Faith and History
Mahmoud M. Ayoub
Islam is an Arabic word meaning submission, or surrender. The three letter root, s/l/m, from which the word islam is derived also means peace (salam), soundness, and safety. Islam is therefore a person's total submission to the will of God, which gives him or her inner pace and soundness of nature in this life and safety from divine retribution in the life to come.
"Islam" is the name of the third and last of the monotheistic faiths that arose in the Middle East, coming after Judaism and Christianity. The name signifies the commitment of its adherents to live in total submission to God within a prescribed conduct as difined by the Qur'an, the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad and the living tradition.
It is quite probable that Muhammad belonged to the small circle of hanafs, already mentioned. Certainly, tradition reports that Muhammad loathed his people's idol worship and their immoral and foolish ways. Once a year, during the hot summer month of Ramadan, Muhammad spent days in seclusion in a cave on Mount Hira, a short distance from Makkah. It was during one of these retreats that he received the call to prophethood and the first revelation of the Qur'an.
As Mujammad sat one night in the solitude of his retreat, a superhuman being, later identified as Gabriel (Jibral in Arabic) appeared to him. Taking hold on him and pressing him so hard that he could not breathe, the angel commanded: "Recite [or,'read']!" Muhammad answered: "I cannot read." After repeating the command a second a third time, the angel continued .
.In short, without Makkah Islam would be incomplete, without the rest of Arabia it would remain powerless.
The Makkah, however, remained intransigent; they would not accept Islam. And so the Prophet resorted to the familiar strategies of economic and military pressure: Muslims intercepted and raided Makkah caravans on their way from Syria. The Makkans were forced to defend their trade routes. In 2/624 they sent out an army of about a thousand men which was met by a three-hundred man Muslim detachment at the well of Badr. Poorly equipped and far outnumbered but highly motivated, the Muslims inflicted a crushing defeat on the Makkans.
Immediately following the defeat at Uhud the Prophet decided to expel the Jews from Madanah and its neighboring settlements. The reason given was that the Jews, by aiding the Makkans through economic alliance against the Muslim state, had breached their covenant and forfeited their right to protection. The deeper motive behind this drastic measure may have been, at least in part, to free the Muslim sate of outside influences at this critical stage of its formative history.
Two years later, in 8/630, Muhammad led a large army against Makkah, the Quraysh having breached the truce by killing a man of the tribe of KhuzaŽah, which was closely allied with the Muslims. There was, however, no fighting, no bloodshed, no vengence. The Makkans capitulated and accepted Islam an masse; the Prophet granted safe passage to all in the city. Clearly powerless after the Prophet's victory over them, the Makkans asked him what he intended to do with them. He answered, "I will do with you what Joseph did with his brothers. Go, you are free."
Muhammad was primarily a prophet, not a conqueror. He did not wage this or any battle for the sake of building an empire; rather he sought to establish a faith and a faith-community. Whenever an individual or tribe accepted Islam, all hostilities ceased and the enemy became brothers in faith. Muhammad regarded his victory over Makkah not as his own but as God's victory.
Revelation was given to the Prophet Muhammad over a period of twenty-two years. Both the Qur'an and tradition assert that the angel Gabriel repeatedly appeared to the Prophet, often in human guise, and transmitted the words that came to constitute the verses and sarah ("chapters") of the Qur'an. During the moment of revelation the Prophet would fall into a heightened state of consciousness, the effects of which were visibly manifest in his physical appearance and behavior. It is said that at times he sensed in his ears sounds like the ringing of a bell. These sounds were then apprehended by him as direct revelation from God, which he then conveyed to the people in human words.
The first revelation to Muhammad, as we have seen, was a command to "recite" or "read" (iqra'). The term qur'an is derived from the same tri-lateral root, q/r/a, meaning "to read" or "to recite." The Qur'an is therefore a sacred book mean to be recited or chanted aloud, not silently perused or read. The "reading" of it demands an oral recitation that imitates its actual revelation to Muhammad.
The Qur'an urges Muslims to ponder its verses in order to discern its divine authorship and inner unity (See Q. 4:82, 47:24, and 38:29). The community has therefore dedicated some of its best minds to the task of understanding and interpreting the Qur'an. The result has been a long and rich history of exegetical literature which began in the second/eight century and continues to the present.
The goal of true jihad is to attain a perfect harmony between islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (righteous living).
