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Fitnah: Coming to a Sin-e-World Near You! (Part 2)

red-apple-temptation-sanjay-nayarThe first part of this blog (here) discussed the fitnah or tribulation of wealth, civil war and men’s weakness for women. The second and final part of the blog discusses three more fitnahs – that of callers to misguidance, spreading of inverted understandings of Islam, and the question of governments seeking to domesticate Islam and its scholars. And Allah’s help is sought.

4Fitnah of Callers to Misguidance: Hudhayfah b. al-Yaman narrates: People would ask Allah’s Messenger ﷺ about the good, but I used to ask about the evil, for fear of it reaching me. I said: O Messenger of Allah! We used to be in a state of ignorance and evil, but then Allah sent you with this good. Will there be any evil after this good? He said: ‘Yes.’ I said: Will there be any good after this evil? He answered: ‘Yes, but it will be tainted.’ I asked: What shall taint it? He said: ‘A people who will guide with other than my guidance. You shall approve of them and disapprove.’ I said: Will there be any evil after this good? He replied: ‘Yes! Callers to the gates of Hellfire, whoever responds to them will be thrown into it.’ I inquired: O Allah’s Messenger, describe them for us. He said: ‘They will be of your skin and speak your language.’ I said: What do you order me if I should reach this? He said: ‘Cling to the united body (jama‘ah) of the Muslims and their leader.’ What if there is no united body or leader, I asked? He said: ‘Then remove yourself from all these sects, even if you have to cling to the trunk of a tree until death comes to you and you are in that state.’1

In this hadith the Prophet ﷺ spoke about: du‘at ‘ala abwabi jahannam – ‘callers to the gates of Hellfire.’ Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani commented on the hadith, saying: ‘[Qadi] ‘Iyad stated: “What is intended by the first evil is the tribulation (fitnah) that occurred after the murder of ‘Uthman. The intent of the good that comes after is what happened in the caliphate of ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. What is intended by those you will approve of and disapprove of are: the rulers who come after; among whom are those who adhere to the Sunnah and to justice, and among whom are those who call to innovations and to acting oppressively.”‘2 Ibn Hajr then says that these callers to the gates of Hell refer to: ‘Those who rise up seeking power and authority, from the Khawarij and their ilk.’3

A few centuries earlier, Imam al-Nawawi put slightly more flesh on the issue when he said about them: ‘Scholars say: They are those rulers who call to innovations or other deviations, like the Khawarij, Qaramitah, or the agents of the Inquisition (mihnah).’4

If the above hadith refers to rulers or regimes that were propagandists for innovation or heresy – endorsing it, sponsoring it and spreading it – this next hadith refers to the fitnah of innovators and persons of misguidance. Ibn Mas‘ud said: Allah’s Messenger ﷺ drew a line on the ground for us, saying: ‘This is Allah’s path.’ He then drew lines to its right and left, then said: ‘These are other paths; upon each path there is a devil calling to it.’ He then recited [6:153]: This is My straight path, so follow it; and follow not others paths, lest you be parted from His path.5

It shouldn’t need stating, but let’s do so anyway, that one of the foundational duties of every Muslim is to spurn religious innovation (bid‘ah). Our Prophet ﷺ warned in no uncertain terms: ‘Beware of newly-invented matters; for every newly-invented matter is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance.’6 Also: ‘Whosoever introduces into this affair of ours what is not of it will have it rejected.’7 What is meant by bid‘ah is: ma uhditha mimma la asl lahu fi’l-shari‘ah yadullu ‘alayhi – ‘That which is newly-introduced, having no basis in the Sacred Law to substantiate [prove] it.’8 If what is newly-introduced does have a basis in the shari‘ah, then some scholars consider that a bid‘ah in the lexical sense; not the technical one. Others simply call it a ‘praiseworthy’ bid‘ah.9 Regardless of what one categorises it as, there’s absolute scholarly agreement that certain matters related to religion that came after the Prophet’s time, which have a basis in the din to prove their validity – either from the Qur’an, Sunnah, scholarly consensus (ijma‘), or analogy (qiyas) – can be brought under the umbrella of Islam and Islamic legislation. For in light of the second hadith quoted above in this paragraph: whoever introduces into this affair of ours what is of it will be accepted. It is just those matters that are newly-introduced as religious acts, but: la asl lahu fi’l-shari‘ah – ‘have no basis in the shari‘ah – which must be rejected and blacklisted.

All of this is to say that the primary obligation upon each Muslim is ittiba‘ – following what has been legislated and laid down in the Sacred Law; not ibtida‘ – innovating or introducing into the religion that which has no basis in the Sacred Sources. Moreover, the fact that some in our age have nosedived into extremes in this regard – so quickly and casually labelling any view opposing theirs as being a deviant innovation (and all too often accusing those holding such differing views as deviant innovators) – doesn’t excuse the rest of us from being lax in this fundamental area of faith, or shuffling into the opposite extreme.

The best way to steer well clear of these extremes is to ensure that in our learning and practice of Islam we be people of isnad; those who are linked to an unbroken ‘chain’ of scholarship which extends all the way back to the prophetic age. On this, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘This knowledge will be carried by the trustworthy ones of every generation. They will rid from it the distortions of the extremists; the false claims of the liars; and the flawed interpretations of the ignorant.’10 This hadith should help bury the myth that ‘authentic’ or ‘sahih’ Islam, after its golden first two centuries or so, was lost and unknown even to the scholars for most of Islam’s history (barring a brief come back in the 7th century), only to be rediscovered by a clique of Muslims in more recent times. For those interested, I have shown how this allegation is so way off the mark in: Being People of Isnad: Legitimate Islamic Learning.

5 – Fitnah of Inverted Understandings: The Prophet ﷺ foretold the following: ‘There shall come upon people years of deceit in which the liar shall be believed, the truthful one disbelieved, the treacherous trusted, the trustworthy considered treacherous, and the Ruwaybidah will speak out.’ It was said: Who are the Ruwaybidah? He ﷺ said: ‘The lowly, contemptible ones who will speak out about public affairs.’11

This inversion of understanding (inqilab al-fahm); such topsy-turvy ways of looking at things whereby good seems bad and bad good, or truth is seen as false and falsehood the truth, is foretold in other hadiths too. ‘When the affair is given to other than its rightful people, then await the Final Hour,’12 said the Prophet ﷺ. And: ‘Indeed from the signs of the Hour is that the virtuous will be demeaned and the wicked elevated.’13 Just how deeply this state of inversion has oozed into the soil of our ‘post-truth’ world and this age of ‘alternative facts’, is anyone’s guess. Much of this, it has got to be said, is a prelude; a trailer, for the drama of the Dajjal which will soon be showing in a sin-e-world near us all – and we seek refuge in Allah from Dajjal’s fitnah.

Our Prophet went out of his way to shield us all from this inqilab al-fahm. He ﷺ once averred: The stars are the custodians of the sky; when the stars depart, what has been decreed for the sky shall come to it. I am the custodian of my Companions; when I depart, what is decreed for my Companions will come to them. And my Companions are the custodians of my ummah; when my Companions depart, what is decreed for my ummah shall come to it.’14

So what has been decreed for this ummah after the Companions (sahabah) – who are its keepers, guardians and custodians – depart? Al-Nawawi tells us it is: ‘The spread of innovations and newly-invented matters in the religion, fitnahs in it …’15 Al-Munawi says, writing almost four-hundred years ago: ‘It is the proliferation of innovations, the dominance of [false] desires, schisms in creedal matters, the appearance of the Horns of Satan, the ascendency of the Romans [Christians], and the desecration of the Two Holy Places (haramayn). All of these miraculous predictions have occurred.’16

So how do we stop the rot? How do we halt the descent into deviation? The answer is straightforward, though getting our desires and egos to act upon it may not be quite so: Follow the revealed teachings, and shun innovations in religion. Let’s look at what else our Prophet ﷺ urged in this respect:

In one famous hadith, the Prophet ﷺ lays down this cure for the rot: ‘Those among you who live [long] will see many schisms. So cling to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after me; cling to it unyieldingly.’17

And the Prophet ﷺ said to his Companions one day: ‘Verily there will soon be fitnah.‘ They asked: How shall we be, O Allah’s Messenger, and what shall we do? He ﷺ said: tarji‘una ila amrikum al-awwal – ‘Return to your original affair.’18

The intent of the above two hadiths is made even more clear in these definitive words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘My ummah will split-up into seventy-three sects; seventy-two are in the Fire, one in Paradise.’ They asked: Who is that one, O Allah’s Messenger? He ﷺ said: ‘That which I and my Companions are upon.’19 Historically, this one saved-sect became known as ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah; or Sunnis, for short.

What all this points to is that any method or call which outrightly rejects the Sunnah, or the integrity and authority of the Prophet’s Companions, or denies an established scholarly consensus (ijma‘), is utterly false – regardless of how appealing or academic the falsehood is made to seem. For it is the hermeneutics of reprehensible innovation; if not outright heresy. No weight must be given to it in matters of religion. Al-Bayhaqi said about such schisms from Islamic orthodoxy: ‘We have already stated in the book al-Madkhal, and elsewhere, that the blameworthy differing (al-khilaf al-madhmum) is whatever differs from the Book, the authentic Sunnah or a scholarly consensus.’20 Ibn Taymiyyah stated: ‘The hallmark of these [innovated] sects is them splitting from the Book, the Sunnah, or scholarly consensus. Whoever speaks with the Book, the Sunnah and the scholarly consensus is from ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah.21

For much of Islamic history, the question of who embodies the majoritarian orthodox path of ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah has been rather contentious. Scholars like Imam al-Safarini and others, however, extend the net as follows: ‘Ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah is of three groups: Atharis, whose leader is Ahmad b. Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him; Ash‘aris, whose leader is Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari, may Allah have mercy upon him; and Maturidis, whose leader is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi.’22

Yet how can it be three sects, when the hadith clearly speaks of one saved-sect? In this broader view of ahl al-sunnah, the Atharis, Ash‘aris and Maturidis aren’t looked upon as different sects, but different ‘orientations’ or ‘schools’ with the same core tenets. And since all three ‘orientations’ consent to the integrity and authority of the Sunnah and the Companions, and to ijma‘ – contrary to the seventy-two other sects – they are all included under the banner of ahl al-sunnah. Differences between them may either be put down to semantics, variations in the branches of the beliefs (furu‘ al-i‘tiqad), or to bonafide errors of ijtihad. Given that the Athari creed represents the earliest, purest form of the beliefs of ahl al-sunnah; in the view of this writer, it should be preferred wherever there is a disparity between the three schools. Having said that, the fact is that after the rise and establishment of the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools, one would be hard pressed to find a jurist, hadith master, exegist, grammarian or historian who wasn’t a follower of one of these two schools. Historically, and in short: the Hanafis have been Maturidis, all except a few; Malikis and Shafi‘is have been Ash‘aris, all save a few; and Hanbalis have been Atharis, all but a few.

One final point: Describing people as innovators from the seventy-two sects (in other words, outside the fold of ahl al-sunnah), isn’t saying they’re apostates outside the fold of Islam – as is spelled out in: The Seventy-Three Sects: Is Most of the Ummah Deviant? One can have innovated beliefs or practices and still be a Muslim; albeit a misguided one. As for what groupings come under the umbrella of Islam, The Amman Message of 2004, and its three-point declaration, directly addresses that. The Message doesn’t concern itself with who is a ‘true’, orthodox Muslim; but simply who is a Muslim. For its aim is to help halt the widespread evil of takfir on Muslims, and to wrest the giving of fatwas from those who do not have the prerequisite learning or qualification.

6 – The Fitnah of Governments Seeking to Domesticate Scholars: Our starting point is this advice from the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Whoever comes to the doors of the ruler is put to trial.’23 Discussion about this, I must admit, is a difficult and delicate one; so I’ll try to be as nuanced and even handed as possible. And Allah’s help is sought.

This concern, first off, is not new. Scholars down the ages of Islam have cautioned the scholarly community about the trial (fitnah) entailed in rubbing shoulders with rulers or governments. Ibn al-Jawzi sketches the usual pious concerns, thus:

‘From the Devil’s deception on the jurists is them mixing with the rulers and sultans, flattering them and leaving-off censuring them when able to do so. And perhaps they find allowances for them when there really isn’t one, in order to attain some worldly thing … In summary: entering upon rulers entails great danger. For the intention may be good at first, but then may change by them honouring you or bestowing [gifts] on you; or by [you] harbouring worldly ambitions; or by not being able to avoid flattering them; or leaving-off censuring them. Sufyan al-Thawri used to say: “I don’t fear them debasing or disgracing me. Rather, I fear them being generous towards me so that my heart inclines towards them.”‘24

Again, teasing out the soul’s psychology in this matter, and the subtle cravings of the ego, Ibn Rajab said: ‘Also, many of the salaf used to forbid those who desired to order the kings with good or prohibit them from evil, from entering upon them … And this was from fear of the fitnah of entering upon them. For when he is at a distance from them, the ego deceives the person into believing he will order and forbid them, and be stern with them. However, when he comes face to face with them, his soul is swayed towards them. For love of being honoured is concealed in his ego. Hence, he starts to flatter them, is over lenient with them, and perhaps he grows fond of them and loves them – especially if they treat him well and hold him in high regard, and he accepts this from them.’25

Of course; and this is the second point, this avoidance is by no means categorical, nor absolute. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr rounds-up the chapter in which he relates the salaf’s dislike of entering upon rulers and kings, stating: ‘The meaning of this entire chapter is with regard to the wicked, oppressive ruler (al-sultan al-ja’ir al-fasiq). As for the just among them, and the virtuous, then entering upon them; meeting them; and assisting them to rectify affairs is from the best deeds of righteousness … Thus when a scholar enters upon the ruler now and again, and whenever there is a need; and he says what is good and speaks with knowledge, then that is good and is a means of Allah’s pleasure until the Day he meets Him. Such meetings, however, are usually a fitnah; and safety lies in abandoning what is in them.’26

One will not find a ‘one-hat-fits-all-sizes’ rule in this area. For the needs and variables of each country or polity are different. The whole affair hinges on benefits and harms and final outcomes; and rests on the individual scholar’s intention and ability to cope with the fitnah, and the openness or otherwise of the ruler or regime. If a scholar feels strong enough in faith or feels obligated to to do so, or/and the ruler is open to advise, then one enters and does ones duty wisely, courageously and respectfully (respectful, if not of the actual ruler, then of the office they hold). Scholars should also keep this juristic maxim in play: ma la yudrak kulluhu la yutrak ba‘duhu – ‘If one cannot achieve the whole, one does not give-up [achieving] the part.’ What a scholar must not be is a sheepish partisan voice piece for the outrages and injustices of power, or an apologist for it. The scholar’s burden is neither to pander to the palace, and nor to the public. It is simply to be principled according to the dictates of piety.

My third and final point bears upon Muslim scholars in Britain (and North America, for that matter); especially in respect of helping their governments in the fight against extremism and the promotion of ‘moderate’ Islam. The aim in what follows is not to preclude any collaboration or cooperation between Muslim scholars (or activists) and governments. Instead, I wish only to point out that there are different fitnahs at work in any such union, which cannot be ignored.

One issue that tends to haunt the air of any genuine cooperation for many a scholar is the RAND report of 2007: Building Moderate Muslim Networks. The report strategised how the United States government could nurture what they accepted to be ‘moderate’ Muslims: those committed to the liberal values of democracy, human rights, equality, and who oppose terrorism or other illegitimate forms of violence. As for conservative shari‘ah expressions, they are seen as incompatible with this world view, needing to be either jettisoned or interpreted away. It suggested partners in this effort would best be found in secularists, liberal Muslims, and moderate traditionalists; including Sufis: but not Salafis or Islamists. It urged aiding liberals, moderate young scholars, activists and women’s groups; helping moderateness with an online presence too.27 A decade on, and much of that strategy is well under way – both in the US and in Britain. With this being so, it makes even well-intended cooperation with government, in the fight against extremism, more than a little murky and problematic.

Not only have terms like ‘moderate’ Islam; ‘good’ Muslims; ‘Islamists’ and ‘terrorists’; or equating being too ‘conservative’ with an inclination for violence, been predefined and then institutionalised for all to fall in line with. But even spaces to air legitimate political dissent and social frustration are rapidly diminishing or being highly policed when it comes to Muslims. The irony may be that in the effort to root out extremism from Muslim communities and establish a government engineered ‘moderate Islam’, favourable conditions for driving disenfranchised individuals into the arms of violent extremism are being created.

In a climate where organisations and individuals are in a panic to establish themselves as bastions of moderate Islam, it is vital that Muslim scholars not get caught up in all the political posturing and money grabbing. They must also avoid succumbing to the pressures of employing religious vocabulary or definitions imported from outside the scholastic tradition. In fact, the onus is on them to inject some much needed nuance or tafsil into the discourse. One example concerns the driving factor behind terrorism of the ISIS type. Some insist it is driven solely by oppression, foreign policy, or other similar rational grievances: religion has no hand in it whatsoever. Others dismiss such naiveté and aver it is inspired purely by the vile, totalitarian ideology of Islamism (and for some, just Islam): they brook no further discussion about it.

The reality is that religion plays a role, less as a driver of their behaviour, but more as a vehicle for their pathologies and political outrage. To deny the role of foreign policy in nurturing violent extremism is as naive or coloured by self interest as denying the role of a twisted fiqh-cum-theology in fostering it. Until we acknowledge and tackle both gremlins, we fail public security and give kudos to a false political narrative. This has been my experience, since the early 1990s, while engaging some of the key voices and ideologues of such extremism. As for the twisted theology bit, I’ve attempted to discuss this in: Khawarij Ideology: ISIS Savagery.

Another fitnah scholars must be circumspect about is: giving fatwas under siege. Ibn Hamdan, a highly accomplished legalist in the Hanbali school, explains: ‘Fatwa is not to be given in a state where the heart is preoccupied or inhibited from examination or careful deliberation; because of anger, hunger, thirst, sadness, grief, fear, melancholy, overwhelming joy, sleepiness, fatigue, illness, irritating heat, intense cold, or needing to answer the call of nature.’28

If, as can be seen from above, pretty much any debilitating emotional or physical state renders giving a fatwa a no no, what about the state where a mufti is under relentless socio-political and psychological pressures to get Islam to conform to the essentially atheistic, liberal landscape? Or the case where a mufti’s mind and moods of the heart have already been significantly colonised by the attitudes of the dominant [Western] monoculture? How will that affect the quality, integrity and correctness of the fatwa? To think this does not already happen is to live in a cocooned or naive state. How else can one explain why proposed maqasid-based reforms to the shari‘ah so often seem to be of Western inspiration. ‘The public interest (maslahah, maqsad),’ says Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, ‘always turns out to take the form of what is intelligible and desirable to those outside Islam.’29

For the above reasons and more, scholars, perhaps more than ever before, need to be spiritually rooted. The temptations that are touted before them, or the convincers to compromise aspects of the faith and its scholastic teachings, are perhaps greater now than they’ve ever been. Fitnahs so easily throw intellects off balance, and sullying the intentions of a single scholar is more beloved to Iblis than causing a thousand feet of the general Muslim public to stumble. For such reasons our fiqh needs to be deepened and made much wiser; reading and intellectualisation need to be both broadened and sharpened; an atmosphere needs to be cultivated of being less judgemental and more judicious; hostility to sins needn’t be carried over to sinners; and the ego’s pretensions need to be reigned in and conditioned by humility and spiritual poverty (faqr). If we’re not spiritually-anchored, there’s a huge danger of being cast adrift in the tumultuous socio-political storms of the age.

