You are on page 1of 8

Abdal Hakim Murad – Authority within Islam

Few people in the Islamic world bridge East and West, tradition and modernity the way Abdal Hakim Murad does. He studied and lectured at both Cambridge and Al A!har but he also sat at the "eet o" #u"i #haykhs. He$s on the board o" %he &esearch Center "or Islamic 'egislation and Ethics in (oha but he$s also the (ean o" the Cambridge Muslim College. He translated important classical works but he$s also a regular contributor in the )ritish media. *et what struck me the most, when I met him, was the way he combined +ast knowledge and intellectual sharpness with straight"orward humbleness. )ecause o" his e,periences and e,pertise, I speci"ically wanted to talk to shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad about the e+olutions o" authority within the global ummah. As the old -centers o" authority$ are either non e,istent or lost the impact they once had, I hoped to learn "rom him which institutions or indi+iduals are gradually becoming new points o" re"erence. His e+entual answer, howe+er, wasn$t at all what I had e,pected... It is often claimed Islam has no institutionalized authority but if we honestly look at history we can see that there have in fact always been certain ‘centers of authority’. The first khalifs the Al!Azhar "niversity the scholars of #amascus the $ttoman %ultan & they have all been e'am(les of concentrated authority. Today however it seems very difficult to find such centers or to assess the authority of the many different )rou(s institutions and individuals. *ould you say then that today’s situation is an anomaly in the history of Islam+ I" you ha+e a religion with ethics, that religion will want its ethics re"lected in the laws and o" course you can$t ha+e a legal system and courts without ha+ing some structural authority. *et in the early centuries, Islamic law . the sharia . was as decentered as it could possibly be. Each khadi was de "acto independent and there was no statutory legislation. In the nineteen century, howe+er, the /ttomans had to reshape Islamic law into statutory law because in order to create a stable trading en+ironment "or their European partners they needed certain treaties and regulations . %hat led to the establishment o" a code called the -Mecelle$. 0owadays many Muslims assume that Islamic law has always been statutory, but in "act it-s a kind o" -Westerni!ation$. In the age be"ore the state got in+ol+ed with legislation it was something that grew

I" you had a dispute in #unni Islam o+er doctrine or sharia. we are considered to be in such a nawa!il period. originally.istence o" the e. theoretically there was someone who could resol+e it. %hey ha+e a hard 2ob not becoming the state$s representati+es.rk and nothing has really stepped in to replace that. we get into situations where some people wouldn$t be looked a"ter or cared "or.robably it leads to much corru(tion but I su((ose corru(tion must also have e'isted in the days before the ulama was inte)rated into the state structures. which it wasn$t supposed to do in Islamic law . while in "act there was probably a closer interlocking between religion and state in many Christian states than in many Islamic parts o" the world. there was ultimately a uni"ying principle: the #ultan and the #haykh al Islam o" the /ttoman ulama. And since the models o" many o" our present societies are alien to the premises on which the traditional sharia rests. All kind o" new rulings come into place in such a period because i" you "ollowed the classical "i4h. In a way the abolition o" the khali"at certainly pro+ed that the decentered nature o" sharia most certainly remains a strength . such a time o" emergency is called -nawa!il$. putting "orward only those "atwa$s that the state appro+es. For e.ample. )ut once statutory law became the norm worldwide. the structure o" the religion and its authority has been detached "rom the structure and authority o" the state. 3ntil the 6789$s. that is to say. the traditional sharia assumes the e. E+en more so. less than a hundred years ago. religion and politics are the same. Hence the crisis o" authority the -establishment ulama$ "inds itsel" in. despite the o+ersimpli"ications. In traditional sharia terminology. %hey$+e become a kind o" -clerisy$ and are o"ten seen as a part o" a hypocritical bureaucracy. %he situation the traditional ulama sees us as being in at the moment is a kind o" -emergency mode$. In the traditional Catholic world o"ten the empire and the church were one institution while the Islamic society knew the strange situation in which the scholars weren$t a part o" the imperial bureaucracy. I" the state started to legislate . the ulama represented the Muslims against the depri+ations o" the state. #o when the wi"e is di+orced.tended "amily. destroying one part doesn$t do much to the organism as . #o historically. the husband wasn$t supposed to continually support her because others would take care o" her. 0owadays howe+er. %hat$s the category you apply when there is a huge political mis"ortune. 1eople o"ten tend to think that in Islam. 0owadays there"ore. e+ery #unni Muslim in the world had some dim idea that behind the di+ersity o" Islam. %hat led to concepts like -the grand Mu"ti$ o" a certain country or -the Islamic 3ni+ersity$ o" a certain state."rom the ground up. Is that theoretically s(eakin) really (roblematic+ Is it at its core ‘un!islamic’+ $ne could ar)ue that it is -ust a different mode of or)anization. such as the e. the ulama is o"ten integrated into the state$s mechanisms. you$d be killed. %his was e+entually abolished by Atat. #o what do you do when the basic assumptions that underlie the regulations aren$t pre+alent anymore5 %he "all o" the khali"at was another reason "or considering the situation o" emergency. . It wasn$t binding. it was impossible "or the scholars to remain independent. either they could take the stance that the state 2ust legislates on the basis o" its own secular pragmatism or they could try to -reduce the damage$ by becoming state employees. but it was authoritati+e because it came "rom the #haykh al Islam.pulsion o" the Muslims in the Iberian 1eninsula by the #panish In4uisition.

