Jan 25, 2018 in Book Review

Marshall Hodgson’s "The Venture of Islam"

Marshall Hodgson’s The Venture of Islam, Vol.3 is a magisterial book where the author traces and deduces the historical developments relating to Islamic civilization from the beginning of the 16th century. The author describes the second blossoming of the Islamic society through the Timuri, Safavi and Ottoman empires. These Islamic realms represented a second resurgence of the Middle East that faced threats from the nations including the Portuguese Greeks, Persians, and Semites, with trade in gunpowder acting as the primary commodity in ‘the world.’

The significant influence the empires had at the time led to the entire world being referred to as generally Islamic

Sufism, which Hodgson rather casually annotates as mysticism in the book, emerges as the significant historical category in his deduction and interpretation of the Islamic venture. The author asserts the importance of the custom in the widely Arab-Muslim world and labels it as an intellectual tradition, or rather a conceptual mysticism. These customs enabled the empires to project an organized representation of reality fit to challenge major competitors of the mind and, according to Hodgson, soul of the Muslims. In the 15th and 16th centuries, this competition originated from the Semitic legalism, Persian symbols and Greek rationalism. For Hodgson, this tradition was far from being a simple outburst of torn emotions; rather, Sufism was the ultimate challenger, which, in the end, turned to be master.

What became set apart as unorthodox Islam by the majority from the beginning of the ninth century was initially subjective. It was the opinions of those who held the balance of power against nonconformists that defined the central cultural values in the Arab-Muslim Islamist society. If any of the empires were to depart from the orthodoxy for instance, by sticking to the Sufi mysticisms and ethics, they would need to reconcile their minority or private views with the Islamist perception of orthodoxy or else suffer dire consequences.

Even in the sixteenth century, when the Europeans challenged the expanding power of the Islamists empires, the growing power mostly attributed to the Occident in the Renaissance period had far reaching effects on history such as the balance of trade activities, which the Islamist empires largely controlled.

The third volume concludes with the end-of-Islam, though, its legacy and culture of moral aestheticism lingers

The author foresees an ‘islamicate’ without islam that can coexist in a modern technically advanced world where the religion-less Christianity is more popular. Perhaps Hodgson’s view is a final result of attempting to inflate Sufism into a completely interpretative class with neither a well located center nor well drawn edges. 


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