By Sohel Nadeem Rahman
In the name of GOD, The Most Gracious and The Dispenser of Grace.
I post these thoughts with utmost humility and sincere intentions. May GOD forgive me for my inadvertent errors.
According to our Muslim beliefs, GOD revealed Islam or the original and TRUE religion to Adam (PBUH) and Eve (PBUH). That means Islam is also the TRUTH in every religion revealed to every group in human history, not only to the children of our father Abraham (PBUH), meaning Jews, Christians and Muslims. Similarly, the term Muslim also means in a more general sense, anyone from any religion who willfully submits to that truth in their own religion. Different paths yet the same destination, no matter how we choose to word what we feel and ponder deeply. No need to question GOD’s omniscience and omnipotence and resort to cursing those on a different path.
“And do not curse those who call on other than GOD, lest they blaspheme and curse GOD, out of ignorance. We have adorned the works of every group in their eyes. Ultimately, they return to their Lord, then He informs them of everything they had done.” (Quran 6:108)
We see that common denominator of basic theocentric, as opposed to egocentric, goodness in almost every faith. A document such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document contrary to some of the hip “post colonial” and “post Marxist” mythography, with actual Islamic* and other “non Western”** roots — is an excellent example of the greater consensus. We know of such roots and connections by way of their acknowledged influence on the English Common Law and Jeffersonian democracy based on religious freedom by serious scholars in the discipline.
In my humble opinion, there is no need to reinvent the wheel for the sake of ultimately egocentric novelty alone, and good statecraft ought to be based on those sound principles at this increasingly diverse, globalizing age. It is extreme vanity and misguidance to assume that we can somehow replicate the Divine and special times of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) and Rightly Guided ancestors, may GOD rest their great souls in peace, and establish our understanding of their State as we have come to understand the word “State” and various concepts signifying and elaborating the concept through a variety of non religious discourse. Not that too many of us even bother to tread that particularly futile and banal path with sufficient erudition. Many tend to wear a uniform instead and seek comfort in misguided group mentality well outside the spiritual and scholastic tradition of Islam, while attempting to ridicule that illuminating tradition.
Such soulless and mindless mimicry of our dogmatic and very limited understanding has given us the intoxicating sorcery of Utopian delusion in this world as opposed to a clearly anti-Utopian and sober view of the world that is integral to the greatness of Islam. It has “rewarded” us with the ugliness of angry and indignant sectarianism, reactionary fragmentation, transgressive violence and terrorism, and suicide, homicide and genocide in GOD’s name from “puritan” Jamaat-e-Islami leaders such as Ghulam Azam and Maolana Nizami (and their patrons and allies in the Pak army, Muslim League and the PPP) during the genocide, mass rape, mass torture, mass expulsion and brigandage in Bangladesh in 1971, to the outwardly benign and pious mass murders of today.
They have never prevailed in the past, no matter how much tribulation they have caused, and they will not prevail now or in the future InshAllah, because GOD guarantees victory only to those who preserve their covenant with Him without transgressing His laws and suggestions. That careful preservation through total submission is the real expression of true Iman (faith as in a light that GOD puts in our hearts) and Taqwa (deeply resonating awareness of GOD, the one we willfully submit to because of the gracious illumination of Fitrah or the innate awareness of GOD, the Creator, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace).
Imam Al Ghazzali, may GOD rest his great soul in peace, said: “Knowledge without action is insanity and action without knowledge is vanity”. We ought to try to strike that elusive balance in our individual, familial, communal, national and global obligations as willful submitters. Healthy hearts and lucid minds free from misguided anger, indignation and revenge, dark states that inevitably cloud our intent and subsequent actions. GOD calls upon us to be righteous and we must be righteous and honest ourselves before calling others out and inviting them to righteousness and honesty.
“who (the righteous) give to charity during the good times, as well as the bad times. They are suppressors of anger, and pardoners of the people. GOD loves the charitable.” (Quran 3:134)
“Invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kind enlightenment, and debate with them in the best possible manner. Your Lord knows best who has strayed from His path, and He knows best who are the guided ones.” (Quran 16:125)
“It was mercy from GOD that you became compassionate towards them. Had you been harsh and mean-hearted, they would have abandoned you. Therefore, you shall pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult them. Once you make a decision, carry out your plan, and trust in GOD. GOD loves those who trust in Him.” (Quran 3:159)
When assessing particular political situations, we must refrain from arrogance and ignorance, and be open to sound, corroborating, cross referencing reports especially when the “input” does not fit the “expectation” or our particular ideological neurosis. Human rights reports from reputable organizations such as AI as well as reputable news services such as CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, despite their flaws, can help us develop that capacity once we’ve decided to be intellectually honest with ourselves.