As scholars try to remain alert against the fitnah of governments domesticating them; as they train themselves to deliberate not just on quick-fix fatwas or short term goals, but the longer-term vision too; and as they deepen the virtue of zuhd in their personal lives (the Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘What is little but suffices is better than what is plentiful but distracts’30), let them not loose sight of the following:

Where the Makkan Quraysh failed to see the disconnect between them and the pure message of Abrahamic monotheism and ethics; and failed to heed the discontent and exploitation of the masses by a powerful, wealthy elite, the Prophet ﷺ saw it, felt it, and Allah caused him to give voice to it. The fact that: ‘The scholars are the inheritors of the prophets,’31 as one hadith says, should cause them to follow suite in seeking to heal the disconnect and the discontent; in whatever community, and in whatever age or place.

To wrap-up: The Prophet ﷺ cautioned: ‘Fitnahs will be presented to hearts, just as a reed mat is woven stick by stick; and any heart that absorbs it, will have a black mark in it.’32 In order to guard our hearts from soaking up the poison of these fitnahs, the following should go some way, bi’idhni’Llah, in being inoculated against them: [1] gain sound Islamic knowledge of what shape or form fitnah can assail us; [2] shore-up our conviction in Islam’s revealed truths; [3] solicit abundant forgiveness for our sins and; [4] make copious du‘a that Allah shields us from fitnah, or grants us the patience and fortitude to bear it.

Of course, fitnahs are never sought after, or welcomed. Yet when they do come, even if they be in the form of political shake-ups, they can actually be blessings in disguise. For they can jolt us out of a false sense of security; reawaken in us a believer’s sense of sacred destiny; and bring home to us our need of Allah’s help and mercy, for both our worldly and spiritual prosperity.

Do people imagine that they will be left alone because they say: ‘We believe,’
and [that they] will not be tried? We tried those who came
before them. Allah shall know those who
are sincere, and He shall
know the liars.
[29:2-3]

1. Al-Bukhari, no.3606; Muslim, no.1847.

2. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 15:634.

3. ibid., 15:634.

4. Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 12:199.

5. Al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Kubra, no.11109; al-Darimi, no.202. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Takhrij Mishkat al-Masabih (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), no,27.

6. Abu Dawud, no.4607, whose wording it is; al-Tirmidhi, no.2676, stating the hadith is hasan sahih.’

7. Al-Bukhari, no.2697; Muslim, no.1718.

8. Ibn Rajab, Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 2:127.

9. ibid., 2:127. I hope to post a more detailed discussion about bid‘ah, and whether it can be split into a good-bad/praiseworthy-blameworthy taxonomy, in the near future; Allah willing.

10. Al-Bayhaqi, Sunan, 10:209, and it is hasan. Cf. al-Albani, Takhrij Mishkat al-Masabih (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), no.248; Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Miftah Dar al-Sa‘adah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 1996), 1:500.

11. Ibn Majah, no.4036; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:465, who said: ‘Its chain is sahih.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.59.

13. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, 4:554. Its narrators are all those of the Sahih, as stated by al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2001), 7:326.

14. Muslim, no.2531.

15. Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 16:68.

16. Fayd al-Qadir Sharh al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 6:297.

17. Abu Dawud, no.4607; al-Tirmidhi, no.2676, who said: ‘This hadith is hasan sahih.’

18. Al-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir, no.3307. It was graded as sahih in al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 2002), no.3165.

19. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2641, who graded it hasan.

20. Al-I‘tiqad wa’l-Hidayatu ila Sabil al-Rashad (Damascus: al-Yamamah, 2002), 354.

21. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:345.

22. Al-Safarini, Lawami‘ al-Anwar al-Bahiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1991), 1:73. Other Hanbali scholars who share a similar outlook are: ‘Abd al-Baqi al-Mawhabi, Ibn al-Shatti, al-Qudumi and Ahmad al-Mardawi. See: al-Yafi, al-Manhajiyyah al-‘Ammah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 2009), 35-8. It is also the position of Qadi Abu Ya‘la, as per Tabaqat al-Hanabilah (Cairo: al-Sunnah al-Muhamadiyyah, n.d.), 2:210, despite his vehement criticisms of the Ash‘aris.

23. Abu Dawud, no.2869; al-Tirmidhi, no.2256., who said: ‘This hadith is hasan gharib.’

24. Talbis Iblis (Cairo: Dar al-Minhaj, 2015), 175-6.

25. ‘Ma Dhi’ban Ja’i‘an’ in Majmu‘ Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2003), 1:86.

26. Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), 644.

27. See: RAND report, 2007: Building Moderate Muslim Networks, pp.65-74.

28. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 195.

29. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2012), 42.

30. Al-Shihab, Musnad, no.1262. It was judged sahih by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.947.

31. Abu Dawud, no.3641; al-Tirmidhi, no.2683. The hadith is hasan, due to its various chains that strengthen one another. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari, 1:245.

32. Muslim, no.231.

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Syria: Righteous Outrage, Rulers & Rethinking Revolutions

3628447774_c90403bddb_b_92865322_mosque_beforeandafterInitially, Aleppo never witnessed the large scale anti-government protests that kicked-off in other parts of Syria, in March 2011. A year later, though, and Aleppo too became a bloody battleground when rebel fighters tried to drive government forces from the city. The offensive was not decisive and Aleppo ended up divided: government forces controlling the west, rebel fighters the east. For four years now, the battle for Aleppo has become a microcosm of the wider carnage engulfing Syria. The greater tragedy in this ongoing civil war has been to the civilian population. Over 13 million people need humanitarian aid in Syria. Just under 5 million Syrians are now refugees, one million of whom have fled to Europe. And in the past few days the world has seen an exodus of more than 100,000 people from Aleppo.

In the month-long siege which has seen pro-government forces oust the rebel fighters from Aleppo, thousands have been caught in the crossfire and have died, many have been seriously injured, families and children have being viciously massacred, and the city lacks basic food, water, sanitation and medicines. And while we must not lose our capacity to feel outrage when civilians have been so callously massacred, the question remains: how can we turn this righteous outrage into useful action?

What follows is far from being a decisive action plan. It is simply a few thoughts of a beleaguered student of Islam’s sacred sciences who, like so many others, is desperately trying not to be numbed by the sheer scale of the horrors that are now unfolding.

Three matters need urgently doing: one immediate, the other more long term, while the third is more mid-term. All three are crucial, but some things have an immediacy over others.

Finally, some (or even, much) of what I’ll advocate can and does apply to the people of Yemen, Iraq, Mali, Kashmir, Tunisia, Palestine and anywhere else where wars rage and civilians become fodder in the crossfire.

Immediate Action: This has surely got to be humanitarian aid to victims and refugees. Money, medical supplies, doctors and other skilled personnel are the types of services and aid the people of Aleppo need right now. As well as contributing to relief agencies and humanitarian convoys, volunteer rescue workers operating in war zones, such as the White Helmets, should be supported too. Undeniably, what is even more pressing than this is to broker a temporary truce that all sides are compelled to honour, so that the remaining civilians in Syria have time to move into safe zones or be evacuated.

Given that a million Syrian refugees have crossed into Europe, this raises the issues of asylum and the socio-economic difficulties, unrest, xenophobia or Islamophobia that can come along in the wake. Resettlement of refugees and taking in orphans becomes our collective responsibility: Have you seen him who denies the Religion? Such is he who repels the orphan, and who does not urge the feeding of the poor. [107:1-3] Islam does not just ask us to feed the poor; it requires of us to “urge others” to do so too.

A recent report by Oxfam highlights that the UK has taken just 18 per cent of its ‘fair share’ of Syrian refugees. Canada, in contrast, tops the league table of wealthy nations by welcoming 248 per cent of its share. While the United States has taken in a meagre ten per cent. To achieve what Oxfam reckons to be its fair share, the UK should have offered sanctuary to around 25,000 people since the crisis began, rather than just the 4414 it has thus far resettled. We the citizens of such under performing states should lobby our politicians and parliamentarians to get them to commit to resettling more refugees, as well as insist that they speak out against the xenophobia, distortions and myths which surround these refugees and other people who are in need of shelter and protection.

Along with aiding relief efforts, sponsoring orphans, fundraising, creating awareness, combating media stereotypes and public xenophobia, and lobbying government to do more to resettle refugees, we musn’t forget the power of petitioning Allah in du‘a. For du‘a is a powerful weapon for the oppressed, needy and helpless: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors! And give us from Your presence a protecting friend; oh, give us from Your presence a defender!’ [4:75]

Mid-Term Action: The key task here must surely be to bring this grinding conflict to an end, so that some semblance of peace, safety and security is returned to whatever remains of Syria and its people. By ‘mid-term’ I do not mean that one works for it only after the humanitarian crises is concluded. Of course not! Peace must be brokered as soon as possible. But given the diverse mix of factions, forces and fears entailed, and the geo-political interests involved, calling for peace is easier said than done. So while the politics of it all is playing out, the humanitarian relief work must push on with as much urgency as the world can muster. That’s what I mean by brokering a peace deal being a ‘mid-term’ action.

A simplified sketch of the key actors in the Syrian conflict should serve as a reminder about the obstacles standing in the way of any peace accord. At the eye of the storm there is President Bashar al-Assad who, in March 2011, used brutal force to crush pro-democracy demonstrations concerned about the country’s high unemployment; state repression; and wide scale corruption. This triggered nationwide protests demanding that the president resign. As the unrest spread, the state crack down intensified. Very soon, opposition supporters were taking up arms to defend themselves and then later to fight government forces in their areas. The president vowed to crush the uprising and restore state control. The opposition formed into a myriad of rebel brigades and resolved to fight government forces; oust the president from power; and seize control of the country.

The president’s Shi‘ah Alawite sect and regime has the financial, political and military backing of Russia, Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah. The rebel factions, having no central authority and no single political ideology, represent a cross-section of Syria’s diversely religious society; although driven largely by an overall Sunni majority. Added to this already volatile cocktail are factions of foreign fighters and rebel groups who are al-Qaeda sympathisers. ISIS, who control large tracts of Syria, are also fighting: fighting both government forces and rebels. Saudi, Turkey and Qatar have been assisting some of the rebel factions, including both ‘moderates’ and ‘hardliners’, with military aid and financial support. The United States, too, has offered limited military assistance, but has thus far not given weapons to any of the rebel factions in Syria from fear of them falling into extremist hands. All in all, then, there is a Syrian civil war; a Sunni-Shi‘ah proxy-war being fought by Saudi and Iran; and a geo-strategic war being fought for regional hegemony. To top it all, various international peace initiatives have thus far failed, and the monster that is President al-Assad seems to be slowly garnering greater sympathy for apparently being the only capable actor that can stand in the way of an ‘Islamist’ or ISIS take over of Syria. Those, at least, are the cards being openly shown on the table: the cards beneath are anyone’s guess!

Of course, certain politician, on whatever side of the divide, will be busy sharpening their knives ready to carve out a slice of whatever they can for their own greedy souls. Other politicians, with a genuine concern for human welfare and world stability, will continue doing their utmost to bring about a peaceful resolution to a conflict that has already claimed the lives of millions. As for our scholars, given the hurdles, all we may hope for from those few that have any serious public or government clout is that they wisely, gently [though not sheepishly] and courageously speak truth to power, speak up for the voiceless, and help restore a sense of stability into the narrative. What we don’t want is for them to be domesticated by the powers that be, serving as little more than their voice pieces.

Longer Term Action: This action demands a deep and honest collective introspection in terms of our hitherto strategies for soci0-political reform. It requires of us to put aside strategies that are born of rage or revenge, knee-jerk reactions, pursuit of short-term goals, and not giving enough consideration to the consequences of our political action. If we’re to have any hope of climbing out of the political quagmire the Muslim world has wallowed in for the best part of a century, our politics needs to be infused with a deeper commitment to piety (taqwa), be guided by sound religious instruction and, in the light of such instruction and realpolitik, wisely weigh-up the benefits and harms (al-mawazanah bayn al-masalih wa’l-mafasid) of any and all subsequent political activism.

The violence and mayhem, or the chaos and carnage, that much of the Muslim world is now beholden to must surely give us all pause for serious political rethinking. If we are being unbiased and just, the tides of change for a brighter future the Arab Spring was supposed to usher in not only failed to materialise, in most cases it left in its wake a far greater scale of dissension, discontent, tyranny, and political abuses; arrests; and repression, than it sought to reform or replace. For in its wake came civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the rise of ISIS, repressive rule in Egypt, collapse of stable government in Libya, and waves upon waves of migrants risking all to flee such horrors. Tunisia, not without its huge share of problems, is the only Arab Spring country to have achieved most political change at the lowest human cost.

In terms of weighing the benefits and harms in our political activism, the Arab Spring furnishes us with a few invaluable lessons:

Firstly, wherever civil resistance is used against a regime, there must be a credible plan for governing the country. Without such a plan, civil resistance is part of the problem, not the solution. Many of the spontaneous leaderless uprisings of 2011 were unsuited to take on the complex roles of governance.

Secondly, there’s a strong case for mass movements to make more modest demands of the government, rather than call for the fall of the regime or demand sweeping social changes all at once.

Thirdly, getting rid of murderous tyrants and corrupt rulers isn’t enough. Building the many essential institutions of governance, and restoring confidence in a flawed state, are much harder tasks.

Fourthly, civil resistance does indeed have political power, but sometimes too much. It is often reckless, and can undermine the pillars upon which orderly governance rests. And if it does bring the pillars of governance down, its needs to recognise the serious consequences of creating political power vacuums.

Fifthly, which brings me to my final point: just how in keeping with Islam is the call to rebel against an oppressive ruler? Unbeknown to so many Muslim activist in our time, our Prophet ﷺ had quite a lot to say about this very question. And it is because there is so much to learn, and so much more to be done, and so much doubt and confusion to overcome that I’ll end this piece with what revealed wisdom has to say on this vital matter:

1 – In context of a Muslim ruler, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘It is upon a Muslim to hear and obey in what he likes or detests, so long as he is not ordered to sin. If he is ordered to sin, then there is no hearing or obeying [in that matter].’1

2 – In the case of a subject or a citizen seeing something objectionable from the ruler that cannot be remedied via any lawfully established political protocol through which one airs objections or dissent, then the Prophet ﷺ stated: ‘Whoever sees something from his leader which he dislikes, let him be patience. For whoever separates from the ruler by even a handspan, and dies, dies a death of [pre-Islamic] ignorance.’2

3 – This is the case, even if the ruler is a brutal despot or an autocrat. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘There shall come rulers after me who will not guide by my guidance, nor will they follow my Sunnah. Among them will be men whose hearts are the hearts of devils in the bodies of men.’ He was asked: O Messenger of Allah, what should I do if I reach that time? He replied: ‘Hear and obey the leader. Even if he flogs your back and seizes your wealth, still hear and obey.’3 In another hadith, it relates: ‘Hear and obey, in what you find easy or difficult, whether you are in high spirits or find it troublesome, even if others are preferred over you; and even if your wealth is devoured and your back is beaten – except if it entails sin.’4

4 – One’s duty is to exercise patience, but not to acquiesce to the evil: ‘There will soon be rulers whom you’ll approve of and object to. Whoever recognises [abhors their evil] is absolved. Whoever objects to it is saved. But whoever is pleased with it or approves of it [is sinful].’5 In other words, as al-Nawawi explained, ‘whoever is unable to remove the evil isn’t considered sinful merely by keeping silent. Rather, the sin is in approving of it, or in not [even] denouncing it in one’s heart.’6

5 – As for rising up in rebellion against a tyrannical Muslim ruler so as to remove him by force, we have this from our Prophet ﷺ: ‘The best of your rulers are those whom you love and they love you, and whom you pray for and who pray for you. The worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you, and whom you curse and they curse you.’ It was said: Shall we not raise the sword against them, O Messenger of Allah? He said: ‘No, not as long as they establish the prayer among you. If anyone sees from their leader something objectionable, let them hate his action and not withdraw the hand from obedience.’7 And in the above hadith about not consenting to a ruler’s evil, the Prophet ﷺ was asked at the end of it: Shall we not fight them? To which he replied: ‘No, not as long as they pray.’8 The rational for not attempting to topple such ruthless dictators is given by Ibn Abi’l-‘Izz, when he wrote:

‘As for maintaining obedience to them [those in authority], even if they are tyrannical, then that is because the harms that would result from rebelling against them would be many times worse than that which results from their tyranny. Instead, by patiently bearing their injustices lies an expiation for our sins and an increase in rewards [from Allah]. For Allah only inflicted them upon us on account of our corrupt actions – and rewards are proportional to their deeds. Thus it is upon us to diligently strive to seek forgiveness, repent, and rectify our deeds. Allah, exalted is He, said: Whatever calamity befalls you, is for what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30] And the Exalted said: When a disaster befell you after you had yourself inflicted [losses] twice as heavy, you exclaimed: ‘How did this happen?’ Say: ‘It is from yourselves.’ [3:165] And the Exalted said: Whatever good befalls you is from Allah, and whatever calamity befalls you is from yourself. [4:79] Also: Thus We let some of the unjust have power over others because of their misdeeds. [6:129] So if those governed desire to rid themselves of the injustices of an unjust ruler, they too must abstain from unjust acts.’9

6 – In fact, there’s even a specific piece of prophetic guidance on how to advise those in authority: ‘Whoever intends to advise the ruler, let him not do so publicly. Rather, let him take him by the hand [and do so] privately. If he accepts, well and good; if not, then he has discharged his duty to him.’10

7 – Rising-up against an iron-fisted, pitiless Muslim ruler, to forcefully remove him, is only lawful if he openly and unambiguously demonstrates disbelief (kufr). A number of jurists have reported a consensus (ijma‘) about it. To this, the sahabi, ‘Ubadah b. al-Samit said: ‘The Prophet ﷺ called on us to pledge allegiance to him. Among what we pledged was to hear and obey in what we like and dislike, in ease and hardship, to give the rights due on us, and that we not remove the affair from its people unless we see clear-cut disbelief for which there is a proof from Allah.’11

Rebellion or armed revolt, then, is only lawful under strict conditions. That it doesn’t lead to greater evil or instability is the first. That the ruler or regime be replaced with a better one is the second. The question of the Muslim ruler’s apostasy or not is the third. Although a few theologians allowed rebellion against a ruler whose tyranny had become entrenched and widespread (provided the first two conditions could be met), most did not allow it unless there appeared from such a ruler unambiguous, clear-cut disbelief (kufr bawah). Imam al-Nawawi and the best part of Sunni orthodox record a consensus on this latter point. He states:

‘As for rebellion (khuruj) against them, and fighting them, it is forbidden by consensus of the Muslims; even if they are sinful or oppressive … Ahl al-Sunnah are unanimously agreed that the ruler is not to be removed due to sin. As for the view mentioned in the books of fiqh from some of our colleagues, that he should be removed – which is also the stance of the Mu‘tazilah – then this is an error from those who espoused it and is in opposition to the consensus. Scholars have said that the reason why he is not to be removed, and why rebellion against him is forbidden, is because of what it entails of sedition, bloodshed, and causing corruption between people. For the harm in seeking to remove the ruler is far worse than permitting him to remain.’12

Of course, it can and has been argued that all these hadiths are only applicable in the context of the state affirming Islam as the basis of its law, legislation or constitution. This stance also argues that most, if not all, present-day Muslim states are illegitimate from the above said angle. Now is not the place to discuss the rights or wrongs of this outlook, save to ask: If, for argument’s sake we accept this, does it imply that all state institutions, administrations, statutes, treatises, enactments and laws are illegitimate too? If the regime has no Islamic validity, are the judgement of its court, or its traffic laws, its granting of visas or asylum, its law-enforcing agencies, its monetary policies, its edicts concerning the protection of private wealth or property, etc., null and void too? If the response is yes, then that is agreeing to total anarchy and lawlessness – and both Islam and sound reason utterly abhor such a state of affairs. If one responds by saying that the state’s laws remain valid, but there’s a duty to replace the regime with an Islamic one, then the above hadiths retain their relevance in terms of the actual conditions required for rebelling against the existing political order and not creating a situation of greater evil, social unrest, civil war, anarchy, bloodbath, or power vacuum. Either there is a realistic confidence that the rebellion will, in all likelihood, succeed. If not, it is haram; and patience, working to deepen public piety, and refraining from political agitation become the duty and order of the day.

