Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on showing that appointing a Caliph is obligatory

We should not think that this obligation derives from the intellect. We have explained that obligations derive from the revelation, except when ‘obligatory’ is interpreted to designate an act, such that there is benefit in performing it or harm in refraining from it. According to this interpretation, it cannot be denied that appointing an imam is obligatory, since it leads to benefit and prevents harm in this worldly life. However, we present a conclusive legal demonstration that is it is obligatory. We will not rely solely on the consensus of the Muslim community; rather we bring attention to the basis of this consensus.

Hence we say:

Well ordered religious affairs are decidedly a purpose of the man with the revelation (صلى الله عليه وسلم). This is an unquestionable premise about which no dispute is imaginable. We add to it another premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can only be achieved through an imam who is obeyed. The correctness of the proposition that the appointment of an imam is obligatory follows from these two premises.


If it is said that the last premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through an imam, is not conceded, then we say: “Its demonstration is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only by well-ordered worldly affairs and well-ordered worldly affairs can be achieved only by an imam who is obeyed.” These are two premises: which one is the subject of dispute?


It might be said: “Why do you say that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs? On the contrary, it can be achieved only by destruction of worldly affairs, for religious affairs and worldly affairs are opposites, and hence to be occupied with making one of them flourish is the ruin of the other.”

We say:

This is the argument of someone who does not understand what we intend here by ‘worldly affairs’. For it is an ambiguous term that may be used to designate luxury and pleasure and being excessive beyond what is needed and necessary, or it may be used to designate all that is required prior to one’s death. One of the designations is opposed to religion and the other is its very condition. It is this way that the one who does not distinguish between the meaning of ambiguous terms errs.

We thus say:

Well-ordered religious affairs are achieved through knowledge and worship. These cannot be achieve without the health of the body, the maintenance of life, the fulfillment of needs – such as those for clothing, shelter and food – and security from the onset of calamities. How true this is: “When a man wakes up safe among his family, with a healthy body, and in possession of his daily sustenance, it is as if the whole world is made available to him.”[1] A man does not achieve security in his life, body, wealth, home, and sustenance under all circumstances but [only] under some. Religious affairs cannot flourish unless security is achieved in these important and necessary matters. Otherwise, if one spends all his time being occupied with protecting himself against the swords of oppressors, and with winning his sustenance from exploiters, when would he find time for working and seeking knowledge, which are his means for achieving happiness in the hereafter? Therefore well-ordered worldly affairs – I mean the fulfillment of needs – are a condition for well-ordered religious affairs.


As for the second premise, which is that worldly affairs and security in life and wealth can be maintained only through an imam who is obeyed, it is confirmed by observing the periods of social upheavals when the sultans and imams die. If these periods are prolonged and not quickly terminated by the appointment of another sultan who is obeyed, the killing would continue and the sword would dominate, famine would spread, livestock would diminish, and industry would collapse; and whoever wins would plunder; and no one who manages to stay alive would have time to worship or seek knowledge; and the majority would die under the shadows of the swords. For this reason it has been said that religion and sultan are twins, and also that religion is a foundation and the sultan is a guard: that which has not foundation collapses and that which has no guard is lost.


In sum, no rational person doubts that if mankind, given their different classes, diverse desires, and disparate opinions, are left to their own devices without decrees that they obey and that unify their factions, they would all end in ruin. This is an epidemic that has no remedy other than a strong sultan who is obeyed and who unifies their disparate opinions. This shows that a sultan is necessary for achieving well-ordered worldly affairs, and well-ordered worldly affairs are necessary for achieving well-ordered religious affairs, and well-ordered religious affairs are necessary for achieving happiness in the hereafter, which is decidedly the purpose of all the prophets. Therefore, the obligation of appointing an imam is among the essential requirements of the law – a requirement that by no means can be ignored.

[1] This is a ḥadīth. It is reported by Ibn Maja, Sunan, XXXVII.9, No. 414; and Tirmidhi, al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, XXXVII.34, No. 2347

[Al-Ghazali’s Moderation in Belief: Al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād, translated by A M Yaqub, Unviersity of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013, pp. 229-231]


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Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī on Health and Leisure

…Ibn ‘Abbās (رضي الله عنه) said: ‘The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “There are two blessings in which many people are cheated: health and leisure.’”

