Islamic Creeds: A Selection

Islamic Creeds: A Selection

Islamic Creeds: A Selection

Islamic Creeds: A Selection

Synopsis

There are no official creeds in Islam, but there is broad agreement in mainstream Sunnite Islam about the chief doctrines. Over the centuries these have been expressed in creeds and have been widely recognised and used for instruction. In this book Professor Watt introduces the history of the creeds and takes the student through a selection of the main ones in translation. Explanatory notes and a single Shi'ite creed are also given in this useful and informative survey.

Excerpt

The creeds translated in this book, with the exception of the last, came from the main body of the Muslims, usually referred to as Sunnite (Sunnī) Islam. About ninety per cent of the Muslims in the world today are Sunnites, and the other ten per cent are nearly all Shī'ites of three different kinds. Sunnite Islam is thus comparable to the undivided Christian Church of the first ten centuries, but there are also important differences. One is that there is nothing equivalent to the bishops and ecumenical councils of the Church, and thus no body to give creeds an official status such as the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed have in Christendom. The Islamic creeds formulate the beliefs of an individual scholar or of groups of scholars.

This structural difference probably came about because of the very different circumstances in which the early development of the two religions took place. For a century or more, the Christian community consisted of a minority which had separated itself from its neighbours by its religious practice. It was therefore natural for there to be a strong sense of community in each local congregation, and it was found helpful to have a bishop to lead the group and to maintain contact with other local groups. In early Islam, the situation was altogether different. After the Hijra (the migration of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina), the Muslims were a majority and politically autonomous. Even if later in some of the conquered lands they were for a time a minority, they were still politically supreme. Because the Muslim community had a political structure, no need was felt to have some further structure to deal with purely religious matters. Indeed, Muslims have tended to hold that for them there was no separation between religion and politics.

Nevertheless, the Islamic community did gradually develop ways of dealing with matters of belief. In the course of the first Islamic century, it became customary for those specially interested in their religion to take up a position in a mosque and discuss various questions with any who cared to listen to them. Such persons came to be known as ulema ('ulamā'), that is, scholars or scholar-jurists. From such beginnings, more formal legal and theological schools developed. It should be emphasised that, in Islam, what Westerners would call legal matters take precedence, and that theology tends to be regarded as a subdivision of law. It will be noticed that in the earlier creeds there are many articles which Christians would regard as belonging to . . .

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