These days there is a lot of mention in news of incidents that happened over the past few days in France and Beirut. Six places are reported to have been attacked by terrorists in and around Paris. A report in The Times of India of November 15 has mentioned that during the shooting by gunmen at one of the places, witnesses said that ‘There were shouts of Allahu Akbar’. That is, although the terrorists were killing human beings, they were making use of the slogan ‘God is great’. This is a very strange incident. The Quran says that killing one innocent person is like killing all of humanity. (5:32) Then, what kind of religion were the terrorists inspired by? It is certainly not the religion of God. Although the gunmen shouted ‘God is great’, through their actions they showed that ‘Other-than-God is great’. The greatest issue facing the present times is that those who believe in God and in Islam have turned violent. Everyday we get to hear news that terrorists have killed innocent people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, in places of gathering, mosques, and even graveyards. In this matter, religious scholars have not properly played their role. There have been cases where the ulema or Islamic scholars have, by consensus, issued a fatwa on a matter. But this has not happened in the matter of violence and extremism. If all scholars collectively issue a statement saying that acts of violence happening today bear no relation with God or with Islam and that these acts are wholly impermissible in Islam, then incidents of this kind can be prevented from happening. Therefore, the need of the hour is that all Islamic scholars should jointly condemn incidents of violence carried out in the name of Islam and issue a fatwa saying that violence perpetrated by terrorists has no relation whatsoever with the religion of Islam.
Political Stability versus Anarchy
It is important to understand why Muslims have taken to the path of violence or engaged in militancy in modern times. According to a Hadith, the Prophet of Islam had warned Muslims from getting involved in the violent culture: ‘When the sword is used among my people, it will not be withdrawn from them till the Day of Resurrection.’ (Sunan Abu Dawood). Why is there this prediction in the Hadith? I realized that those who have given a political interpretation to Islam are most responsible for this, because it was they who developed the idea that the rule of Islam should be established throughout the world. This political goal was baseless and had no relation with Islam. However, this idea was given at the time when Muslim empires—Ottoman empire and Mughal empire—had been demolished. The resulting conditions in Muslim countries where earlier empires existed made Muslims think that regaining their lost political glory was the right target for them and thus the political interpretation of Islam gained ground in spite of not having any basis in the Quran or Hadith. Muslims were at one time able to establish empires such as the Umayyad, Abbasid, Mughal, Ottoman. But the purpose of these empires was not to establish an Islamic system (Islamic nizam). There is no proof of this in history. These empires were actually dynasties or family rule. The advantage of these empires was that they gave political stability to Muslim countries. A long period of stability prevailed in Muslim society due to these empires, the most important benefits of which included the preservation of the Quran, compilation of the sayings of the Prophet, and development of various Islamic sciences such as jurisprudence. This was also the period in which Muslims embarked on disseminating their religion far and wide and as a result Islam spread to other places. Institutions such as mosques and madrasas could develop because of the atmosphere of peace and stability. Islamic scholars of the time endorsed these empires because they provided stability to people to work and grow. The dynastic pattern of rule began from the time of Amir Muawiyah (661 – 680 AD) and continued right up to the twentieth century. None of the fuqaha or religious scholars issued a fatwa nor did they initiate any movement against the empires and their dynastic pattern of rule. Islamic scholars even went to the extent of declaring that revolting against Muslim rulers was unlawful. The thirteenth century Islamic scholar Imam al-Nawawi says in his commentary on the Sahih Muslim that khuruj (revolt) against the ruler is haram or unlawful according to the consensus of the ulema, even if the ruler is fasiq (corrupt) or zalim (oppressive).
So, who were these rulers about which these scholars directed that revolt against them is unlawful? These were the very rulers who were following the dynastic pattern of governance rather than the democratic form of governance based on shura or consultation, as prescribed in the Quran (42:38). Then, why did all scholars jointly state that revolt against these rulers was unlawful? The reason for this is that the purpose of rule is not to establish a particular kind of system, rather it is to bring peace and stability in society. This is called tamkin fil-arz in the Quran (22:41). When there is stability, there is peace, normalcy and opportunities to do various kinds of work. During the time of these empires, when there was stability in society, all kinds of constructive activities in the fields of knowledge, institution building and missionary work could happen. Therefore, the ulema accepted dynastic rule.
Mindset behind the Present Violence
Now, I will cite a saying of Imam Malik: ‘The latter part of this ummah (community) will be reformed along the same lines as was the first part.’ What was the method followed by the first phase of the community that set it on the right path? That is, what was manhaj as-salaf or the way of the forefathers? It was, as pointed out above, based on acceptance of the dynastic form of rule. According to Imam Malik’s saying, the first phase of the community was successful by accepting the dynasties and so the latter part too will find success if they accept their existing dynasties and rulers.
What is the genesis of present violence? In modern times, Arab states have dynastic form of governance. Muslim leaders and their followers turned against these rulers, for example, they revolted against King Farouk in Egypt and the Shah in Iran. However, this is a very baseless claim by Muslim leaders. As we have seen, the Muslim empires of earlier times were all dynasties, but Islamic scholars of the time which included the Sahaba, Tabieen, Muhaddithin and Fuqaha, did not revolt against the rulers of the empires. Therefore, the movements of revolt in Arab countries against Arab rulers are actually leading to fasad or strife and destruction.
In the light of Imam Malik’s saying, it can be said that just as in the previous times all constructive work happened because of the acceptance of dynastic rulers, in the present times also matters can be set right by accepting the existing rulers in different Arab states rather than organizing revolt against them. Islamic scholars’ acceptance of dynastic rulers led to peace and stability in society because of which all kinds of positive and constructive activities could be carried out in an unhindered way. Similarly, today Muslims in Arab states should accept their rulers rather than try to bring them down. This would immediately bring stability and normalcy to these nations, and as a result all progress and development which has been halted would continue to take place.
