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Elverskog also claims that there was convergence on ideas of justice and, for those Muslims living under Buddhist rule, how non-Muslim rulers could be regarded as just. Muslims seem to be aware too of some ethical teachings of the wider Indian tradition, including Buddhism, such as ahimsa, or non-violence, and abstention from intoxicants.

Although it is clear that the earliest stirrings of mysticism in Islam were rooted in the Koran and the sunnah of the Prophet, other influences can by no means be discounted. Muslim scholars, like Muhammad Iqbal, as well as Westerners such as Margaret Smith, have well shown the interaction between Egyptian, Syrian and Mesopotamian Christian mysticism, on the one hand, and Sufis, on the other. Nor can the influence, because of the revival of Hellenistic learning, of Neo-Platonism be discounted. Having said that, the similarities of language, metaphor and parable employed by the Sufis of the wahdat al-wujud (or monism) school are too similar to Hindu and Buddhist discourse to be dismissed as mere coincidence. An obvious example is that of the drop merging into the ocean to signify the soul’s union with Absolute Reality. The greatest similarities with Indian thought are seen in the work of Bu Yazid of Bistam (who had an Indian teacher) and the more esoteric work of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, who was originally from Balkh, while Imam Ghazzali’s Persian work, shows the effects of Zoroastrian imagery, if not thinking. In India, at least, there was continual interaction with Hinduism and, in the event, the birth of Sikhism was one result.

One religious system which was hugely successful at one time but which eventually died out was Manichaeism. Its founder Mani seems to have been of Persian origin but belonged to a Jewish Christian Gnostic group known as the Elkesaites. In his writings, as far as we can tell, he developed a dualist system based on the old Persian distinctions between light and darkness, good and evil. The material world, and especially human beings, are a mixture of good and evil, light and darkness. The good spiritual powers are seeking to liberate the light trapped in the darkness and thus lead us to salvation. This is resisted by the evil powers who seek to devour and extinguish the light. The followers of Mani, in a strictly hierarchical system, acknowledged the source of the true light and through their asceticism (including celibacy and vegetarianism, at least among the higher orders) sought to be taken into the sovereignty of the good. Manichaeism was adept at adjusting to cultural conditions, whether Aramaean or Persian or Chinese. St Augustine of Hippo, in North Africa, confessed to having been under its influence before becoming a Christian and it was such a danger in the Islamic world that the term zandiq or heretic originally meant a dualist or Manichee. In addition to Persian dualism, there is some evidence of Hindu and Buddhist influences as Manichaeism developed. It seems that because Mani’s Persian work, Arzang, was beautifully illustrated, he came to be known in Persian literature as the archetypal painter or artist. The importance of Manichaeism lies in the fact that, although it died out, it posed a challenge of world view to Christians, Muslims, Jews and Taoists — a challenge which had to be met, as the writings of St Augustine, Al-Biruni and the Fihrist of Ibn Al-Nadim reveal.

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