Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

FREEDOM – Islamic reflections on Liberty

December 25, 2016

With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful

FREEDOM

Reflections by Imam Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam Foundation, in preparation for the Inspire Dialogue Foundation conference in Cambridge, Saturday 17th September 2016, hosted by Lord Rowan Williams, Emeritus Archbishop of Canterbury

There are many universal human rights: arguably, freedom is one of the basic ones, intertwined with life itself. As Tipu Sultan, the famous Indian resistance leader against the British, exclaimed: “better to live one day, free as a lion, than to live as a slave for a thousand years.” Caliph Omar once berated one of his commanders, who had followed the common pre-Islamic medieval wartime practice of enslaving the women and children of a defeated army, asking: “how could you enslave people whom God had created free?!” echoing Moses’ defiant response to Pharaoh in the Qur’an (26:22), which asks: “is this the favour, of which you are reminding me, that you have enslaved the Children of Israel?”

Theologically, true faith is based on free will and free choice: any practice that is not free, including faith and religious observance, cannot be genuine. Hence the famous Qur’anic declaration (2:256), “There is no compulsion in religion!”

The centrality of freedom to faith raises important issues: drugs, alcohol, mental illness, carnal lusts and social pressures all mean that our choices and decisions in life are not totally free. How, then, are these actions judged by fellow humans and by God? In particular, one of the goals of religious practice has always been to remove internal shackles that inhibit our expression of humanity, enabling greater self-awareness and realisation of our potential. Thus, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad says that “the world is a prison for the believer,” i.e. the moral person, and great sages survived imprisonment because they were, internally, free spirits. Ideas of freedom and liberty have, of course, strongly shaped the modern world since the 18th century with the abolition of slavery, French and American republican ideals and anti-colonial independence movements.

It is my firm belief that the great philosophers, sages and prophets: Moses, Mary, Christ and Muhammad, Buddha and Confucius, and men and women of God through the ages, supported the liberation of men and women of all colours, races and religions, children and slaves, individuals and populations, from the yokes of tyranny and oppression. Our modern heroes in this regard range from Wilberforce to Jefferson to Gandhi, Jinnah, Martin Luther King and Mandela.

But today, we still have our modern forms of slavery: bonded and child labour; entire multiple-generation families working in sweatshop factories; highly-organised international rings dealing in human trafficking, including that of children, for financial and sexual exploitation. Therefore, we need to address the above problems by rekindling the same spirit that historically liberated children from labour into education, slaves from enslavement into liberty, peoples from colonisation into independence, and people of colour from segregation and apartheid into civic equality.

Tony Blair, whilst UK Prime Minister, once said in an historic speech on Capitol Hill that “to be American is to be free.” In reality, as spiritual-animal beings made in the image of the Divine, to be human is to be free. Now, let’s continue with working towards inner and outer freedom, and sharing it with our fellow travellers, with the goal of reaching our full and common humanity.

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Interview with a Syrian opposition activist

March 11, 2012

Bismillah.  Better late than never.  The following is a brief interview conducted on 26th Ramadan 1432 (26th August 2011) with a Syrian journalist & opposition activist, Mohammad Fizou.  The questions and mobile phone number (registered in Turkey) of the interviewee were supplied by a UK-based journalist.  The line was quite poor, hence the brief interview.

1. You coordinate the Syrian Army Defectors’ Facebook page. How many defectors are there in total?

 We have 8,000 people on our Facebook page.  There is much more information on there about our members.

2. Which city do you come from?

I am from Ladhiqiyyah (Latakia).

3. What makes the defectors choose to do so?

They defected from the army (there are over 7,000 of them) because they were ordered to fire with machine-guns at unarmed, civilian protesters.

4. Have ex-soldiers been the only ones shooting at & killing army regulars, or have protestors engaged in violence against the regime at all?

The only people killing soldiers have been the regime’s people.  They killed soldiers who refused to shoot at civilians, and blamed it on the protesters in order to give the world media the impression that the regime had been attacked by the protesters.

5. Do you want a no-fly zone like in Libya, or will you and your men be able to fight against the regime yourselves?

We have about 7,000 men but the regime has many times that number, as is well-known.  Therefore, we need as much support and help as possible.  The Syrian regime’s aircraft have been bombing civilian protesters, so any action that will stop them will be very important.