The bombings that take place in various western countries happen because of a particular mindset amongst Muslims. According to this mindset, they believe that western nations have, for their own interest, propped up the Muslim rulers in Muslim countries. They think that Muslim rulers in their states have sided with the West so that the interests of the latter could be served and safeguarded. They think that their rulers are sheltered by the West. Therefore, they attack places in western countries as a reaction to the Muslim rulers of their country whom they think have been put in place by the West. The real target is not the West, but the Muslim rulers of their own country. They think if the West were destabilized, Muslim rulers of their nations would get affected and be removed. But these people fail to realize that the removal of these rulers would only lead to anarchy in their country.
Islamic history of the past several centuries has shown that revolting against rulers is discouraged. This was due to practical wisdom. What prevails in the world is practical wisdom, and not ideal wisdom. Following practical wisdom is also a way of the Prophet of Islam. We know that in 628 AD the Prophet travelled from Madinah to Makkah to perform the pilgrimage. But he was stopped by his Makkan opponents at a place called Hudaybiyah and was prevented from entering Makkah. So, at Hudaybiyah the Prophet entered into a peace treaty with his opponents by unilaterally accepting all their conditions. This was an example of practical wisdom. Similarly, Islamic scholars of the past accepted the dynasties of their time due to practical wisdom. Had they not accepted the rulers of their time, it would have only led to jeopardizing of the whole situation as no work could have been undertaken in the resulting scenario of revolt. Acceptance of rulers, on the contrary, led to peace, normalcy, and end of bloodshed. Thus, a normal and peaceful environment was possible in which people could pursue intellectual and other kinds of activities.
Those who gave a political interpretation of Islam were unable to understand this practical wisdom and initiated movements against their rulers. This happened in Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and other places. Arab Muslim leaders think that movements against rulers which were successful in places like Egypt and Iran could not succeed in their states because their rulers were supported by the West. This led them to turn negative for the West and carry out violent attacks against western countries. This entire thinking is un-Islamic and unreasonable.
I think that the most important task today is to revive manhaj as-salaf, or the way of the scholars of the early period. That is, acceptance of the existing system so that there can be peace, stability and normalcy. Those who are engaged in militancy in the name of Allahu Akbar are unaware of the above ideas. The demand of Allahu Akbar is to revive the way of the scholars (salaf) of the early period of Islam. This involves avoiding confrontation with authorities so that a peaceful atmosphere can prevail in society.
We need to disseminate this idea among people on a large scale. Those Muslims who are engaged in violence are doing so on account of unawareness. They are ignorant of manhaj as-salaf. We need to remove people’s unawareness about this matter. The task before us is to make people aware of their unawareness.
All persons have been created by God. Every person has the same nature as we do. According to a Hadith: ‘All persons were born on the nature (al-fitrah).’ (Bukhari) If I have conscience and reason, those who are engaged in violence also have conscience and reason. We need to address the conscience of these people. The wrong interpretation of the history of Islam has to be corrected. Islam started with dawah or calling people to God. The Quran says: ‘Arise and give warning.’ (74:2) All Sahaba and scholars accepted dynasties so that the task of dawah could happen in an unhindered way. This task could have been carried out only in a peaceful environment. This is what we have to do today.
Political Status Quoism
The idea that Muslim rulers are backed by the West is wrong. Muslim rulers are part of dynasties, which are acceptable according to scholars of Islam. These dynasties are continuation or extension of the dynasty pattern that started with Amir Muawiyah. In Syria and Egypt earlier there was peace due to which all activities happened smoothly. But after the movements of revolt, there is only anarchy. Therefore these dynasties have to be accepted so that there can be peace. This is the demand of practical wisdom. When there is peace, all work can happen smoothly. Had our scholars of the earlier period been alive, then would have advised us to accept the existing rulers. What is important is peace so that opportunities for work can be availed of. Who sits on the political throne or has power is not important. Status quoism in political matters—this was the way of the scholars of the early period. They accepted the pious caliphate and also the dynasties, because the latter provided stability to society.
People have abandoned the way of the scholars of the early period. We have to again adopt their method, which was based on political status quoism or acceptance of the political situation. This course is practical wisdom.
We need to change the mindset that leads to people bombing the western nations. If political status quoism is adopted, that is, if a ruler provides political stability he should be accepted, then peace will follow immediately. Before this militancy, there was peace everywhere—Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Only after the political interpretation, peace in these countries remained no more.
Our group is following this principle. We do not confront or clash with anyone. We do not hate anyone or declare anyone as our enemy. We only focus on availing of the opportunities before us. This, we believe, is the right method. The sole concern of the Muslim community should be to spread the message of the Quran to all mankind. The Quran says: ‘Blessed be He who has revealed the criterion [the Quran] to His servant that he may warn the nations.’ (25:1) This task remains to be done. Therefore, it is important to translate the Quran in various languages and spread it in an organized manner throughout the world. This should be the sole concern of all Muslims. Fourteen hundred years have past but the message of the Quran has not reached people. Media news about violence makes people generally think that the Quran preaches violence. Thus it is the responsibility of the Muslims to convey the message of the Quran. The Prophet and his Companions used to all recite the Quran to people. This was the pre-printing press period. But today, in the age of the press, every Muslim has to become a distributor of the Quran. For this we need only peace. We do not require any system. Peace is the only prerequisite for this task. Peace can come only if we unilaterally abandon all militant activities. This is the goal which the ummah has to adopt. Every other target will be a deviation.
I pray to God for you all and for myself. May He help us follow the Straight Path!
By Molama Wahududin Khan