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Sheikh Abd el-Qadir as-Sufi, Sheikh of the Shadhili-Darqawi Tariqa and head of the Murabitun movement, wrote an extended essay in 2000 entitled “A letter to an ArabMuslim”. The learned master, Sheikh Abd el-Qadir, expounded on the crisis facing the Arabs and their inability to rise to their historic status. Although the elucidation of the Sheikh on this vital issue was often profound and incisive, it was nevertheless curiously incomplete. This open letter is in way of a response to the Sheikh’s essay. Assalamu aleikum wa Rahmatullahu wa Barakuttuhu. All praise is to Allah, the Master of the Worlds. It is through Him that we seek assistance and guidance. He is the First and Last; the Manifest and the Hidden; there is no deity but He; there is no reality but Allah. Peace and Blessings upon the Most Noble of Creation, the Blessed Prophet, his Progeny, His Righteous Companions, and all those who follow him, with ihsan, until the Day of Reckoning, the Yawm ad-Deen Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, in His infinite Mercies, has given power and insight to those of His chosen servants who have been authorised to carry the trust of His friendship, His wilaya. The burden of wilaya is immense. It is the entire load that the mountains shrank from carrying. For with authority to reflect the Divine Mercy, the Rahma of Allah, along the perfect pattern of our Noble Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, is another condition of equal import – to reflect it with guidance and compassion to man. Call upon the Rahman, the All-Merciful, we are commanded, for His Mercy is the Font of all His Attributes. Rahma, Forbearance and Guidance are the attributes of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, that are chiselled on the eternal tablet of the Fatiha. And is not the entire Quran al-Karim contained within the Fatiha? I have not met you, the upright Sheikh Abd el-Qadir. Suffice it for me that you are the acknowledged Sheikh of my Sheikh, the realised and illumined master, Sheikh Fadhlallah al-Haeri, may Allah protect and support him. There is no doubt that both of you are masters, and true friends, awliyas, of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, drawing your light from the great source that passes back along the lines of confirmed attribution to the Prophet, Peace and Blessing of Allah be upon him, through that Master of those who are in true awe of Allah, Imam Ali, peace be upon him. The West, possibly for the first time in modern history, is home to masters who are from the West itself. And it is part of Allah’s design that there will be no point, in time, when the world is bereft of a person who will announce the eternal refrain of the shahada. If the East, the original source of light and truth, begins to fade in its luminance, then Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, will cause the West to reflect that Light, and the roles will be reversed. This is the command of Allah, and to those who follow the commands of Allah, all points of the azimuth can be the homeland of a wali of Allah. Your presence in the West – inside the belly of the beast as it were – is, therefore, all the more significant. I believe I have read all your published works, and I have had the honour of being in the company of a number of your fuqara. Your works in the way of Islam are remarkable in their audacity and forthrightness, and I can say, in truth, that you are a founder of an entire school, a madrassa of knowledge and action. It is therefore, with the utmost courtesy and
consideration for your high station and standing, that I am addressing this letter to you in direct response to your “Letter to an Arab Muslim”. The dignity of the Arab is in his Islam. The identity of the Arab is inseparable from his Islam. There is no dispute about this. Throughout the last two hundred years, ever since the disastrous incursion of the West into the Arab heartlands with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, the Arabs have been subject to a relentless onslaught from within and without aimed at undermining their vital link to the deen. None of the historic peoples that guarded the deen in its first 1400 years had to undergo such a systematic campaign to decouple a people from the wellsprings of its vitality. The Arabs were the catalyst for the propagation of Islam and this is their assigned role in the order of things. It is not to dominate Muslims for eternity by any racial or ethnic priority. It is not to claim any special status for them by virtue of the Prophet’s lineage or the language of the Qur`an. Both of these are legacies for all mankind and do not confer any special privileges for the Arab. The vitality of the deen is in direct proportion to the taqwa of Muslims, and not to their real or imagined services to the civilisation of Islam. But the figure of the Arab – his language, his energy and his person – was the chosen agent for the spread of Islam. The medium for carrying the message must not be confused with the message itself. That is clear. But any vessel, be it made of the basest clay will always retain within its memory, within its cellular structure, the traces of the elixir that it used to hold. Whether the Arabs, qua Arabs, upheld this trust faithfully, only Allah knows, but the simple fact of being the carriers of the message, even for a brief but glorious moment, at its birth in existential time and for a few decades thereafter, has always marked the Arab with a special promise and potential. Whether this is real or not is not the issue. It has been seen by the enemies of the deen to be real. Undermining the Arab’s self-confidence, which can only be Islam-rooted, and finally alienating the Arab from his potential catalytic role in Islam, has always been the ultimate purpose of tyrants and oppressors, unbelievers and hypocrites, the kuffar and munafiqun against whom the Glorious Qur`an expressly warns. A. Cynicism, despotism and corruption – the legacy of the First Fitna The issue of the primacy of Arab over non-Arab in Islam is an invention of the bigotry or asabiyya of the enemies of the Prophet and this has always been twinned with a hatred of the Banu Hashim generally and the Prophet’s household, the Ahl-ul-Bayt, in particular. The Muawiyya who is vaunted as a “dahiyya” for his perceived astuteness, and has astoundingly been accepted as a narrator of genuine hadith began the process of cursing the Imam Ali as part of state policy. I relate this on the authority of Tabari, not particularly known for his Shia proclivities. And the Mu’tazzali, Ibn Abi al-Hadid, narrates that Muawiyya used to refer to the blessed Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah upon him, in fits of uncontrolled jealousy, as, astaghfurillah, Ibn Abi Kabsha, the scornful name that was given to the most noble of men by the Prophet’s enemies in Mecca. Does this not resemble, in intensity of hatred to the Prophet, to the remarks that you attributed to Ibn Saud when he met the Ulemas of India? The “virtues” of Muawiyya include the poisoning of the Prophet’s grandson, Imam Hassan, and the appointment of his illegitimate half-brother, the infamous and bloody Ziyad ibn Abih, as governor over Basrah to hound and eliminate the partisans of Ahl-ul-Bayt. It is inconceivable for a pious Muslim to give legitimacy to such a person and place him in authority over the mu’minun. This is what Muawiyya did with Ziyad, in flagrant violation of all the ordinances of Islam. Ziyad’s crimes against Islam can only be exceeded by his son, the notorious Ubaydullah, who presided over the massacres at Kerbala. I do not want to go into the deliberate murder of scores of the Talibin – the descendants of the Imam Ali – during Muawiyya’s kingship and throughout the benighted rule of the Sufyanis, and indeed throughout the first two hundred years of the Islamic Empire. All that
one has to do is to read the impeccable scholarship of the “Maqatil” of Abu Faraj alIsfahani to see for oneself the extent to which the descendants of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah upon him, were hounded and murdered by those who wielded authority over Muslims. The charge of usurpation and illegitimacy that has been levelled at the Ummayyads and the Abbassis is not without justification, and the response of these rulers had been the classic one of divide and rule, liberally laced with state terror. The entire reign of the ill-fated Sufyanis was based on the encouragement of bloody division, discord and fitna amongst Muslims, and government by repression and oppression. The tragedy for the Arabs began there and then. Kingship of the most odious kind was imposed on them, and subsequently justified by the hirelings who, then as now, were always ready to do the tyrant’s bidding. The entire program of Muawiyya was to intimidate, cheat, and threaten to ensure the successful establishment of despotic kingship with his loathsome son, Yazid, as his anointed successor. The hatred of the Ummayyads for the Prophet and his household reached epidemic proportions. It became a sunna for the Ummayyads to curse Imam Ali, peace be upon him, during the Hajj on the day of Arafa. The great historian Baladhuri relates a story of the encounter of one of the “dahiyyas” of Banu Umayya, Marwan, with Imam Ali as-Sajjad, the great grandson of the Noble Prophet. The Imam as-Sajjad asked Marwan why the Imam Ali Ibn abi Taleb was being cursed from the pulpits in all the mosques. Marwan’s cynical but revealing response was: “la yastaqimu l-amru illa bi-dhalik” – Our rule would not be established without it. Marwan thereby acknowledged openly that Ummayyad rule was based on a monstrous injustice. The fuqaha of Islam – rightly fearing to perpetuate the deep sense of outrage felt by all Muslims at the seizure of power by munafiqun – have generally shrank from confronting this usurpation of power by the worst of Quraish. And it has come down to treating this as an unfortunate squabble – the Great Fitna as it has been euphemistically called. In reality it is the Great Betrayal. The Umma of Islam was cheated from its birthright to govern itself by the laws of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, whether through consultation, acclamation or designation, by a cynical and corrupt power grab that set the precedent for all subsequent governments over Muslims generally and Arabs specifically. Dwelling on the patterns of rule and legitimacy developed by Muawiyya may be an exercise in futility, but Muawiyya wrote the handbook for the “effective” ruler and his methods have been copied, in part or in whole, by the gang that rules over the Arabs at present. Firstly, is the preference given to non-Muslims over Muslims in councils of state and as the trusted executors of the will of the ruler. Muawiyya’s use of Syrian Christians as administrators and advisers finds its counterpart today in the extensive use of minorities in powerful positions of authority and control throughout the Arab World, from the power of the Jewish Azouleys in Morocco to the Sawaris Copts of Egypt and the Christian businessmen surrounding the courts of the oil and Baath potentates. Secondly, the preference given to regional, tribal and clan loyalties over the taqwa of individuals. This has provided the norm for cementing political control in most of the Arab countries today. A simple glance at the political map of the Arab World shows the ugly face of tribalism and narrow clannishness behind all the regimes, most notably those who hide behind the wretched slogans of socialism, nationalism and revolutionary power. Scratch an Arab Baathist or Socialist and you will find a thicket of interlocking tribal and clan interests that prop up the structures of tyranny.