With the fall of Baghdad as a center of Islamic spiritual and material culture, a new era of Muslim history began. Henceforth, it was not the state or the military but traders, religious scholars, and Sufi masters who assumed the work of preserving and spreading Islam as a faith and civilization throughout Asia and Africa. These new domains produced their own religio-cultural centers. And although the caliphate ceased to exist as a reality, it has remained the ideal of Islamic rule; one that many Muslims still long to recover.
Like Christianity, Islam is a universalist and therefore a missionary religion. Muslims believe that their message of faith in the one God, his angels, and all prophets and scriptures, and in the principles of divine reward and retribution on the day of judgment is intended for all of humankind. Furthermore, they believe that Islam, as a social, political, and economic system based on these principles, can be fully implemented only in a sovereign community that transcends the limitations of cultural and linguistic barriers and geographic borders. The vast domain of this community has been legally designated as dar al-islam, meaning the "house" or "abode of Islam." The rest of the world is primarily divided into either the sphere of peace or truce (sulh), or the sphere of war (harb), depending on the relationship of the Muslims to any particular area of the world. Yet the whole world is regarded by Muslims as potentially the house of Islam.
Although the Muslims were stopped from advancing into France and the rest of western Europe in 732 by Charles Martel in the Battle of Poitiers, and although their armies were driven from the Iberian peninsula by the forces of Christian Spain, their scientific and cultural achievements succeeded where their military might failed. Arab learning did indeed penetrate deeply into western Europe and contributed directly to the rise of the West to world prominence. Ironically, the religious establishment, which had provided both the impetus and framework for these intellectual achievements, ultimately repressed and repudiated them.
The spread of Islam into West Africa took place in three stages. Initially, a small Muslim community would begin to form under a non-muslim king. This would be followed by the adoption of Islam as the court religion and then, as Islam gained official recognition, its numbers were expanded through mass conversions. Bt the eighteenth century Islam was a formidable social and political force in Africa and could provide the framework and principles for social and political reform. Islamic law also increasingly came to compete with traditional legal custom.
Unlike later jurist-traditionalists, Malik gave equal weight to the Prophet's sunnah and the "practice," or "living tradition" of the people of Madanah. He also showed far greater reliance on the effort to deduce well-considered legal opinions (ijhtihad) than did later distinguished religious scholars. He was frequently guided in this effort by the principle of the "common good," or "welfare" (maslahah) of the people.
Aba Hanafah before him also showed greater reliance on rational thinking and living tradition. He resorted frequently to the two principles of analogical reasoning (qayas) and rational preference (istishan).
A decisive stage in the development of the science of jurisprudence came with the crucial work of Muhammad b. Idras al-ShafiŽa (d. 819). He spent his last years in Egypt where he wrote the first systematic treatise on Islamic jurisprudence. His hitherto unsurpassed work radically changed the scope and nature of this important discipline. ShafiŽa advocated absolute dependence on the two primary sources of Islamic law, the Qur'an and sunnah. He thus based his own system on a vast collection of hadaith and legal tradition entitled Kitab al-umm; which he compiled for that purpose.
ShafiŽa restricted the use of qayas, or analogical reasoning, and rejected both the Hanafa principle of istishan and the Malika principle of maslahah. In his insistence on basing all juridical judgments on the Qur'an and sunnah he preferred, in opposition to the majority of jurists of his time, a hadath transmitted on a single authority over personal opinion. His argument was that jurists should not rely on the opinions of men instead of the Book of God and the sunnah of his Prophet.
Islamic law as it was developed in the legal schools is based on four sources. Two of these, the Qur'an and the sunnah of the Prophet and his generation, are its material and primary sources. The other two are formal sources that represent human endeavor and acceptance. They are the personal reasoning (ijtihad) of the scholars and the general consensus (ijmaŽ) of the community.
Personal reasoning, the first of the two formal sources of jurisprudence, is the process of deducing laws from the Qur'an and sunnah. These deduced laws became the foundations for the legal schools and explain their diversity. The term "ijtihad" signifies a scholar's best effort in executing this process of deduction. It uses qayas, or analogical reasoning, as its instrument.
