The word “sect” comes from the Latin sequi or sequor and means “to follow.” According to this definition, the term excludes the idea of schism or doctrinal rupture. In Christian usage, the term “sect” is not free from pejorative connotations although it is much better than the label “heretic.”
Nowadays, in Christian terminology, the word “sect” refers mostly to a body of people sharing religious opinions who have broken away from a larger body. “Sect” in the sense of “cult” refers to a group of people who follow the “revelations” made by its founder. Such sects, like the Mormons for example, differ from the Church, in the non-theological sense of the term, in that they recognize another new revelation.
The sect insists on the need to understand the neo-testamentary text which is different in essence from the sacred scriptures.1 Besides that distinction, and as can be observed within the Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, the cult believes in collective, not individual salvation, which is exclusively limited to its members.2
It must be understood, however, that the sects which the Church opposes in the name of orthodoxy are merely other religions with their own rites and dogmas which are only heretical with respect to official orthodoxy. If we attempt to remove the slippery polish from the word “sect,” turning it into a simple technical term devoid of subjectivity, we will see that “the meaning of sect is closer to the Spanish word séquito [group of followers, adherents and devotees] than to what is commonly understood by secta [sect] and its derivative sectario [sectarian] which curiously and arbitrarily are applied to it” (García Bazán 114-18). 3
As has been regularly documented, a persistent residue has adhered to the word “sect” as a result of use and abuse. In its common meaning, it applies to exclusivist religious minorities which are opposed to a commonly accepted Church tenet. Sects are born through dissent and view themselves as a small flock of chosen ones. This is how quantitative differences come about between Church and sect.
For the Western religious historian, what defines a sect is its character as a separate group, much more than its minority status, which can eventually reach the size of a Church. This is where we see the motives which drive Western religious historians like Gibb to come up with unilateral interpretations of complex concepts and doctrines. They explain and analyze them in terms that prevent the possibility of truly understanding what a sect or religion, such as Islām, really represents.4
It can never be sufficiently stressed that the general application of Western terms like “orthodoxy,” “heterodoxy,” “church” and “sect” to Islām are grossly misapplied, especially as Islām does not have a Church to define orthodoxy or the powers to excommunicate.5 The use of such terms ends up simplifying complex issues, associating them with Western religious phenomena which do not have equivalents in the language of Islām. There is no place for such terms as “orthodoxy, “heterodoxy,” “church,” “sect,” and “heresy” in an Islāmic tradition rooted in the concept of divine unity.6
While there is diversity within Islām, there is not, simply by a slight difference in approach, a contradiction of its central doctrine of divine unity nor the gregarious separation in its fundamentals of faith or its community [ummah]. Rather, they are diverse tendencies that make up Islām and so long as they do not stray from the fundamentals of faith, they can all claim with some justification to represent its most authentic expression.7
With this understanding, one can appreciate that in Islām there does not exist a clear line between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. As a result, the various Islāmic currents are neither radically misguided groups which have broken from official orthodoxy nor are they separated from one another as are the Christian sects of today.
Unlike the Western world, the Islāmic world defines orthodoxy by means of the profession of faith or shahādah: Lā ilāha illā Allāh / Muhammadun rasūl Allāh [There is no god but Allāh and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allāh]. The shahādah is the most universal proclamation of divine unity and is not a strictly defined theological formula.
There exists, of course, an orthodoxy in Islām, without which no doctrine or tradition is possible. However, contrary to Gibb's affirmation, Islāmic orthodoxy has not been defined by ijmā' [scholarly consensus] in any restricted or limited sense. What is more, in Islām there has never existed a religious institution capable or deciding who is orthodox and who is not.8
Infatuated with every Western prejudice, Gibb seems to have translated the old axiom of divide et impera [divide and conquer] into the more modern: classify and discard! But to understand the history of Islām, however, requires more than merely counting or organizing dates. The eye of the scholar must be capable of discerning the profound print of his subject, its depth, its substance and its essence. He must belong to a tradition and provide us with comprehensive and broad formulas called critical approaches and methodologies.
Gibb easily forgets that in Islām, so long as a practice or a belief does not contravene the sharī'ah [Islāmic law] and can be traced back to the Qur'ān and the sunnah it is clearly orthodox and cannot be deemed heretical. This principle also applies to the genuine spiritual paths of Islāmic mysticism [tasawwuf] in the Sunnī world whose devotional practices and metaphysical doctrines cannot be judged on the criteria of “orthodoxy” that govern the exoteric forms of the religion.
This is particularly so since the esoteric can never face the exoteric on the same plane. Both operate on different but not divergent orders of the same reality.9 In other words, they constitute the “core” [al-lubb] and the “skin” [al-qishrah] of the religion.
In Nahj al-balāghah [The Path of Eloquence]–a collection of sermons, epistles, and aphorisms of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib compiled by Sharīf al-Razī (406/1015)–the First Imām most brilliantly and masterfully settles the question of the diversity of schools and currents in Islāmic thought. He describes them as parts of the spiritual freedom given by God which are in accord with His Oneness:10
Praise be to Allāh who established Islām and made it easy for those who approach it and gave strength to its columns against any one who tries to overpower it … It is the most bright of all paths, the clearest of all passages. It has dignified minarets, bright highways, burning lamps, prestigious fields of activity, and high objective. (Sermon 105: 249)
This Islām is the religion which Allāh has chosen for Himself … He made Islām such that its constituent parts cannot break, its links cannot separate, its construction cannot fall, its columns cannot decay … It consists of columns whose bases Allāh has fixed in truthfulness, and who foundation He has strengthened, and of sources whose streams are ever full of water and of lamps, whose flames are full of light, and of beacons with whose help travelers get guidance. (Sermon 197: 408)
As one can gather from these words, the Islāmic tradition has, in a general sense, provided a broad umbrella which embraces a multiplicity of points of view as distinct as the doctrinal masters of thought who formulated them. The only tension between them–when there was any at all–has normally been between the exoteric and esoteric dimensions of the tradition. This tension has always alternated harmoniously within the same dynamic rhythm.