Thirdly, is the use of subterfuge, guile and cynical corruption to co-opt opponents and when that fails, to resort to brute force and murder. The murder of the great Companion, Hujr ibn ‘Adi, and the poisoning of the Qur`anic reciter and sahabi Malik ibn al-Ashtar (see Thaqafi’s “Gharat”) are only a few of the most well known murders of Muawiyya by poison. The son of the great general Khalid ibn al-Walid, Abd el-Rahman, himself a capable commander, was poisoned by Muawiyya, fearing his popularity with the army (see Tabari’s “Tarikh” and Baladhuri’s “Ansab”). These lessons in power have been well learnt by the dictators of the Arab World. Fourthly, to construct a veneer of public piety and good works, extolling the common people to iman and virtue, while the despotism continues in its corrupt and faithless ways. Arabs these days are regaled with massive expenditures on mosques, some costing nearly a billion dollars, that are supposed to demonstrate the piety of the rulers but are in reality no more than attempts to pull the wool over people’s eyes. Meanwhile entire nations are being systematically pillaged and reduced to ruin by a vicious and greedy ruling group that has nothing but contempt for the common man and his deen. Fifthly, to institute kingship and dynastic succession as the norms of rule in Arab/Islamic societies. This has brought the Arabs to the ludicrous situation where the children of “revolutionary” dictators are aspiring or being groomed to succeed their fathers. In one instance this has indeed happened. But perhaps the most perfidious of Muawiyya’s actions was the purposeful distortions and outright lies used to embellish Islam and to confuse and obfuscate the mind of the ordinary pious Muslim. An entire industry was encouraged, developed and financed by Muawiyya specifically aimed at distorting the prophetic message, the role of the first four Khulafas, and the ahadith of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him. This caused the most lasting damage to Islam, for it made the task of ferreting the truth from a web of lies and distortions a very difficult affair. It also hardened positions and hearts which regrettably continues to this very day, all in the interest of power and dynastic rule. The near unanimous legitimacy given by Arabs to Saddam’s invasion of Iran is an example of racial and sectarian stereotyping that did immeasurable harm to the potential of establishing a true Islamic order. It is a source of the deepest regret that when Arabs look for models to regenerate themselves and their societies according to the commands of Allah, they are given as a model either the cynicism and duplicity of Muawiyya or some fantasy vision of what constitutes legitimate government gleaned from medieval texts such as Mawardi’s “Ahkam as-Sultaniyya”. Better for them that they spare some thought for that most profound tract written on Islamic government, namely Imam Ali’s letter to Malik ibn al-Ashtar, may Allay be pleased with him, on his appointment as governor of Egypt. The entire work is suffused with the highest ethical principles and the Imam establishes emphatically that the exercise of power can only be sanctioned if it is to fall under the sway of the commands of Allah and His Messenger. No realpolitik here; only the unvarnished truth of Islam. B. Nationalism and racism – the scourge of Arabs and Muslims Islam did not abrogate concern with lineage and ethnicity. However, it gave it validity solely in the context of the aya that “akramakum ‘ind allahi atqakum” – the best of you are those who are in true mindfulness (of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He). Amongst the world’s peoples, those who could be the least prone to racism and partiality to ethnicity are, I believe, the Arabs; and this is part of Allah’s design for them as catalysts for Islam. No other nation combines the spread of racial and ethnic types as the Arabs and no other group has so readily taken to settling and mixing with entirely different races as the Arab. The ease with which the Arab travelled and intermarried in the lands of Islam and even in outlying areas
such as Africa and South East Asia, before their embrace within the folds of Islam, is positive proof of the lack of racial-consciousness of the Arab who is also firm in his deen. The Arab Muslim, as a type, is the complete antithesis of the Arab in the state of jahilliya, to whom lineage and tribe were the be-all and end-all of his sense of worth. The abrupt shift from a race-based consciousness to a taqwa-centred one is nothing short of miraculous. This shift, when completed within tawhid, makes the Arab a formidable carrier of the deen of Islam. It is no wonder therefore that undermining the perception of the Arab of his identity as being linked to the prototype of the universal Muslim, is one of the main objectives of the kuffar and munafiqun. This has been accomplished historically and in modern times by using the three weapons of racism (in its “’assabiyya” as well as in its modern sense); sectarianism (the Sunni-Shia dichotomy) and finally nationalism. Muawiyya and the Ummayyads generally- with the important exception of Umar ibn Abd el-Aziz, may Allah be pleased with him- consciously built their power on the racial hegemony of the Arab over the non-Arab. The evidence for this is overwhelming. The Khalifa Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, ensured that Arabia itself was entirely Muslim to the extent of forcing non-Muslim Arab tribes to leave Arabia. Muawiyya reversed this policy preferring not only Arabs to non-Arabs but Christian Arabs over Muslims. The client nations, the mawali, of Arab tribes were always kept at bay while the process of facilitating conversion to Islam by the peoples of the territories under Muslim rule was hardly encouraged. It took Umar ibn Abd el-Aziz, may Allah be pleased with him, to reverse this policy and to initiate inducements to accelerate conversion. No wonder that the Orientalists of both the 19th and 20th centuries, especially those with Christian affiliations, were enthusiastic about the rule of Muawiyya, seeing in Muawiyya the ideal Arab ruler over Christians. The treatment of those who adhered to the protected religions, the dhimmis, as prescribed by the Noble Quran and the ahadith of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, became subordinate to the interests of the dynastic state. Neither Kitab nor Sunna features in the policy of tyrants when it conflicts with personal power. The glorification of Umayyad rule became the stock-in-trade of those who wanted to undermine the Islam of the Arabs. Descriptions of Ummayyad rule as a pristine Arab enterprise was juxtaposed against the problematic dynasty of the Abbasis- polyglot, multiethnic, with no visibly racial component to it. The Arabs were seen to have lost in the transfer of Khalifal authority from Damascus to Baghdad. Myths of this kind were the bedrock for the birth of virulent Arab nationalism and the beginning of the undermining of Arab identity in modern times. The essence of nationalism is the pursuit of homogeneity, and the ideologues of Arab nationalism, liberally borrowing from all the philosophical and political theories prevalent in the western world, foisted a redefinition of the Arab onto the consciousness of the Umma. The writings of Darwish Miqdadi and the infamous Sati’ alHusri celebrated the Arab of the jahilliya, the Arab as conqueror, the Arab of the racially pure Ummayyad dynasty, with Islam as a part, but only a part, of his identity. This was carried further into present times with the work of Arab historians of the school of Abd elAziz ad-Douri, whose thesis was the relationship between Arab “decline” and the rise of the non-Arab element in the high culture of the Abbassis- the so called “shu’ubiyya” phenomenon. So Islam became useful only as a vehicle for uniting the Arabs towards an ill defined special mission- the pathetic slogan of the discredited Baath Party – One Nation with an eternal Message. This continued into the proto Marxism of the Arab nationalist movement of the 1960’s with the whole false edifice crashing down with the serial Arab defeats at the hands of Israel and the imperial powers. This is no doubt a warning shot across the boughs. Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, in his Infinite Mercy, has decreed that no nation will receive Allah’s support unless it changes itself.
The damage that Arab nationalism has inflicted on the Arab psyche is considerable, and even though it is now a totally bankrupt and discredited ideology, propped up by a few geriatric hacks in the service of dictators, it has left a residue of confusion and misapprehensions in the mind of the average person. The intellectual dereliction in the Arabic-speaking world is total. The return to Islam is accelerating at an enormous rate, with the powers-that-be terrified of being swamped by a force that is angry, inchoate and bent on retribution for decades of being lied to and fed with nonsense that distanced the average person from his commitment to the deen. Sensing this, the Christian Arabs are leaving in droves. Palestine is now nearly empty of its Christian population while in Lebanon the Christian population has dwindled to half of its size twenty years ago. A similar story can be heard from Iraq and Syria. The fiction that Arabs are anything but overwhelmingly Muslim to their core is rapidly disintegrating, forcing a hasty attempt to define and control the rise of resurgent Islam in the heart of the Arab Muslim. This is coming in two ways. The first is through an acceleration of the spread of immorality and license through the media, now dominated by local satraps and allies of the global media industry. The second is through the encouragement of extreme forms of sectarianism and takfir through the intermediation of the world wahhabi movement, a trend which you correctly diagnosed. The bedrock of Muslim social life is the sanctity of family and the regulation of sexual relations through prescribed modes and forms that are licit. The global media behemoths, targeting the Arabic-speaking countries, are launching a number of stations that mimic the worst on offer in the western world. This is not the soporific and badly produced fare of the state-owned media, but targeted and extremely slick programs that are aimed directly at young people, with the aim of separating them from their fitrah; and in the interests of consumerism, sinking them in the hell of the global youth culture. What the ideology of Arab nationalism could not do, the bets are now on the potent mix of sexual license, drugs and rock n’ roll, supposedly the mantra of contemporary youth. Hours upon hours of deviant programming, backed frequently by the wealth of an Arab prince or a billionaire Prime Minister, is beamed without control or supervision on supposedly alienated youth yearning to breathe the heady scent of western freedoms. Even Arab nationalists were hesitant when they tried to enter the sanctum of the Arab’s private world. The modern media crusaders have no such qualms. This invasion of personal space by the forces of shaytan, in the name of cultural freedom and entertainment, goes hand in hand with another tragedy in the making; namely the wholesale adoption, by the new variant of Arab “modernizers”, of the programme of the socalled Washington consensus. We have heard of this consensus before as being the mix of policies and measures inflicted on the poor by the denizens of the World Bank/IMF/WTO and other related multilateral institutions in the service of finance capital. These policies which usually end in the bankruptcy for the recipients of this sapient advise, combine, in no particular fashion, policies of removal of price controls, free movement of capital (but not labour!), privatisation (or the transfer of state assets at give-away prices to the rulers in partnership with local oligarchs and multinationals), establishment of financial markets, a free for all in the banking sector (accompanied by massive cases of fraud, theft and bankruptcies), and exchange “liberalisation” ( which usually translates into collapsing currencies and hyperinflation).The Arabicspeaking countries have all received this wonderful advise and the consequences have been the predictable ones of massive unemployment, destroyed economies and pauperisation. But burrowing under the surface is the flip side of the Washington consensus, which is not immediately recognisable. Unbeknown to most people is a nexus of institutions, some specifically targeted at the Arabic-speaking countries, which are busily engaged in co-opting
