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Islam: Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy? Essay

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Updated: Sep 22nd, 2020

Religion is an influential psychological power affecting and controlling an individual’s emotions and behavior. As a result, it has the potential of becoming a robust monitoring tool establishing the needed model of behavior in a community. There are different approaches to building up religions and understanding them. Some religions make emphasis the value of actions, while others promote strict spiritual adherence to and belief in the established rules.

This paper will focus on studying Islam and determining its nature. The primary goal of the research is to find out whether Islam is orthodoxy or orthopraxy, comparing it to Christianity and exploring the pillars of both religions.

To begin with, it is paramount to get familiar with the primary concepts and provide the background for further research. Both words, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy, come from Greek. Orthodoxy means the right belief. In fact, it is the dimension of believing in the canons of religion (El-Menouar 67). The idea behind the concept is purely moral and, to some extent, ethical. Think, for example, of Christianity. This religion operates on the basis of established canons, which are usually applied to the everyday lives of Christians and used to handle spiritual problems.

However, they are not seen as regulatory or obligatory norms or laws. These codes of canons are flexible and can be adapted by every individual in accordance with their inner self. The primary issue is to believe in the Trinity and to deploy them for further spiritual development (Movsesian 874).

Orthopraxy, on the other hand, means the right action. It implies following all canons of religion in practice instead of simply believing in them. Similar right actions promoted by the religion might include praying several times a day, reading holy writings, performing good works, obeying the key religious postulates, maintaining the right beliefs, etc. (Pill 3). Sometimes, orthopraxy means that the canons of religion become the laws recognized by the states.

So, they are applied to controlling public relations at all levels of state-building. The line between the concepts is visible in theory. However, when they are used for understanding religions, it becomes a challenging experience. Think, for example, of Islam. Most scholars believe that it is orthopraxy because this religion preaches the right actions. However, getting a closer look at the central postulates hints that the answer might be different.

Investigating the nature of Islam with the aim of answering the central question will include several steps. First of all, it is vital to highlight that Islam is based on the interconnectedness of three dimensions – Islam (law), Iman (theology), and Ihsan (spirituality). It means that the foundation of the religion is finding the balance between submission, faith, and spiritual perfection (Spevack xx). These postulates are referred to as the pillars of Islam.

The first dimension, law, is a combination of five pillars promoting ritual and practice. They include fasting during Ramadan, believing and worshipping Allah and Muhammad, his Messenger, praying five times a day, pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, and helping those in need donating not less than two percent of one’s wealth. These postulates focus on controlling the needs of the human body and its desires. The second pillar, theology, covers various beliefs such as the faith in Allah and his prophets, angels, destiny, the Judgment Day, and holy writings. This dimension is purely moral, determining what it takes to become a true Islam-follower and what is meant under Islamic behavior.

The third pillar, spirituality, contributes to reaching the perfection of faith. It is a set of canons teaching to avoid negative feelings and emotions such as pride, hatred, envy, arrogance, etc. In addition to it, spiritual perfection means leading a simple life, believing that Allah is always watching, that everything that happens to an individual is either a reward or a punishment. In fact, the list of such beliefs is nearly endless. Because Islam operates under such a combination of faith and action, it becomes complicated to answer whether it is orthodoxy or orthopraxy (Pierret 93).

In addition to the pillars mentioned above, there are four dimensions of the Muslim religion. They include basic religiosity, central duties, experience, and knowledge (El-Menouar 69). Basic religiosity is the combination of the pillars of Islam and dividing people into Islamic believers and non-believers on the basis of following them. It is individual religiosity because everyone, in fact, is free to choose whether he or she wants to live under the canons of the religion and follow them strictly.

Central duties are the second dimension of Islam. This dimension is more collective because it implies carrying out particular actions and behaving in a community in a particular manner. It is about making the choice of whether to become a practicing Islamic believer or not. If an individual decides to become a practicing Muslim, then praying five times a day, a pilgrimage to Mecca, donations to those in need, and following strict dietary rules, including fasting at Ramadan are obligatory activities.

The third dimension of Islam is experience. It is an internal response to the postulates of religion. It means that true Muslims believe in Allah and his prophets, that Allah is all-mighty God, who punishes or rewards His people in accordance with their thoughts and deeds, holy writings, etc. In general, this dimension is about the theological aspect of the religion. The next one is knowledge. This dimension is limited to knowing the major postulates of Islam, and contents of Quran and Sunna. Still, there is no requirement on the fixed volume of knowledge necessary for the Islam-believer. Such division into dimensions points to the interconnectedness between faith and practice incorporated into the Muslim religion.