The temporal predominance of one over the other in the successive manifestations of the same living organism is comparable to the diastole and the systole of the heartbeat. Without alternation, these two essential movements continue in harmony, like the exoteric and the esoteric. Like any other tradition, Islām would cease to beat without them and would turn into a rigid form without a pulse.11
In other words, the orthodoxy of the distinct schools of thought in Islām does not manifest itself solely through the preservation of its outer forms. It is expressed equally by its natural development and, especially, by its capacity to absorb any spiritual expression which is not essentially alien to the doctrine of divine unity.12
It is true that in Islām there is what in the language of the West is defined as “sect.” The word “sect” in Arabic is firqah which comes from the Arabic farraqa which means “to separate” and “to divide.” Let us not make the mistake, however, of considering Sunnī and Shī'ite Islām as the two main sects of Islām. Let us not differentiate between them by applying normative and schematic judgments to decide, unilaterally, in accord with the mental and moral modes of historically European-based societies, which one of them is “orthodox” and which one is “heterodox.”
If we have acknowledged that there is diversity in Islām we need to recognize that there is also a means to understand its unity. The unity of Islām rests on one sole factor: the uninterrupted event of the Qur'ānic revelation. In synthesis, the oneness of God and Islām is manifested in every aspect of its doctrinal reach in the affirmation of divine unity [tawhīd], the proclamation that the beginning of existence is one as ratified by the apothegm al-tawhīdu wāhidun: “the doctrine of oneness is one.”
For Islām, divine unity constitutes the only raison d'être [reason for being] and the essential criteria upon which all “orthodoxy” is based, regardless of its contingent modes of expression. We can go further and affirm that, as far as Islāmic thought is concerned, the doctrine of “divine unity” is the common denominator shared by all traditional monotheistic faiths without exception, so long as they adhered to pure and original monotheism.13
We can expand upon this more and proclaim that the universal and the continuous in all things operate through this Unique Principle which invariably is everywhere and always identical to Itself.
The great metaphysical currents from East and West unanimously agree that the ultimate reality of all things, the essential state of all creatures, their beginning and their return, is divine unity.14 In this sense, this Islāmic concept runs parallel to those of Xenophanes, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus.15
It runs parallel with those of Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism as well as those of the Advaita Vedanta, formulated by Master Sankara as a recapitulation of the Veda which, according to Muslim Gnostics, is the revelation God made to Adam.16 This also applies to Alexandrine hermeticism–to the extent that it is a continuation of the tradition of Hermes or Idrīs, as he is known in the Islāmic world–which is also embraced and integrated into Islām.17
The truth of the One Absolute, the identification of all things with a Sole Beginning, was revealed by the Qur'ān for Islām in the form of the shahādah.18 The divine profession of faith stresses that “He is Allāh, the One and Only” (112:1), “there is no god but Allāh” (47: 19) and that “He has no partners” [wahdahu lā sharīka lahu] or, as the chapter “Divine Unity” [Sūrat al-tawhīd] or “Purity of Faith” [Sūrat al-ikhlās] declares, “there is none like unto Him” [wa lam yakun lahu kufu'an ahad] (112:-4).
To be considered as orthodox, Islām requires a true and sincere belief in monotheism.19 The contrary of tawhīd is shirk: the attribution of partners or associates to God, idolatry and polytheistic paganism. Shirk is a mortal sin without possibility of pardon.20 It is heresy incarnate which is why the Qur'ān warns:
“Allāh forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth; to set up partners with Allāh is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed” (4:48).21
For Islām, the essential element which guarantees true orthodoxy is the belief in “monotheism.” This applies not only to its own schools of thought or spiritual paths, but also to any traditional religion prior to Islām.22 The term “monotheism,” however, is inadequate when it comes to translating the sense of al-tawhīd. The word “monotheism” can only be used to accommodate the lack of a better term in English and other Western languages, without giving it an exclusively religious connotation.
The doctrine of “divine unity” is essentially metaphysical in the true and original sense of the term. But in Islām, as in other traditions, it also implies–in its direct application to diverse contingent domains–a whole network of complicated and interlacing parts. These parts, within Islām, are not necessarily incompatible, despite their respective characters, as they are in the West since in Islām there is no division between the functions of “religion” and “state.”
Islām is a complete civilization and a complex culture in which all activities and spheres of daily life, individual, societal and governmental must reflect divine unity.23 Islām is not merely a “religion” if by religion one exclusively means an ecclesiastic system of belief and practice. More than that, Islām is a way of life with a faith or, if one wants, a traditional way of life [dīn] which, through the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah, proclaims a faith and establishes rituals.
It also prescribes an established social order on the basis of the “fundamentals of faith” or the “pillars of Islām” [arkān al-islām] for individuals and society in all areas that determine the condition and the raison d'être [reason for being] of the orthodox Muslim. An orthodox Muslim, as we have seen, is anyone who is sincere in his faith.
A 20th century Gnostic, al-Shaykh al-'Alawī from Mostagan, a qutb or spiritual pole of Sunnī Islām of the Shadhilī school,24 said that to be an orthodox Muslim it is sufficient to observe five things: to believe in God and recognize Muhammad as his final prophet, perform the five daily prayers, give the prescribed alms to the poor, fast, and make the pilgrimage to Makkah (Lings 23).25
The arkān al-islām or pillars of Islām, as a whole, are the formal expression of Islām and encompass everything which Western language designates as strictly religious.26 The pillars of Islām also include all of the social and legislative realms which in the Islāmic world integrate into the religion. Hence, the Western concept of separation between “religion” and “state” is something foreign to orthodox Islāmic thought.
Besides these five fundamentals of faith there are five other pillars of religion [usūl al-dīn] according to Shī'ite Islām which are in conformity with the sunnah of the Prophet.27 They include tawhīd, the belief in divine unity; nubuwwah, the belief in the prophecy; mī'ād,28 the belief in resurrection and the hereafter; imāmah, the Imāmate, the belief in the twelve Imāms as successors of the Prophet and depositories of his wilāyah [guardianship], the spiritual and temporal power of Islām and; 'adl or divine justice. Sunnis and Shī'ites agree upon the three basic pillars, namely, tawhīd, nubuwwah, and mī'ād.
They only differ on the other two. In terms of the Imāmate, what distinguishes the Shī'ite perspective from the Sunnī one is the insistence on the esoteric function and spiritual supremacy of the Imām. In Sunnī Islām, this difference is formerly overcome through gnosis [ma'rifah or 'irfān] of Sūfism [tasawwuf] in which the qutb or spiritual pole of the age represents the esoteric and initiatory role that the Imām plays in Shī'ism.29
In terms of 'adl or divine justice what distinguishes Shī'ism is the stress given to this attribute as an essential quality of the divine reality. In its concept of divine justice, Shī'ism considers this aspect as co-substantial with divinity.30 God cannot act unjustly because it is impossible for the Just to be unjust. There can be no division or contradiction in the One.