the new modernists under the programme label of “building a civil society”. Institutions such as the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Studies, the National Endowment for Democracy, the RAND Corporation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Institute of International Finance and a number of universities actively control the agenda of the new Arab modernizers. These entities are linked directly to western governments, multinationals and banks, and the Israel/Zionist lobby. Their schema is quite simple as it relates to the Arab and Muslim world. Replace the framework of society that is prescribed by the deen of Islam with notions of democracy, human rights, women’s rights, gender equality, rights of perverts, rights of minorities, rule of law in the sense of the corrupt adversarial system of pseudo-justice that pervades in the West. And on and on. ABS - Anything But the Sharia ! So if our dictators are to fall- and well they might- we will replace them with an oriental version of Puerto Rico. Allied with the campaign to devise the new Arab “modernizer”, is another one, aimed at socalled Islamic leaders, this time to produce a sanitised, “touchy-feely” version of Islam- a non-threatening Islam eager to engage in the “dialogue of civilisations”; an Islam that is really not at odds with the new tune of liberal democracy. Here we have our so-called leaders- from both major sects- being trotted out to participate in silly conferences on interfaith dialogue, with these court Ulema and “Muslim thinkers” tripping over themselves to produce unrecognisable versions of the deen to please or appease world kufr, as if this means anything to them apart from bemusement at the abasement of the official spokesmen for Islam. Experts at holding these spiritual jamborees are the ex-Crown Prince of Jordan and ISISCO (The Organisation of Islamic Conference’s version of UNESCO). It is remarkable how many outrages have been inflicted on the deen in the last two hundred years by faithless apologists, all subscribing to an unrecognisable Islam that one day has to claim an affinity with 19th century science and another with Marxian dialectics and on another day with post-modern feminists and liberal globalists. All so as to present Islam as “modern” to a West that doesn’t give a hoot about a toothless deen .It is only concerned with the original, because it is the voice of Haq; and shaytan knows that: “atta al-Haq wa zahaqa al-Batil, inna al-Batilu kanna zahuqqa“ ( Truth has manifested itself and has overwhelmed evil; it is evil that will always be overwhelmed). Another facet of this campaign is to present Islam through the ethereal gauze of a benign, spaced-out tassawuf, with Rumi translations occupying valuable shelf space in bookshop chains, stacked with other titles under the heading of “ New Age and Alternative Spirituality”. You have to pore with a microscope to see any mention of the Sharia in this hideous distortion of tassawuf, with only a faintly embarrassing acknowledgement of Sufism’s relationship with Islam or with the person of the Blessed Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him. This is the path of haqiqa without Sharia, which is zandaqa, which is now being adopted wholesale by the more “spiritual” of the Arab modernizers. The poet Adonis- an alias for the Nuseiri sectarian Ali Ahmad Said- wrote a whole treatise- under supervision of the Jesuits, one might add- on this subject, and has been a model for a whole school of Arab literati who draw from the heritage of tassawuf to propagate zandaqa and faithlessness. Contemporary Arab literature, especially poetry, the uniquely appropriate form of Arab adab, seeks its modernity from a deliberate stripping away of the bounds of the Sharia which necessarily contained the ecstatic utterances or shathats of the great walis; and draws its inspiration from a shameless distortion of this wonderful heritage. Ibn alFaridh is reinvented as an erotic poet; al-Hallaj is seen as an inspiration to libertines; and the Sheikh al-Akbar, Ibn ‘Arabi, is the justification for all varieties of pantheistic trivia that are hauled out to justify the abandonment of a Sharia- centred deen. Drunkenness –as- a-
program, sexual license, slavish imitation of western intellectual and cultural fads, deliberate and public flouting of courteous and modest conduct, is the hallmark of that pathetic figure, the progressive thinker in the Arab world these days. Variations of this shabby scene can be found now in all the Muslim World In reality, Islam had been able to tolerate such behaviour simply because society as a whole was confirmed in its deen and had an inviolate, and scrupulously observed, set of ethics and principles of conduct. Sceptics such as Omar al-Khayyam; wine imbibers such as Abu Nawas; love lyricists such as the Andalsuian Ibn Zaydun were all allowed a space to act out their eccentricities as long as they did not overstep the boundaries and turn their private fantasies into a disruptive attack on the Umma. The situation these days is entirely different. Caution has been thrown to the wind and whatever sense of responsibility may have existed towards the Umma, is now replaced with the barks of “intellectual freedom” and “personal rights”. It is truly depressing to see the condition of the Arab intellectual- especially those who reached their maturity in the heyday of the secular nationalist/socialist tide. Poseurs, such as the apostate and pseudo-philosopher Sadiq el-Azm, who once infamously called for Islam to be placed in the museums, is now a dismal relic, reduced to writing tracts in praise of the “peace process” with Zionists. Marxist liberation politics’ twinning with Sufism and the Mu’tazzila, as expounded in Hassan Mrou’s doomed project, got nowhere. The Arab disciples of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, led by the effete Michel Aflaq, completely subverted his thought and produced the gibberish that passes for the “ideology” of Baathism. Baathism, supposedly an engine for progressive change as seen by political scientists of the 1960’s and 1970’s, evolved effortlessly into a nearly perfected system of control and terror that easily meets the entry requirements for the world’s list of the most brutal and bloody dictatorships. The impenetrable and possibly nonsensical writings of Foucault’s deconstructionist followers in the Arab world, such as the Franco-Algerian, Mohammed Arakoun, who can barely write in Arabic, is only a fig leaf for the abandonment of the Sharia. Hisham Sharabi’s assault on “patriarchy” is only a devise to undermine Quranic-sanctioned relations between the sexes, a feeble attempt to curry favour with the feminist lobby, and is the last fling of an ageing Syrian nationalist who has seen his dreams turn to ashes. The modernist’s attack on Islam has always been through the slogan “ The Quran may be absolute; but the Sharia is relative”. In other words, place the Noble Quran on some shelf, alongside other books gathered under the heading “The Library of Great Works of Mankind” and kick the Sharia out as some relic of a bygone age. “ The Sharia must be reinterpreted in light of modern conditions!” cry the modernists, and this is the refrain heard from Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, through Ali Abd el-Raziq, right down to the current champions of abandoning the Sharia in the interest of some imaginary world of perpetual progress. The disintegration of the anti-Islamic intelligentsia in the Arab World is now at an advanced stage. Nearly every pet literary, political and philosophical project of these mostly untalented arbiters of the intellectual scene in the Arabic speaking countries is now in ruins, crashing against the harsh realities of Arab decay, mainly caused by the very modernisms that these wreckers have forced on Arab society, in alliance with the military and secret police thugs who have seized power. The Umma in the Arabic-speaking world is simply exhausted with political and social experimentation that only leads to further distancing from the source of their life force, the deen and there is today a simple rejection of, and resistance to, any further erosion of their Islam. C. Tamadhub, Takfir and Wahhabism
The relationship between Sharia, madhhab and fiqh , which you have always emphasised in your writings, and with which any Muslim must concur in its essence, has been distorted in practice by the process of “tamadhub”, the insistence on the primacy of one’s own madhhab over the rest. This may appear to have been harmless to the Umma but the reality is different, and it is critical that this area be addressed with great care for the welfare of the believers generally. The fiqh of the four madhahib differs often in important ways, but this is held not to corrupt the doctrinal belief, the ‘aqida, of the community. The fiqh of the Imami Shias, the Jaafari fiqh, is in most cases indistinguishable from one or more of the four madhahib, but the Shia are still viewed with great caution by the Ulema of the Sunni world. Why? Is it possible to have two fundamental versions of the truth, a majority and a minority perception, without one or the other being held to be irremediably false? I believe the answer is yes. It is legitimate to have two traditions that derive from the same source, acknowledge the same origin, but follow two different courses. One river may flow eastwards to the Ocean, while the other may flow westwards. One may traverse deserts; the other may flow through verdant pastures. The two rivers may flow close to each other, and appear to be twinned; or they may separate with the distance between them appearing to be vast. The point is that the two rivers carry unpolluted waters in their course from the original Muhammedi source. Without pushing this metaphor too far, the correct course of action is not to deny the existence of these two flows, even though it might be difficult for the majority to recognise the validity of the minority. Or for the minority, for that matter, to deny its own authenticity and merge with the majority. There is no doubt that the brutal rise of the Umayyads left a legacy of hatred and bitterness amongst a very large number of people, including many of the Sahaba. This was compounded by the tragedy at Kerbala, which confirmed to many others the illegitimacy of the Ummayyad’s rule. Loyalty to the person of Imam Ali and to his claim to Khilafa and Imama preceded by a century the crystallisation of doctrinal Shiism, and was the cornerstone of nearly all revolts against the authority of the Ummayyads. Long