Christian Churches of God

No. B7_5




Mysticism Chapter 5


(Edition 2.5 19900810-20050209-20170610)

Islam is a logical extension of Judeo-Christianity and it arose as a result of the influence of the Mystery Cults on Christianity.




Christian Churches of God

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 (Copyright © 1990, 2000, 2005, 2017 Wade Cox)


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Religious History to the Birth of Islam


Arab Beliefs

The very forces which caused the Prophet (incorrectly called Muhammad) to begin his mission and forge a unified Islamic expansion were ultimately to affect its theology.


The worship of the Arabs at the time of the Prophet was Animistic, involving numerous gods and two or three goddesses. 

"These deities had their several holy places, whither man resorted on occasion to seek their aid, fulfil a vow, or consult the oracle. The sacred precincts were marked off by boundary stones. The object of worship, or, to speak more exactly, the object in which the divinity lodged, was most commonly of stone, sometimes a tree or a group of trees. In Mecca there was a small square temple; into one corner of which the sacred stone was built. Idols, like the image of Hubal in this temple, were rare and recent importation."  (G.F. Moore - History of Religions, vol. 2, T & T Clark. Edinburgh 1965 impression - p.388).


The stone of the Ka'bah is, in fact, a remnant of this animistic past.  The priests were not a sacrificial priesthood, but were diviners and sometimes custodians of the holy places. (ibid.).


The annual religious festivals in Mecca and the concourse of strangers to it, preceded Islam and was:

"The most frequented of these festivals in all that part of Arabia.  Suspension of tribal wars and blood feuds during the sacred months, a kind of truce of God, insured the safety of visitors at the festival and on the journey" (ibid., p.389). 


The ritual circumambulations of the Ka'bah are the seven ascents of the shamanistic ladder, around the axis mundi, or cult object, of the Arabian Animists. This is a direct derivation of the earlier Magian Shamanistic Animism based on Chaldean theology. Christianity and Judaism were widely known to the Arabs. The forms however, were quite divergent. Later, Talmudic Judaism had been penetrated by this same mysticism. Christianity had become significantly ascetic and monastic.


The forms of Jewish Mysticism and occultism as Kabbalistic mysticism was expounded in the Greater Hekhloth; details of which were published (1982) as Meditation and Kabbalah by Aryeh Kaplan. Drury refers to this in his Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult (pp. 104 and 113). These forms are developments of the mystery cults in post exilic Judaism, finding a formal expression, after destruction of the Temple from the extreme Hellenistic influence up to the 1st century CE, culminating in the works of Philo and then becoming secret works on Mysticism. These works were to penetrate most of the east and find expression in Islam.  Even the prophet used this cosmology at Surah 2:29:

"it is He who created for you all that is in the earth, then He rose up the Heavens and ordered them into seven heavens; and He has knowledge of everything."


The Commentary on the Qur'an, vol. 1 by Al Tabari (pp. 192-205. Oxford, 1987), shows that the prophet was not understood to be advocating mystical ascent, but rather, two lives, one consequent to the resurrection.  (Quatada separates them by distances of 500 years apart). The use of the word, Sama, is held to be singular. Tabari draws attention to the interpretation of Ha-Huwa-Bi-Kulli shai'in 'Alimun (pp. 203-204) where the then Christians and the Rabbis were being castigated in this section for secret interpretation and denial of the resurrection. However, he seems to have used this shamanistic structure to illustrate the point.


Eliade records that Islamic Mysticism received its shamanistic elements after the propagation of Islam among the Turks of Central Asia, although he does note (as previously observed) that the ability of Amed Yesevi and some of his dervishes, to change into birds and so have the power to fly (and similar legends concerning the Bekteshite saints) are common to shamanism generally, not only the Turko-Mongol, but also the Arctic, American, Indian and Oceanian.  The presence of the Ostrich legend of Barak Baba, where he appeared in public with a "two horned headdress", (which became the ritual sign of the order he founded) riding an ostrich, which "flew a little way under his influence."  (From Kopruluzade - Influence du chamanisne turco-Mongol sur les ordres mystiques musulmans; pp.16-17 as quoted by Eliade - Shamanism, pp. 402-403). Eliade says, "One wonders if it does not rather indicate a southern origin." (ibid.). This solution is far more likely as the shamanistic influences were general throughout Arabia and the Levant from the 6th century BCE at least with a highly developed Greek form.


There is no doubt that idolatry and the Mystery Religions preceded and influenced Islam and Talmudic Judaism. The use of narcotics such as hashish and opium did become discernible in certain Persian mystical orders of Islam from the 12th century onwards. Eliade refers to the work of Massignon in his note 118 to page 402 on the ecstatic states and the induced "Platonic gaze." He states that:

These elementary recipes for ecstasy can be connected with both pre-islamic mystical techniques and with certain aberrant Indian techniques that may have influenced Sufism. 


One of the methods of inducing the ecstatic states was by erotic inhibition, which induced "a highly suspect form of ecstasy." (ibid).  The prevalent duality of monasticism and mysticism, which according to Wolpert was spread from Buddhist monasticism (A New History Of India, p. 52), is apparently not accidental, but rather the erotic inhibition of monasticism appears facilitative to mysticism.


It would appear that the ceremonial ascent to the world of the gods found in shamanistic mysticism, has found expression in the Brahmanic ritual. The ecstatic techniques are common there.


However, as we have seen, the Mystery Religions induced trances from the use of ergot rather than these later developments of Sufism, and long preceded them. The Persian God of Light, who (according to the Avesta) appeared before sunrise in a chariot drawn by four white horses, was Mithra. He was the All-knowing God and deity of fertility and abundance. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, a fusion of religious beliefs occurred which saw Mithras associated with Helios. We have seen elsewhere the extensive similarity with Mithras and Apollo Hyperborios and the mystery/fertility deities.


Mithras became the mediator with the unknowable demiurge. He was always linked to astrology and Taurus, as the constellation entered by the sun at the beginning of spring.  The bull slaying deity was common to the entire east and was a symbol of the Persians, as the first animal created by Ormazd.


The Mystery cults can be seen to extend from Europe and Egypt to the Far East. All involve a shamanistic cosmology of the ascent of the seven heavens or levels and have penetrated Talmudic Judaism, Christianity and Islam.


To restate the position according to Eliade:

A ladder (klimax) with seven rungs is documented in the Mithraic mysteries and that the prophet-king Kosingas threatened his subjects that he would go up to the goddess Hera by a ladder. (This also probably formed part of the Orphic initiation.) (Eliade ibid. p.488).


Eliade notes that:

W Bousset long ago compared the Mithraic ladder with similar Oriental conceptions and demonstrated their common cosmological symbolism. (ibid. p.488). 


Eliade also notes the use of the ladder by Jacob in his dream symbolism and that Mohammed saw a ladder rising from the temple in Jerusalem to heaven with angels to the right and left. He says, "The mystical ladder is abundantly documented in Christian tradition; the martyrdom of St. Perpetua and the legend of St. Olaf are but two examples. St. John Climacus uses the symbolism of the ladder to express the various phases of spiritual ascent.  A remarkably similar symbolism is found in Islamic mysticism; to ascend to God, the soul must mount seven successive steps - repentance, abstinence, renunciation, poverty, patience, trust in God, satisfaction. The symbolism of the 'stair' of 'ladders' and of ascensions was constantly employed by Christian Mysticism." (ibid., p.489).


Drury, in his article 'Fana', at page 85, shows the development of the stages of becoming absorbed in God practised in Sufism.

This may be three stages: the act of seeking forgiveness from God: the request for blessings from the prophet Muhammed; and finally of merging with the Divine Oneness.  The Islamic mystic Abu Hamid Ghezali wrote: When the worshipper no longer thinks of his worship or himself but is altogether absorbed in Him whom he worships, that state is called Fana.