Finally, despite their external differences, Sunnis, Shī'ites and Sūfis share a stress on practice and conduct as opposed to doctrine. The faithful observance of the fundamentals of faith is what lies at the center of their thought and differences. It is only on the esoteric plane that every religious perspective can be placed so long as it does not contradict the transcendental unity which goes beyond any such limitations. It is this unity which is found in the external expressions of each religion or theological school.
The transcendental unity of all religions is not broken in any way by the transcendence of Islām.31Such unity is not a material extension and gradual development but rather the fundamental identity of the one within the multiple.32
Even if it varies to infinity, it responds in different ways to the needs of different human cultures and races.33For this reason, the establishment of “orthodoxy” in Islām, based on uniformity instead of unity, as it exists with other religious forms, especially in the West, could never depend on the ijmā' or the consensus of scholars. Gibb's reductionist doctrine wishes to liken Islāmic ijmā' to the “councils of the Christian Church” (90).
It is only the metaphysical doctrine of unity which can reconcile all types of differences while maintaining the unity of the Islāmic tradition, both exoteric and esoteric, over and above any tension or conflict of a political or religious order.
In this sense, Shī'ite Islām represents a balancing totality of various points of view. Due to the profoundly esoteric character of its doctrine, it represents a “middle path” between the excessive formal legalism of the jurists and the excessive introversion of the mystics.34 The tasawwuf, depository of gnosis in the Sunnī world, can be defined spiritually as the Shī'ism of 'Alī ibn Abī Tālib, the Fourth Caliph and First Imām of Islām.35 Both Sūfism and Shī'ism, in accord with the traditions of the Prophet, view 'Alī as the “gate” of initiation to the esoteric knowledge [bātin] of Muhammad who stated quite clearly: “I am the city of knowledge and 'Alī is its gate. Whoever wants to enter this city must first pass through its gate.”36
The symbol of the “gate” [in Arabic bāb] alludes to the esoteric function of the First Imām since it is through him that one gains access to initiation [from the Latin inire or to “enter”]. Found in many traditions, the “gate” alludes to initiation into the Muhammadan ”mysteries” or “secrets” [sirr].37
In its universal sense, the “gate” refers to the spiritual office as the “seal” of the absolute wilāyah [guardianship] and the esoteric pole of the prophecy who has opened the Cycle of Initiation [dā'irat al-wilāyah] which, at the same time, has been sealed by the Twelfth Imām, al-Mahdī, who closes the Muhammadan wilāyah.
In short, the completion of the doctrinal legacy of Islām explains, as does the absence of any unanimously accepted human authority who has received spiritual and temporal power from the Most High, the rather indefinite character of the notion of orthodoxy outside of what is established by the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah.
In specific, with the exception of the Mahdī, there does not exist in Islām a universally recognized magistrate capable of formulating new laws. The Ayātullāhs38from the Arabic āyāt, signs and Allāh, God] which in our epoch appear more and more as the jurists [mujtahidūn] and the depositories of the wilāyat al-faqīh,39 that is, the spiritual and political leadership of Shī'ite Islām, limit themselves to interpretating the prescriptions and mandates of the Qur'ān.
They do so in accord with a tradition passed down from generation to generation by the Twelve Imāms but with nuances and even considerable differences from one mujtahid to another.40 One thing that must be clarified as well is that when we speak of Shī'ism we refer to the ithnā 'āsharī or “Twelver” branch, also known as the Ja'farī school of jurisprudence.41
The term Shī'ism embraces many branches, each with its own interpretation of Qur'ānic doctrine. The term Sunnism embraces various exoteric branches, including the four most famous schools of Islāmic jurisprudence, the Shāfi'ī, the Hanafī, the Hanbalī and the Mālikī. The term Sūfism also embraces various branches. In the esoteric world of tasawwuf it is possible to distinguish spiritual paths [turuq] equal in number to the infinite variety of souls or beings.42 As Ibn Khaldūn explains in his Muqaddimah [Prolegomenon], the profession of divine unity is the very secret [sirr] of these doctrines.43
So far, we have examined the fundamental ubi consistam [point of reference] of Islāmic thought regarding the concept of “orthodoxy.” Clearly, Shī'ite Islām must not be removed from this definition. Excluding Shī'ite Islām from the realm of Islāmic orthodoxy–by omission or by excess–is one of the most common mistakes made by Western scholars who wish to give it a sectarian nature similar to reformist Christian sects. These scholars even go to the extreme of giving Shī'ism an allegedly “fundamentalist” character which, in the broadest sense, applies exclusively to certain forms of modern American Protestantism.
In present times, the term “fundamentalist” is commonly applied to Shī'ite Islām and to Islāmic groups characterized by a rejection of all manifestation of secularism in the Eastern world.44 This is despite the fact that, in every sense, Shī'ism represents the living tradition of Islām.45 Both in politics and religion, Shī'ite Islām is traditional.46
When faced with outbreaks of innovation [bid'ah] Shī'ite Muslims, like all orthodox Muslims, react with the same hostility as any who face a subversive movement which seeks to overthrow the established order.47 Due to its imminently esoteric nature and its acceptance of diverse levels of interpretation of the scriptures–each one more profound than the other–Shī'ism is, in the Islāmic world, what least resembles “fundamentalism” if understood in its correct sense of extreme superficial and sterile literalism.48
It may be worthwhile to mention at this point that “fundamentalism” is a purely Christian term. It seems to have come into use at the beginning of the twentieth century and describes, first and foremost, certain American Protestant sects, particularly those with a puritanical perspective. The sects in question are noted for interpreting the scriptures to the letter of the law, from a narrow-minded perspective.
They reject any profound interpretation of the Bible, prohibiting any hint of hermeneutics. Notably, the term “fundamentalist” is now applied on a daily basis by many Muslims but stripped from the pejorative sectarian sense. Through a strange semantic distortion, they give the term the erroneous meaning and the distorted sense of a “return to the fundamentals” of the Islāmic faith. They do so as if at some time in Islāmic history, the arkān al-islām [pillars of Islām] had somehow ceased to exist, visibly or invisibly, in all spheres of Muslim existence and in all their manifestations in the Islāmic world.