before the emergence of the Imami Shia or even the formalisation of the four madhahib of the Ahl usSunna, there was a substantial core of support for the cause of Imam Ali, both in Kufa and in Medina( where the great commentator Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, was a noted, but not uncritical, supporter of the ‘Alid cause).Even Abdallah ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, only reluctantly accepted Ummayyad rule for the sake of the unity of the community. The attitude to the person of Imam Ali,peace be upon him, and those of his descendants who challenged Ummayyad and Abbassi rule became an integral part of many a Muslim’s self-definition. This is the core of true shi’ism or tashayu’. The great masters of the Sufi way all recognised the privileged status of the Imam Ali, peace be upon him, in all their silsilas, and fealty to the realised status of the Imam is a requirement for all wayfarers on the path. Love of Ahl ul-Bayt is an integral part of the journey of all true adepts. So how is it that the madhhab of those who exalt Imam Ali and his progeny continues to be regarded with either curiosity, indifference, hostility and ultimately abhorrence, takfir, by the misguided few? And why are the Shia woefully ignorant of the wellsprings of the four madhahib? There is no doubt that the consensus reached by the fuqaha of Ahl-ul-Sunna on the elements of the ‘aqida and in particular the role of the Rightly Guided Khulafa, together with the development of tariqa Sufism and its formal connection in the spiritual silsilas to Imam Ali, led to the incorporation of a number of positions associated with the Shia into the life of the Umma. Both Imam Abu Hanifa, may Allah be pleased with him, and Imam Shafii, may Allah be pleased with him, were supporters of various Shia causes, with Imam Shafii actively participating in a Shia uprising in Yemen, while Imam Abu Hanifa was
involved in a Zaydi Shia rebellion in Iraq. The famous saying of Imam Abu Hanifa( alNu’man) of : “ Laula as-sanatan la halika an-Numan” (Were it not for the two years (that Abu Hanifa spent together in jail with the seventh Imam of the Shia ,Musa ibn Jaafar) al-Nu’man would have been consumed by hellfire) is sufficient testimony to the ‘Alid sympathies of the Imams of Ahl us-Sunna. The sixth Imam of the Shia, Ja’afar as-Sadiq, was a recognised authority on matters of hadith and fiqh, and was instrumental in the education of a large number of fuqaha who established the foundations of the madhahib of the Jamaat, including Imam Abu Hanifa, by his own open acknowledgement. The commentary on the Noble Quran of Imam Ja’afar as-Sadiq, peace be upon him, was the model tafsir used by a number of Sufi commentators on the Quran, including the tafsir of the Master, Sahl ibn Abdalla at-Tustari, and the “Haqaiq at-Tafsir” of Abu Abd el-Rahman as-Sulami (author of the famous “Tabaqat as-Sufiyya”). In fact, all the sources depict the debate between the Shia and Sunni Ulema in the early days of Islam to be heated but not to the point where the mainstream Shia are excluded from the life of the community. The position of Naqib , or paramount dignitary, of the Shia was an officially recognised position in Abbassi times. The late Abbassi khalifa, al-Nasir, who reorganized the guild or futuwwa system in Islam, purposefully and consciously sought an accommodation between the sects in the interest of the strengthening of the Islamic state. In many ways, the doctrinal disputes between the various Sunni madhhabs, particularly between the Hanafis and Shafiis, were far more acute and frequently led to bloodshed and serious disturbances and divisions. It was two events that over time hardened hearts and entrenched positions. The first is the emergence of an extreme form of Hanbali anthropomorphism associated with Ibn Taymiyya and his followers, especially Ibn Qayyim aj-Jawziya; and the establishment of a form of official Shiism by the Ardebili Safawis in Iran formalising politically, the division of the Muslim World and forcing a response from the Ottoman Empire. It is my belief that Ibn Taymiyya’s influence has been mainly pernicious. His constant campaigns of vilification against all and sundry- mixed with the occasional profundity- led him to being severely reprimanded by the leading scholars of the time. Even his own student, Imam Ibn Dhahabi, may Allah be pleased with him, in his letter to his former teacher “An-Nasiha ad-Dhahabiya li Ibn Taymiyya”(or “Ibn Dhahabi’s advice to Ibn Taymiyya”) condemns him for his indiscriminate attacks on the pious and righteous and his constant takfirs. His attitude to tassawuf is riddled with contradictions and ambiguities ranging from complete takfir and accusations of shirk to a grudging respect for a few of the leading awliya. His praise for the Ghawth, Sheikh Abd el-Qadir al-Gailani must be balanced against his vituperative hatred for the Sheikh al-Akbar, Ibn ‘Arabi. His reluctant acceptance of the legitimacy of celebrating the Mawlid of the Blessed Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, must be compared to his violent outbursts against the visitations of shrines. On balance, there is no doubt that he was an enemy of tassawuf and has been viewed as such by all the great shuyukh of major tariqas over time. The famous retort of Ibn ‘Attallah, author of the famous aphorisms or “Hikam”, to Ibn Taymiyya is sufficient proof of his distance and hostility to tassawuf. His attitude to the Shia, however, in whatever form- Imamis; Ismailis; Zaydis- was implacably hostile and aggressive bordering on takfir. Ibn Taymiyya’s influence was quickly forgotten in the world of Islam, until the advent of Ibn Abd el-Wahhab, who relied on him as his main source for his own “Kitab at-Tawhid”. You rightly condemn the effect that wahhabism has had on the unity of the Umma. However, the legacy of salafism, which is a diluted version of wahhabism, has been more
pervasive in the Arabic-speaking countries. It is salafism, being more “contemporary” and less doctrinally primitive, that has relied more extensively on the works of Ibn Taymiyya. The Arab salafis were not, initially, either hostile to tassawuf nor to the Ottoman state. In fact, the first salafi circles in Baghdad and Damascus were neo-sufi, such as those associated with the Alusi family of Ulemas in Baghdad and Sheikh Abd el-Razzaq al-Bitar in Damascus. It is a point to emphasise that the early salafi circles in Damascus gathered under the protection of Emir Abd el-Qadir, the great Sufi mujahid, whose son, Tahir, was a recognised authority on manuscripts and unearthed a number of Ibn Taymiyya’s works buried in the Damascene libraries. In Egypt of course the “modernism” of ‘Abduh owed little to Ibn Taymiyya and it was only with the arrival of the Tripolitan, Muhammed Rashid Reda, that the Salafiyya got their first pan Arab champion. Reda’s “al-Manar” newspaper was a mouthpiece for the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya and it was his deep dislike for tassawuf and his insistence on the ijtihad model of Ibn Taymiyya that coloured his “modernism”. It is noteworthy that Reda himself, in his youth, was an ardent sufi of the Naqshabandi tariqa, and his teacher, the well respected Sheikh Hussein al-Jisr of Tripoli, was a master of the Khalwati tariqa. Apparently Reda turned against Sufism after attending a sama of the Mawlawiyya, which he found deeply offensive. The influence of “al-Manar” was enormous, especially its Quranic tafsir and proved the principle intellectual prop to the salafi movement. Reda himself was a supporter of the Ottoman state, and a believer in Khilafa, but switched his allegiance to Ibn Saud after the Great War, and his wahhabism increased with time until his death in 1935. The infidelity of the Arabs, if one can call it that, to the Ottoman state was not a simple affair. The first attacks on the Arabic-speaking parts of the Ottoman state was in Algeria, and the jihad of Emir Abd el-Qadir against the French was hardly assisted by the Porte. It was only with the Italian invasion of Libya that the Ottomans began a serious defence and in this instance the Arabic-speaking parts of the state were as one in the defence of Muslim territory. By and large the Arabs were loyal citizens of the state, and the nationalist mutterings in Beirut and Damascus had no echo with the mass of people. This, one might add, was in spite of the policies of Turkification and de-emphasis on the use of Arabic in the educational system of the state by the so-called Young Turks. The Arabs’ political call on the Empire, prior to the Great War, was for decentralisation, while there was always a fair level of Arab representation in the Ottoman Council of State or Majlis al-Mabouthan in the Istana. The revolt in the Hijaz was only supported by a relatively few Syrian and Iraqi officers, and the overwhelming mass of Arab troops and officers stayed loyal to the state, in spite of the frightful policies of the Turks in some of the Arab countries, notably Syria and Lebanon. Careful note should be made that the only formal body of Ulema in the Arabic speaking countries who made an unequivocal fatwa enjoining the muminun to support the Ottoman state in the Great War, were the Ulema of the Shia centres of Najaf and Kerbala. The same corps of Shia Ulema refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the non-Muslim mandate over Iraq and launched the famous uprising against British rule in 1920. It is ironic that the only people who supported the Ottomans in their hour of need were from the very same group who had borne the brunt of centuries of neglect and hostility from the ruling religious establishment. The evolution of modernist Islamic thinking clearly shows its indebtedness to Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and this was carried into contemporary times with the likes of Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Mawdudi, and even, paradoxically, to the Shii-based Islamists such as the Islamic Da’awa Party. Ibn Taymiyya clearly placed himself in the position of virulent opponent to the Ash’ari tradition, to which, the majority of the Ahl alSunna belong. Ibn Taymiyya is the true herald of the bigotry of the modern salafiyya