The process of analogical reasoning consists of four methodological steps. The first is to find a text in the Qur'an or hadath pertinent to a new case or problem facing the jurist. The second is to discern the similarities and differences of the conditions surrounding the two cases. The third step is for the jurist to allow for such differences in making his judgment. The final step is to extend the rationale of the Qur'anic or hadath judgment to cover the new case. Needless to say, the elaboration and application of these principles presented many difficulties and differences of opinion among jurists.
While the methodology of personal reasoning may be considered a toll for deriving Islamic law, the principle of consensus (ijmaŽ) is meant to be a stabdard by which the continuity, authenticity, and truth of the three other sources of law are ensured. Consensus, moreover, has remained the final arbiter of truth and error, expressed in the Prophet assertion "my community will not agree on an error."
Yet even this important principle has been the subject of much debate and dissension among the scholars of the various schools. One question that arose was whether the consensus of earlier generations is binding on the present one. Another was whether consensus refers to the agreement of the scholars of the different schools or to the consensus of the Muslim community at large.
By the fourth/tenth century, with the establishment of the major Sunni legal schools and by a sort of undeclared common consensus, the "door of ijtihad" was generally considered to be closed.
the shaŽah of ŽAli represented the poorer and under-privileged elements of Muslim society. It quickly attracted large numbers of non-Arab converts known as mawala, who usually belonged to this underprivileged class. The mawala were "clients" or "subordinate allies" of an Arab tribe or clan; a position that gave them quasi-Arab identity and status, as well as protection.
The mawala were conquered people who, by and large, came from cultures superior to that of their Arab conquerors. During Umayyad rule these people were second class members of Arab-Muslim society .
By the tenth century, Sunni Islam had developed a stable and genrally unform legal and theological system. ShaŽa piety, which rests on an ethos of suffering and martyrdom, and hence a revolutionary ideology, has in contrast been a movement of change, instability, and wide diversity.
MuŽtazila theology was from the beginning deeply rationalistic. It was influenced by Greek rationalism as well as Christian theology, thus, in contrast with Christian trinitarianism, MuŽtazila theologians argued that God's absolute oneness necessitates that his attributes (sifat) be one with his essence (dhat). Otherwise, there would be God and his word, God and his power, God and his knowledge, and so on, which would imply a multiplicity of gods, and error worse than the Christian doctrine of the trinity.
The caliph al-Mutawakkil (r. 847-861) reversed this policy, re-affirmed Sunni orthodoxy, and persecuted the MuŽtazilites. MuŽtazilism thus gradually lost its vitality as a rationalist school of Islamic theology and not long thereafter it died out. But its tenets of divine unity and justice have been preserved in Zayda nad Twelver Imama ShiŽism.
AshŽara rejected the MuŽtazila view of divine justice, arguing instead for God's absolute freedom to will and act as he chooses, without being answerable to any of his creatures. God is just because he wills to be just; were he to will otherwise, his actions would still be right and good. Similarly, good and evil are what they are, not in themselves, but because God decrees them to be so. Nor are they determined by human reason, but again simply by God's legislation. Good and evil are not rational or even moral in essence, but legislative. Were God to stipulate in the sharaŽah that lying, adultery, and theft were good, they would be allowed in spite of the fact that human reason may judge them to be evil. God only allows human beings to discern good and evil, not to legislate or determine them.
The Qur'an itself is not a systematic theological treatise. It affirms, at one and the same time, divine predestination and human free-will and responsibility. There are, in fact, verses that can be used to support even extreme MuŽtazila and AshŽara positions. Nonetheless, the Muslim community divided into two theologically distinct camps, the Qadarites abd the Jabrites, which in their extreme forms were placed outside the pale of Islamic orthodoxy. The former either minimized or denied altogether divine decree (qadar), the latter affirmed it absolutely as divine predeterminism (jabr). The first camp included ShiŽites, MuŽtazilites, and philosophically inclined thinkers; the second comprised the Sunni majority.
In the end, it was AshŽarism that triumphed. To this day, Sunni Friday prayer leaders affirm belief in divine decree, be it good or evil, from mosque pulpits around the world. They warn their faithful listeners: "Of all things, the most evil are novel;ties, for evry novelty is an innovation, every innovation is an error, and evry error leads to the Fire."
While Christinas considered theology to be "the queen of the sciences," some Muslims, like al-Ghazala, considered it to be the work of Satan. They argued that theology confused the generality of Muslims, discouraged any kind of innovative thinking, and occupied intellectuals with unsolvable questions.