6. There are different groups of ex-soldiers, such as the Free Officers’ Movement led by Hussain Harmoush and the Free Syrian Army led by Col. Rifal al-Assad.  Is there any plan for them all to come together and form a united army against the regime?

These movements all have the same aim, and therefore they are united in purpose.  They tend to be regional, i.e. composed of defectors from different parts of the country.  The regime tries to make out that we are disunited, but we are not.  We all have the same demands, as the protesters do: stop the killing; stop the massacres; let us have reform.

7. How credible are the Turkish Army’s threats to establish a safety zone inside Syria? Will this affect the revolution, do you think?

Turkey is a friendly country, as are its people and its army.  We would welcome help from any friendly countries, such as Turkey or Britain, since they would not be invading or occupying our country.  But Turkish soldiers have not entered Syria.  The Syrians have fired repeatedly on Turkish troops and have even launched rockets into Turkish territory, but the Turks have not retaliated.  The Turks gave the Syrians a 15-day ultimatum to stop firing on them – this expired yesterday evening (25th August 2011), but the Turks haven’t taken any action in response.

Thank you for your time & answers.

Three Upcoming Lectures in Cambridge, God-willing

January 31, 2012

Bismillah

1) Wednesday 1 February – The Libyan Revolution and its Future

Aref Ali Nayed in conversation with Edward Stourton

5.00 pm – 6:30 pm

Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9BS

Aref Ali Nayed is the Ambassador of Libya to the United Arab Emirates and was the Chief Operations Officer of the Libyan Stabilisation Team. In Cambridge as a Visiting Fellow with the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Dr Nayed is in conversation with the distinguished BBC print and broadcast journalist, Ed Stourton.

A reception, open to the audience, will follow the event.

This event is FREE but booking is essential: book now at libya.eventbrite.co.uk or call 01223 763 013.

In February 2011, Islamic scholar Aref Ali Nayed took part in demonstrations in Tripoli, where he was born. There, he witnessed first-hand the brutality of the Libyan regime against its own people. Together with other religious scholars, Nayed established the Network of Free Ulema. In their first press release, on 19th February, they wrote, “STOP THE MASS KILLINGS OF PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATORS IN LIBYA”. As the days progressed, their statements became more desperate, calling for international action, until on 2nd March, they called for the world to recognise Libya’s new Interim National Council and Government.

 Nayed was one of the first prominent Libyans to publically decry Gaddafi. He set up a Support Office for the Executive Team of the new National Transitional Council (NTC) in his Dubai premise, which worked around the clock towards the transition to NTC authority, working on matters which included humanitarian, financial, diplomatic, telecommunications and security issues.

In June, Nayed was appointed coordinator of the Tripoli Taskforce.  When Tripoli was liberated in late August 2011, the remit was broadened and he was made the lead coordinator of the Libya Stabilization Team.  Nayed’s team worked intensively and restored electricity, telecommunications, and water supply and fuel. In early August the NTC announced Nayed as the new Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and he was given possession of the Libyan Consulate buildings in Dubai. He was the first ambassador to be officially appointed under the NTC.

Dr Aref Ali Nayed is a Libyan Islamic scholar, and Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. He is also the founder and director of Kalam Research & Media, based in Tripoli, Libya and Dubai. Until the outbreak of the revolution in Libya he lectured on Islamic theology, logic, and spirituality at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli, and supervises graduate students at the Islamic Call College there.

Aref Nayed is also Senior Advisor to the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Fellow of the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute in Jordan, and was appointed to the Board of Advisers of the prestigious Templeton Foundation.

 

Cambridge Muslim College – Lecture Programme: Lent 2012                                                          

Cambridge Muslim College is pleased to announce its public lecture programme for the Lent Term 2012. The College welcomes distinguished speakers, each addressing a timely and scholarly topic.

Both lectures take place at the Runcie Room, Faculty of Divinity and will begin at 6.30 pm.

2) Wednesday 22nd February

The Islamic Garden: An Opportunity for ‘Bridge-Building’ Between Cultures

Emma Clark, Garden Designer and Senior Tutor, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts


3) Thursday 8th March

Images of People with (Mental) Disabilities in the Islamic Tradition

Mohammed Ghaly, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies, Leiden University

Bin Ladin: From Hero to Villain

May 22, 2011

Bismillah.

BIN LADIN: FROM HERO TO VILLAIN?

