One Caliph to Rule Them All

Bismillah.  Here is a useful article by Rashad Ali, with good quotes from some of the classical jurists that should help in the debate about Islamism (political Islam).  I particularly like the paragraphs from the 18th-19th century Yemeni Imams San’ani and Shawkani, since they are very influential in Salafi circles, and you get Salafi Islamists as well as others (both Sunni and Shi’i, lest we forget).

al-Amir al-San’ani: ” … the implication here is that the Caliph referred to is that of a particular region because the people have never gathered together behind a single Caliph in all the lands of Islam since the time of the Abbasid State. Rather, the people of every region were independent with someone presiding over their affairs. If the hadith was taken to mean the overall Caliph which the people of Islam had united behind, then there would have been no benefit in the saying.” Subul al-Salaam, (volume 3, page 499)

Imam Shawkani also held this view: “As for when Islam spread and its territories expanded and its regions became distant [from each other], then it is known that in all of these regions loyalty was given to an Imam or Sultan… So there is no harm in the multiplicity of Imams and Sultans and it is obligatory for those people in whose land his orders and prohibitions become effective to give obedience to him after having giving bay’ah (a pledge of allegiance) to him. It is the same for the people of all the other regions.” Shawkani goes on to say that someone not understanding this will not benefit from the presentation of the dalil (scriptural evidence) as he will not “be able to comprehend it.” al-Sayl al-Jarraar (volume 4, page 512)

It is also worth reading Ibn Khaldun on the subject, as usual.  Much of the Muqaddimah is devoted to issues of political power but the section on the meaning of the caliphate and imamate is especially relevant (pp. 154-183 or Sections 23-30, Chapter III, of the abridged translation by Rosenthal/Dawood, available online here).

ONE CALIPH TO RULE THEM ALL

© Rashad Ali, 2009

Hizb ut-Tahrir, Jamaat-e-Islami, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon and al-Qaeda all have, as a fundamental aim: the establishment of a global dictatorship under the rule of one Caliph, an autocrat who will impose one interpretation of the Shar’iah over the entire globe. They intend to do this through unifying countries where there already exist Muslim majorities, and then launch a worldwide international effort at expanding this state through diplomatic and hostile means, i.e. warfare.

For them, there is a religious duty (fard) in which there is no dispute, that there must be a single caliphate encompassing the whole globe. There is no room for different interpretations, and anyone differing with them – especially with the likes of the Hizb and al-Qaeda, are upon Kufr (unbelief) and apostates from Islam. In fact, they would argue that all the Muslim scholars who have abandoned engaging in political activity for the sake of establishing such a super-state are upon misguidance, and Kufr, even if on the whole the Muslim jurists take the position, that there are different opinions on this issue, which are legitimate opinions – Ijtihadaat – and therefore we cannot start accusing others of being on un-Islamic positions for holding different views.

The fact is that whilst mainstream religious scholarship prefers unity to disunity, and an ideal of unified peaceful relations, it recognizes the practical and political reality that has existed throughout our history, that we have always had different states and empires. Scholarship has always recognized that there differences in all such issues which warrant recognition. Barking on about the obligation of having a leader/caliph/head of state- all of which carry the same meaning according to groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, is not the same as proving that Muslim scholars historically or presently support the forceful unification of Muslim majority countries or expansionist states in the world. This is a false representation of classical and modern scholarship.

First of all, Muslim scholars have differed over the necessity of having a single political leadership. Rather it was considered acceptable to many scholars to have multiple political leaders.

Secondly, rejecting the concept of having a caliph and Imam or leadership was considered as erroneous (this should be differentiated form the notion of an expansionist state), but not Kufr. In fact, it was considered a form of extremism amongst classical scholars to exaggerate the issue of caliphate as there are many differences upon such issues.

Thirdly, political rebellion in order to remove leaderships by force, coup or militant means or through political agitation was considered to be: heresy and fisq (transgression); an aspect of deviant sectarian cultures such as those of the Khawarij; deemed outside of the way of mainstream Islamic teaching.  This is where the separation from classical tradition and Islamist ideological activism originates.

A question arises though about the apparently clear-cut evidences from prophetic tradition which are often cited to clearly oblige the necessity of one caliph and forbid multiple rulers. It is then claimed that such rules are clear-cut and definitive (Qat’i) permitting no other interpretations.