movement. It is an inescapable fact that he was sent to prison by four judges representing the four schools of law and is no “Shaykh al-Islam”, as his followers have called him. In doctrinal terms, lbn-Taymiyya can be seriously questioned on four central issues. The first concerns Ibn Taymiyya’s prohibition as shirk of Sufi beliefs and popular practices such as al-shafa’a -appeals for intercession (al-tawassul) from the faithful to the prophets and awliya by using such expressions as ya Rasul Allah and ya ‘Ali. All great Shuyukh have allowed the use of these terms, along with the veneration of saintly persons and visitation of their shrines-all of which Ibn Taymiyya prohibited. Ibn Taymiyya’s rejection of consensus (ijma’); opposition to Shi’ism and Sufism; and support of anthropomorphism (al-tashbih), ascribing human attributes to God are all further indicators of his distance from the considered positions of the Imams of the fiqh. The intolerance that the thought of Ibn Taymiyya has inspired among contemporary Salafis toward different forms of Islamic expression cannot be underestimated. There is a clear line between Ibn Taymiyya and the Wahhabis and militant Salafis in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon, which support violence under the guise of Islamic revivalism and renewal. D. The Sharia and a Golden Age An extraordinary by-product of the reinvigoration of outer Islam in the past two decades has been the perceived need of many Muslims to emulate the conditions of an over-idealised and even imaginary past. This emulation is frequently disassociated from the ethical underpinnings of such supposed golden ages and frequently degenerates into rigid dogmatic determinism as to what constitutes acceptable conduct and even belief. Every division within Islam exhibits these tendencies and this has caused immense grief and anguish. The Prophetic injunction of: “Takhalaqu bi-Akhlaq-illah” (Assume the ethical dimensions of the Attributes of Allah) is now confused with fealty to legal systems that were laboriously produced over centuries or with visions of an arcadia that has no place in the deen of Islam. The modern philosophes of Islam, taking their cue from any number of alien systems of thought, from historical determinism to German Idealism, have reduced the gauge of one’s loyalty to the deen to a simple matter of conforming to some pattern of behaviour or model of conduct and association. The claim is always that these models are somehow the most authentic representatives of Prophetic conduct and behaviour and are therefore worthy of our total devotion. This loud insistence that each of such systems holds the key to sure knowledge is patently false as they all cannot be true simultaneously. At the same time, while rejecting key elements of a competing system’s foundation, the ground is laid for conflict and dispute and embitterment. Most of these systems have arisen as a result of forcing a preconceived model on situations and events that cannot really be contained by these models. The result is that facts and events are selectively ruled in or out to “prove” the model. Examples of this method of selective perception and interpretation abound in modern Islamic circles. Curious and sometimes outrageous results emerge. The attempt to “rehabilitate” true villains in Islamic history, such as Muawiyya, primarily in deference to a model that demands an acknowledgement that all the Companions were virtuous, is an example of this. Similarly, we are led to believe that conditions in Medina, after the death of the Prophet, were utopian, because they could not be otherwise during the rule of the Rightly Guided Khulafa. In point of fact conditions were far from ideal. Immediately after his death, the Sahaba divided and quarreled in the incident at the Saqifa. Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, was forced to chastise a number of supposed virtuous sahabis during his rule. The great sahabi, Abu Dhirr al-Ghifari, whom the Prophet honoured in many hadiths, was hounded and finally exiled
from Medina to die a pauper’s death in the wilderness. The Khalifa, Uthman, was assassinated in a horrible manner in his own house by a mob that included sahabis. The Imam Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, had to leave Medina because of the turmoil and instability there. Hundreds of sahabis left Medina for Iraq with him. This in no way diminishes the stature of the virtuous sahabis who stayed in Medina and whose actions and sayings are a foundation stone of the fiqh of Imam Malik. But their virtue cannot be at the expense of those companions who left Medina or emigrated to other parts of the Muslim world; nor can the system of Malik, correct though it may be, be idealized beyond the purposes for which it was developed. The division between Khalifal Islam and Imami Islam, with the former insisting on the Umma as a source of legitimate power and the latter on divine hedayat to designate the ruler, has been resolved, at least historically, in favour of Khilafal rule. But this outcome cannot be allowed to cast a shadow on the virtues of Imam Ali or on the immense service and benefits that the Imams of the Ahl-ul-Bayt have given to the Umma. However this is indeed appears to be what is happening and the contrast with Islam’s past cannot be more striking. There has been a systematic belittling of the stature of the Imams of Ahl-ul-Bayt in most recent works of history, devotion, or fiqh. However, there is hardly a work in classical tassawuf or history or fiqh that does not elevate the station of Imam Ali and the Imams of Ahl-ul-Bayt, for the very good reason that the community as a whole knew and honoured the Imams without necessarily taking on the entire corpus of Shia thought. Similarly, one can rightly blame bigoted Shia who in their single-minded devotion to the Prophet’s household, have unjustly neglected the great men of Islam who may have been on the other side of the Shia-Sunni divide. The ignorance of some modern Shia of the roots of their own suluk and doctrines is truly monumental. And these problems continue at all levels of Muslim society and are added to daily by ever-new models that are hoisted on the body of the deen. It has been often the case that history has been relegated to a secondary role in favour of creating a set of ideal principles and axioms that underpin the foundations of all the madhahib of Islam. This is entirely understandable and even justifiable if the end product is a rigorous but flexible body of laws and codes that regulate the behaviour of Muslims. However, to infer that the opposite must be true, in the sense that what has been deemed virtuous because of necessity or for the public good becomes instead sacred, in and of itself, is clearly wrong. None of the founders and Imams of the great schools of Islam indulged in such attributions and would probably be appalled at what has been claimed for their systems by these systems’ followers. Would Imam Malik accept that his idealisation of the early Medinan community, necessary in his system to deduce the principles of his understanding of what constitutes ijma‘, or consensus, be a condition for determining a person’s piety? Or would Imam Abu Hanifa accept that his principle of qiyas, or analogical reasoning as a way of generating legal rulings, be used to gauge a person’s commitment to the deen? The answer is clearly a resounding, No! The usul al-fiqh of Islam or the foundations of its legal theory- have never been monolithically and uniformly applied. Each of the Schools of Islam applies nuanced degrees of conceptual acceptability to key principles such as ijma’(consensus); qiyas ( analogical reasoning); fatwas of the Sahabas; maslaha ( the public interest); istihsan( equity); ijtihad ( personal reasoning) and so on. Sometimes, critical assumptions of a particular madhhab are rejected out of hand, such as Ibn Hazm’’s utter repudiation of the principle of analogical reasoning of the Hanafis; but this hardly led to an imputation of takfir. The idealisation of the early society of Medina has its counterpart in the idealisation of individual realised beings, such as the early Imams of the Shia. This division between individual and community, between the guidance of the Perfect Man or the norms of a Perfected Society, is the root of all these ideational conflicts. Neither of these ideal systemsboth, incidentally, exhibiting a high degree of ex-post justification- can be the sole repository of the truth. An approximation to an ideal community did exist in the early days of Islam, not so much in terms of a particular period in history but more in terms of a
collection of spiritually evolved beings who retained within themselves the benefit of proximity to the person of the Prophet. But they were not all in Medina, nor in Kufa for that matter. These individuals did not necessarily form a united body at the political and social levels, and began to lose their cohesiveness when serious divisions arose in the Umma. The presence of spiritual authorities with an overwhelming presence, such as the Imam Ali, did not necessarily lead to the smooth establishment of rule by the perfected man. The point is that the presence of individuals with a highly evolved station did not translate into a model of governance and hukm. Neither did the rule of the Imam Ali result in the permanent installation of a structure where the ultimate arbiter of the affairs of Muslims is the guided Imam. There is after all, considerable wisdom in the resolution of the inherent conflict between the supremacy of hedayat and the consensus of the rightly-guided community, by accepting that both conditions are necessary for the virtuous Umma. The actions of the people of the Ideal City are inexorably linked with the authority of the Perfect Man. The Medina of Malik must be twinned with the Kufa of Imam Ali. Once again, our predecessors were far better in striking the correct balance between these two poles. The qasidas of the great Shadhili Sheikh, Al-Busaryi, never ceased extolling the virtues of Imams Ali, Hassan and Hussein even as he was a firm believer in the School of Malik. E. The Critique of the Critique of the Shia The Salafi critique of the Shia is a-historical in the sense that it has no bearing on the true conditions and relations between the Shia and Sunna prior to the establishment of the Safawi state in Iran in the 16th century and prior to the widespread dissemination of Ibn Taymiyya’s thoughts through the person of Ibn Abd el-Wahhab. The prejudices that have seeped into both sects are directly due to the heightened fears generated by the sectarianistaion of the Safawi state and the attendant Ottoman response. The destruction of the neo-Shia Fatimid state by Salahuddine did not seriously affect the relationship between the madhahib in the heartland of the Abbassi state. Riots between various sections of the community are recorded in the histories- especially in al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s “Tarikh Baghdad” - but they affected intra-Jammat madhahib as much as they affected the Shia and Sunni as such. So we have to look to modern times for the genesis of the exaggerated differences between the Shia and the Sunni. There is little doubt that as the Salafi critique of Shiism took hold- and which in its extreme form has led to takfir and provides the justification for the murder of the Shia as takes place frequently in Pakistan and Afghanistan-a set of anti- Shii shibboleths became the stock-intrade of the Salafi-inspired Islamists, from the likes of the Algerian Armed Islamic Groups through to the Wahhabi-financed movements in the Muslim world including the Taleban and the Sepah Sahaba in Pakistan. The virulence, extent and intensity of the Salafi campaign against Shiism marched hand-in-hand with their attacks on the Tariqas, with the same disastrous effect on the average Sunni’s perception of both Shiism and tassawuf. The modernist critique became enmeshed with the geo-politics of the Gulf following the Iranian Revolution and by and large, the Revolution was successfully quarantined by a further ratcheting of the Salafi-inspired doctrinal distancing of Shiism from mainstream Islam. This is a truly extraordinary development, particularly when one reflects that the Revolution in Iran was the first successful mass uprising by a Muslim people against the forces of kufr. Rather than receive the support and acknowledgment that was its due, the Salafis succeeded in representing the Revolution in purely sectarian terms and the first enthusiastic, even ecstatic, support that the Revolution received in the Muslim World, was quashed under the weight of Salafi-inspired doubts and misgivings. To some extent this situation has somewhat ameliorated following the withdrawal of official support from the violent Salafi movements, and though it has been replaced with lukewarm efforts at inter-madhahib concord, spokesmen for the non-violent Salafis have continued to spew out anti-Shia rhetoric.