 Two blessings: a blessing [ni‘ma] is ‘a goodly state’; it is sometimes defined as ‘a benefit conferred upon another out of kindness’.

The word cheating may be vocalised as ghabn or ghaban. According to al-Jawharī, the former refers to cheating in sales, and the latter to cheating in respect of opinions*. On this basis both may be appropriate to this hadith, since the individual who fails to use these two blessings appropriately is cheated, both in that he has sold them at a ridiculously low price, and in that his opinion is not esteemed in consequence. According to Ibn Baṭṭāl, the meaning of the hadith is that a person cannot be leisured until he is financially secure and sound of body; hence whoever experiences this should be careful not to be cheated by abandoning the thanks due to Allah for His blessings, one aspect of such thanks taking the form of obeying His commands and prohibitions. Whoever is lackadaisical in this is ‘cheated’.

Many people: an indication that only a few are granted success in this. Ibn al-Jawzī remarks that a person may be healthy but not leisured because of his preoccupation with earning a living; conversely, he might be financially independent but in ill health; so when both come together, and he is overwhelmed by sloth and hence abandons good acts, he is said to be ‘cheated’. The upshot of this is that ‘this world is the sowing-ground of the next’**, and the place where one trades for the sake of profit in the Afterlife. Hence whoever uses his leisure and health in the obedience of Allah is to be envied [maghbūṭ], while whoever uses them in disobedience is cheated [maghbūn], since in due course his leisure must be succeeded by work, and his health by sickness or decrepitude.

Al-Ṭībī says: ‘The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) coined the parable of a merchant possessed of capital, which he aims to preserve intact while making a profit. The way he may accomplish this is by taking every precaution in selecting the people with whom he deals, and by being honest and intelligent so as not to be cheated. Now, health and leisure are one’s capital, and one should deal with Allah by maintaining faith, and strugging against the ego [nafs] and against the enemies of the religion, so that one may gain the profit of this world and the next. This is akin to His statement (Glorious is He!): Shall I point you to a trade which shall save you from a painful punishment? [61:10] Consequently he must avoid obeying the nafs and responding to Satan, lest he lose his capital as well as his profit. His saying in which many people are cheated resembles His saying: And scarce among My slaves are the thankful: [34:13] the “scarce” in this Qur’anic text is the reciprocal of the “many” in the hadith.’

Al-Qāḍī Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabī states: ‘There are different views as to which is the first blessing which may come upon a slave of God. Some say that it is faith, others that it is life, while still others hold it to be health. But the first of these is the preferable understanding, since it represents an unconditional blessing; while life and health are worldly blessings and are not real blessings at all unless accompanied by faith. In their absence, ‘many people are cheated’, that is to say, they lose all or part of their profit. Whoever goes along with his Soul that Commands Evil [al-nafs al-ammāra bi’l-sū], which eternally summons us to take our ease, and abandons any respect for the divinely-appointed boundaries and of consistent acts of obedience, has been cheated. Likewise if he is at leisure, for work might have served as an excuse for him.’

*That is, ghaban means stupidity

**A popular proverb, not a hadith

[Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fat al-Bārī Sharḥ aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī), English Translation: Selections from the Fat al-Bārī (Commentary on aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Academic Trust, Cambridge, 2000, pp. 5-6]

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Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad on Our Planet

Rendering thanks for God’s gifts has always meant, for the Muslim, maintaining a reverential attitude towards the natural world, which is the garden, reminiscent of the Edenic archetype, into which man has been set. In Islam the world is not ‘fallen’, not intrinsically evil; instead it is a perfect book of ‘signs’ which religion teaches man to read. Because of the Qur’ānic emphasis on the beauty of nature as a Divine revelation, Islamic man has always ‘walked gently upon the earth’, as the Qur’ān puts it. This harmony of man and nature is an idea alien to the Western heritage, both Hellenic and Christian, and this is one reason why the aberration which is modernity appeared only in the West. In a few short generations, kāfir civilisation has ravaged the earth, poisoned its air and seas, killed thousands of species of birds, animals and plants, and now promises to bring about our own extinction by destroying the ozone layer.

[Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, The Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith: Translated, with an Introduction and Notes, The Quilliam Press, London, 1996, p. 25]

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Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on Good Deeds

O disciple, advice is easy – what is difficult is accepting it, for it is bitter in taste to those who pursue vain pleasures, since forbidden things are dear to their hearts. [This is] particularly so for whoever is the student of conventional knowledge, who is occupied with gratifying his ego and with worldly exploits, for he supposes that his knowledge alone will be his salvation and his deliverance is in it, and that he can do without deeds and this is the conviction of the philosophers. Glory be to God Almighty! This conceited fool does not know that when he acquires knowledge, if he does not act on the strength of it, the evidence against him will become decisive, as the Messenger of God (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, ‘The man most severely punished on the Day of Resurrection is a scholar whom God did not benefit by his knowledge.’ [1]


[1] Ismā‘īl ibn Muḥammad al-Jarrāḥī, Kashf al-khafā’ wa muzīl ’l-ilbās, vol, 1, p. 145, ḥadīth 376; also ‘Alā al-Dīn al-Muttaqī al-Hindī, Kanz al-‘ummāl, vol. 10, p. 187, ḥadīth 28977

 [Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, Letter to a Disciple: Ayyuhā ’l-Walad, translated by Tobias Mayer, Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2005, p. 6]

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Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī on the Final Hour

…The man said: “Messenger of Allah! When is the Final Hour?” The Prophet replied [صلى الله عليه وسلم]: “The one who is questioned about it is no more informed at all than the questioner. However, I shall tell you about its preconditions (ashrāṭihā). When the slave girl gives birth to her master – that is one of its preconditions. And when the naked and barefoot are the top leaders of the people – that is one of its preconditions. And when the shepherds compete in building tall structures – that is one of its preconditions. [It is] among five things none knows but Allah.” [aḥīḥ Muslim]


“are the top leaders of the people” This means the kings of the earth as explicitly stated in al-Isma‘īlī’s and Abū Farwa’s narrations. Those meant are the people of the desert, as explicitly stated in Sulayman al-Taymī’s and other narrations: “Who are the barefoot and naked?” He replied: “The little Arabs (al-‘urayb).”

Al-Ṭabaranī narrates through Abū Hamza, from Ibn Abbās, from the Prophet [صلى الله عليه وسلم]: Part of the overthrow (inqilāb) of the Religion is the affectation of eloquence by the boors (al-naba) and their betaking to palaces in big cities.” Al-Qurṭubī said: “What is meant here is the prediction of a reversal in society whereby the people of the desert will take over and hold sway over every region by force. They will become very rich and their primary concern will be to erect tall buildings and take pride in them. We have witnessed this in our time.” Of identical import are the ḥadīths “The Hour will not rise until the happiest man in the world will be the depraved son of a depraved father (luka‘ ibn luka‘)” and “If leadership is entrusted to those unfit for it, expect the Hour,” both of them in the aḥīḥ.

[Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fat al-Bārī Sharḥ aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī). English translation of excerpts in Sunna Notes Volume 3, Studies in adīth and Doctrine: The Binding Proof of the Sunna by Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, AQSA Publications, UK, 2010, pp. 159-160, 196]

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Imām Rabbānī Mujaddid al-Alf al-Thānī Shaykh Aḥmad al-Farūqī al-Sirhindī on the Superiority of Abū Bakr (رضي الله عنه)

A whole life of service, austerity and devotion of a non-aḥābī will not compare with a small action of a aḥābī, Companion of the Prophet, which he did, when Islam was weak and Muslims were few, in order to promote the cause of Islam and help the Prophet [صلى الله عليه وسلم]. Addressing the people who embraced Islam later, the Prophet once said: ‘If you spend in God’s way a heap of gold equal to the mountain Uḥud, it will not be equal to a mudd (roughly a kilo) of wheat which my comrades have spent, nor even half a mudd.’ [Saḥīḥ Muslim, Sunan al-Tirmidhī and Musnad Aḥmad] This explains the greatness of Abū Bakr as against every other aḥābī. He is the first of the first Muslims who responded to the Prophet’s call and believed in him, devoted their lives, spent their wealth and rendered great services to Islam. This is the reason why the Qur’an says: ‘You are not equal to those who spent money before the Conquest (of Makkah) and fought. However, God promised good reward to both.’ [57:10]