John Bagot Glubb (A Short History of the Arab Peoples – Quartet, 1978 pp. 25-26) mentions that the nomadic tribes of Arabs at the beginning of the 7th century were worshippers of native spirits and he suggests that this worship

may have been influenced by the Chaldeans of the lower Tigris and Euphrates Valley, who were famous as astronomers.  Thus, before Islam, we find Arabs with the name of Abid Shems, servant of the sun.  The temple of Mecca, a small cubicle stone building called the Kaiaba, was said to contain three hundred and sixty-five idols.


Glubb mentions the establishment of Christianity replacing this 'idolatry', or  animistic shamanism of the Magi, which was being influenced from India on a continual basis with Hindu and Buddhist concepts.


Tribal Dispositions and Power

From another chapter concerning the eastern divisions in Christianity and the penetration of the Mystery Religions, it was seen that the frontiers of Syria and Iraq had become Christian and the Syrian tribes were Christians. On the borders of Persia the Nestorians had made many converts. There were Christian communities in the Yemen and Nejran (ibid.). There were also large quantities of people professing the Jewish faith, i.e. converted to Talmudic Judaism at Kheibar, Medina (then called Yathrib) and in the Yemen. Thus, while the nomadic tribes were all animists and shamanists, the

more civilised Arab communities along the fringes of the desert had already been penetrated by Judaism and Christianity.


Mecca was the site of an important idol temple and an important caravan post.  The annual pilgrimage to Mecca was an animistic festival which was combined with a trade fair for the disposal of piece goods from Damascus. (ibid., p. 26).

In the 6th century most of the inhabitants of Syria and Palestine were of the Christian Monophysite sect, which had been pronounced heretical by the Orthodox or established church of the Empire. In 581 AD, as a result of these religious differences, the Prince of the Beni Ghassan was arrested and conveyed to Constantinople. Thereafter the Arab tribes of Eastern Syria remained in anarchy and semi-rebellion.


In 605 AD, Naaman ibn al Mundhir, the Lakhmid prince, quarrelled with the Great King, who abolished the privileged position hitherto enjoyed by the family as defenders of the desert frontier, with the result that the Arab tribes along the Euphrates revolted against Persia.


In 628 AD, therefore, when both empires being exhausted after twenty-six years of war against one another, their Arab satellites along the desert frontiers were everywhere disaffected or in open revolt." (ibid., p. 24).


Moore refers to the kingdoms in North Arabia by their names of Palmyra and Hira as vassal buffer-states of the Roman and Persian Empires respectively (Moore, vol. 2, p. 389). The powerful Parthian Empire, separating the eastern Roman Empire at Constantinople and Persia, had removed into West Europe from the 2nd century.


The Rise of Islam

What is not fully appreciated is that the Christian faith was seen by Arabs as being divided between "Christian" (as the Orthodox and so called Monophysite churches were termed) and the "people of the gospel" (which the Paulicians and part of the Monophysite Church appear to have been termed within Arab vernacular). The distinction in terminology in the Koran is not fully understood, even by modern day Islam.


From chapter 4 we saw the Trinitarian position, and the adoption of Easter over the quarto-decimal Passover, (commencing from as early as Anicetus and opposed by Polycarp, Apostle of John, and Polycrates, his successor, and Bishops of Smyrna). The introduction of Easter from the mystery and sun cults was the first major schism (see the paper The Quartodeciman Disputes (No. 277), CCG). The Trinitarian faction, which became the Roman Catholic Church, was securely in the Roman Empire from 381 CE, after the Council of Constantinople consolidated the Athanasian or Cappadocian Trinitarians. This sect and the changes were opposed in the east by the groups later known as Monophysite and Paulicians. Some Athanasian sects erroneously referred to the Paulicians as Manichaean. Trinitarians were opposed in the west by the Unitarian Christians termed Arian Christians. The destruction of numerous statues in Rome by the Vandals was, contrary to popular belief, on ideological grounds, as the Vandals and Goths were Unitarian iconoclasts, who opposed the erection of statues in Rome, on the basis of the violation of the second commandment against graven images. 


As noted, these Unitarian wars in the West lasted until 586 CE when the Arian conversion to Catholicism in Spain occurred.  Unitarianism ceased on a national basis with the conversion to Catholicism of the Thuringians by Boniface in approximately 742 CE. They then became progressively absorbed by the Franks in the South and the Saxons in the North. [Articles - Thuringia and Arianism, Catholic Encyclopedia, vols. 1 and 14 (p. 712).] Look also at the paper The Unitarian/Trinitarian Wars (No. 268), CCG).


The Christian church in the East included one of the original churches founded by the Apostles, that of John at Ephesus and Smyrna. There were also, later, quasi-heretical offshoots, including the Nestorians and various elements. They were later called Monophysite.


The Koran is talking about three separate Christianities, with two irreconcilable concepts of God. Monophysitism, however, had later heretical divergences from the original sect of the Apostles. It was the doctrine of both the Unitarians (often also termed Arians) and the Asians. Confusion over the concept of the nature of Christ caused by the Mysteries and Trinitarianism also resulted in a division of the nature of Christ, as both divine and man, based on the erroneous Chaldean doctrine of the soul. These resulted in the disputes referred in the chapter on the Unitarian Wars.


The Athanasians finally secured control of the "Mother Church Areas" of Alexandria, Corinth and Rome. The other Mother Churches were Jerusalem, Antioch and Ephesus (cf. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. II, p. 153) and the Metropolitan Bishopric of Constantinople. However, the Trinitarians could not stamp out the sects, as the eastern provinces were under Persian dominion and Syria was virtually autonomous. In a last ditch effort to eliminate them, the Prince of the Beni Ghassan was arrested and taken to Constantinople.  From this act as we noted, the province was in open revolt which led to the Arab conquests. In practice it led to the Monophysite fusions with Islam, or their protection with the Paulicians in Mesopotamia, until the reconquest by Constantine Capronymous (741-775) C 750 CE. (He was possibly a Paulician).  On this reconquest, the Paulicians as they were termed, were relocated to Thrace, where other non-Athanasian sects had been earlier located. This history is examined in the papers General Distribution of the Sabbath-keeping Churches (No. 122); and The Role of the Fourth Commandment in the Historical Sabbath-keeping Churches of God (No. 170), CCG).


Constantine had reorganised the Roman chair as the supreme tribunal of the church. Thus he established for the first time, Papal authority. The persecution and restoration of the Monophysites, or Arians, saw the emperors establish Unitarian systems in the empire. The Trinitarians were established from 381. The actions commencing with Epiphanius of Constantinople were to be counter-productive. The repressions admittedly subjugated large areas of the church under the Athanasians. Justinian was thus allowed to concentrate on the defeat of the Unitarians (Arians) in the west by the army under Belisarius. They, however, saw the reverses of the Goths.


It was by the power of the Franks and the Angles that led up to the final defeat and subsequent conversion of the Unitarians in Spain in 586 CE. The wars were counter- productive, in that they did not reconcile the east. Justinian died in 565 CE and under his successors, the Monophysites were harshly persecuted, as the Monophysite John of Ephesus records. These conditions gave rise to a disaffected Christianity in the East, which was not only Monophysite, but also much of it non-Trinitarian. Byzantium would not surrender the political alliance with Rome and the Eastern churches regarded Rome as evil.


Christian suppression and the conflict based on the view of the manifestation of the Deity were to give rise to a vigorous monotheism. The Roman attempt at the final suppression of the Beni Ghassan Christians saw Syrian tribes in revolt. 


These Monophysites, called the Syrian Jacobites, extended finally into India. The conditions and divisions above show how the Julianists or Gaianites seceded themselves from the Severians and Egypt. The entire Coptic Church is (or was until 1996, cf. The Fall of Egypt (No. 36), CCG) composed of these forms and, as we noted the Armenian Church was also Monophysite.