The salafi critique is based on a selective rendering of the post-Safawi Shia position on a number of matters of doctrinal issues. This has also been accompanied by a concentration on a few, seemingly objectionable practices that appear to be sanctioned by the Shia Ulema, thereby inflaming public passions and helping in cementing negative attitudes. The doctrinal issues are relatively few and are repetitions of the disputes of the “Great Fitna” with the Salafis taking on the whole anti-Alid position of the Ummayyads. But through a highly selective rendering of certain Shia texts, and outright lies, they appear to have convinced their followers that the Shia uniformly curse the Sahaba; that they routinely curse the first three of the Khulafa ar-Rashidun; that they have some fantasy Quran called “ Quran Fatima”; that they venerate the Imam Ali to the point of shirk; that they constantly employ taqiyya or dissimulation; that they do their sajdas on a piece of idolatrous stone; and on and on. There is no point in indulging in polemics here but the mix of lies and half-lies that have settled in the popular mind about the Shia is in reality no different from the way that the path of tassawuf has been ridiculed and trivialised by the same salafi campaign. Here we have the drivel about sama sessions turning into bacchanalian orgies; about shuyukh who turn their adepts into automata for their own fantasies; about abrogation of the ‘ibadat in favour of some whimsy about the superiority of dhikr over salat ; about illicit mixing of the sexes in the hazras; about pantheism replacing tawhid in their teachings. While there is a kernel of apparent difference in some of the ‘amal and practices of both Shiism and tassawuf from the imagined orthodox norm of the Salafi, this has allowed for the wholesale accusations of bida’a and takfir being levelled at both Shiism and tassawuf. The Umma managed to achieve a desirable consensus between the various groups in Islam over a period of nearly a thousand years. And by that I mean with the exception of a remarkably few instances of outright bigotry, the Umma reached a common set of practices and beliefs that by and large ensured its unity. Imam Shafii’s doctrine that anyone who fought against Imam Ali was a baghi (transgressor) became the norm in ijtihad, opening the way for the reconciliation between the Shia and the rest of the Umma. The doctrine of the Imamate, culminating in the occultation, removed the immediate political threat of the Shia; and a number of Abbassi Khulafa purposefully used the model of the Imam Ali in developing the Futuwwa guilds, which were the heart of the Islamic commercial system. Similarly, the twinning of tassawuf with fiqh- Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzalli’s great project- became the norm, and the Sufi love of the Ahl ul-Bayt seeped into the life of the common folk as well as into literature and into the madrassas. The fact that Ibn Taymiyya was considered a danger to this world view is clearly justified. At another level Shiism and tassawuf reached a compromise, with a number of specifically Shia emphases of the nature of Divine hedayat becoming embedded within tassawuf. This process further accelerated with the advent of the Master Ibn ‘Arabi, most of whose followers in the east were probably shia such as Hayder Amuli and Abd el-Razzaq Kashani , the actual author of the famous “Tafsir” attributed to Ibn ‘Arabi. Shia Ulema, such as Sheikh Baha-ud-Dine al ‘Amili, one of the lights of tashayu’u of the 16th century, were practicing Sufis within tariqas. The works of Mulla Sadra and the School of Isfahan are immersed in tassawuf. It was only with the ascendancy of the formal Ulema establishment in Safawi Iran that official Shiism took a violent turn against tassawuf and in fact began to assume an inordinate sectarian vision of Islam. Nevertheless, tariqa sufism survived in Shia Islam, but only through adjustment to the doctrine of Imama and Wilaya within the Shia framework. A few Shia tariqas, some of which continue to this day, have survived, but the damage inflicted on tariqa sufism by official Shiism was considerable. Tassawuf in its tariqa form, is by and large, anathemised by the Shia Ulema, even though it is tolerated on the individual level, and some prominent mujtahids and hakims, such as Mulla Hadi Sabziwari, were in fact Sufis, but not tariqa-connected. Tassawuf in the Shia world was transformed into a semi-secret affair, and sometimes encouraged at the court level by the
Shahs of Iran, as a counter to the official Shia establishment. The situation today, following the Revolution is entirely different, with a resurgence in interest in tassawuf inside Iran, perhaps caused by the disillusion with the direction and effects of the Revolution. Generally, there is profound ignorance of the path to illumination within the Shia tradition and the two apparent paths, that of ‘Irfan and the veneration of the Imams especially the Mahdi, have proven unsatisfactory. ‘Irfan is a solitary and scholarly affair and demands a more than passing knowledge of Islamic hikma especially, and Aristotelian and neo-Platonic philosophy generally. The mass movements associated with Mahdist expectations within Imami shiism have either ended up in schisms, such as the Sheikhiya, or in zandaqa, such as the Bahais, or have petered out with the death of the founder. The latter case is best exemplified by the mass movement associated with the person of Sayyid Muhammed asSadr, which mobilised millions of the piety-minded in Iraq until his murder in 1999 . The ground is ideal now for the resurgence of sober tariqa Sufism within the Shia world. The challenge to the Umma today is to rescue it from the pitfalls of bigotry and sectarianism, to recapture the spirit of the classical period of Islam, and to reweave the fabric of the Umma by creating as many points of linkages as possible between tassawuf and the madhahib of Ahl us-Sunna and the Shia. I will discuss this programme later in this letter inshallah, but meanwhile I would like to turn to your most profound exposition about the path of return to Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, for the Umma. F. Islamic Economics or the Muamallat of Islam ? The failure of Islamic economics and finance, in spite of the billions that have been poured into various Islamic financing institutions, especially Islamic banks, is symptomatic of the unwillingness to face, head on, the issue of the nature of authentic and legitimate transactions or muamallat, and the chasm between them and what passes for “Islamic” these days. This I believe is the core of the problem and it is not easily resolvable except with a drastic wholesale jettisoning of illegitimate institutions, structures, laws and policies. Any other variety of reform- a process to which I admit I had earlier subscribed- is impossible. The commands of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, and the actions and sayings of the Blessed Prophet, Peace and Blessings of Allah upon him, and all those who follow him with ihsan, is the only way out of this dilemma which is the most alluring of the many guises that shaytan has taken in modern times. Well-intentioned Muslims have fallen into a carefully constructed trap, when confronted with the system of modern economics, business and finance. The trap is primarily epistemological. Knowledge of the so-called social sciences is admitted to be of exclusively western origin, at least what is “useful” of it. In this sense, the terminologies and theories of modern economics and finance are so thoroughly entrenched within the framework of the western system that it is impossible to approach the problem except within this internally defined process. The accretion of knowledge and information is all one-sided - in fact this system does not recognise the validity of any other world-view. Any person, knowing that this system will only lead to annihilation, is at a lost to find the appropriate modes of expression within a sufficiently contemporary understanding of muamallat. This is why any critique of the system always appears to be hopelessly archaic or cranky. Even in the heyday of Marxism, there was at least an attempt to consider the validity of their silly theories within a special subset of economics and finance, usually related to development economics, planning and operations research. In this sense Islamic economics has suffered from two incurable ailments. The first is that its original exponents were untutored in the ways of the modern world and approached the problem mainly in the jurisprudential way, with little regard for the changed circumstances of the world. Of course, they gave their fatwas after the dam had burst, with the authorisation of national banks everywhere in the Muslim lands,
including the Ottoman Empire and the Qajar state with the formation of the Ottoman Bank and the Imperial Bank of Iran in the late 19th century. By the 1920’s, local, indigenous businessmen had already founded banks along the kufr line, sometimes with the tacit support of a few of the Ulema. The Misr Bank group and the Banque du Caire in Egypt and the Rafidain Bank in Iraq were all founded with local capital in the 1920’s and 1930’s. After WWII, there was a rush to form banks in all the newly independent Muslim states such as Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia and this trend accelerated in the 1970’s with the establishment of various “national” banks in the Gulf countries. One should note that the vast majority of these financial institutions were founded by local capitalists, sometimes with government support, and at no point were they concerned about the effects on their reckoning on the yawm al-qiyama for participating enthusiastically in one of the great transgressions against the deen. Banking and the formation of banks became the most coveted enterprise in the Middle East throughout the oil boom, and even now, youth in the Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia and in fact anywhere in the Muslim world seeks out jobs within the banking sector for prestige, income and security. The Islamic banking movement was started in the late 1970’s with the formation of Dar alMal Group by Prince Muhammed al-Faisal, mainly to soak up the billions of dollars that the pious maintained in interest free accounts in riba banks. These pools were so vast that in the period between 1978 and1982, fully 30% of the profits of the US Citibank group came from their Saudi operations, from which they drew huge funds at nil cost to them in the periods when riba rates reached 20%.( I speak from direct experience as I was an officer of the World Bank Group and subsequently a managing director of an investment bank throughout the 1980’s and was intimately involved in the affairs of Middle East finance). Islamic banking was conceived as an alternative and a parallel operation to western finance, and from its inception its main concern was to establish its legitimacy in western eyes as a complementary financial vehicle- eccentric in style but nevertheless acceptable. Such a system could not conceivably evolve into a proponent of legitimate muamallat and finance. There were, and still are, individuals, sometimes at the most senior level of these institutions who are cognisant of their dilemma, but are unable to break out of the box. Daily, the task of reforming these institutions draws evermore distant. There are now a huge number of interlocking mechanisms that appear to have drawn the Islamic banking movement into a tameness and acceptability to the international riba-based financial system. It is not uncommon now to have Islamic banking “windows” in the major riba banks. In fact Islamic banking products are seen as major profit earners for the behemoths of the riba system. International Islamic banking conferences and symposia attract hundreds of participants from the major western institutions. The IMF and World Bank are frequent co-financiers with Islamic banks; while Islamic banking is now taught as a course in some western universities, with the doyen of western theorists of Islamic banking being Samuel Hayes at the Harvard Business School. The whole tortuous mechanism of pricing at Islamic banks is a prolonged exercise in delusion. Ultimately, and very simply, the pricing of Islamic banking products is directly linked to the riba rate, but it has to be put into complicated mechanisms of musharaka, murabaha, mudharaba, thaman ajil, and so on, so that they can pass muster with a Sharia board, and it seems that they do. The Islamic finance system now includes so-called Islamic investment trusts that invest in stock markets but avoid companies in the liquor or gambling businesses. Most of these are managed by western fund managers, completing the lock that the global bankers have on the funds of Muslims throughout the world. The irony is that most of the depositors in the Islamic banks are ordinary pious people or institutions such as awqaf foundations or hajj funds; and they believe that their funds are now handled by intermediaries who have no connection with the world of riba. Yet another sleight of hand that has left all of the depositors in the dark as to the true disposition of their money. The
