FRIDAY, 15 APRIL 2005 20:22 ADIS DUDERIJA HITS: 1654
The purposes behind this paper is to trace back the major political and theological debates which have shaped the formaive era of Islamic thought. The reasons behind the writing of this article are several. The prevailing contemopary interpretations of Islamic tradition are often one-dimensional , reductionist, dogmatic and secterian in nature (often based on few decontextualised Qur’anic verses and ahadith selected to support the pre-formed view of the writer/speaker) . Exclusivist and authoritarian claims of “saved sects” and ” I now what islam says on such and such issue without any degree of uncertanty ” by many self-proclaimed authorities on Islam are so frequent and well-entrenched that the majority of Muslims do not even question their argumentative value. It is the task of this article to counter this methodology and approach by bringing to surface the dynamic, complex, anti-dogmatic nature of the early developments of Islamic thought as it manifested itself in the realms of theology and political thought ( to the exclusion of jurisprudentic which I have addressed elsewhere ) giving rise to various understandings of concepts such as iman/kufr and the question of free will/pre- determination.Secondly, generally speaking , the Muslim masses are deprived of a more “objective” and inclusivist ( rather than secterian) interpretation of , what one must admit are, at times quite complex and often confusing events that happened during the first two centuries of Islamic history. As such this is an attempt to, at least partially ,bring forth evidence which goes beyond secterionism, increase understanding of how it all developed and hopefully develop a a common platform for more tolerace between various factions/ interpretations of Muslims’common history . The sources used are those considered most authoritative in the realms of academia and are mostly written by most widely acclaimed non-Muslim authorities ( as such are not written from a “factional ” perspective) .This is not a comprehensive account of the entire time period under analysis but author is hopeful that it will be detailed and coherent enough to achive its above stated purposes.
To “an average” Muslim of today who has a less than an academic interest in his/her Islamic history the events that happened just after the Prophet’s demise and subsequnet schisms in Muslim community can at times be quite confusing and complicated. This fact has been “exploited” by the ” pulpit ascenders” to either continue narrating “own version of events” ( always considered to be the “truth” and dismissing variant interpretations as heretical or based on little or no evidence) or aviod the topic entirely by taking a recourse to dogmatism and/or talk of the utopian “Golden Era ” of the first Muslim communites thereby perpetuating the inhereted status quo and not creating opportunities for meaningful intra-faith dialogue within the various Muslim factions of today.The importance of meaningful intre-faith dialogue , in my view, cannot be overemphasised
The task of this paper is to look at some of the most siginifact developments in the political and theological arenae of formative period of islamic thought and the schism-creating responses elicited to them by various elements in early Muslim community as the first step towards better understanding of the past for a , hopefully, more tolerant vision of the future within the Muslim ummah.
Let us now look at the contextual background that resulted in the division of Muslim community along political an theological lines .
1. Development of Khawarijism and Murji’ism :
With the Prophet’s demise many controversial questions, especially in terms of his succession and the future of the Muslim community, came into the foreground. These ., in turn , as we shall try to demonstrate gave rise to a multitude of opinions which over time resulted in the division of Muslim community into various groups. These divergent political , theological, jurisprudentic and social factions became rooted and entrenched in the mentality of its followers to such an extent that they caused seemingly permanent schisms in the Muslim communities to this very day.