The Sunni position which stresses the duty of obeying the ruler, and which prioritises stability over other social considerations, grew out of the above hadiths and was also significantly informed by well-known turbulent, historical realities. Muslims, even as late as the twentieth century, could justify their readiness to tolerate a ruthless ruler so long as the government had a short arm and interfered very little in the lives of the people. But the modern nation-state, with its modern political theorising, techniques and technologies, has extended the role of government into every street, every school and every household. As such, some argue that pre-modern Muslim political theories cannot give us a satisfactory insight into the socio-political culture that Muslims live under today.13 This line of reasoning makes the case that given the hegemonic nature of the modern nation-state – how it controls the economic life chances of its citizens; defines the parameters of political participation; controls the nature and framework of education; can intrude almost at will into the private lives of its citizens; and if it chooses, can tyrannise its citizens with impunity, for it alone has a monopoly over the legitimate use of force in society – how realistic is it to patiently plod along with day-to-day life when the state does decide to inflict widespread violence or tyranny on its citizens? So if what motivates Muslims to challenge the legitimacy or efficacy of the state are matters related to economic security, political participation, or basic human dignities, then the scholars must carefully consider such matters before assessing the validity or not of the uprising, act of civil disobedience, or rebellion.

There is little doubt that the modern nation-state (with its concepts of Westphalian sovereignty, legitimacy, allegiance, citizenship, political participation, social contract and monopolisation of legitimate violence over a given territory) exerts a control over the lives of its citizens in ways that were unimaginable in pre-modern times. Hence, any Muslim political theorising that hasn’t grasped the concrete differences between modern and pre-modern governance, or fails to clarify if such theorising is working within the framework of a modern state with its citizens, or a traditional sovereignty with its subjects, is going to be highly deficient, defective and damaging to Islam and Muslims. What we require from our scholars is serious analysis and advice about such issues, so our politics can be rooted in revealed teachings and resonate with the actual times. And yet with that said, there’s still a strong case to be made about the relevance of the “rebellion” hadiths for our times. For it is precisely because the modern state is so overbearing; and that it is highly weaponised; and that its surveillance and its state security is so very intrusive, that the rebellion/revolution option is so very unwise and unhelpful. That divine help is tied to piety and patience can never be underestimated, nor undermined.

Al-Hasan al-Basri once lamented: ‘If only the people had patience when being tried by their leader, it would not be long before Allah gives them a way out. But they rush for their swords, so they are left to their swords. By Allah! Not for even a single day did they bring about any good.’14

More than a few days have passed since I first started writing this blog piece. But as I put the finishing touches to it, a social media alert on my phone has just informed me that a nationwide ceasefire has been brokered in Syria. Here’s praying.

Revolutions are messy and bloody. And although you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs, Islam insists that there can be other things on the menu besides eggs. Revolutions are not events, they are processes – often, long, drawn-out ones – whose intended aim and objective is seldom guaranteed. In fact, given our globalised world, wealthy and powerful outside interests, as well as regional geo-politics, are far more likely to shape final outcomes than are the well-conceived intentions of the masses. Mainstream Sunni Islam has long been suspicious about revolutions; and with plenty of reason to be so. Whatever else the Arab spring of 2011 has taught us; in general, and the Syrian uprising; in particular, one thing is clear: Revolutions often travel fast, but they seldom travel well.

O Allah! Heal the blessed land that now lies all shattered.
O Allah, defend and protect its people and
by Thy wrath let enemies
be scattered.
Amin!

1. Al-Bukhari, no.7144; Muslim, no.1839.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.7053; Muslim, no.1849.

3. Muslim, no.1837.

4. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.4562. The isnad is hasan, as per Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, al-Ihsan fi Taqrib Sahih Ibn Hibban (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1991), 10:426.

5. Muslim, no.1854.

6. Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1995), 12:204.

7. Muslim, no.1855.

8. Muslim, no.1854.

9. Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984), 381.

10. Ahmad, Musnad, no.14909. The hadith is sahih due to its collective chains. See: al-Albani, Takhrij Kitab al-Sunnah (Beirut: al-Maktabah al-Islami, 1980), nos.1096-98.

11. Al-Bukhari, no.7056.

12. Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 12:189.

13. This train of thought is teased out in Imam Zaid Shakir, The Islamic Legitimacy of the Uprisings in Muslim Countries.

14. Cited in Ibn Sa‘d, Kitab al-Tabaqat al-Kabir (Cairo: Maktaba al-Khanji, 2001), 9:165; entry no.3883.

Warn A Brother: Don’t Forget the Bigger Picture

wbWhat follows are five cornerstones that lie at the heart of Islam’s bigger picture of life. They concern: (i) What is life’s higher purpose? (ii) Who has the right to our ultimate love and loyalty? (iii) The obligation of faithfully keeping covenants and contracts, (iv) Loving the sacred law and thanking the Lawgiver, (v) Fatwas: between ease, strictness and compromise. These cornerstones, if watered down; left; or misunderstood, could steer us on a course to confusion, chaos, or even kufr! That is to say, they are concerns we cannot afford to ever forget.

1. Don’t forget that the primary reason and higher purpose for why Allah created us is: li na’lam wa li na’bud – “to know Him and to worship Him.” Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali says: ‘Allah, exalted is He, created creation and brought them into existence that they may worship Him with reverent fear, hope and love of Him. Allah, exalted is He, declares: I created jinn and men only that they may worship Me. [51:56] However, Allah can only be worshiped after knowing Him and becoming familiar with Him. For this He created the heavens, the earth and whatever lies in between, so that by them His oneness and glory can be inferred. Allah said: Allah it is who created seven heavens, and of the earth a similar number. His command descends amidst them, that you may know Allah has power over all things and that He encompasses everything in knowledge. [65:12]’1

So amidst the dramas of life; amidst the ever-growing temptations which defile souls, the Qur’an asks us to know our Maker and live out our lives in mindfulness of Him. Those who worship Allah with such an awareness, according to His revealed ways, are led by it to an even deeper awareness and to endless bliss. Those who don’t, choosing instead to ignore Allah’s signs; follow their whim and inner pathologies; and be led by their ego-driven intellects, then: Those who are too arrogant to worship Me shall enter Hell, disgraced. [40:60]

2. Let us not forget that whenever the love, longing, loyalty and submission which are due to Allah, are focused upon other than Him, or others along with Him, then this is shirk – idolatry; setting-up partners with Allah. For as Islam sees things, whoever loves something, desires it, values it, and centres their hopes; fears; love and loyalty around it, submitting to it independently of Allah, then this, for them, becomes a deity, a god, an object of sacrilegious worship. Some there are who make a god of wealth. Others make gods of celebrities. Still others make a god of their own egos or desires. Asks the Qur’an: Have you seen him who takes his whims for his god? [25:43] We have indeed! On this very note, Ibn Rajab explains: ‘Whoever loves something and obeys it, loving and hating for its sake, then that is his god (ilah) … Whoever’s loving or loathing revolves around his whims, forming allegiance or enmity upon its basis, then these desires are his god that he worships.’2

Today’s Monoculture, for all its talk of tolerance, demands that we bow to its beliefs, values and worldview – even if it has to drag us there kicking and screaming. Wisdom enjoins that we engage with it; even partake in its political processes (for the Muslim collective benefit or a national interest). But let’s not forget the Monoculture exists, not for God, but in spite of Him; and even in brazen defiance of Him. That being the case, one engages with it from a position of dislike, not admiration.3 Belief in Allah’s all-embracing knowledge, wisdom and care for creation, and loyalty to His lordship, require nothing less: Who is better in judgement than Allah for those who have certainty of belief? [5:50] In a world that insists we render our ultimate loyalty to liberal ideals, let’s recall that shirk isn’t only bowing to idols of wood or stone. Egos, desires, people and even political systems can be deified too!

3. Lest it be misconstrued, we should never forget that being faithful to our promises, contracts and covenants is a cardinal Islamic virtue and moral obligation. This is the case be it to Muslims or non-Muslims, government or the governed. The Qur’an says: Keep your covenants, for you will be held to account for your covenants. [17:34] O you who believe, fulfil your undertakings! [5:1] Indeed, every pact, promise or contract made is a pact before Allah, to be faithfully kept: And fulfil the pact of Allah after you have entered into it. [16:91]

Although Muslims should be prepared to swim against the current of an increasingly profane Monoculture and assert their conviction in revealed truths, that’s not to say they can play fast and loose with pacts and promises made with others: whether that be with employers, businesses, the state, or domestically. Instead, Muslim faithfulness to his or her promises must be beyond question. The Sunnah, the prophetic guidance, expects nothing less. To do otherwise would be to act treacherously; and Islam abhors treachery. One hadith informs: ‘The signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks, he lies; when he makes a promise, he breaks it; and when he is trusted [with something], he betrays that trust.’4 Another states: ‘Every treacherous person will have a flag at his backside on the Day of Resurrection, which will be raised according to the level of his treachery.’5 To be clear, dissenting against secular profanities is one thing; treachery is another matter altogether.

Our voice of dissent against the idolatries or inequities permeating the Monoculture must be conditioned by recognising the good to be found in it. Our voices of protest cannot be as outside observers of society, but as sincere participants in it. Moreover, our language of protest must be employed carefully: for it mustn’t involve incitement to violence, betraying pacts, endangering public security, or causing further injury to the call to tawhid and the image of Islam.

To live or be born in Britain (or any other country, for that matter) is to be born into, or reside under, a ‘social contract’: a covenant between citizens of a society to behave with reciprocal responsibility in their mutual relationships, under state authority. Ibn Qudamah wrote about Muslims entering non-Muslim lands with a pledge of security, saying: ‘As for behaving treacherously towards them, this is expressly forbidden. For they only granted him security on condition that he not betray them and that they be safe from his harm: if this is not stipulated explicitly, it is implicitly set forth … This being so, it is unlawful for us to be treacherous to them: for this is betrayal and our religion has no place for betrayal. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Muslims fulfil their contracts (al-muslimun ‘inda shrutihim).”67 If this is the case for those entering the country, it’s even more so the case for those who are born or reside here. As for those who twist the texts to justify their political treachery and terrorism, putting the lives of others and the integrity of Islam in harms way, then we ask that Allah guide them aright and rectify their affairs, or else break their backs.

4. Let’s not forget that the Sacred Law (shari‘ah), in terms of the halal and haram, is a necessary measure in order to guide people, regulate their affairs, prevent them from straying, and dissuade them from harming themselves or others. By recognising the shari‘ah boundaries exist to protect us, to safeguard us from dangerous and unhealthy pastures, we can attain to a reasonable balance in this life, and joy in the next. Those Muslims who choose to remain ignorant and insensitive to Allah’s care for us all often see the shari‘ah as an irritant, an impediment, an imposition of sorts. For such people, very little is clearly halal or haram. Their preferred lifestyle choice is to sweep as many things as possible under the “grey area” carpet, allowing freer rein to the ego’s caprice. However, the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘The lawful (halal) is clear and the unlawful (haram) is clear and between the two are doubtful matters about which not many people know. Thus he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in terms of his religion and his honour. But he who falls into doubtful matters falls into that which is unlawful, like a shepherd who pastures around a sanctuary all but grazing therein. Truly, every king has a sanctuary, and truly Allah’s sanctuary is His prohibitions.’8

Those gifted with knowledge of Allah’s law view the shari‘ah with joy and gratitude: a gratitude which turns into loving praise of Allah as the journey to Him deepens. For such believers bathed in the lights of divine obedience, knowledge of the Sacred Law reveals the love and solicitous care Allah has for His servants; it ‘reveals the generosity of the Lawgiver, Who has placed us in broad pastures, and established boundaries to protect us from the wolves.’9 Yet their firm commitment to the outward dimension of the religion in no way equals an obsession with it. As for their inward lives, they hover around the prophetic supplication and yearning: Allahumma inni as’aluka hubbaka wa hubba man yuhubbuka wa hubba ‘amalin yuqarribuni ila hubbik – ‘O Allah, grant me Your love and the love of those whom You love, and the love of those deeds which will draw me closer to Your love.’10 It is this love for Him, and this love in Him, that forms the basis for loving goodness for others, loving to bring ease to them, and loving what they each have the God-given potential to become.

In his advice to those seeking to live the devotional life, the venerable Hanbali scholar and spiritual master, Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Wasiti wrote:

‘If, O my brother, you desire to be saved from the terrors of that Day, then prepare for it with piety (taqwa). This is done by avoiding what Allah has forbidden and fulfilling whatever He has enjoined in terms of those duties that have been codified in the fiqh manuals where the lawful and prohibited, prescribed punishments, and other rulings are stipulated. This, so that nothing the Sacred Law demands from you remains due from you. For there should be no obligation that remains unfulfilled by you: neither a missed prayer, fast, zakat, or backbiting a Muslim without a valid reason, or any feud, grudge or enmity without lawful justification. Discharge the responsibilities that fall within your sphere concerning those rights (huquq) between you and Allah, as well as between you and others. In doing so, you will be joined, Allah willing, to the company of the righteous.’11

5. Don’t forget that while the principle of ease (taysir) is rooted in revealed texts – the Qur’an informs us: Allah desires for you ease; He does not desire for you hardship. [2:185] and we read in one hadith: ‘Make things easy for the people and do not make things difficult. Give them glad tidings, do not drive them away.’12 And: ‘Indeed this religion is [one of] ease.’13 – we must ensure that the principle of ease does not become one of adulteration; especially in today’s desacralised world.

From the earliest days of Islam, a core aspect of a mufti’s remit was not only to inform the unqualified masses of the Islamic ruling on any given issue, helping them to keep their feet firmly upon the path of piety and mindfulness of God. It was also to extend a lifeline in extenuating circumstances; especially to those weak in faith cast adrift in the stormy seas of divine disobedience. Imam Sufyan al-Thawri stated: ‘In our view, knowledge entails [granting] legal concessions (al-rukhsah). As for being strict, anyone can do that.’ 14 Indeed, part of the mufti’s arsenal are legal tools like rukhsah, ‘azimah and hiylah. Each must be deployed wisely so as to steer people away from heedlessness and towards the Divine Presence. ‘Azimah refers to a “strict” ruling – a ruling as it is in its original form, without any attendant circumstances that could soften its original force. By contrast, rukhsah is a “concession” in the law; an exception to the rule. It is a concessionary ruling brought about by mitigating circumstances so as to bring about ease in difficult situations.15 The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Allah loves that His rukhsahs are taken, just as He loves His ‘azimahs are obeyed.’16 Azimahs, then, are norms. Rukhsahs are exceptions whenever there are justified needs to warrant them.

As for hiylah, it is a “legal stratagem” used to circumvent a divine order or divine aim, or for ta‘lim al-makhraj – providing an exit for one in difficulty, while keeping Allah’s order and intent uppermost in mind. For most legalists, the first is the forbidden type of hiylah; the second, the lawful type. Ibn al-Qayyim explains: ‘If the aim is good then the hiylah is also good, if it is bad then the hiylah is also bad. If the aim is obedience and worship then the hiylah is likewise, while if the aim is disobedience and iniquity so is the hiylah.17 In other words, the legality of hiylahs, both as a genre and as a legal technique, are tied to the individual purposes they serve. Of course, there’s often been a very fine line between the two types of hiylahs, with accusations and clear instances of abuse abounding throughout the legal history of Islam.

I’ve purposely omitted to give examples of these legal devices, so as to not prolong the discussion more than needed. For I merely wished to highlight the legal tools a mufti has at his or her disposal in order to facilitate ease and alleviate hardship. That muftis have such legal devices at their disposal begs for the mufti to be a person of integrity and piety, scrupulously avoiding ambiguities. Dubious rukhsas or over-lenient fatwas must be avoided at all costs. For a mufti is, as it were, a spokesperson; a signatory, on behalf of Allah. Having discussed rukhsahs, and the lawful and unlawful hiylahs, Ibn Hamdan, a highly-acclaimed Hanbali jurist, writes that a mufti must not give a fatwa if ‘his heart is occupied or deflected from a state of balance.’18 ‘Fatwa,’ he says: ‘is not to be given in a state where the heart is preoccupied or inhibited from examination or careful deliberation; because of anger, hunger, thirst, sadness, grief, fear, melancholy, overwhelming joy, sleepiness, fatigue, illness, irritating heat, intense cold, or needing to answer the call of nature.’19

If, as can be seen from above, pretty much any debilitating emotional or physical state renders giving a fatwa a no no, what about the state where a mufti is under relentless socio-political and psychological pressures to get Islam to conform to the essentially atheistic, liberal landscape? Or the case where a mufti’s mind and moods of the heart have already been significantly colonised by the attitudes of the dominant [Western] monoculture? How will that affect the quality, integrity and correctness of the fatwa? To think this does not already happen is to live in a cocooned or naive state. How else can one explain why proposed maqasid-based reforms to the shari‘ah so often seem to be of Western inspiration. ‘The public interest (maslahah, maqsad),’ says Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, ‘always turns out to take the form of what is intelligible and desirable to those outside Islam.’20

Undeniably, muftis must be well acquainted with the conventions, customs and needs of the society in which they live and operate. Undoubtedly, they must have an overall awareness of society’s levels of faith and its struggles with piety. Unquestionably, they must be qualified and schooled in the sacred art of ifta – of giving fatwas. Along with this, we ask that today’s muftis be spiritually rooted too, not just legally well-versed. For the ego’s tricks are never as damaging as they are in matters of sacred knowledge and fatwas.21

As for whether stricter fatwas are a truer reflection of religiousness, or whether such a distinction belongs to fatwas of a more lenient and flexible nature, it’s an unhelpful bone of contention; a red herring. It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again regardless: Does the fatwa (be it strict or lenient) deepen one’s connection to the Divine Reality, or diminish it? Does it clarify halal from haram, or blur the line between them? Does it promote piety, or weaken it? That’s probably how the appropriateness of any fatwa should be assessed. After all, piety and seeking the Divine Presence is what ultimately counts. All other considerations must take a lower priority.

Wrapping-up then. The desire to bring religion to people and make it easy for them is truly noble. But the means cannot justify the ends. It cannot justify diluting the truth for the sake of meeting sin or misguidance halfway. If people have drifted away from the shores of safety, into the raging seas of heedlessness, then charity requires they be extended a helping hand and be pulled back to shore. To expect people to swim out to them, however, while they stay exactly where they are, is foolhardy and more than a little destructive. This much we’d do well not to forget.

1. ‘Istinshaq Nasim al-Uns min Nafahat Riyad al-Quds,’ in Majmu‘ Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Hadithah, 2003), 3:292.

2. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:524.

3. ‘It is better to engage fully with the Monoculture from a position of dislike than to engage partly with it from a position of admiration.’ Cf. A.H Murad, Contentions, 13/6, at: masud.co.uk

4. Al-Bukhari, no.33; Muslim, no.59.

5. Muslim, no.1738.

6. Al-Tirmidhi, no.1352.

7. Al-Mughni (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-‘Alam al-Kutub, 1999), 13:152.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.52; Muslim, no.1599.

