The Many Faces of Islam – re-posted 25 August 2021

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15 Responses to The Many Faces of Islam – re-posted 25 August 2021

  1. carl says:

    Clear, concise & comprehensive. Taught me things I never understood before ..

  2. akaPatience says:

    Thanks, I appreciate this very much. As someone who’s never served in the military, much less in predominately Muslim areas of the world like so many of the people who post comments here, the exposure to data and opinions is very instructive. I visit this blog more to learn than to spout off, although I’ve done a fair share of that, given the times.

  3. Barbara Ann says:

    Thanks for reposting this primer, I must have missed it on first publication. The essay is absolutely excellent, dense in terms of information content, but very readable. My complements to your co-author Colonel.

    A question: Do you see the failure of the Mu’taziliin to turn the faith into ‘an endlessly adaptive “living” system’ as key to Islam’s survival & prosperity? It seems Islam’s scriptural literalism and traditionalist core have ensured it has not fallen victim to William Ralph Inge’s adage; that the church that is married to the spirit of this age, becomes a widow in the next.

    From a Western Enlightenment perspective Islam’s seamless garment aspect does seem backward. However, as our Enlightenment appears to be coming to an end – I would argue it is rapidly reversing – Islam’s oneness with God seems in retrospect a distinct advantage. Its adherents have largely avoided Yeats’ Fourth Age of Man which has so devastated Christendom.

    I’d echo akaPatience’s sentiment. I try to limit my contributions here, but it’s just so darned interesting.

    • Pat Lang says:

      Barbara Ann

      The mu’tazila was defeated in Sunnism. The gate of ijtihad remains open in 12er and Zeidi
      Shiism. IMO the closing of the gate of ijtihad imperiled Sunni Islam by outlawing modern science and other innovation.

  4. Razumov says:

    “The story must not be neglected by any modern, who may think in error that the East has finally fallen before the West, that Islam is now enslaved — to our political and economic power at any rate if not to our philosophy. It is not so. Islam essentially survives, and Islam would not have survived had the Crusade made good its hold upon the essential point of Damascus. Islam survives. Its religion is intact; therefore its material strength may return. Our religion is in peril, and who can be confident in the continued skill, let alone the continued obedience, of those who make and work our machines? … There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine…. We worship ourselves, we worship the nation; or we worship (some few of us) a particular economic arrangement believed to be the satisfaction of social justice…. Islam has not suffered this spiritual decline; and in the contrast between [our religious chaos and Islam’s] religious certitudes still strong throughout the Mohammedan world lies our peril.”

    ― Hilaire Belloc, The Crusades

    • Pat Lang says:

      “There is with us a complete chaos in religious doctrine…” Belloc did not understand that in Islam kalaam (speculative theology) is a minor religious science. It is the compilation of the many version of sharia and the ijma’ based on it that really matters.

    • Barbara Ann says:


      Thanks for that Belloc quote, which is exactly to my point about Islam having avoided Yeats’ Fourth Age of Man. I think Belloc would be unsurprised today to see the secular West on the verge of a woke spiritual implosion.

  5. Deap says:

    This was a compact, direct tour de force. Thank you so much. For the first time, I felt I was able to finally see this religion from the inside looking out, rather than remaining puzzled by the deep fervor one observes often through western eyes from the outside. A few very well crafted sentences were so transcendent – esp the description of the Quran as the “uncreated” word of God.

    Thank you for re-posting this. I had missed it too and as numbers of Muslim communities grow in the US and more are being now imported as we speak, understanding this religion, its history, its practice and its fault lines is even more critical.

    Sometimes local author Pico Iyer, of East Asian Indian ancestry, but British and American education, often tries to bridge eastern and western cultures. After 9-11 he struggled to take us inside the mind of a young Muslim suicide bomber – what could possibly motivate the intentional choice of death over life as the expression of greatest glory; and not chose death only as an act of deep despair.

    He pivoted his story (somewhat unsuccessfully) around the word Abandon – to illustrate the differing perceptions of the word as he tried to get us to view the Muslim world from the inside out too – eastern in this case Islam) and western being European/North American).

    Cold, lost and frightened is what the word abandon often triggers in the western mind. One religiously tries to avoid abandonment in the west. Abandoned children, abandoned dogs, abandoned at a road stop; never anything good.

    But becoming one with God by abandoning all worldly ties through death becomes the greatest expression of the glory of life in this eastern mind, according to author Pico Iyer.

    Unfortunately his characters were poorly drawn and the story line annoying, but interspersed the reader was asked to struggle with the author to absorb this attempted message. But the timing shortly after our crude introduction to Islamist suicide bombers at 9-11 found a ready audience eager to understand this new force in our lives.

    Thank you for the superb continuing education.

  6. Leith says:

    Thanks for this Colonel.

    Are the Five Pillars universal throughout all branches of Islam? Same question for the Six Articles of Faith?

    • Pat Lang says:


      Yes on the first question. No on the second. The Hanbali derived sects (ijma’ groups) vary a lot in their acceptance of other “people of the book.”

  7. T says:

    Thanks for the excellent overview. Here is a visualization that I’ve found useful-

    • Deap says:

      Thank you for this very helpful diagram. My own introduction to Islam came in the 1980’s during a summer law program at Univ of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur – first time I had heard of sharia law in the course Islamic Foundations of Malaysian Constitutional Law.

      At the time in the mid 1980’s, both the Malaysian legal system and economy was moving into more western models, creating tensions on both sides. My very first introduction to “Islam” in this Malaysian context was kinder and gentler than our abrupt wake-up call to Islam in the US after 9-11, when its most extremist branches became our national introduction.

      I still feel caught between two worlds on this topic – the Malaysian/Indonesian expression of Islam through later contact with Muslim individuals from these nationalities, and later with Hunza Valley, Pakistan Ismaili Muslims as well as those friendly and welcoming faces all across Turkey…… in contrast to the other extremist expressions of Islam, that is hell bent on our immediate destruction in the West. It is and can be an evil we let in the back door.

  8. Charlie Wilson says:

    Fantastic stuff! Very much appreciated. Is the co-author perchance SWMBO?

  9. Razumov says:

    A statement from the elders of the Alawites on the modern Alawite identity:

    “1: Alawism, or the Alawite belief, represent a third model of and within Islam. We, the Alawites, form a separate confession, which is neither textual nor rational as in the models represented by our Sunni or Shiite brothers. The character of Alawism, henceforth, may be qualified as Islam’s transcendent (or transcendental) form.”

    I have read that the Alawite religious books are now being published in Lebanon in Arabic.

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