Methodological principles

The founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Taqi ul-Din al-Nabhani explains in volume 3 of Shakhsiya Islamiya page 186, in the chapter titled Mafhoom al-Shart (the concept of the condition or conditional clause):

“The mafhoom al-shart is when the rule depends upon something which has come in any of the forms of the conditional clause such as ‘if/when’ or any meaning implying a condition. It indicates the negation of the ruling when such a condition is not realised or is absent.”

Nabhani also states that absolute and general statements would be restricted by conditional clauses, or in fact more generally by the denotation (mantooq) as well as the connotation (mafhoom) of the speech.

“It is permitted to restrict the the mantooq (the meaning of the denotation of the speech), by the mafhoom (the connotation of the speech), whether this is when it is in the meaning of the statement and in harmony with it (mafhoom al-muwafaqa) or divergent from it (mafhoom al-mukhalafa) [such as the the conditional clause – he gives an example to substantiate this].” (Chapter: Restricting the Mantooq by the Mafhoom, page 255)

Hadiths about one leader and how they have been interpreted

So for example the hadith wherein the prophet is reported to have said as narrated by Sahih Muslim: “Whoever comes to you, and you are united under one man, and seeks to cause political dissention and separate your community (jama’ah), fight him” – would be interpreted as meaning when you are united under a single leadership. This would then restrict the meaning of other general texts which imply a single leadership according to Nabhani’s principles of interpretation, i.e. the specific meaning would be then understood to restrict the general implications of other texts such as, “If the pledge is given to two Caliphs, fight the latter,” as applying under a single leadership, not when there are many different states and leaderships already.

Imam al-Nawawi comments on the above hadith in the chapter: The ruling of dividing the affair of the Muslims when they are united, “Whoever comes to you and you are united …” stating that this refers to “those who rebel (kharaja) against the leader …”(!!) (page 444 of al-Minhaj bi-Sharh Sahih Muslim bin al-Hajjaj, Dar al-Marifa, Beirut – Lebanon)

He also states regarding the second hadith that “generally scholars have agreed that you cannot contract two caliphs… there is however the possibility of the opinion of Imam al-Haramayn [being correct].” (page 445) He explains that there is a possibility of different opinions in this matter. He states, “This is outside of the definitive matters (kharij min al-qawati’). And Maziri (the well-known Maliki commentator on Imam Muslim’s collection of hadith) has narrated this Qawl (opinion) from some of the later scholars of Usul, including Imam al-Haramayn.” So it is the position of Imam al-Haramayn that it is permitted to have multiple political leaders. Imam al-Nawawi is not of this view and he states “though it is an irregular position and conflicts with the views of the early scholars and the apparent, absolute meaning of the text.” (page 435) The important point is that it is not a definitive issue, it is subject to opinion and Ijtihad. Imam al-Haramayn is however one of the most widely accepted scholars agreed upon to reach the position of a Mujtahid Imam, and was the celebrated teacher of the revered Imam al-Ghazali.

What was Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni’s point of view? He explained this clearly in his text Ghiyath al-Umam fi Tiyath al-Zulam where he explained, “I do not deny the permissibility of appointing (two leaders) according to the need (haja) and enforcing both of their executive decisions as a religious duty. This however is a time without an overall Imam.” People have misconstrued his words, as implying that this is only when it is impossible. This is absolutely false. Not just from the quotation itself, which is that it is according to the need (not even necessity or darura), but Imam al-Haramayn explains in the following sentence, “if they agree to appoint an Imam over them, it is a right for the two leaders to submit to the decisions of this Imam in a manner he deems appropriate.” He goes on to discuss to Imams in two separate countries: neither would have claim to the leadership of all the Muslims. (pp. 168-169, Muassas al-Rayyan edition)

al-Amir al-San’ani comments on the statement, “Whoever left obedience to the Imam and separated from the community and then died, then his is a death of pagan ignorance,” as follows: “… the phrase, ‘… left obedience …’, means obedience to the Caliph with whom there is agreement. And the implication here is that the Caliph referred to is that of a particular region because the people have never gathered together behind a single Caliph in all the lands of Islam since the time of the Abbasid State. Rather, the people of every region were independent with someone presiding over their affairs. If the hadith was taken to mean the overall Caliph which the people of Islam had united behind, then there would have been no benefit in the saying.” Subul al-Salaam, (volume 3, page 499)