9. Murad, Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions (Cambridge: The Quilliam Press, 2012), 26.

10. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.3490, where he said: ‘This hadith is hasan gharib.

11. Miftah Tariq al-Awliya (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah, 1999), 30-31.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.69; Muslim, no.1734.

13. Al-Bukhari, no.39.

14. Cited in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), no.1467.

15. See: Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 2006), 436-38.

16. Ahmad, Musnad, no.5866; Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.354; Tabarani, al-Kabir, no.10030. It was graded sahih, due to its collective chains, by al-Albani, in Irwa al-Ghalil fi Takhrij Ahadith Manar al-Sabil (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1979), 3:13, no.564.

17. Ighathat al-Lahfan (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1999), 659.

18. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 195.

19. ibid., 195.

20. Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, 42.

21. Also cf. the discussion on western muftis in M. Nizami, ‘Thoughts on the Modern Mufti’ at: http://nizami.co.uk/thoughts-on-the-modern-mufti/

Pilgrimage of Reason: Proofs for God’s Existence [2/2]

6455578409_9bd1e50d22_zIn the first part of the blog (here), I discussed a ‘proof’ for the existence of God vis-a-via the kalam cosmological argument. We saw how, as a rational argument, it is well reasoned, cogent and logical; hence giving a lie to New Atheism’s allegation that belief in God is irrational. But since the proof is highly abstract and theoretical, I suggested that a more accessible proof for God’s existence comes via the teleological argument and the Quran’s insistance to reflect on the signs of God. In the second and final part of the blog, I shall endeavour to explain and explore the above argument. Finally, as I mentioned in the first part of the blog, I’ll end this discussion by briefly sketching the ontological and moral proofs for the existence of God.

In the Qur’an, in contrast to the kalam cosmological argument, the existence of God is firmly rooted in the creation of visible entities; in everyday experience. A far more potent proof, therefore, comes from the teleological argument (teleos, from the Greek word for “purpose” or “end”). It is also known as the Argument from Design.

This is the argument which stresses that the complex and purposeful design we see in the natural world round us, as well as in the cosmos at large, suggests the universe has an intelligent designer. The 18th-century essayist and poet, Joseph Addison, captures the spirit of the argument in these verses:

The spacious firmament on high
With all the blue ethereal sky
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great original proclaim …
In reason’s ear they all rejoice
And utter forth a glorious voice
Forever singing as they shine:
“The hand that made us is Divine!”

The Qur’an says that the cosmos isn’t its own explanation. Rather it’s a sign pointing to something greater. We shall show them Our signs in the creation around them, as well as in their ownselves, till it becomes manifest to them that this [Revelation] is the Truth, is how the Qur’an puts it [41:53]

‘For Islam,’ wrote Gai Eaton, ‘the natural world in its totality is a vast fabric into which the “signs” of the Creator are woven. It is significant that the word meaning “signs” or “symbols,” ayah, is the same word that’s used for the “verses” of the Qur’an. Earth and sky, mountains and stars, oceans and forests and the creatures they contain are, as it were, “verses” of a sacred book.’1 For a believer, therefore, creation is holistic. For He who revealed the Qur’an is also He who created the observable phenomena of nature. Both are communications from God to man; both are signs pointing to Him. In fact, Ibn al-Qayyim explains: ‘In the Qur’an, God invites His servants to know Him via two ways: The one, by contemplating the creation. The other by meditating on the Qur’an and contemplating its meanings. The first are His signs that are seen and witnessed; the second, His signs that are read and understood.’2

Now these signs not only serve as evidence for the existence of God as such, but they act as evidence for various attributes of His too – attributes that become a pious focus for the contemplative life of a believer. These remarkable signs (often referred to by Muslims scholars and pietists as aja’ib, “marvels”, or bada’i‘, “wonders”) point to God’s knowledge, power, wisdom, majesty and unity; and to His beneficence, kindness and care for humankind. The Qur’an says: In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of the night and day; in the sailing of ships through the ocean for the benefit of humankind; in the water with which He revives the earth after its death; in the animals of all kinds He has scattered therein; in the ordering of the winds and clouds that are driven between heaven and earth, are signs for those who have intelligence. [2:164]

Contemplating the Creator’s handiwork within creation enables us, at least to some extent, to admire His wisdom, splendour and sublime power. This, in turn, inspires gratitude, reverence, love and awe of God. For the natural world is like a mirror, itself beautiful while reflecting an even greater beauty of God. If the starry heavens elicit in us a sense of awe; if a newly sprung red rose evokes in us a sense of beauty; and if the solemn stillness of an autumn woodland kindles in us a sense of sublimity, then how much more awesome, beautiful and sublime must the Creator of such things truly be? Appreciating the splendour of the creation and being enchanted by it is, therefore, a means of knowing and glimpsing the still greater splendour of its Maker.

Consider also these verses from the Qur’an: It is He who spread out the earth and placed upon it firm mountains and rivers, and fruit of every kind in pairs. He draws the night [as a veil] over the day. In these are signs for those who reflect. And on earth are neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands, and palms in pairs and palms single; watered by one water; some of them We make better than others to eat. In that are signs for those who understand. [13:3-4]

To reflect and meditate upon the astounding nature of the creation is to experience awe and enchantment of how such beauty, harmony and complexity originated, and how it is sustained. Pondering over these “signs” should lead the reflecting intellect to acknowledge and accept that there is an Absolute underlying all relative phenomena, an Omnipotence underlying all relative power, and a Wisdom underlying the laws of nature. This is pointed out in the verses by utilising the symbolism of water: A single kind of water nourishes neighbouring tracts, vineyards and ploughed lands and gives them life. That same water further produces palm-trees; some single, others paired, and some better tasting than others. Those who understand are those who can grasp the Unity that underpins creational diversity. A Muslim poet of old versified:

O wonder! How can the Deity be disobeyed;
Or by the denier be denied.
While in everything there is a sign
By which His Oneness stands testified.

The tafsir genre relates this unadorned story. A bedouin was once asked how he knew that God exists. He answered: ‘Glory be to God! Camel’s dung proves the existence of a camel and footprints prove that someone has walked by. So a sky with its towering constellations, and an earth with all its mountain passes, and a deep sea covered by waves upon waves – doesn’t all this testify that [God] the Subtle, the Aware exists?’3

In a similar vein, Ibn al-Qayyim wrote about a watermill by a river, faultlessly made, with perfect parts: no flaw can be observed in its construction. It efficiently irrigates a large garden containing various kinds of plants and fruits. The garden is well tended, pruned, weeded, and maintained in every way so that nothing is amiss or overlooked; and nor is any fruit left to rot. Then its produce is harvested and the money gained is distributed to various people according to their needs, each getting what is right for them. All of this happens each time, over and over again, without fail. Would you say that all of this happens by chance, asks Ibn al-Qayyim, without someone behind it who has intentionality (iradah), a will to choose to do or not to do (ikhtiyar), and the ability to plan and manage (tadbir)? Would you believe that the wheel or the garden got there by mere chance, or that all that goes on there does so without an actor who has intentionality, will or management? What would your intellect say to that? What would that indicate to you?4

The bedouin logic, or Ibn al-Qayyim’s watermill, has a modern twin in Paley’s famous watchmaker analogy. Paley argued that, were we to find a watch lying on a heath, we would naturally assume it had a maker due to the fact that it is a complex mechanism which seems designed for a specific purpose. In a similar manner, he goes on to argue, the complexity, order and purpose of the universe implies an intelligent designer.

As appealing as it seems, critics of Paley’s argument point out a logical flaw in it. The fact that two objects share a common characteristic (in this case, complexity), doesn’t always imply they will share all characteristics. Paley’s argument can be stated, thus: (i) A watch is complex. (ii) A watch has an intelligent designer. (iii) Life is complex. (iv) Therefore life must also have an intelligent designer.

Consider a similar line of reason: (i) Electric current in my house consists of a flow of electrons. (ii) Electric current comes from the power company. (iii) Lightning consists of a flow of electrons. (iv) Therefore, lightning comes from the power company. This last statement is plainly not true. So Paleyan logic holds true in some cases, but not in all cases.

Inferring that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole is referred to as a “fallacy of composition”. In certain cases, this mode of inference looks better than in others. Thus, if every gem in a necklace is valuable, the necklace will be valuable too. But if every player on a football team is outstanding, it is likely, but not guaranteed, that the team will be outstanding too. Yet if every track on a CD is less than five minutes long, it doesn’t follow that the whole CD is less than five minutes long.

Attempts to weaken the argument are predicated on thinking that Paley is reasoning by way of analogy. Some, however, think that the argument is better understood as an inference to the best explanation. What Paley is saying is that whenever you see these kinds of deliberate and purposeful contrivances, then what is the best explanation? The best explanation is surely design.

Whatever the case, Paley’s argument is still highly persuasive. Revealed theology (that is, theology based upon religious scripture) informs that the universe has a Creator-God. While natural theology (theology based on reason and ordinary experience) says it is perfectly reasonable to believe that the complex design of our observable universe has an intelligent designer behind it. Paley’s analogy (and, by extension, the argument from design), despite its criticism, is not just rationally appealing; it accords with our everyday experience too.

The ontological argument (ontos, Greek for “reality”) is a highly curious one. It states, in effect, that if one understands what the word “God” means, it is perfectly logical to believe He exists. This philosophical argument was set out by Anslem, the eleventh century Archbishop of Canterbury, and is based upon an understanding that God is “that than which no greater can exist.” This type of argument reasons that if God is that than which no greater can be conceived to exist, then God cannot exist only as a concept. If God exists just as a concept, then there’s something greater – namely, God who exists as a concept in the mind as well as in reality. But since God is that than which no greater can exist, this must logically include existence. Thus God exists. (To this, Muslims would simply exclaim: Allahu akbar – “God is greater!”)

The moral argument starts from the moral order – that some things are right, and some things are wrong – recognized by people throughout the world, to the existence of God as the source of this morality. Even the remotest tribes that have been cut-off from civilization, the argument posits, observe a moral code similar to everyone else’s. No doubt, differences in moral perspectives do exist. Yet virtues like bravery, truth and loyalty; and vices such as greed and cowardice are universal. So where does this “law of right behaviour” originate?

Some sociobiologists have tried to argue, though not very succesfully, that our moral impulses like altruism (the selfless giving to others even if nothing is received in return) are evolutionary bi-products left over from Darwinian natural selection. This line of reasoning, however, has been sufficiently debunked.5

Post-modern philosophy insists moral truths are relative: there are no absolute rights or wrongs. If that’s the case, how can post-modernism itself be absolutely right in its claim? Moreover, as C.S Lewis wrote, if one considers the various human cultures and civilizations from ancient times till now, one will encounter ‘the same triumphantly monotonous denunciations of oppression, murder, treachery and falsehood; the same injunctions of kindness to the aged, the young, the weak, of almsgiving, impartiality and honesty.’6

Elsewhere he says: ‘If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe – no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or a command getting us to behave in a certain type of way. And that is just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions.’7

Thus, it is reasonable to suggest it is God who is the author of this Moral Law and it is He who allows its bright light to shine into the recesses of our beings and nature. We will show them Our signs in the creation around them, as well as in their ownselves. [41:53] The Qur’an is, in point of fact, categorical about the Moral Law eminating from God. It says: By the soul and He who fashioned it, then inspired it to discern its vices and piety. Successful is he who purifies it, and ruined is he who corrupts it. [91:7-10]

That the moral law is firmly embedded in human nature melds into another Quranic concept, that of fitrah – man’s “innate nature” or “natural disposition.” One verse of the Qur’an states: So set your purpose for the upright religion, the innate nature in which God created mankind. [30:30] There occurs in one hadith: ‘All children are born upon the natural disposition’ – kullu mawludin yuladu ‘ala’l-fitrah.8 A number of scholars, including al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah, argue that our knowledge of God’s existence is implanted in our fitrah and it is a knowledge which makes the theologians’ proofs obsolete. Man knows God intstinctively by virtue of his fitrah. Resorting to rational proofs or reflection, they say, is necessary only when the fitrah has been corrupted by unhealthy environments, or if someone is plagued by doubts.9

Having rehearsed at some length the main rational or discursive arguments for the existence of God, let me summarise them:

The kalam-cosmological argument, simply put, says that the cause and effect chain of changing physical existence cannot go back indefinitely in time, and thus must have a beginning found only through divine creation.

The teleological argument, at its simplest, asserts that the nature of the world is such that it must have been created by an intelligent designer.

The ontological argument, stripped to its bare bones, argues from the concept of God to the existence of God.

As for the moral argument, it appeals to the existence of moral laws as proof of God’s existence.

Although these discursive arguments do yield coherent reasons for belief in God (as well as lay to rest the lingering fallacy that belief in God is irrational), they are open to some criticisms. Perhaps no single one clinches the deal. Nevertheless, each argument reinforces the other; that is, they are accumulative in strength. Such proofs, though, tend not to convince hardened skeptics, nor those who are determined not to believe. However, these rational proofs, in concert with the miraculous nature of the Qur’an and the pious and selfless life of the Prophet ﷺ, are powerful reasons to believe and to submit.

1. Islam and the Destiny of Man (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1997), 101.

2. Ibn al-Qayyim, al-Fawa’id (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Rushd, 2001), 42-3.

3. Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1986), 1:61-62 – citing al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 2:91.

4. See: Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Miftah Dar al-Sa‘adah (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn ‘Affan, 1996), 2:69-70.

5. See: Collins, The Language of God (Great Britain: Pocket Books, 2007), 24-8.

6. ‘The Poison of Subjectivism’, in C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflection, 77 – cited in Collins, The Language of God, 24.

7. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 24.

8. Al-Bukhari, no.1385; Muslim, no.2657.

9. See: A. Shihadeh, ‘The Existence of God’, in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 198; Ozervali, ‘The Qur’anic Rational Theology of Ibn Taymiyya and his Criticism of the Mutakallimun’, in Ibn Taymiyya and His Times (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 90-91; Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf, Imam Abu Hanifa’s al-Fiqh al-Akbar Explained (California: White Thread Press, 2007), 64-66. In Arabic, cf. Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 16:328; al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 1:854; al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1988), 13:361-63; al-Bayjuri, Tuhfat al-Murid (Cairo: Dar al-Salam, 2006), 78-79

Pilgrimage of Reason: Proofs for God’s Existence [1/2]

dsc_0014As anyone familiar with anti-religious polemics knows, the core criticism by today’s New Atheists is that, allegedly, belief in God is both infantile and irrational. It is, they say, a childish delusion that ought to have died out as humanity reached its maturity. In the New Atheism’s canon, belief in God is likened to believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus: as you grow up, you’ll grow out of it. But is belief in God really irrational? Is it so at odds with what Antony Flew (who until quite recently was ‘the world’s most notorious atheist’) calls: the ‘pilgrimage of reason’?1

Traditionally, Muslims have agreed that there are indeed good rational arguments to support the belief in the existence of God. Religion, as Islam teaches, does not require abandoning reason, nor does it instil evading the evidence. Classical Islamic theology demonstrated the “proofs” for God’s existence in two ways. One of these ways is very abstract, demanding a fair degree of intellectual theorising. The other, by comparison, is far more straight forward and intuitive, and is rooted in the simplicity of everyday experience. Moreover, it mirrors the Qur’an’s style of reasoning on the matter.

The first has come to be known as the “argument from contingency – dalil al-huduth.” In Christian natural theology, this proof is called the kalam-cosmological argument. The second proof is akin to the teleological argument (also called the argument from design) in Christian natural theology. Natural theology also offers the ontological and moral arguments; the gists of which are given in the second part of this post. But here in the first of two parts, let’s engage the more abstract proof: the kalam-cosmological argument.

I’ve divided the post into four sections. The first two tackle the issue of what is meant by kalam and its place in Muslim theological discourse. The third explains the actual kalam cosmological argument. The fourth is where some contemporary objections to the argument are addressed:

I

1. The kalam-cosmological argument is so called because its origins lie in the Muslim kalam tradition. Kalam (‘speech’ or ‘discourse’ about God using reasoned-based proofs and rational arguments – in other words, discursive theology) found its way into early Muslim thought via the philosophical legacy of Aristotle. The earliest Muslim sect to bring reason to bear upon certain theological issues were the heterodox Mu‘tazilahs. Their deviancy was to give primacy to reason – to subordinate the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, on certain theological conundrums to do with the nature of God; His Attributes; and free will and predestination, to the dictates of reason. Such enemies of the Sunnah were known to dismiss, distort and play fast and loose with Revelation; if it didn’t fit in with their conjectures, delusions or ego-driven rationalisations.

2. The early religious authorities, the salaf, recoiled from kalam with great vehemency. Their opposition to it was unanimous, or almost unanimous. For example, typifying this stiff opposition, Imam al-Shafi‘i averred: ‘We are not people of kalam.2 Also from him: ‘Do not oppose the Imams; indeed the practitioner of kalam will never prosper!’3 Imam Abu Yusuf stated: ‘Whosoever seeks knowledge by way of kalam shall become a heretic (man talaba’l-‘ilm bi’l-kalam tazandaqah).’4 As for Imam Ahmad, his assertions on the matter include: ‘The practitioner of kalam shall never prosper; and nor do you ever see anyone looking into kalam, save that in his heart is corruption.’5 And: ‘Do not sit with the people of kalam, even if they are defending the Sunnah.’6

3. In contrast to the large volley of reports from our early Imams against indulging in kalam, there are a handful of statements from some of them that seem to imply kalam could be allowed, provided it was used to prop-up the conclusions of Revelation and the consensus of the salaf, rather than to subjugate, falsify or twist them. From them are these words of al-Shafi‘i: ‘Every person of kalam upon the Qur’an and the Sunnah possesses diligence; every other upon the foundation of other than the Book and the Sunnah is delirious.’7 After relating this, as well as other comparable words from him, Imam al-Bayhaqi then stated: ‘In these reports is a proof that what is reprehensible of kalam is that which is not rooted in the Book and the Sunnah.’8 He also wrote: ‘In this is an indication that it is undesirable, according to those of our Imams who stipulated it, to argue via kalam – for the reasons we have shown; and because the reprehensible type of kalam is that of the innovators who oppose the Book and the Sunnah. As for the kalam which conforms to the Book and the Sunnah, and is elucidated rationally and wisely, then such kalam is praiseworthy and desirable when called for. Al-Shafi‘i utilised it, as did others from our Imams – may God be pleased with them – whenever it was needed; as we have mentioned.’9

4. The distinction between the blameworthy and praiseworthy type of kalam began to gain traction among scholars. Eventually, pro-kalam theology prevailed within Sunni Orthodoxy: as represented by the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools of theology. However, there remained a voice of dissent from many of the more purist Salafis/Atharis. This purist approach itself ranged from a total rejection of kalam; to a shy flirtation with it; through to a guarded, tempered acceptance of it.10 In asserting the middle ground on the matter, Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani had this to say about employing kalam: ‘So fortunate is he who clings to what the salaf were upon and avoids what the latecomers (khalaf) innovated. If he cannot, then let him take from it only that which is required; and let the original way be his intended goal (wa yaj‘al al-awwal al-maqsud bi’l-asalah).’11

5. Of all scholarly groupings, the outright rejection of kalam is usually associated with the Hanbalis. Now as prevalent as this notion is, by no means is it the entire story. Ibn Hamdan, one of the leading Hanbali authorities of his age, explained: ‘The science of blameworthy kalam (‘ilm al-kalam al-madhmum) is when the articles of faith (usul al-din) are spoken about using only reason, or contravene clear-cut textual proofs. But if it is spoken about using textual proofs alone, or textual proofs accompanied by reason which supports them, then this is the [true] usul al-din and the path of ahl al-sunnah and its adherents.’12 Ibn Muflih, another towering authority of the school, discussed the Hanbali school’s stance on kalam at some length. After quoting an imposing salvo of reports from Imam Ahmad in terms of his dhamm al-kalam, or ‘censure of kalam’, the pro-kalam arguments are then made. Here, Ibn Muflih cites Ibn Abi Ya‘la saying that ‘the correct view in the madhhab is that the science of discursive theology (‘ilm al-kalam) is prescribed and sanctioned’ so as to refute the innovators. Such was the view of a party of the school’s verificationsists (muhaqqiqun), including Qadi Abu Ya‘la and al-Tamimi. He noted how Imam Ahmad himself wrote, al-Radd ‘ala’l-Zanadiqah wa’l-Qadariyyah, ‘in which he relied upon rational arguments’ to demolish the false ideas of the deviants. Ibn Abi Ya‘la then says: ‘What the earlier scholars held to of Ahmad’s words were abrogated. Ahmad said, as reported by Hanbal: “We used to order silence. But when we were called to the affair, it was incumbent for us to defend it and clarify the matter.”‘13 Even then, the Hanbali use of kalam tended to be much more guarded than that of others.