%his is something the traditional scholarship can$t really cope with because that scholarship is so non hierarchical. because the destruction o" the khali"at certainly didn$t destroy Islam. )ut the idea o" the 1alestians. as soon as the drones stop bu!!ing o+er our heads. which is -to do what keeps you ali+e$ . It$s a messy thing that hasn$t really -deli+ered$ anywhere. He doesn$t re"er to any o" the classical debates. "or e. "or e. Iran was the "irst place where it had a chance to pro+e itsel" but Iran e+entually is one o" the most secular places around when you look at the daily li+es o" people. it$s not really accessible. Mos4ues are still "ull. "or instance. that nobody in the world is going to help and that the in2ustices continue so that they can only reach "or things that would normally not be 2usti"iable. #o you think this situation will chan)e+ As soon as things settle down and people stop panicking. and came up with things like suicide bombing. 0onetheless. it becomes e+ident to the ma2ority o" the Muslims that hot headed e""orts o" the narrowest interpretations don$t actually work in practice. one o" the huge ad+antages o" the non clerical model which Islam "a+ors is that you$re not stuck when your local spiritual leader is completely uncongenial. Aadda"i killed it o"" "or "orty years. %o in the absence of authority we see (ra)matism winnin) over morality+ Fundamentalism o"ten coalesces with pragmatism because they do not see themsel+es bound by the tradition or the restraint ethos o" that tradition. which authori!es e+ery Muslim to kill any American combatant or non combatant is phrased in a way that indicates that he had no idea what a traditional "atwa looks like. was to throw his "atwa on the internet.? %hen he 4uoted a @ur$anic +erse that says we$re indeed allowed to de"end oursel+es and "rom it deducted that we can there"ore kill Americans.ample. a"ter a while. but all he had to do to spread his idea. He 2ust said: >%hey$re attacking us so we ha+e to de"end oursel+es.ample. *ou$re not e+en supposed to tattoo your body because it is sacrosanct. *ou can simply go to another . %hey let slip the precision instruments o" the classical Islamic 2urisprudence on basis o" the basic 2usti"ication o" nawa!il "i4h . In some cases howe+er. which is increasingly what we$re seeing. passi+e and +ulnerable and can be twisted into ser+ing any purpose . so "orget about killing yoursel". more power"ul than the scripture on its own. in a sense. %hey see it as the only option instead o" 2ust letting the Israelis sit on their head "ore+er. In 'ibya.a whole . the unity o" the community on the sensiti+e nawa!il related issues becomes +ery doubt"ul and certain people started to base their "atwa$s too much on their immediate political circumstances or their psychological state. is that there is no <hali". to any o" his predecessors or any consultation o" the chain o" narration. I" we look at the "amous "atwa o" )in 'aden against =ews and Crusaders. %he wiser heads will say that there is much to be gained "rom reconnecting to tradition and traditional scholarship. %here were some old scholars there but reconnecting teenagers is really di""icult "or people in their se+enties and eighties. %hey$re thrown back on the scripture and their own psychic state and don$t consider the consensus o" hundreds o" years o" cautious scholars. which is completely inconcei+able in traditional Islamic sensibilities. Howe+er. For the scripture in itsel" is 4uite tender. It is baseless in terms o" traditional Islamic argumentation. #o the angry man alone in a room with a scripture is.

