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Williams 2008 Short Exam On Pop Islam Beliefs


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Short essay on popular beliefs and practices in Folk Islam.

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Williams 2008 Short Exam On Pop Islam Beliefs

  1. 1. Williams, Mark S. 2008. A Short Examination on Beliefs in Popular Islam. Musafir: A Bulletin of Intercultural Studies 2(2):3-4. [Page numbers in bold-lettering ‘as published’] A SHORT EXAMINATION ON BELIEFS IN POPULAR ISLAM [p 3] The world is full of spirits and spiritual power too wonderful to fathom and too fearful to fully know. Human societies throughout the ages have preserved the knowledge and wonder of the spirit-world into fanciful stories and folklore which has enriched their cultural heritage. This is similarly true for Muslim peoples around the world, even though these stories reveal beliefs which seem contrary at times to Islamic orthodoxy. For a quick background, the Western world basically divides perceived-reality into two hemispheres: the spiritual (or supernatural), and the physical (or natural). Western science then proceeds to denigrate the perceived ‘spiritual’ reality on the basis of its inconsistent scientific reliability. Therefore, even though two hemispheres are mentioned for argument’s sake, the one – the physical – reigns supreme in the Western worldview. Non-Western cultures, on the other hand, not only acknowledge the existence and actuality of the ‘spiritual,’ but there is an allowance for a middle-zone as well – i.e., a zone in between the spiritual and the physical. It is this middle-zone that the late Dr. Paul Hiebert first expounded on in his seminal 1982 article. It is from this middle-zone that Hiebert elaborated on spirit-forces and spirit-beings in another article seven years later: spirits that affect the beliefs and activities of commonplace Muslims.  Hiebert, Paul G., “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology 10:1 (1982), 35-47.
  2. 2. Williams, Mark S. 2008. A Short Examination on Beliefs in Popular Islam. Musafir: A Bulletin of Intercultural Studies 2(2):3-4. [Page numbers in bold-lettering ‘as published’] Hiebert’s 1989 analysis is extensive but, for this examination, we look briefly at three spirit-forces (magic, sorcery, and the evil eye) and three spirit-beings (the jinn, the zar, and the qarina). Magic is beneficent and used in curing illnesses, etc. Regardless of geography, commonplace Muslims around the world want to see results in healing from illnesses. While it is known and taught that Allah will provide all that is needed, including healing, when it does not come ‘in due time,’ other means are sought to manifest the healing. These means are normally provided by shamans or faith-healers. Since Allah is so high and lofty, sometimes the concerns of the lowly grassroots Muslim will come through the mediation of magic. Related to magic is sorcery which is known as “…bad or illicit magic involving the conscious use of medicines in order to harm others. Sorcery is a skill that can be learnt, rather than a disposition that is inherited.” Almost inherent in the term shaman is the sense of beneficent help; sorcerers, on the other hand, are magicians that conjure up ill to those who will be attacked in such a supernatural manner. The third force – ‘the evil eye’ – is prevalent throughout the Muslim world. It especially relates to protection of a child from the wiles of jealous onlookers. On Mindanao in Southeast Asia, one of the most feared instances is the ‘eye that wounds.’ Basically, “the phrase carries the intention of  Hiebert, Paul G., “Power Encounter and Folk Islam,” in Woodberry, J. Dudley (editor), Muslims & Christians on the Emmaus Road (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1989), 45-61.  Evans-Pritchard, Edward E., Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande, abridged (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976 [1937]), 227-228; quoted in Bowie, Fiona, The Anthropology of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 2000), 223.