6. Those who employed kalam contended that in order to confront the arguments of various non-Muslims in the vastly expanding Islamic empire, and to engage with the polemics challenging orthodoxy over the nature of divinity and faith, the rationalising methods of heterodox sects like the philosophers and Mu’tazilites needed to be used so as to rebut them on their own turf. Ibn Khaldun says about the kalam which came to be associated with Sunni orthodoxy: ‘This is the science which involves arguing in defence of the articles of faith, by utilising rational proofs, in refuting the innovators who have deviated in their beliefs from those of the salaf and Sunni Orthodoxy (ahl al-sunnah).’14

II

7. Kalam theology has as its cornerstone the concept of “atomism” – that the cosmos is made up of atoms (jawahir, sing. jawhar), bodies (ajsam, sing. jism) and accidents (a‘rad, sing. arad), all of which are contingent (hawadith, sing, hadith) – that is to say, they originate in time. More importantly, the atom – in kalam lingo – is an indivisible particle that occupies space (tatahayyaz); is subject to change (taghayyur); and has no innate power of duration (thubut, baqa’), but endures directly because of God through each moment of its existence. Futhermore, it is not just the atom which is indivisible. Time itself, in kalam atomism, only comes in finite units: it also having no intrinsic ability to endure. Again, it is God’s continuous act of creating these discrete units of time that allows it to actually “flow.”

8. It’s important not to confuse the kalam “atom” with the concept of atom in modern science. What kalam is stressing is that nothing in the cosmos is eternal or infinite. Every thing is contingent and is finite. The smallest, indivisible unit of matter being termed as the “atom” or jawhar. As for modern science, it has shown the tiny atom is divisible; that at its core are even tinier particles called protons and neutrons. These particles, in turn, are made of smaller particles still: quarks. So the kalam atom would, according to the Standard Model of particle physics, be equivalent to quarks (or, if we are to believe the disputed String Theory, to tiny one dimensional entities, “strings”, vibrating in eleven dimensional spacetime). The point is that the kalam atom refers to the smallest, indivisible substance possible; whatever science may call it.

9. Kalam atomism has one chief goal: God’s omnipotence. ‘For it denies, at each point in the duration of anything non-divine, that it has any intrinsic power of existence. God alone has such a power.’15 In other words, nothing endures without God. For the mutakallimun, for that’s what practitioners of kalam were called, the basis of atomism was rooted in both reason and revelation.

10. Reason, and a fair amount of mental theorising, show that the universe has to be finite. The argument runs like this: If you have a sequence of events, each one caused by the event preceding it, stretching way way back in time – can such a sequence be infinite; can it go on forever? An infinity may seem straightforward, but it throws up all sorts of problems. For instance, infinity plus one is still infinity, even though you have added to it. Or, for example, when you take today’s events and combine it with past events, these will increase; without today’s events, they’ll decrease. But increase or decrease in what is infinity is incoherent; irrational, even. So this would seem to suggest that infinities do not exist and that the series of events are finite, temporal, having a beginning. Undoubtedly, mathematical (some call them ‘potential’) infinities do indeed exist. However, physical (or ‘actual’) infinities do not.

11. Revelation, as per the mutakallimun, states this too. And He knows the number of all things, says the Qur’an [72:28] And He created all things and ordained for them a precise measure. [25:2] Thus all things have a finite number and measure. These verses, and others like them, affirm the temporal existence of all things and their finite number. This implies that neither matter nor time are infinitely divisible: they too are of finite sizes.

12. Interestingly, quantum physics posits the quantum of time, or Planck time. This is the smallest measurement of time to have any meaning. It is equal to 10-43 seconds (in other words, that is a number with forty-three zeros after the decimal point). No smaller division of time has any possibility or reality in the physical world, within the framework of physics as understood today. Time less than one Planck time apart can neither be measured and nor can any change be detected.16 The implication here for atomism is certainly worth exploring, although to pursue it here is beyond the paper’s remit and the author’s ability.

13. One final matter. In kalam theology, a thing is either qadim – eternal, timeless; or it is hadith – contingent, coming into existence (wujud) after non-existence (‘adm). All that comes into existence, after not existing, must have a cause for its existence. To put it another way: Every entity that exists, either exists by itself; by its own essence and nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist. But if an entity exists, but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause outside of itself for its existence. The kalam theologians state that God alone necessarily exists, while all contingent things owe their existence to Him.

III

14. So how does all of this tie in with the cosmological argument for God’s existence? Well, the preamble to the kalam argument may be presented as follows: [i] An actual infinite number does not exist; [ii] therefore the series of causes for the cosmos to be as it is now cannot be infinite in sequence: that is, it must be finite; [iii] therefore the cosmos was brought into existence at some point in the past.

15. The final conclusion in the above argument (that the universe came into existence at some point in the past) not only follows logically from the initial two premises, it also finds support in science. Cosmologists are now certain that the universe actually did have a beginning: the Big Bang. But to be clear, the logical conclusion of the above argument is still valid and true, regardless of the empirical proofs for the Big Bang.

16. From here it’s a short step to teasing out the kalam-cosmological argument (dalil al-huduth), which can be set out thus: [i] Everything that begins to exist must have a cause for its existence; [ii] the universe began to exist; [iii] therefore the universe has a cause for its existence.17 There is an implicit fourth premise, namely: [iv] The cause for the existence of the universe is God.

IV

17. The above argument, as rational as it is, has been critiqued on a few grounds. One objection states that the argument’s premise [i] – everything that begins to exist must have a cause – although intuitively obvious, seems to be false. For quantum physics appears to show that electrons can pass out of existence at one place and re-appear elsewhere. This, as physicist Paul Davies has argued, violates premise [i] and hence the entire argument collapses.18 One reply to this states that although electrons do just that, they can only do so because of what is called a “quantum vacuum.” A vacuum, in quantum physics, isn’t “nothing at all”. It is a state of minimal energy, seething with “virtual particles.”19 It is this vacuum which gives rise to electron fluctuations, says the laws of quantum physics. Which is to say, the vacuum’s existence is the cause for electrons to exist, disappear and re-appear. Premise [i], therefore, still holds.

18. If everything has a cause, runs another objection, then what caused God? To this age old demur, Muslim theologians have repeatedly stressed that God is musabib al-asbab – “the [Uncaused] Causer of all things.” Conventional notions of time and space simply do not apply to God, for: There is nothing like unto Him, says the Qur’an [42:11]. ‘He is preexistent without beginning, eternal without ending,’20 is orthodoxy’s voice. God has no cause, He necessarily exists (wajib al-wujud). Though God is the author of time and space, He is distinct and beyond both. To quote the formulations of Islamic orthodoxy again: ‘The six directions do not contain Him as they do created things.’21 Hence, since the universe is contingent and brought into existence, and contingent things are not capable of generating themselves, theologians inferred that ‘they are dependant upon an agent who belongs to another order of being (min ghayri jinsiha), namely, a deity who is eternal.’22 Moreover, the kalam-cosmological argument states: Everything that begins to exist must have a cause. God, however, is beginningless; and so has no cause. ‘As He was in pre-existence possessed of His attributes, so shall He remain throughout all eternity.’23

19. Yet another criticism runs: why does the Uncaused Cause of all things have to be a single Deity? Why not many deities? Here the kalam theologians respond by drawing directly from the Qur’an, to infer from some of its verses “the argument from mutual interference” – dalil al-tamanu‘. Two such Quranic verses are: If there were gods in the heavens and earth, besides God, there would be chaos and disorder. [21:22] And: God has not chosen a son, nor is there a god with Him. For then each god would go away with his own creation, and some would overcome others. [23:91] What these verses tell us is that the existence of multiple gods is a self-evident logical absurdity. The actual argument from mutual hindrance, or interference, goes like this: If there were two deities and they disagreed over a matter, such as one wanting to bring a thing into existence and the other did not want to, then logically, there are only three possibilities: Either the will of both are carried out; or the two wills cancel each other out; or the will of one trumps the will of the other. The first case is an impossibility, as this would imply the existence of two mutual opposites; the second is also ruled out since that implies the thing neither exists nor doesn’t exist. It would also imply deficiencies in their wills and creative acts, and thus disqualify them as being the true Deity. Lastly, if the will of one is victorious, but not that of the other, then only this deity deserves to be God.24 Now whether such logic constitutes a highly persuasive proof that is open to a few fragilities (dalil iqna‘iyyah), or one that is definite and watertight (dalil qat‘iyyah), is the subject of some debate among classical Muslim theologians.25

20. Other concerns have been voiced about the kalam-cosmological argument, which may seem to some like a desperate attempt to clutch at straws. One contention states that since we’ve no experience of the origins of universes, we therefore have nothing to tell us that universes don’t come into existence without a cause. In response to this piece of conjecture it could more reasonably be argued that in our entire experience of the world, and of the cosmos at large, we’ve yet to find anything that exists without a cause. And there is no solid or empirical ground to conclude that the universe is an exception. I’ll wrap up with a more recent criticism of the first premise, from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow who insist that: ‘Because there is a law like gravity the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’26 But this is a very lacklustre and unsatisfactory answer. For physical laws, by themselves, cannot create anything: they are just abstract mathematical equations which describe what usually happens under any given set of conditions. Furthermore, leave aside the fact that such laws of physics are inferred from real material events, and therefore such laws would be meaningless if they had nothing real to describe, there’s an even more fundamental question to ask here: Who created the law of gravity? Who indeed!

Just how far the kalam cosmological argument ‘proves’ the existence of God is open to discussion. The argument is certainly coherent, logical and decisive as a theological doctrine (thus giving a lie to New Atheism’s allegation that belief in God is irrational). Although it rarely seems to be effective at convincing those who do not believe in God that He in fact exists. This is especially so when its premises are highly abstract and theoretical, relying upon only logic and syllogism. A more appealing proof, therefore, comes via the teleological argument and the Quran’s instance to reflect on the ‘signs’ of God. These will, God-willing, be taken up in the final part of the blog.

1. Flew, There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: Harper One, 2007), 85.

2. Cited in al-Harawi, Dhamm al-Kalam wa Ahlihi (Madinah: Maktabah al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam, 1996), 6:102; no.1161.

3. ibid., 6:109; no.1172.

4. As per Ibn Qutaybah, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1999), 113; al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Sharafu Asahab al-Hadith (Cairo: Maktabah Ibn Taymiyyah, 1996), no.2.

5. See: Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami‘ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994), 942; no.1796.

6. Ibn al-Jawzi, Manaqib Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Hajr, 1984), 210.

7. Al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib al-Shafi‘i (Cairo: Dar al-Turath, 1970), 1:470.

8. ibid., 1:470.

9. ibid., 1:468.

10. The pro-kalam argument is offered in Ghazali, Iljam al-‘Awwam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalam, translated as: A Return To Purity In Creed (Philadelphia: Lampost Productions, 2008). The anti-kalam view is robustly expressed in Ibn Qudamah, Tahrim al-Nazar fi Kutub Ahl al-Kalam, translated as: Ibn Qudamah’s Censure of Speculative Theology (England: Gibb Memorial Trust, 1985); and despite his kalam leanings, Ibn al-Jawzi critiques it in Kitab Akhbar al-Sifat, translated as: A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2002), 104-20.

11. Fath al-Bari bi Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 16:251.

12. Kitab Sifat al-Mufti wa’l-Mustafti (Saudi Arabia: Dar al-Sumay‘i, 2015), 225-6. Due to reason having the final say over Revelation, this blameworthy kalam may be rendered into English as: “speculative theology”. As for the kalam where reason is anchored to revealed proof, and so contours and supports it, this may be translated as: “discursive theology”.

13. Ibn Muflih, al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1996), 1:219-29. As for the pro-kalam arguments, they commence on p.226.

14. Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddamah (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1998), 440.

15. T. Mayer, ‘Theology and Sufism’ in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 273.

16. J. Gribbin, Q is for Quantum: Particle Physics from A to Z (London: Phoenix Giant, 1998), 350.

17. For a fuller treatment of the argument, consult: Ibn al-Jawzi, A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2002), 82-85; Juwayni, A Guide to Conclusive Proofs for the Principles of Belief (Reading: Garnet, 2000), 19-28; Ayman Shihadeh, ‘The Existence of God’ in The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology, 204-214; W. L. Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (London: Macmillan, 1979).

18. P. Davies, Superforce (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984), 200.

19. See: Gribbins, Q is for Quantum, 511.

20. The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi (USA: Zaytuna Institute, 2007), §.5.

21. ibid., §.47.

22. Ibn al-Jawzi, A Medieval Critique of Anthropomorphism, 92.

23. The Creed of Imam al-Tahawi, §.14. I have modified the translation here somewhat.

24. Ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil (Beirut: Maktabah al-‘Asriyyah, 2003), 3:47.

25. As to just how conclusive or not the argument is, see: al-Maydani, Sharh al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah (Dar al-Bayruti, 2005), 32-34.

26. Hawking & Mlodinow, The Grand Design (London: Bantam Books, 2011), 227.

A Perennial Problem: Is Islam the Only Valid Path to God?

umbrella_spokesIs Islam (the religion and way of life the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with) the only path to God? Does the Qur’an extend the validity of religions beyond Islam; to any who believe in God and act rightly? Or does the Qur’an insist that Islam is the exclusive and only path to God? And what of the idea that some have culled from their personal reading of the Qur’an that at the heart of the world’s major religions and faiths, there is an essential unity of truth? This, Islam and the idea of salvic exclusivity, is our topic for discussion.

Our discussion concerning the above delicate and, in our current time, controversial questions are addressed through the following points:

1. The Qur’an is categorical when it says: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers. [3:85] Elsewhere it states: The [true] religion in Allah’s sight is Islam. [3:19] Whatever other verses may be marshalled in this issue, these two must surely lie at its heart.

2. Turning to the words of the Prophet ﷺ, we find him informing: “By Him in whose Hand is the life of Muhammad! Anyone from this nation, be they a Jew or a Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have come with, shall be among the inhabitants of Hell.”1 Fleshing out the hadith’s theological implications, Imam al-Nawawi said: ‘It contains [a proof] that all religions have now been abrogated by the prophethood of our Prophet ﷺ. Also, in its explicit meaning is a proof that those to whom the call of Islam does not reach, are excused.’2

3. Not only has the religion of Islam that the Prophet ﷺ was sent with superseded all previously revealed heavenly teachings, this last dispensation or “version” of Islam is a universal one too. The Qur’an says: Say: ‘O Mankind! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.’ [7:158]  Al-Ghazali said in his magesterial Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din – “Revival of the Religious Sciences”: ‘Allah sent the Qurayshi unlettered Prophet Muhammad ﷺ with His divinely-inspired Message to the entire world: to Arabs and non-Arabs, jinn and mankind. The Prophet’s Sacred Law has abrogated and superceded all earlier revealed laws, except those provisions in them that the [new] Sacred Law has reconfirmed.’3

4. Over the past eight decades or so a view has arisen which alleges that Islam affirms the validity of other religions, denying or failing to mention that they have long since been abrogated. Recourse has been taken to the following passage to justify the claim: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans; whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right, shall be rewarded by their Lord; no fear will come upon them, nor shall they grieve. [2:62] This verse, it’s claimed, extends the validity of religions beyond just Islam, and the possibility of salvation beyond just Muslims, to whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day. The error of such a claim can be gauged from the next three points:

5. Apart from ignoring the above proof-texts to the contrary, this view stands against Islamic orthodoxy which states, as per Imam al-Nawawi: ‘One who does not consider a person who follows a religion besides Islam – like a Christian – to be a disbeliever, or doubts that such a person is a disbeliever, or deems their religion to still be valid, is himself a disbeliever – even if, along with this, he manifests Islam and believes in it.’4 Such, then, is the enormity of the error and the magnitude of its misguidance. Qadi ‘Iyad affirmed a consensus about this, saying that: ‘there is a consensus (ijma‘) about the disbelief of one who does not consider as disbelievers the Christians, Jews and all those who part from the religion of the Muslims; or hesitates about their disbelief, or doubts it.’5

6. How then should the above verse [2:62] be read? Scholars of tafsir, along with their belief that the Qur’an’s message now supersedes all previous heavenly teachings, offer these interpretations for the above verse: [i] It is said to refer to those seekers of truth who believed in the imminent arrival of the final Prophet – like Habib al-Najjar, Qays b. Sa‘adah, Waraqah b. Nawfal, Zayd b. ‘Amr b. Nufayl, Bahirah the Monk, Salman al-Farsi and Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari. Some of them reached the Prophet ﷺ and accepted Islam at his hand. Others didn’t reach him, but are nonetheless included among those who believe in Allah and the Last Day. [ii] It refers to the believers of previous nations, following the prophets of their respective times. [iii] It’s claimed to refer to those Jews and Christians who, prior to accepting Islam in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, followed the unaltered teachings of Moses and Jesus; peace be upon them both. [iv] A few say it refers to the hypocrites; which is somewhat odd.6 Whatever the correct intent of this passage is, the view which extends salvation unrestrictedly, to include even those who deny the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood ﷺ, is conspicuous by its absence in the classical tafsir literature.

7. Ibn Kathir helps put the above verse into context with his customary hermeneutics; he explains: ‘The faith of the Jews was that of those who adhered to the Torah and the way of Moses, peace be upon him, until the arrival of Jesus. With the advent of Jesus, those who followed the Torah and the Mosaic Laws, not leaving them to follow Jesus, were doomed. The faith of the Christians was that of whoever adhered to the Gospel and to the teaching of Jesus. They were believers and their faith valid till the advent of Muhammad ﷺ. Those who rejected Muhammad ﷺ, by not leaving the Gospel and Jesus’ way are doomed … This doesn’t conflict with what ‘Ali b. Abi Talha relates from Ibn ‘Abbas that: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and Sabaeans; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day was followed by Allah revealing: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Afterlife he will be among the losers. For what Ibn ‘Abbas is simply informing is that no path is acceptable from anyone, nor any deed, unless it conforms to the shari‘ah of Muhammad ﷺ now that he has been sent. Prior to this, anyone who followed the particular prophet of his time was upon right guidance and the path of salvation.’7

8. In the above light, philosophies that speak of the “Essential Unity of Religions”, or “Perennialism”, are disbelief (kufr). The metaphysics of these philosophies is such that they insist the world’s major faiths: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, like Islam, all contain at their heart a core set of esoteric truths, despite them differing immensely in their external appearance, forms and practices – and even in many of their beliefs. They also believe that these major religions, again like Islam, still retain their validity even today. The metaphor used to describe the Unity of Religions is that of a bicycle wheel. The spokes represent the different religions; the hub symbolises God, the Supreme Being, the Transcendent Reality. Just as the spokes come closer to each other as they near the hub, so too, as each path comes closer to the One Reality, it comes closer to all other paths. Now as appealing as it sounds to some, it can never pass for authoritative, orthodox Quranic teachings – as has been shown.

