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Defending the Civilians

Defending the Civilians: Mudafi' al-Mazlum
Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti's Fatwa on Suicide Bombings
Introduction by Gibril F Haddad

Introduction

In the Name of God, the All-Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

Gentle reader, Peace upon those who follow right guidance!

I am honored to present the following fatwa or "response by a qualified Muslim Scholar" against the killing of civilians by the Oxford-based Malaysian jurist of the Shafi`i School and my inestimable teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti, titled "Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians."

The Shaykh authored it in a few days, after I asked him to offer some guidance on the issue of targeting civilians and civilian centers by suicide bombing in response to a pseudo-fatwa by a deviant UK-based group which advocates such crimes.

Upon reading Shaykh Afifi's fatwa do not be surprised to find that you have probably never before seen such clarity of thought and expression together with breadth of knowledge of Islamic Law applied (by a non- native speaker) to define key Islamic concepts pertaining to the conduct of war and its jurisprudence, its arena and boundaries, suicide bombing, the reckless targeting of civilians, and more.

May it bode the best start to true education on the impeccable position of Islam squarely against terrorism in anticipation of the day all its culprits are brought to justice.

Dear Muslim reader, as-Salamu `alaykum wa-rahmatullah:

Read this luminous Fatwa by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti carefully and learn it, distribute it, publicize it, and teach it. Perhaps we will be counted among those who do something to redress wrong, not only with our hearts as we always do, but also with our tongues, in the fashion of the inspired teachers and preachers of truth.

I have tried to strike the keynote of this Fatwa in a few lines of free verse, mostly to express my thanks to our Teacher but also to seize the opportunity of such a long-expected response to remind myself of the reasons why I embraced Islam in the first place.

A TAQRIZ – HUMBLE COMMENDATION:

Praise to God Whose Law shines brighter than the sun!
Blessings and peace on him who leads to the abode of peace!
Truth restores honor to the Religion of goodness.
Patient endurance lifts the oppressed to the heights
While gnarling mayhem separates like with like:
The innocent victims on the one hand and, on the other,
Silver-tongued devils and wolves who try to pass for just!

My God, I thank You for a Teacher You inspired
With words of light to face down Dajjal's advocates.
Allah bless you, Ustadh Afifi, for _Defending the Transgressed
By Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians_!
Let the powers that be and every actor-speaker high and low
Heed this unique Fatwa of knowledge and responsibility.

Let every lover of truth proclaim, with pride once more,
What the war-mongers try to bury under lies and bombs:
Islam is peace and truth, the Rule of Law, justice and right!
Murderous suicide is never martyrdom but rather perversion,
Just as no flag on earth can ever justify oppression.
And may God save us from all criminals, East and West!

By permission of Shaykh Afifi, I have done some very light editing having to do mostly with style, spelling, or punctuation such as standardizing spacing between paragraphs, providing in-text translations of a couple of Arabic supplications, adding quotation marks to mark out textual citations, and so forth.

I also provided an alphabetical glossary of arabic terms not already glossed by the Shaykh directly in the text.

May Allah Subhan wa-Ta`ala save Shaykh Muhammad Afifi here and hereafter, may He reward him and his teachers for this blessed work and grant us its much-needed benefits, not least of which the redress of our actions and beliefs for safety here and hereafter.

Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions, wal-Hamdu lillahi Rabb al-`Alamin.

G.F. Haddad
Day of Jumu`a after `Asr
1 Rajab al-Haram 1426
5 August 2005
Brunei Darussalam


SHAYKH AFIFI'S TEXT
Defending the Transgressed, by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians

If you have time to address this delicate issue for the benefit of this mercied Umma which is reeling in fitna day in and day out, perhaps a few blessed words might use a refutation of the following text as a springboard? I would like you to read the following article which highlights some of the problems we are facing, and why it is quite possible that young muslims turn to extremism. the article was issued by al-Muhajiroun not long ago, headed by Omar Bakri Mohammed [aka Omar Bakri Fostok], and whatever our reservations about the man, it is the content I am more concerned about, and it is possibly these types of writings which need to be confronted head-on:

AQD UL AMAAN: THE COVENANT OF SECURITY

The Muslims living in the west are living under a covenant of security, it is not allowed for them to fight anyone with whom they have a covenant of security, abiding by the covenant of security is an important obligation upon all Muslims. However for those Muslims living abroad, they are not under any covenant with the kuffar in the west, so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west whether in retaliation for constant bombing and murder taking place all over the Muslim world at the hands of the non-muslims, or if it an offensive attack in order to release the Muslims from the captivity of the kuffar. For them, attacks such as the September 11th Hijackings is a viable option in Jihad, even though for the Muslims living in America who are under covenant, it is not allowed to do operations similar to those done by the magnificent 19 on the 9/11. This article speaks about the covenant and what the scholars have said regarding Al Aqd Al Amaan - the covenant of security. [...]


bismillahi r-rahman al-rahim

al-hamdulillah alladhi yahuddu l-harba wa-la yuhibbu l-mu'tadina wa s-salatu wa-s-salamu 'ala qa'idi l-ummah alladhi huwa asbaru 'ala adha l-a'da'i bi-futuwwatin kamilatin wa-muru'atin shamilatin wa-'ala alihi wa-ashabihi wa-jayshihi ajma'in! [Praise be to God Who sets the boundaries of war and does not love transgressors! Blessings and peace on the Umma's leader, the most enduring of men in the face of the harm of enemies with perfect chivalry and complete manliness, and upon all his Family, Companions, and Army!]

This is a collection of masa'il, entitled: Mudafi' al-Mazlum bi-Radd al-Muhamil 'ala Qital Man La Yuqatil
[Defending the Transgressed, by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians]; written in response to the fitna reeling this mercied Umma, day in and day out, which is partly caused by those who, wilfully or not, misunderstand the legal discussions of the chapter on warfare outside their proper contexts [of which the technical fiqh terminology varies with bab: Siyar, Jihad, or Qital], which have been used by them to justify their wrong actions. May Allah open our eyes to the true meaning [haqiqa] of sabr and to the fact that only through it can we successfully endure the struggles we face in this dunya, especially during our darkest hours; for indeed, He is with those who patiently endure tribulations!

There is no khilaf that all of the Shafi'i fuqaha' of today and other Sunni specialists in the Law from the Far East to the Middle East reject outright [mardud] the above opinion and consider it not only an anomaly [shadh] and very weak [wahin] but also completely wrong [batil] and a misguided innovation [bid'a dalala]: an 'amal that cannot at all be adopted by any mukallaf. It is regrettable too that the above was written in a legal style at which any doctor of the Law should be horrified and appalled (since it is an immature yet persuasive attempt to mask a misguided personal opinion with authority from Fiqh, and an effort to hijack our Fiqh by invoking one of its many qadaya of this bab while recklessly neglecting others). It should serve to remind the students of Fiqh of the importance of forming in one's mind and being aware throughout, of the thawabit and the dawabit when reading a furu' text, in order to ensure that those principal rules have not been breached in any given legal case.

The above opinion is problematic in three legal particulars: (1) the target [maqtul]: without doubt, civilians; (2) the authority for carrying out the killing [amir al-qital]: as no Muslim authority has declared war, or if there has been such a declaration there is at the time a ceasefire [hudna]; and (3) the way in which the killing is carried out [maqtul bih]: since it is either Haram and is also cursed as it is suicide [qatil nafsah], or at the very least doubtful [shubuhat] in a way such that it must be avoided by those who are religiously scrupulous [wara']. Any sane Muslim who would believe otherwise and think the above to be not a crime [jinaya] would be both reckless [muhmil] and deluded [maghrur]. Instead, whether he realizes it or not, by doing so he would be hijacking rules from our Sacred Law which are meant for the conventional (or authorized) army of a Muslim state and addressed to those with authority over it (such as the executive leader(s), the military commanders and so forth), but not to individuals who are not connected to the military or those without the political authority of the state [dawla].  

The result in fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is: if a Muslim carries out such an attack voluntarily, he becomes a murderer and not a martyr or a hero, and he will be punished with that in the Next World.

I. The Target: Maqtul

The proposition: "so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west", where "non-Muslims" can be taken to mean, and indeed does mean in the document, non-combatants, civilians, or in the terminology of Fiqh: those who are not engaged in direct combat [man la yuqatilu].

This opinion violates a well known principal rule [Dabit] from our Law: "la yajUzu qatlu nisA'ihim wa-la SibyAnihim idhA lam yuqAtilU" [it is not permissible to kill their [i.e., the opponents'] women and children if they are not in (direct) combat], which is based on the Prophetic prohibition on soldiers from killing women and children, from the well known Hadith of Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both!) related by Imams Malik, al-Shafi'i, Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi and al-Baghawi (may Allah be well pleased with them all!) and other Hadiths.

Imam al-Subki (may Allah be pleased with him!) made it unequivocally clear what scholars have understood from this prohibition in which the standard rule of engagement taken from it is that: "[a Muslim soldier] may not kill a woman nor a child soldier unless they are in combat directly, and they can only be killed in self-defence" [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 21:57].

It goes without saying that men and innocent bystanders who are not direct combatants are also included in this prohibition. The nature of this prohibition is so specific and well defined that there can be no legal justification, nor can there be a legitimate Shar'i excuse, for circumventing this convention of war by targeting non-combatants or civilians whatsoever, and that the Hukm Shar'i of killing them is not only Haram but also a Major Sin [kabira] and contravenes one of the principal commandments of our way of life.

II. The Authority: Amir al-Qital

The proposition: "so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west whether in retaliation for constant bombing and murder taking place all over the Muslim world at the hands of the non-muslims," where it implies that a state of war exist with this particular non-Muslim state on account of its being witnessed as the aggressor.

This opinion violates the most basic rules of engagement from our Law: "amru l-jihAdi mawkulun ila l-imAmi wa-ijtihAdihi wa-yalzamu r-ra'iyyata TA'atuhu fImA yarAhu min dhalika" [The question of declaring war [or not] is entrusted to the executive authority and to its decision: compliance with that decision is the subject's duty with respect to what the authority has deemed appropriate in that matter] and "wa-li-imamin aw amirin khiyarun bayna l-kaffi wa l-qitAli" [The executive or its subordinate authority has the option of whether to declare war or not].

Decisions of this kind for each Muslim state, such as those questions dealing with ceasefire ['aqd al-hudna], peace settlement ['aqd al-aman] and the judgment on prisoners of war [al-ikhtar fi asir] can only be dealt with by the executive or political authority [imam] or by a subordinate authority appointed by the former authority [amir mansubin min jihati l-imam]. This is something Muslims take for granted from the authority of our naql [scriptures] such that none will reject it except those who betray their 'aql [intellect]. The most basic legal reason ['illa asliyya] is that this is a matter involving the public interest in which only the authority has jurisdiction in considering it [li-anna hadhA l-amra mina l-masAliHi l-'Ammati allati yakhtassu l-imAmi bi-n-naZari fI-hA].

All of this is based on the well known legal principle:

taSarrufu l-imAmi 'ala r-ra'iyyati manUTun bi l-maSlaHati [the decisions of the authority on behalf of the subjects are dependent upon the public good].

And:

fa-yaf'alu l-imAmu wujUban al-aHaZZa li-l-muslimIna li-ijtihAdihi [So the authority must act for the greatest advantage of (the rest of) the Muslims in making his judgement].

Nasiha! Uppermost in the minds of our authority during their deliberation over whether to wage war or not should be the awareness that war is only a means and not the end. Hence, if there are other ways of achieving the aim, and the highest aim is the right to practice our religion openly (as is indeed the case in modern day Spain, for example, unlike in medieval Reconquista Spain), then it is better [awla] not to go to war. This has been expressed in a few words by Imam al-Zarkashi (may Allah be pleased with him!) as:

wujUbuhu wujUbu l-wasA'ili lA l-maqASidi
[Its necessity is the necessity of means, not ends]

The upshot is, whether one likes it or not, that the decision and the discretion and the right to declare war or jihad for Muslims lies solely with the various authorities today represented by the respective Muslim states - and not with any individual, even if he is a scholar or a soldier – and not just anyone is a soldier or a scholar – in the same way that only an authority (such as the Qadi in a court of law: mahkamah) is the only one with the right to excommunicate or declare someone an apostate [murtad]. Otherwise, the killing would be extra-judicial and unauthorized.

Even during the period of the Ottoman caliphate, for example, another Muslim authority elsewhere such as in the Indian subcontinent could have been engaged in a war when at the same time the Khalifa's army was at peace with the same enemy. This is how it has been throughout our long history and this is how it will always be and this is what the reality is on the ground.