Even when they are relinquished or temporarily placed on the back burner–as in the atypical case of Turkey–they have always been fully maintained in the spiritual and esoteric order without which any return to original Islām is impossible.49In this sense, the integral restoration of the true and original sense of the revelation depends on the ta'ālīm [spiritual guidance] of the Imāms, the fundamental touchstone of the illuminative awakening of Islāmic gnosis.
They are invested with the initiatory function due to their condition as divinely-inspired men and perfect interpreters of His message, well beyond the literary and philosophical paraphrase of rationalist jurists and theological puritans like Ibn Taymiyyah50and those of 'Abd al-Wahhāb.51
A return to the fundamentals implies that a distancing or a partial separation [firqah] from them has taken place. If returning to the founding principles of the Islāmic faith is used in the sense of returning to the straight path, then this may very well require a reencounter with Shī'ite Islām since its doctrine has always remained firmly grounded in the teachings of the Imāms who are effectively the arkān [pillars] par excellence.52
In the Shī'ī view, the Imāms are the fundamental pillars of Islām in the sense that the essence of the revelation was passed on to them by the Prophet, both exoterically and esoterically, through the function of the Imāmate or spiritual inheritance ['ilm 'itrī], that is, the esoteric guidance of the prophetic bātin [secrets].
According to the famous hadīth al-kisā' [The Tradition of the Cloak], the Prophet called his daughter Fātimah along with 'Alī, Hasan, and Husayn, and covered them completely with his cloak.53This act symbolized the transmission of the universal wilāyah of the Prophet, through the epiphany [mazhar] of the partial wilāyah [wilāyah fātimiyyah], to the plethora of the Twelve Imāms, the Prophet's immaculate progeny [ma'sūmīn].54
Within the bounds of the excessively arid exteriorist “literalism” which defines Protestant fundamentalism, we can only include, in relation to Islām, the exceptional case of Wahhābism.55 This obscure puritanical and reformist sect [firqah], derived from Sunnī Islām's strict Hanbalī school of thought, was founded by Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhāb, who can be called, without exaggeration, the Martin Luther of the Muslim World.56
His doctrine was inspired by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyyah, a rationalist rigorist who opposed the ideas of Ibn al-'Arabī.57 'Abd al-Wahhāb found his ideological support in the political opportunism of the upstart emir of the Dariya tribe, Muhammad ibn Sa'ūd, the ancestor and founder of the actual Saudi dynasty which became the secular arm and executor of Wahhābism.58
Like Luther with respect to Christianity, 'Abd al-Wahhāb called for a “return to the fundamentals” of faith. These, however, were reformulated literally and were stripped of the doctrinal complement brought by the teachings of the Imāms and the exegetic and hermeneutical methods instituted by the Prophet as sacred sciences aimed at discerning the inner meanings of the scripture. A “return to the fundamentals” of Islām, as proposed by 'Abd al-Wahhāb, can only be brought about by the restorative action of the ta'ālīm or esoteric guidance of Imām Mahdī, the Hidden and Awaited Imām, and never through human initiative.59
We “return” [ta'wīl] the revealed letter [tanzīl] to the plane where it becomes real. The revelation [tanzīl], according to Shī'ite Islām, is both exoteric [zāhir] and esoteric [bātin]. The process of understanding consists in starting from the exoteric in order to reach the esoteric. Metaphysical internalization, the cornerstone of Islāmic Gnosticism, tends to revive, in the symbolic articulation of the scripture, its profound spiritual sense as revealed by Angel Gabriel to the Prophet according to its original enunciation.
Consequently, ta'wīl, [the allegorical interpretation], is the “returning ascent,” the march up country [anabasis] of the zāhir [exoteric] and the bātin [esoteric].60 The mission of the Prophet was the founding of the zāhir which implies a descent by the spirit to every formal point of expression of the scripture.61 The mission or ta'ālīm of the Twelfth Imām al-Mahdī is to lead the zāhir [exoteric] to the bātin [esoteric] in our present cycle. This is why he is called sahib al-zamān [the Lord of the Age].62
In order for there to be a “return to the fundamentals” of Islām, it is also necessary for there to be a universal restoration of the esoteric sciences in all of their traditions. For that same metaphysical reason, it requires a man who, besides being inspired by God and being a perfect interpreter who masters the exoteric and the esoteric scripture, is a spiritual heir, an inheritor and direct descendant of the Prophet from the line of Husayn, the Third Imām.
According to Islāmic metaphysics, which stems more or less directly from Shī'ism, the “heterodoxy” of any idea implies, in one way or another, the falsity of its formulations which are in absolute disagreement with the metaphysical and esoteric principles of the tradition. This is precisely what René Guénon63 warns of with respect to the Vedanta.64
According to this definition, orthodoxy lies in a constant balance between immutable principles. In the Islāmic tradition, these principles are contained in the Qur'ān. The balance between the letter and spirit of the revealed text constitutes the criteria of Islāmic orthodoxy which is founded on faith in the oneness of God.65
The discussion of Islāmic sects would be worthwhile if the term was restituted, as García Bazán demands, to the original sense the Romans gave it when they translated the Greek word hairesis as “sect” (114). The Greek word which has evolved into “heretic” merely means “selection,” “option,” or philosophical or religious “inclination” (115-17).
It does not imply the idea of difference, separation or breaking from a tradition, nor does it possess the pejorative connotation that it has in Western languages. As García Bazán explains, even the middle form of haireo and haireomai, from which hairesis derives, simply means “selection” or “option.”
In terms of Wahhābism, whose influence continues to be observed in Saudi Arabia and much of the Muslim world, “sectarian” deviations are not ritual or doctrinal: they are scriptural.66 With regards to the sacred text, the Wahhābi “heresy” consists in a deformation and literal reinterpretation of the Qur'ānic text and even of innovation in the Islāmic canon.67
They are “heretics” who are formally separated from the Islāmic community, not by ritual practice, but by scriptural deviation.68 These rigid rigorist literalists adhere to the external aspect of the written text and reject any extensions or interpretations transmitted through the oral and written tradition. In contrast, Shī'ite religious practice, as strict and legalistic as it may be, which assures a solid orthodoxy and orthopraxy, is accompanied, in the matter of faith, with a profound spirituality of a metaphysical and esoteric character which extends to its interpretation of the Qur'ān, the sunnah and the sharī'ah.