According to the Muslim majority opinion ( which does not imply that it is either right or wrong) Prophet himself did not appoint a successor upon his death, so that the early Musllim communty experienced what essentially in today’s political terminology is usually refered to as a power vacuum. The election of Abu Bakr, a close friend of the Prophet belonging to the same aristocratic , noble Makkan tribe as the prophet himself, was not generally accepted well by those who considered that the political leadership should be in the hands of the Medinians or those who argued that the members of ahl-bayt ( Imam Ali and his progeny through his wife fatima , Prophet’s daughter) are the Prophet’s only legitimate successors.These sentiments and tensions grew with the subsequent election of the second and third caliphs reaching its apex with the assassiation of Uthman ( 3rd caliph) and the question of his successor. Upon Uthman’s death people of Medina pleaded their allegiance to Ali and appointed him as his successor.However Ali’s caliphate was not universally recognised especailly by those sections of the Muslim community who believed that Imam Ali did not persue the killers of Uthman with sufficient zeal and determination. One of those was the powerful provincial governor of Syria , Mu’awiyah, Uthman’s kinsman, who refused to allign himself with Ali claiming to be the Uthman’s wali ( according to the pre-Qur’anic Arab custom he was the next in kin -a wali- and responsible for avenging the death of Uthman and as such was entitled to the caliphate).Just prior to the military engagement between Ali and Mu’awiya human arbitration of the conflict was agreed to , resulting in the election of Mu’awiya as the new caliph. In the meantime a group of Ali’s supporters unhappy with his decision to use human artitration to settle the dispute became dissidents and rebelled against him.They bore the name of Haruriyya and were the ideological predecessors of the first ideological movement to separate itself from the mainstream Muslim community , termed Khawarij.There are several definitions of who the Khawarij are all of which need to be mentioned as they give us an insight into their doctrinal and political views on the issues which have divided the early Muslim community into various factions . Watt identifies 4 major characteristics of Khawarij doctrine with reference to the historical context:
1. those who “went out”( arabic “kharaja” – ha went out/to go out)
2. those who isolated themselves from the community of “unbeleivers” breaking all social ties with them making Hijrah to God and His messanger( in accordance with their interpretation of Q 4:100-101)
3. those who dissented and revolted against Ali after the incident with Mu’awiya
4. those who opted for active jihad (against oppressive rulers ) in opposition to those who adopted passive jihad or who sat still.
Watt considers these interpretations historically justified as being employed by some persons at some period in time although who and when is not known.
Khawarij’s views on the political dispute between Ali and Mu’awiya , based on their “theological” doctrine that the only judgement belong to Allah ( la hukma illa li-llah) was a result of a particular “understanding” and a partucular “methodology” of interpretation of Qur’anic indicants of concepts of belief (iman) and disbeleif(kurf). This understanding rendered Ali an ‘unbeleiver” since he , by giving concession to Mu’awiya, committed a grave sin by agreeing to human arbitration rather than that of God Himself.
Khawarij’s concept of belief , according to Izutzu, was framed with reference to the “ideal Muslim community of true beleivers in contrast to individual subject of belief. In turn this meant that their major concern was to establish who the true believer is and what to do with those who do not fit their definition of a true believer . They adopted a very intolerant and unforgiving tance towards the scope and limits of belief accusing anyone committing a (major ) sin or an act of disobedience as a kafir. A number of differenr subsects of Khawarij (e.g. Azariqah, Sufriyyah, Bayhasiyyah etc) took this basic premise to various conclusions both in practice and theory( most ridiculous of which in author’s view is the opinion of Azariqah that prophet Musa a.s. was also a kafir since he asked Allah to reveal himself to him as accounted in the Qur’an).This led them to condem as infidels Ali, Uthman , the arbiters in their dispute and all those who were satisfied with this arbitration as well as anyone who committed a grave sin ( takfir murtakib al-kabirah).Which sins were considered as grave is a point on which various subsects disagreeed.(It was genreally thought that thoese sins for which Qur’anic punishments were stipulated -e.g. theft , adultery..- did not render someone a kafir.) Such a narrow and restricted definition and scope of belief and unbelief led them in extreme cases to a conclusion that only those who migrated to their community were truly Muslims and lived in the abode of islam whilst everyone else who did not break all social ties with the mainstream community and did noit migrate was a kafir and lived in abode of unbeleif.
If we examine the above stated points somewhat more closely we see how politically motivated disagreements were taking on increasingly more theological and doctrinal tones which is a quintessential feature of the formative period of islamic thought as we shall try to demostrate in subseqnet parts of this article.
From the above it can also be concluded that the Khawarij ‘s doctrine of belief/ disbeleif evolveded out of the political realities on the ground as present in early Muslim community and where not a systematic , critical reflections on the nature and purpose of Qur’anic message and its embodiement by the Prophet.
The above events prompted and were a catalyst for a very pertinent theological problem for subsequent generations of Muslims as to what the actual nature and essential criteria of belief(iman) and disbelief (kufr)are.In order to understand the differences in opinion surrounding these questions causing further subdivisions in early Muslim community we need to examine what Prof. Izutsu refers to as “inner structure of the concept of iman” and its essential components as a theological concept and its political implications.