amples. It also makes the con+ersation generally more di""icult because +ery o"ten secularity "inds it +ery hard to de+elop a language to deal with religious people. %he Catholic Church "inds ways o" talking to Muslims . *et e+en though the %unisian go+ernment "or "i"ty years deliberately tried to s4uee!e religion out o" the %unisian soul. Israel. theology or +ision o" history isn$t prepared "or it. We ha+e e+en come to the point where it becomes di""icult to claim that Christianity is still the de"ault religion. terror. I think Islam is the great religious success story o" modernityB despite itsel". Christian or =ewish. %he Islamic leadership howe+er isn$t at all ready to assume that position. #ociologists said it was impossible since -liberated$ people were supposed to want secularism.mos4ue. which was +ery strong in promoting secularism. .ou say Islam is the bi) success story of modernity but at the same time the debates which brin) everythin) to the ‘boilin) (oint’ are often about the friction between certain tenets of modernity – like secularism – and the way Islam tries to (osition itself within society. they +ote "or whoe+er has the longest beard or 4uotes the @ur$an. as soon as they get the chance. the collapse o" traditional Islamic education in many places. Many people are either in the shopping malls or in the mos4ues.pected collapse o" the de"ault religion. sometimes it gets it wrong. %here are churches e+erywhere. In Europe as well. %hat makes it harder to continue the discourse in traditional Islamic categories.t5? %he cartoons. . Much indeed depends on how the community will respond to the une. I there"ore don$t accept there is a crisis o" Islam. In a country like %urkey. Actually. %hey are still in their nawa!il mode o" >what$s the latest headline and how do we panic ne. 0ot so much in the 3#. And we can gi+e more e. I think it actually makes many people in the West "eel a bit uneasy. 3ltimately you 2udge a religion and the +alidity o" its truth claims on the basis o" whether it is still appealing to people or not. mos4ues are still "ull. but there$s common ground there . but the reality on the ground is that something is in "act working. Muslim minorities are still pretty resistant to many seculari!ing tendencies. And I think part o" the resilience o" today$s Islam lies in the "act that they can go down the road to a di""erent mos4ue and "ind someone else that does deal with their issues. %he people in Europe aren$t seen any longer as -people o" the book$. but there is nothing much going on inside them. B it$s all boiling. %heir discourse. *ould you say then like some do that Islam is in bit of a crisis or not+ %he merit o" the decentered model is to be seen in the "act that in spite o" the talk o" -the crisis o" Islam$ or -what went wrong with Islam$ many mos4ues are still crowded until o+er"lowing. %he danger is o" course that they might be "ollowing +oices that pander to their insecurities rather than reassuring them that Aod is still in control o" history. but it$s really hard to con+erse with this sort o" -(arwinian "undamentalism$ o" the belie" in the sel"ish gene. And people keep con+erting to Islam. but certainly in Europe because in Europe the sense is now that the host society is not ahl al kitab. E+en in those places that the West had declared secular. (espite the decrepitude o" the structures. people still want Islam. but 2ust as hedonistic.