Imam Shawkani also held this view: “As for when Islam spread and its territories expanded and its regions became distant [from each other], then it is known that in all of these regions loyalty was given to an Imam or Sultan… So there is no harm in the multiplicity of Imams and Sultans and it is obligatory for those people in whose land his orders and prohibitions become effective to give obedience to him after having giving bay’ah (a pledge of allegiance) to him. It is the same for the people of all the other regions.” Shawkani goes on to say that someone not understanding this will not benefit from the presentation of the dalil (scriptural evidence) as he will not “be able to comprehend it.” al-Sayl al-Jarraar (volume 4, page 512)

Rejecting Imamate in principle

As for making the issue of political leadership a central aspect of faith, and declaring Kufr on ideas and people on the basis of such ideas, or even for rejecting the whole notion of having any kind of political leadership, this is considered a characteristic of extremists. As Imam al-Ghazali stated: “Know, however that error regarding the status of the Caliphate, whether or not establishing this office is a (communal) obligation, who qualifies for it, and related matters, cannot serve as grounds for condemning people as Unbelievers. Indeed Ibn al-Kaysan denied that there was any religious obligation to have a Caliphate at all; but this does not mean that he must be branded an Unbeliever. Nor do we pay any attention to those who exaggerate the matter of Imamate and equate recognition of the Imam with faith in God and His Messenger. Nor do we pay any attention to those people who oppose these people and brand them Unbelievers simply on the basis of their doctrine of on the Imamate. Both of these positions are extreme. For neither of the doctrines in question entails any claim that the Prophet perpetrated lies.” (On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Faysal al-Tafriqa by Sherman A. Jackson, Oxford).

To clarify, it is considered a subsidiary branch of fatawa, not a fundamental aspect of religion. This is why someone denying any aspect of recognising political leaderships is considered by the mainstream scholars to be mistaken, at worst upon a deviant position, but not a non-Muslim or outside the community of believers.

Nihayat ul-Su’al fi-Sharh minhaj ul-Wusul lil-Qadi al-Baydawi ma al-hashiya Salam ul-Wusul li-Sharh al-Nihaya authored by Jamal ul-Din al-Asnawi and commentary by Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti’ee, ‘Alam ul-Kutub edition, states:

“The obligation of appointing an Imam is from the branches of religious rulings (al-furu’ al-fiqhiyya), and without a doubt they are not from the fundamentals of religion (usul al-din).” (volume 3, page 92)

Political rebellion in order to forcefully remove leaderships

Imam al-Nawawi explains the orthodox position of the Sunni Muslim scholars: “We should not challenge nor dispute the legitimacy of the political leadership, nor come out in difference to them, unless we clearly see a evil perpetrated by them, definitively violating the principle of Islam. If this is seen then this evil should be denounced and you should speak the truth. As for khurooj (rebellion), this forbidden by consensus of all the Muslims.” (page 532).

So what about those who have decided to undertake military means to remove established rulers, despots and tyrants they may be, based upon their interpretation of such evidences? Well let us return to the writings of Imam al-Asnawi, Qadi al-Baydawi and Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti’ee.

“Similarly the Khawarij, those who permit the slaughter of Muslims, taking their wealth and their famillies based upon an interpretation and speculative interpretation of the text; they are transgressors (fussaq) in our eyes, though not in theirs…” (volume 3, page 136)

Ironically Imam al-Nawawi (see above) applies the very same hadith stating that the meaning of the hadith which are politicized for their own ends by the likes of Hizb ut-Tahrir, implies that such people should themselves be fought for their crime of political rebellion!

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7 Responses to “One Caliph to Rule Them All”

  1. Sonia Latif Says:

    I just was searching about well known convert Muslims in this world, and I found “Hasan Charles Le Gai Eaton”.
    I have not yet get to know about him,but I am sure a person like him left a treasures of knowledge….May Allah rest his Soul in peace.

  2. Zakir Says:

    Rashad Ali’s first paragraph alone is full of generalisations and inaccurate descriptions of various groups that far from sharing a unified perspective on these issues, diverge strongly. The writings of the JI and MB are particularly easy to access for a scholar such as yourself, so you do yourself a discredit by reproducing such weak research.