It is for these reasons, for its Gnostic character, that the application of the term “fundamentalist” to Shī'ite Islām is totally unjustified. In every sense, Shī'ite Islām represents Islāmic orthodoxy as much as Sunnī Islām.69 Without a doubt, it is the minority status of Shī'ism in the Muslim world, as opposed to ritual, doctrinal or scriptural deviation, that gives Westerners the impression that it is a “sect.”
From ancient times until the present, the notion of “sect” has not been freed from the prejudice that it applies only to small religious groups. As the old Latin proverb goes: Si duo faciunt idem, non est idem [If two do the same thing, it is not the same thing]. Obviously, these ideas about sects are applied by Westerners to whatever phenomenon they can reduce to this label.
Evidently, this is done without considering their inner aspects, where major spiritual differences are really hidden. Moreover, we cannot dismiss the ill-concealed aims of certain specialists to place all minority religions into the framework of a single verdict of justification or rejection. They wish to do this by exclusively considering the external manifestations of religion, which constitute the visible skeleton of orthodoxy, when it is essentially a question of interiority.
Finally, if we have spent more time than necessary dealing with term “fundamentalism,” it is because the general use of this term conveys a “sectarian” attitude. Its use is obviously misguided and distorted because it is born out of a fanatic and uncompromising attitude in favor of one party or one idea.
It is always convenient to give a sectarian nature to Shī'ite Islām by means of the “fundamentalist” label, without understanding that the real reason for its existence is clearly traditional. The phenomenon we refer to is a common vice. In fact, it is the main reason why the Western mentality is unable to understand the Eastern spirit. Clearly, it is not a question of cultural differences or contradictions in term but, to paraphrase the words of Suhrawardī,70 forms of spiritual participation or perspectives between an Orient of Illumination [ishrāq] and an Occident of Exile.
There is no point in denying that the most esoteric of these Islāmic sciences was related to neo-Pythagoreanism71 and hermeticism.72 It was through them that Islām came into close contact with the Sabians of Harrān.73They were responsible for transmitting astronomy, astrology and mathematics from Babylonian sources and later Chaldeans bound with the hermetic-Pythagorean ideas of Alexandria to Islām. All of this is true.74
It is also true that medicine and cosmology reached the Muslims by means of the Hindus and the Persians. These sciences were eagerly embraced by Islām since, far from being secular forms of knowledge, they were intrinsically linked to the central doctrine of “divine unity.” On the other hand, some aspects of classical Greek and Hindu culture, like the secular philosophies of the Epicureans,75 some of the cynics76 and the naturalism of the anatomists, barely aroused the interest of the Muslims.
It was impossible for knowledge of this type, based on sensuality and a dualistic relativism, to be integrated into Islāmic thought in a cohesive and cogent form since they were outside of the nature of the Gnostic experience. The Mu'tazilite's refutation of certain aspects of dualist and Trinitarian theories, however, brought Islām a theological solution in accordance with the concept of divine unity. In their defense of Greco-Alexandrian philosophy, the Mu'tazilites created favorable conditions for study and scholarship in Shī'ite intellectual circles.
This affinity and sympathy between the Mu'tazilites and the Shī'ites must not be confounded in any way as identity.77 On fundamental issues, such as the significance and function of the Imām, they differ completely. On that issue, the Mu'tazilite perspective is much closer to that of the Sunnī. What is clear is that during the entire history of Islām, the pre-Islāmic legacy of cosmological sciences and metaphysical doctrines were united, as they were in the Jabirian corpus or in the Rasā'il [Epistles] of the ikhwān al-safā' [The Pure Brethren / The Brotherhood of the Pure]78 in a perfect synthesis. Science and scholarship from external sources never ruptured Islām's monotheistic mandate.
Modern Muslim scholars like Seyyed Hossein Nasr, 'Allāmah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā'ī, Ahmad Ahmadī, and Orientalists like Henry Corbin,79 Titus Burckhardt, René Guénon, and Frithjof Schuon,80 teach us to view Islām from a perspective which appreciates the diversity within its unity.
The harmonious integration of diverse systems of thought within its unitarian perspective makes it all the more appealing particularly since it is the product of the Muhammadan spirit which is essentially metaphysical and ethical. Thanks to the research of these scholars and the research of those who follow in their footsteps like William C. Chittick, Christian Jambet, and Pierre Lory, to mention only a few, Islām is no longer a mass which crushes us under its enormous religious weight.81
It is also no longer a primitive pastoral religion of shepherds or an Arab imitation or adaptation of Judaism and Christianity.82 On the contrary, Islām is now presented as a type of intelligent filter that magically selects, cleans and purifies, preserving what is of value, while filtering out and rejecting what is harmful and useless, from profane secular knowledge.
Like these scholars, we view the transfer or transmission of the pre-Islāmic legacy as a natural unveiling of the universal continuity of the same spiritual inheritance.83 Due to its metaphysical nature, its development is indefinite. It manifests itself in given historical moments and takes root in the most fertile field to ensure its spiritual blooming. This is how we see things as opposed to embracing theories of “influx” and “imitation.” Our perspective is not a personal one. It is entirely in accord with the eternal sacred tradition.
But let us be candid. Even if we were to view Islām as the result of some historical “influx” or as a “copy” or a pre-Islāmic religious model–rejecting everything that is authentic and unique in its own revelation–we should recognize as well, as does Cruz Hernández, that even under such conditions no religion has turned out better than Islām.84
It was Cruz Hernández, the distinguished professor from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, who presented a staunch criticism of the methodology employed by Asín Palacios. As Cruz Hernández points out, Palacios' attitude is not only the product of his social context, and his training as a Catholic priest, it also reflects the state of scientific thought of his time (490). Like Cruz Hernández, our goal is not to cast doubt on the value of Asín Palacios work as a whole by criticizing a widely held prejudice against Islām which was also applied to other religions.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Palacios for his important contributions to the knowledge of Islām during the period of al-Andalus. Although much of his work has merit, it must be stressed, however, that the methodology he employs, which is employed by Gibb as well, is completely wrong. Their approach is erroneous for the simple fact that it is based on a principle which is inherently flawed.