III. The Method: Maqtul bih

The proposition: "attacks such as the September 11th Hijackings is a viable option in Jihad," where such attacks employ a tactic – analogous to the Japanese "Kamikaze" missions during the Second World War – that have been described variously as self-sacrificing/martyrdom/suicide missions.

There is no question among scholars and there is no khilaf on this question by any Qadi, Mufti or Faqih, that this proposition and those who accept it are without doubt breaching the scholarly consensus [mukhalifun li-l-ijma'] of the Muslims since it resulted in the killing of non-combatants, and moreover, the proposition is an attempt to legitimize the killing of indisputable non-combatants.

As for the Kamikaze method and tactic in which it was carried out, there is a difference of opinion among some jurists as to whether it constitutes suicide, which is not only Haram but also cursed, or whether it does not. In this, there are further details. (Note that in all of the following cases, the target is assumed to be already legitimate – i.e., a valid military target – and that the action is carried out during a valid war when there is no ceasefire [fi hal al-harb wa-la l-hudna fihi], just as with the actual circumstance of the Japanese Kamikaze attacks.)

Tafsil I: If the attack involves a bomb* placed on the body or placed so close to the bomber that when the bomber detonates it the bomber is certain [yaqin] to die, then the More Correct Position [Qawl Asahh] according to us is that it does constitute suicide. This is because the bomber, being also the Maqtul [the one killed], is unquestionably the same Qatil [the immediate/active agent that kills] = Qatil Nafsahu.

Furu' If the attack involves a bomb (such as the lobbing of a grenade and the like) but when it is detonated, the attacker thinks that it is uncertain [zann] whether he may die in the process or survive the attack, then the Correct Position [Qawl Sahih] is that this does not constitute suicide, and were he to die in this selfless act, he becomes what we call a martyr or hero [shahid]. This is because the attacker, were he to die, is not the active, willing agent of his own death, since the Qatil is probably someone else.

An example [sura] of this is: when in its right place and circumstance, such as in the midst of an ongoing fierce battle against an opponent's military unit, whether ordered by his commanding officer or whether owing to his own initiative, the soldier makes a lone charge and as a result of that initiative manages to turn the tide of the day's battle but dies in the process (and not intentionally at his own hand): that soldier died as a hero (and this circumstance is precisely the context of becoming a shahid – in Islamic terminology – as he died selflessly). If he survives, he wins a Medal of Honour and becomes an honoured war hero and is remembered as a famous patriot (in our terminology, becoming a true mujahid).

This is precisely the context of the mas'ala concerning the "lone charger" [al-hajim al-wahid] and the meaning of putting one's life in danger [al-taghrir bi-l-nafs] found in all of the Fiqh chapters concerning warfare. The Umma's Doctor Angelicus, Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him!) provides the best impartial summation:

"If it is said: What is the meaning of the words of the Most High:

"wa-lA tulqU bi-aydIkum ila t-tahlukati"
[and do not throw into destruction by your own hands!]

(al-Baqara, 2:195) ?

We say: There is no difference [of opinion amongst scholars] that regarding the lone Muslim [soldier] who charges into the battle-lines of the [opposing] non-Muslim [army that is presently in a state of war with his army and is facing them in a battle] and fights [them] even if he knows that he will almost certainly be killed – a case misconstruable to be against the requirements of the Verse, that it is not so. Indeed, Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with both of them!) says: [the meaning of] "destruction" is not that [incident]. Instead, [its meaning] is to neglect providing [adequate] supplies [nafaqa: for the military campaign; and in the modern context, the state should provide for the arms and equipment, for example, for which all of this is done] in obedience to God [as in the first part of the Verse which says: "wa-anfiqU fI sabIli LlAhi" [And spend for the sake of God] (al-Baqara, 2:195)]. That is, those who fail to do that will destroy themselves. [In another Sahabi authority:] al-Bara' Ibn 'Azib [al-Ansari (may Allah be well pleased with them both!)] says: [the meaning of] "destruction" is [a Muslim] committing a sin and then saying: 'my repentance will not be accepted'. [A Tabi'i authority] Abu 'Ubayda says: it [the meaning of "destruction"] is to commit a sin and then not perform a good deed after it before he perishes. [Ponder over this!]

In the same way that it is permissible [for the Muslim soldier in the incident above] to fight the non-Muslim [army] until he is killed [in the process], that [extent and consequence] is also permissible for him [i.e., the enforcer of the Law, since the 'a'id (antecedent) here goes back to the original pronoun [damir al-asl] for this bab: the muhtasib or enforcer, such as the police] in [matters of] law enforcement [hisba].

However, [note the following qualification (qayd):] were he to know [zanni] that his charge will not cause harm to the non-Muslim [army], such as the blind or the weak throwing himself into the [hostile] battle-lines, then it is prohibited [Haram] and [this latter incident] is included under the general meaning ['umum] of "destruction" from the Verse [for in this case, he will be literally throwing himself into destruction].

"It would only be permissible for him to advance [and suffer the consequences] if he knows that he will be able to fight [effectively] until he is killed, or knows that he will be able to demoralize the hearts and minds of the non-Muslim [army]: by their witnessing his courage and by their conviction that the rest of the Muslim [army] are [also] selfless [qilla al-mubala] in their loyalty to sacrifice for the sake of God. By this, their will to fight [shawka] will become demoralized [and so this may cause panic and rout them and thereby be the cause of their battle-lines to collapse]."
[al-Ghazali, Ihya', 2:354].

It is clear that this selfless deed which any modern soldier, Muslim or non-Muslim, might perform in battle today is not suicide. It may hyperbolically be described as a 'suicidal' attack, but to endanger one's life is one thing and to commit suicide during the attack is obviously another. And as the passage shows, it is possible to have both situations: an attack that is taghrir bi-l-nafs, which is not prohibited; and an attack that is of the tahluka-type, which is prohibited.

Tafsil II: If the attack involves ramming a vehicle into a military target and the attacker is certain to die, precisely like the historical Japanese Kamikaze missions, then our jurists have disagreed whether it does or does not constitute suicide.

Qawl A: Those who consider it a suicide argue that there is the possibility [zanni] that the Maqtul is the same as the Qatil (as in Tafsil I above) and would therefore not allow for any other qualification whatsoever since suicide is a cursed sin.

Qawl B: Whereas those who consider otherwise, even with the possibility that the Maqtul is the same Qatil, will allow some other qualification such as the possibility that by carrying it out the battle of the day could be won. There are further details in this alternative position, such as that the commanding officer does not have the right to command anyone under him to perform this dangerous mission so that were it to be sanctioned, it could only be when it is not under anyone else's orders other than the lone initiative of the concerned soldier (such as in defiance of the standing orders of his commanding officer).

The first of the two positions is the Preferred Position [Muttajih] among our jurists, as the second is the rarer because of the vagueness of a precedent, and its legal details are fraught with further difficulties and ambiguities, and its opposing position [muqabil] carries such a weighty consequence (namely, that of suicide, for which there is Ijma' that the one who commits suicide will be damned to committing it eternally forever).

In addition to this juristic preference, the first position is also preferable and better since it is the original or starting state [Asl], and by invoking the well known and accepted legal principle: al-khurUju mina l-khilAfi mustaHabbun [to avoid the controversy is preferable].

Finally, the first position is religiously safer, since owing to the ambiguity itself of the legal status of the person performing the act – whether it will result in the Maqtul being also the Qatil – and since there is doubt and uncertainty over the possibility of it either being or not being the case, then this position falls under the type of doubtful matters [shubuhat] of the kind [naw'] that should be avoided by those who are religiously scrupulous [wara']. And here, the wisdom of our wise Prophet may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him! is illuminated from the Hadith of al-Nu'man may Allah be well pleased with him!):

"fa-mani ttaqA sh-shubuhAti istabra'a li-dInihi wa 'irDihi"
[He who saves himself from doubtful matters will save his religion and his honour]
(Related by Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi,  Ibn Majah, al-Tabarani, and al-Bayhaqi with variants.)

wallahu a'lam bi-s-sawab!

Fa'ida

The original ruling [al-Asl] for using a bomb (the medieval precedents: Greek fire [qital bi l-nar or ramy al-naft] and catapults [manjaniq]) as a weapon is that it is Makruh [offensive] because it kills indiscriminately [ya'ummu man yuqatilu wa-man la yuqatilu], as opposed to using rifles (medieval example: a single bow and arrow). If the indiscriminate weapon is used in a place where there are civilians, it becomes Haram except when used as a last resort [min darura] (and of course, by those military personnel authorised to do so).

From the consideration of the foregoing three legal particulars, it is evident that the opinion expressed regarding the 'amal in the above article is untenable by the standards of our Sacred Law.

As to those who may still be persuaded by it and suppose that the 'amal is something that can be excused on the pretext that there is scholarly khilaf on the details of Tafsil II from the third particular (and that therefore, the 'amal itself could at the end of the day be accommodated by invoking the guiding principle that one should be flexible with regards to legal controversies [masa'il khilafiyya] and to agree to disagree); know then there is no khilaf among scholars that that rationale does not stand, since it is well known that:

lA yunkaru l-mukhtalafu fIhi wa-innamA yunkaru l-mujma'u 'alayhi
[The controversial cannot be denied; only {breach of} the unanimous can be denied]

Since at the very least, it is agreed upon by all that killing non-combatants is prohibited, there is no question whatsoever that the 'amal overall is outlawed. 

Masa'il Mufassala 

If it is said:

"I have heard that Islam says the killing of civilians is allowed if they are non-Muslims."

We say: On a joking note (but ponder over this so your hearts may be opened!): the authority is not with what Islam says but with what Allah (Exalted is He) and His Messenger may His blessings and peace be upon him! - have said!

But seriously: the answer is absolutely NO, for even a novice student of Fiqh would be able to see that the first Dabit above concerns already a non-Muslim opponent in the case of a state of war having been validly declared by a Muslim authority against a particular non-Muslim enemy even when that civilian is a subject or in the care [dhimma] of the hostile non-Muslim state [Dar al-Harb]. If this is the extent of the limitation to be observed with regards to non-Muslim civilians associated with a declared enemy force, what higher standards will it be in cases if it is not a valid war or when the status of war becomes ambiguous? Keep in mind that there are more than 100 Verses in the Qur'an commanding us at all times to be patient in the face of humiliation and to turn away from violence [al-i'rad 'ani l-mushrikin wa l-sabr 'ala adha l-a'da'], while there is only one famous Verse in which war (which does not last forever) becomes an option (in our modern context: for a particular Muslim authority and not an individual), when a particular non-Muslim force has drawn first blood.

If it is said:

"What about the verse of the Qur'an which says 'kill the unbelievers wherever you find them' and the Sahih Hadith which says 'I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify ... '?"

We say: It is well known among scholars that the following verse, "fa-qtulU l-mushrikIna Haythu wajad-tumUhum" [kill the idolaters wherever you find them] (al-Tawba, 9:5) is in reference to a historical episode: those among the Meccan Confederates who breached the Treaty of Hudaybiyya [Sulh al-Hudaybiyya] which led to the Conquest of Mecca, and that therefore, no legal rulings, or in other words, no practical or particular implications can be derived from this Verse on its own. The Divine Irony and indeed Providence from the last part of the Verse, "wherever you find them" – which many of our Mufassirs understood in reference to place (i.e., attack them whether inside the Sacred Precinct or not) – is that the victory against the Meccans happened without a single battle taking place, whether inside the Sacred Precinct or otherwise, rather, there was a general amnesty [wa-mannun 'alayhi bi-takhliyati sabilihi or naha 'an safki d-dima'] for the Jahili Arabs there. Had the Verse not been subject to a historical context, then you should know that it is of the general type ['amm] and that it will therefore be subject to specification [takhsis] by some other indication [dalil]. Its effect in lay terms, were it not related to the Jahili Arabs, is that it can only refer to a case during a valid war when there is no ceasefire.

Among the well known exegeses of "al-mushrikin" from this verse are: "al-nakithina khassatan" [specifically, those who have breached (the Treaty)] [al-Nawawi al-Jawi, Tafsir, 1:331]; "alladhina yuharibunakum" [those who have declared war against you] [Qadi Ibn 'Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur'an, 2:889]; and "khassan fi mushkriki l-'arabi duna ghayrihim" [specifically, the Jahili Arabs and not anyone else] [al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur'an, 3:81].

As for the meaning of "people" [al-nas] in the above well related Hadith, it is confirmed by Ijma', that it refers to the same "mushrikin" as in the Verse of Sura al-Tawba above and therefore what is meant there is only the Jahili Arabs [muskhriku l-'arab] during the closing days of the Final Messenger and the early years of the Righteous Caliphs and not even to any other non-Muslims.

