Thursday, September 13, 2007

Osama bin Laden: The latest of the Mujaddidun?

Erratum: A helpful reader recently pointed out a central hole to the thesis of this particular essay: to wit, that the Islamic calendar differs from the Western calendar. The Islamic century (because it is based on the lunar cycles) works out approximately to 97 years, not the 100 years by which we measure our centuries. Calculating forward from the Islamic starting point (622 a.d.), the nearest centurial turning point (the “head of the century” referred to in the essay below) to 2000 would be approximately 1980. Therefore, the concept of the mujaddidun cannot reasonably be linked to Osama bin Laden, as my essay conjectures. I will nevertheless leave the essay as is, below, as it contains otherwise interesting information; were the Ayatollah Khomeini not a Shi’ite Muslim, he would be a likely candidate.

I ran across an interesting Islamic term in a couple of dusty academic journals: the mujaddidun (singular: mujaddid). This term is not to be confused with the far more well-known mujahid (plural: mujahideen), signifying “warrior” or “jihadist” (though Osama bin Laden is most assuredly one of these as well).

The mujaddidun are, in Islamic history, special revivalists or “regenerators” who come along at key points in time to bring Islam back from its apparently cyclical—or at least recurring—declines into corruption and forgetfulness of its fundamental tenets and strengths.

To quote the great scholar of Islamic history, Ignaz Goldziher, from an article entitled “Ignaz Goldziher on Al-Suyuti” by J.O. Hunwick and Michael Barry (The Muslim World, 68 (2) 79-99, 1978):

There is an ancient Tradition traced back to Muhammad: God sends at the head of each century (lala ras al-mia) a man from among the people of my House who will explain to them that which concerns their religion.The scholars have explained this saying to the effect that at the beginning of each century there will be a scholar of superior quality who will renew and regenerate for his contemporaries who are living in ignorance the theological knowledge that is falling into oblivion. He will be a regenerator of Islamic knowledge (or, as they called him, a renewer”—mujaddid). (p. 81)

Goldziher goes on to specify that “at the ‘head’ of each century” means that this mujaddid, this regenerator, will die shortly after the turning of the century which he has been sent to regenerate for Islam. As we all know, Osama is old and has been at deaths door for a few years now, if he has not already died.

Furthermore, Goldziher notes:

The mujaddid was to be recognized not through a majority of votes in authoritative circles; rather he would owe this distinction to his popularity and, as we have noted, to the vox populi. . .

Since 911 (and quite possibly before, though far less so), it has become known that Osama bin Laden is widely popular throughout the Muslim world. This article by Daniel Pipes provides many indications of this (although the article suffers from a complete lack of citations for its claims).

A poll conducted by the Pew Research center in 2003 found that:

Osama bin Laden was chosen by five Muslim publicsin Indonesia, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and the Palestinian Authorityas one of the three political leaders they would most trust to do the right thing in world affairs.

In 2005, an apparent decrease in support for Osama bin Laden was a result from a Pew poll using a sampling of a total of 17,000 people from six North African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries as well as eleven major Western and Asian nations, including the United States. However, the following year, in 2006, Al-Jazeera conducted a survey indicating that upwards of 49% of Muslims support bin Laden. And just this month, a poll for an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow indicated that Osama bin Laden is more popular in
Pakistan than President Pervez Musharraf. All these signs of Osama bin Ladens mass appeal throughout the Muslim world would seem to constitute the requisite vox populi noted by Goldziher as one important feature of the centurial mujaddid.

Another scholar of Islamic history, Ella Landau-Tasseron, notes (in her article “Zaydi Imams as Restorers of Religion: Ihya and Tajdid in Zaydi Literature, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jul., 1990), p. 247) that the earliest occurrence of the attribution to Mohammed of this concept of the mujaddidun comes from the hadith collections of Abu Dawud in the 9th century A.D. In another article (“The ‘Cyclical Reform’: A Study of the mujaddid Tradition”, Studia Islamica, No. 70 (1989), pp. 247-263), the same scholar cites the Islamic scholar Al-Suyuti (a late 15th-century, early 16th-century Egyptian Muslim who thought of himself, with more or less justification and/or egotistical pretensions, as the mujaddid of his own century) as referencing another hadith (uncited) to the effect that “at the turn of each century there will be a calamity / grave event.” Landau-Tasseron goes on to comment: “In order to rectify its damages God in His mercy sends a restorer [i.e., a mujaddid]. The ultimate pair [of mujaddidun] will be the Dajjal [the Islamic equivalent of the Anti-Christ] and [the Islamic] Jesus [to come at the Islamic version of the Last Days]. This element of calamity (mihna or fitna) connects the mujaddid hadith with eschatological material and explains why Abu Dawud classified it as malahim [battles or strife].”

Such perennial mythological concepts from Islamic theology and eschatology, of course, are not to be taken literally by us Infidels; but they are to be taken by us Infidels seriously insofar as, or to the degree to which, they may inform the visions and plans of action of certain Muslims who may interpret the 20th and 21st centuries as, indeed, calamities for Islam, in need of “restoration” and their consequent “restorer”, either to revivify Islam’s original imperative for global Jihad, or to hasten the world’s end—or both. With grave and horrific consequences for those of us who prefer to continue to live in the imperfect tension of the mystery of history and its uncertain Progress into a future as free from madmen bent on the violent immanentization of
Paradise as possible.

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