SOCIETY IN MOSQUES
and labeled their opponents, al-Shahraz¨r included, as “commoners and those who are not versed in the study of the shara.”29 Have we then prematurely discarded the two-tiered model of religion? I do not think so. A second look at the debate reveals that the actual disagreement between the learned elite and the devout ordinary believers was rather limited. The very practices that ulamå reject for Rajab, were endorsed and even performed by scholars on Shabån, Ramaån or Mawlid al-Nab. Moreover, one cannot but admit the pettiness of many of the arguments put forth against the performance of the special prayers on Rajab. Al-Sulam, Ab¨ Shåma and al-Nawaw claim, for example, that “the rites . . . are not done at the proper times with the proper detail”; that singling out certain days during the year for special devotions is prohibited in the rst place; worst yet—that ignorant people may be misled to believe that ‚alåt al-raghåib are obligatory (sunna) rather than an optional pious deed. They also complain that lighting the mosques for the entire night is wasteful and extravagant. As for faults in specic details of ritual, they highlight the performance of an even rather than an odd number of rakas, and the postponement of breakfast on the following morning—stressing that both are contrary to ªadth.30 The main argument against ‚alåt al-raghåib was, of course, the dearth of any sound ªadth in support of their performance.31 From this perspective, the debate over ‚alåt al-raghåib may reect broader tensions regarding religious authority, rather than the etiquette of religious behavior. As Jonathan Berkey had observed, the anti-bida discourse concentrates on the issue of reliable authority, and aims at securing the grip of the religious establishment on the denition of proper Islam, to the exclusion of all other denitions.32 My impression is that the excessive fuss over minor details of ritual primarily reects two things: one—a competition within the ranks of the ulamå, each of whom aspired to leadership in piety and hoped to gain the prestige accorded to the truly devoted and uncompromising. Two—a basic conservative impulse, a fear that the slightest concession to change and innovation might lead to many further, more dangerous, concessions. Alexander Knysh recognizes in this anti-bida discourse 29 30 31 32
Alabån, Musåjala, 14–18. Subk, abaqåt, 8:251–254. Ab¨ Shåma, al-Båith, 117. Berkey, Popular Preachers, 76, 94.