In sum, we are not in a perpetual state of war with non-Muslims. On the contrary, the original legal status [al-Asl] is a state of peace, and making a decision to change this status belongs only to a Muslim authority who will in the Next World answer for their ijtihad and decision, and this decision is not divinely charged to any individuals – not even soldiers or scholars (and to believe otherwise would go against the well known rule in our Law that a Muslim authority could seek help from a non-Muslim with certain conditions, including for example that the non-Muslim allies are of goodwill towards the Muslims [la-yast'Inu bi-mushkrikin illA bi-shurUTin ka-an takUna niyyatuhu Hasanatan li-l-muslimIna]).

If it is said:

"I have heard a scholar say that 'Israeli women are not like women in our society because they are militarised'. By implication, this means that they fall into the category of women who fight and that this makes them legitimate targets but only in the case of Palestine."

We say: No properly schooled jurists from any of the four schools would say this as a legal judgement if they faithfully followed the juridical processes of the orthodox schools in this bab, for if it is true that the scholar made such a statement and meant it in the way you've implied it, then not only does this violate the well known principal rule above {Section I: "It is not permissible to kill their women and children if they are not in (direct) combat"} but the supposed remarks also show a lack of sophistication in the legal particulars. If this is the case, then it has to be said here that this is not among the masa'il khilafiyya that one can afford to agree to disagree, since it is outright wrong by the principles and the rules from our Usul and Furu'.

Let us restate the Dabit again, as our jurists have succinctly summarised its rule of engagement: a soldier can only attack a female or (if applicable) child soldier (or a male civilian) in self-defence and only when she *herself* (and not someone else from her army) is engaged in direct combat (as for male soldiers, it goes without saying that they are considered combatants as soon as they arrive on the battlefield even if they are not in direct combat – provided of course that the remaining conventions of war have been observed throughout and that all this is during a valid war when there is no ceasefire).

Not only is this strict rule of engagement already made clear in our secondary legal texts, but this is also obvious from the linguistic analysis of the primary proof-texts used to derive this principal rule. Hence, the form of the verb used in the scriptures, yuqAtilu, is of the musharaka-type so that the verb denotes a direct or a personal or a reciprocal relationship between two agents: the minimum for which is when one of them makes an effort or attempt to act upon the other. The immediate legal implication here is that one of the two can only even be considered a legitimate target when there is a reciprocal/direct relationship.

In reality, this is not what happens on the ground (since the bombing missions are offensive in nature – as they are not after all targeting, for example, a force that IS *attacking* an immediate Muslim force but rather the attack is directed at an overtly non-military target, so the person carrying it out can only be described as attacking it – and the target is someone unknown until only seconds before the mission reaches its termination).

In short, even if these women are soldiers, they can only be attacked when they are in *direct combat* and not otherwise. In any case, there are other overriding particulars to be considered and various conditions to be observed throughout, namely, that it must be during a valid state of war when there is no ceasefire.

If it is said:

"When a bomber blows up himself he is not directing the attack towards civilians. On the contrary, the attack is designed to target off-duty soldiers (which I was told did not mean reservists, since most Israelis are technically reservists). The innocent civilians are unfortunate collateral damage in the targeting of soldiers."

We say: There are two details here.

Tafsil A: Off-duty soldiers are treated as civilians.

Our jurists agree that during a valid war when there is no ceasefire, and when an attack is not aimed at a valid military target, a hostile soldier (whether male or female, whether conscripted or not) who is not on operational duty or not wearing a military uniform and when there is nothing in the soldier's outward appearance to suggest that the soldier is in combat is considered a non-combatant [man la yuqatilu] (and the soldier in this case must therefore be treated as a normal civilian).

A valid military target is limited to either a battlefield [mahall al-ma'raka or sahat al-qital] or a military base [mu'askar; medieval examples: citadel or forts; modern examples: barracks, military depots, etc.] but certainly NEVER at anything else such as restaurants, hotels, around a traffic light, a public bus or at any other public place, since firstly, these are not places and bases from which an attack would normally originate [mahall al-ra'y]; secondly, because there is certain knowledge [yaqin] that there is intermingling [ikhtilat] with non-combatants; and thirdly, the non-combatants have not been given the option to leave the place.

As for when the soldiers are on the battlefield, the normal rules of engagement apply.

As for when the soldiers are in a barracks or the like, there is further discussion on whether the soldiers become a legitimate target, and the Qawl Asahh [the more correct position] according to our jurists is that they do, albeit to attack them there is Makruh.

Tafsil B: Non-combatants cannot be considered collateral damage

Non-combatants cannot at all be considered collateral damage except at a valid military target for which they may be so deemed, depending on certain extenuating circumstances.

There is no khilaf that non-combatants or civilians cannot at all be considered collateral damage at a non-military target in a war zone, and that their deaths are not excusable by our Law, and that the one who ends up killing one of them will be sinful as in the case of murder, even though the soldier who is found guilty of it would be excused from the ordinary capital punishment [hadd], unless the killing was found to be premeditated and deliberate [aw ata bi-ma'siyyatin tujibu l-hadda]. If not, the murderer's punishment in this case would instead be subject to the authority's discretion [ta'zir] and he would in any case be liable to pay the relevant compensation [diya].

As for a valid military target in a war zone, the Shafi'i school have historically considered the possibility of collateral damage, unlike the position held by others that it is unqualifiedly outlawed. The following are the conditions stipulated for allowing for this controversial exception (in addition to meeting the most important condition of them all: that this takes place during a valid war when there is no ceasefire):

(1) The target is a valid military target.
(2) The attack is as a last resort [min darura] (such as when the civilians have been warned to leave the place and after a period of siege has elapsed). [wujUb al-indhAri qabla l-bad'i bi-l-qatli li-annahu lA yajUzu an yaqtula illA man yuqAtilu]
(3) There are no Muslim civilians or prisoners.
(4) The decision to attack the target is based on a considered judgement of the executive or military leader that by doing so, there is a good chance that the battle would be won.

(Furthermore, this position is subject to khilaf among our jurists with regard to whether the military target can be a Jewish/Christian [Ahl l-Kitab] one, since the sole primary text that is invoked to allow this exception concerns an incident restricted to the same "mushrikin" as the Verse of Sura al-Tawba above.)

To intentionally neglect any of these strict conditions is analogous to not fulfilling the conditions [shurut] for a prayer with the outcome that the Salat would become invalidated [batil] and useless [fasad]. This is why the means of an act ['amal] must be correct and validated according to the rule of Law in order for its outcome to be sound and accepted, as expressed succinctly in the following wisdom of Imam Ibn 'Ata'illah:

man ashraqat bidayatuhu ashraqat nihayatuhu
[He who makes good his beginning will make good his ending].

In our Law, the ends can never justify the means except when the means are in themselves permissible, or Mubah (and not Haram) as is made clear in the following famous legal principle:

wasIlatu T-TA'ati TA'atun wa-wasIlatu l-ma'Siyati ma'Siyatun
[the means to a reward is itself a reward and the means to a sin is itself a sin].

Hence, even a simple act such as opening a window, which on its own is only Mubah or Halal, religiously entailing no reward nor being a sin, when a son opens it with the intention for his mother's comfort on a hot summer's day before she asks for it to be opened, the originally non-consequent act itself becomes Mandub [recommended] and the son is rewarded in his 'amal account for the Next World and acquires the pleasure of Allah.

wallahu a'lam wa-ahkam bi-s-sawab!
{God knows and judges best what is right!}

If it is said:

"In a classic manual of Islamic Sacred Law I read that

"it is offensive to conduct a military expedition [ghazw] against hostile non-Muslims without the caliph's permission (though if there is no caliph, no permission is required)."

Doesn't this entail that though it is Makruh for anyone else to call for or initiate such a jihad, it is permissible?"

We say: lA ghazwata illA fi l-jihAdi
[there can be no battle except during a war]!

Secondary legal texts, just as with primary proof-texts (a single Verse of the Qur'an from among the relatively few Ayat al-Ahkam or a Hadith from among the limited number of Ahadith al-Ahkam), must be read and understood in context. The conclusion drawn that it is offensive or permissible for anyone other than those in authority to declare or initiate a war is evidently wrong, since it violates the principal rule of engagement discussed above.

The context is that of endangering one's life [taghrir bi-nafs] when there is already a valid war with no ceasefire as seen in the above example from the Ihya' passage, but certainly not in executive matters of the kind of proclaiming a war and the like. This is also obvious from the terminology used: a ghazw [a military act, assault, foray or raid; the minimum limit in a modern example: an attack by a squad or a platoon [katiba]* can take place only when there is a state of jihad [war] not otherwise.

Fa'ida

Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him!) lists the organizational structure of an army as follows: a ba'th [unit] and when together, a katiba [platoon], which is a part of a sariyya [company; made up of 50-100 soldiers], which is in turn a part of a minsar [regiment; up to 800 soldiers], which is a part of a jaysh [division; up to 4000 soldiers], which is a part of a jahfal [army corps; exceeding 4000 soldiers], which makes up the jaysh 'azim [army]. [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfa, 12:4]

In our School, it is offensive but not completely prohibited for a soldier to defy or in other words to take the initiative against the wishes of his direct authority, whether his unit is strong or otherwise. In the modern context, this may include cases when soldier(s) disagree with a particular decision or strategy adopted by their superior officers, whether during a battle or otherwise. 

The accompanying commentary to the text you quoted will help clarify this for you:

[Original Text:] "It is offensive to conduct an assault [whether the unit is strong (man'a) or otherwise; and some have defined a strong force as 10 men] without the permission of the authority ([Commentary]: or his subordinate, because the assault depends on the needs [of the battle and the like] and the authority is more aware about them. It is not prohibited [to go without his permission] {if} there is no grave endangering of one's life even when that is permissible in war.)" [Ibn Barakat, Fayd, 2:309]

If it is said:

"What is the meaning of the rule in fiqh that I always hear, that Jihad is a Fard Kifaya [communal obligation] and when the Dar al-Islam is invaded or occupied it is a Fard 'Ayn [personal obligation]? How do we apply this in the context of a modern Muslim state such as Egypt?"

We say: It is Fard Kifaya for the eligible Muslim subjects of the state (as for non-Muslim subjects, they evidently are not religiously obligated but can still serve) in the sense that recruitment to the military is only voluntary when the state is at war with a non-Muslim state. It becomes a Fard 'Ayn for any able-bodied Muslim when there is a conscription or a state-wide draft to the military if the state is invaded by a hostile non-Muslim force, but only until the hostile force is repelled or the Muslim authority calls for a ceasefire. As for those not in the military, they have the option to defend themselves if attacked even if they have to resort to throwing stones and using sticks [bi ayyi shay'in aTAqUhu wa-law bi-HijAratin aw 'aSA].

Furu'

When it is not possible to prepare for war [and rally the army for war (ijtima' li-harb), and a surprise attack by a hostile force completely defeats the army of the state and the entire state becomes occupied] and someone [at home, for example] is faced with the choice of whether to surrender or to fight [such as when the hostile force comes knocking at the door], then he may fight, or he may surrender, provided that he knows [with certainty] that if he resisted [arrest] he would be killed and that [his] wife would be safe from being raped [fahisha] if she were taken. If not [that is to say, even if he surrenders he knows he will be killed and his wife raped when taken], then [as a last resort] fighting [jihad] becomes personally obligatory for him. [al-Bakri, I'ana, 4:197].

Reflect upon this legal ruling of our Religion and the emphasis placed upon preserving human life and upon the wisdom of resorting to violence only when it is absolutely necessary and in its proper place, and witness the conjunction between the maqasid and the wasa'il and the meaning of the conditions when fighting actually becomes a Fard 'Ayn for an individual!

If it is said today:

"In the {Shafi`i} Madhhab, what are the different classifications of land in the world? For example, Dar al-Islam, Dar al-Kufr and so forth, and what have the classical ulema said their attributes are?"

We say: As it is also from empirical fact [tajriba], Muslim scholars have classified the territories in this world into: Dar al-Islam [its synonyms: Bilad al-Islam or Dawla al-Islam; a Muslim state or territory or land or country, etc.] and Dar al-Kufr [a Non-Muslim state or territory].

The definition of a Muslim state is: "Any place at which a resident Muslim is capable of defending himself against hostile forces [harbiyyun] for a period of time is a Muslim state where his judgements can be applied at that time and those times following it." [Ba'alawi, Bughya, 254]. A non-Muslim who resides in a Muslim state is in our terminology: kafir dhimmi or al-kafir bi-dhimmati l-muslim [a non-Muslim in the care of a Muslim state].

