Earlier Western commentators on Islam have had few problems in deploying such terms as 'orthodoxy' and 'heterodoxy' with complete freedom, as if they were immediately self-explicable. Thus we find Professor Sir Hamilton Gibb, writing originally in 1949, stating in an initial chapter:
By this time the pressure of Muslim doctrine and practice had mastered most of the resistances that had, at an earlier time, sought an outlet in heterodox and subversive movements. But this did not lead to stagnation. On the contrary, the devotional feeling of the townsmen, grinding a channel of its own, burst the bonds of the orthodox disciplines and found a new freedom in the ranges of mysticism.1
Elsewhere in the same volume, he entitles a chapter 'Orthodoxy and Schism',2 which discusses 'the elaboration of orthodox theology'.3 He notes that 'it would have been difficult for a contemporary to prophesy which of all these multifarious forms would emerge as the definitively orthodox or "official" version of the Islamic faith'.4 He goes on to recognise that 'the establishment of an orthodox system was thus a gradual process, in which political considerations and political action played a large part (as always in the establishment of orthodox systems)'.5 In all this, there is little, if any, introspection on the part of Gibb as to the validity, or otherwise, of using the term 'orthodox', though he does admit that it carries with it the cultural baggage of 'official', as we have seen above. Furthermore, he suggests that the persecution of 'the most heretical forms of Islam and more especially the gnostic and dualistic perversions' led to 'the definition of orthodoxy ... being tightened up'.6
Gibb goes on to note that many of the great medieval Islamic philosophers, like al-Kindl (died after ad 866), al-Farabl (870-950) Ibn Slna (979-1037), Ibn Bajja (1106-38) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98), 'were far from orthodox',7 'despite their sublime intellectual achievements. Above all, it is SunnI Islam for Gibb which stands for all that is 'orthodox'.8 This is his fundamental criterion in a book which is surprisingly deep, as well as wide-ranging, given its introductory nature, but also (unconsciously?) glib in its use of such terminology.
Tied, of course, to that which is regarded as 'orthodoxy' or 'official' in a given age are the domains of authority, text and entitlement to interpret those texts or bodies of text. The 'ulama' came to be considered as custodians, not just of intellectual power, but of political power as well; custodians not just of the intellectual development of Islam as a system of theologico-legal thought but, because of the classically articulated, unbroken bond between the 'secular' and the 'sacred', of political Islam as well. The trained 'ulama' guard and interpret the sacred texts, produce commentaries upon them, and 'the text becomes an instrument of authority and a way of excluding others or regulating their access to it'.9 Thus it is that some scholars perceive that an authoritarian 'orthodoxy' is created, maintained by textual or intellectual hierarchs. The problem, as Gilsenan recognised, is that when the 'common people' are shut out from an elitist educational system or style of learning, then they may appoint their own textual guardians, interpreters and men of religious authority: 'Heterodoxies might flourish".10
'Orthodoxy' is a notoriously slippery term. For the Christian Orthodox Churches, the term 'Orthodoxy' means both 'right belief' and 'right glory' or 'right worship'.11 The various branches of the Orthodox Church believe that they are 'the custodians of 'true [Christian] belief about God'.12 Indeed, the nineteenth-century Russian theologian Alexis Khomiakov described the Pope as 'the first Protestant'.13
For the lexicographer, the definition of 'orthodox' can be equally lacking in final, concise and monovalent definition, even in The Concise Oxford Dictionary:
orthodox a. Holding correct or currently accepted opinions esp. on religious doctrine, not heretical or independent-minded or original; generally accepted as right or true esp. theology, in harmony with what is authoritatively established, approved, conventional.14
The definition of 'heterodox' by contrast, in the same source is infuriatingly brief:
heterodox a. (of person or opinion) not orthodox.15
In Arabic, there is no precise, single word to render the English term 'orthodoxy' except for the direct transliteration urthudhuksiyya and the jahili-derived term hanifiyya, which, of course, has its own linguistic and cultural baggage. The paraphrase tatmim al-wajibat al-diniyya (completion [or fulfillment] of religious obligations) carries no value judgements of 'rightness' or 'correctness' such as is explicit in the Oxford Dictionary definition cited above.16 However, the phrase al-Khulafa' al-Rashidun, usually translated into English as 'The Rightly-Guided Caliphs', is rendered by Doniach as 'the orthodox caliphs'.17 In Arabic, it is perhaps within the framework of such diverse words as sunna or sahih that one comes slightly closer to some of the multifarious senses of 'rightness' in the English word 'orthodox'.18 Both the words sunna and sahih, however, have a multi-layered Arabo-Islamic linguistic and religious baggage in the field of hadlth studies which the English word 'orthodox'
cannot begin to approximate.
