16. Corruption of Islam

Persian castes pollute Mohammed’s Classless Islam

The initial religious fervor seemed relatively clean of Person worship; this was why it was so successful. Mohammed and his immediate followers seemed to be genuinely concerned for the equality of all humankind, or at least mankind. As is usual with we humans, materialism always corrupts the following generations.

After the first century of Islam with its miraculous expansion based upon the inclusion of all of humanity into the divine plan, the leaders of Islam tended to become increasingly power hungry, fighting amongst themselves for control of the fabulous wealth and power behind the Islamic Empire. Just as with the Christian church, the religion of Islam also fragmented with many factions competing for power.

In many ways the nomadic Bedouin culture of the Moslem Arabs was overlaid upon the autocratic but sophisticated Persian culture. Basically the Bedouins had no social institutions in place to rule a large empire. Because of their nomadic lifestyle they had no experience ruling a large sedentary population. In contrast the Persian Empire, as one of the oldest agri-cultures, had lots of experience.

They were the first Empire builders in that part of the world. Indeed Herodotus, the first Greek historian, chronicled the reign of each of the first Persian Emperors (Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes) in his histories. As such Persia had excellent institutions already in place to organize and manage large groups of people. Thus it was natural that the Arab Empire based around Islam would adopt the Persian structure almost immediately[1], especially after the Persians converted readily to Islam.

It was easy for the Persians to convert to Islam. Zoroastrianism, the primary religion of Persia, was monotheistic and anti-image. Indeed it was the Persians, nearly a thousand years before, who had destroyed much of the Greek representational art when they invaded Greece. The Persians were anti-image because it represented idolatry. This was in total congruence with Islam. Further Mohammed counseled the followers of Islam to respect monotheistic religions, which included Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity. Thus the Persians were allowed to continue their culture without interruption except that they were forced to acknowledge the leadership of Islam, which meant they had to treat the poor properly, which they hadn’t done.

However with the Persian bureaucracy came the Persian caste system – classic Aryanism. While the original Islamic vision was classless, the Persian corruption was extremely hierarchical – complete with a divine ruler at the top of the political heap.

Nomad Warrior > Military Aristocracy > Assimilation

The above transition from nomadic warrior to military aristocracy is a common historical political mechanism. An aggressive raiding culture, stays and then assumes the institutions of the culture that they invaded. As mentioned it occurred with the nomadic Arabs after they invaded Persia. It happened over and again in China with the invasions of the nomadic tribes of the Central Asian steppes. It also happened in Rome when invaded by the Germanic tribes from the north. It occurred when the Norman tribes conquered Europe. Again it happens a little later on in this story when the Seljuk Turks invade Muslim Persia. Having no desire except to be in charge, they convert to the Muslim religion and adopt the whole Persian Arab organizational package in the bargain. But we are ahead of ourselves.

Another part of this mechanism has to do with the rugged nomadic warriors being assimilated into the comfortable life of the agricultural aristocracy in the succeeding generations. This happened regularly to the nomadic rulers in China. The notable example is the transition from Genghis Khan, who remained nomadic until he died, to his grandson Kublai Khan, who adopted all the trappings of a traditional Chinese Emperor. This also happened to the Norman knights in Europe and to the Bedouin warriors in Persia. Many married Persian wives and then they or their children adopted the comfortable Persian customs. True to their agricultural roots they knew all about the comforts and pleasures of the body.

Islam began in the early 600s and expanded rapidly until the early 700s. After the death of Mohammed and his immediate followers, the corruption inevitably set in. While the first four leaders of Islam led personal lives of austerity and relative poverty compared to the possibilities, the later rulers of Islam began going for the gold, i.e. the luxury and power of leadership. Almost immediately they assumed the luxurious imperial trappings of a Persian emperor.

Shiite vs. Sunni Moslems

This ‘corruption’ caused a split in the Muslim Church. Those who followed the worldly ways were called Sunnis, while the Muslim fundamentalists were called Shiites. The leadership of the Sunnis derived from the tradition of common consent, which was distinctly of the Bedouin tradition, while the Shiites claimed to be led by direct descendants of Mohammed, i.e. Ali, Mohammed’s grandson.

Another common political mechanism came be seen here, the alternation of fundamentalism and progressive. The Shiites were reformers, but extreme, while the Sunnis were worldly, but tolerant. The Shiites were literalists and reactionary, while the Sunnis were evolving and progressive. Sunni corruption and decadence frequently led to a Shiite backlash. Conversely Shiite rigidity and intolerance led to a Sunni backlash.

The Sunnis and Shiites alternated in power and grew to hate each other more than they hated Christians. Indeed while the initial jihads, i.e. holy wars, were mainly called against the infidels who were not willing to accept the leadership of Islam, later jihads were called against fellow Muslims. They hated each other as much as the Protestants and Catholics hated each other in later times.

[1] This same pattern held true with the Germanic tribes in terms of the older well established Roman structure, which included the bishoprics of the Christian Church. An easy and pragmatic conversion. This pattern also occurred regularly throughout the millennia in China, as well, with the nomadic tribes conquering China, but adopting her well-established institutions. Genghis Kahn and his descendents were the most notable of this sequence.

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