Another potential way to determine whether Islam is orthodoxy or orthopraxy is to take a closer look at the historical development of the Islamic practice. For example, it might be beneficial to study four schools of law and six correct bodies of Hadith. The first legal doctrine is that developed by Abu Hanifah during the eighth century. It is known as the Hanafi school of law. Its primary peculiarity is stating that knowledge is an opinion. That is why public affairs should be liberal and offer some personal space.

This school is progressive because it ignores extremes and promotes high levels of reason in handling problems pointing to the supremacy of Muslim religion in building the state and designing judicial system. The second school of law the Maliki school founded by Malik bin Anas. It is more conservative if compared to the Hanafi school even though they evolved during the same period. The followers of Malik believed in the traditional balance of powers in the society granting all power to men and ignoring the needs and rights of women. That said, they rejected individual freedoms and personal rights. The third school of law the Shafi’i school of law.

Imam Shafi’i was the follower of Imam Malik. That is why his ideas are closely related to the postulates of the Maliki school being traditionalistic and pointing to the significance of juristic practice in law. The last school of Islamic law is the Hanbali School of Law establishes by Imam Hanbal. It was one of the most conservative schools of law because its followers insisted on the literal understanding of the provisions stated in Quran and Hadith. As for now, religious fanaticism of the past has vanished and only close relation to and operation under the postulates of Islam remain (Kakoulidou 13).

Together with the knowledge contained in Quran, there is another valuable source of knowledge known as the six bodies of hadith. It is the collection of Muhammad’s messages, which were codified by six imams. It is an authoritative source of provisions of Islam regarded as canonical because Islam functions on the basis of the Muhammad was believed to be the prophet of Allah, so, his messages are the messages of Allah. The recognition of Hadith’s sanctity leads to the openness with regard to interpreting scripture because there is no official interpretation of the messages, as understanding and applying them to life is strictly individual (Hughes 62).

Similar openness of interpretation sometimes becomes a challenge because similar situations could be treated in a different manner because of the acceptability of individual perceptions of these messages.

To sum up, it should be said that orthodoxy and orthopraxy are just theoretical concepts, which do not affect the very essence of the religion. Nevertheless, they are still necessary for understanding it (Ghaneabassiri 212). When speaking of Christianity, it is clear that the religion is orthodox because it is based on beliefs and spirituality while all practices are recommended not obligatory to a true Christian.

However, when it comes to analyzing Islam, drawing the final conclusion is challenging. Even though traditionally it is believed that Islam is an orthopraxy because it centers on the proper action, I believe that it is the combination of both orthopraxy and orthodoxy. The motivation for this statement is the fact that the foundation of the religion is still the belief. It is the faith in Allah, destiny, holy writing, Hadiths, angels, whatever, but it is still faith that is the basis of everything, the dimension known as spiritual perfection. Of course, the focus is made on Islamic practice, and it is the Islamic practice that divides Muslims from non-Muslims instead of beliefs like in the case of Christianity (Tottoli 27).

But the evidences mentioned above including the dimensions of the religion, the evolution of six schools of Islamic law, the recognition of Hadiths, and others point to the fact that even though orthopraxy is more influential in the nature of Islam, this religion is partially orthodox because without the powerful impact of faith, it would be impossible to make people interested in choosing Muslim practice voluntarily leading a simple life, making donations, following all rituals prior to praying, and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Works Cited

El-Menouar, Yasemin. “The Five Dimensions of Muslim Religiosity: Results of an Empirical Study.” Methods, Data, Analyses, 8.1 (2014): 53-78. Print.

Ghaneabassiri, Kambiz. “Religious Normativity and Praxis among American Muslims.” The Cambridge Companion to American Islam. Ed. Julianne Hammer and Omid Safi. New York, Ney York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Print.

Hughes, Aaron W. Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam. New York, New York: Columbia University Press.

Kakoulidou, Irini. . Web.

Movsesian, Mark L. “Fiqh and Canons: Reflections on Islamic and Christian Jurisprudence.”Seton Hall Law Review, 40. (2010): 861-888. Print.

Pierret, Thomas. “Staging the Authority of the Ulama: The Celebration of the Mawlid in Urban Syria.” Ethnographies of Islam: Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices. Ed. Baodouin DuPret and Paulo G. Pinto. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edunburgh University Press, 2012. 93-105. Print.

Pill, Shlomo C. “Law As Faith, Faith As Law: The Legalization of Theology In Islam and Judaism in the Thought of Al-Ghazali and Maimonides.” Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law, 6 (2014): 1-25. Web.

Spevack, Aarom. Ghazali on the principles of Islamic Spirituality: Selections from the forty foundations of religion – Annotated & Explained. Woodstock, Vermont: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2012. Print.

Tottoli, Roberto. Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West. New York, New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.

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