“You shall not treat the people with arrogance, nor shall you roam the earth carefree. GOD does not like the arrogant showoffs.” (Quran 31:18)
“The servants of the Almighty are those who tread the earth gently, and when the ignorant speak to them, they only utter peace.” (Quran 25:63)
“O you who believe, if a wicked person brings any news to you, you shall first investigate, lest you commit injustice towards some people, out of ignorance, then become sorry and remorseful for what you have done.” (Quran 49:6)
“O you who believe, you shall avoid any suspicion, for even a little bit of suspicion is sinful. You shall not spy on one another, nor shall you backbite one another; this is as abominable as eating the flesh of your dead brother. You certainly abhor this. You shall observe GOD. GOD is Redeemer, Most Merciful.” (Quran 49:12)
The view I now share with you is my sincere and humble understanding of something very traditional. In fact, it is just about as traditional as they get in light of Islamic history. Nothing here is “modern” or “radical”. As far as Islamic history is concerned, it is the “modern” movements, about 100 years old, such as elements of the so called Salafi and Debandi movements and their more deviant political variants in Wahabism, Qutbism, Maududism and varieties of Shariatism are inherently reactionary.
Islam transcends narrow sociopolitical concepts of the Dunya or the world. Concepts and abstractions such as “modernism” and “progressivism”, “the left” or “the right”. Islam therefore doesn’t need to be “updated” or “upgraded” as such. The Madhabs or Islamic schools of scholarship and jurisprudence, because of their erudite methodology, subsequent internal harmony, heterogeneity, diversity of well formulated opinions, and human link since their inception, simply reaffirm the truth within contemporary context with firm emphasis on the real basics. Such scholars are illuminaries and according to the interpretation of Imam Al Ghazzali, may GOD rest his great soul in peace, and are ranked highly, just below GOD Himself and His Angels (PBUT).
“God bears witness that there is no god except He, as do the angels, and those with knowledge, He is standing with justice. There is no god except He, the Noble, the Wise.” (Quran 3:18)
“O you who believe, if you are told to make room in the assemblies, then you shall make room. God will then make room for you. And if you are told to leave, then leave. God will raise those among you who believe, and those who acquire knowledge to higher ranks. God is fully aware of everything you do.” (Quran 58:11)
The Madhabs represent the traditional institutions of learning in the Islamic tradition where a Rightly Guided person, Rightly Guided because of the will, grace and blessing of GOD and GOD alone, can become a Rightly Guided Scholar.
Interestingly enough, the “moderns” tend to staunchly oppose traditional Islamic scholarship of the Madhabs, and misguide the ignorant as to the conditions of both sound Ijtihad or independent interpretations of the legal sources and Taqlid or imitation. They also mislead themselves and others as to the actual role of Rightly Guided and Duly Qualified Madhabi scholars, and the valuable use of their learned jurisprudence in our lives.
Eventually systematic decontextualization and similarization run riot in a charismatic, cryptic to overtly political package, and we find misguided Muslims using religion for narrow and shortsighted political ends, often transgressing the clear commandments and suggestions of GOD through deliberate convolution and downright intellectual dishonesty. May GOD guide them to light.
The proof is always in the fruit. If a particular variety of Islam results in discord, division, demonization, extremism and violence, not only it violates the way almost every chapter in the Quran begins, it violates the SLM, meaning peace, key letters in the key words “Islam” and “Muslim”, and the example of the Prophet (PBUH) according to the Quran and the reported gospels of the Prophet (PBUH), sent as a mercy to the world and as our finest example of peacefulness, patience, moderation and other virtues. They tend to do the opposite.
“O you who believe, no people shall ridicule other people, for they may be better than they. Nor shall any women ridicule other women, for they may be better than they. Nor shall you mock one another, or call each other names. Evil indeed is the reversion to wickedness after attaining faith. Anyone who does not repent after this, these are the transgressors.” (Quran 49:11)
In my humble opinion, that angry variety of Islam adhered to by a vocal minority, an Islam devoid of GOD’s will as expressed through the Prophet’s (PBUH) virtues is misguidance. The same logic of the proof being in the fruit can be also applied to assess who is a “Rightly Guided Scholar” and who is not. The term “Duly Qualified Scholar” applies to someone who has gone through the rigorous training and scholarship of the 4 traditional Sunni or the Jafari Shia Madhab. As in the Jewish tradition, they are NOT priests or intermediaries between GOD and our salvation as individuals. Salvation, simply put, meaning peace and happiness in this world and the afterlife. They illuminate the path only GOD defines for us.
They understand that Islam cannot be imposed as there is “no compulsion in religion.” Also, a Muslim is someone who “willfully” accepts Islam. In this light, Islam can be neither political nor legislative as an extension of politics in a state apparatus, because that would necessitate political and legislative coercion, and therefore imposition and compulsion. Also, such a theocracy would lead to speaking for GOD and inevitably result in forbidden partnership with GOD. GOD doesn’t need us, we need Him. Injustices must be engaged but in the best, most useful possible way, and never in transgression of GOD’s commandments.
