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Superstition And Its Foes In The Islamic World

Campaigns against "superstitious" practices emerged independently in the Islamic world. Muslims who venerated shrines of deceased holy men or celebrated "mawlid"—the birthday of Muhammad—were condemned for practices that were non-Koranic and directed worship to persons other than God, the crime of "shirk" or idolatry. Among the most important medieval Muslim intellectuals to campaign against superstitious practices was the brilliant and uncompromising Syrian jurist of the Hanbali school of Sunni legal interpretation, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328), and his disciple Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (1292–1350). Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Jawziyya saw the first three centuries of Islam as free from superstitious practices but the Muslims of their own time as corrupted by them, linking prayer at graves with the practices of pre-Islamic Arab polytheists and contemporary Christians. Despite Ibn Taymiyya's influence, however, his opposition to shrine visits and other "superstitions" did not become the mainstream position in the Sunni ulama.

The Wahhabi movement of Islamic reform, which emerged in eighteenth-century Arabia, recognized Ibn Tayymiya as a Sixteenth-century woodcut of witches by Hans Baldung Grien (1484–1545). During the medieval period, the Catholic Church labeled several different practices as superstitious, among them idolatry, incorrect worship of God, and magical practices such as witchcraft. PHOTO CREDIT: RÉUNION DES MUSÉES NATIONAUX / ART RESOURCE, NY precursor and carried on a vigorous struggle against the "superstitious" veneration of tombs and shrines, destroying many of them. Similar Islamic reform movements, such as the Indian movement founded by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi (1786–1831), would also denounce superstition. Indian Islamic reformers often linked "idolatry" to the influence of Hinduism.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Stomium to SwiftsSuperstition - Superstition And The Medieval And Early Modern Catholic Church, Superstition And Its Foes In The Islamic World