The Other Islam
Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony
by Stephen Schwartz
Toronto, Doubleday, 2008
Reviewed by Salim Mansur
March 7, 2009
This weekend, Muslims around the world celebrate with much festivity the "mawlid" (birthday) of Prophet Muhammad.
Muhammad is as greatly loved by Muslims as, for instance, Buddha is by Buddhists and Jesus by Christians. But no prophet, saint or sage has received as much bad ink as has Muhammad. /p>
Yet no matter how Muhammad is disparaged, nor how some Muslims by their atrocious conduct bring infamy upon him, his towering and majestic presence in the lives of a vast and varied portion of mankind is almost unique.
Of Muhammad's presence in history and its immense consequence, none among non-Muslims perhaps wrote better on the subject than Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), essayist-historian of Scottish birth who gained renown in the Victorian era.
Carlyle belonged to that school of historians for whom the motor force in history was great souls as heroes. Our age has been so thoroughly corrupted by the materialist reading of history that we would not recognize a great soul if one walked into our home.
The list is long, and it keeps getting longer, of those writing scornfully about Muhammad. But Carlyle remarked, "Our current hypothesis about Mahomet, that he was a scheming Impostor, a Falsehood incarnate, that his religion is a mere mass of quackery and fatuity, begins really to be now untenable to anyone. The lies, which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man, are disgraceful to ourselves only."
To Muhammad's foes Carlyle responded, "A false man found a religion? Why, a false man cannot build a brick house!" And then he proceeded to demolish the pretentions of miserable little souls – the naysayers in every age ghoulishly scavenging on the remains of great souls – mocking Muhammad.
Carlyle's essay on Muhammad in On Heroes and Hero-Worship is of timeless quality, and it remains radiant despite the recent surge in writings of all sorts on Islam and Muslim history. /p>
Among Muslims those most devoted to Muhammad and ecstatic in their love for him are the Sufis. They represent Islam's gentle face below the radar of contemporary western media and it is among the Sufis, far removed from the domain of Muslim power holders, that the fullness of Muhammad's grace flourishes and may be experienced.
Stephen Schwartz, author of the best-selling The Two Faces of Islam about Saudi Arabia and the bigoted Wahhabi cult, has recently published the story of Sufis in The Other Islam. The subtitle of Schwartz's book – Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony – is indicative of the importance of the subject in an era of Islamist terrorism and clash of civilizations.
In Schwartz's eloquent retelling of Islam's teachings through the lives of Sufi mystics – men and women who spare nothing of themselves in seeking to experience God in the here and now – the essential truth of Muhammad's life shines forth.
Muhammad was transfigured by his encounter with Abraham's God into a great soul and yet, as the Sufis address him, he remained the most loving friend and trusted master of every common seeker of God's compassion.
Reading together Carlyle and Schwartz, one a non-denominational Christian and the other an American Sufi, is richly rewarding for anyone wanting insight into the man and the prophet revered by a sixth of the world's people.
Related Topics: Sufism
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