Usama bin Muhammad bin ‘Awad bin Ladin (1957-2011) was originally a hero of the Afghan Jihad against the decade-long Soviet occupation, leading Arab and other fighters in numerous, successful operations. He was a colleague and deputy of the Palestinian Jihad leader Abdullah Azzam.  Once upon a time, the US was indebted to him for helping to inflict a major defeat on their superpower rival, as he was to them for their support of that Jihad.  But the plain truth is that his “Jihad” later evolved into international terrorism and consistently violated basic Islamic and human ethics.

Whether it’s the barbarity of the modern warfare waged by nation-states or international terrorism, it is all inhuman.  Let’s not forget that the twentieth century was the bloodiest in history, with governments all over the world guilty of collectively killing millions of people using increasingly-destructive weapons technology.  To illustrate the irony, when President Clinton reacted to Ibn Ladin’s assassination by referring to a long series of murderous attacks, he could have easily been talking about the ongoing US drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed hundreds of civilians.

Those interested in Ibn Ladin the man may wish to refer especially to two detailed interviews that he gave to ABC News and Al-Jazeera before 9/11.  In the ABC news interview, he condemned unprovoked terrorism but justified terrorism “against tyrants and oppressors in retaliation for their killing of innocent people.”  He also referred to the influential “younger” Saudi clerics, then in prison, as his mentors: the two leading ones, Salman al-‘Awdah and Safar al-Hawali, distanced themselves from him after 9/11 and criticised Al-Qaidah’s tactics.

To Al-Jazeera, Ibn Ladin spoke of his father’s civil engineering work and mentioned that his father was sometimes able to offer prayers in the three holiest mosques in a single day, i.e. in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, since his father’s company, the Saudi Bin Ladin Group (not to be confused with an Al-Qaidah cell) had the maintenance and renovation contracts at all three sites.  He also said, in a clear recruitment appeal, that the optimum age for Jihad fighters was from adulthood to about 35, but appeared to dodge the question as to whether or not he was involved in the 1989 assassination of Abdullah Azzam, in which other suspects include the KGB, KHAD, Hekmatyar, Zawahiri and Mossad.

Since his death, the praise for Ibn Ladin from some Islamists around the world may be largely based on those early days, since tens of thousands took part in that anti-Communist Jihad. (I did so briefly, Dec 1990 – Jan 1991 during Cambridge University’s undergraduate winter holidays, along with two other senior colleagues from the UK.) Unfortunately, his supporters seem to have forgotten, or ignored, what came next.

The Afghan mujahideen were largely religious and/or nationalist, and bitterly-divided, as the vicious civil war amongst them illustrated, 1992-6 after the fall of Kabul, until the Taliban disarmed the warlords and took power, heralding merely the latest in a long line of brutally violent phases that the Afghan people have endured over the last 30-40 years.

The Arab fighters tended to be pan-Islamist, and many were not able to return to their countries of origin, mainly ruled by Western-backed dictators and tyrants. The Islamists’ anti-Westernism was compounded by western support for Israel in its numerous conflicts with the Arabs. Their influence has been huge.  (Many Muslims today, even Western ones, still speak of “Islam and the West” instead of “Islam in the West.”)

After the fall of Kabul, many Arab mujahideen fought in Bosnia and later Chechnya.  A widespread idea in mujahideen circles was that these wars in Europe confirmed the teaching attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), that “Jihad will continue until the Day of Resurrection” – Bosnia erupted soon after the fall of Kabul, and Chechnya followed closely.  Unfortunately, the Jihadists seemed unable to conceptualise non-violent, peaceful Jihads or struggles, e.g. those against colonial occupation, racism, apartheid, gender- or caste-discrimination, social injustice and poverty, that many peoples around the world have waged over the last century or so.

Once the Soviets, Serbs and Russians were no longer the leading targets in this “Jihad against all non-believers,” it was the turn of the western nations, led by the US.  Ibn Ladin issued a nonsensical Fatwa at the end of the 1990’s, as he launched Al-Qaidah or the International Islamic Front Against the Alliance of Crusaders and Zionists, or whatever he called it.  The fatwa said that all western taxpayers, and especially Americans, were legitimate targets due to western support for Israel, and thus sought to justify international terrorism.  The core part of the fatwa was read out on live, national UK television (BBC Newsnight) by a hate-preaching, extremist cleric who has since been banned from Britain.