The problem with their approach is the belief that for religious studies to be scientific, to come to an understanding of religion in general and Islām in particular, it is necessary to narrow things down to a few facts.85 Once non-essential elements have been reduced to minimal terms, to abstract formulas and to skeletal hypotheses, all traditions can be condensed into an imaginary framework of classifications that conveniently explain certain similarities between the Judeo-Christian and Islāmic traditions through theories of “assimilation” or “successive reproduction.”86
As can be appreciated, we would exhaust ourselves uselessly attempting to criticize such an understanding of religion. The case has been judged and the verdict has been given. As René Guénon has observed in relation to the Vedanta, Eastern and Western concepts of “religion” are profoundly different.87 In order to prevent such confusion from extending to Islām, it is important to remember here that tradition, as opposed to religion, is the vital source of all religious forms.
A tradition does not have established dogmas or precepts; it has universal meanings which are applied to dogmas and religious precepts. At the end of this cycle and the beginning of the next cycle, it is exceedingly important not to reject tradition.88 So long as we believe that the part is present in the whole there will be religion. Revelation, faith, truth, and religion are neither fact nor are they ideas. They are expressions of a sole spiritual beginning.89 In the Western world, however, specialists have a very different conception of religion.
Some will argue that if you know one religion then you know them all. Others hold that if you know one religion you know none of them. And there are still others who hold that a religion outside of your own is incapable of teaching you anything and is not even worthy of consideration.90
These are the very same specialists who stubbornly insist on portraying Islām as an Arab invention based on Judeo-Christian traditions or a classic case of “assimilation” or “successive reproduction.”91Religious traditions from East and West do indeed share many similarities which are more or less obvious to scholars.92 Nowadays, most sincere scholars are willing to drop the term “religion” in favor of the more appropriate term “tradition,” a concept that acknowledges God as the eternal source of all revelation.
After Smith's death, Brigham Young became leader and transferred the movement to Salt Lake City, Utah (1847), where a prosperous community was established. When the practice of polygamy was stopped, Utah was incorporated (1896) into the Union as the 45th state. Mormons believe that The Book of Mormon is of equal inspiration with the Bible. The Church of Latter Day Saints is considered to some to be a cult.
The Seventh Day Adventists hold that Ellen G. White (1827-1915) was given the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit and was the Lord's messenger, her writings serving as an authoritative source of trust, guidance, instruction and correction. See “Fundamental Beliefs,” Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/ fundamental/index.html. The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc. Website, explains that:
Seventh-day Adventists believe that Mrs. White was more than a gifted writer; they believe she was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world's attention to the Holy Scriptures and help prepare people for Christ's Second Advent. From the time she was 17 years old until she died 70 years later, God gave her approximately 2,000 visions and dreams. The visions varied in length from less than a minute to nearly four hours. The knowledge and counsel received through these revelations she wrote out to be shared with others. Thus her special writings are accepted by Seventh-day Adventists as inspired. (White)
On sait que les fuqahā', qui lisent le Coran en philologues ou en juristes, rejettent la lecture spiritualiste des soufis comme une nouveauté étrangère et infidèle au texte sacré. Or, parce que leur point de vue légaliste s'est imposé dans l'Islām officiel et est devenu pour ainsi dire le point de vue de l'orthodoxie, les soufis ont pris, aux yeux de l'histoire, figure de secte plus au moins hétérodoxe, leur lecture du Coran a été considérée comme une lecture tardive et étrangère à l'Islām primitif. (23)
[It is well-known that the fuqahā', who interpret the Qur'ān as philologists or jurists, reject the mystical interpretations of the Sūfis as a foreign innovation which is unfaithful to the sacred text. Since their legalistic perspective imposed itself in official Islām it became the orthodox position. In the eyes of history, the Sūfis were relegated to the status of a more or less heterodox sect and their interpretations of the Qur'ān viewed as a later development which was alien to primitive Islām.]
As Murata observes,
Though the proponents of al-kalām [scholastic philosophy] have often been looked upon by Western scholars as the representatives of 'orthodox' Islām, this is to impose an inappropriate category upon Islāmic civilization, as many other scholars have pointed out. In fact, by and large the criteria for being Muslim have been following the sharī'ah and acknowledging the truth of a certain basic creed. Beyond that, a variety of positions concerning the details of the creed were possible, and none could be said to be 'orthodox' to the exclusion of others” (8).
Tāriq Ramadān, grandson of Hasan al-Bannā, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, confirms that ”[a]ll Muslims–Orthodox, Sunnī, Sūfī, or Shī'ah–are part of the same understanding of the sharī'ah” (211-212).
Editor's Note: The work is also available in a Spanish translation titled La cumbre de la elocuencia. An abridged Arabic / French edition translated by Samih Atef El-Zein also exists but devoid of most of the sermons dealings with the status of the Ahlul Bayt .
Abū Sufyān no veía ni entendía cual era la misión de Muhammad (tenéis ojos pero no veis, tenéis oídos pero no oís, como decía Jesús). Lo único que veía y entendía era que la religión daba poder mundanal que era lo que él quería.
[Abū Sufyān could not understand the mission of Muhammad. As Jesus, peace be upon him, used to say, “You have eyes but you can't see. You have ears but you can't hear.” Likewise, the only thing that Abū Sufyān could understand was that religion leads to worldly power, which was exactly what he wanted.]
He even believes that “Pārsī and Hindū women may be taken in marriage, as also those who follow the religion of Confucius or of Buddah or of Tao” (615). He criticizes the narrow conception of the word ahl al-kitāb adopted by jurists and holds that “there is no reason why the Magians, the Hindus and others who profess a religion and accept a revealed book, should not be treated as such” (615).
Parmenides (c. 504-450 B.C.) was a Greek Eleatic philosopher. He regarded movement and change as illusions, and the universe as single, continuous and motionless. Plato (c. 428-c. 348 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher who was a follower of Socrates. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher, pupil of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, and founder of the Peripatetic School at Athens (335 B.C.).
His philosophy grew away from the idealism of Plato and became increasingly concerned with science and the phenomena of the world. His analyses were original and profound and his methods exercised an enormous influence on all subsequent thought. Plotinus (205-70) was a Roman philosopher of Egyptian birth. After studying in Alexandria, he established his Neo-Platonic School in Rome (244). He used the metaphysical truths of Plato [esp. the dialectic of love] to create a mystic religion of union with the One through contemplation and ecstatic vision. Through Saint Augustine his theory of the human spirit entered into the mainstream of Western philosophy.
Editor's Note: Sankara was a commentator on the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, writing in c. 800 A.D. He was an upholder of traditional monistic Hinduism, which reduces all reality to a single principle or substance.