Izutsu’s inner structure of the concept of belief is as follows:
Â· subject of belief ( i.e. the believer)
Â· essential means of expressing belief
Â· object of belief ( i.e. what is to be believed in)
In our discussion on development of secterianism in early Muslim community we are primarily interested in how different Muslim communities have differed on the point of the “essentail means of expressing the belief”, i.e. how the believer’s beleif manifests itself , the form/s it takes and the inter-relationshoip between the two.
According to Izutsu, the muslim theologians as representatives of past communities of interpretation considered iman as a byproduct of the following elements:
Â· knowledge( ma’arifah) of God
Â· assent by heart (tasdiq bi-l qalb)
Â· verbal acknowledgment or confession by word ( iqrar bi-l-llisan) and
Â· ‘amal or acts of obedience or good works
Where various religious groups differed ( even within a particular factions such as the Murji’ah) was the importance given to or the pre-dominance of which one of these elements was being considered as fundamental to iman’s structure and definition.
As we have already demonstrated one of the identifing features of Khawariji thought was the notion that those who committ grave sins were indiscriminantly branded as kafir,(i.e. infidels who fall outside the scope of islam even if these actions fall outside of the scope of belief such as the incident between Ali and Mu’awiyah_ with all the legal implications of that term as they understood it such as justification of murder, acquisition of their property and taking of their wives and children. Spured by or as a reaction to these political and theological controversies another religious group evolved in early Muslim community by the name of Murji’a. Definition of Murji’ism , as Watt illustrates, presents us with some difficulties because they are seen in different lights by their ideological opponenets and because there is a general vagueness in their definition.. Watt distinguishes six of these different groups. The summary of these would allow us to extract the following points as being characteristic of Murji’a movement/ideology/thought:
Â· The Occidental view of Murji’a: :Murji’a were extreme opponents of the Khawarij in sense of accepting sinful temporal rulers and rendering ‘amal aa irrelevant to faith , thus implying that iman is stable and not affected by sin.
Â· Asharite-Sunni view : Notion of “postponing ” or “putting after” as being central to their concept of iman which refers to the Murji’a view of “putting” ‘amal “after” tasdiq in terms of importance of various constitutive elements of essential menas of expressing of belief mentoned above; the notion of “postponning judgement” about the ultimate destiny of a grave sinner until Judgement Day , that the faith is not adversely affected by sin ( thus giving hope to a grave sinner) and lastely considering Ali as being forth in line of succession to Prophet Muhammad.
Â· Mutazilite view: Murji’a are those who considered a grave sinner to be a believer( while Mutazilah considered him/her a hypocrate – munafiq)
Â· Shi’a view: Murji’a are those who cobsidered all people of Qiblah as beleivers throught their public profession of faith and hope for pardon of all.
Â· Khawarij: Murji’a are those who postponed the decision on Uthman and Ali in terms of them being grave sinners.
Â· Hanbalite view: Murji’a considered faith a word ( qawl) without ‘amal ;that faith cannot be superior in degree between two believers , i.e. that it does not increase or decrease and that that there is no uncertaintly about faith.
According to Izutsu, with reference to the essential elements,locus and definition of iman, Murji’a gave predominance to knowledge of God by heart ( i.e. iman equals ma’arifah) while they equated kufr with ignorance or jahl of God. Majority of Murji’a considered iman as well as its opposite ,kufr, as a stable , indivisable unit( in contrast to the view that iman is able to increase and decrease- a view that became predominant in mainstream “Sunni” Muslim community later on ). A minority of the subsects of Murji’a (e.g. Jahmiyyah) maintained that even if a verbal confession of iman is denied that did not render one a kafir as long as one aquired knowledge of God . Another sect, Najjariyyah, included tasdiq as essential part of iman while Abu Hanifa and his followers considered iqrar an essential .Majority Murji’a thought also considered ‘amal as being of secondary importance ( but not irrelevant) to iman placing it behind tasdiq and iqrar.The reason behind this is the Murji’a’s emphasis on iman as being equated as knowledge(ma’arifah) relegated the importance of the ‘amal components of iman to the bottom.This doctrine, argues Izutsu, has often been misinterpreted by their opponents who (wrongfully)maintained that Murji’a are “those who look at ‘amal in a disparaging way rather than seeing it as a matter of degree and emphasis.
