Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

The History of Sumaniyyah (Buddhism) and Its Doctrines in the Arabic-Islamic Discourse an Analysis

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

The History of Sumaniyyah (Buddhism) and Its Doctrines in the Arabic-Islamic Discourse an Analysis

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)


The term, Sumaniyyah, has held a place in the Arabic-Islamic discourse beginning with the first half of the 3rd century of hijrah. Ibn Hanbal (d. 241 A.H.) and al-Bukhārī (d. 256 A.H.) wrote of al-Jahm ibn ŞafWăn and his response to Sumaniyyah. Several other scholars had briefly mentioned Sumaniyyah in their discourses and their majority used the terms Sumaniyyah (^¿ii) or Samaniyyah ^¿). However, the discourses of al-Maqdisī and al-Bīrūnī contained the terms Shumaniyyah (¿у^л) or Shummaniyyah (^ii,). Despite these documents the matter of Sumaniyyah remains vague, not only as a term but also regarding any doctrines ascribed to it. Regardless of other forms used in the ArabicIslamic discourse, the term, Sumaniyyah, is used for the purposes of this paper.

The reader of Comparative Religion and Islamic Tradition faces problems and challenges when studying the philosophy of Sumaniyyah from the very outset because there are variations in vowelizing the term. Moreover, doctrines, characteristics and the history of Sumaniyyah, as articulated in the Arabic-Islamic discourse are far too brief. Furthermore, Western writings on Sumaniyyah are unfair, tendentious and to some extent, incorrect.1 A preponderance of translations relates Sumaniyyah to Buddhism; consequently, the majority of contemporary Muslim scholars and researchers use its translations in their discourse. Other researchers ascribe Sumaniyyah specifically to Buddhist mysticism, while some prefer the Arabic term, Samaniyyah. Hence, a dilemma exists even in understanding the term Sumaniyyah, as to whether it truly referred to Buddhist mysticism or to Buddhism per se. Hence, this study attempts to clarify this fundamentally critical issue.

We begin by collecting and analyzing scattered information as to Sumaniyyah and its characteristics, doctrines and history in the ArabicIslamic discourse, as well as by exploring the term's origins. Our discussion also attempts to clarify conceptual and historical relationships, similarities and differences between Sumaniyyah and Buddhism. This qualitative descriptive approach and content analysis focuses on scholarly treatises on Sumaniyyah with references to the creed in al-Milal wa al-Nihal, 'ilm al-kalām, usûl al-fiqh, and historiography. The scope is limited to a period beginning with early Muslim writings and ends in the 13th century of the Islamic calendar (1881 C.E.). The rationale for this limitation is that many researchers and scholars relied on earlier writings without providing more insightful analyses, articulations and criticisms. To the contrary, most writers simply transmitted what they found without any attempt at in-depth evaluation.

Research Questions

This study attempts to answer the following questions:

1. What is the definition and etymology of Sumaniyyah according to the Arabic-Islamic discourse?

2. What is the background and history of Sumaniyyah in the ArabicIslamic discourse?

3. What Sumaniyyah doctrines and thoughts are found in the ArabicIslamic discourse?

Sumaniyyah: Definition and Etymology of the Term

The available literature clarifies that the Arabic-Islamic discourse is neither consistent nor unanimous regarding the term's origin or related doctrines. Differences, conflicts and contradictions appearing in early Islamic texts indicate that there was an absence of authentic knowledge of these matters. The available majority called it Sumaniyyah. (^A)2 while other writers redirect readers to differences in vowel points by writing Summaniyyah ... 3 or Samniyyah ... .4 Al-Bīrūnī, in Tahqîq ma li al-Hind,5 al-Āthār al-Bāqiyah (al-Qur'ān al-Khāliyah),6 and al-Bakrī, in al-Masālik wa al-Mamālik1 used the term, Shumaniyyah ... ).

This gives rise to another question for readers of Comparative Religion as to why this term (Sumaniyyah) came to be used for this particular group. Another key question is: From where did they derive these terms? …

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