By definition, a country is a Muslim state as long as Muslims continue to live there and enjoy the political and executive authority. (Think about this, for the Muslim lands are many, varied, wide and extensive; and how poor and of limited insight are those who have tried to limit the definition of what a Muslim state must be, and whether realizing it or not thus tries to shrink the Muslim world!)  

As for a non-Muslim state, it is the absence of a Muslim state.

As for the Dar al-Harb [sometimes called, Ard al-'Adw], it is a non-Muslim state which is in a state of war with a Muslim state. Therefore, a hostile non-Muslim soldier from there is known in our books as: kafir harbi.

Furu'

Even if such a person enters or resides in a Muslim country that is in a state of war with his home country, provided of course he does so with the permission of the Muslim authority (such as entering with a valid visa and the like), the sanctity of a kafir harbi's life is protected by Law just like the rest of the Muslim and non-Muslim subjects of the state. [al-Kurdi, Fatwa, 211-2]. In this case, his legal status becomes a kafir harbi bi-dhimmati l-imam [a hostile non-Muslim under the protection of the Muslim authority], in which, for all intent and purposes, he becomes exactly like the non-Muslim subject of the state. In this way, the apparent difference between a dhimmi and a harbi non-Muslim becomes only an academic exercise and a distinction in name only.

The implications of this rule for the pious, godfearing and law-abiding Muslims are not only that to attack non-Muslims becomes something illegal and an act of disobedience [ma'siya], but also that the steps taken by the Muslim authority and enforcers, such as in Malaysia or Indonesia today, to protect their places, including churches or temples, from the threat of killings and bombings, is included under the bab of amr bi-ma'ruf wa nahi 'ani l-munkar [the duty to intervene when another is acting wrongly; in the modern context: enforcing the Law], even if the Muslim enforcers [muhtasib] die in the course of protecting non-Muslims.

If it is said:

"What land classification are we in the European Union, and what is the hukm of those who are here? Should they theoretically leave?"

We say: It is clear that the countries in the Union are non-Muslim states, except for Turkey or Bosnia, for example, if they are a part of the Union. The status of the Muslims who reside and are born in non-Muslim states is the reverse of the above non-Muslim status in a Muslim state: al-muslim bi-dhimmati l-kafir [a Muslim in the care of a non-Muslim state] and from our own Muslim and religious perspective, whether we like it or not, there are similarities to the status of a guest which should not be forgotten.

There is precedent for this status in our Law. The answer to your question is that they should as a practical matter remain in these countries, and if applicable, learn to cure the schizophrenic cultural condition in which they may find themselves – whether of torn identity in their souls or of dissociation from the general society. If they cannot do so, but find instead that their surroundings are incompatible with the life they feel they must lead, then it is recommended for them to leave and reside in a Muslim state. This status is made clear in the fatwa of Imam al-Kurdi (may Allah be pleased with him!):

"He (may Allah's (Exalted is He!) mercy be upon him) was asked:

"In a territory ruled by non-Muslims, they have left the Muslims [in peace] other than that they pay tax [mal] every year just like the jizya-tax in reverse, for when the Muslims pay them, their protection is ensured and the non-Muslims do not oppose them [i.e.,  do not interfere with them]. Thereupon, Islam becomes practiced openly and our Law is established [meaning that they have the freedom to practice their religious duty in the open and in effect become practicing Muslims in that non-Muslim society]. If they do not pay them, they could massacre them by killing or pillage. Is it permissible to pay them the tax [and thereby become residents there]? If you say it is permissible, what is the ruling about the non-Muslims mentioned above when they are at war [with a Muslim state]: would it or would it not be permissible to oppose them and if possible, take their money? Please give us your opinion!

"The answer: Insofar as it is possible for Muslims to practice their religion openly with what they can have power over, and they are not afraid of any threat [fitna] to their religion if they pay tax to the non-Muslims, it is permissible for them to reside there. It is also permissible to pay them the tax as a requirement of it; rather, it is obligatory [Wajib] to pay them the tax for fear of their causing harm to the Muslims. The ruling about the non-Muslims at war as mentioned above, because they protect the Muslims [in their territory], is that it would not be permissible for the Muslims to murder them or to steal from them."

[al-Kurdi, Fatawa, 208]

The Dabit for this mas'ala is:

wa-in qadara 'ala iZhAri d-dIni wa-lam yakhfi l-fitnata fi d-dIni wa-nafsihi wa-mAlihi lam tajib 'alayhi al-hijratu [if someone is able to practice his religion openly and is not afraid of trouble to his religion, life and property, then emigration is not obligatory for him].

Furu'

Our Shafi'i jurists have discussed details concerning the case of Muslims residing in a non-Muslim state, and they have divided the legal rulings about their emigration from it to a Muslim state into four sorts (assuming that an individual is capable and has the means to emigrate):

1. Prohibited to leave: when they are able to defend the territory from a hostile non-Muslim force and withdraw from it and they do not need to ask for help from a Muslim state, since their place is a Muslim state: if they emigrated it would become a non-Muslim state.

2. Offensive: when it is possible for them to practice their religion openly and they wish to do so openly.

3. Recommended: when that is possible but they do not wish to do so openly.

4. Obligatory: when in the only remaining option, that {to practice their religion openly} is not possible.

If it is said:

"Would you say that in the modern age with all the considerations surrounding sovereignty and inter-connectedness, these classical labels do not apply any longer, or do we have sufficient resources in the school to continue using these same labels?"

We say: As Imam al-Ghazali would say: "once the real meaning is understood, there is no need to quibble over names". Labels can never be relied upon; it is the meaning behind them that must be properly understood. Once they are unpacked, they immediately become relevant for all times; just as with the following loaded terms: Jihad, Mujahid and Shahid. The result for Muslims who fail to notice the relevance and fail to connect the dots of our own inherited medieval terms with the modern world may be that they will live in a schizophrenic cultural reality and will be unable to associate themselves with the surrounding society and will not be at peace [sukun] with the rest of creation.

Just as the sabab al-wujud of this article is a Muslim's misunderstanding of his own medieval terminology from a long and rich legacy, the fitna in the world today has been the result of those who misunderstand our Laws.

Pay heed to the words of Mawlana Rumi (may Allah sanctify his secrets!):

Go beyond names and look at the qualities,
so that they may show you the way to the essence.

The disagreement of people takes place because of names.
Peace occurs when they go to the real meaning.

Every war and every conflict between human beings
has happened because of some disagreement about names.

It's such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing
there's a long table of companionship, set and waiting for us to sit down.

End of the Masa'il section


It is truly sad that despite our sophisticated and elaborate set of rules of engagement and in spite of the strict codes of warfare and the chivalrous disciplines which our soldiers are expected to observe, all having been thoroughly worked out and codified by the orthodox jurists of the Umma from among the generations of the Salaf, there are today in our midst those who are not ashamed to depart from these sacred conventions in favour of opinions espoused by persons who are not even trained in the Sacred Law at all let alone enough to be a Qadi or a Faqih – the rightful heir and source from which they should receive practical guidance in the first place. Instead they rely on engineers or scientists and on those who are not among its ahl yet speak in the name of our Law. With these "reformist" preachers and da'i comes a departure from the traditional ideas about the rules of Siyar/Jihad/Qital, i.e., warfare. Do they not realise that by doing so and by following them they will be ignoring the limitations and restrictions cherished and protected by our pious forefathers and that they will be turning their backs on the Jama'a and Ijma' and that they will be engaging in an act for which there is no accepted legal precedent among the orthodoxy in our entire history? Have they forgotten that part of the original maqsad of warfare/jihad was to limit warfare itself and that warfare for Muslims is not total war, so that women, children and innocent bystanders are not to be killed and property not to be needlessly destroyed?

To put it plainly, there is simply no legal precedent in the history of Sunni Islam for the tactic of attacking civilians and overtly non-military targets. Yet the awful reality today is that a minority of Sunni Muslims, whether in Iraq or Beslan or elsewhere, have perpetuated such acts in the name of Jihad and on behalf of the Umma. Perhaps the first such mission to break this long and admirable precedent was the Hamas bombing on a public bus in Jerusalem in 1994 – not that long ago. (Ponder about this fact!) Immediately after the incident, the almost unanimous response of the orthodox Shafi'i jurists from the Far East and the Hadramawt was not only to make clear that the minimum legal position from our Sacred Law is untenable, but also to warn the Umma that by going down that path we would be compromising the optimum way of Ihsan and that we would thereby be running a real risk of losing the moral and religious high ground. Those who still defend this tactic, invoking blindly a nebulous usuli principle that it is justifiable out of darura while ignoring the far'i strictures, must look long and hard at what they are doing and ask the question: was it absolutely necessary, and if so, why was this not done before 1994, and especially during the earlier wars, most of all during the disasters of 1948 and 1967?

How could such a tactic be condoned by one of our rightly guided caliphs and a heroic fighter such as 'Ali (may Allah ennoble his face!), who when in the Battle of the Trench his notorious non-Muslim opponent, who was seconds away from being killed by him, spat on his noble face, immediately left him alone. When asked later his reasons for withdrawing when Allah clearly gave him power over him, answered: "I was fighting for the sake of God, and when he spat in my face I feared that if I killed him it would have been out of revenge and spite!" Far from being an act of cowardice, this characterizes Muslim chivalry: fighting, yet not out of anger.

In actual fact, the only precedent for this tactic from Muslim history is the cowardly terrorism carried out by the "Assassins" of the Nizari Isma'ilis. Their most famous victim was the suicide mission in assassinating the wise minister and the Defender of the Faith who could have been alive to deal with the Fitna of the Crusades: Nizam al-Mulk, the Jamal al-Shuhada' (may Allah encompass him with His mercy!) on Thursday, the 10th of the holy month of Ramadan 485/14 October 1092. Ironically, in the case of Palestine, the precedent was set not by Muslims but by early Zionist terrorist gangs such as the Irgun, who, for example, infamously bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on the 22nd of July 1946. So ask yourself as an upright and godfearing believer whose every organ will be interrogated: do you really want to follow the footsteps and the models of those Zionists and the heterodox Isma'ilis, instead of the path taken by our Beloved may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!, who for almost half of the {twenty-three} years of his mission endured Meccan persecution, humiliation and insults? Is anger your only strength? If so, remember the Prophetic advice that it is from the Devil. And is darura your only excuse for following them instead into their condemned lizard-holes? Do you think that any of our famous Mujahid from history, such as 'Ali, Salah al-Din, and Muhammad al-Fatih (may Allah be well pleased with them all!) will ever condone the article you quoted and these acts today in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo, Bali, Casablanca, Beslan, London and New York, some of them committed on days when it is traditionally forbidden by our Law to fight: Dhu l-Qa'da and al-Hijja, Muharram and Rajab? Every person of fitra will see that this is nothing other than a sunna of perversion. This is what happens to the Banu Adam when the wahm is abandoned by 'aql, when one of the maqasid justifies any wasila, when the realities of furu' are indiscriminately overruled by generalities of usul, and most tragically, as illustrated from the eternal blunder of Iblis, when Divine tawakkul is replaced by basic nafs.

Yes, we are one Umma such that when one part of the macro-body is attacked somewhere, another part inevitably feels the pain. Yet at the same time, our own history has shown that we have also been a wise and sensible, instead of a reactive and impulsive, Umma. That is the secret of our success, and that is where our strengths will always lie as has been promised by Divine Writ: in sabr and in tawakkul. It is already common knowledge that when Jerusalem fell to the Crusading forces on 15 July 1099 and was occupied by them, and despite its civilians having been raped, killed, tortured and plundered and the Umma at the time humiliated and insulted – acts far worse than what can be imagined in today's occupation – that it took more than 100 years of patience and legitimate struggle under the Eye of the Almighty before He allowed Salah al-Din to liberate Jerusalem. We should have been taught from childhood by our fathers and mothers about the need to prioritize and about how to reconcile the spheres of our global concerns with those of our local responsibilities – as we will definitely not escape the questioning in the grave about the latter – so that by this insight we may hope that our response will not be disproportionate nor inappropriate. This is the true meaning [haqiqa] of the true advice [nasiha] of our Beloved Prophet may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!: to leave what does not concern one [tark ma la ya'nih], where one's time and energy could be better spent in improving the lot of the Muslims today or benefiting others in this world.

Yes, we will naturally feel the pain when any of our brothers and sisters die unjustly anywhere when their deaths have been caused directly by non-Muslims, but it MUST be the more painful for us when they die in Iraq, for example, when they are caused directly by the self-destroying/martyrdom/suicide missions carried out by one of our own. On tafakkur, the second pain should make us realize and feel insaf that missions of this sort when the means and the legal particulars are all wrong – by scripture and reason – are not only a scourge for our non-Muslim neighbours but a plague and great fitna for this mercied Umma, so that out of maslaha and the general good, it must be stopped.