Only the Paulicians (transported to Thrace), firstly c750 CE and later by John Tzimiskes (970) remained non-Trinitarian Sabbath- keepers. The Crusaders found them in Syria in the 11th century and according to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, they were around Philippopolis in the 18th century. The history indicates that they came to be regarded differently by Islam. In fact they effectively became allies with Islam for centuries.


The doctrinal disputes and the suppression of the Beni Ghassan Christian leaders, saw a political reaction and disaffection in Arabia, which gave rise to a new attempt to revert to the original monotheistic biblical concepts. The weakness of the Roman and Persian Empires after prolonged struggle set the scene for an Arab military adventure.


The Trinitarians at Byzantium established a creed that was obviously tainted by the mystery cults and opposed to biblical teaching. That in turn created the requirement for a restatement of monotheism. That restatement was expounded by Muhammed, and also the Pelicans, under conditions that were ideal. That situation was created by Byzantine and Athanasian ambitions. The current world crisis is the direct result of erroneous theology in Rome, Alexandria and Cappadocia of the Fourth Century. The refusal to correct the errors is the root cause of ongoing conflict. 


Some of the apparent 'inconsistencies' of the Koran might be able to be seen in a clearer perspective from this position. Christianity was, as we noted, of three separate theologies. One is syncretic Chaldean diphysite Trinitarianism; one is of monophysite derivations from syncretic systems; and a third Unitarian sect called Paulicians. This last mentioned but oldest sect saw Christ as a spiritual firstfruits. Created by God, Christ was a new extension of God through the Holy Spirit. He was seen as being the Great Angel of the OT who gave the law to Moses. This was the original view of all Christianity, and the view of Rome itself in the Second Century (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology, LXIII). Through the Spirit of God as the Elohim and El, or the Logos, he was the face of the One True God, who was termed biblically Eloah or Allah, and thus the same One God of Islam and Original Christianity.


Muhammed was influenced by his father’s clan, and several of his contemporaries at Mecca, Medina and Taif, who had become monotheists. Thus, they could accommodate some of the non-Trinitarian monophysite forms of Christianity, but not the Athanasian Trinitarian forms, which had influenced the worship of saints and relics in accordance with Chaldean animism. They had adopted the worship of a deity, Mary, in forms of the Mother goddess cult, derived in Arabia from Astarte and linked with the Sun as a feminine entity in some of the mysteries. Christ’s mother was named Mariam and his aunt was named Maria, so even the names are erroneous (cf. The Virgin Mariam and the Family of Jesus Christ (No. 232)). The early church leaders condemned Mariology as heretical. The earliest notices in history of an actual worship of Mary were by Epiphanius (Hoer. LXXIX) where he states:

Certain women in Thrace, Scythia and Arabia were in the habit of adoring the Virgin as a goddess and offering to her a certain kind of cake (6@88LD4*" J4<V) whence he calls them 'Collyridians'. (E.R.E.  article Mary Vol. 8, p.476).


These practices (derived from Chaldean worship of Astarte, as Queen of Heaven, and Dumuzi), are mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:19. Ezekiel (8:14) refers to this custom of women wailing for Tammuz (Dumuzi). The spring fertility cults were held over the festival of Easter, named for Astarte, and involved the deities in the names of Attis in Rome and the west, from Phrygian deity lover of Cybele. It was Adonis among the Greeks and it was the Osirus, Isis and Horus triad in Egypt, where Isis was the Goddess of the mysteries, whose symbol was SSS and which numbered 666. (Look also at Cox, The Origins of Christmas and Easter (No. 235).)


The resurrected spring deity also went on to that of Dumuzi or Tammuz, her son, etc. that was derived from the Chaldean system and established the Triune or Trinitarian model.  This was linked with the worship of the sun cults that Ezekiel condemns at 8:15. Because of syncretic adoptions, these cultic rites were to penetrate the entire Athanasian church, ironically, from the eastern sects.


The Arabs in Islam and Later Doctrines

The original conquests were by the Arab tribes, who were ethnologically quite different from the inhabitants of Syria and Iraq.  These original soldiers were largely warlike, practical and outspoken, "but their sturdy individualism and insistence on personal freedom fitted uneasily into a complicated, civilised and intellectual society" (Glubb, p.104).


It is unlikely that after the conquests of the Arabs, at their furthest extent from Africa to the Indus, that the Arabs numbered more than 1% of the Moslem world and thus the way lay open to syncretism.


The close proximity between early Islam and the original Christianity, some of which became Monophysite Christianity, was to be further eroded by the later monist adoptions of the Persian Muslims from Indian influence.  The religious tolerance, which allowed this to occur, is derived from traditions of the prophet. "Differences of opinion in my religious community are a sign of the divine goodness." (Moore, p.413).


The agreement of the Moslem world to regard rival schools as Orthodox made them so, in fact. Agreement not only makes a practice or doctrine permissible, but also makes it orthodox.  This is from the saying of the prophet:

My religious community will never be unanimous in error.  (ibid.)


Consensus is the only authority for many things that have become an integral part of Islam. 

Even for things which are at variance with the fundamental teaching of the Koran itself, such for example, as the worship of saints, universality is all that is required to make them unimpeachable (ibid).


Islam is not unanimous on the concept of God. Some of the confusion comes from the Koran's teachings. Firstly, we have the explicit declaration that God does not resemble anything in the universe. This is a restatement of the biblical position at Exodus 20:24 and thus anthropomorphism is denied by the Bible and the Koran. Then we have the passage in which God is pictured as sitting on a celestial throne. The concept of the hand of God has also provided problems. Moore speaks of this controversy between the rationalists and traditionalists at p.424 et seq., taking such language metaphysically. The Mutazilites rationalised the eschatology of Islam “and turned more or less of its picturesque paradise into figures of speech.” 


Al Ashari is held by Moore to "go the whole way with the traditionalists" in that:

the prophet's pool in paradise where arrivers slake their thirst is a reality.  The balances in which man's deeds are weighed are real, the automatic judgement bridge is real; the inquisition at the tomb by the angels, Munkar and Nakir is no fable or metaphor.  (ibid).


The Mutazilites deny the vision of God in Paradise, which the Orthodox regard as scandalous. Al Ashari tries to find a safe middle path. God will in some mysterious way really be seen, but not as the vulgar think, with eyes of flesh and blood; the seeing is a kind of knowing or intellectual apprehension.


The Mutazilites held also that accessory attributes were irreconcilable with the unity of God. These concepts were logically developed as Monism. The most hotly controverted question was whether the word of God was created or uncreated. Al Ashari has produced the distinction that the word (or speech) of God is uncreated, but the Koran is produced in time and by men.


The concept of the Logos as Creator from God as a spirit as held by Christianity, is not acceptable to Islam. However, it is not absolutely prohibited by the Koran. What is lost in Islam is the understanding that the Koran is commentary on the Bible. The development of the Monist positions and the Easter influences are developed below.


Expansion and Syncretism


Early Conquests

From 700-850 CE, the Arab Empire reached its greatest extent, stretching from Andalusia, or the Spain of the Vandals and Visi- Goths, to East of the Indus River into India.  During this period, Arab culture grew at a prodigious rate. It incorporated large elements of other cultures and some of its greatest contributors were not only non-Arabs but also non-Muslims. The Dar es Islam was a society under Muslim rule, which absorbed, on a large scale, elements of societies. By and large, Islam encouraged conversion by the levy of a poll tax for protection of the non-Muslim lives and property similar to the Jewish head tax levied by Rome to encourage the movement away from the Jewish festivals and the Sabbath. On conversion they ceased to be liable for payment of the tax.


During the early Islamic, Umayyad, period (622-750), Arab life began to change from a nomadic mode of existence to a more sophisticated and refined urban style. While Mecca and Medina were the spiritual centres, Damascus, Kufa and Basrah etc., (all outside Arabia) became centres of the Empire. The increased wealth led to a leisured class, which turned to poetry and music and a study of the arts adopting Greek and Persian practices of the time. Arabian poetry was changed to accommodate music, and the arts developed.