in the 3< perhaps "orty to "i"ty thousand all together. this will secure the distincti+eness and sur+i+al o" the Muslim communities. I have the feelin) that many of the youn) (eo(le that find themselves ri)ht in the middle of the debates on identity culture reli)ion and society don’t )o to the traditional ulama their mos/ues or the institutions of their community for advice. I" you look at the younger generation in the 3<. It$s hard to see out there that there are mos4ues that -"ollow$ them or that there are organi!ations. websites or maga!ines that step in their line. %hey wonder why they should integrate into a society that doesn$t like them. but a sense that the mainstream doesn$t like certain people. %hey$re "iercely loyal.It may well be that. as with the =ewish marginali!ation. makes it easier "or those people to retreat in their own +alues. %he penetration o" their substanti+e ideas in the normati+e Muslim communities is +ery hard to map. but there are also others who think the solution is a #ala"i alternati+e which has the ad+antages o" being well "unded and o" ha+ing a strong presence on the internet. most o" them still associate themsel+es with the traditional scholars o" the subcontinent. #ome o" them might attach themsel+es to certain charismatic speakers and those speakers can become big stars. And the #ala"is can o" course do what they like because o" the close ties the )ritish go+ernment has with #audi Arabia. so to speak. %he number o" Muslims who can detach themsel+es "rom their own religious upbringing and who are interested in something di""erent with a more international character is probably +ery small . I4m not tryin) to assess their s(ecific teachin)s or (ersonalities here but could it be said in )eneral that such (eo(le are becomin) somewhat new authoritative fi)ures+ I don$t know. . Instead they seem to turn to ins(irational s(eakers like Tari/ 0amadan Amr 1haled Hamza . A benign neglect would 4uite 4uickly bring about assimilation.ussuf 2akir 3ai/ and many others who often draw bi) crowds.

5uite a modest answer considerin) your standin) amon) the international ulama.tremely di""icult "or the young Muslims to master all o" this. is +ery hard to predict.? %he current situation would ha+e been unguessable twenty years ago. As such it is e. %he prophet isn$t 2ust the theory. I guess they know my brother a lot better since he$s a "amous sports 2ournalist. In medina I went to some o" the biggest #u"i gatherings you can imagine. patience and wisdom. ). as you know. And e+en #audi Arabia is "ull o" #u"is. he became the li+ing heart o" Muslim piety and most certainly the center o" #u"ism. because in the West they o"ten see Islam as a regression to some Mosaic style religion.pressions o" di+ine lo+e.pressing any +iews at all about modernity. %he ultimate proo" o" the religion is the you’re not the first hi)hly res(ected scholar I s(oke to whose teachers have been %ufis so by now I came to the conclusion that %ufism isn’t at all such a ‘mar)inalized’ as(ect of Islam as (eo(le often claim. )ut that$s a +ery recent e+olution. %hat$s true. %hat takes people some time to learn. He was a "ully reali!ed. And it$s through them that we come to know the prophet. . He has always been a li+ing part o" Islam.ample. "ully alert.Is there a bit of a )a( then between the traditional scholarshi( and the ‘ins(irational s(eakers’ or the leaders of certain movements+ And shouldn’t that )a( somehow be brid)ed+ %here are many "acets to it. I" you look at the /ttoman Empire. but that whole letter spirit dichotomy doesn$t make sense . #o when anybody asks: >Where is it going5? I would ha+e to answer: >Aod only knows. C. (. #u"ism is 2ust a name. Many scholars aren$t subsidi!ed like they used to be in the past. A. nobody e+er was -against$ #u"ism. #o the scholarship becomes a bit di+ided between scholars which are westerni!ed but don$t know the sharia as they should and traditional scholars who are o"ten +ery cautious about e. )ut itCs abo+e all important to remember that it$s not so much about #u"ism itsel". We li+e in a time where e+erything is changing "ast. %his concept o" Islam being anti #u"i is there because o" #audi puritanism. . %hey need to meaning"ully understand the modern world and the place o" the religious community within it. . %hey are the miraculous e. Aod send human being who was at the center o" his society and miraculously trans"ormed that society. "or e. &eligion.our (osition mi)ht even sur(rise certain (eo(le since you’re an 6n)lish convert who (laces himself within the %ufi I have the feelin) that you think it’s all /uite uncertain that they are everywhere and nowhere at the moment. And a"ter he died. %he responsibilities to master the traditional mechanisms o" Islamic law re4uire an immense amount o" memori!ation. *hen I came to you I had somehow ho(ed that to find out more about where the new centers of authority were really to be found in contem(orary Islam. And where do you (lace yourself in all of it+ I$m simply an academic o" Cambridge and I try my best to be in+ol+ed in +arious pro2ects on the local as well as the international le+el but it would surprise me that many Muslims in the 3< ha+e e+er heard o" me.

