Monthly Archives: May 2013

Imam Zaid Shakir on the Dominant Sunnī Paradigm

There are enemies of Islam who are striving their utmost to split the historical unity of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jamā‘a (the community of Islamic orthodoxy). This unity has been predicated on the acceptance of four juridical schools, Malikī, anafī, Shafi‘ī, and  anbalī, and fostered by the acceptance of an approach in creedal matters that holds reason subordinate to divine revelation (way), although scholars in the three former schools eventually came to accept the validity of applying reason and philosophical formulations as means to defend and prove the truth of revelation.

This position was generally respected by the anbalīs, except during infrequent periods of irrational intolerance. Similarly, the scholars of the three former schools respected the general inclination of the anbalīs in matters of creed (‘aqīda) to cling doggedly to the textually informed approach of the people of hadith, even though this approach generally discouraged the use of rational proofs and philosophical formulations in matters of creed, thereby limiting the ability of its advocates to respond to the attacks and arguments of the proponents of deviant and alien creeds.

This dominant Sunnī paradigm also was informed by an acceptance of Taawwuf as a valid Islamic science. This doesn’t mean that anything bearing the label Taawwuf is beyond reproach. Ibn Khaldūn has shown in his Muqaddima how elements from Ismāīlī doctrine and aspects of alien philosophies were introduced into the compilation of teachings contemporarily known as Taawwuf. However, there has always been a basic corpus of doctrines and ideas that provided the foundations for a science of spiritual purification and character reformation which was accepted by all four of the juridical schools.

In this regard, the anbalīs are no exception. The most widespread of all the schools of Taawwuf, the Qādiriyya, was founded by the great anbalī jurist, ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jilānī. His influence on subsequent major figures in the anbalī school, as George Makdisi has clearly shown, was to reach the great, if controversial scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, his student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, and his student Ibn Rajab. Their acceptance of the basic foundations of this science and their veneration for its early exponents helped to foster, even in this occasionally controversial area, mutual respect between the four schools [of] Islamic jurisprudence.

This mutual respect, in turn, fostered a unified “paradigm” which guided the intellectual and cultural life of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jamā‘a, and it facilitated a unified and cohesive community. This unity is best exemplified in Damascus where the scholars and scholarship of the anbalīs have always been a vital part of the rich intellectual life of the city’s vibrant Sunnī community. During the past century, the leading scholar of the anbalīs, Shaykh Aḥmad al-Shāmī, was one of the most respected and loved scholars in Syria.

That respect was similarly evident throughout history among non-anbalī critics of the dominant Sunnī paradigm. An example of this can also be taken from the recent history of Damascus. At the turn of the twentieth century, Shaykh Jamāluddin al-Qāsimī emerged as the intellectual leader of the nascent “Salafī” movement in Syria. However, Shaykh al-Qāsimī situated his prolific and oftentimes critical writings within the dominant paradigm. His writings showed respect for both that paradigm and the scholars whose contributions were instrumental in shaping it.

Unfortunately, in recent years that paradigm has come under attack from within. This attack has been initiated by radical reformers whose strident rhetoric oftentimes signals their own ignorance of the very institutions they target. Leveling vicious, largely uncritical, polemics against the four juridical schools, Taawwuf, and the validity of rational proofs and philosophical formulations in creedal matters, these reformers are wittingly or unwittingly threatening the historical unity of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jamā‘a.

In many instances, these reformers situate their attacks within the historical context of the anbalī school, relying on Ibn Taymiyya as their principal referent. This tendency has led in recent years to what well could be referred to as a neo-traditionalist backlash. Some defenders of the dominant Sunnī paradigm respond to the vicious attacks of the reformers with equal or surpassing venom. In their zeal, some go so far as to attempt to exclude the anbalī school from the ranks of Ahl al-Sunna wa’l-Jamā‘a. Others, while condemning those reformers who declare the likes of Shaykh Muḥyiddīn ibn ‘Arabī a nonbeliever, themselves declare Ibn Taymiyya to be outside the pale of Islam. If this polarization continues, our heartland–physically and figuratively–will be torn and divided to such an extent that we will never again be able to attain to the “critical mass” necessary to re-establish Islam as a dominant socio-political reality.

Individuals blessed with cooler heads must prevail. Ibn Rajab is an example of such an individual. He showed that it is possible to combine without conflict the constructs that have come to be known as “Sufi” and “Salafī”; that it is possible to be deeply committed to the Sunna while simultaneously advocating and defending the four juridical schools; and that one can be critical of the formulations of the speculative theologians, while simultaneously respecting the institutional reality built by their followers…He is truly an heir of the prophets. In these troubling and perplexing times, we are in dire need of luminaries of this kind.

[Imam Zaid Shakir, Introduction, The Heirs of the Prophets, Starlatch, Chicago, 2001, pp. XIII-XVI]

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Imām ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Jawzī on Sinning

Someone asked Wahb ibn al-Ward (رحمه الله), “Will a sinner perceive the sweet taste of obedience?” He said, “A sinner apart, even one who intends to commit a sin will be deprived of the savour of obedience. He who slackens the bridle of vision loses insight and he who fails to check his tongue is deprived of the clarity of his heart. He who fills his belly with doubtful food, darkens his inward side, is deprived of the ability to worship in the night and to savour the delight of supplication.”  Only they realise these things as punishment who take an account of their self from time to time. In this way, the return for pious deeds and taqwa is received promptly. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “The look at a female stranger is one of the poisonous arrows of the devil. If anyone keeps his sight away only for the sake of Allah, then He will grant him a faith whose sweetness he will feel  in his heart.”

[Imām Jamāl al-Dīn Abu al-Faraj ‘Abd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Jawzī, صيد الخاطر (Ṣayd al-Khātir) English translation (selections) Sins and their Evil Effects by Rafique Abdur Rehman, Darul Ishaat, Karachi, 2006, pp. 35-36]

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Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī on the Reality of the Dunyā

Know that in their forgetfulness the people of dunyā are like a group of people sailing upon a ship. When they come to an island, and disembark to relieve themselves, the captain warns them against returning late, and instructs them to remain only so long as is necessary, lest he raise anchor and set sail without them. Heeding this, some of them hurry back quickly, and hence find themselves able to sit in the best and most spacious part of the ship. The others, however, behave in different ways. Some become entranced by gazing at the island’s flowers and rippling streams, and its gems and precious metals, and then suddenly come to, and hasten back to the ship, and although they find spaces which are inferior to those occupied by those who preceded them, they are still safe. Others are so preoccupied by the flowers that they cannot bring themselves to leave them, although the flowers fade and dry soon enough. When the wind gets up, they are forced to throw their dry flowers overboard, and escape just with their own lives. Others, however, have penetrated the jungles and forgotten the captain’s advice, so that when they hear his final call to depart, they rush back only to find that the ship has sailed without them, and they remain marooned with what they had collected, until they perish. Still others are so obsessed with gathering good things that they are deaf even to the captain’s cry. Of these, some are eaten by wild beasts, or are poisoned by snakes, while others wander aimlessly until they die of hunger. This class resembles the people who live for the world, who are preoccupied with its mortal pleasures, and live in heedlessness of their future. How repulsive is the man who claims to be intelligent and full of insight, and yet is deluded by gems, silver and gold, and by flowers and fruits, nothing of which will accompany him to his destination!

[Imām Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, quoted by Imām Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī in 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. 6-7]

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