Then came a string of atrocities against the US and people of many other nations: the embassy bombings in East Africa, and 9/11.  There is now clearly-overwhelming evidence that Al-Qaidah carried out the 9/11 attacks, although there remain a number of unanswered questions, including whether or not some people outside Al-Qaidah knew of the plots and could have done more to foil them.

The 9/11 attacks were, regrettably, celebrated across parts of the Muslim world and Latin America, exposing the level of anti-US sentiment.  Arab media reported a spike in baby boys being named “Usama” and there was a surge in Al-Qaidah’s popularity that dissipated over the years as the organisation murdered more and more innocent people, most of them Muslims, in many countries.  A notable exception to the initial celebration was in Iran, where there was no love for the fanatically anti-Shi’ite Al-Qaidah and Taliban.  Protestors in Tehran chanted, “Condolences to America,” instead of the usual chant of “Death to America” that has become regular since the 1979 revolution.

Many people wonder how someone likened to Hitler in some parts of the world could have been so popular elsewhere.  They forget that a certain US President is similarly hated in parts of the Muslim world:  the award-winning journalist Robert Fisk is a witness to that, having been beaten up and left for dead in December 2001 by an Afghan mob that mistook him for President Bush Jnr.  Similarly, others wonder how the Israelis once voted in General Ariel Sharon as their leader, despite an official Israeli inquiry finding him to be complicit in the 1982 massacre of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

The unfortunate western policy over the last few decades of supporting tyrants and dictators, whether military figures or absolute monarchs, as well as corrupt secular politicians, across the Arab and Muslim world, was partly to blame for Bin Ladin’s popularity there, as was the failure of those societies themselves to democratise. Of course the masses would choose a charismatic military hero, an eloquent warrior-poet, an ascetic from a billionaire family who renounced luxurious living and talked tough against Israel and America, backing his words with action, over utterly-corrupt kings, presidents and other dictators.  (Similarly, supporters of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Mullah Omar point to their simple and ascetic lifestyles.  The Muslim world seems to have too many leaders who are either ungodly and corrupt or are religious fanatics.)  God bless the brave youth who have inspired the Arab spring, offering the hope of an escape from the madness on all sides over the last few generations, and forced western powers to admit the failure of their previous strategies.  The leaders of the Arab spring have engaged successfully in a peaceful Jihad, for the Prophet, peace be upon him, is said to have taught that “the best Jihad is to speak a word of truth to a tyrant ruler.”

Celebrating the misfortune of others, especially an enemy, is an unfortunately-common, but negative, human trait.  In Arabic, it is known as shamatat al-a’da’.  In the Qur’an, Prophet Aaron (Harun) begs Prophet Moses (Musa), peace be upon them, not to expose him to the rejoicing of enemies by criticising him publicly and the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, would pray for God’s protection from being the object of this vice.

But unfortunately, some Muslims celebrated 9/11 as a military victory, just as British tabloids had celebrated the bombing of Libya in 1986, some Israelis the Gaza offensive of 2008-9, and some New Yorkers the assassination of Bin Ladin earlier this month.

Such celebrations may also be attributable to a sense of justice and/or revenge, of course.  One of those celebrating in Times Square had lost his wife on 9/11 and declared to the cameras that he knew for sure that his wife would watch from heaven whilst God would throw Bin Ladin’s soul into the depths of hell.  This was a totally understandable reaction from the still-grieving widower, whilst some Jews and Christians, amongst many believers, were surely asking that difficult question, “Can God forgive Hitler or Bin Ladin?”  Later today, the congregation of a church in Florida will be praying for Bin Ladin’s forgiveness.

Meanwhile, the latter’s former sister-in-law, Carmen bin Ladin, told CNN that Saudi society would be grieving the death of their brother, whom they regarded as a good Muslim, since he upheld the five pillars of Islam.  A problem in Muslim society is that too often, a “good Muslim” man or woman is limited to someone who observes the five pillars and dresses in a certain way, whereas the five pillars are supposed to be the springboard that launch people into oceans of loving spirituality, humanity and generosity rather than reducing them to hate-filled fanaticism.  A “good Muslim” is one who, inspired by the love and worship of God, helps to transform society for the better, standing up for the dispossessed and downtrodden against their oppressors.  Muslim societies need internal Jihads against racism, inequality and religious fanaticism, amongst other things.