9. Asserting that such Perennialist philosophy is clear disbelief (kufr) does not amount to an accusation that each specific individual who holds such a belief is necessarily an unbeliever (kafir) – as is well attested to in mainstream Sunni theology. The maxim in this matter runs as follows: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-kufr sara kafir – ‘Not everyone who falls into disbelief, becomes a disbeliever.’ The shari‘ah upholds the distinction between a general charge of disbelief (takfir ‘amm), and the charge of disbelief upon a specific individual (takfir mu‘ayyan). Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘They have not given proper consideration that making takfir has conditions (shurut) and impediments (mawani‘) that must be actualised if it is to be applied to a specific individual. Because a general declaration of takfir doesn’t imply takfir on a specific individual – until conditions are fulfilled and impediments lifted.’8

10. The Perennialist Philosophy (religio perennis) was first propagated in the late 1930s. It was Frithjof Schuon who would bring this idea to its fruition. Among those who came under Schuon’s influence were those like Martin Lings, Gai Eaton and Seyyed Hossein Nasr (the first two also being converts to Islam). Such Muslims who, through a hugely errant ta’wil or interpretation that misled them into perennialism, are part of a highly learned body of authors and academics who offer some of the finest critiques of modernity from a traditional perspective, and profoundest spiritual expositions of Islam to modern beleaguered hearts and minds. That their writings have, by Allah’s grace, brought so many Westerners into the fold of Islam is beyond doubt. Perennial beliefs aside, their writings are a reminder that to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual and spiritual content is no longer possible in our modern world. For the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers. And those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith; from adequate familiarity with modernity’s philosophical underpinnings; and from reflective study, introspection and meditation.

11. Interestingly, the late Martin Lings wrote in The Eleventh Hour about the theory of man’s evolution that if it is indeed true, why didn’t God tell believers about it to begin with, or at least gradually bring them into it? Why did He allow religion after religion to repeat the same old ways of thinking, and prevent prophet after prophet from ever divulging its true nature? Yet He allowed a mere non-prophet to discern its reality and propogate it in defiance of all spiritual authorities of the time.9 And yet a similar line of argument can equally apply to the belief in perennialism. For using the same rhyme and reason one could ask: Why didn’t Allah tell believers about this to begin with, or wean them steadily onto it? Why did Allah allow prophet after prophet to repeat the same ways of thinking, or prevent them from disclosing its true nature? And yet, we are to believe, He allowed a mere non-prophet to arrive at this great existential truth, propagating it in disregard to a scholarly consensus of the past sages and present-day spiritual authorities. The point being is that if Islam’s religious authorities all deemed the belief to be kufr, on what basis should Perennialism be accepted?

12. What of those to whom the message of Islam has not been conveyed, or they have heard about Islam and the Prophet, but in a distorted form? Here the Qur’an presents a far wider, ecumenical scope: Nor do We punish until We have sent a Messenger. [17:15] Also: Whenever a fresh host is cast into it [Hell], its keepers ask them: ‘Did a warner never come to you?’ They will say: ‘Yes, a warner came to us; but we denied.’ [67:8-9] The idea of bulugh al-da‘wah, “conveyance of the message,” therefore, is vital in this issue; typified by the words of Imam al-Nawawi (which have already preceded in point 2) that ‘those to whom the call of Islam does not reach are excused.’

13. Some to whom the message of Islam is communicated refuse to believe in it out of wilful rejection (juhud) of it or because of belying (takdhib) it. Others, however, choose not to hear the message, but instead turn away from it (i‘radan ‘anha) out of arrogance or prejudice against it, or hostility towards it – in some cases doing so knowing it is the truth: And they rejected them [Allah’s signs], although they inwardly recognised them, through injustice and arrogance. [27:14] Now it’s quite possible that many non-Muslims today fall into this predicament, in that some of them are capable of discerning the revealed truths of Islam. But whether out of not desiring to forsake familiar habits; or losing their standing among people; having contempt for Muslims; arrogant prejudice against them; or just out of sheer folly and misguidance, many turn away from even considering the Qur’an. Unless there are other factors to mitigate this kufr of theirs, such people will have no excuse on Judgement Day.10

14. As for those who have heard about Islam, but in a distorted form, I’ll suffice with what Imam al-Ghazali wrote about the matter: ‘In fact, I would say that, Allah willing, most of the Byzantine Christians and the Turks of this age will be included in Allah’s mercy. I’m referring here to those who live in the farthest regions of Byzantium and Anatolia who have not come into contact with the message. These people are of three groups: [i] A party who have never so much as heard the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ. They are excused. [ii] A party who knew his name, character and miracles he wrought; who lived in lands adjacent to the lands of Islam and thus came into contact with Muslims. These are blaspheming unbelievers. [iii] A third party who fall between the two. These people knew the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ, but nothing of his character or his qualities. Instead, all they heard since childhood is that a liar and imposter called ‘Muhammad’ claimed to be a prophet; just as our children have heard that an arch-liar and deceiver called al-Muqaffa‘ claimed Allah sent him [as a prophet] and then challenged people to disprove his claim. This party, in my opinion, is like the first party. For even though they’ve heard his name, they heard the opposite of what his true qualities were. And this does not provide enough incentive for them to investigate [his true status].’11

15. That some non-Muslims will be excused for their disbelief in the Hereafter doesn’t mean that they are not judged as disbelievers in this world. All who have not declared the Two Testimonies of Faith, the shahadah, are non-Muslims; disbelievers. Some are actively hostile against Islam and Muslims; most are not. While it behoves a believer to wisely and sincerely seek to guide into faith those who disbelieve, it does not befit a believer to blur the distinction between faith (iman) and disbelief (kufr). Al-Ghazali gives us this rule of thumb: ‘Disbelief is to reject the Prophet ﷺ in whatever he came with, while faith is to affirm as true all that he came with. Therefore the Jew and the Christian are disbelievers due to their rejection of the Prophet.’12

16. As for the honourific distinctions given to the Jews and Christans in the Qur’an, in that they are referred to as People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), their chaste womenfolk are lawful to marry, and their ritually-slaughtered meat may be eaten, then this in no way excludes them from being a category of disbelievers. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wrote, citing al-Qaffal, that ‘although the ahl al-kitab have acquired the virtue in this world of [us] being able to marry their women and eat their slaughtered meat. Yet this does not set them apart from the idolators in matters of the Afterlife, in terms of rewards and chastisements.’13

To wrap up the discussion: The Qur’an insists that every prophet came with a core set of universal truths centred around Allah’s Oneness (tawhid). The Qur’an says: We have sent to every nation a Messenger [proclaiming]: ‘Worship Allah and shun false gods.’ [16:36] It is possible, therefore, for Buddhism and Hinduism to have been, in the ancient past, divinely-revealed. Yet it is equally true that the Qur’an insists of previously-revealed religions and their scriptures that they have long suffered alteration and corruption at the hands of men, and that whatever revealed truths were once present in them have long since been forgotten, changed, compromised or overshadowed by corrupted and idolatrous beliefs and practices. So while the world’s major faiths do show similarities with Islam, this does not prove their essential unity with it as they currently exist. For they haven’t only been altered, but have also been abrogated and superceded by what was revealed to the final Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This is why: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. Now whether such an explanation is passionate or dispassionate, narrow and unecumenical, or born of a “madrasah mentality,” it is the unanimous belief of Islam’s eminent sages, jurists and theologians. It is, in other words, the Quranic truth.

That said, I think it befitting to close with these words from Shaykh Bin Bayyah, one of contemporary Islam’s most revered and learned jurists: ‘Of course, a devotional life in this world should be lived in peaceful co-existence with others.’14 O Allah! Bless us with iman and aman – with faith and security; and make us of benefit to Islam and to humanity, and not a harm or a hindrance to them. Amin.

1. Muslim, no.240.

2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 2:162.

3. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 1:120.

4. Rawdat al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2003), 7:290. Its like is seen in  al-Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina‘ (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1983), 6:170.

5. Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’ (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2002), 450.

6. Cf. al-Baghawi, Ma‘alim al-Tanzil (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2010), 1:57; Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 65.

7. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1986), 1:107.

8.  Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 12:487-8. Also see the article on this blog: Takfir: Its Dangers & Rules.

9. Lings, The Eleventh Hour (Cambridge: Archetype, 2002), 28.

10. See: Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

11. Al-Ghazali, Faysal al-Tafriqah (Damascus: 1993), 84.

12. ibid., 25.

13. Al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981), 11:151, on Qur’an 5:5.

14. Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

Knowing, Doing & Becoming

islamic-tourism-018Q. I’ve been following your talks and writings, on and off for about sixteen years now. You often mention the Islamic concept of knowing, doing & becoming, describing it as the “methodology of a Muslim” and a “blueprint for a believer.” It’s even the motto of your blog and the Jawziyyah Institute. I know you’ve explained what it means many a time in your talks, but I was hoping you could put something in writing about it.

A. Bismi’Llah. Alhamduli’Llah. Wa’l-salatu wa’l-salamu ‘ala rasuli’Llah. The first thing I’d like to point out is that the idea of knowing, doing & becoming is not mine. Rather, it is something which the scholars are generally united upon, even if they may sometimes express it in different ways. Knowing, doing & becoming refers to: knowing faith, doing works of faith, then becoming transformed by faith. Having laid out the bare bones of the matter, allow me to put some flesh on those bones:

1. The concept of knowing, doing and becoming has its starting point in the celebrated Hadith of Gabriel (jibril). This is the hadith which tells how the Angel Gabriel came to a public gathering of the Prophet ﷺ, in the guise of a man, and put three elemental questions to him: what is faith (iman); what is [outward] submission (islam); and what is [spiritual] excellence (ihsan)? The Prophet ﷺ replied to the first question by saying that faith is firm and unwavering belief in Allah, the angels, the prophets, the revealed scriptures, the Last Day, and divine decree (qadr). To the next, he ﷺ responded that submission entailed uttering the two testimonies of faith (shahadah), performing the five daily prayers, paying the annual zakat, fasting during the month of Ramadan and undertaking pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. To the last: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and while you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ Later, the Prophet ﷺ disclosed: ‘That was Gabriel; he came to teach you your religion.’1

2. The significance in the above hadith is that the entire religion was encapsulated in three spheres: iman, islam and ihsan. The first is about knowing what to believe in; the second, doing those deeds which give concrete expression to one’s beliefs; the third is becoming transformed by those beliefs and deeds. This, then, is the basis for: knowing, doing & becoming. On the merits of this hadith, Qadi ‘Iyad said: ‘This hadith entails an explanation of all the duties of worship, inward and outward, from those [related to] the bonds of faith, actions of the limbs, inward sincerity and protecting actions from the dangers [of non-acceptance] – to the extent that all of the shari‘ah sciences return back to it and branch off from it.’2

3. Knowing (‘ilm), doing (‘aml) & becoming (hal) equate to iman, islam and ihsan. These three, in turn, equate to the Islamic sciences of beliefs (‘aqidah), positive law (fiqh) and spirituality (suluk, tazkiyah, or tasawwuf). Now spirituality is somewhat of a blurry and nebulous word. Today, spirituality can mean anything from lighting an incense stick, hugging a tree, feeling elated by the natural world; art; or a piece of classical music, to long walks, quiet reflection, yoga, meditation, or organised religion. As far as Islam is concerned, spirituality relates to the Spirit; the ruh. Or to the soul (nafs). Spirituality, in Islam, is about traversing the path to Allah by acts of sincere, loving submission. It’s about, as some spiritual masters have put it, how to journey into the presence of the King of kings (kayfiyat al-suluk ila hadrati malik al-muluk). It entails inwardly purifying the soul from its vices (radha’il) and adorning it with virtues (fada’il) so that, with its labours of love, it is gradually weaned away from its distractions and its opposition to the divine will. This is when such a soul has been made worthy of divine acceptance and is given to enter the divine presence: But those who feared the standing before their Lord and curbed their soul’s passions, the Garden is their abode. [79:40-41]

4. Knowing, doing & becoming has levels. There are some matters a Muslim is obligated to know, do and become; while other things are preferred to know, do and become. This is seen in the next hadith: ‘Allah, exalted is He, said: “Whoever shows enmity to a friend (wali) of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined on him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with optional works so that I shall love him.”‘3 What this make clear is that there is no way to Allah’s walayah – love, sanctity and closeness – except by fulfilling the obligations (fara’id) then performing optional works of faith (nawafil). The first encircles us in Allah’s love; the second endears us to Allah even more so. One keeps in mind however: man shaghalahu’l-fard ‘an al-nafl fa huwa ma‘dhur, wa man shaghalahu’l-nafl ‘an al-fard fa huwa maghrur – ‘One busied by obligatory acts, away from optional ones, is excused. One busy in optional acts, away from obligatory ones, is deluded.’4

5. About the obligations in ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk, Shaykh Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi said: ‘The Prophet ﷺ said: “The seeking of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim.’5 This includes understanding tawhid and to know about [the uniqueness of] Allah’s Essence (dhat) and Attributes (sifat). It entails knowing the acts of worship (‘ibadat), the lawful and prohibited, and what is permissible and forbidden in terms of social transactions (mu‘amalat). It further includes learning the praiseworthy spiritual states of the heart; like patience, gratitude, generosity, good character and companionship, truthfulness and sincerity; as well as the blameworthy ones, such as rancour, envy, treachery, pride, ostentation, anger, enmity, malice and miserliness. Learning how to acquire the first [set of traits] and to remove the second is as much a personal duty as ensuring the validity of one’s beliefs, acts of worship and social transactions.’6

6. Every Islamic curriculum, methodology (manhaj), or claim to orthodoxy not having the Hadith of Jibril and the Hadith of Allah’s Wali – i.e. the concept of knowing, doing & becoming (iman, islam & ihsan) – at its core, is incomplete, imbalanced and unsound. Hadith Jibril is generally felt to be the most succinct summary of the entire din, which touches on every aspect of belief, practice and spiritual growth (‘he came to teach you your religion’). Indeed, al-Haytami says of the hadith that ‘it is dubbed ‘the Mother of the Sunnah (umm al-sunnah) like al-Fatihah is called ‘the Mother of the Qur’an (umm al-qur’an)’, since it encapsulates the Sunnah’s entire message.’7 For faith to be correct and come to true fruition, iman, islam and ihsan must be brought into an equilibrium; that is, ‘aqidah, fiqh and suluk must be in balance and harmony. Problems occur in the Muslim personality and collectivity whenever they are out of kilter. So, for instance, if fiqh isn’t accompanied by serious commitment to suluk, it often results in dry legalism and puritanical behaviour. Without fiqh and adherence to the law, suluk is merely self-deception and wishy-washy spirituality. Without fiqh, ‘aqidah is no more than empty slogans. In the absence of suluk, ‘aqidah becomes blind ideology. Yet without ‘aqidah, both fiqh and suluk are sterile or futile. Thus all three are indispensable. In summary: without ‘aqidah, there is just idolatry and heresy; without fiqh, vanity and futility; and without suluk, hypocrisy and pretentious piety.

7. While it is categorically true that the Qur’an says (51:56) we were created to worship Allah, the Hadith of Jibril informs us how this worship should be: ‘That you worship Allah as though seeing Him; and while you see Him not, know that He sees you.’ It is, I think, an indicment of sorts on an individual’s source of learning if, after some time, he or she hasn’t been led to or taught this all-inclusive understanding of Islam. If that be so, one needs to seriously question one’s source of knowledge and learning, since it smacks of treachery to the trust of teaching. The area that is usually ignored, treated lightly, undermined, or even scoffed at, is that of ihsan – the becoming dimension. As this is all too often the case, let me say this much about it:

8. Masters of the inward life say that ihsan during acts of worship has three degrees:8 (i) Performing the act excellently and with proper decorum (adab), by at least fulfilling its conditions (shurut), pillars (arkan) and obligations (wajibat). (ii) Performing the act with an awareness of Allah’s presence and watchful gaze – known as muraqabah. The shaykhs of ihsan teach us that if, when recalling the fact that Allah sees you, a shyness emerges in your heart that drives you to exert yourself in Allah’s obedience or deters you from disobedience, then you possess something of the realities of muraqabah or vigilance. (iii) Beyond this lofty degree lies that of mushahadah – spiritually witnessing Allah; or “seeing” Him with the eye of the heart (bi ‘ayn al-basirah). This is where faith has flooded the heart and filled it to the brim, due to being immersed in Allah; lost in contemplation of Him; and witnessing His hand in all things and behind all things. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said that it is the degree where: ‘the heart is illumined with faith, and the inner sight arrives at experiential knowledge such that the Unseen becomes, at it were, seen (huwa an yutanawwara’l-qalb bi’l-iman wa tanfudha’l-basirah fi’l-irfan hatta yasira’l-ghaybu ka’l-ayan).’9 Attaining muraqabah is, we are told, rare. Arriving at mushahadah is rarer still. It can’t be gained by any effort on our part; rather it is sheer gift and grace from Allah to His sincere devotees, lovers and saints.

9. It is the transformation, the becoming, which is the goal. That is, it’s not only about praying, fasting or doing other acts of piety (taqwa); it’s about cultivating one’s soul, so as to make piety an ingrained habit. In other words, it’s about becoming one of the pious (muttaqun). It is not just about giving zakat or some charity (sadaqah), but about becoming, by nature, of the charitable (mutasaddiqun). Nor is it only about patience, speaking truth, making dhikr, or doing a deed or two of rectification. It’s about being rooted in these traits, to become of those who are patient (sabirun), truthful (sadiqun), constantly remember Allah (dhakirun), and are healers and rectifiers (muslihun). It’s all about the becoming. Above all, it’s about becoming mukhlisun – those who purify their worship making it sincerely and exclusively for Allah; muhsinun – those who worship Allah upon spiritual excellence; and muhibbun – true lovers of Him. In the religion of Islam, it’s very much about the becoming.

Allahumma inna nas’aluka hubbaka, wa
hubba man yuhibbuka, wa hubba
‘amalin yuqarribuna
ila hubbika.
Amin.

1. Muslim, no.8.

2. Cited in Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 1:142-43.

3. Al-Bukhari, no.6502.

4. See: Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2012), 14:338.

5. Ibn Majah, no.224. It is is hasan due to its multiple chains of transmission. See: al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 4:268; no.5264.

6. Maw‘izat al-Mu’minin (Beirut: Dar Ibn Kathir, 2001), 45.

7. Al-Fath al-Mubin bi Sharh al-Arba‘in (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2008), 187.

8. See: al-Jurdani, Jawahir al-Lu’lu’iyyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Minhaj, 2013), 121, who goes on to says: ‘Each of these three stations are [part of] ihsan. Except that the ihsan which is a prerequisite for the validity of worship is the first one. As for the other two levels of ihsan, they are the traits of the elite (khawwas), for which most are excused.’