In their volume entitled Les ordres mystiques dans l'Islam: cheminements et situation actuelle, the editors, Alexandre Popovic and Gilles Veinstein, say in their Avantpropos that their volume will speak of 'un autre Islam':
C'est un autre Islam donc, mais qui en général ne se veut pas opposé au premier, se présentant plutôt comme complémentaire. Aussi ne doit-il pas être confondu avec les schismes rejetant l'Islam sunnite, la Shî'a en particulier, point de mire de notre actualité - même s'il s'en rapproche sur quelques points; il reste au contraire, le plus souvent, au sein de l'orthodoxie, bien que de tout temps tenu à l'oeil par les Docteurs de la Loi et cible favorite des intégristes.19
In the same volume, Marc Gaborieau states that his intention is not to write a history of the sufi orders in India. Rather, mon but est seulement d'en présenter une nomenclature en retraçant brièvement les étages de leur implantation. Trois critères sont utilisés ... Le troisième critère sépare, parmi les ordres mineurs, ceux qui sont orthodoxes, bâ-shar', de ceux qui sont hétérodoxes, be-shar'.20
All this is anathema to Julian Baldick, reviewing the work in the Times Literary Supplement. While admiring the academic dedication and industry of the various contributors to the volume, Baldick deplores their 'peculiarly old-fashioned overview' which causes them to identify an 'official' or 'orthodox' Islam on the one hand, and a parallel, alternative or heterodox Islam on the other.
He maintains that Sufis have been part of the 'establishment' in the East for centuries and suggests that 'the abuse of the word "orthodox" here must be seen as a classic illustration of the futility of its use in the study of religions' Sufis, he stresses, have for the most part over the years been as keen on 'Islamic legality' as anyone else. Furthermore, the sheer diversity of 'orthopraxy' or 'orthopraxies' means that simplistic dualist divisions into 'orthodox' and 'unorthodox' are simply untenable.21 In fairness to the book under review, Baldick does note that Veinstein's postscript to the volume contrasts oddly with his preface. In the latter he confidently predicts that the book will consider not 'official Islam" but an 'Islam parallèle'. In his concluding survey he is obliged to admit that several of his colleagues have insisted upon the absence of a particularly clear opposition between 'legal Islam' and the 'Islam of the brotherhoods'.22
The above debate very clearly shows that the old vocabulary of 'orthodoxy' and 'heterodoxy', articulated in stark dualistic terms as a single pair of antagonists, is no longer tenable. This chapter will therefore eschew any dwelling on single paths of orthodoxy or heterodoxy, whether in Islam or Christianity, and focus instead on a diversity of what were perceived as right doctrines in both faith traditions, acknowledging the possibility of doctrinal, legal or other contradiction within a single tradition. Stress will be laid on the plurality of religious and doctrinal experience and its custodians, whether they be the 'ulamâ' (religious leadership), the fuqahâ'
(jurisprudents) or the sufls. The old vocabularies and stark dualisms of orthodoxy and heterodoxy, coherence and incoherence, will be abandoned in favour of treating both Islam and Christianity as bodies of diversity in unity. The chapter will, of course, note what those intellectual and religious custodians themselves believed to be right doctrines, but it will not indulge in the false dichotomies condemned above by Baldick whereby one doctrine, or set of doctrines, is characterised externally for all time as true or false, orthodox or heterodox. Ours is a phenomenological approach. It is also neater in that it allows a more fluid and versatile approach to diversity within a single tradition without the perpetual need to compartmentalise into the orthodox and the unorthodox or heterodox. Throughout our discussions and explorations, a primary leitmotiv will be that of authority and how such authority derives, or is derived, from what one custodian of knowledge or another - 'alim, faqih or sufi - deems to be true.
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