To this end, we could sum up a point of law tersely in the following maxim: two wrongs do not make the second right [lA yaj'alu Z-ZulmAni th-thAniya Haqqan]. If the first pain becomes one of the mitigating factors and ends up being used as a justification by our misguided young to retaliate in a manner which our Sacred Law definitely and without doubt outlaws (which makes your original article the more appalling, as its author will have passed the special age of 40), then the latter pain should by its graver significance generate a greater and more meaningful response. With this intention, we may hope that we shall regain our former high ground and reputation and rediscover our honour and chivalrous qualities and be no less brave.

I end with the first ever Verse revealed in the Qur'an which bestowed the military option only upon those in a position of authority:

wa-qAtilU fI sabIli LlAhi l-ladhIna yuqAtilUnakum
wa-lA ta'tadU inna LlAha lA yuHibbu l-mu'tadIna

[And fight for the sake of God those who fight you: but do not commit excesses,
for God does not love those who exceed (i.e., the Law)]
(al-Baqara, 2:190).

Even then, peace is preferred over war:

wa-in janaHU li-s-salmi fa-jnaH la-hA wa-tawakkal 'ala LlAhi
[Now if they incline toward peace, then incline to it,
and place your trust in God]
(al-Anfal, 8:61).

Even if you think that the authority in question has decided wrongly and you disagree with their decision not to war with the non-Muslim state upon which you wish war to be declared, then take heed of the following Divine command:

yA ayyhuhA l-ladhIna AmanU aTI'u l-LAha
wa-aTI'u r-rasUla wa-uli l-amri minkum

[O believers, obey Allah, and obey the messenger,
and those with authority among you!]
(al-Nisa', 4:58).

If you still insist that your authority should declare war with the non-Muslim state upon which you wish war to be declared, then the most you could do in this capacity is to lobby your authority for it. However, if your anger is so unrestrained that its fire brings out the worse in you to the point that your disagreement with your Muslim authority leads you to declare war on those you want your authority to declare war on, and you end up resorting to violence, then know with certainty that you have violated our own religious Laws. For then you will have taken the Shari'a into your own hands. If indeed you reach the point of committing a violent act, then know that by our own Law you would have been automatically classified as a rebel [ahl al-baghy] whom the authority has the right to punish: even if the authority is perceived to be or is indeed corrupt [fasiq]. (The definition of rebels is: "Muslims who have disagreed [not by heart or by tongue but by hand] with the authority even if it is unjust [ja'ir] and they are correct ['adilun]" [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 20:337].)

That is why, my brethren, when the military option is not a legal one for the individuals concerned, you must not lose hope in Allah; and let us be reminded of the words of our Beloved may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!:

afDalu l-jihAdi kalimatu Haqqin 'inda sulTAnin jA'irin

[The best Jihad is a true (i.e., brave) word in the face of a tyrannical ruler]. (From a Hadith of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri may Allah be well pleased with him!) among others, which is related by Ibn al-Ja'd, Ahmad, Ibn Humayd, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa'i, Abu Ya'la, Abu Bakr al-Ruyani, al-Tabarani, al-Hakim, and al-Bayhaqi, with variants.)

For it is possible still, and especially, today to fight injustice or zulm and taghut in this dunya through your tongue and your words and through the pen and the courts, which still amounts in the Prophetic idiom to Jihad, even if not through war. As in the reminder [tadhkira] of the great scholar, Imam al-Zarkashi: war is only a means to an end and as long as some other way is open to us, that should be the course trod upon by Muslims.

Masha-Allah, how true indeed are the Blessed words, so that the latter Mujahid or activist will be no less brave or lacking in any courage with his or her campaign for a just cause in an oppressive country or one needing reforms than the former Mujahid or patriot who fought bravely for his country in a just war.

fa-t-taqillaha wa-raji' mufatashata nafsika wa-islaha fasadiha wa-huwa hasbuna wa-ni'ma l-wakil wa-la hawla wa-la quwwata illa billahi l-'aliyyi l-'azim! wa-salawatuhu 'ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa-alihi wasallim waradiyallahu tabaraka wa-ta'ala 'an sadatina ashabi rasulillahi ajma'in wa-'anna ma'ahum wa-fihim wa-yaj'aluna min hizbihim bi-rahmatikaya arhama r-rahimin! Amin!

May this be of benefit.

With heartfelt wishes for salam & tayyiba from Oxford to Brunei,

M. Afifi al-Akiti 16 Jumada II 1426 23 VII 2005


GLOSSARY OF TERM

ahl = 1: people; 2: qualified adherents or practicioners
`aql = intellect, reason
`amal = deed
asl = see usul
bab = chapter
Banu Adam = human beings
dabit = see dawabit
darura = necessity
dawabit = pl. of dabit = standard or pricipal rule
Doctor Angelicus = Angel-like scholar or Scholar of the angels, a title given to Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Western Church.
da`i = summoner
dunya = this world
fa'ida = benefit
Faqih = see Fiqh
fard `ayn = personal categorical obligation
far`i = adj. from far`, see furu`
fiqh = Islamic jurisprudence, the expertise of the Faqih
fitna = strife, temptation, seduction, delusion, chaos, trial and tribulation
fitra = sane mind and soul, primordial disposition
Fuqaha' = pl. of Faqih (q.v.)
furu` = pl. of far`, 1: branches (of the Law), secondary legal texts; 2: corollaries
hadith = saying of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace
halal = lawful, permitted
haram = categorically prohibited, unlawful
hukm shar`i = legal status
Iblis = Satan
Ihsan = Excellence, the pinnacle of religious practice
Ijma` = Consensus
insaf = fairness
Jama`a = congregation (of the Muslims)
Jamal al-Shuhada' = Beauty of Martyrs, the title of the murdered vizier Nizam al-Mulk
Jihad = military or moral struggle by the Mujahid
khilaf = (juridical) disagreement
khilafiyya = fem. adjective from khilaf= having to do with (juridical) disagreement
madhhab = school of law
makruh = detestable, abhorrent, abominable, disliked, legally offensive
maqasid = pl. of maqsad, objective
maqsad = see maqasid
masa'il = pl. of mas'ala = question
mas'ala = see masa'il
maslaha = welfare
mubah = indifferently permissible
mufassir = exegete
mufti = one who formulates fatwas or formal legal responses
mujahid = one who does jihad (q.v.)
mukallaf = legally-responsible Muslim
musharaka = mutual or reciprocal matter
nafs = ego, self
nasiha = faithful, sincere advice
qadaya = pl. of qadiyya = issue
qadi = judge in an Islamic court of law
qatil nafsahu = self-killer, suicide
qawl = saying, position
qital = warfare, battle
sabab al-wujud = raison d'etre
sabr = patient endurance and fortitude
shahid, pl. suhada' = self-sacrificing believer who dies for the sake of God alone, "martyr"
shar`i = adj. legitimate in the eyes of the Shari`a (Islamic Law), lawful
siyar = military expeditions
sunna = way, path
tafakkur = reflexion
tafsil = detailed discussion
tahluka = self-destruction
thaghrir bi l-nafs = risking one's life
tawakkul = God-reliance
thawabit = pl. of thabit = axiom
Umma = Community (of the Prophet Muhammad )
usul = pl. of asl = foundational principle. Adj. usuli
wahm = imaginative faculty
wasa'il = pl. of wasila, means
wasila = see wasa'il


Select Bibliography:

  • Ba'alawi, Abd al-Rahman. Bughyat al-Mustarshidin fi Talkhis Fatawa ba'd al-Muta'akhkhirin. Bulaq, 1309 H.
  • al-Bakri. Hashiyat I'anat al-Talibin. 4 vols. Bulaq, 1300 H.
  • al-Ghazali. Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din. Edited by Badawi Ahmad Tabanah. 4 vols.
  • Cairo: Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya, 1957.
  • Ibn 'Arabi, Qadi. Ahkam al-Qur'an. Edited by 'Ali Muhammad al-Bajawi. 4 vols. Cairo: Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya, 1957-8.
  • Ibn Barakat. Fayd al-Ilah al-Malik fi Hall Alfaz 'Umdat al-Salik wa-'Uddat al-Nasik. Edited by Mustafa Muhammad 'Imara. 2 vols. Singapore: al-Haramayn, 1371 H.
  • Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. Tuhfa al-Muhtaj bi-Sharh al-Minhaj al-Nawawi in Hawashi al-Shirwani wa-Ibn Qasim 'ala Tuhfa al-Muhtaj. Edited by Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khalidi. 13 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1996.
  • al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur'an. 3 vols. Istanbul: Dar al-Khilafa al-'Aliya, 1335-1338.
  • al-Kurdi. Fatawa al-Kurdi al-Madani. In Qurrat al-'Ayn bi-Fatawa 'Ulama' al-Haramayn. Edited by Muhammad 'Ali b. Hussayn al-Maliki. Bogor: Maktaba 'Arafat, n.d.
  • al-Nawawi. al-Majmu' Sharh al-Muhadhdhab. Edited by Mahmud Matraji. 22 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996.

al-Nawawi al-Jawi. Marah Labid Tafsir al-Nawawi: al-Tafsir al-Munir li-Ma'alim al-Tanzil al-Mufassir 'an Wujuh Mahasin al-Ta'wil al-Musamma Marah Labid li-Kashf Ma'na Qur'an Majid. 2 vols. Bulaq, 1305 H.

Al-Khilafa And Imam al-Ghazali

Al-Khilafa And Imam al-Ghazali

As-Salamu `alaykum:

Question/Comment:
Your vain wish for Muslim Unity will never happen until Sayiddina Mahdi, Peace be upon Him, appears on Earth. Until then, stupidity will rule the day. THAT is what you should be praying for to happen soon.

 

Question/Comment:
Please quote any Muslim scholars who said that we should just sit and wait for the Mahdi and that Jihad and the re-establishment Khilafa are suspended until then!

We should never sit and wait. He mentioned "pray" and this is the nass of the Qur'an and indeed what the Folk of the Prophetic Household did in time of difficulty, and what the Prophet himself did during the persecution of the Muslims in Makka {wasta`înû bis-Sabri was-Salâh} "Avail yourself of help through steadfastness and prayer" {in tasbirû wa tattaqû yumdidkumullâh} "if only you remain steadfast and protect yourselves [against disobedience], Allah will send you aid".

 

This is first.Nor is the obligation of Jihad suspended anymore than that of the Pilgrimage. However, if a pre-condition of either no longer exists, such as - respectively - the Dawla [Islamic "state"] or road safety, then yes, it does become suspended until the pre-condition exists again.

As for the re-establishment of Khilafa it is not feasible in the present conditions because it requires factors which are beyond the Umma to muster in its present state. Our haphazard, undisciplined, and mutually aggressive behavior on this Forum confirms it.

 

We are so alienated from the sources that we cannot even recognize that Khilafa comes from the top down of the Umma, not from the grassroots. It is not a populist movement as the Khilafa movements clamor, but they will never admit it because it saps their ideological underpinnings and stuns their worldly designs.

Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazzali - mark him as one who had more Jihad and Khilafa in his little toe than the entire so-called Khilafa movement and its founders - said towards the end of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal ("Deliverance from Error"):

 

"When I saw that the faith of all the different kinds of people had reached such a low state of weakness because of these causes, and saw my soul entirely mobilised to discover the root causes of this defect, it became easier for me to expose all of them than to drink a sip of water due to my deep familiarity with their sciences and their paths - I mean the paths of the Sufis, the philosophers, the academics (al-ta`lîmiyya), and those who wear the outward signs of the Ulema.

 

I became convinced that this [weakness] was precisely the inevitable state of our times. What then could seclusion and isolation (al-khalwa wal-`uzla) avail you when the cancer has become so widespread that the physicians themselves are sick and humanity on the brink of destruction?

 

Then I said to myself:
When will you put yourself to work to try and remove this disaster and face down this huge darkness? But these are feeble times, a time for the rule of falsehood. If you tried to call people back from their false ways to truth, all of them will oppose you. How on earth are you going to fight them, and how on earth are you going to live with them at the same time? This can NEVER COME ABOUT EXCEPT WITH A PROPITIOUS TIME AND A PIOUS AND POWERFUL SULTÂN."

 

Then he remained in khalwa until he saw signs of such a Sultan, at which time he came out and went to advise him.

