, we intend rather to describe a milieu than to enumerate the long cultural and ideological disputes that were unraveled during the first centuries of Islam throughout the Caliphatic territories. Ahmed Ibn Hanbal was born in Central Asia but to Arab parents, who transported faraway their reductionism through which Arabs had believed they could preserve their hold on Islam. He testifies therefore to what we mentioned earlier, namely that the cultural clash took place allover the surface of the Caliphate.
As we said, it would not be wise to assume that all Arab origin theologians stuck to Arab culture; many appreciated highly the Aramaic and the Persian cultural heritage and contribution into shaping the Islamic civilization, and made them theirs, abandoning the reductionisms of the nomads. However, the leading figures among the early Islamic Illuminati were mainly of Aramaean origin. The large cultural – academic current that contributed tremendously in incorporating the new religion, viewed as reassessment of earlier movements, ideologies, theologies and systems and as innovative interpretation, became known as the Mutazilites. We cannot enter here into the details of the rise and fall of the Mutazilite movement, but we have to stress two seminal issues:
a. the Mutazilite movement represents authentically the Aramaean academic, cultural and behavioral background within Islam; it appeared, when the first Aramaeans accepted Islam, became independent from either Rome or Iran, and turned out to be the academic – cultural – social elite within the Caliphate of Damascus.
b. the Mutazilite movement was the generating factor of Arts, Letters, Philosophy, Sciences, Lumieres, and generally speaking, progress and civilization throughout the Islamic World were due to them, so to Aramaeans, who took as their own task to give full dimensions of culture and civilization to the newly diffused preaching of Muhammad.
The opposition to uncivilized and ruthless Arab military rulers and petty theologians was not an easy task; anyone could be accused for apostasy a heresy and be executed on the spur of the moment. That is why it took some time for a structured reaction to be formulated against the Arabs. Around 730 – 740, Wasil ibn Ata (born in the area of the elapsed kingdom of Characene, in modern Basra) shaped into a philosophical system all the earlier disparate elements and approaches that served as criticism of the wrong perception of Islam by Arabs. He sought to set the foundations of a philosophical system able to make of the preaching of Prophet Muhammad a viable culture and a genuine search for the truth. By denying that the Coran has existed forever, and by stressing the concept of Freedom and Free Will, the Mutazilites reproduced basic Aramaic Christological approaches but within Islam this time. They provoked an enormous shock to the Arab obscurantist theologians, who needed also time to shape in their turn the Ashari movement almost 200 years after the diffusion of the first structured Mutazilte ideas. This period was precisely the peak of the Islamic civilization, and the rise of the Ashari heralded the beginning of the Islamic Darkness that the philosophical and scholarly erudition of the Aramaean proselytes had set aside for a while. Thanks to Aramaean proselytes, even Umayyad caliphs were convinced that the traditional nomadic culture and behavioural systems of their Arab ancestry had to be obliterated. Even more so, Abbasid caliphs, like Al Maamun and Al Mutassim, promulgated a sort of Inquisition against Islamic Darkness propagated by Arabs, and the reactionist Ibn Hanbal spent much time in the jail.
The two movements we referred to (Shu'ubiya and the Mutazilites) dynamics of the debates and the disputes they generated constitute sufficient sources for the proper historical understanding of the Aramaean – Arab cultural clashes that shaped the historical Islam.