One or two Muslim theologians, whose attitudes can only be described as mediaevalist, have quickly pronounced that Ibn Ladin is in heaven, since for them, “any Muslim, no matter what his deeds, is better than any non-Muslim.”  This is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the extremist Jews who glorified Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli settler who massacred 29 Palestinians in 1994 as they worshipped at dawn at the Hebron mosque and Cave of the Patriarchs.  For example, one extremist rabbi declared that “a million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.”  Other extremists praised Goldstein for “living the Torah,” just as plenty of Muslim fanatics claim to be “following the Shariah.”  A wider irony is that Islamism and Zionism are mirror images of each other, united only in mutual hatred, since they both represent over-politicisations of their faiths.

The simple answer is that heaven and hell (or the Garden and the Fire, in Qur’anic language) manifest people’s nearness to God in this life: those in the Garden are near God and vice-versa, and those in the Fire are distant from God, and vice-versa.  Those insisting that Ibn Ladin is in the Garden should at least reflect on the possibility that many, if not all, of the innocent victims of terrorism are closer to God.

We face a stark choice today: in many ways, one that is as old as humanity itself.  We can either continue in cycles of violence and vengeance, or we can choose to break those cycles and embrace hope, forgiveness and peace.  Al-Qaidah are partly motivated by revenge for Muslim suffering over many years.  According to their stupid, clichéd and almost-meaningless slogan, “Americans will not taste security until the Palestinians do.” After 9/11, the US was partly motivated by revenge: “Who cares if we over-react!” as one TV pundit put it.  Ten years later, there are thousands of Al-Qaeda, Taliban, US and ISAF soldiers, plus Afghan, Pakistani and Iraqi civilians dead as part of the “war on terror.”  Furthermore, terrorists have left hundreds dead from Bali to London, Morocco to Jordan, Madrid to Mumbai.  How much more “revenge” do people want?

Zamakhshari, a classical commentator on the Qur’an, pointed out an oft-forgotten, basic aspect of Islam: the word itself means, as well as submission, “to enter into peace (after war)” – to put it another way, it means peace-making and renouncing war in favour of peace.  A true Muslim is thus a committed peace-maker and, as Prophet Jesus Christ, peace be upon him, is reported to have taught, “Blessed are the peace-makers.”

Fourteen centuries ago, Islam put an end to the vicious blood-feuds amongst the warring tribes of Arabia, cycles of violence that continued for generations.  Today, the South Africans, Northern Irish and the Rwandans, amongst others have chosen national reconciliation over continuing similar blood-feuds.  We need to encourage and help the Afghans, Pakistanis and Kashmiris to do the same.

President Obama’s efforts for a new chapter in US-Muslim relations must be welcomed, and we can all play a part in building bridges amongst people locked in conflict.  Crucially, the Israelis and Palestinians must be encouraged to end their mutual distrust and hatred.  The work of Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin, showcased in the film, Encounter Point, must especially be commended.  Jews and Muslims living together peacefully in democratic western countries can help set an example to their fellow-believers in the Holy Land, traumatised by the decades of conflict, many of whom are not even aware that they worship the same God, revere the same Prophets, and share many aspects of language and religious practice.  Efforts towards Palestinian unity and democratisation must be welcomed, although militant religious extremism, both Muslim and Jewish, must be marginalised and exposed for what it is: a perversion of faith and an immense obstacle to Middle-Eastern and world peace.  Muslim and Jewish leaders and religious authorities around the world must especially make it a priority to help their colleagues in Palestine and Israel make the right choices on the path to peace and justice for all.  Influential religious authorities in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria must be given the independence and freedom to criticise their governments constructively and thus reclaim their role as reflecting the spiritual will of the people, rather than being forced and intimidated into always toeing the official line.

One of Ibn Ladin’s gravest mistakes, regrettably, was to pervert the nobility of Jihad, including his own earlier sacrifices, and to recast it in purely violent forms with the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.  It is time for Muslims to reclaim the wider and deeper aspects of Jihad, for as Ibrahim bin Abi ‘Ablah, an ascetic Successor to the Companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, observed on his way back from a military expedition, “We have returned from a lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad: the struggle against the vices of our own souls.”  Let us put the last ten years behind us, and move on.

© Usama Hasan

London, UK

22nd May, 2011

One Caliph to Rule Them All

February 26, 2010

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!