The gate of theological creativity was, like the gate of ijtihad, virtually closed in the Sunni community until the end of the nineteenth century. Then, in his treatise entitled Risalat al-tawhad ("The Message of Divine Oneness"), the Egyptian reformer Muhammad ŽAbduh (d. 1905) reviewed traditional positions and judged them irrelevant. In the ShiŽa community, however, both theology and philosophy have continued to flourish and have occasional moments of originality.
The two first major philosophers were Aba Yasuf YaŽqab al-Kinda (d. 870) and Aba Bakr Zakaraya al-Raza (d. 926). Al-Kinda was a theologian-philosopher who, at least intellectually, belonged to the MuŽtazila rationalist school. Using philosophical principles and methods of reasoning, al-Kinda defended fundamental Islamic beliefs, such as God's existence and oneness, the temporal creation of the universe by God's command out of nothing, the necessity for prophets, and the inimitability (iŽjaz) of the Qur'an. Unlike the philosopher, who acquires his knowledge through rational investigation and contemplation, the prophet, argued al-Kinda, receives his knowledge instantaneously, through divine revelation.
In contrast, Raza was a thoroughgoing Platonist. He rejects the Qur'anic view of creation out of nothing, presenting instead a view based on Plato's theory as elaborated in the Timaeus. The universe evolved, according to Raza, from primal matter floating as atoms in an absolute void. God imposed order on this primeval chaos and thus the universe or cosmos came into being. Moreover, because it is in the nature of matter to revert to its primeval state, at some distant point in the future chaos will set in again.
In this scheme of creation, since neither the existence of the world nor humankind has moral or religious basis or purpose, there is no need for prophets or even religion. Human souls, which come down to the body from the celestial realm of the universal soul, will all in the end despise this material body and return to their original source. Salvation, or eternal happiness, can be attained through wisdom and the contemplation of higher things, but in any case, all will be saved in the end.
Raza was a humanistic philosopher for whom religion was the source of social strife and conflict. He was therefore considered a heretic by both theologians and moderate philosophers. For this reason, the works of this fascinating thinker were lost and the little that is known about his thought is derived from extensive quotations of his writings in the works of his detractors.
In spite of Raza's originality, it was al-Kinda's system of relating philosophy to faith that was most influential.
marriage to more than one wife is allowed by the Qur'an in order to deal with the problem of female orphans and widows in a traditional society beset with continuous warfare. In fact, the verses of Sarah Four that deal with the issue of polygyny are reported to have been revealed shortly after the Battle of Uhud in which numerous Muslim fighters fell, leaving many widows and orphans behind.
the Wahhabas regarded all those who did not share their convictions to be either misbelievers (kuffar) or persons gone astray. They thus waged a violent campaign aimed at purging Muslim society of what they considered to be its un-Islamic beliefs and practices. They tried to destroy the prophet's tomb in Madanah and level the graves of his Companions. They attacked the ShiŽite sacred cities of Najaf and Karbala', massacred their inhabitants, and destroyed the shrines of ŽAla and his son Husayn. They also went on a rampage of Arab cities, desecrating the tombs of Sufi saints and destroying their shrines.
The Arab renaissance of the nineteenth century was largely stimulated by a Western cultural and intellectual efflorescence. With the breakup of traditional church-dominated regimes and institutions as a consequence of the protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment, secularism and romantic nationalism largely supplanted religious faith and institutions in nineteenth-century Europe. These ideas appealed to secular Christians and Muslim Arabs alike and in the end led to the rise of Arab nationalism.
Afghana introduced a new approach to the West that continues to be upheld, in one way or another, by reformers to the present. He admired the vigor, industry, and seriousness of Europeans, but argued that these were in fact Islamic values that Muslims had lost and had to recover. Science, he argued, is not the exclusive property of the West, but a universal field of knowledge open to all people, regardless of religion and cultural identity.
Islam, for Afghana and his followers is a rational religion that is in full accord with science. In contrast, Christianity is irrational, Afghana asserted, as it is based on mysteries that people are enjoined to believe without understanding. Therefore, when Europe was most Christian it was most backward, while the Muslim community was most advanced when it was most Muslim.
While sharing Afghana's view of the superiority of Islamic faith and civilization over Christianity and Western civilization, ŽAbduh was a pragmatic reformer. He was convinced that for the reform to be effective, it had to begin within.