Some people seeing the merits and honours of others have hesitated to recognise the superiority of Abū Bakr over all the Companions of the Prophet. They do not know that if merits and devotions were the criterion of superiority, some individual followers of a prophet who had more merits and devotions would have been superior to their prophets, who did not have much of these things. It is obvious, therefore, that the criterion of superiority is something other than meritorious acts and devotions. In my humble opinion, the criterion lies in the fact as to who is the first in defending religion, in spending money and energy in its cause, and working for its triumph. Since the prophet excels his whole community in these matters, he is the best of them all. For similar reasons any one of the community who excels in these matters is better than the others. Those who are forerunners in religion are the teachers and guides to their followers; the latter profit from their services and their merits. In our community the greatest man after the Prophet is Abū Bakr Ṣiddīq [رضي الله عنه], for he was first in spending money and property, the first in preaching and struggle, the first in staking his life and honour for religion, the first in fighting untruth and evil, the first in assisting the Prophet, and the first in making Islam victorious. His superiority over all others is well established.

[Maktubāt, Vol. II:99. English translation by Muhammad Abdul Haq Ansari in Sufism and Shari‘ah, Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 1986, pp. 243-244]

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Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī on Obligatory and Optional Acts

“…My slave draws near to Me with nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory upon him. And My slave continues to draw nearer to Me with optional acts of devotion [nawāfil] until I love him…” [Bukhārī]

My slave draws near to Me with nothing more beloved to Me than that which I have made obligatory upon him. From this we learn that the discharge of obligatory acts [farā’iḍ] is the most beloved of acts in the sight of Allah.

Al-Ṭūfī said: ‘The command to observe the farāiḍ is absolute, and punishment results from abandoning them, in contrast to nāfila actions. However if nāfila acts accompany the farā’i, then the farā’i are more perfect. This is why they are more beloved to Allah, and more effective in bringing one closer to Him. Moreover, the far action is like a root and a foundation, while the nāfila act is like a branch or a building. When one performs the obligations in the required way, and obeys the commandments and respects the Commander, and magnifies Him through obedience, and manifesting the majesty of Lordship and the baseness of slavehood, then using this to draw close is the greatest of actions. Someone who carries out the far may be doing so out of fear of punishment, while the person who practices the nawāfil is doing so only because of his preference for service. Hence he is rewarded with love, which is the greatest aspiration of the person who seeks Divine proximity though his acts of service.’


And My slave continues to draw nearer to Me with optional acts of devotion [nawāfil] until I love him. There appears to be a problem in reconciling this to the previous statement. Given that the farā’i are the most beloved of works to Allah, how can they themselves not bring His love? The answer is that what is meant by nawāfil is that totality of practices which includes the farā’i, and perfects them. Moreover, it is customarily the case that ‘drawing near’ takes place with something other than that which is obligatory for the one who seeks proximity, such as a gift, in contrast to, for instance, taxation, or the repayment of a debt. Further, one of the reasons for existence of nawāfil is to compensate for inadequately discharged farāiḍ, as in the sound hadith narrated by Muslim which runs: ‘Look, and see if My slave has some supererogatory act by which his farīḍa may be made complete.’ This makes it clear that ‘drawing close with optional acts of devotion’ takes place for those who have performed what is obligatory, not for those who fail to do so. One of the great ones has remarked that ‘whoever is too busy with his obligations to do what is optional has an excuse; while he who is too busy with what is optional to do what is obligatory is beguiled and led astray.’

[Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fat al-Bārī Sharḥ aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī), English Translation: Selections from the Fat al-Bārī (Commentary on aḥīḥ al-Bukhārī) by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Academic Trust, Cambridge, 2000, pp.18-19]

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