 

Go - if you have courage and determination, and after you've cleansed your ego of the attributes of devils and worldly lures - find a strong, pious leader who will unite the word of the Muslims and re-establish Khilafa and the Jihad from the top down. And if you do not find one, then join a Jama`a of Muslims that are on Haqq, and do not attempt to say they don't exist - they certainly exist until Qiyâma and the mutawâtir evidence rejects your denial. And if you still cannot find them - Allah guides whom He will - then bite upon the trunks of trees and chew on that until the Command of Allah comes. In any case, observe the Prophetic prescriptions that apply to our time without double-guessing them. Do not delude us and yourselves with bloody revolutionary dreams straight from the Western experience and painted over with an thin veneer of verses and hadiths.

Was-Salamu `ala man ittaba`a al-Huda.

Hajj Gibril

GF Haddad ©


Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazzali - mark him as one who had more Jihad and Khilafa in his little toe than the entire so-called Khilafa movement and its founders - said towards the end of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal ("Deliverance from Error"):

Comments by NN: Imam Ghazali, who was no doubt one of the biggest Muslim scholars and Sufi Awliya' in the entire Islamic history and one of the top thinkers in the entire recorded human history, was severely criticized by other contemporary and later scholars due to his failure to talk about Jihad in his Ihya', especially that he was living during the times of the Crusades. Please don't lose sight of the fact that no scholar is infallible. One has to look at the whole picture; Islam comes from the totality of the scholars, not from any single scholar no matter how big he may be. Not everything imam Nawawi said is representative of the Shafi`i madhhab.


This can NEVER COME ABOUT EXCEPT WITH A PROPITIOUS TIME AND A PIOUS AND POWERFUL SULTâN." Then he remained in khalwa until he saw signs of such a Sultan, at which time he came out and went to advise him.

 

Whatever Imam Ghazali has meant here, it certainly does not refer to what you put in his mouth. The Abbasid Khalifa that existed when Imam Ghazali went into seclusion was the same Khalifa that existed when Imam Ghazali came out of the seclusion! -- namely al-Mustazhir-billah (487-512 A.H.)


Go ... find a strong, pious leader who will unite the word of the Muslims and re-establish Khilafa and the Jihad from the top down.

 

57 of them are at the summit in Qatar now. Please name me one who fits the description of a Muslim, let alone a Khalifa! All of them are puppets who were intentionally left over by the old Colonialism to protect its interests.


And if you do not find one, then join a Jama`a of Muslims that are on Haqq,

 

Okay, great! What would the function of this jama`a be if it wouldn't be to make Islamic da`wa in order to prepare the masses for the re-establishment of Khilafa?

(By the way, what is it exactly that you object to in what you termed "the Khilafa Movement"? I'm not a member of any group with such a name, but I certainly believe in the re-establishment of Khilafa!)

 

Muslim loyalty and belonging

Our silence in the face of evil differs from that of secular people. For traditional theists, the sense of loss which evil conveys, of the fearful presence of a void, comes with a personal face: that of the devil. But the devil, being, in the Qur’an’s language, weak at plotting, carries in himself the seeds of his own downfall. The very fact that we can name him is consoling, since understanding is itself a consolation. The cruellest aspect of secularity is that its refusal to name the devil elevates him to something more than a mere personalised absence. The solace of religion, no less consoling for being painful, is that it insists that when we find no words to communicate our sense that evil has come and triumphed, our silence is one of bewilderment, not despair; of hope, not of finality.

The world is at present in the grip of fear. We fear an unknown absence that hides behind the mundanity of our experience; perhaps ubiquitous and confident, perhaps broken and at an end. Symbols of human communication such as the internet and the airlines have suddenly acquired a double meaning as the scene for a radical failure of communication. Above all, the fear is that of the unprecedented, as the world enters an age drastically unlike its predecessors, an age in which the religions are fragmenting into countless islands of opinion at a time when their members - and the world - are most insistently in need of their serene and consistent guidance.

At a time such as the present, a furqan, a discernment, between true and false religion breaks surface. Despite the endless, often superbly fruitful, differences between the great world religions, the pressure of secularity has threatened each religion with a comparable confiscation of timeless certainties, and their replacement by the single certainty of change. Many now feel that they are not living in a culture, but in a kind of process, as abiding canons of beauty are replaced with styles and idioms the only expectation we can have of which is that they will briefly gratify our own sense of stylishness, then to be replaced by something no less brilliantly shallow. Postmodernity, anticipated here by Warhol, is occasionalistic, a series of ruptured images, hostile to nothing but the claim that we have inherited the past and that language is truly meaningful.

In such conditions, the timeless certainties of religious faith must work hard to preserve not only their consistent sense of self, but the very vocabularies with which they express their claims. The American philosopher Richard Rorty offers this account of the secularisation process:

Europe did not decide to accept the idiom of Romantic poetry, or of socialist politics, or of Galilean mechanics. That sort of shift was no more an act of will than it was a result of argument. Rather, Europe gradually lost the habit of using certain words and gradually acquired the habit of using certain others. [1]

What has happened over the past century, in a steadily accelerating fashion, is that the series of mutations in values, often grounded in popular perceptions of scientific paradigm shifts, has placed the traditional vocabularies of religion under unprecedented stress. Against this background, we can see three large possibilities amidst the diversity of the world faiths. Firstly, the ‘time-capsule’ option, often embedded in local ethnic particularities, which seeks to preserve the lexicon of faith from any redefinition which might subvert the tradition’s essence. The risk of anachronism or irrelevance is seen as worth running in order to preserve ancient verities for later generations that might, in some hoped-for time of penitence, return to them. Secondly, there are movements, usually called ‘liberal’, which adopt the secular world’s reductionist vocabulary for the understanding of religion, whether this be psychological, philosophical, or sociological, and try to show how faith, or part of it, might be recoverable even if we use these terms. In the Christian context this is an established move, and has become secure enough to be popularised by such writers as John Robinson and Don Cupitt. In Islam, the marginality of Muhammad Shahrur and Farid Esack shows that for the present a thoroughgoing theological liberalism remains a friendless elite option, despite the de facto popularity of attenuated and sentimental forms of Muslimness.

The third possibility is to redefine the language of religion to allow it to support identity politics. Religion has, of course, always had the marking of collective and individual identity as one of its functions. However, in reaction against the threat of late modernity and postmodernity to identity, and in tacit acknowledgement of the associated problematizing of metaphysics and morality, this dimension has in all the world religions been allowed to expand beyond its natural scope and limits. Increasingly, religionists seem to define themselves sociologically, rather than theologically. The Durkheimian maxim that ‘the idea of society is the soul of religion’ [2] is not so far from the preoccupations of activists who are more eager to establish institutes for Islamic social sciences than to build seminaries.

The result has often been a magnification of traditional polarities between the self and the other, enabled by the steady draining-away of religiously-inspired assumptions concerning the universality of notions of honour and decency. Examples are many and diverse. Who could have thought that Buddhism, apparently the most pacific of religions, could have provided space for a movement such as Aum Shinrikyo, thousands of whose acolytes have been interrogated in connection with terrorist outrages against innocent civilians? Central to the cult’s appeal, it seems, has been a redefinition of Buddhism as a movement for the preservation of East Asian identity. [3]

In India, a vegetarian creed such as Hinduism, in Gandhi’s province of Gujarat, has now generated religious identity movements which, to the horror of more traditional practitioners, appear to recommend the expulsion, forced conversion, or massacre, of non-Hindu minorities. The process of the ‘saffronising’ of India , descending on the Ayodhya flashpoint, is seemingly well-advanced, and the prospects for regional peace and conviviality have seldom seemed less hopeful. [4]

In the universe of Islam, the same transposition of the vocabulary of faith into the vocabulary of identity is well underway. What would Averroes have made of the common modern practice of defining the Hajj as the ‘annual conference of the Muslims’? Why do social scientists increasingly interpret the phenomenon of veiling in terms of the affirmation of identity? Why does congregational prayer sometimes suggest a political gesture to what is behind the worshippers, rather than to what lies beyond the qibla wall?

The instrumentality of religion has changed, in important segments of the world faiths. God is not denied by the sloganeers of identity; rather He is enlisted as a party member. No such revivalist can entertain the suggestion that the new liberation being recommended is a group liberation in the world that marginalises the more fundamental project of an individual liberation from the world; but his vocabulary nonetheless steadily betrays him. In the Qur’an, the word iman (usually translated as ‘faith’) appears twenty times as frequently as the word islam. In the sermons of the identity merchants, the ratio usually seems to be reversed.

Neither does the instrumentality of identity advocate a return to the indigenous and the particular. Were it to do so, it would necessarily require a respectful engagement with the art, spirituality, and intellectuality of the religion’s cultural provinces. And it is a shared feature of all identity politicking in world religions today that whereas religious revivals in the great ages of faith invariably generated artistic and literary florescence, the revivalists seem to produce only impoverishment. Beauty must wait; because da‘wa, the Mission, is more urgent; an odd logic to premodern believers, who assumed that every summons to the Real must be beautiful, and that nothing transforms a society or an individual soul more deeply than a great work of art, a building, a poem, or the serenity of a saint.

Perhaps we could even invoke this as the nearest approximation we will find to an objective yardstick against which to judge the spiritual authenticity (asala ruhiyya) of religious revivals. Truth, as Plato taught, ineluctably produces beauty. The illuminated soul shines, and cannot confine the light within its own self. Whatever is done, or made, or said, or written, by such a soul, is great art, and this is part of our caliphal participation and responsibility in creation. As Abd al-Rahman Jami puts it:

Every beauty and perfection manifested in the theatre of the diverse grades of beings is a ray of His perfect beauty reflected therein. It is from these rays that exalted souls have received their impress of beauty and their quality of perfection. [5]

If we apply this measure, how much authenticity may we really attribute to the soi-disant Islamic revivalism of today? ‘Say: who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen?’ (7:32) Who indeed?

The modern Muslim instrumentality of identity, then, does not seem to be about the affirmation of a culturally embedded self. The young radical activist does not really want to be a Pakistani, or an Algerian, or an American. Such a person requires what one might call a negative identity. He or she desperately desires not to be someone. The medievals knew God by listing all the things that God could not be; this is the strategy known as negative theology, richly deployed in both Muslim and Christian metaphysics. The moderns, it seems, being more interested in religion than in God, define religion by listing all the things that it cannot be. Hence Islam, we are loudly told, is a list of prohibitions. Everywhere we turn there is something we must not believe, and certainly must not do. The list of ideas entailing shirk or bid‘a grows ever-longer; and no-one any longer takes pleasure and joy even in the diminishing list of things which are still allowed.

Islam, then, is about not being and doing things. What is left is one’s identity. Because the list of prohibitions is so desperately extended, and embraces most if not all the beloved practices of the village or the urban district, one is no longer allowably Sylheti, or Sarajevin. This is a questing for identity that denies real, embedded identity. As such, it often betrays its twentieth-century tributaries:

The type and forms of cultural valuations employed by the new fundamentalist movements cannot be explained by an analysis of the tradition of Islamic religion and history; it has to be seen as an effect of inter-cultural exchange, which is fundamentally based on a Western understanding of Islam as the culture of the Other. [6]

Long ago, the ever-insightful Hourani was no less frank in noticing the Western etiology of ‘movement Islam’:

Much has been written in recent years about modern movements in Islam, and the origins and direction of some of them are by now well-known: a new emphasis on virtuous activity, justified in terms of certain traditional sayings, but derived in fact from the European ‘scientific’ thought of the 19th century, and tending sometimes towards a revolutionary nihilism. [7]

 Other, more psychological tributaries might also be cited. The shift to a culturally disembedded radicalism is often malignantly driven by a desire to wreak revenge on one’s traditionalist parents or one’s community for frustrations suffered at their hands. Again, it appears as a Western social phenomenon, rather than as traditional tawba. Often, too, it is perversely responsive to a global discourse that may despise those countries or their diaspora ethnicities. It is, in short, a way of legitimising self-hatred; a religio-legal justification of an inferiority complex.

What, then, remains? Once the son of Pakistani migrants has stripped himself of his shalvar, his pir, his qawwalis, his gulab jamon, his entire sense of living as the product of a great civilisation that produced the Taj Mahal and the ghazals of Ghalib, what does he have left? Again, the negative theology option will define his identity as what-is-left-over; a religion of the gaps, a kind of void. That void he understands as the Sunna. The Sunna, that is, as figured negatively, as a list of denials, of wrenchings from disturbing memories, as a justification for the abandonment of techniques of spirituality that obstruct rather than reassure the ego.

Is this, then, a failure of religion? Is the young zealot so overwhelmed by his alienation, his humiliation, and sense of rootlessness, that the Sunna which is what-is-left-over cannot restore his spirit? Surely the scriptures insist that a turn to the Sunna must heal him, and help him to come to terms with his history and the trials of his life?