The Umayyad Caliphs of Damascus invaded Afghanistan and India from 661 CE. They occupied the Sind in 708-712 and by 715 had occupied Khwarizm, Sogdiana, Ferghana, Tukharistan and, from there, south to the ocean east of the Indus Delta. From there they extended northeast and by 850 had occupied Transoxiana past Samarkand (cf. the Conquests of Islam 622-945, Muirs Historical Atlas - Ancient Medieval and Modern, 11th ed., ed. by Treharne and Fullard, Book Club Associates, London, 1969, p. 6). During this period Arab culture grew at a prodigious rate and it incorporated large elements of other cultures. Some of its greatest contributors were not only non-Arabs but also non-Muslim.


Islam in China

Islam defeated an Army of 200,000 men of the Emperor Hsuon Tsung (713-756). The General Qutaiba bin Muslim sent an embassy demanding that the Emperor accept Islam or pay jizya. However, after the death of Caliph Walid bin Abdul-Malik and the subsequent assassination of Quataiba bin Muslim, the Muslim armies made peace with China and turned back, but the Hui-chi were converted to Islam. Chinese Muslims were known by this name until the Yuan (Mongol) Dynasty, when they became known as Hui-Hui, by which they are still known, in addition to Ching Chen Chias.


Thus, Islam lost its opportunity to conquer China and extend over Asia. Nevertheless, as a result of a rebellion, during the reign of the tenth T'ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung in 755 under General An Lu-Shan, the Emperor abdicated in favour of his son Su Tsung who appealed to the Muslims. Caliph Abu Ja'far sent a well-equipped force of between four and ten thousand soldiers to help Su Tsung.  The rebels were defeated and the two capitals of Sionfu and Honsufu were recovered in 757.  These soldiers were highly honoured by the Emperor. They did not return to Khorosan but remained in China, married Chinese and their descendants formed the nucleus of the Muslim population today (Ahmed Ali, Muslim China, Karachi, 1949 p. 28).


T'ang records indicate that, in 787, there were as many as four thousand families of Islam from Urumichi, Ansi, Kashghar, etc., who could not return home because the Tibetans had closed the land routes, and they were given permission to settle. Many also had come by sea, settling in Canton and Hangchow. It was these groups who spread Islam in the south.


Ali alleges that four missionaries arrived during the reign of T'ai Tsung (627-650) but the first official record was that of 651, apart from the Islam settlers, descendants of whom evidently served in the Chinese Army and Navy. Vietnamese independence forced the Chinese to rely on naval trade with S.E.Asia.  A.Reid makes this point in South East Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680, (pp. 8-10). The next record is during the Soong Dynasty (960-1280) when twenty embassies from Arabia came to China and receiving good treatment, prompted other Muslims to come from Turkistan to serve in the Chinese Army. Thus, during the Yuan or Mongol Dynasty (1280-1368) after the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate to the Mongols, the number of Muslims in China was high with one, Hasan, being raised to the rank of Minister (ibid. p. 29). This privileged position, both in the Army and the civil service continued under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). With the fall of the Ming in 1644 and the establishment of the Manchus, Islam lost all favour; with their subsequent history, as Ali puts it, one of unspeakable sufferings.


It appears that the spread of Islam in South East Asia has a marked correlation with the fortunes and development of Islamic forces in China and largely as a result of their fall in the West.


The Abbasids


Overthrow of the Umayyads

The Caliph Umar II (717-720) failed to solve the problem of the poll tax, which was to contribute to the overthrow of the Umayyad Dynasty. Seventy-five years had passed since the conquest of Syria, Persia and Egypt, and every year increasing numbers of the conquered races had converted to Islam, largely encouraged by the levy of the infidel tax. Umar upheld the Prophet's original teachings, which left the treasury in difficulties, as great numbers of persons of other religions became converted to avoid taxation (J. B. Glubb, A Short History of the Arab Peoples, pp. 84-85).


To maintain revenue levels, Yazid (Yazeed) II (720-724), Umar's successor, reversed Umar's decision that non-Arab Muslims were exempt from poll-tax, as revenue was necessary to re-establish the solvency of the Government and run the Arab empire. It became practice that more often than not, converts were required to continue payment of the tax and exemption had, in fact, become largely an Arab privilege. This resulted in dissent, particularly amongst the Khurasans in Persia and the Berbers of North Africa (ibid., pp. 86-87) making the way open for the fall of the Umayyad Empire.


The overthrow of the Damascus Caliphate was accomplished by the insurrection of the Abbasids. The head of the Abbasid clan was Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdulla ibn Abbas, a descendant of the Prophet’s paternal uncle, Abbas. This man inaugurated a political underground that disseminated propoganda against the worldliness of the Umayyads.  This campaign was conducted in the name of 'the family', which the Shiites interpreted as meaning the descendants of Ali.


The rise of the Abbasids to power in Baghdad in the middle of the 8th century saw a golden and silver age of influence. The period was to last until the golden age ended with lessening of power of the 11th century. The silver age ended when the Empire fell into the hands of the Mongols in 1258.


This new society reached its height under Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and his son, al Ma'mun (813-833). It became of universal character with immense economic resources and a sophisticated intellectual life, enabling a syncretic amalgam of Hellensitic, Indian and Iranian civilisations with Arab thought.  It was in Baghdad that the true elements of syncretism and Mysticism emerged under the influence of Animistic and dualist thought, based on an earlier Indo-Aryan and later Indian framework more readily transmitted to Damascus after the capture of the Sind in 708-712.



Baghdad was built in 762 by the Caliph Abu Ja'far Abdullah al Mansur and became the cultural and commercial centre of medieval Islam. Baghdad was centrally placed between Arabia, Egypt and Syria on the one hand, and Persia, Trans-Oxiana and the Punjab on the other. The movement of the captial from Damascas to Baghdad, with the rise of the Abbasids, thus resulted, to a large extent, in the adoption of Indian and Asian thought processes, not only into the Arab Empire, but also subsequently to Islam itself.


The city was completely round within a double circle of walls. The centre was the Caliph's palace. The surrounds were the Caliph's bodyguard, and some government offices. The suburbs outside the walls were made up of carefully chosen supporters of the Dynasty. This isolation is in contrast to the simplicity of the early Muslim society of Medina, when the Prophet and his first successors, barefoot and in peasants clothes, mingled amongst the crowds (Glubb, p. 94).


The Arab chiefs had kept the power of the Umayyad Caliphs in check, but the Abbasids had turned away from the Arabs. The loss of influence of the great Arab families left the power of the Caliphs unchecked. Provincial governors and civil officials were found more and more by appointing their own freedmen, who unlike the previous Arab officials were personal dependents of the Caliph and non-Arabs, rather than servants of the nation and equals (ibid., p. 99).


The army too, included fewer and fewer Arabs, and was increasingly recruited from foreign mercenaries, particularly Khurasanis and Turk. It was a highly professional and disciplined Muslim army bought for hire.  Harun al Rashid went with his army into battle surrounded by royal guards (ibid. p. 103).


Loss of Territory

Disillusionment followed and resulted in a number of rebellions. The most sensational in the reign of Mansur was that of Andalus or Spain. Abdul Rahman ibn Muawiya who had escaped the almost total extermination of the Umayyads in Syria, led the victory and thus, only thirteen years after the seizure of power by the Abbasids, the western end of the empire began to break away (ibid., p. 96).


Further, as Harun showed little interest in North Africa, in 800 Ifriqiya was the first imperial province to receive "dominion status".


The Abbasid Caliphate lost much of its temporal power long before the 11 century. A number of independent dynasties were formed in Syria, Iraq, Eastern Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Central Asia and Spain. In spite of that fact Islamic culture as developed here was to prevail throughout the area of the Muslim conquests, and also to affect the European Renaissance (Khouri, M. A. "Literature" The Genius of Arab Civilization Source of Renaissance, ed. Hayes Jr., Phaidon, 1978, p. 27).