The original Yūsuf 'Alī commentary was a fine work of scholarship. Over successive editions, however, the text and tafsīr [commentary] have been “purged” of any and all ideas which are not in line with Wahhābī ideology. The value of Shakir's translation resides primarily in its clear modern English. The Hamīdullāh translation, the product of two years of labor, adequately conveys the meaning of the scripture and is accompanied with a basic commentary.
The Masson, translation, however, the result of three decades of effort, is far superior stylistically. However, the modified Hamīdullāh version prepared in Saudi Arabia is the most perfect. While the Vernet translation manifest a pro-Christian bias which often substantially modifies the sense of certain figures of diction and classical Arabic formulas its literary value far exceeds the crude and vulgar translation made by Cortés. While the Vernet translation is more manicured, both the Vernet and Cortés translations manifest distortions and corruptions of the Qur'ān.
Vernet's introduction and notes are devoted to casting doubt on the authenticity of the text on the basis of sloppy scholarship which is easily dismissed by Ayātullāh Mīrzā Mahdī Pooya Yazdī's comprehensive criticism of tahrīf [textual change], “Originality and the Genuineness of the Holy Qur'ān in its Text and Arrangement” which accompanies Ahmed 'Alī's translation of the Qur'ān which itself is very poor and which can only be partially redeemed by its philosophical commentary. See also, Tahrīf al-Qur'ān: A Study of Misconceptions Regarding Corruption of the Qur'ānic Text” by Muhammad Bāqir Ansārī.
Ayātullāh al-Uzmā al-Sayyid 'Alī Khamene'ī has muqallidīn [followers] from mostly outside of Iran. Ayātullāh al-Uzmā al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullāh, whose ijtihād [authority to interpret Islāmic law] is called into question by the Sources of Emulation in Iraq and Iran, is also very popular among young people due to the more pragmatic and lenient nature of his edicts; his greater accessibility to the laity, and his acquaintance with Western culture (Takīm). For links to all the leading scholars of Shī'ism, the Marji'iyyah al-dīniyyah (Religious Authority), see: Aalulbayt Global Information Center: http://www.al-shia.com/html/eng/p.php?p= Miscellaneous &url= Ulama.
2. The Ja'farī school which is known as 'the madhhab of the ithnā 'asharī imāmī shī'ī' is a sound madhhab. It is permissible to worship God according to its teaching, like the rest of the Sunnī madhhabs.
3. The Muslims ought to know this and get rid of their undue bigotry for particular madhāhib. The religion of Allāh and His law do not follow, nor are they bound to, a particular madhhab. All [the founders of these madhāhib] are mujtahids [jurists], reward-deserving from Allāh, and acceptable to Him. It is permissible to the 'non-mujtahid' to follow them and to accord with their teaching, whether in devotions or transactions. (“Epilogue” Chirrī)
In an interview with Christiane Amanpour for the CNN investigative report God's Warriors,Ayātullāh al-Uzmā Yūsuf Sanā'ī stated that “Terrorists should go to hell.” For rulings against terrorism, see Hārūn Yayhā's Islām Condemns Terrorism http://www.geocities.com/ Islamicissues/terrorism.html which has been translated into Spanish by Abū Dharr Manzolillo; “Muslims against Terrorism,” Internet: http://www.islamfortoday.com/ terrorism.htm; “Muslims Condemn Terrorist Attack; http://www.muhajabah.com/ otherscondemn.php, as well as the following links: http://groups.colgate.edu/aarislam/response.htm and http://www.cair-net.org/html /911statements.html; http://www.unc.edu /~ kurzman/terror.htm.
According to Nwyia, Sunnī exegesis is a tafsīr, an explication of the text at the level of the letter of alfāz whereas Shī'ite exegesis is more of a ta'wīl, that is, an interpretation at the level of the ma'nā: it seeks, beyond the literal sense, the hidden sense, the secret of which belongs to the Ahlul Bayt, the Family of the Prophet (33). The book then becomes an esoteric revelation, a sealed treasure which can only be opened by the Imāms, the retainers of ta'wīl and the guardians of the book (33).
To speak of Sunnī exegesis as literal and Shī'ite exegesis as profound is a groundless generalization since most tafāsīr, of both branches, is simply tafsīr, commentary. It is only the Gnostics, of both branches, who have interpreted the Qur'ān according to the ta'wīl. Nwyia's comments need to be further qualified as they imply an inaccessibility of the Scripture to all but an exclusive elite of initiates, the Prophet and His Family.
As Imām Khumaynī explains, “The Qur'ān is like a banquet from which everyone must partake according to his capacity. It belongs to everyone, not to any particular group; there is a share in it for everyone” (Islām and Revolution 424); “The Qur'ān possesses everything. It is like a vast banquet that God has spread out in front of all humanity and that everyone partakes of according to his appetite” (414). “The highest share,” however, “is reserved for the one to whom it was revealed: 'The only person who truly knows the Qur'ān is he who was addressed by it'” (415); “only he who was addressed by it fully understands it” (393-94); “Full benefit can be drawn from the Qur'ān only by the man to whom it was addressed–The Messenger of God” (392).
“All others are deprived of such complete benefit,” he continues, “unless they attain it by means of instruction from him, as was the case with the awliyyā'.” (392). We can understand only a given aspect or dimension of the Qur'ān; interpretation of the rest depends upon the ahl al-'ismah (365-66). This is consistent with the Qur'ānic verse which states that: “We bequeathed the Book on those of Our servants We chose” (35:32). As Imām Khu'ī explains, “the knowledge of the Qur'ān's reality is exclusively with the Imāms (A) and others do not have a share in it.” The Prophet made it clear that personal interpretation of the Qur'ān was forbidden.
He stated that: “Whoever interprets the Qur'ān according to his opinion, let him seek his abode in the fire” (Tirmidhī); and “He who makes tafsīr according to his own opinion has become an unbeliever” (Kashānī and Ibn al-'Arabī qtd in Murata 227). The interpretation of the Qur'ān lies with the Prophet and the Holy Imāms for as Imām al-Sādiq has said: “We are the custodians of Allāh's affairs, the treasurers of Allāh's knowledge and the containers of Allāh's revelation” (Kulaynī 2:1 74: hadīth 505). By tafsīr bi al-ra'ī, the Prophet and the Imāms were referring to interpreting the Qur'ān without the necessary skills.