Actions, however, are by intentions. According to tradition, people tend to have the rulers they deserve, and the forces that rule the human soul are also in every case the appropriate ones for that person. The Sunna is a model of sacred humanity. That is to say, humanity bathed in sakina, the peaceable ‘habitation’ of God’s presence.  ‘He is the one who sent down the sakina upon the believers’ hearts, that they might grow in faith.’ (48:4) This is in Sura al-Fath, which unveils to the believing community the nature of the test that they have just passed through, and which endured for several long years. The triumph at Mecca came about not through anger, anxiety, fear, and rage at the difficult, sometimes desperate situation of the Muslims, a small island of monotheists in a pagan sea. It came about through their serenity, their sakina, which, Ibn Juzayy tells us, means stillness (sukun), contentment (tuma’nina), and also mercy (rahma). [8] These are the gifts of reliance on Allah’s promise amidst apparent misfortune. The alternative is to be of those who are described as az-zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’: ‘Those who think ill thoughts of Allah’, which, the commentators explain, means the suspicion that He will let the believers down.

The monotheistic God, of course, does not let the believers down. ‘Weaken not; nor grieve. You are the uppermost, if you have iman’ (3:139): the verse revealed in the aftermath of the shock of Uhud.

So the young zealot, driven half out of his mind by his sense of alienation and despair, reads the Sunna with the wrong dictionary. His view of the history of his community is one of khidhlan - that God has effectively abandoned it. Only a tiny, almost infinitesimal fraction of the scholars of historic Islam were even believers. The Ottomans, the Moguls, the Uzbek khanates, the Seljuks, the Malay states, the Hausa princedoms; all of these were lands of pure shirk and innovation; deserts with no oases of faith. And this conviction has to make him one of az-zannina bi’Llah zanna’s-saw - those who think ill thoughts of Allah. Their contention is that Islamic civilisation has been an atrocious, monumental, desperate failure; and the consequences of this conviction, for their religious faith, and for their ability to feel sakina, are no less disastrous. A God that has allowed the final religion to go astray so calamitously cannot, ultimately, be trusted. His policy seems usually to have been one of khidhlan, of the betrayal of the believers. Religion itself becomes, in Durkheim’s language, entirely ‘piacular’, it is an attempt at cathartic, ritualised breast-beating, a rite of atonement and mourning, that seeks to channel one’s fear of the uncontrollable and apparently blind forces which punish and threaten one’s tribe. A cathartic component of religion has here become co-extensive with faith itself.

What it feels like to worship such a God is hard to imagine. But today, in Islam, as at the fringes of other religions, there are indeed people who worship him. No peace can come of such worship, only a growing sense of being trapped inside a logic that leads only to fear and despair, unrelieved by anything more than the faintest glimmer of hope. Perhaps, the activist feels, worshipping his God, if we are pure enough, and angry enough, God will relent towards us; and we can anticipate the Second Coming by defying time itself, and creating a utopia for the pure somewhere on this earth. The piacular thus accumulates into an apocalypse.

Long ago, Toynbee saw that such projects invariably end in misery. In the end, even Herod serves the oppressed community better than does Bar Kochva. Toynbee wrote of

‘Zealotism’: a psychological state - as unmistakeably pathological as it is unmistakeably exaggerated - which is one of the two possible alternative reactions of the passive party in a collision between two civilizations. [9]

The zealot, Toynbee’s ‘barbarian saviour-archaist’, cannot imagine that faith might require the wisdom to recognise the capacities of individual human beings in different ages. Invoking a ferocious definition of amr bi’l-ma‘ruf, ‘Commanding the Good’, at a time when most people are weak and struggle even to honour the basic demands of religion, betrays an abject and disastrous lack of common sense. [10] ‘Forcing religion down people’s throats’ will induce many of them to vomit it up again; such is the resilience or perversity of human nature. States which impose severe moral codes in public will find that they cannot deal with the proliferation of private vice, which almost masquerades as virtue in a political context where religion has identified itself with a piacular rite of repression. States which behave in such a way as to be excluded from global trade will languish in poverty, further fostering disenchantment and exporting streams of refugees.

The sunna, brandished as a weapon of revenge against the sources of one’s humiliation, will not allow itself to be used in this way. The sunna, as pure form, as a structure of life, cannot be itself if the inward reality of sakina is absent. The Law is merciful when interpreted and applied by those who believe that God’s practice towards His people has been merciful. In the hands of the zealot, it may become the most persuasive of all arguments against religion.

Actions, then, are by intentions, and the interpretation of scripture is the proof of this. Scripture is a holy place; and we need to calm ourselves before entering it. If we march in, hearts blazing with fury, viewing the world with suspiciousness about the divine intention, then we violate that holy place. In earlier times, only the pure of heart, and those with decades of humbling scholarship behind them, were allowed to cross the threshhold into that space. Now the doors have been kicked open, and a crowd of furious, hungry, desperate men, stands quarrelling around the text.

*          *          *

I would like to move on now. Much of what I have said has been dismal; but religion is surely about facing reality. Too many of us today live amid delusions, no doubt because we find the reality of our times too disturbing to contemplate. Conspiracy theories, paranoia, fantasies about the past or the future; these abound in religious conferences; not just among Muslims, but among religionists everywhere. Religion, however, invites us to ‘get real’ - to use a very Muslim Americanism. Because we believe in God and an afterlife, and in the ultimate restitution for injustice, we should have souls great enough to look reality in the face without flinching.

My experience of the world of faith which we all inherit is, despite all that I have said about the sickness of identity mania, a positive one. I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture that there are three religious paths commonly taken today: the time-capsule, the liberal, and that of identity politics dressed up as scripturalism. The liberal option, despite the shallow purchase of its theology, is in practice widely followed among Muslims: these are the millions of individuals who may cherish the memory of a pious aunt, or perhaps a moment of religious insight earlier in their lives, or some vague sense of belonging to an inherited religious culture, but who seldom attend the mosque.

For most religiously-active Muslims, the conservative option, with a variety of variations, is the most commonly pursued. Almost all senior ulema in Sunni countries adhere to some form of conservatism, entailing adherence to one of the four Sunni madhhabs and to either the Ash‘ari or the Maturidi theology. Often, too, they will be actively involved in Sufism. This is a reality of which the West is largely unaware, given that it constructs its images of Muslim action from media images which inevitably focus on the frantic and the dangerous. [11]

What is needed, then, is for mainstream Islam to reassert its possession of tafsir. It remains in a strong position to do this. The zealots are everywhere a very small percentage of the total of believers. The masses are either too traditional or too religiously weak to want to follow them. Never will extremism triumph for long, simply because normal people do not want it. Already we find a growing sense around the Muslim world that zealotry damages only Islam, and serves its rivals. ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger’, as Nietszche observes.

A further reason why extremism has an uncertain future is that human beings are naturally religious. Secularisation theories are now everywhere in confusion; and religion prospers mightily in most countries of the world. Belief in the transcendent is, it seems, hard-wired into our species, and what most human beings crave is not a megaphone for their frustrations, but a voice for justice which also serves as a source of peace and serenity in a stressful world. Any religion that fails to supply this will soon be replaced by something else. There has never been an exception to this in human history. Christianity succeeded because pagan Roman religion failed to provide a sense of spiritual upliftment. Islam succeeded because the Eastern churches were spiritually debilitated by centuries of bitter polemic. New religious movements in the West succeed by offering techniques of meditation and alternative therapies which seem absent from established religions as they are presently formulated. Islam, wherever it degenerates into a primal scream of panic about one’s situation in the world, will certainly be replaced by any other religion that offers sakina.

The mainstream, then, must reclaim the initiative, and expel the zealots from the sacred place. It should not find it difficult to do this. It has, after all, a great civilisation behind it, which extremism cannot claim. It has, too, a rich tradition of spirituality, still vibrant in many countries, which, where made available to Westerners, can seem hard to resist. This was recently made plain to me by the director of the Swedish Islamic Academy. He told me that consistently, during his quarter-century as a Muslim in Stockholm, whenever he mentions that he is a Sufi, people lean forward to learn more. When he mentions Islam, they lean back, alarmed. Is this merely the expression of prejudice? Perhaps. But Muslims should also consider the possibility that educated Western people may be sincerely, rather than cynically, horrified by expressions of Islamic identity politics; and may be sincerely, rather than superficially, impressed by the literature and practice of traditional spiritual Islam. No-one who wishes to practice da‘wa in the West, or among Westernised Muslims, can afford to bypass that reality.

Once the sakina has been found again, once religion becomes a matter of the love of God rather than the hatred of our political and social situation, we can begin to extract our communities from the hole which we have dug for ourselves. Let us take, as a topical example, the question of suicide bombing. Historians might well wonder how this form of warfare could take root in any of the Abrahamic religions. One thinks of the kamikaze pilots of Shinto Japan, whose religious rituals, coupled with a final message read before a camera, provoked such horror and alienation in 1940s America . One thinks, too, of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war. The religious motivation behind many Tamil terrorists, rooted in a Buddhist South Asian culture, also springs to mind. Such a mentality is possible only for those who do not fully believe in a personal God, and hence have no notion of the human body as made, in some sense in God’s image. For Sunni Islam, however, in which even tattooing is a forbidden practice, such an activity is historically without precedent. Coupled with the policy of targeting the enemy’s civilians virtually at random, it is clearly the symptom of a deep-rooted sickness. It recalls the collectivist ethos (‘asabiyya) of the pre-Islamic Arabs, whose code of revenge (tha’r) authorised the taking of any life from a rival tribe to compensate for the loss of one of one’s own, a system decisively abrogated by the Qur’an’s ‘no soul shall bear the burden of another’ (6:164). [12] It is also, we may speculate, connected with the phenomenon of radical religion as a form of self-hatred of which I spoke earlier. The piacular believer is so alienated from his self that he can contemplate its physical destruction, thus replicating, in Toynbee’s words, ‘the melodramatic suicide of the Zealots who faced hopeless military odds’. [13]

This desperation is unworthy of the umma of Islam. Entirely traditional scholars speak out against it in the strongest terms, as a bid‘a in the most necessary sense of the term. But we need also to re-engage with the principle of rahma, of mercy, which flows from sakina. Why exactly do the hadith suggest that Muslims must not ‘destroy anyone with fire’? [14] Why are believers commanded so strongly to avoid taking the lives of civilians? One reason is because if we do this, we damage the lives of others whom we will probably never even meet. ‘Whosoever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it will be as if he had killed all mankind.’ (5:32) Many suffer when one is killed. Orphans, widows, relations, friends, neighbours; all these are the victims of the single crime. Crime is never against an individual; it never has a single victim. War in the valid shari‘a sense targets only combatants, whose relatives recognise that such was their status. The targeting of civilians, however, is part of the barbarism of modern Western, Clausewitzian conflict, inflicting a deeper sense of loss and alienation; and it is entirely foreign to our heritage.

During the Second World War, my grandfather worked as a firefighter in the London Blitz. After the war, his behaviour grew erratic, and his marriage ended painfully, inflicting shock-waves on children and a wider world of relatives. Years afterwards the reason for it became clear. One night, after an air-raid, he had pulled from the rubble of a building the body of a small girl who looked exactly like his own daughter. The trauma of that moment never left him until he died, fifty years later. That trauma lives on, subtly, in the lives of all his descendants.

Those who take the lives of women and children, indiscriminately, and simply because they live on the other side of a frontier, should remember that they are inflicting wounds on other lives as well that can never properly be healed.

What is required, then, is an act of repentance, tawba. Our communities need to turn away from the utilitarian ethic that justifies even the worst and most inhuman barbarities as expedient means, and turn back to the authentic religious teaching that it is better to pray patiently than to descend into a tit-for-tat moral relativism that recalls the worst practices of the Jahiliyya. Religious patience, moreover, never runs out, because it knows that it will one day be crowned with glory. ‘True patience’, the Muslim proverb runs, ‘is never exhausted.’ And in the Qur’an: ‘the patient shall be given their full reward without reckoning.’ (39:10) The phrasing is superb. Yuwaffa suggests that they will be given a full, fair, proportionate reckoning; and then the phrase bi-ghayri hisab - it is to be without any reckoning at all. Patience, one of the supreme Qur’anic virtues, which led to the success of the peaceful entry into Mecca, is rewarded also in the next life, infinitely.

Here, then, is another possible yardstick against which to measure the authenticity of our Islam. Impatience is impiety, it is the way of the zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’. And those who cannot restrain themselves will be smacked down. Worse, they will bring misfortunes upon their communities. ‘Beware of a tribulation which will certainly not afflict only the wrongdoers amongst you,’ the Qur’an warns us. (8:25) To act impatiently on grounds of ‘asabiyya, and to defy fundamental religious teachings about the sanctity of life, and to harbour ill thoughts about God’s providence - all these sins must lead, in the traditional Muslim understanding, to divine punishment. Those who regard them as a shortcut to a world in which their self-image will be healed are likely to be disappointed.