Economic Resources

Wealth, industry and commerce had increased out of all proportion since the Umayyad days.  Arab merchants travelled to China, the East Indies and Spice Islands, India and East Africa. They had the biggest ships and the most sophisticated banking system. (Glubb, pp. 104-5). The people and city of Baghdad exhibited enormous wealth in the form of gold, fabrics and jewels.


It was also an age of conversation, education and culture. The Abbasid scholars were to produce most of the fundamental sources and classical works in the fields of Koranic studies, jurisprudence, scholastic theology, grammar, lexicography, rhetoric and literature as well as philosophy, science, medicine, geography, astronomy and music. (Khouri, ibid., p. 27).



Arabic literature during the Abbasid period changed significantly in its sources of inspiration, its themes, and its modes of expression; the nature of its audience also changed, in taste, sensibility, and expectations. Prior to the Abbasid period Arabic prose literature had essentially consisted of the Koran. Slowly a more functional and flexible form of prose developed as a result of the influence of other cultures, particularly that of the Persian secretariat class.


Although some aspects of Sufi, or mystical literature may be traced back to the early Islamic and Umayyad periods, it was during the late Abbasid and post-Abbasid period that the greatest Arab mystic poets and writers flourished. Foremost among these are al-Hallaj (died 922) and Ibn al-Farid (died 1235) in the east and Ibn al-'Arabi (died 1240 in Damascus) of Muslim Spain. Ibn al-'Arabi's account of the Prophet’s ascent to Heaven, together with other contemporary popular accounts in Latin and French based on Arabic sources, closely parallels the structure of Dante's Divine Comedy, which it may have influenced (Khouri, ibid., p. 26-36).


This was done largely through the support of the Persians whose influence increased greatly while the Arab dominance of the Umayyads diminished.


Islamic Anthropomorphic Puritanism

A powerful group of Puritans emerged in Baghdad (c.935 CE) named the Hanbalis.  They were one of four schools of law and they refused to accept the rationalism of the Mu'tazilites. They engaged in enforcing orthodoxy by persecution. They were proscribed by a police proclamation of 17 May 935. According to Ibn al-Athir (Kamil viii pp. 229-231), a rescript of the Caliph al Radi was issued against the Hanbalis denouncing their actions and accusing them of believing in anthropomorphism and other doctrines. Obviously this was derived from their literal interpretation of scripture.


The rescript shows that distinct anthropomorphism was a major factor of Hanbali Islam, but also the rescript shows that the worship of saints and tombs had entered both the Hanbali and other orthodox schools, including apparently, the Shafii. Thus by 935 a major deviation in the concepts of God and death were established in the then centre of the Empire. (See Bernard Lewis, (ed. & tr.) Islam from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople – Vol. II. Religion and Society, Oxford 1987, p. 20 for a quotation from the rescript.)


So, as we have seen, although the Abbasid caliphate lost much of its temporal power long before the 11th century, and a number of independent dynasties were formed (in Syria, Iraq, Eastern Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Central Asia and Spain), Islamic culture as developed here was to prevail throughout the area of the Muslim conquests and also to effect the European Renaissance.


Decline of the Abbasids

The Caliphate at Baghdad grew steadily in wealth, culture and scientific knowledge until the rise of the Turks. These people first came as individuals, by capture or purchase as slaves and trained for military duties, many reaching high positions. As Mamoon had given Kuhrasan, on which the Abbasids relied for military recruits, autonomy, his successor, Mutasim who was a brother and a military leader, commenced the practice of buying large numbers of slaves from Turkestan to build up the main strength of his Army. His bodyguard of ten thousand Turks ultimately became so arrogant to the people of Baghdad that the bitter public reactions forced the relocation of the capital to Samarra on the Tigris some sixty-five miles north (Glubb, p. 115).


Mutasim was succeeded by his son Wathiq on 5 Jan 842.  He was good natured and cultured, dying in 847. He was succeeded by his younger brother, Mutawakkil, who persecuted the Shiites and Christians with "humiliating vexations" (Glubb, p. 116). He was murdered by his disinherited son, Muntasir, on 10 Dec 861. The Turks realised their own power and, six months later, murdered Muntasir, appointing Mustaeen (862-866), a grandson of Mutasim to succeed. In 865 the Army commanders quarrelled and one faction took Mustaeen and moved to Baghdad.


The other party with Mutazz (866-869) as Caliph besieged the city (Glubb p. 118). By 881 the commanders had changed and fallen out amongst themselves with some becoming Arabicised. An arrangement was made with Caliph Mutamid (870-892) and the capital was moved back from Samarra to Baghdad.  The realisation in the provinces, that the Caliph was a prisoner of illiterate barbarians caused the provinces to fall away. The soldiers were more interested in plunder (taking millions of dinars from the treasury) than the Empire and consequently no effort was made to assert control over the Empire (ibid.).


In 868, Ahmed ibn Tulun, a Turk, was appointed Governor of Egypt by Baghdad.  He declared himself independent, occupied Syria and defeated a Byzantine Army near Tarsus. On his death, however, Egypt and Syria fell into confusion. In 892 the weak Mutamid died and was succeeded by the energetic Mutadhid (892-902) but it was too late to restore the Caliphate (ibid., p. 199). The Baghdad Caliphate, only able to collect taxes from central Iraq, could not maintain its mercenaries, despite the able leadership of Mutadhid.


The Carmathian rebellion broke out in Arabia.  Ostensibly Shiites, Glubb regards them as probably a revolt of the original Arabs against Persian despotism and Turkish militarism.  They were puritan and democratic. They occupied Damascus, Homs and Hama. They seized the Yemen, and in 906 captured the Kufa and threatened Baghdad. Glubb considers that if the Caliph had been able to identify with this force, a large part of the empire might have been re-established (ibid.).  But the Caliphate largely dominated by Persian and Turkish influence, regarded them as bitter enemies. 907 to 945 saw an unending succession of riots, and rebellions and coups, with the assassination and blinding of the Caliphs. In 913, western Persia was invaded by the Dailamites, a southern Caspian tribe of Shiites, who established a capital at Shiraz from where, in 945, they occupied Baghdad unopposed under Ahmed ibn Buwaih (ibid. p. 120). The Buwaihids became the rulers of Baghdad. The Caliph Mustakfi (944-946), whose eyes were put out, was replaced by Mutia (46-974) as Caliph. He was given a daily pittance and not allowed to interfere in the government.


From then on, Baghdad was half ruined, but the brilliance of the Abbasid culture had been maintained or rather re-produced, at the two extremities of the former empire, in Bukhara and in Andalus.


The Caliph, Mutadhid (892-902), had urged the loyal Samanids an old Persian family of Balkh, (always loyal to the Arabs and members of which had been governors of Samarkand and Herat under the Abbasids) to suppress the Brassworkers rebellion (Glubb p. 124). In 900, Ahmed ibn Ismail, the Samanid, defeated the rebels and became ruler of Trans-Oxiana and Khurasan. The Saminids ruled this empire, centrally located between China, Persia, Iraq, Eastern Europe and the Baltic, from 900-999.


They were able administrators. Under them commerce, industry and culture thrived.  Ibn Sina (Avicenna) worked in the royal library, and Ar Razi wrote under Samanid patronage.


The Samanids also built up their army with Turkish slaves, and one of them, Mahmood ibn Sabukteen, himself having raised an army, completely defeated them at Merv on 16 May 999. He established his capital at Ghazna and, in 32 years, conquered almost all Persia and a great part of the plains of India.