  3. 3. Williams, Mark S. 2008. A Short Examination on Beliefs in Popular Islam. Musafir: A Bulletin of Intercultural Studies 2(2):3-4. [Page numbers in bold-lettering ‘as published’] wounding to cause fatal harm. A rough English equivalent is found in the expression, ‘If looks could kill, you would be dead now!’” Regarding spirit-beings, in the vast archipelagos of insular Southeast Asia, the jinn are seen as fearful evil-spirits. Indeed, “the night belongs to the Jinn…. Many Muslims live in abject fear of the Jinn, and there is no time when this is greater than during the dark hours, when these unclean creatures can operate with impunity, unless one seeks refuge in God….” Different from zar spirits in other parts of Asia, the zar of Southeast Asia are possessing spirits that are thought to benefit the human host: “The call in contemporary times to be a practitioner of some sort often comes through the medium of a dream, as in the case of zar (possessing spirit) practitioner[s]…. [In Malaysia], the Malayan bomor (curer) usually receives the alamat or ‘sign’ of his new calling in a dream.” Whereas possession is perceived as neither good nor bad, the idea of having an evil-twin (with supernatural power) is downright terrifying. In various Muslim contexts around the globe, the terror comes from the unthinkable: “A qarina of a person may be transported from the trans-empirical [supernatural] world into the empirical [natural] world so that people will mistake that metamorphosed qarina for the real person.” Since this is how the commonplace Muslim experiences life on the popular level, how will the cross-cultural missionary introduce the spiritual dependability of the presence of  Williams, Mark S., “Causality, Power, and Cultural Traits of the Maguindanao,” Philippine Sociological Review 45:1-4 (1997), 49.  Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity (ISIC), “Survey of Islam,” in The World of Islam: Resources for Understanding (CD-ROM) (Colorado Springs, CO: Global Mapping International, 2000), electronic search: angels-evil jinn.  Ibid., electronic search: 11-folk islam-dreams.  Musk, Bill A., The Unseen Face of Islam, revised new edition (London: Monarch Books, 2003), 177.
  4. 4. Williams, Mark S. 2008. A Short Examination on Beliefs in Popular Islam. Musafir: A Bulletin of Intercultural Studies 2(2):3-4. [Page numbers in bold-lettering ‘as published’] Jesus? This is where Hiebert makes a most helpful contribution in providing a framework for “critical contextualization.” One subcontinent example of this …begins with certain questions posed by new high caste converts of a South Indian village – questions having to do with the suitability of Indian customs like wearing tikkas (spots of the forehead), foot-washings at weddings, and participation in Hindu funerals. [p 4] One extreme response is to brand all such practices as unbiblical and pagan and therefore to reject them out of hand. In effect, this amounts to a wholesale rejection of contextualization. This response is bound to fail. Either the gospel will be rejected as foreign, or old customs and beliefs will go underground for a time only to emerge later in some kind of syncretism. Another extreme response is to value the cultural heritage of India so highly that traditional ideas and practices are accepted into the church uncritically. This response is seriously flawed also. It grows out of a cultural relativism that destroys all authority and also opens the door to an inevitable syncretism. “Critical contextualization” avoids both uncritical rejection and uncritical acceptance. It insists that old beliefs and customs first be examined to determine their meanings and functions in the society and, then, their acceptability in the light of biblical norms. The success of critical contextualization, however, hinges on a more complete, biblical view of these spirit-forces and spirit-beings. One analyst puts it well when he says that there can be no critical contextualization unless the church begins teaching about the spirit world based on an interaction between the biblical text and the [cultural] context. From that teaching, an alternative to out-of-church practitioners must emerge. [Grassroots Muslims]…(like all people) will not reject old beliefs and rituals unless they are replaced with suitable alternatives.  Hiebert, Paul G., Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), 188.  Hesselgrave, David J., Scripture and Strategy: The Use of the Bible in Postmodern Church and Mission (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1994), 73-74.  Henry, Rodney L., Filipino Spirit World: A Challenge to the Church, new typeset edition (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 2001), 157.
  5. 5. Williams, Mark S. 2008. A Short Examination on Beliefs in Popular Islam. Musafir: A Bulletin of Intercultural Studies 2(2):3-4. [Page numbers in bold-lettering ‘as published’] When these alternatives become part of established practice by Muslim-background believers (MBBs), then they will have confidence in their own faith-community, and also the respect and tolerance of their home culture, by which to flourish and grow. Mark S. Williams has worked in Southeast Asia for many years, and is a candidate for the PhD in Development Studies, focusing on socio-economic underdevelopment (and corollary spiritual problems) in Southeast Asian Muslim countries.