Islam is one of the major religions in the world. The people who live in the middle regions of the world are mainly the ones who practice Islam. These people include the Pakistanis, Afghans, Persian and Turkish people of Central Asia, Iranians, Middle Eastern Arabs, Swahili-speaking East Africans, Sudanese, Chinese, Indians, West Africans, and Berbers, among others (Lapidus, 2014). Islam unites these people despite their diverse ethnic backgrounds, languages, social and political organizations, customs, and technological differences. It is important to note that the Islam religion has a history. This historical context is well documented by Ira Lapidus in his third edition of the book, A History of Islamic Societies.' The book is divided into four parts: the beginnings of Islam, the construction of Islamic religious societies, the 19th-century Islamic history, and the impact of European domination on Islamic societies. This paper looks at part one of the book which deals with the ancient accounts of Islam.
This first part of Lapidus book (p. 1-174) generally covers the political and socio-economic evolution of Islam societies throughout Africa, Asia, the Middle East and also Europe. In this edition, Lapidus (2014) stresses the fact that Islam was part of the ancient civilizations as well as a continuation of those civilizations that came before it. The basic structures of the pre-historic empires are reviewed, and this forms the foundation for very interesting thematic concerns such as family issues, architecture and the Quran. The writer traces the standards set by the ancient customs and norms set by Islamic values and laws. Also, it is interesting to note how the writer presents a comprehensive reevaluation of the authenticity of the Quran, the authority of the early sources, and the origins of Islam that are characterized by controversial historiographies. In the process of this reevaluation, the writer incorporates new perspectives into the book. Additionally, the writer looks at the aspect of architecture regarding the designing and decorating mosques. The most important changes are highlighted as a display of magnificent legitimacy. The writer traces the uniqueness of the changing architectural designs in the ancient societies that influenced the Islamic architecture. The writer also presents a revised history of the ancient Islamic law in addition to the reverence of Prophet Mohamed in a bid to provide the basic perspectives of the antique Islamic religiosity. In a new dispensation, the non-Muslim minorities are placed under Muslim rule. The writer integrates these thematic issues into the overall perspectives of Islam to depict the interconnectedness of the Mediterranean, ancient, and primeval Islamic cultures.
Cultural interactions were key in the development of Islam. According to this writer, Lapidus (2014), cultural interactions between the Arabs and the people of the Middle East intensified and continued following the Arab-Islamic conquests. Despite Bedouin elements making Arabia different in terms of religious cultures, material development, trade, and politics before the introduction of Islam, it is interesting to note that Arabia was already connected to the settled regions of the Middle East, especially the larger region (Lapidus, 2014). Therefore, although pre-Islamic literary and religious culture of the Arabs stemmed from Bedouin customs, it was largely influenced by the general belief systems practiced in the middle east ever since the third century. The interaction between Arabs and the Middle East led to the Arab-Muslim participation in the ancient heritage went on to the 11th century. This must have provided enough time and interaction to set the foundation for Islam. One interesting idea, in this case, is that the development of Islamic civilization was characterized by a cultural matrix that encompassed Arabian religious and tribal cultural practices, Jewish culture, Christian eschatology, and theology, as well as the Sasanian and Roman politics and culture (Lapidus, 2014). Although the emerging Islamic civilization was highly influenced by Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations, pre-Islamic cultures were influenced by ordinary business and social contacts, specific translations and texts, as well as oral recitations (Lapidus, 2014). Nevertheless, this phase can perfectly be viewed as a period of adaptation, assimilation, and creative transformation of ancient cultures of the Middle East into an Arabic-Islamic system.
The Islamic religion was based on various customs. According to Lapidus (2014), Islam shared the theology of those that came before it and offered analogous codes for communal loyalties, social behavior, and ritual. In the Quran, Islam is presented as a correction of the corrupted early religions. All early Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews believed in prophets, angels, God and the last judgment (Lapidus, 2014). They also believed that the main purpose of human existence was to fulfill the commands of God. The early Muslim community also shared popular spirituality and folk traditions with non-Muslims including the Eastern Syrian Christians who believed that Jesus was an ordinary human being. Also, all the people of the Middle East believed that religious societies had founding prophets, and such beliefs signaled a community. The development of the religious philosophy of Islam was not isolated. It was a conglomeration of assimilated and transformed beliefs, customs, and cultures. The unique Arab-Islamic cultural achievements brought a significant link between the early Islamic civilization and its precursors. The translation of the religious philosophy from Greek into Arabic was done, and this meant the Muslim theology (Kalam) was based on concepts and dialectics that were similar to the Christian theology. Additionally, the Persian law, Talmudic law, Canon law, and the Roman provincial law were progressively integrated with the hadith and Quran teachings to form the Islamic law.
Another interesting aspect of the development of Islam is the integration of Arabian poetry (qasida) and Persian literature (adab) into the religion. The aspects of adab and qasida formed the basic literary foundation of a well-molded person in the Islamic cultural dispensation (Lapidus, 2014). Literature and art formed the basis of the Islam religion in significant ways. In the process, a new civilization was in the offing. The new civilization was distinctive and creative. It also ensured the continuation of the primary cultural forms and institutional cultures associated with the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern civilizations.
In conclusion, the Islamic religion, as presented by Lupidas (2014), has gone through a lot to emerge as one of the leading religions in the world. Over the centuries, the processes of assimilation, Arabization, and Islamization of historical cultures are the main ones that steered the consolidation of a distinct civilization that can only be discovered through thorough scholarly investigation. All in all, as part of a Eurasian civilization, Islam is an integration of existing political forms, cultural, economic and religious values. It shares the theoretical world of Judaism and Christianity despite some differences in cultural and historical differences. Generally, the gradual transformation ancient civilizations, identities, ideologies and socio-political institutions, led to the emergence of the Islamic religion. The most important thing to note about part one of Lapidus' book is that it contextualizes the origin of Islam so practically that it becomes invaluable to any student of religion, History, and Anthropology.
Lapidus, I. M. (2014). A history of Islamic societies. Cambridge University Press.
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