Metaphysics. Cosmology. Tradition. Symbolism studies in comparative religion

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The First English Journal on Traditional Studies — established 1963

Studies in Comparative Religion is devoted to the exposition of the teachings, spiritual methods, symbolism, and other facets of the religious traditions of the world, together with the traditional arts and sciences which have sprung from those religions. It is not sectarian and, inasmuch as it is not tied to the interests of any particular religion, it is free to lay stress on the common spirit underlying the various religious forms.

One of our primary aims is to meet the need for accurate information created by the now world-wide interest in the question of “ecumenical relations” between the great religions, by providing a forum where writers of proven authority can exchange views on various aspects of religious life, doctrinal, historical, artistic and mystical, not forgetting the element of personal experience and reminiscence.

By collecting accurate information about the great religions under their many aspects and rendering them available to interested readers we feel we are fulfilling a very pressing need of our time and also contributing in a practical manner to the cause of inter-religious understanding. If there is to be an effective measure of this understanding at any level this can only be on the basis of accurate presentation both of teachings and facts. An ill-informed benevolence is no substitute for genuine insight, based on information that is neither willfully distorted nor confined to the surface of things.

In this manner we think that we are best serving the interest of our readers in their search for truth.

(Excerpt from the Introduction to our first publication, almost fifty years ago)

Dimensions of Islam

Studies in Comparative Religion

Edited by
Patrick Laude

Universal Dimensions of Islam:

Studies in Comparative Religion
© 2011 World Wisdom, Inc.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced
in any manner without written permission,
except in critical articles and reviews.

Publisher’s Note:

Studies in Comparative Religion has published articles from over 400 different authors. The original editors of Studies did not insist upon a common convention for the transliteration of foreign terms; consequently a variety of different systems of diacritical mark usage can be found in any given issue of Studies. The current publisher has chosen to continue this policy and will thus remain faithful to the original transliteration convention used by each of its contributors.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Universal dimensions of Islam : studies in comparative religion / edited
by Patrick Laude.
p. cm. --(Studies in comparative religion)
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-1-935493-57-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Islam--Universality. 2. Islam--Relations. 3. God (Islam)--Attributes. I. Laude, Patrick,
BP170.8.U545 2011


Printed on acid-free paper in USA.
For information address World Wisdom, Inc.
P.O. Box 2682, Bloomington, Indiana 47402-2682

Universal Dimensions of Islam


One of the fundamental problems of our contemporary world has been judiciously referred to as a “clash of the uncivilized.”1 This conflict has been particularly acute in the encounter between certain mainstream elements of the secular West—with which one must aggregate, at least outwardly, a few zones of resilient Christian identity and emerging neo-Christian cultures—and some of the most visible contemporary expressions of people and societies for whom Islam is the predominant principle of collective identity. In the West, one of the praiseworthy responses to such tensions and oppositions has come from those who have called for a better “understanding” of Islam. Here, understanding is not meant to refer to a full acceptance, but to a sufficient grasp of the inner and outer “logic” of Islam, as well as to a degree of recognition of its spiritual and moral values. Perhaps paradoxically to some, such a capacity to understand others presupposes an inner attitude which has everything to do with the degree to which one has assimilated the core principles of one’s own civilization. This holds true, needless to say, on any side of the civilizational “divide.” There is no civilization formed by the sacred that does not ultimately lead its most discerning representatives to perceive in some measure the relativity of its own exclusiveness, at least in petto. To this extent, to be “civilized” amounts almost as much to recognizing the intelligence and beauty of other civilizations as it is to fathom the foundations of one’s own; the latter being, in fact, the precondition, if not the guarantee, for the former.

The writings collected in this volume make the case for a vision of Islam as a religion and civilization intrinsically equipped to address universal human predicaments, and converging thereby with the highest spiritual expressions of all authentic religious heritages. They point to fundamental “universals” of Islam, such as the doctrine of Unity and “unification” (tawhīd), the essentialness of Divine Mercy, the inclusive and integrative nature of the Muslim concept of prophecy, the Islamic ability to assimilate various cultural and ethnic languages, and the capacity of Islamic mysticism to serve as a spiritual bridge between diverse religions. They include now classic essays by “founding fathers” of the Perennial Philosophy, testimonies from spiritual figures of Sufism, and contemporary studies of Islam and Sufism by experts and younger scholars of religion. Finally, as the universal language par excellence, poetry could not but be included in this volume.

*        *        *
The universal dimensions of Islam refer to the dimension of breadth as well as depth. They pertain to both form and essence.

On the level of form, there is to our mind no better way of pointing out this universality than by quoting Schuon’s assertions that “Islam . . . has given a religious form to that which constitutes the essence [“substance” in the original French] of all religion”2 and that “Islam . . . aims to teach only what every religion essentially teaches; it is like a diagram of every possible religion.”3 The simplicity of the form renders it accessible to any man or woman, and therefore potentially to all of mankind. It speaks to all capacities and levels of understanding. It also allows for its manifestation through diverse cultural contexts, from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkans to India and China.

From another point of view—notwithstanding the expansive potentiality of Islam’s schema-like form—other aspects of its form have placed limits on Islamic expansion. This is particularly true when referring to the Bedouin and Arab cladding, as it were, of the message. Such a cladding is not the best means of “exporting” Islam, as it enters into conflict with psychological and cultural traits predetermined by other civilizational “logics”. Be that as it may, this twofold aspect of the Islamic form may correspond to the distinction, on the one hand, between form as an expression of divine essence, or “archetypal form,” and, on the other hand, form as a providential but necessarily exclusive clothing of human culture.

On the level of the essence of the message, the principal element of Islam’s universality undoubtedly lies in its doctrine of Unity, understood either from an exoteric or esoteric perspective. From an exoteric standpoint, the universality of Islam is to be found, in a sense, in the aforementioned “schematic” aspect of its affirmation of one supreme God as opposed to many divine manifestations. The Qur’ān and the traditional teachings and interpretations of its message have shown the way of universality through the affirmation of a metaphysics of the Unity of Divine Reality and through the corresponding affirmation of a divine recognition of other traditional faiths. They have done so to the extent that it is possible within the context of a religion, that is to say, within an exclusive belief system. Esoterically, tawhīd opens onto the metaphysics of essential Unity, which the various spiritual and traditional languages couch in so many “syntaxes,” either affirmatively or apophatically, objectively or subjectively, doctrinally or methodically.

Thus, Islam arrives at the religious paradox of founding the providential legitimacy of its own exclusiveness on the very principle of its overall inclusiveness; a paradox that lies at the core of the unity of Islam, while being the source of its diversity throughout all times and places.

Patrick Laude

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