It is plain that the beliefs and practices of ordinary Muslims contradict many formal aspects of the Islamic faith. Unfortunately, that commitment to popular faith and not formal faith has remained mostly hidden from or ignored as irrelevant by Western missionaries to Muslims.
Such beliefs and practices are, however, common and permeate the everyday life of human beings from Morocco to Malaysia. They are the heritage of a complex, unofficial world of practitioners, where gifted men and women direct Muslims’ lives, and maybe also their deaths, in intricate detail.
Behind such popular beliefs and practices lie existential assumptions that make holistic sense of a particular way of looking at the world. As such, the folk-Islamic model of the universe is vastly different from that which supports the assumptions and behavioural activities of the official faith.
The results clash – alternative views of the world mocking each other. Indeed, both views may work in veiled partnership within any one single Muslim.
This is not to suggest that there has never been any objection to popular Islam by members of the formal, official hierarchy. The fact that there is evidence towards contemporary Islamic societies suggests that deep commitment to alternative worldviews exists within them, yet without severe dissonance.
The lack of such obvious dissonance is, perhaps, the main reason Western investigators, including Christian missionaries, have often failed to recognize the folk-Islamic world. Islam’s outward image appears consistently as that of an official, ideal religion.