In terms of the political connotations of the Murji’ism their main aim seems to have been the desire to preserve the unity of the rapidly disintegrating young Muslim community. As such they adopted a type of political quietism and searched for a modus vivendi with the rulers regardless whether the leader is sinful or not.This attitude in early Murji’ism manifested itself in the suspending of the judgement about the status of belief and disbeleif of Ali and Uthman in contrast to that of Khawarij who considered both as having committed acts of kufr and thus were unbelievers. Some early Murji’a material suggests that they considered both Ali and Uthman legitimate caliphs. Essentially Murji’a doctrine can be seen as a reaction to /rejection of Khawarij’s definition of a grave sinner (i.e. scope and definition of kufr/iman) as well as what Watt refers to as the “proto-Shi’a” ‘s belief in superiority of Ali and his family in sense of their both spiritual and political succession of Prophet Muhammad.Watt’s assertion that the term Murji’a can be applied to almost any member of the Muslim community except Khawarij and the Shi’a suggests that these characteristically Murji’a doctrines were held widely in the early Muslim community so that its subsequent labelling as a heresy by now a Wahhabo-Salafi dominant “Sunni “community is not historically justified..
In summary , the Khawarij-Murji’a attitude to the unfolding political events compelled gradually the early Muslim community for pragmatical reasons to engage in more sophisticated theological arguments as to what essentially an “islamic” understanding and definition of iman and kufr is. The variety of responses to these theological questions resulted in further divisions in Muslim community.
2. (Proto)Shi’ism and General Religious Movement :
In order to complete the picture that sprung from the dispute over the source and nature of the legitimate successors of Prophet’s authority after his demise another movements within the early Muslim community needs some elaboration, namely shi’ism/proto-shi’ism(Watt defines “proto-shi’a” as an amourphous religious movement prior to 874 ,i.e. death of the eleventh Iman , who later on were descirbed by heresiographers as shi’a) and what Watt refers to the General Religious Movement.
Again , as in the cases of Khawarij and Murji’a the term Shi’a is difficult to define. It is was already briefly alluded to the fact that upon Prophet’s death a group of people considered that only the cousin and brother in law of the Prophet , Ali ibn Abu-Talib, and his progeny through Fatima,were his legitimate successors.Based on the basic premise for “respect for the (Prophet’s) family” an entire worldview was to emanate , crystalising , towards the end of the ninth century AC in the belief in infallibility of charsmatic spiritual leader (Imam) as the ultimate guide and source of imitation for the faithfu as part of the creed. Prior to these developments, however, proto-shi’ism manifested itself primarily in a certain narrower or broader sense of reverence for ahl-bayt , argues Watt.
Just like in the case of Murji’a definition of Shi’ism depends upon the subject of its usage.
Â· Sunni view : Its later , commonly known and established definition is found in ash-Shahrastani and is given as follows: The Shi’a are those who follow ( shaya’u) Ali -PBUH- in particular , and assent his immamate and caliphate by appointment and delegation( nass, wasiyya) made either openly or secretly , and those who believe that the imamate does not depart from his descendants.
Â· Shi’a view: Shi’a theologian Al-Kullini defines belief (iman) in following terms : to know God means to recognise the truthfulness of God and His Prophet , to be attached ( mawalah) to Ali , to submit to his authority and to that of the Imams of guidance ( afer him) and to dissociate oneself from their adversaries.That is to know God. At another place Kulini’s definition of a Muslim is as follows : No man is truly a Muslim unless he recognises God and His Prophet and all the imam as and the imam of his age and surrenders his affairs into the hands of the imam and devotes hisself to the imam’s cause.
It is quite interesting that early “Sunni” sources are ruluctant to use word shi’a in heretical sense.For example Al-Baghdadi in his Al-Farq bayn al-firaq, instead of the word Shi’a he uses the word Rafida or Rawafid. So do Ibn Qutayba and the ninth century Mutazilah Al-Khayyat. Al-Barbari who belonged to the Hanbalite school of thought distinguishes between Shi’a and Rafida.The former are descirbed as those who consider both Abu Bakr as well as Ali as legitimate caliphs whilst the latter give Ali superiority over Uthman.