9. Jami‘ al-‘Ulum wa’l-Hikam (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 1:129.

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 2 of 3

IsisThe first instalment of this blog (here) charted the rise of Islam’s first heterodox sect, the Khawarij, who were described by the Prophet ﷺ as being: ‘the worst of mankind and beasts’1 and ‘dogs of Hellfire.’2 We saw how their defining traits were: (i) rebellion (khuruj) against legitimate state rule; (ii) declaring Muslims to be apostates (takfir) for sins or opinions that do not warrant apostasy and; (iii) shedding peoples’ blood and causing chaos and terror throughout the land (fasad fi’l-ard). Such have tended to be this heinous group’s timeless traits.

Whatever other motives or pathology are at work in the Khariji mind, the underlying cause of their deviation was clearly stated by Ibn ‘Abbas when he said to them, in his encounter with them: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar) and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’3 In other words, Ibn ‘Abbas is insisting that he has come from a people educated and nurtured by the Prophet ﷺ himself; a people whose knowledge of the meanings, context and intent of the Quranic teachings is second to none. It’s as if he was saying: ‘Pray tell, with what authority do you presume to know better than the sahabah – the actual people of knowledge, understanding and excellence?’

With that short recap, let’s now turn our focus to ISIS. At the outset, it is important to note that no single writing of this size can hit every relevant nail on the head in this affair. There are far too many questions and concerns to tackle for that to realistically happen. Nor is this piece meant to be academically exhaustive or politically thorough. Instead, the purpose is to compare the claims and modus operandi of ISIS with that of Islam’s well-established juristic norms, and to show how they are the most recent face of Kharijite misguidance, barbarity, indiscriminate killings and takfirism.

I’d also like to stress here that not all those waging jihad in Syria are the ISIS/al-Qaeda types. Many groups and individuals are; but not all. Likewise, not all who are fighting under, or migrating to, the ISIS banner deserve the same ruling or description. While it is true that many (or even most) ISIS-affiliates are no more than thugs, deviants and followers of false desires; others are sincere, but betaken with idealism and naivety; or are ensnared by claims of an alleged caliphate (khilafah) and misled into believing the grass is greener on the other side.

Yet since ISIS has a clear-cut command structure, and its ideology and decrees come from top down, there is sufficient enough shari‘ah justification to be able to describe the group in collective, generic terms – even if not every individual affiliated with the group fits the description. This shall be the stance I take when writing this blog. So to continue on from Section III of the first part of the blog, let’s start with a declaration from the leader of ISIS:

IV

On May 14th, 2015 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the alleged khalifah of all Muslims, said in a 34 minute audio address: ‘O Muslims, Islam was never for a day the religion of peace. Islam is the religion of war. Your Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was dispatched with the sword as a mercy to the creation.’4 The issue of jihad and Islam’s attitude to war is as good a place as any to start our examination of ISIS.

Without a doubt, jihad in the sense of qital (“fighting”, “military war”) is enjoined on the faithful at numerous places in the Qur’an and is seen as a highly meritorious form of duty and sacrifice in Islam. Al-Raghib wrote about the schematics of jihad in these terms: ‘Jihad is of three types: jihad against the apparent enemy; against the devil; and against the ego (nafs). All three types are included in Allah’s words, exalted is He: And wage jihad in Allah’s path with all the striving that is due to Him. [22:78] And wage jihad with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah. [9:41] … Jihad is to be waged with the hand and the tongue, as he [the Prophet] ﷺ said: “Wage jihad against the unbelievers with your hands and your tongues.”56

Undeniably, then, military or armed jihad is well-attested to in the revealed texts.7 Yet to equate this one virtuous act of the faith with the totality of Islam is nothing short of being perverse or pathological.

The self-proclaimed Caliph and so-called caretaker of the ummah has nothing to say about prayer, fasting or pilgrimage. No significant exhortation to piety or to purifying the heart. No word about cultivating good morals and ethics, or kindness to parents, fulfilling contracts or guarding the tongue. There’s just a call to fighting, violence and shedding blood. The slick ISIS media output is filled with images of blood and gore; of victims in the process of being executed, burnt or beheaded; and children playing amidst decapitated heads. ISIS wants us to believe this is the real Islam; that this is the spirit of a true Muslim: and that anyone who recoils from such imagery is but a pale reflection of the real deal. In the ISIS reading of Islam, this is how the Prophet ﷺ was. This is what al-Baghdadi is hell bent on making us believe. In fact, this is what so many in the world have come to believe; and it utterly repulses them.

So what was the Prophet’s attitude ﷺ to war? And how does the shari‘ah, the Sacred Law of Islam, countenance war?

In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah dictum that states about jihad: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid – ‘Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.’8 Indeed, Islam’s overall take on war is best seen in the following declaration of our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: ‘Do not wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. If you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.’9 That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by belligerence or hostile intent, then be prepared to act differently. The following hadith might also be used as a support: ‘After me there will be conflicts and affairs. If you are able, resolve them peacefully.’10 Also revealing are these words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘The most detested of names to Allah are War (harb) and Bitterness (murrah).’11

All this is a far cry from the ISIS reinvention of the Muslim personality and from their irreverent portrayal of the Prophet ﷺ. If anything, their portrayal is more a betrayal. Jihad of the military kind, as we have seen, is not a goal in itself; it’s a means to a goal: the free and unhindered invitation to Islam and the summons to worship Allah alone. Let’s not forget this martial jihad has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them is that the leader carefully evaluate the potential benefits and harms of armed struggle; ensure civilians and non-combatants are not killed or wilfully attacked; abide by the other sanctities upheld in Islam; and keep in mind receptivity to the call (da‘wah) to Islam.

ISIS, however, seems not to give much thought about receptivity to Islam, nor about sanctity of life – including Muslim life. Despite their claims to uphold the shari‘ah, the list of their atrocities and violations reads like an Argos catalogue. These involve: the indiscriminate killing of Muslims; kidnapping and killing of non-Muslims who have entered Muslims countries as aid workers, journalists or under a covenant of security; torturing and killing prisoners as well as mutilating their bodies; exacting revenge and retribution upon the public if they disagrees with ISIS; illegally seizing the wealth and property of Muslims; and, of course, their rampant takfir of a large numbers of Muslims – scholars and mujahids included. It seems the only difference between ISIS and the Khawarij of earlier times is in the sheer scale of ISIS’s takfir, bloodshed and savagery. In this sense, ISIS are not Khawarij, they are ubër-Khawarij! And nor should one be taken in by their apparent Islamic rhetoric. For the Prophet ﷺ warned about the Khawarij thugs that: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’12 Also: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’13 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’14

V

In the same audio speech, al-Baghdadi goes to great lengths to rally every able-bodied believer to his cause: ‘Muslims! Do not think the war that we are waging is the Islamic State’s war alone. Rather it’s the Muslims’ war altogether. It’s the war of every Muslim in every place, and the Islamic State is merely the spearhead in this war. It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief, so march forth to your war O Muslims.’15

This brings us to another crucial aspect about jihad in Islam: who may be fought? Are Muslims required to wage jihad against disbelievers due to their disbelief (kufr)? Imam Ibn Taymiyyah takes up the issue, stating: ‘The disbelievers, they are only to be fought on condition of them waging war first – as is the view of the majority of scholars; and as is proven by the Book and the Sunnah.16 Which is to say, Islam permits fighting disbelievers, not because of their disbelief, but only if they initiate war against Muslim societies, or manifest belligerence towards them. The Qur’an says: Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not transgress the limits. [2:190]

Ibn al-Qayyim, another medieval maestro of Islamic jurisprudence, wrote: ‘Fighting is only a duty in response to being fought against, not in response to disbelief. Which is why women, children, the elderly and infirm, the blind, or monks who stay out of the fighting are not fought. Instead, we only fight those who wage war against us.’17

Ibn al-Qayyim also stated about the Prophet ﷺ: ‘Never did he force the religion upon anyone, and he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him. As for those who entered into a peace treaty with him, or concluded a truce, he never fought them, nor ever coerced them to enter his religion, abiding by his Lord’s order: There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has become distinct from error. [2:256] … It will be clear to whoever ponders the life of the Prophet ﷺ, that he never coerced anyone to enter his religion and that he only fought those who fought against him first. As for those who ratified a peace treaty with him, he never fought them, provided they kept to their covenant and did not violate its terms.’18

Again, the issue of jihad isn’t quite as ISIS makes it out to be: ‘It is but the war of the people of faith against the people of disbelief.’ Rather, as per the above, and as most of the qualified jurists and recognised fatwa bodies of our time hold – and their word in shari‘ah affairs is authoritative and represents orthodoxy – that a state of war shall not exist between Muslims and others except if hostility against a Muslim land is initiated or barriers to da‘wah erected.19

As for when the Muslim army is in the thick of a religiously-sanctioned war, then this is where the following verses of the Qur’an (and their like) come into play: Slay them wherever you find them; drive them out of the places from which they drove you. [2:190-91] Also: Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them [captive] and besiege them, and lie in ambush for them everywhere. [9:5] And then, of course, there is this: But if they incline towards peace, incline to it too. [8:61]

Lastly, let’s touch upon the following: the believer’s love of martyrdom. In one hadith, we see the Prophet ﷺ relish the following: ‘By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah’s way and then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed.’20 The Prophet ﷺ cherished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore; nor for the glory of war itself; nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because of what it manifested of the highest service and the ultimate sacrifice for God. To surrender to Allah one’s actual life, for a cause Allah loves and honours, is the greatest possible expression of loving Allah. It’s no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Whosoever dies without partaking in a military expedition, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.’21 Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr’s death, strive to live a saintly life. For how can one truly desire to die for God, if one doesn’t sincerely try to live for God?

VI

ISIS has no qualms in shamelessly flaunting its cruelty and deviancy. Although the so-called khalifah hides away from the public’s gaze, the khariji ideology and attitudes he propagates and presides over are on display for all to see. But ideology isn’t always the core appeal. Some are drawn to ISIS, not because of its ruthless ideology, but because for them it represents a rallying force against taghut rulers, establishments that have failed them, and western foreign policies. The claim to have reestablished the khilafah is the ultimate rallying force to galvanise the disaffected and disempowered. But has ISIS really reestablished the Caliphate? Is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi truly the khalifah, the amir al-mu’minin, of all Muslims? Is there an Islamic duty upon each of us to give him the oath of allegiance, or bay‘ah? The short answer to all these questions is: Of course not! And here are a few reasons why:

1. The khalifah must be appointed by consultation (shura) of the ummah’s movers and shakers: its senior scholars, political leaders, wealthy ones, and any others who exert influence on large factions of the ummah and whose agreement is vital to bring about a unified stance. Without their approval, any claims of a khilafah is both unachievable and illegitimate. If anything, it will have the exact opposite effect. It will be the cause for schisms, divisions and civil unrest to erupt. ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said: ‘Whoever gives the oath of allegiance to a man, without consulting the Muslims, is not to be sworn allegiance to, nor is the one whom he swore allegiance to, for fear they both may be killed.’22 From this angle alone, there simply is no shari‘ah legality to al-Baghdadi’s claim to be khalifah. For consultation with a few unknowns and misfits doesn’t count as shura in such a key public affair.

2. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Prophet ﷺ ordered us to obey leaders who were both present and well-known (al-a’immah al-mawjudin al-ma‘lumin); those who wield executive political authority and have the capability to address the political needs of the people. He did not [order us with] obedience to leaders who are absent or unknown; or to those who lack executive authority and have no real governing power over anything.’23 So these are a few more reasons which make al-Baghdadi’s claim of being caliph bogus. He’s an unknown (as are the many former high-ranking Ba’athists he’s chosen to fill top organisational positions in ISIS). Moreover, his political clout is confined; it doesn’t extend globally, nor reach into Muslim majority countries.

3.  Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani wrote of one of the pragmatic rulings that have shaped Sunni political theory and its rules of governance (ahkam al-sultaniyyah): ‘The scholars have united upon the obligation to obey the ruler who gains ascendency by force … For in it lies preservation of blood and public order.’24 The rationale here is quite simple: al-bay’ah khayrun min al-furqah – ‘Oath of allegiance is better than dissension.’25 Now it has been argued that since al-Baghdadi and ISIS have conquered territory and gained sovereignty by force, this somehow makes him khalifah. This is nonsense; as shown by the previous point. At best, ISIS is an emirate and al-Baghdadi is its amir, or leader. At worst, it temporarily controls conquered territories in an ongoing war zone, and al-Baghdadi a calculated fitnah-maker falsely claiming the title of Caliph; splitting the ranks of those who are fighting Syria’s tyrant; and turning his guns on mujahidun and anyone else who disagrees with his caliphal claim. Either way, ISIS most certainly isn’t a khilafah by any stretch of the imagination. Those that aid and abet ISIS, only aid and abet murder, mayhem and misguidance.

Then there’s the matter of whether multiple rulers (ta‘addud al-a’immah) are lawful or not in Islam, or are Muslims always required to be politically unified under one single ruler or caliph? Here’s an outline of the issue:

4. After citing the hadith, ‘Whoever comes to you whilst your affairs are unified under a single person, seeking to undermine your unity or divide your ranks, execute him,’26 al-Qurtubi remarked: ‘This is the strongest evidence prohibiting the establishment of two leaders [simaltaneously]. For this will lead to hypocrisy, dissension, schisms, civil strife and the removal of blessings. But if the lands are far apart and independent, like Anadulsia and Khurasan, it becomes permissible.’27

5. First stating the ideal, then supplying this dispensation on the topic, Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: ‘The Sunnah is for the Muslims to have a single ruler (imam), with others being his deputies. But if it happened that the ummah left this, due to sin from some and inability from others, so that it had multiple rulers, it would them be incumbent upon each ruler to establish the prescribed punishments and preserve peoples’ rights.’28

6. Adapting to the changing realities and seismic political shifts of the eighteenth and nineteenth century Muslim world, the jurist and murajjih, Imam al-Shawkani, stated: ‘However, as for after Islam became widespread and had reached many far away lands, then as is known, there arose in each province or territory a state with its own leader or ruler. This happened in all regions. The authority of each of them does not extend to the area of others, hence there is no harm in there being a number of leaders and rulers. Obedience to each of them, after the oath of allegiance, is obligatory upon the people of that area where his orders and prohibitions are operative. The same goes for the ruler of each area … So realise this. For it is in full accord with the principles of the shari‘ah and agrees with what the texts indicate. Ignore what is said contrary to this, since the difference in the condition of the rule of Islam in the beginning and the condition today is clearer than the daytime sun.’29

7. Although Muslims being split into countries, states and kingdoms is nowhere near ideal – given that sectarian strife and political discord exists in and among them; and many of their rulers are shabby tyrants, unfit for purpose, or have betrayed their trust as political caretakers – there is no shari‘ah duty to establish the khilalfah via terror or savagery or the destruction of peoples’ lives, property and honour. As the saying goes: al-‘aqil la yubni qasr wa yuhaddimu misr – ‘The intelligent one doesn’t build a palace by laying waste to the city.’ Rather, each subject or citizen lends their hand to obedience and law-abidingness, in that which does not entail disobedience. Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab said: ‘For a very long time, since before the time of Imam Ahmad, till nowadays, the people have not united under one single ruler. Nor is it known that any of the scholars have said that there is any ruling which is not correct except with the greater imam (al-imam al-a‘zam).’30

In Part 2, we’ve seen reasons why ISIS’s claim of a caliphate is fraudulent and invalid, and how some of its key views on warfare and jihad do not reflect normative readings or attitudes at all. ISIS, rather than being a true defender and carer of Muslim sanctity and lives, has gone out of its way to murder Muslims and perpetrate violence against them on a horrific scale. That their glossy media machine is now pushing the-idyllic-life-in-the-Islamic-State image, more than their usual blood and gore one, should not hoodwink anyone. If ISIS had done what they’ve done, under the name of politics and power grabbing, that would have been one thing. But it has done so under the name of Islam; using Islamic rhetoric; trying to justify its deeds with gross misreadings and misapplications of shari‘ah texts. This is what makes ISIS so utterly shameless. This is what makes ISIS so Khawarij-like in its self-righteous obstinacy. We ask Allah that He guide us and them and forgive us our sins. We also ask Him that He steer them aright or break their backs.

As for my brothers and sisters whose hearts have not been dulled by the dunya; whose souls yearn to strive in Allah’s cause; whose blood flows with the love of tawhid, piety and justice; but who may have become persuaded by the ISIS narrative or feel inclined to its call – please think! Think about the proofs and arguments laid out here, as well as the words of the people of knowledge cited here. Do not dismiss them out of hand merely because the heart of the one writing this has long ago been numbed by dunya and courage no longer courses through his veins. Instead, think about what is written here on its own merits. Consider it carefully. Consider also the many hadiths which warn against the Khawarij, and how they shall appear throughout time – even until close to the End of Days. Then ask yourselves: Who do these numerous hadiths refer to in our present day and age? Who best fits their description in these recent times? And then, with anger and emotion aside, be led by knowledge, piety and the courage of your conviction; and see ISIS for what it truly is. As for those preparing to secretly sneak away from home and join the so-called caliphal caravan, let me leave you with the following:

Describing how the Khawarij sent a call out to recruit people, urging them to secretly leave their homes and join their ranks, al-hafiz Ibn Kathir wrote: ‘How superb is what one of the salaf said about the Khawarij, in that they are the ones mentioned in Allah’s words, exalted is He: Say: ‘Shall We tell you those whose works will bring the greatest loss.’ Those whose efforts have been wasted in the life of this world while they thought they were doing good. Those are they who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and the encounter with Him. Therefore their works are in vain, and on the Day of Resurrection We give no wait to them. [18:103-5] The point is that such ignorant and misguided ones, wretched in both words and deeds, agreed upon rebelling against the Muslims …’31

After stressing how their self-righteousness is so entrenched, that they go through life working mischief and misguidance, thinking that they are acquiring virtue, Ibn Kathir then said:

‘They then wrote an open letter to whoever was upon their way and path in Basra and elsewhere, sending word to tell them to meet them by the river so they could form a single hand against the people. They then began to leave, sneaking out one by one, lest it was realised and they were then prevented. They left from amidst their fathers and mothers, and uncles and aunts; leaving all their near ones. They did this thinking, in their ignorance and in their lack of knowledge and understanding, that this matter would please the Lord of the heavens and the earth. What they didn’t realise was that this was one of the worst of the major sins and destructive deeds, and one of the most contemptible of wrongdoings; and that it was made to look appealing to them by Iblis and by their egos which constantly incited towards evil. A group realized what some of their children, cousins and brothers were up to, so they stopped them, restrained them and censured them. Thereafter, some turned back and continued to be upright, while others fled and joined the Khawarij and thus were made wretched until the Day of Resurrection.’32

1. Muslim, no.750.

2. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

3. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 89-90.

4. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 52; the official online magazine of ISIS. The quote starts 13 minutes, 12 seconds into the audio.

5. Abu Dawud, no.2504. Its chain is sahih, as per al-Nawawi, Riyadh al-Salihin (Riyadh: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2000), no.1357, but with the wording: ‘ … with your wealth, lives and tongues.’

6. Al-Raghib al-Asbahani, Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 2002), 208; under the entry, j-h-d.

7. For the merits and shari‘ah status of the inner jihad against the unruly ego, refer to my article: The Greater Jihad.

8. Ibn Hajr al-Haytami citing al-Zarkashi, Tuhfat al-Muhtaj bi Sharh al-Minhaj (Beirut: Dar Sadir, 1972), 9:211.

9. Al-Bukhari, no.3024; Muslim, no.172..

10. Ahmad, Musnad, no.695. Its chain was graded sahih by Ahmad Shakir, al-Musnad al-Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘arif, 1954), 2:84-5, despite the presence of two questionable narrators in the chain: Faysal b. Sulayman and Iyas b. ‘Amr.

11. Abu Dawud, no.4950. The hadith, with its various chains, strengthen each other to yield a final grading of sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1987), no.1040.