When Mahmood eliminated the Samanids in 999, a family of Turkish Chiefs, the Qara Khans, from the steppes, annexed Trans-Oxiana, the Oxus forming the boundary between them and Ghazna. The Byzantine Empire under Basil II, who succeeded John Tsimiskes in 976, was involved in long wars with the Bulgars, giving Syria respite from invasion.


However, the anarchy and indifference of the Buwaihids, in Baghdad, had left a power vacuum in Syria and on the Euphrates, which resulted in the appearance of a number of independent Arab principalities. These, such as the Beni Hamdan in Aleppo, and the Beni Mizyed, chiefs of the Beni Asad, ruling the Euphrates valley from Hit to below Kufa, and Ibn Muqallad of the Beni Uqail, who ruled Mosul and the southern Jezira, were capable rulers, militarily able to resist the Byzantines and others (Glubb, p. 127). They, among others also kept Abbasid culture alive.


In 1029, a primitive tribe of Turkmen called the Ghuzz, burst into northern Khurasan and began to plunder the countryside (Glubb p. 129). Defeated by the Gahznevid army, they did not return to the steppes, but dispersed into small groups and continued to migrate west, killing and looting as they went, but dispersing on the arrival of troops. The subsequent incursions of free Turks, still in their tribal organisations and under their own leadership, undermined the Caliphate. 


The chiefs of the Ghuzz tribe, the Seljuqs, entered the Islamic lands in the late 10th century, and established the great Sultanate during the 11th century, which assumed power and reduced the influence of the Caliphate considerably (Lewis, Islam etc. vol. 1, pp. 68 et seq). The grandsons of Seljuq, Tughril Beg and Daood, at the head of the horde, defeated the incapable Masood in 1038. The Ghuzz thereafter dominated all Persia and in 1040 came to dominate the South and South East. The Caliphate had been reduced to a religious role. After one hundred and ten years of Shiite occupation of Baghdad, under the Buwaihids, following a Turkish mutiny in 1054, the Caliph sent for the Seljuks, who had become Sunni. Tughril Beg arrested the Buwaihid prince, Malik al Raheem, occupied Baghdad and the Ghuzz plundered the countryside. The age of the Seljuks had begun.


This is generally regarded as the end of the Golden Age of Islam.


It can be seen, that the relative power of the Turks was significant in relation to the more cultured southern nations. There is little doubt that the conversion of these tribes entailed the infusion of some of the nomadic practices of the Turks, which was, as seen previously, and noted by Eliade, and also by Koestler, as a form of Animistic Shamanism. The conversion of the Turks reinforced the elements of Shamanism already present in Islam. The syncretisation of Islam thus occurred primarily in the Abbasid period.  However, it was this very syncretisation, which enabled the growth of science and culture.  The free exchange of trade is invariably accompanied by the exchange of ideas and the dominant system imposes its concepts on its allies or traders. From the middle of the 13th century, however, Arabic culture went into decline until the 19th century. 


The Arab peoples during the Abbasid period, absorbed many new cultures and ways of thinking, especially in relation to Islamic theology. Their influence on the Western Philosophical and Theological Systems was of the greatest importance impacting on thinkers such as Aquinas and from him, all of European Philosophy and Theology. The great developments in Science, Mathematics and Art, likewise had their effect albeit more slowly. It is in this syncretic infusion of Hellenistic and Oriental thought and its subsequent diffusion, both into Europe and Asia as well as Islam, that the Abbasid period to the 11th century is termed the Golden Age: and the period to the Mongol invasion of 1258 CE similarly the Silver Age, of Islam.


Later Indo-Aryan Influence on Islamic Theology


The Emergence of Mystical Syncretism in Islam

From the middle of the 13th century Arabic culture went into decline until the 19th century.  There was an absence of the creative institutions and of the syncretic adaptions of the Abbasid period. Distinct Indian aspects to Islam can be found in the Abbasid period and the rise of Mysticism dates from that period, although it received further impetus in India and the East.


There is evidence of the commencement of cultural affiliations to some degree in the Umayyad period to 750 CE, particularly in the intense dialectical activity at Basrah and Damascus among the Qadarite, Jahmite, Murjiite and Kharijite theologians. However, with the succession of the Abbasids in 750, the first known translations of Indian and Greek works on medicine, astronomy and mathematics appeared in the reign of al Mansur (754-775).


It was al Mansur's great grandson, al Ma'mun (813-833), who made the most determined attempts to acquire and translate the chief monuments of Greek philosophy and science. He founded the House of Wisdom at Baghdad in 830, headed by Yuhanna bin Maskawayh (teacher of Hunayn bin Ishaq) d.873. This enormous effort on the Greek scientific texts, made it easy to overlook the impact of the Indian texts and sciences. The Greek philosophical texts, it will be understood from the examination elsewhere, were designed, from the earliest Pythagoreans, to liberate men from the "Wheel of Birth". This wheel was the cycle of reincarnations that had been transmitted to them from the north by the Hyperboreans in their migrations up the Danube from Gutea in the area of what is termed Assyria. This same system was transferred into India by the Aryans, originating from Chaldea, and found its most lasting and profound expression there.


The only Islamic scholar to attempt to reconcile this Chaldean and Indo-Aryan system with the Koranic concepts of the creation of the world, allegedly 'ex nihilo' was Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al Kindi (d.866). The others, commencing from Abu Bakr ar Razi, an eminent philosophical and medical scholar, developed a syncretic Greco-Indian concept of the cosmic destiny of the soul, which ran counter to Koranic teaching. The system also challenged the unqualified uniqueness of God and reasserted the transmigration of the soul, which was not only Platonic-Pythagorean, but also Indian, Aryan and found generally throughout Animism. Standing outside of orthodox Islam, this scholar was succeeded by the religio-philosophical fraternity at Basrah called the "Brethren of Sincerity". Unlike ar Razi, the Brethren proclaimed the unity of philosophical and religious truth, i.e. the validity of a syncretic amalgam of Greek Philosophy and Islam and also of Judaism and Christianity. This group was a Neo-Platonic-Pythagorean fraternity, who compiled, in 52 epistles, a range of philosophical and mathematical thought current in the 10th century, and the Indian sciences were an important contribution to them.


Al Farabi (d.950) and Ibn Sina (d.1037), known to the West as Avicenna, developed world views attributed to Plotinus and Proclus, formulating an emanationist theory of the origin of the universe in direct conflict with the Koran. The ultimate good was conjunction or contact (ittisal) with the active intellect, a semidivine agency interposed between God and man, ensuring spiritual immortality for the individual.


Plotinus held that beyond the realm of Intelligence is the One, which is absolutely simple and beyond duality. This concept is directly Eastern and derived from Indo-Aryan metaphysical development of Chaldean theology. Plotinus, however, obtained this philosophical position from Persia, whilst he was there and it was common by that time throughout the East. The development by Proclus into the seven levels to the demiurge from Plato is a consistent theme of mystical theology.


This doctrine is at total variance with the Koran’s bodily resurrection and is derived, not principally from the Greeks, but from the Indians via the Persians and is a development of early "Liberation" theology. The later development of Ibn Sina's thought was characterised by ambivalence between the direct experiential path of mysticism and that of Greek thought.


This thought process was not challenged until the 11th century, when al Ghazali (d.1111) launched his attack on Neoplatonism. He emphasised the incompatibility of the Neoplatonic Supreme Being, from whom the world emanates for eternity and his understanding of the Koranic concept of an Omnipresent Deity, whose decrees are irreversible and inscrutable, whose designs are free and imperious. Al Ghazali, however, had adopted the very process of Mysticism and Asharism, which derived from this Greco-Aryan-Indian amalgam at Basrah. Although he claimed that it had enhanced his sense of the mystery of God, he was merely developing this neo-Indian process.


Al Ghazali developed the theological position from the concepts of mysticism as seen from this statement at Faysal al-tafriqa p. 202,

Whoever claims that theology, abstract proofs, and systematic classification are the foundation of belief is an innovator.