That the word Shi’a did not have heretical connotations in early mainstream Muslim community , argues Watt, is further substanciated by the fact that the champion of the “orthodox” manistream Sunni thought Ahmad ibn Hanbal identified adherers of what he refers to as Ahl-Sunnah wa jama’a as the true Shi’a of Ali since they had due affection for the family of Muhammad and recognised the rights of Ali.
Watt concludes his discussion on Shi’a by saying that this term was not considered heretical to “the main body of traditionalists -such as Qutayba and Ibn Sa’ad- and that the semantical term shi’a was gradually restricted to those who follow Ali in the late ninth century AC /mid. 3rd century AH.
Since there is a tendency by the heresiographers to use the term Rafida in later sense of Shi’a it is necessary to briely mention a few words abount them . Rafida (also known as Imamates) , according to Watt, enter the scene in the late 8th , early 9th AC( middle of 2nd , early 3rd AH) and subscibe to the doctrine of imamate as described by Al-Kullini. Their political views can be summarised as folows:
In their view, (1)Ali was the most deserving of the Imamate and was the best of men after the Prophet; (2) the early Muslim community was in errror in recognising Abu Bakr and Umar as caliphs;(3) They disassociate themselves from Uthman and those who fought Ali and consider them infidels;(4) Prophet left clear instructions as to Ali’s successorship and that most of the Companions neglected these instructions.
Another important section of the Muslim community whose description is at odds with both later established section of Muslim community as well as its occidental criticism is the existence of a , in Watt’s words, “general religious movement” who were neither Khawarij nor extreme Shi’a and who neither totally rejected nor totally accepted Umayyad rule that stemmed from Mu’awiyah’s caliphate. Their primary concern as well as their common denominator , according to Watt, was a quasi-political attachment to the stateand to the underlying Islamic principals ” which manifested themselves in their willingness to accept all of the four caliphs as well as Umayyads as legitimate rulers in order to prevent , given the hostile socio-political climate,the ever so present total disintegration of the young Muslim community. We would do well to recall one of the previous assertions pertaining to definition of Murji’ism as those belonging to the community excluding the Khawarij and the Shi’a.Therefore there must have been a close link and a large degree of overlapping between Murji’ism and the general religious movement. It is hardly suprising , keeping the above in mind , that the famous Iraqian Muslim scholar Abu Hanifa ( d.150 AH) is listed or considered /dismissed by many later Wahhabo-Salafi “Sunnis” as a Murji’a ( implying a heretic) or that of Hasan AL-Basri ( born 24 AH), one of the most prominent religious authorities of his time, held doctrines which on many points converged with those of Muri’ism.
Form the above discussion it can safely be deduced that the politically driven schisms during the young Muslim community were much more fluid and less definitive than what they are now and that a large degree of overlap and arbitariness existed in labelling and grouping certain individuals or even groups as to where they belonged on the politico-theological spectrum. Thus, notion of a homogenous, monolithic and clearly defined religious and political community who have remained faithful to the “Sunnah” of the Prophet and the salaf-ul-salih , a notion frequently put forward by the Wahhabo-Salafi interpretation of early Muslim community, runs in the face of historical facts.
More importantly, it should also be noticed that the majority of politico-theological views in early islam ( i.e. up to last quarter of the first century of Hijrah at least)to be later developed into full blown doctrines by the majority of these factions were not well-thought through , systematic and critical analyses of Qur’ano-Sunnahic legacy but were primarily ad hoc , reactive and politically driven assertions.
The development of various doctrines, and therefore secterianism, as we saw in the case of concept and definition of iman/kufr brought into foreground issues pertaining to the sphere of theology. This marriage between doctrines development and politics caused further rifts in the early Muslim community. The second part of this paper (author is still working on it) will briefly examine some of the most important ones.
Throughout the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Islamic calendar theological isseus , to use Van Esse’ terminology , were “loaded with political and revolutionary overetones.”
One of the earliest theological disputes resulting infurther schisms in Muslim community came into the foreground during the caliph Marwan’s ( d.86 AH) reign on the issue of the question offree will and determination.This theological dispute is commonly referred to in Islamic literature as qadar or khalq al-af’al.