Introduction xx superstition with the demonic characteristic of the Abrahamic faiths, they did distin- guish between “superstitious” and accept- able beliefs. The Han Dynasty philosopher Wang Chong (25 CE–100 CE) devoted a con- siderable proportion of his essay collection Lunheng “Balanced Discourses” to denounc- ing beliefs he considered superstitious, such as the common belief in ghosts. Wang Chong’s objections were broadly common- sensical, pointing out that the ghosts of murdered people should be repairing to mag- istrates to accuse their murderers but that there is no record of their having done so. Like his near-contemporary Cicero, Wang Chong also attacked the very common belief that celestial events were warnings of the anger of heaven, a belief shared by many cul- tures outside China. The cynical Wang Chong also claimed the belief that talent was rewarded with career success was another vulgar error. Although a few philosophers admired his arguments, Wang Chong was largely forgotten after his death, and superstition in China flourished both among the common people and at the highest level of the gov- ernment, where the Bureau of Astronomy, part of the Board of Rites, had the responsi- bility of determining lucky and unlucky days. One of the Five Classics of China, the Yijing or I Ching, was a text used for divina- tion, and many other techniques for foretell- ing or influencing the future flourished among the great and common. The religious pluralism of China meant that there was no institution claiming the religious monopoly that Christianity did in the West and there- fore little reason for a protracted campaign against superstition. Superstition and Islam Like Christians, Muslims identified super- stition, identified as shirk or idolatry, with the time before their divine revelation. Superstition was a remnant of the polytheis- tic paganism practiced before Muhammad’s conversion of Arabia to Islam, and thus was condemned by all true Muslims. The Islamic community had a rich culture of superstitions, some such as belief in the exis- tence of jinn, backed by the authority of the Quran, and others such as the widespread use of dream interpretation, geomancy, astrology, and other divination methods less scripturally backed and more likely to be condemned by religious authorities. The use of talismans and amulets was also quite common. The Hanbali school of Sunni legal interpretation, one of the four major schools, is known for its strictness and severity. Han- bali scholars were particularly strongly opposed to practices deemed superstitious. This is particularly true of the Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328), who was known to denounce the veneration of saints as shirk and also denounced more secular “superstitious” practices such as astrology, virtually ubiquitous in the Muslim world. In the early modern period when the Ottoman Empire ruled the Muslim Middle East, mod- ern Turkey, and much of Europe, however, the official school of interpretation was the more tolerant Hanafi school, and supersti- tious beliefs and practices were widespread. The Wahhabist movement of Sunni reform that emerged in eighteenth-century Arabia and became influential throughout much of the Sunni world drew upon Ibn Taymiyya and also vehemently opposed “superstitious” practice such as visitations to the shrines of Muslim saints. Indian Islamic reformers linked these and other “supersti- tious” practices to the corrupting influence of Hinduism, which does not make a strong dis- tinction between superstitious and religious practices. However, many Sunni Islamic authorities endorse or tolerate practices that
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