Rather is belief a light which God bestows on the hearts of His creatures as the gift and bounty from Him, sometimes through an explainable conviction from within, sometimes because of a dream in sleep, sometimes by seeing the state of bliss of a pious man and the transmission of his light through association and conversation with him, sometimes through one's own state of bliss.     (As translated by Lewis in Islam etc., p.21.)


Ibn Sina developed this mystical thought in al Isharat, a cycle of mystical and allegorical writings.


He shows his preference for the direct methods of speculative mysticism, which he clearly identifies as being an ancient wisdom, having its roots in the east and called accordingly "Oriental Wisdom" or "illumination" (ishraq), in fact the Hindu "enlightenment". An earlier mechanism for spreading this doctrine was Zoroastrianism and hence it entered India. This was later explained more fully by Shihab as-Din as Suhrawardi (d.1191). Using the ishraq tradition as-Suhrawardi is credited with having initiated the whole process of synthesising the methods of Discursive Philosophy and Experiential Mysticism. This wisdom was initiated by Hermes, and transmitted over the centuries by Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and the Zarathrustrians and its genuine inheritors in Islam are not the philosophers, but rather the Sufis (The Genius of Arab Civilisation - Source of Renaissance,  p.61).


What is not understood is that the Platonic-Pythagorean systems were inherited from a Chaldean model refined in India. It was the Persian-Indian influences at Baghdad, which prompted the accommodation of Greek Thought to major Zarathrustrian-Indian Thought forms, for that Greek Thought had been initiated by the Indo-Aryans from the beginning. The transmission of cultural syncretism and Mysticism was predominately from the Middle East and Central Asia to the West and not the reverse.  Even the techniques of inlaying brass or bronze with silver originated in China and came into the Arab world from India and Northeast Iran (The "Blacas" ewer is an example). Similarly rock crystal and other carvings were Irano-Indian in type.


Whilst a large section of medical knowledge was derived from Greek texts, the writings of Ali bin Saht Rabban at Tabari, particularly a large section of his "Paradise of Wisdom" (completed 850 CE) which has a large section devoted to descriptions of Indian medicine, were extracted from the Sanskrit sources.  These were supplemented by Syriac and Persian sources in later works. Similarly the science of pharmacy and pharmacology, assumed independent status under the Abbasids, the first private pharmacy shops being opened in Baghdad using Eastern spices from, and via, India and also from Africa.


Sufi Mysticism


The Rise of Sufism

Alchemy and astrology in Islam are often attributed to Jabir bin Hayyan-al-Azdi (known to the West as Geber). Some dispute his existence; some say he was a Sufist Muslim and served at the Abbasid capital. Whatever the case, this science was established by the 9th century. It was inevitable that they were connected with the "Brethren of Sincerity" (Ikhwen-as-Safa), and the mysticism and occultism associated with it were derived from Persian, Indian and Shamanist influences and naturally blended with Sufism, being derived from the same original sources. 


In looking at the development of Sufism, attempts have been made to appropriate its origins in Neoplatonic and Pythagorean thought. However, as has been shown, these processes were reactions to the Hyperborean transmission of the Chaldean or Babylonian system, which had been developed in Persia and reached its full extent in India.


The development of Sufism, or as the Sufi organisations are referred to, the Tariqah (from the concept of the mystical path or road they follow to increasingly higher levels of knowledge of God); and their spread over the world, has been written on by Professor A. H. Johns for The Encyclopedia of Religion, Ed. Mircea Eliade et al at Vol.14, pp. 342-352, New York Macmillan 1987. Professor Johns sees the development of the Sufis as a natural reaction to the Umayyad worldliness at Damascus and the mystical tradition they employed as a natural extension of the syncretic fecundation of ideas, the revolts of the descendants of' Ali which, with the violence of the sectarian Kharijis, all contributed to the development of an identifiable mystical tradition. Those who were prompted, by religious idealism, to withdraw from social life had examples in the Egyptian and Syrian ascetics and monks, and the traditions of Hellenism and Christianity to draw on. The term, Sufi, is attributed by him to the wearing of coarse wool and the type of habit worn by desert monks. According to Wolpert (A New History of India, p. 52) monasticism spread from Buddhism westward to the Near East and into Europe; and North and East to China and Japan.


The term, Sufiyah, is used to indicate groups or nascent communities of Sufis. The first recorded use of the term is from the 2nd century AH, i.e. 8th century of the current era.  It is worth noting that Muhammed explicitly forbade monasticism at Surah LVII Iron (from verses 26-28). From the 9th century the existence of groups of Sufis is recorded.


The forms of spiritual exercises and the primary communal relationships of the early Sufis were Indian. The relationship of master and pupil, called murshid (guide) and murid (seeker), appears to be derived from the Indian Guru-Chela relationship and indeed in the Spice Islands (i.e. Indonesia) the terms have been adopted to the extent that it is universally referred to as a Guru-murid relationship.


A spiritual exercise, aimed at achieving a "closeness" to God (a reflection on the Hindu Oneness), was the "dhikr", or "remembrance".  This involved the repeated recitation of words or phrases, albeit taken from, but more likely based around, the Koran. This practice appears to be derived from the Indo-Aryan Mantras.

Similarly, the Sama (listening [session]) used recitations. Sama houses appeared in Baghdad from as early as 850, where groups of Sufis could let themselves be drawn into mystical states. This Indo-Aryan exercise was much disputed as a legitimate spiritual exercise. There were a series of litanies, or regular recitations of forms based on the Koran or the 99 most beautiful names of God. This recitation again appears to confirm a Mantric form and derivation.


It appears that from the conquest of Sind in 708-12, the Indo-Aryan rituals were transmitted firstly to Damascus and later to Baghdad so that, from 750, the Indian master-pupil relationship had penetrated Islam, with the commencement of ascetic groups along Hindu lines.


One of the first recorded ascetic communities was that of Abd'al Wahid ibn Zayd (d.793), which was established on the island of Abadan in the Persian Gulf. They were also to emerge in Damascus, Byzantium and Khorasan and later Alexandria and North Africa.


The small community houses and later convents that were to emerge were to be known by various names, the Indian terms for which were Khanagah or dargah. The members sometimes lived in cells, sometimes in dormitories. Usually the tomb of the founder was located in the same compound and the veneration of saints in Islam stemmed directly from this practice. That practice is also forbidden by the Koran (Surah II:48, 123, VI:51, 70ff, 95, X:4,19, XXXIV:23, XXXIX:43, LIII:26.) as is monasticism. (See Surah LVII:27, V:82, IX:31,34.)


It is held that the corporate pursuit of the Sufi way was easier than the spiritual struggle of the individual, and thereby logically appears seriously flawed. The special and distinguishing characteristic of the Guru-Chela was developed between the Shaykh and his pupil into one of great intimacy.


The lines of what the West would term "Apostolic Succession" are also a generation of the Tariqahs, being termed silsilah or a "chain [of transmission]" from which the Shaykh justified his succession and authority, "although there are many silsilahs depending on the date and birthplace of the founder most converge in Ja'far al Sadiq (d.765)" (ibid).  These ultimately have an origin in Muhammed via his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, according to Professor Johns. This convergence has raised the intractable issue between Sufism and Shi'ism, but such lines of transmission are used by Sunnis and Shi'is alike. The assertion that the prophet would have condoned Sufism appears unsustainable.  The derivation from Ali is more likely apocryphal and the inability to establish any system beyond 765 CE is supportive of the Indo-Aryan origin of the system.


An examination of the relevant scholars on Sufism, of whom Johns is undoubtedly pre-eminent, shows that the great Sufi orders did not really appear until the 11th century, and especially after the sack of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258. The Theosophic development for the initiates was of an esoteric nature. The dilution of the ideas and rituals with popular beliefs, the charismatic following of the figures in the orders and the veneration of their tombs and relics: together with the development of the folk practices and the mystical traditions; was a development that likewise occurred in the Western Mystical systems. It emerged and reached its height under the Athanasian, or Trinitarian Christian, sect. With the Sufi orders however, the Eastern Indo-Aryan traditions were the major stimulus and their development occurred from India to North Africa.