    • Usama Hasan Says:

      Zakir, thank you for your comment. Perhaps you would like to address the fundamental issues, rather than dismissing the piece as “weak research” ? It is not simply about JI & MB writings, though many books have been written critiquing political Islam. As former Islamists, both Rashad and I feel strongly that over-politicised Islam hijacks and subverts the sublime teachings of Islam, especially its spiritual and mystical dimensions. The main point of the article is to argue, as Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Khaldun and others did, that it is perfectly acceptable to have a number of different Muslim nations and states if a single caliphate is not practically possible. A single caliphate is a nice dream, yes, but not a matter of life and death as HT and AQ argue. Islamic history shows that a single caliphate ceased for practical purposes very early on – there were even competing “caliphates” for many centuries. Coming back to recent times, MB gave rise to the jihadi and takfiri splinter groups, and it is often said that JI is too close to the Taliban. These are issues that Muslims should address and discuss.

      • Zakir Says:

        Yes they are all issues worth discussing, but unfortunately you have chosen to do so in a highly politicised context (by aligning with an organisation lacking scholarly or grassroots credentials, heavily praised by anti-Islam antagonists, and funded to an incredible degree by a government presently at war with various Muslim-majority countries).

        If the debate is to be scholarly, at least those participating should be qualified. They should also show an ability to present the positions of those they disagree with clearly and in such a way that they could agree, like the Imams Al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyah did in their critiques of the philosophers.

        Rashad says:
        “For them, there is a religious duty (fard) in which there is no dispute, that there must be a single caliphate encompassing the whole globe. There is no room for different interpretations, and anyone differing with them – especially with the likes of the Hizb and al-Qaeda, are upon Kufr (unbelief) and apostates from Islam. In fact, they would argue that all the Muslim scholars who have abandoned engaging in political activity for the sake of establishing such a super-state are upon misguidance, and Kufr…”

        This is a wild overstatement. If it may apply to some groups he mentioned, it doesn’t for others.

        Finally, your point about splinter groups from the MB only proves the opposite of your intention, because groups had to splinter from the MB in order to engage their takfeeri or violent intentions.

      • Usama Hasan Says:

        Thank you for getting back. All situations are highly politicised, especially when discussing religion and politics! Islamist groups in the UK have received massive amounts of funding from the UK government also, except that they conveniently forget foreign wars when they do so. They have also received millions from Saudi, Iran and other Middle Eastern governments. The Saudis and other Arab states have co-operated to a high degree with the US and UK governments during both recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, lest we forget. The Iranian regime is not exactly spotless, either.

        “Aligning yourself …” If you’re referring to Quilliam, I stepped off their advisory board about a year ago. It would be better to discuss arguments and ideas, anyway. We need to focus on the central points of the debate: about the nature of Islamic government, “Islamic states,” etc. and what we can learn from our history and intellectual tradition to throw light upon complex problems of today.

  3. Zakir Says:

    Thanks for that information, which I didn’t come across in any public statement. Did you leave because you no longer agree with their methods?

    True, raising government funding is often a red herring, but in the case of a “thinktank” set up solely to attack mainstream groups, I think it is highly relevant. I’m not aware of other thinktanks receiving such funding, let alone to that degree.

  4. Saif al-Hadi Says:

    I agree with the basic premise of the article, and in the times we live in, I too feel it is important that senior ‘mainstream’ Muslim scholars belonging to various schools of thought need to address this issue. It should be made clear what Islam says about a global (or any other form of) caliphate; whether there is any religious sanction for seeking political power in the Islamic texts; whether having an Imam is from the Usul or the Furu’ of the Deen; and most importantly, whether there is an Ijma among the Ulama on caliphate-related questions as claimed by HT and other groups.

    In spite of the important issues it raises, the article employs sensationalism, makes sweeping generalizations, and grossly misrepresents groups such as JI and MB. I’m not a huge fan of either group, but I know what they are and what they are not about. Most of us have Shuyukh who are/were, broadly speaking, associated with JI or MB or similar groups. Even Sh. Abul Hasan an-Nadawi, who criticized Sh. Maududi and JI for some of the reasons you mentioned in ‘Deen Ki Siyasi Ta’beer’ praised Sh. al-Banna and MB in other works such as ‘Karawan e Zindagi’.

    Sh. al-Ghannouchi’s views have absolutely nothing in common with HT, and yet he sees a connection between constructive politics and Islam.

    You’re only discrediting yourself if you choose to paint everyone with the same brush. Esposito, Voll, etc. have done far better and objective analyses of these “Islamist” groups than former-Islamists such as you or Rashad.

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