Culture and Civilization Matters

October 24, 2009

Islam, Sharia Law, Relational Models and the Sunni/Shia Split

Filed under: Term 2 Dubai, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — wadatripp @ 3:04 am

jumeriah mosque


Upon arrival in Dubai, your first visit will be to the Jumeirah Mosque. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding organizes visits to the Jumeirah Mosque for non-Muslims, aimed at promoting cultural understanding and first-hand experience as an insight to the Islamic religion.

Your guide will explain the origins of Islam, its central tenets, as well as provide explanation and demonstration of the daily calls to payer. She will also provide examples of how Islam affects the daily lives of modern Muslims, no matter which country or city they may live in. The tour concludes with an open question and answer session where visitors can ask questions about Islam and Emirati culture.

You do not want to miss this tour! It is a key foundation to ensuring you get the most out of your “Embedded” experience in Dubai!


While you will receive a far more in-depth perspective on the Islamic faith during the tour, here are some of the most important things you should be alerted to:

The Five Pillars of Islam is the term given to the five duties incumbent on every Muslim:

    Shadaha (Profession of Faith): Shahadah is a statement professing monotheism and accepting Mohammad as Allah’s messenger. The shahadah is a set statement normally recited in Arabic, translated as: “[I profess that] There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is the Prophet of Allah.”

    Salat (Prayers): The requirement to pray five times a day at fixed times during the day. The times of day to pray are at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. Each salat is performed facing towards the Kaaba in Mecca. Salat is intended to focus the mind on Allah; it is seen as a personal communication with Allah, expressing gratitude and worship. According to the Qur’an, the benefit of prayer “restrains [one] from shameful and evil deeds”.

    Zakat (Giving of Alms): The practice of charitable giving by Muslims based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all who are able to do so. It is considered to be a personal responsibility for Muslims to ease economic hardship for others and eliminate inequality.

    Saum (Fasting During Ramadan): The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to and dependence on him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy. During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip and to try to get along with people better than normal. In addition, all obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided.

    Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca): The Hajj is a pilgrimage that occurs during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah to the holy city of Mecca, and derives from an ancient Arab practice. Every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if he or she can afford it. Islamic teachers say that the Hajj should be an expression of devotion to Allah, not a means to gain social standing. The believer should be self-aware and examine their intentions in performing the pilgrimage. This should lead to constant striving for self-improvement.


In the video below, Harvard Professor Frank Vogel explains how faithful Muslims follow a set of religious guidelines that cover the most personal aspects or ritual and family law to the most macro elements of international and constitutional law.

Sharia Law is Islam’s legal system. This ethical system is derived from the Qur’an (which Muslims believe is a book revealed by God to Muhammad in seventh century Arabia), and from the Sunnah (the recorded sayings and behavior of Muhammad.

The goals of Islam and the laws that govern it are based on the concepts of human well being and good life which stresses brotherhood/sisterhood (tawhid), socio-economic justice and distributive equity, and a balanced satisfaction of both the material and spiritual needs of all humans.

When Sharia Law began its formulation in the deserts of Arabia about 1400 years ago, a sense of community did not exist. Life in the desert was nomadic and tribal, thus the only factor that tied people together was common ancestry. However, the nature of Islam challenged this ideology. Sharia was guided through its development by lifestyles of the tribes in which it was initially absorbed. Thus, through the understandings of the tribe, Islamic Law would become the law of the community – for the community by the community.

Islam is not just a religion. It is a way of life. While Western law confines itself largely to matters relating to crime, contract, civil relationships and civil rights, Sharia Law is described as a comprehensive body of Islamic laws that should regulate the public and private lives of Muslims.


Fiske’s Relational Models Theory posits that there are four elementary models to generate, interpret, coordinate, contest, plan, remember, evaluate and think about most aspects of social interaction in all societies:

fiske rmt

Fiske also suggests that, “I’ve learned that these four models make it possible for people to understand other cultures because all humans use these models to coordinate these social activities.” For example, in exploring the difference between America and African cultures, Fiske suggests that “while Americans (like some hunting and gathering cultures) distrust overly explicit ranking, in many African and Asian societies, hierarchy is the core social value.”

Given the description of Islam and Sharia Law outlined above, please select the relational model that you believe would be most prevalent in Dubai?

Take the POLL:


Given its communal roots, while each and every law in Sharia must be rooted in either the Qur’an or the Sunnah without contradiction, tribal life brought about a sense of participation.

As outlined in the video below, Timothy Winter (Abdal Hakim Murak) of Cambridge highlights that it is in the disputes about succession of Muhammad disagreements about the additional sense of participation that the root-cause of the Sunni/Shia Split can be found.