obverse side of the coin has been the usual spate of scandals, misappropriations and thefts, starting with the gold frauds at the Dar al-Mal, and running to the loss of hundreds of millions of deposits of Islamic banks held with BCCI, to the impossibly poor loan portfolios at the Dubai Islamic Bank. Informal mechanisms relying on the gullibility of the pious depositor have led to further huge losses at supposedly Sharia-based pyramid institutions in Egypt and Syria. There is now an attempt afoot to create a money market within these institutions in a redress of their dependence on the western money and capital markets. How successful this would be and how it would help in insulating the economies of Muslim countries from the instability and buffeting of international markets is still unknown. The truth is that these are at best palliative measures that do not go to the heart of the problem. To a considerable extent, the diagnosis that you have proffered is accurate. In time the genuine reformers within the Islamic banking world would recognise that no matter how they dress up the bride and pretend that it is something that it is not, the truth will always come out. Most western institutions deal with Islamic banks from a perspective of advantage and deep cynicism. They scoff at the convoluted mechanisms that are designed to cover up the nefarious effects of riba, but they play along for their own ends. Some operatives in these Islamic banks have absolutely no interest in acting out this pretence and forthrightly admit that their banks are only peculiar forms of the riba institutions. The scholars on the Sharia boards soldier on with their attempts to un-fathom what’s going on, while the largest clients, some drawn from the most debauched and corrupt of businessmen, stand in line to feed at the trough. One could range across the entire spectrum of social, professional and commercial associations in the Muslim lands, and amongst Muslims, and find no echo whatsoever of the intricate fabric of interrelationships between the deen, work, education and family and social life. The retreat of Islam into a very narrow personal sphere is a reality that has to be admitted, but it is also the platform for re-launching the process to regain control over the destiny of the Umma, but this process cannot and should not mimic the efforts of Islamic banks to recapture the terms of commercial and financial life. But this is exactly what seems to be happening. We have the “Islamic Association of Scientists”; of “ Social Scientists”; of “Anthropologists”; of “Psychologists”; of “Physicians”; of “Engineers” and on and on. Examining the workings of any of them, and one comes across the standard articles of association drawn, mainly verbatim, from similar institutions in the world of kufr, to which are added the bismilla and a few references to the Quran al-Karim and ahadith . The end result is what passes for scholarly work, written in the usual obtuse language of academic and professional experts, with one eye cocked at the reaction of the real experts, but suitably “islamised” with some pious intonations. The Islamic Universities movement has suffered a similar fate with Islamic universities vying to produce a sense of respectability for their graduates- seen entirely within the professional standards of the west- and contributing nothing to the life of the Umma. Recently, I attended a function, presided over by a senior ‘alim, where the subject was the issue of Islam in Russia. The ‘alim, in praising one of the new set of Islamic leaders there, emphasised that person’s stature and credibility in ’ilm by reminding the audience that he was a graduate in Islamic studies from the “Sorbonne”- that gutted institution which is now probably at the bottom of the French higher educational totem pole and whose leading orientalist luminary these days is none other than the confused deconstructionist, Mohammed Arakoun. What drives these people to seek stature from the West? A copy of Imam Ali’s “Nahjul al-Balagha”, produced by none other than the Guidance Division of the Islamic Republic of Iran, carries copious testimonials to it from Carlyle, as well as from some truly obscure western orientalists and the Christian Arab, Jurji Zaydaq. How are the readers of this version to consider the exalted stature of the Imam if he is introduced by these nonentities in comparison? The Muslim’s sense of self worth and confidence collapses into a laager of defensiveness; or he or she shamelessly grovels for
approval when confronted with the unacknowledged, but nevertheless acutely felt, superiority of the kufr method. Medicine of course, in its institutional form, has succumbed completely to the standards of western science, leaving small spaces for practitioners of the “traditional” arts, some of whom are outright quacks and a hazard to public health, while others are dangerously close to the various fads and fashions that grip the west from time to time and are then hoisted onto a gullible, but mostly affluent, audience in the Muslim lands as efficacious; until of course they are supplanted with another fad. It is laughable to see the presence of western vitamin and health shop chains in some over-air conditioned mall in the Gulf, festooned with banners about the “Islamic” remedies and potions being offered-most made in some dismal factory in New Jersey or Birmingham. Gyms and fitness clubs have taken over from any sense of what constitutes a healthy balance drawn from the ahadith and ‘amal. Pumping iron replaces the elaborate rituals of implicit ibada in the zurkhanas, those wonderful halls where sport, callisthenics and audience participation were all combined in harmonious paeans to Allah; listening to loud and lewd music while running alone on some machine, replaces the rhythms of group exercises to the chant of “Ya Allah; Ya Muhammed; Ya Ali”. Corrupt trade union and professional association bosses- the infamous naqabat of the Arab World- replace the elaborate orders of Futtuwa, where the master was frequently a sheikh of the tariqa and a true representative of his trade. Advertising pushes the limit of sexual license and replaces the openness and transparency of markets where excellence is on display and recognised without false attributions. Ask any young person- even those from a sturdy Muslim background- as to their professional aspirations and the answer is invariably given in the context of the way that life has been divided and ordered by the west. Were it not for the fitrah of Islam, which constantly reminds a person that there was and could be a better way to order one’s life and society’s, the persistence of certain elements of haya, of modesty and civility in personal life, and a certain cultural and spiritual commitment to the deen, then the task of recapturing the high ground may become impossible. In spite of this catastrophic landscape, made even more difficult by the hopeless mismanagement and, often, tyranny, of the so-called Islamic republics, there is always ground for hope. The Rahma of Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, is always available to those who can recognise it and avail themselves of it. As the Noble Quran says: “ ..and only the kuffar abandon hope in the Rahma of Allah”. In the world of currencies markets, constant instability has been the concomitant result to the wildly fluctuating and self-serving advise of the IMF and its masters in Washington. In the last decade poor countries have been proffered blatantly contradictory prescriptions on their currencies. The only constant has been that this advise is directly related to the prevailing interests of those who control the massive flows of speculative capital and who hold the debt of these benighted countries. From time to time when the beast has had his fill of gorging on the profits from usurious lending, crocodile tears are shed for the indebted of the world. Muslims are firmly caught in this trap but the irony is that Muslims also are the providers of the wherewithal for this oppression. Recent research has shown that nearly a third of all offshore capital- some one trillion dollars- is held by Muslims outside their country. These funds are entirely at the service of the mega banks of the west, which utilise them with nil regard for anything but the god of riba. The owners of these funds are thus safely insulated from the direct misery and havoc that these banks cause, frequently in Muslim countries. The 1997 sacking of Indonesia was done with the enthusiastic participation of the ruling elites of that country with multinationals and speculators; and this example can be repeated in any number of other countries. In exchange for the promise of “capital security”, Muslims have willingly abdicated their moral responsibility as to how
their funds are to be used and passed the decision onto to the banks. A Faustian bargain if there ever was one. This has created a counter-response within those affected states resulting in a situation where the use of a “fixed parity” currency is now much more conducive than it was, say, ten years ago. There is now a strong movement afoot to re-introduce the “archaic” institutions of currency boards (in contrast to central banks) primarily to stabilise the currencies of hyperinflation-prone countries, such as Argentina and Ecuador. Here of course the indissoluble linkage is to the US dollar, but the principle of abandonment of national “sovereignty” in the management of currencies is only an acknowledgement of the reality of dependence on the metropolitan power. In this sense, there is considerable work being done on the merits of limiting currency issue strictly to the level of foreign exchange available to the issuer, but this does not stretch to cover the credit and finance system which is mired in the web of riba. The challenge is one of getting a critical mass of users to establish the vitality of a gold-based islamic dinar/dirham, at least as a payment mechanism for goods and services. At first, the approach must be the same as introducing a transferable currency (in this instance, into gold and silver) into a market governed by national currencies and the US dollar or euro. Of course, merchants and service providers will make the initial transfer calculations into these currencies but with use and stability, it will be clear that the dinar is here to stay. Fortunately, there is no requirement for “seigneurage” here, as the currency issuer, the mint, will have no need to extract riba for the usage of its currency. Moving towards a widely held and circulated currency- at least amongst Muslims- would be certainly possible, especially if the dinar is made operative within the possibilities being opened up by e-commerce and finance. Globalisation, by diminishing the power of national states, ironically allows Muslims far greater room for manoeuvre in rebuilding their own institutions that are modelled on the Prophetic Way, away from the tyranny of their own rulers. This opening is surely a sign of Allah’s lutf and mercy and allows the mu’minun yet another opportunity to recapture the high ground, if only they rise to the challenge. I believe that what you have done is remarkable for its audacity and brilliance, confirming the basira of the shuyukh of Ahl ul-llah, and could well be the Achilles Heel of the system, at least in terms of Muslims regaining control over their own exchange and payments structures. This process of obliging Muslims to happily opt out of the world of riba- in the interest of their own salvation- will surely lead, inshallah, to a serious re-examination of the whole relationship of Muslims to the world of infidelity and will reopen hitherto closed avenues of serious search and inquiry into their predicament. G. Muhammedi Islam versus Sufyani Islam The significant fissures within Islam are no longer the historic ones of Shia and Sunni let alone the externally defined ones of “liberal” or “tolerant” Islam versus “fundamentalist” or “extremist” Islam. Neither of these divisions has any roots in the deen itself. The former is a historically determined schism that became a factor in interstate conflict; while the latter is purely a convenient western shorthand for dividing Muslims into good or bad, “our” Muslims against “their” Muslims, and which has been adopted wholesale by deracinated elites in the Muslim World as a way of harnessing western anxieties and fears to bolster their despotisms. The true division is between the adherents of the Islam of the Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, and those who follow the Islam of the Prophet’s enemies who, reluctantly and with deep inner hate, were obliged to declare their shahada. Umar or Abu Sufyan; Ali or Muawiyya; Hussein or Yazid; Ibn ‘Atallah or Ibn Taymiyya; the Emir Abd el-Qadir al-Jazairi or Ibn Abd el-Wahab; Imam Khomeini or Mulla Omer of the Taleban. These are the real archetypes of Muhammedi Islam and Sufyani Islam; and the contrasts could not be greater, nor the choices starker.
The Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, forgave the enmity and hatred of the Sufyanis, his most relentless enemies. He forgave the vehemence with which Abu Sufyan rejected Islam; his persecution of the nascent Muslim community in Mecca; his incessant warfare against the Muslims in Medina. He even forgave Hind, Abu Sufyan’s wife and Muawiyya’s mother, who devoured the liver of Hamza, the Prophet’s uncle, who had fallen mortally wounded at the battle of Uhud. The Prophet forgave them; but the Sufyanis never forgot or accepted the defeat of jahilliya by Islam. Never. And this is the first characteristic of Sufyani Islam. A reluctant public acknowledgement of Islam that barely hides a deep hatred for its teachings and ordnances. This thread, of resistance and inner rejection of the deen, has been a constant feature of the history of Islam up-to the modern age. It raises its ugly head to proclaim its infidelity whenever the times are propitious. Examples of this in the Arab world and elsewhere abound; from political leaders such as Bourguiba of Tunis; to blasphemous writers such as the abominable Rushdi; to warped feminists such as Saadawi. They all have in common this revulsion to the deen and a burning desire to extinguish its light. They all pine for the jahilliya and its modern equivalent. Is it any wonder that Umar ibn el-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, wanted Abu Sufyan to be put to death for leading the kuffar of Mecca against Islam? A second feature of Sufyani Islam is the elevation of guile, deceit, duplicity, and betrayal as governing principles in human behaviour and interaction. The akhlaq or ethics of Islam are inverted and sidelined in the interest of personal gain or power and justified in the name of utility or advantage. A kind of anti-Islam is created and encouraged that perverts the deen in a most contemptible way. This is frequently accompanied by co-opting or subverting the guardians of the deen- the Ulema- to this nefarious cause, resulting in a copious literature that in time becomes sanctified, to justify the most discreditable acts. Suffice it to juxtapose the life and teachings of Imam Ali, Peace be upon him, with that of Muawiyya. The Imam, whose discourses are the innermost kernel of wisdom and knowledge, carried within him the entire program of Muhammedi Islam and he is rightfully given pride of place by all true lovers of the Prophet, not least nearly all the tariqas of tassawuf. But whenever the manifestations of Truth are challenged by the forces of anti-Islam, it is Muawiyya whose rule is given as the example to follow. And so into modern times. A third feature of Sufyani Islam is the resort to terror and violence whenever their version of infidelity is threatened. I had mentioned earlier the massacres of those who followed the cause of the Imams of the Ahl ul-Bayt, only a minority of whom could have been considered Shia. Sufyani Islam specialises in perverting people and debauching society, and it is unable to accommodate direct challenges to its worldview. The intolerance it shows to those who are unwilling to accept the kufr of the ruling classes, and are driven to open defiance, is met with harassment, imprisonment, execution and murder. Muslim history down to the present day is riddled with such examples. The fourth feature of Sufyani Islam is the total refusal to acknowledge the inner realities of the deen- exercises, practices, devotions, states and conditions that are essential to the journey of the self. Sufyani Islam denies the possibility of enlightenment and insists on a rigid and stupefying conformity in the outer practices of the deen. The practices of Islam become a form of control and power over the mass of believers. Any movement that enhances a person’s condition and increases his or hers possibility for true freedom is, by definition, a threat. Sufyani Islam is not necessarily associated with one sect or another. Its rules of power and authority know no sectarian divides. It can apply equally to the Sunni and Shia worlds. It is a mindset that glorifies worldly power and authority and is fearful of the liberating breeze of true Islam. We can find its practitioners in all kinds of settings.
Islam, and the dark spectre that mimics it and furtively hides under its great canopy, have been marching alongside each other for nearly a millennium and a half. The struggle between Islam and anti-Islam, between the Muhammeddi Way and the Sufyani Way, has not abated, and will continue as long as the false claims of shaytan find a willing audience. It is the way of Allah that reality is apprehended by its opposite. Muslims continue to be in thrall to the glitter of power and wealth, and as long as they are anxious for their provision and fearful of those people with apparent authority over them, then anti-Islam will always find its adherents. The Glorious Book warns mankind of the traps of the lower self and shaytan mocks the ability of man to escape his attachments to the illusive rewards of the material world. The falsehood in the Sufyani way is this very insistence on the acceptability and even the inevitability of man’s succumbing to the complex of evil dispositions that are presumed to lie within him. The Muhammedi Way transcends these dispositions and elevates man by cultivating in him the best of qualities and virtues through the act of affirmation and submission to Allah’s decrees. G. The Way Forward It is not possible to move forward without a new consensus emerging within the Umma. I do not mean by that the imposition of one madhhab or program above all others. Rather, it is in the reconstruction of the principal building blocks of Muslim society in ways that will generate a basic common denominator that is strong enough to withstand the attacks on it from the inside and the outside. This program calls for the following steps: 1.Rebuilding the superstructure of the ‘aqaid of Islam. This would involve: - Reconstruction of madhhabi forbearance by affirming the validity of the main madhahib of Islam to a Muslim’s devotions and transactions. - Reaffirmation of the consensus of the fuqaha on Imam Ali, peace be upon him, and the righteous cause of the Imam in contrast to the Ummayyad version. This is not of historical interest but vital in ensuring that the consensus includes the mainstream Shia and lovers of Imam Ali and the Ahl ul-Bayt amongst the Ahl us-Sunna, but excludes the damaging bigotries of the Wahhabis and Salafis and the doctrines of Ibn Taymiyya. Muhammeddi Islam must replace any attachment to Sufyani Islam. 2. Weaving bonds between sufi tariqas and equivalent movements amongst Muslims to achieve a living confirmation of the validity of the path to individual and societal renewal. In practical terms this would mean where possible the holding of joint works of devotions and remembrance and a frequent exchange between the followers of the tariqas, not with the intention of merging, but rather for the purpose of creating alliances for action. A start can be made with an immediate end to takfir, tamadhub and other acts of self aggrandisement, preference and condemnation of apparently rival movements. This should be announced by the shuyukh to their respective adepts and a call be made for reconciliation and joint works effective immediately. 3. The principles of Futtuwwa should be readopted to form the basis of a new mass movement of Muslims. There are faint echoes of this chivalric way still evident in most of the Muslim world .I firmly believe that Futuwwa, reconstructed and brought into modern times, can be a very powerful method of instilling in Muslims, and especially the young, with the correct ethical bases for conduct and effort. The Muslim mind risks being overwhelmed by the post-modern gods of nihilism, faithlessness and narcissistic consumerism, and the feverish anxieties that these produce. Nearly all the traditional structures of Muslim societies have been undermined or fatally corroded. They are often no more than elaborate edifices that have been hollowed out and shorn of their raison d’etre. A
spirit of pride and purpose, rooted in the ethics of the deen, must be reintroduced into our societies. Futuwwa, when seen as an organising principle that combines the inner and outer dimensions of Islam and encompasses all facets of life- work, social action, devotion, sport, service, solidarity- can be, with Allah’s permission, that energising force. I call on all the great shuyukh of the path, and all the leaders of the Ummah, to espouse the principles of Futuwwa, to define its vision and purpose, and to stand behind a movement that will begin the process of mobilising the vital forces of the Ummah in a constructive programme of moral, spiritual and social rebirth. 4. The 19th century Syrian writer Abd el-Rahman el-Kawakibi wrote a famous tract called “Umm ul-Qurra” ( the Mother of Cities or Mecca) where he imagined a meeting in Mecca of a number of archetypal Muslims drawn from every corner of the world- Arabs, Turks, Persians, Indians, Africans, Malays, Europeans. They were there to discuss the predicament that had befallen them and their Islam- the powerlessness of Muslims; their loss of freedom and territory; the intrusion of alien values into the heartlands of Islam. They came out with an analysis of their predicament but no more than that. This utopian piece subsequently became part of the lore of those Muslim radicals who tried to halt the tide that ultimately broke the back of Muslim power. Kawakibi is a barely remembered figure now, but his cry still resonates powerfully. It is time for a real conference of “Umm ul-Qurra”, but now the problem is not so much political as moral and spiritual. Islam’s true leaders, the true guardians of the deen, must gather in a conclave in a location that is free from any political overtones, where they will discuss an agenda that calls for the establishment of a Pan Islamic movement of spiritual rebirth and renewal- a modern order of Futuwwa. The great Shaykh Abd el-Qadir al-Murabit as-Sufi was the first, to my knowledge, who laid out the paradigm of Mecca and Medina- Mecca where the heart is opened to Allah and certainty of sure knowledge flows; and Medina where the self-in-tawhid moves into the arena of social organisation and action. The priorities are clear and have been so for generations. But the calamitous decline of Muslim power and self-confidence, together with an ambivalence that is now prevalent in the breast of many Muslims as to the contemporary validity of their own civilisation, has naturally focused the Muslim’s attention on the outer conditions of Islam. The Medinan model, which presumes both a high degree of enlightenment as well as access to realised masters, is nowhere present in the landscape of Islam. This does not eliminate its validity as a model for conduct, but it pushes it onto the plain of the ideal- a utopia or a version of Farabi’s “Al Medina al-Fadhila- The Virtuous City ”. Small communities of seekers do exist and thrive but their effectiveness is limited by their very isolation. This is sometimes exacerbated by the dispersion of murids and shuyukh, oftentimes working in environments that are not conducive to da’awa. Today’s Medinan model must be of a different type, one that fully partakes of modern conditions and opportunities without too much divergence from the ideal, and this may not necessarily be by limiting its conceptual formulation to a geographic entity, rooted in a particular place. The nature of such a focal point is obviously the responsibility of our illustrious shuyukh, but a simple glance at the world map makes it difficult to choose the right location. The west combines freedom of movement and action within an environment that might be close to absolute kufr, where the rust on hearts is so thick that those who dwell in the west, as a group, might as well be dead. Paradoxically, North America is more fertile simply because of the residual religiosity that exists there. Most majority Muslim countries are deeply resistant to any manifestations of Islam that is not culturally specific to that region. Of the Arab countries, one must automatically dismiss the police states and those with ancient tribal or strongly ethnic affiliations. This leaves very few places on earth where the Medinan model can be expressed in its geographic sense. The modern nation state and the regulations governing movement and migration make it a virtual impossibility to assemble a critical
mass of people. However, conditions may change with Allah’s command and determined people can form their own reality with Allah‘s support. In any case, serious thought has to be given to the focus of efforts so that the critical mass can be achieved to start and live a Medinan model of existence, that will also be the true Quranic “Ummattan wasata”- the people in true balance who are witnesses upon themselves and upon whom the Blessed Prophet, Peace and Blessings upon him, stands guard. If an outer hijra is not possible, then a virtual hijra has to replace it in these times. This would imply creating a nexus of connections and relations between seekers and masters, bound together by the common desire to live a life that is truly unified in its inner and outer form, and one that can withstand the aggressive attentions of hostile interests. Once again, a movement of seekers that transcends the delimiting factors of sect, nation, ethnicity and even allegiance to a specific tariqa. Where possible, they will live out their deen in physical communities of like-minded people, under the aegis of a realised master. Where this is not possible, they will be connected over wide distances to others who will be equally committed to a recognisable and organised way that is reflective of the highest ideals of Islam. I ask for Allah’s forgiveness for any transgressions and impertinences. I ask Allah’s guidance and assistance in our actions. May Allah, Glorified and Exalted is He, aid and assist our glorious shuyukh who are truly those of whom the Quran says are: “la khawfun aleihum wa la hum yahzanun”- upon whom fear does not descend and who experience no sorrow. Praise is only due to Allah, the Master of the Worlds, the Inheritor of All. Ali Allawi
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