March 20 – March 27, 2013
What is the shape of Islam in the contemporary Holy Land? For many people, especially in the West, Islam is monochrome and homogeneous. But, historically, Islam, the first shock to the rule of Christendom in the Holy Land, has developed to include many factions. Though Sunnism appears from the fifth century of Islam (eleventh century of the Christian era) with coherent religious identity focused around the Unity of God, the imitation of the Prophet, coherent worship and ethics, there were different branches that have shaped what we call today Sunnism, comprising of Sufi orders, modernist Muslim movements, and political Islam, each giving a different face to what we call today ‘Islam’.
One major schismatic branch of Islam that is distinguished from Sunnism with its political and religious ideology and with mass following was Shiism. Shiism is not a monolithic movement either. Its provenance goes back to political dissent among the first Muslims. However, its character was not only shaped by political ideas. Posthumous supporters of the fourth Caliph Ali, unhappy with the corruption of the political leaders of Umayyad Damascus, developed a theory of religious authority vested in their charismatic Imams. This in turn reflects the lack of coherent religious authority in the first few centuries of Islam. Shiism, however, as it developed later was highly productive of splinter groups and movements, such as the Ismailis, the Twelver Shiites, the Alawites, the Druze, The Bahais, and The Ahmadiyya movement.
The Holy Land is famous for being a Land loyal to Sunni Islam, but has its share of the different faces of Sufi, modernist and political Sunnism. Despite the lack of allegiance to Shiism here, the Holy Land is home to different sub-movements of Shiism, mainly the Druze, Bahaism, and the Ahmadiyya in particular. It is not as though there is a clear Islamic political and religious system on offer here.
This course at St. George’s College aims to offer a basis to understand and relate to the complexity of the different faces of Islam as represented in the Holy Land today. What are the implications for the political reality here? And what does the Church and the Churches of the Holy Land have to offer in response to this diversity as a basis for moral society?