Traditional Sunnis make up the majority (85%) of Muslims all over the world. Sunnis agree that the primary sources of Islamic Law are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However they also add the consensus (ijma) of Muhammad’s companions and Islamic Jurists (ulema) on certain issues, and drawing analogy from the essence of divine principles and preceding rulings (qiyas).

Shi’a Muslims reject the analogy and consensus approach advocated by the Sunnis. On a more basic level, they also have not recognized the authority of elected Muslim leaders, choosing instead to follow a line of Imams which they believe have been appointed by the Prophet Muhammad or God himself.

Today the Sunni/Shi’a split is playing a large role in the current conflict in the Middle East as the following BBC report suggests:

Having an appreciation for the history of Islam and Sharia Law along with the current ramifications of the Sunni and Shi’a split is critically important to building a foundation in understanding how history plays out today in the region.

Click HERE to return to CCL Dubai Main Page.


Huntington Revisited: The Western/Islamic Fault Line


The primary course reading that deals with the topic of Civilization is Samuel P. Huntington’s 1993 Foreign Affairs article entitled, “The Clash of Civilizations?

In this article, Huntington’s central thesis is that “The fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural…..The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington defines the following world regions as Civilizations: Western, Orthodox, Islamic, African, Latin American, Sinic, Hindu, Buddhist, Japanese:


In this article, Huntington suggests that, “A civilization is thus the highest cultural grouping of of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have short of that which distinguishes humans from other species. It is defined by both the common objective elements such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people.” (p. 24)


Huntington asserts that “Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civilizations has been going on for 1,300 Years.”

Here is a very brief summary of the conflicts outlined by Huntington:

    After the founding of Islam in 627 AD, the Arab and Moorish surge West and North ended at the Battle of Tours in 732

    From the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity and Christian Rule to the Holy Land.

    From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance and extended their way over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured Constantinople and twice laid siege on Vienna.

    In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Ottoman power declined, Britain, France, and Italy established Western Control over most of North Africa and the Middle East.

    After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat: the Colonial Empires disappeared and Arab Nationalism and Islamic Fundamentalism manifested themselves.

    The West became increasingly dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy and several wars between the Western and Islamic regions ensued: From the numerous conflicts between Arabs and Israelis, France’s war with Algeria in the 1950s, The French and British invasion of Egypt in 1956, and the Lebanon Crisis in 1958.

    This was followed by numerous terrorist activities prior to the Gulf War in 1990, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, March 11, 2004 in Madrid and July 11, 2005 In London.

    Ultimately culminating in the current conflicts that are ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Much of this tumultuous history of the struggles along the Western/Islamic Fault Line can be explored in greater detail by using the BBC tCivilizations tool that, “uses web technology to reveal the sweep of historical forces and the rise and fall of great empires and ideas over 5000 years in a way that no book could ever do.”


You can access the tool by clicking HERE. We encourage you to explore in greater depth the contentious history between Christianity and Islam.


Huntington suggests that the “Velvet Cloak of Culture” represents the historic boundary between the Habsburg and Ottoman empires. Those North and West of this fault line were primarily Protestant or Catholic and shared the common experiences of European History: Feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.

Meanwhile, those peoples to the East and South of the Fault Line are Orthodox or Muslim and were only lightly touched by the shaping events to the North and West. According to Huntington, these regions are “less advanced economically and they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems.” However, as we shall see in the Islamic Banking section of this blog, Dubai is playing a significant global role in the Financial, Tourism and Real-Estate sectors.


Lawrence Harrison, Director of the Culture Change Institute at Tufts University cites his own research in an address to the Council on Foreign Relations that aligns with Huntington’s point of view with regards to Islamic economic development.


In his most recent book, The Critical Liberal Truth, Harrison examined 117 countries against ten indicators of prosperity. In describing this research he mentions that “Islam has fallen far behind economically” and that there is a Universal Progress Culture that emphasizes: Education, Merit, Achievement, Frugalitiy and Community. It should be noted here that Harrison is quick to point out the danger of generalizations across regions in his discussion.

Dr. Harrison ends in saying that these five Progress Culture values that are largely shared among Protestants, Jews, Confucians and Sikhs.


Given the historical backdrop of the Fault Line between Western Civilization and Islam, the ensuing economic retrograde of the Islamic region and the fact that this Islam does not align with a Universal Progress Culture, the central tension that Dubai has been dealing with: Remaining true to its Arabic and Islamic roots while striving to become a leading hub in the 21st century market economy is becoming more acute.


The next seven years in Dubai will be fascinating to study as this central tension unfolds through time:

    Will the Dubai’s leaders continue in their quest to accomplish Vision 2015?

    Or will Dubai’s leadership revise its goals and seek refuge in its Arabic and Islamic heritage?

    Or will Dubai’s leaders find a “third way” to ensure that the region continues to prosper?

Click HERE to return to CCL Dubai Main Page.

Blog at