By the 12th century, Sufism had become entrenched and is reflected in the work Adab al muridin. One of the earliest treaties on behaviour in a Tariqah, in addition to human values and proper etiquette, it establishes the classification of religious scholars into traditionalists (classical scholars), jurists, and (Sufi) ulama, thus appropriating to itself a position as one of the three corners of religious scholarship. In like manner, whilst some aspects of Sufi and mystical literature trace back to the Umayyad period, it was not until the late Abbasid and post Abbasid periods that the greatest mystic poets and writers flourished, e.g. al-Hallej (d.922), Ibn al Farid (d. 1235) in the East and Ibn al Arabi (d.1240) in Muslim Spain.


According to Professor Johns -

The Tariqahs of the twelfth century, then, are the culminating point in a shift from an individualistic, elitist, ascetic spirituality to a corporate, congregational organisation with a place for individuals representing a whole range of spiritual attainment and every stratum of society. (ibid p. 345.)


The Sufi Orders

The great Indian orders are:

·         the Naqshbandiyah, which ranges east into China and north into Turkistan and as far west as Cairo and the Black Sea;

·         the Qadiriyah, which extends as far west as Maghreb and southwest to the Niger (its founder was Abd al Qadir al Jilani (1088-1166)); 

·         the Chistiyah which is centrally Indian (and probably the most important); and

·         the Sufrawardiyah which ranks with them also.


India became an area of prolific growth for the Tariqahs and their development into the later Sufi orders.


Chishtiyah originated as an Indo-Afghan order of the Northwest, founded by Mu'in al-Din (Muinuddin) Chishri. He was for a time the disciple of Abu Najib al Suhrawardi. It should be noted that Abd al Qahir Abu Najib al Suhrawardi (d.1162) was the author of Adab al muridin referred to previously. He was also the pupil of Ahmad al Ghazali, younger brother of Abu Hamid al Ghazali (d.1111) who established a place for the Sufi dimension in Islam.


Al Suhrawardi established the oldest Tariqah order, named after him, the Suhrawardiyah.  His fraternal nephew and student, Shibab al Din Abu Hafs Umar al Suhrawardi (1145-1234) wrote a treatise Awarif al Ma'arif (Masters of Mystical Insights) which became a standard work on the theory of Sufi devotion.


From the references previously, it should be noted that Al Ghazali initially wrote in rejection of Neoplatonism (At Tahafut - Incoherence of the Philosophers), which was rebutted a century later by Ibn Rushid. Al Ghazali however, maintained that Mysticism and Asharism enhanced the sense of the mystery of God, i. e., he established this Sufi vehicle. The Thought of Ibn Sina, who declared that speculative mysticism to have its roots in the East as oriental wisdom or "illumination" (from the Liberationist enlightenment of India) was developed by As-Suhrawardi (who, according to the Genius of Arab Civilisation at p.61, died in 1191 not 1234 or else Shihab ad Din as Suhrawardi was another Sufi mystic of the Suhrawardiyah).


What emerges from this cross flow is, that prior to 1037 the Sufi mystical traditions were identified and developed by Ibn Sina (d.1037) as Eastern or Oriental wisdom or illumination.  His Thought was developed and the first major Sufi order was established after Al Ghazali had legitimised the concept of Sufi Mysticism in Islam by Abd al Qahir Abu Najib Al Suhrawardi (d.1162), who was a pupil of al Ghazali's younger brother Ahmad al Ghazali.


The Sufi development was from an Indian-Aryan concept. It was philosophically and doctrinally legitimised as an institution at Baghdad before 1258, where the founder was appointed master of the Sufi associations in Baghdad and hence a consolidating order.  He was also an envoy to Egypt, Syria and Rum for the unification against the Mongol threat.


The Qadiriyah was founded at about the same time at Baghdad. The founder, Abd al Qadir, had become perhaps the most famous saint in the Islamic world with miracles attributed to him from Java to Morocco. His tomb in Baghdad has become a place of pilgrimage, a great number of pilgrims coming from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. It is in the Sind where old songs claim his spiritual realm to exist from Delhi to Istanbul. According to Professor Johns, in 1850 Sir Richard Burton told of a hundred large trees in Sind bearing the name Jilani. The groves had become the foci of cult practices, being hung with flags to gain the saint's intercession. These concepts are Indo-Aryan Mysticism and are directly contrary to the Koran.


These orders incorporated practices of Animistic Mysticism in Baghdad, which was on the point of collapse. The new orders spread out and in many instances were carried by Sufis returning to the east, to India etc., with ideas, which had preceded them by centuries with the Islamic stamp of approval.


The Naqshbandiyah were founded about a century later by Baha al-Din Naqshband (d.1388) in Bukhara and developed most importantly in India. The order extended to China, Central Asia and the Middle East and into Indonesia in Sumatra, Riau, Java, etc.


This order became a political institution and has developed power politics since it was founded. It seeks to exercise political power to "serve the world". It is thus necessary to control rulers to ensure implementation of the divine law. This is an ancient Chaldean concept adopted by the Athanasians in the West to great effect. It was believed by them that ritual by silence could render subject and object indistinguishable and the individual soul can return to God as it had been before creation. This thought process likewise is contrary to the Koran and is Indo-Aryan. The visitation of saints’ tombs is practised widely by them, in the hope that spiritual strength can be increased by the spirit of the departed Shaykh. This Indo-Aryan concept is what prompted Muhammed to castigate the practices as idolatrous in the first place. It is strongly condemned in the Koran. However, it is readily acceptable in India, in Indonesia and also in China, because of the Hindu and Buddhist incursions in those countries coupled with their animistic traditions.


The 18th century revival movements of Shah Wali Allah (and later Muhammed ibn Abd al Wahhab in Arabia) had the effect of a reformation of the Sufi orders with internal reforms and new sub orders. Whilst there were 28 orders formed in North and West Africa between 1500 and 1900, none were to enter the East. It was only the Libyan Sanusiyah, which could establish a foothold in Sumatra.


Of all the Tariqahs, the Tijaniyah are sworn to submit to the established government in the same manner as Christianity originally taught.  It does have adherents in some parts of Asia.


The affinity of the early Sufi orders with Indian Thought is no accident. It is because of its Animist and Persian origins, that Sufism has been so well established in the Indian culture and traditions.


It is thus in the early development of Islamic thought, that Indian tradition played its most important part. It and its Zoroastrian antecedant influenced Islam beyond any expectation of the prophet and against his express teachings.


What was rather unique about the large populace of Muslim India was that it was intermingled with Hindu India, having no distinct class or trade divisions. The Muslim in an untouchable job was just as untouchable to his Muslim brethren, often being excluded from the Mosque, as was his Indian counterpart. Lower class Indian Muslims were just as backward and underprivileged as their Hindu counterparts.  They were just as illiterate and did not see themselves as being part of a separate Muslim community, nor having more in common with Muslim brethren than their Hindu neighbours. Hardy (The Muslims of British India) makes this point strongly. In fact, it is more likely that a specific uniqueness of Indian Islam was the capacity of the lower classes to adopt Hindu custom and sacrifice to Hindu deities in addition to holding to Islam, thus being just as pantheistic. The Hindu's caste system and mobility of position also saw movement into and out of religious groups, including Islam, and this is not seen elsewhere on any scale.  The decadence of the principal families merely reinforced the perception of the poor and increased the disintegration and general ruin.


The full extent of the effects of the Mystical systems on Islam extends throughout its systems. The matter can be more readily appreciated by looking at the position in Indonesia, where the original systems can be more readily identified and the progressive structures can be seen with some clarity, and the final product seen for what it is.