The Qur'ān descended, then, from level to level, from degree to degree, until finally it assumed a verbal form. The Qur'ān is not verbal in substance; it does not pertain to the audiovisual realm … When the manifestation of God Almighty emerges from the unseen and descends to the world of nature or bodies, there is a vast distance separating this lowest degree from the infinite realms of the unseen, and beyond them, the first appearance of that manifestation. There is a correspondingly vast distance separating our perception from that of those superior to us, at the pinnacle of whom stand the awliyyā' and the prophets of God. (Islāmic Revolution 393)
The Qur'ān is a mystery, a mystery within a mystery, a mystery veiled and enveloped in mystery. It was necessary for the Qur'ān to undergo a process of descent in order to arrive at the lowly degree of man. Even its entry into the heart of the Prophet was a descent, and from there it had to descend still further in order to become intelligible to others. (409)
Or, as the Prophet put it, “This Qur'ān is God's banquet” (Dārimī qtd. in Murata 291).
As Mark Sedgwick explains, Traditionalism was developed in different directions by Schuon and by two other followers of Guénon: Baron Julius Evola (1896/8-1974), and the scholar Mircea Eliade (1907-86) who had a far-reaching influence in American academia. Over the second half of the twentieth century, “Schuon's Sūfī order remained secret, but grew in influence in Europe and America, and in Iran under the leadership of Seyyed Hossein Nasr (1933-). Although many of Guénon's followers professed the shahādah, not all Guénonian Traditionalists are Muslims.
Guénon died in 1951, shorty after become a naturalized Egyptian. Unlike Henry Corbin, who left no Muslim followers, René Guénon brought hundreds of thousands of people into Islām in France, the United States, Latin America, Spain and Portugal. Like many Sunnī Muslims, Guénon had many misconceptions about Shī'ites. He did acknowledge, however, that all Islāmic spirituality was Shī'ite, in the true sense of the term.
There are those who wish to dismiss Guénon for being a Freemason, however, it should be recalled that he wrote strong articles against modern Masonry and was even a member of the magazine La France Antimaçonique. It must be recalled that Masonic Lodges operate independently. There is also a major difference between the Masonry practiced in France and the Masonry practiced in Scotland, for example.
Guénon was opposed to the modern, anti-traditional, Speculative Masonry, not the traditional Operative Masonry of the middle Ages which build magnificent cathedrals. The original Freemasons disappeared in the XVII century and were replaced by a speculative Masonry based on Protestant ideas of free thought and progress. Despite being a Mason, Guénon lived and died as a pious Muslim, having brought many Masons into the fold of Islām.
Their doctrines are also far removed from Christian beliefs, with the exception of the belief in a Saviour, and some superficial similarities their ceremonies have with Christian rites. It has also been argued that the term Sabean is derived from the Hebrew saba [one who walks]; the Ethiopian Sbh [scattered souls], and even the Syrian sb [to baptize]. Some claim that the term probably derives from the Egyptain root sba which means “star-guide” and “star-god.”
This is quite possible as the Sabians of Harrān were the ancient Chaldeans who professed a doctrine containing neo-Pythagorean and Hermetic elements. As such, they were the last representatives of Alexandrine Hermetic gnosis. They are those with whom the prophet Abraham dealt with since he was born among “star-worshippers.” Muslim researchers have identified the Sabians of Harrān as the true Sabians mentioned in the Qur'ān and which are described as “star-worshippers” and “idol-worshippers.”
Both practices were very common among the Sabians of Harrān and Abraham struggled against them. Harrān was founded as a city some 4,000 years ago, as a business post for the city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, located on the commercial route of Mesopotamia. Despite the fact that they worshipped idols and celestial bodies, the Sabians of Harrān believed in one God, IL, unique and unknowable, beyond the comprehension of His creatures. They also believed in the need for messengers of God to educate humankind.
The Sabians believed that they had received their religión from Seth, the son of Adam, which is why they are identified with the Gnostic Sethians and with Idris or Enoch who is usually identified with Hermes Trismegisto. The Islāmic tradition recognized Hermes or Enoch as a prophet. The names Hermes, Idri or Enoch all refer to the same Person. Sabeanism flourished from the 9th to the 10th centuries under Islāmic rule. They Sabians produced philosophers, astronomers, medical doctors, and botanists.
The most distinguished figure from that renaissance was the great Sabean astronomer Thābith ibn Qurrah, one of the main trasmittors of ancient science to Islām, who attempted, unfruitfully to reform his religion and to free it from the superstitions of its priests. In the year 717, the Caliph Umar the Second, founded the first Islāmic university in Harrān. To get the university off to a good start, the Caliph invited the last Hermenesian philosophers from Alexandria to move to Harrān. In the 9th century A.D., there existed four hermenesian schools in Harrān.
In yet another of his letters from Cairo dated September 18th 1950, Guénon makes the following observations with regards to Schuon,Burckhardt, and other members of the tarīqah Maryamiyyah:
On the other hand, I received a letter from Burckhardt regarding my responses to M.L.[Martin Lings] saying that “the violence of my letters has deeply troubled him, and that he cannot understand the reasons for such severe remarks.” It seems to me that it should not be very difficult to understand! … It is shocking how far bad faith can go. I, for one, am not the least bit surprised since, from a technical point of view, the ignorance of those people, starting with F.S. [Frithjof Schuon] himself, if truly frightening…
Ex-members of the Maryamiyyah have revealed disturbing information about its founder and the ritual practices of the secretive tarīqah to several Muslim scholars, including a Shaykh from the Jerrahi Order. Some of the early followers of Schuon included Marco Pallis, Charles Le Gai Eaton, John Levy, and Léo Schaya. The Swiss born Charles Le Gai Eaton (1922-) embraced Islām in 1951 and is presently a consultant to the Islāmic Cultural Center in London.
Other Schuonian writers include: Thomas Merton, Huston Smith, Jean Borella, Joseph Epes Brown, Titus Burckhardt, Rama Coomaraswamy, Keith Critchlow, James Cutsinger, Victor Danner, Michael Oren Fitzgerald, Martin Lings, Jean-Louis Michon, Vali Reza Nasr, Osman Bakar, Roger du Pasquier, Whithall Perry, Philip Sherrard, Huston Smith, and William Stoddardt. Seyyed Hossein Nasr was a member of the Maryamiyya tarīqah, a discipline of Schuon, and is now his most influential student. Dr. Mark Sedgwick's academic website, traditionalism.org, describes Nasr as “the leading Maryami author” who took over from Schuon