#ometimes they$re +ery scary. the lo+e "or othersB you see it in the prophet and you see it in the saint. we need rules and we need rituals but there has to be spirit as well. sometimes tell you all about yoursel". )ut that$s not the reality o" it. 7ould I conclude then that the true s(iritual authorities in Islam accordin) to you are in fact the saints+ 'ike I o"ten say: >I" you ha+e not seen the saint. howe+er. tears. %he sel" is gone and only the prophetic "orm remains. /" course we need letters. shedding blood. %rue saints. And then they go on and help another thousand people. %hey want light and smooth spirituality with nice incense and chanting. you disco+er what lo+e is really all about. /ur culture sings about lo+e endlessly because it actually doesn$t ha+e any o" it. the ethical boundaries. in music and soap opera$s but it$s not really there. He is the sharia.? . the ancient wisdom. )ut they don$t always show up the way you$d want us. A saint is beyond that sort o" narrow minded egocentrism and shows us what real di+ine lo+e is about. because we need boundaries in our li+es. And that spirit is what the prophet is. %he Western seeker has this mystical Aeorge Harrison idea o" a white haired sage in a cabin in the Himalayas who gi+es you a bit o" ad+ice that makes you "eel really spiritual and enlightened. but nothing is gi+ing it to them so theyCre sort o" endlessly trying new things. you go away and you$re completely shattered and ruined. I" you$re not so "ussy about it. I see it with my students. It became the basis o" our society but it$s a kind o" coitus interruptus: the slogan o" -lo+e is all you need$ is e+erywhere on the co+ers o" maga!ines. %he saint in Islam is there"ore the one who shows you the greatness o" the prophet because his li"e meticulously con"orms to the last detail o" the sunna out o" total lo+e and surrender. #ometimes they beat you up because that$s what you need and deser+e. *ou see them two minutes a year and they can tell you: >you$+e done this and that while you should do that and this. but also the mi$ra2. %hey remind us that it$s about constantly being in Aod because in the saints you see the royal 4ualities and incredible dignity that that con"ers. *hat do you think is the reason that they are so ca(able of hel(in) (eo(le to s(iritually advance+ %he saints remind us o" the "act that religion is not about doing stu"" "or the sake o" treats a"ter death but that it$s about consciousness and remembrance now and in e+ery moment. the spiritual ascension. #o when you see them. they ha+e the yearning. %he reality is a lot o" "asting. %he dignity. you can marry anybody as long as you let Aod constrain you on the rubbish. the sel"lessness. =ust being with them makes you kind o" recon"igure yoursel" completely. being hitB %he "unction o" the teacher is to beat you.? %hey lea+e you "labbergasted as to how they knew. %hey take a stick and hit you until the rubbish comes out. 1eople need it. %heir girl"riends dump them and they try again and againB but basically you can lo+e anybody. you ha+e not seen the sunna. #id you meet many (eo(le who you would call saints like that+ #ure. %he word -guru$ in #anskrit actually means -hea+y$ but many seekers do not want that. )ut it does help you spiritually ad+ance.

please visit www halalmonk com .© Halal Monk 2013 For more conversations with important spiritual leaders and artists of the Muslim World.