12. Abu Dawud, no.4765. The hadith was graded sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

13. Muslim, no.1066.

14. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. Consult: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

15. Dabiq (issue #9: Sha’ban, 1436), 54.

16. Kitab al-Nubawwat (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 140.

17. Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah (Dammam: Ramadi li’l-Nashr, 1997), 1:110.

18. Hidayat al-Hiyara (Makkah: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, 2008), 29-30.

19. Consult: al-Khallaf, al-Siyasat al-Shar‘iyyah (Cairo: Matba‘ah al-Salafiyyah, 1931), 75. In an age of the Internet and social media, it’s almost nigh on impossible for countries to erect barriers to prevent the da‘wah to Islam.

20. Al-Bukhari, no.2797; Muslim, no.1497.

21. Muslim, no.1910.

22. Al-Bukhari, no.6830.

23. Minhaj al-Sunnah (Riyadh: Jami‘ah al-Imam Muhammad ibn Sa‘ud, 1986), 1:115.

24. Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari (Cairo: al-Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 15:593.

25. See: al-Shatibi, al-I‘tisam (Amman: al-Dar al-Athariyyah, 2007), 3:46.

26. Muslim, no.1852.

27. Al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 2:30.

28. Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 35:175-76.

29. Al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1985), 4:512.

30. Al-Durar al-Saniyyah fi’l-Ajwibat al-Najdiyyah (n.p., 1995), 9:5.

31. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:580.

32. ibid., 10:581.

Khawarij Ideology, ISIS Savagery: Part 1 of 3

guns-wallpaper-ak47-2As ISIS continues its murder and violence across the provinces it controls and seeks to control, and as it continues to plague the conscience of the great majority of Muslims around the world, what’s worth recalling is that we’ve seen this before in history with the sect called the Khawarij (anglicised to Kharijites). So before tackling ISIS, let’s look at their forerunners; the Kharajites, to whom their pedigree can be traced.

I

The hadith canons relate that shortly after the battle of Hunayn while the Prophet ﷺ was distributing charity to a few people whose hearts needed to be reconciled, there came a man with a thick beard, prominent cheek bones, deep sunken eyes, protruding forehead and shaven head. He exclaimed: Fear Allah, O Muhammad! The Prophet ﷺ responded: ‘Who will obey Allah if I were to disobey him? Am I not [sent as the] most trustworthy person on earth; and yet you trust me not?’ The man then turned back, whereupon one of those present asked for permission to kill him. But the Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Verily, from the progeny (di’di) of this [man] shall come a people who will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats. They will slay the followers of Islam and would spare the people of idolatry. They will pierce through the religion just like an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’1

Another hadith records that this man’s name was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah, from the tribe of Tamim, about whom the Prophet ﷺ alerted: ‘Leave him; he has comrades whose prayer and fasting will make your prayer and fasting seem insignificant. They recite the Qur’an but it doesn’t go beyond their throats. They shall pass through the religion as an arrow that pierces clean through its prey such that, on inspecting the head; then the shaft; then the fletching; then the nock, would see no traces of blood or viscera on it whatsoever.’2 Ibn al-Jawzi said: ‘The first of the Khawarij, and the most wretched of them, was Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah … His problem was that he was too puffed up with his own opinion. Had he been granted grace, he would have realised that no opinion was above that of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. The followers of this man were those who fought against ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, may Allah ennoble his face.’3

A few decades after this post-Hunayn happening, and as had been prophesied, Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah’s ideological comrades and offspring took on the shape of the very first sect (firqah) to deviate from the main body of the Muslims: the Khawarij (culled from the Arabic word kharaja – “to go out” or “to leave” the main body of Muslims). Indeed, their very name was mentioned by the Prophet ﷺ himself, who said: al-khawarij hum kilab al-nar – “The Khawarij are the dogs of Hellfire!’4 The emergence of the Khawarij as a sect occurred during the caliphate (khilafah) of ‘Ali, in the immediate aftermath of a civil war and its arbitration at Siffin. Ibn al-Jawzi tells us: ‘‘Ali returned from Siffin and entered Kufah: the Khawarij did not follow. Instead, they settled in Harura. There were twelve thousand of them, and they were declaring: la hukma illa li’Llah – “There is no judgement, except Allah’s.” This is how they initially started.’5

Imam Muslim narrates from ‘Ubayd Allah b. Abi Rafi‘, a freed salve of the Prophet ﷺ, that the Khawarij came out against ‘Ali, and declared: ‘There is no judgement, except Allah’s.’ So ‘Ali replied: ‘A word of truth, intended for something false (kalimatu haqq urida biha batil).’6

Imam al-Nawawi explains: ‘Meaning, the basis of their statement was true. Allah says: The judgement is for none but Allah. [12:40] What they intended by it, however, was to reject ‘Ali’s [acceptance of] arbitration, may Allah be pleased with him.’7

As with Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah who, blinded by his warped piety and self-righteousness, thought he had a keener sense of justice than the Prophet ﷺ, the Khawarij were also possessed of holier-than-thou pretensions and smug convictions. It is this puritanical, embittered self-righteousness – devoid of any true glimmer of knowledge or spiritual wisdom – that is the hallmark of the Khawarij and their ideological cousins who drink from the same murky theological waters today. Of course, along with such fanatical zeal, their other great infamy was takfir – declaring other Muslims to be disbelievers, and spilling their blood because of it.

II

The historians al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir chronicle alarmingly precise accounts of their intimidation, violence and terror. Under the events of 37H/657CE they detail how the Khawarij began terrorising the countryside around Nahrawan, Iraq, subjecting those whom they caught to an imtihan or “inquisition”. If the answers failed to satisfy their zeal for purity, or agree with their understanding of things, then the punishment was death. Things came to a head when they chose ‘Abd Allah, son of an early companion, Khabbab b al-Aratt, as their victim. A number of the Khawarij rode into his village for supplies and thought to make an example of him. They fired their loaded questions at him. They first asked him about the caliphates of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. ‘Abd Allah extolled them all and praised their successive caliphates. So far, so good. They then asked him about ‘Ali, and his state before and after the arbitration or tahkim. ‘He has far greater knowledge about Allah than you do,’ replied ‘Abd Allah, ‘and has much more piety in terms of his religion and possesses greater insight.’ With that, his fate was sealed. They bound and dragged him and his pregnant wife to an orchard ladened with date palms, next to a river. As they were proceeding to kill him, a date fell to the ground, so one of the Khawarij picked it up and put it in his mouth. ‘Do you do that without the owner’s permission and without paying for it?’ said one of his Kharajite comrades. He spat it out instantly. Another Khariji, wielding his sword in threatening circles, accidentally killed a cow that had been wandering behind him. His comrades insisted he should go and find the owner and pay him the full price of the animal. They waited whilst he did so. Thus, having acted most righteously in the matter of the date and the cow, they slit ‘Abd Allah’s throat and then disemboweled his wife. Date spat out, cow paid for, husband, wife and unborn child butchered; and with the clearest of consciences, they purchased their supplies and went on their way.8

Theologians have differed as to the precise meaning of the Prophet’s words ﷺ: ‘They will pierce through the religion (yamruquna min al-din) as an arrow which goes clean through a prey.’ The idea of maraqa – an an arrow ‘piercing’ or going ‘clean through’ its prey with such force and velocity that it exists its prey without any trace of blood or flesh sticking to its tip or shaft, describes emphatically how the Khawarij immerse themselves in religion, but exit straight through it. The question, however, is do they exit the fold of orthodoxy (and become heterodox, deviant Muslims), or do they leave the actual fold of Islam? A minority of scholars went with the latter view; most went with the former.9 The majority view takes its cue from ‘Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, who was asked: Are the Khawarij mushrikun? He said: ‘They flee from shirk.‘ Are they munafiqun? He said: ‘The hypocrites remember Allah only a little.’ Then what are they? He said: ‘They are our brothers who transgressed against us (ikhwanuna baghaw ‘alayna), so we fought them for their transgression.’10

III

We may be forgiven for thinking that the Khawarij are an anachronism; a thing of the past, that have no bearing upon Muslims and today’s world. But we would be terribly wrong! The Khawarij, as we shall soon see, were prophesied as raising their ugly heads throughout time, until the Dajjal appears at their tale end. It is crucial, therefore, that we acquaint ourselves with their traits, attitudes and bent of mind:

1. Their first trait, as was mentioned, is that they will keep on rising throughout time. The Prophet ﷺ warned: ‘A group of young men will rise up reciting the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats. Whenever a group appears, it is to be cut off; until the Dajjal arises at their tale end.’ Ibn ‘Umar said: I heard the Prophet ﷺ saying: ‘Each time a group appears, it is to be cut off’ more than twenty times.11 Thus the Khawarij will continue to plague Islam and the Muslims, till the Dajjal arises in what remains of them.

2. Another typical trait is their ignorant, over-simplistic understanding of religion. To this reality, there are these following words of the Prophet ﷺ: ‘There will arise at the end of time a people young in age and weak in intellect (hudatha’ al-asnan wa sufaha’ al-ahlam). Their speech will be that of the best of creation. They will recite the Qur’an but it shan’t go beyond their throats. They will shoot through the religion just like an arrow goes through the game. When you meet them, kill them; for in their killing you will receive a great reward from Allah on the Day of Judgement.’12

Ibn Hajr wrote: ‘The Khawarij, what led them to judge those who opposed them to be disbelievers, making their blood lawful … and engage in fighting and killing Muslims? All this is from the vestiges of those who worship upon ignorance; those whose hearts haven’t been expanded by the light of knowledge. nor do they hold tightly to the firm rope of knowledge.’13 Indeed, more than any other fitnah today, the ummah is beset with takfiri violence, murder and mayhem, wreaked upon it mostly by those ‘young in age and weak in intellect.’

3. Extremism and fanaticism is another quintessential character. The Prophet ﷺ said about them: ‘There will arise among you a people whose prayer will make your prayer look insignificant, whose fasting will make your fasting look insignificant, and whose deeds will make your deeds look insignificant. They will recite the Qur’an but it won’t pass beyond their throats …’14 Ibn ‘Abbas said about the Khawarij, when he went to debate them: ‘I came to them at midday and entered upon a people, the likes of whom I hadn’t seen in terms of their exertion in worship. Their foreheads were grazed from [constant] prostration. Their hands were rough, like [the knees of] camels. They wore recently washed, girded up tunics. And their faces were pale from staying up at night [in prayer].’15

Despite their ostensibly impressive religiosity, which has ensnared many a youth into their misguided, brutal embrace, Ibn Hajr puts things into perspective for us: ‘It was said of them [that they are] “Reciters,” because of their tireless exertion in reciting the Qur’an and [devotion in] worship. Except that they would interpret the Qur’an upon other than its intended meanings, were obstinate, and went to extremes in regards to worldly detachment (zuhd), humility in prayer (khushu‘) and other [such] things.’16

4. Their speech is impressive, but their actions are abhorrent and wicked. One hadith states: ‘There shall appear in my ummah schisms and divisions, and a people who will beautify their speech, but their actions will be evil. They shall recite the Qur’an, but it will not pass beyond their throats …’17 A clear case that the Khawarij can talk the talk, but not walk the walk – and how yesterday resembles today.

5. They demean the seasoned scholars well-known for their depth of knowledge, fiqh and piety, and cut-off from them. The Prophet ﷺ described the Khawarij as: ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’18 Ibn ‘Abbas, in his parley with them, told them this home truth: ‘I come to you from the Emigrants (muhajirun) and the Helpers (ansar), and the son-in-law of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ. To them the Qur’an was revealed. They are more learned about its meanings than you are; and there is not a single one of them among you.’19

Fewer things are as repugnant as the blind, holier-than-thou absolutism of the newly reformed sinner (as the Khawarij saw themselves to be). In their purer than the pure self-righteousness they declared ‘Ali, Mu‘awiyah, and other sahabah to be unbelievers or kuffar. For they had failed to cross over to their puritanical way of seeing things. In fact, Khariji bigotry has always treated with contempt the true people of knowledge. The mediating voices of the scholars become, for the Khawarij, religious compromise or betrayal. Juristic nuances are seen by them as pharisaic, there to hide the simplicity of passing judgement on others. The Prophet ﷺ said about such murderous misfits: ‘They shall recite the Qur’an thinking it is for them, but it is against them.’20 And that: ‘They would call to the Book of Allah, but would not be from it at all.’21 Such can be the tragedy of those who, not withstanding their religious zeal, are wet behind the ears in terms of age, experience and knowledge.

In contrast to those ‘young in age, weak in intellect,’ the Prophet ﷺ said: al-barakah fi akabirikum – ‘The blessings are with your senior ones.’22 Indeed, cutting-off from the senior scholars in particular, and the people of knowledge and spirituality (ahl al-‘ilmi wa’l-ihsan) in general, is the root causes of how zeal for religious purity is taken over the brink into all-out fanaticism.

6. Along with the murder and violence, their most infamous trait is making takfir of a person for a major sin, or something for which takfir cannot be made. I have written at length about Takfir: Its Dangers & Its Rules elsewhere on this blog, so I’ll limit myself to this one hadith. The Prophet ﷺ said: ‘Truly what I most fear for you is a man who will recite the Qur’an until its radiance appears on him. So he becomes a support to Islam, changing it to whatever Allah wills. He then separates from it, casts it behind his back and raises the sword against his neighbour, accusing him of idolatry (shirk).’ I asked: O Allah’s Messenger who most deserves to be imputed with shirk; the accused or the accuser? He replied: ‘The accuser.”‘23 

Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘The Khawarij were the first to declare Muslims to be unbelievers due to committing sins. They declared as disbelievers whoever opposed them in their innovation, and made lawful the shedding of blood and the seizing of wealth.’24

7. One final trait. They do not venerate the Prophet ﷺ, even if they zealously observe some of the outward sunnahs. We should recall that the precursor to these Khawarij, Dhul-Khuwaysirah, rebuked the Prophet ﷺ, telling him to ‘fear Allah’ and ‘be just!’25 Such disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ, and towards his compassion and his concern to reconcile hearts (for that was the context in which he spoke these insolent words), still courses through Kharijite veins today.26

More than any other attribute, rahmah – compassion, mercy and clemency – was the defining quality of the Prophet ﷺ. Allah says about His Prophet: We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds. [21:107] The Prophet ﷺ once said: ‘I am indeed a merciful gift.’27 That being so, seldom will you find this profound prophetic attribute manifest upon them, save in some limited way. Anger, hostility, resentment and vengeance are more what animate them than mercy, humanity and tolerance. For theirs is the way of political agitation, not reconciliation; of demolishing, not building; of insulting the people of knowledge, not honouring or being guided by them; of “learning” via books, not at the feet of seasoned ‘ulema.

Again, seldom will you find one of them having a daily wird, or set portion, of sending salutations (salawat) upon the Prophet ﷺ, by which the bonds of profound love and attachment to him are cultivated. In fact, veneration (ta‘zim) of the Prophet ﷺ, and that ambition to emulate something of his inward states, are generally conspicuous in them by their absence.

Yet without this deep prophetic attachment, dehumanising the Quranic message and making faith appear utterly repugnant becomes more than a possibility; it becomes a hideous, living reality. What is clear is that those unschooled in ihsan – in the beauty of shari‘ah-rooted spirituality – will only bring ugliness into the world.

To conclude: Part 1 of this blog mapped the origins, significance and extremist nature of the first heterodox sect in Islam: the Khawarij. Section one recounted the genesis of the Khawarij, personified in the hubris of Dhu’l-Khuwaysirah – the ‘father’ of this violent, brutish, self-righteous sect. We saw how they made la hukma illa li’Llah – “No judgement except Allah’s” – their clarion call, dressing it up in their false meaning and misapplication. The second section gave us a window into their lopsided piety: acting most justly when it came to the price of a date, but having no conscience whatsoever when it came to butchering and killing those who did not share their political views. Such superficial piety is what the prophetic warnings about them allude to: ‘a people who will recite the Qur’an, but it won’t pass beyond their throats.’

Section three discussed some of their defining traits and attitudes: a black and white grasp of religious realities because of being ‘weak in intellect’; extremely puritanical; that Muslims would be the main victims of their violence and murder; they will keep appearing throughout time, but will be identified by the learned for what they truly are; their political rabble-rousing and denigration of the scholars; and, of course, their wanton takfir of Muslims for matters wherein takfir is not permitted.

In the second part of this blog, we’ll look at how Kharijite beliefs, ideas and methods have surfaced in modern times; especially in the form of the outfit known as ISIS or ISIL The claim of ISIS as being the legitimate Caliphate will be examined, as will core aspects of their ideology and their ‘Management of Savagery.’

And Allah’s help is sought.

1. Muslim, no.1064.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.3610.

3. Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis (Beirut: Dar al-Qalam, 1982), 88; also see: al-Shahrastani, al-Milal wa’l-Nihal (Cairo: Dar al-Halabi, 1967), 1:118.

4. Ibn Majah, no.176. Al-Albani graded it as sahih in Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1987), no.3347.

5. Talbis Iblis, 89.

6. Muslim, no.1066/157.

7. Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 7:152.

8. Consult: al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa’l-Muluk (Egypt: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1964); 5:81-2; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (Dar al-Hijr, 1998), 10:584.

9. Ibn Hajr al-‘Asqalani, Fath al-Bari (Cairo: Dar al-‘Alamiyyah, 2013), 8:225, 15:392-94, where he says that those who considered the Khawarij to be outside the fold of Islam include: Ibn al-‘Arabi in his Sharh al-Tirmidhi, al-Subki in his Fatawa, and al-Qurtubi in al-Mufhim.

10. Al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah, 10:591.

11. Ibn Majah, no.174. The hadith was graded hasan by al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1991), no.2455.

12. Al-Bukhari, no.5057; Muslim, no.1066. ‘There will arise at the end of time’ has been explained to mean: the end period of the rightly-guided khalifahs. See: Ibn Hajr, Fath al-Bari, 15:376.

13. Fath al-Bari, 15:394.

14. Al-Bukhari, no.5058; Muslim, no.1063.

15. Cited in Ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, 89.

16. Fath al-Bari, 15:371. Point to note: No doubt, the early Khawarij exerted themselves in worship. But this is not necessarily a trait of theirs in later times; nor even today. In fact, many of today’s Khawarij often have, despite their political zeal, rhetoric and commitment to carnage, little attachment to sustained religious practice (although in these religiously lax times, just praying a few prayers a day or growing a full beard can seem religiously impressive to some).

17. Abu Dawud, no.4765. It was classified as sahih in al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

18. Al-Bukhari, no.3611; Muslim, no.1066.

19. Talbis Iblis, 89-90.

20. Muslim, no.1066.

21. Ahmad, no.1338, and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Sahih al-Jami‘ al-Saghir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1986), no.3668.

22. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.559; al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.210, where he said: ‘It is sahih according to the conditions of al-Bukhari.’

23. Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.282. Ibn Kathir said: ‘Its chain is excellent (jayyid).’ See: Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim  (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 1987), 2:276.

24. Majmu‘ al-Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 3:279.

25. Al-Bukhari, no.6933; Muslim, no.1064.

26. In fact, similar resistance to reconciling hearts can be seen in Kharijite hostility to the tahkim or arbitration at Siffin. Moreover, the same disrespect towards the Prophet ﷺ can be seen in their insults against, and takfir of, ‘Ali – the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law; and thus a member of the Ahl al-Bayt.

27. Al-Hakim, Mustadrak, no.100; and it is sahih. See: al-Albani, Silsilat al-Ahadith al-Sahihah (Riyadh: Maktabah al-Ma‘arif, 1995), no.490.

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