An integral part of that best possible way is levelheaded analysis from a faithful heart in submission to GOD and at peace with itself as the result of GOD’s grace as well as its effort. Spiritual diseases infecting the heart, diseases such as self-centeredness, addiction to wealth, fame and social status, and ignorance, cowardice, cruelty, lust, doubt, malevolence, calumny, envy, deception, and greed cannot be a part of that process. Imam Al Ghazzali, may GOD rest his great soul in peace, “argued that there are four elements in human nature: the sage (intellect and reason), the pig (lust and gluttony), the dog (anger), and the devil (brutality). He argued that the latter three elements are in conflict with the former element and that “different people have such powers in different proportions.” Surely the sage in our nature, not the pig, dog or the devil, has the best chance of yielding the best possible way!
Looking a bit deeper into some of the “revolutionary political activism” phenomena to the contrary, allow me to quote from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, GOD bless him, of the Maliki Madhab. In explaining the difference between “Action” and (some political) “Activism”, he said during his explanation of Shaykh Murabtal Haaj’s, GOD bless him, fatwa on the benefit of following a Madhab:
“(Some political) Activism, and I’m saying this as a former activist, activism is often nothing other than working out your own psychological problems in a public arena. So if you’re angry, you begin to justify your anger by using objects of your anger, which are justifiably objects of anger. But the reason that you’re attacking them is NOT because you’re really indignant about those things. The reason you’re attacking them is because you’re angry as an individual, and you want to justify your anger, so you direct it at object of anger, and that’s what they call sublimation. You sublimate your pathology and find some socially acceptable arena to display it … and this is why you have to have Tazkiyah (al-Nafs), that’s why the foundation of our Deen (way of being and becoming) is Tazkiyah, you have to purify the self …”
Tazkiyah or the purification of self, alongside the willful and diligent cultivation of Akhlaq, “referring to the practice of virtue, morality and manners in Islamic theology and Falsafah (philosophy)” must be utilized to strengthen Iman (faith as in a light that GOD puts in our hearts), Taqwa (deeply resonating awareness of GOD, the One we willfully submit to at the gracious urge of Fitrah or the innate awareness of GOD, the Creator, the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace), Ehsan (spiritual excellence through sincere intent and effort), Salat (individual link with GOD), Zakat (good, charitable deeds as a sincere and direct expression of good, selfless intentions), Sawm (regulated abstinence) and unity through Hajj (pilgrimage linking us to our Abrahamic roots, Peace Be Upon our father Abraham).
In addition to those sincere efforts, intellectually honest knowledge in these matters will only strengthen our Yakin (certainty) and result in good actions InshAllah, so that we may counter evil with good.
“Not equal is the good response and the bad response. You shall resort to the nicest possible response. Thus, the one who used to be your enemy, may become your best friend.” (Quran 41:34)
“They steadfastly persevere in seeking their Lord, observe the Link (Salat), spend from our provisions to them secretly and publicly, and counter evil with good. These have deserved the best abode.” (Quran 13:22)
Only then, if we call ourselves “Muslim”, indeed an exalted responsibility often trivialized into a serious of heartless rituals, we should endeavor to obey GOD’s commandments and suggestions in everything we do, including politics and statecraft, because of our willful covenant with our Maker as individual submitters to His will. This means that a practicing Muslim politician must adhere to the highest moral and ethical standards known to mankind, period.
This way, the “Islamic State” can never be a theocracy but a “State of the Willfully Submitted Soul” of willfully pious submitters to GOD’s will. That individual may also choose go to a Rightly Guided and Duly Qualified Scholar on a variety legal matters based on Fiqh or jurisprudence, and a particular interpretation of Sharia on those matters as a matter of personal choice freely accepted as spiritual obligation. That in essence, is freedom of religion within a representative state.
GOD directs us to “people who know” and the Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have said that the Rightly Guided Scholars, while there would be immense diversity of opinion, will never “agree on an error.” This agreement or Ijma, is a general consensus amongst the four Sunni and the Shia Jafari Madhab.
“And whoever is hostile to the messenger after the guidance has been clarified to him, and he follows other than the path of the believers; We will grant him what he has sought and deliver him to Hell; what a miserable destination.” (Quran 4:115)
Last but not least, when it comes to differences of opinion, I think it is far more fruitful to adhere to the excellent practice of trying to understand things from the good faith and intellectually honest point of view of the disagreed upon opinion than to try and forge an “agreement” through polemical manipulation and rhetorical trickery.
Let us pray to GOD so that we may have the courage to seek common ground, celebrate diversity and “vie” in righteousness.
“O people, We created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.” (Quran 49:13)
Peace and GOD bless~
*Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and Imam Abu Bakr Siddique, Imam Umar Ibn Al Khattab, Imam Uthman Ibn Affan, Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, Imam Jafar As Sadiq, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Imam Al Ghazzali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun among others, may GOD rest their great souls in peace.
** Cyrus The Great, Rabbi Musa Ibn Maymun (AKA Moshe Ben Maimon and Moses Maimonides), may GOD his great soul in peace, and the Iroquois Confederacy among others.