That disappointment is now palpable in the world of Islamic identity-politics. It is time that the great majority stopped being a silent majority, and raised its voice courageously. The sunna must be reclaimed as a via positiva. This is not, I believe, a heroic option; it is a fundamental religious duty. To uphold the honour of Islam, as a great world religion, and to defy the voices that would turn it into little more than a resentful sect, is a fard ‘ayn - an individual obligation.

We need institutions and faces that can believably do this. A few of our mosques and Islamic centres are in the grip of a small minority of worshippers who care nothing for peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens, and whose hearts and minds are overseas. Most Muslims here, however, wish to be accepted as full and respected partners in the project of building a just and prosperous society, and do not wish their places of worship to be directed by the representatives of other governments or zealot political movements. Neither are they at ease with the reinvention of religion as a ritual of distress. This majority must now speak out. Sullenness, jealousy, lack of tawakkul, lack of optimism, all these are vices which must be transcended. And that transcending can only take place where religion is once again centred on the love and fear of God, not on attempts to heal a wounded pride.

I am very optimistic that this will take place. As I have already indicated, the extremists remain numerically and intellectually on the extremes. Islam is, despite the headlines, a success story. Most Muslims prefer the spiritual to the frantic; patience to the primal scream. We must now make it clear to our institutions of learning, and to those who would help us from abroad, that the principle of shura demands that the extremes be excluded, and that the voice of majoritarian Islam be allowed its natural place.

*          *          *

This optimism must, however, be tempered with an awareness of the immediate tactical situation. Despite the alarmism of a few intransigent voices such as Daniel Pipes and Lamin Sanneh, [15] few if any of us respect the Middle Eastern mass-murderers who are currently inviting the world to regard Islam as the great political and moral failure of the new century. Nonetheless, we breathe the air that they have poisoned. And the poison exists here, as elsewhere, because of the aggression of a small minority of zealots.

Again, it is time to speak out in favour of normalcy. The message is a positive one: Islam is not intrinsically committed to violent reaction against the global consensus. Most scholars do not teach that globalisation obliges us to make hijra to a neighbouring planet. Of course we have our own distinctive assurances on moral matters, and a deep scepticism about the ability of a consumer society to increase human fulfilment and to protect the integrity of creation. But Muslims are not committed to jumping ship. In British India, a political context far less egalitarian than the one we inhabit here, there were few who chose the option of hijra to Afghanistan . The ulema overwhelmingly stayed in place, and were not prominent during the Mutiny. ‘Some scholars,’ as a historian of the period notes, ‘held that a country remained daru’l-Islam as long as a single provision of the Law was kept in force. [16] Once the bitterness of the Mutiny had subsided, the Muslims were a peaceful presence who contributed much to the deeply flawed but stable global enterprise that was the British Empire. Those Pathans who fought and died at Monte Cassino, the Hausas of the Nigeria Regiment who fought with the Chindits in Burma; the Bengali Lascars who died in the Battle of the Atlantic, were not conscripts, they were volunteers. Fighting against a common totalitarian enemy they were engaged, in the broad understanding of the term, in a jihad. One cannot deplore too strongly the attempt by a few Muslims, such as Ataullah Kopanski, to present Nazism as a potential ally for Islam. [17] Clearly, had National Socialism triumphed, its scientists would have aimed at the elimination or reduction to servile status of all the non-white races of the world, not excepting the followers of Islam. To fight for the Allies was unquestionably a jihad.

More recently, the struggle against communism effectively united Muslims and Christendom, a long alliance which both sides seem to have forgotten with astonishing speed and completeness.

English law, with its partial legal privileging of Anglican faith, is dimly theocratic, but does not make the totalising claims which the radicals make for their own various imams. Muslims in the United Kingdom are not being offered a choice between God’s law and man’s. God’s law, for the mainstream fuqaha’, is an ideal for whose realisation we cherish a firm and ultimate hope. But it also includes the duty to act, out of maslaha, within the framework of laws drafted by majoritarian non-Muslim legislatures. This is, no doubt, why the tale of the prophet Joseph was so popular in pre-modern Muslim minority contexts. Some of the greatest Muslim poetical works written in Spain after the reconquista were based on the story of the monotheist prophet who accepted a senior post in a non-believing political order. The story is no less popular in the villages of Tatarstan, of Muslim Siberia, and of China .

Islam, therefore, supplies arguments for loyalty. Not because it regards the present state of affairs as ideal (a view commended by no-one) but because it recognises that it is the point from which one needs to begin working towards the ideal, an ideal which will itself be reshaped by the powerful instruments of ijtihad. The fundamental objects, maqasid, of the Shari‘a are the right to life, mind, religion, lineage, and honour; and these are respected in the legal codes of the contemporary West. We may even venture to note that they appear to be better maintained here than in the hamfisted attempts at creating Shari‘a states that we see in several corners of the Muslim world. Muslims may be unhappy with the asylum laws here, but would one wish to claim asylum in any Muslim country that currently springs to mind? We may not approve of all the local rules of evidence, but if we are honest, we will surely hesitate to claim that a murder investigation is better pursued in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia , than in English jurisdiction.

The radicals in our inner cities, of course, will at this point revert to their primal scream. They know full well that their movements have failed, and that despite decades of effort by them there is no Shari‘a order in the world. They intuit that they are engaged in acts of collective religious suicide. Yet they protest and rail against the established political order, because for them religion has become nothing but the piacular rite of protest. Shouting at rallies and denouncing the mainstream are for them the most satisfying acts of worship. Were they to be denied these practices, they would be forced back on their own spiritual resources, and they are well-aware of how much they will find there.

Loyalty, then, is to the balanced, middle way, the wasat, which is the Sunna. Islam is a wisdom tradition that has seldom if ever generated extremes that have had a permanent impact. The current wave of zealotry will, I make no doubt, pass away as rapidly as it came, perhaps after some climacteric Masada. Some souls will have been damaged by it; the name of the religion will have been damaged by it, and the historians will note, with a regretful curiosity, how Islam was for a few years associated with terrorism. But the extremism will disappear, because no-one who has a future really desires it.

Can we accelerate this healing process? We are, I think, obliged to try. We have the advantage of knowing how to speak, and to whom to speak. The radical has to shout for a long time before anyone outside the Muslim community notices him. But the traditionally-committed Muslim who is part of society at large already possesses the network. He can claim membership in one of the world’s great traditions of art and literature, one that has already attracted many cultivated people in the West. Although the central mosques in most Western capitals are controlled by Saudis with no affection for the society around them, and no ability to speak to it, Islam’s non-hierarchical nature means that such people can simply be circumvented. Their cultural maladroitness will always work to the mainstream’s advantage. Alternative mosques and institutions of learning need to be established as matrices for the proclamation of authentic, mainstream, spiritual, moral Islam. There are strong reasons why this must succeed. Firstly, because everyone who has an interest in social cohesion wants it to succeed. Secondly, because unlike the Islam of those who distrust the divine purposes in history, traditional Islam is optimistic and brings sakina to the human soul. And finally, and most momentously, because this version of faith happens to be true.


NOTES

1.                  Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, (repr. New Delhi, 1989), p.6.

2.                  Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, tr. J Swain. (New York, 1915), p.419.

3.                  Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the world to save it. Aum Shinrikyo, apocalyptic violence, and the new global terrorism. (New York, 1999.)

4.                  Brenda Crossman, Secularism’s Last Sigh? Hindutva and the (mis)rule of law. New Delhi and (Oxford, 1999.)

5.                  Abdülkadir Emiroglu, Molla Cami’nin eserleri (Ankara, 1976), p.70.

6.                  Mona Abaza and Georg Stauth, ‘Occidental Reason, Orientalism, Islamic fundamentalism: a critique’, in Martin Albrow and Elizabeth King (eds.), Globalization, Knowledge and Society (London etc., 1990), p.223. Carrell’s influence on Sayyid Qutb is frequently cited in this connection.

7.                  A. Hourani, ‘Shaikh Khalid and the Naqshbandi Order’, in S.M. Stern et al., (eds), Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1972), 89.

8.                  Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, Tafsir (Beirut, 1403), 694.

9.                  Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (Oxford, 1939), IV, 639. Cf. ibid., V, 331n: ‘The Jewish Zealots of that age, like the Wahhhabis at the present day, combine their puritanism with militancy.’

10.              Here the question has been posed of the present-day appropriateness of Imam al-Ghazali’s strongly ‘jihadist’ stance. In his fiqh works, such as the Wasit, Ghazali suggests no more than a mainstream Shafi‘i understanding of the believer’s relationship to war and peace; but the Ihya’ shows that jihad is integrated into the very centre of his understanding of Prophetic emulation (see for instance Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Cairo, 1347; = K. Adab al-ma‘isha, bayan shuja‘atih), 338-9: ‘no-one was more vehement in war than him’, ‘he was always the first to exchange blows with the enemy’, etc. Reflecting on the Ihya’s ‘jihadist’ aspects, Michael Cook has shown that in comparison with the majority of ulema, Ghazali’s views on amr bi’l-ma‘ruf are ‘marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism … Ghazali is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands.’ (Michael Cook, Commanding the Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000), p.456.) Modern Arab activists, even of the mainstream ‘Islamist’ variety, have frequently been embarrassed by Ghazali’s emphatic ‘jihadism’; and Cook shows (p.527) how several modern summaries of the Ihya’ remove Ghazali’s remarks on changing evil ‘with the hand’. More radical writers, however, applaud Ghazali: the Algerian revolutionary Ali Belhajj ‘quotes Ghazali’s passage on armed bands with obvious relish’ (p.528). The response to such implicit accusations should surely be that Imam al-Ghazali adopted a stance within his own lifetime that he would not necessarily counsel for our own complex and fitna-ridden age and circumstances, in which the use of armed force against heavy odds is typically denounced by the ulema as an action against Muslim interests (masalih).

11.             Blaming the West for this is sometimes, but not invariably fair; the newsmedia cannot be expected to focus on the pacific or the spiritual. Perhaps we need to be more frank in blaming our own Muslim communities for failing to engage in more successful and sophisticated public relations. My own encounters with television and newspaper journalists have confirmed that the mass media are only too happy to take articles from Muslims, or broadcast films made by Muslims; but that they cannot see where to find the contributions. In the United Kingdom , there is only one Muslim film production company, but several hundred cable and satellite TV channels. Major mosques and organisations have little or no public relations expertise. To accuse the West of misrepresentation is sometimes proper, but all too often reflects a hermeneutic of suspicion rooted in zealot attitudes to the Other.

12.              For pre-Islamic Arab ‘pride’ suicide, see Mustafa Jawad, ‘Al-Muntahirun fi’l-Jahiliyya wa’l-Islam’, in Al-Hilal, 42 (1934), 475-9. For Islam’s understanding of suicide as an ‘Indian foolishness’ see Baydawi, Tafsir (Istanbul, 1329), 109 (to Qur’an, 4:29). It is presumably not without significance that the deaths of Saul and Samson do not figure in the Muslim scriptures.

13.              Toynbee, op. cit., VI, 128.

14.              Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader (Princeton, 1996), 36.

15.              Lamin Sanneh, ‘Sacred and Secular in Islam’, ISIM Newsletter 10 (July, 2002), 6, makes the following incendiary claim about the September 11 attacks: ‘The West […] has sought comfort in the convenient thought that it is only a renegade breakaway group of Muslim fundamentalists who have struck out in violence. Most Muslims do not share that view.’

16.              Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860-1900 (Princeton, 1982), 51. For the muted role of the ulema during the Mutiny, see p. 82.

17.              Ataullah Kopanski, Sabres of Two Easts: an untold history of Muslims in Eastern Europe (Islamabad, 1995).

 

British and Muslim?

It is said that the 19th century French poet Mallarmé can only be fully understood by those who are not French, because they read him more slowly. Converts to Islam, the subject of this essay, can perhaps claim the same ambiguous advantage in their reading of the Islamic narrative. Several consequent questions impose themselves: can the clarity of vision brought by novelty outweigh the absence of a Muslim upbringing? Is adoption a more culturally fertile condition than simple sonship? Has the dynamism of Islamic culture after the initial Arab era owed everything to the energy of recent converts, with their own ethnic genius: the Persians, and then, pre-eminently, the Turks; and if so, might the appearance of converts in the West presage a larger revival of the fortunes of an aged and tired Islamic umma?

I hope to return to these interesting queries at a later date. Here, I shall confine myself to the issue that presents itself most sharply to those British people who, like myself, have boarded the lifeboat of Islam. The issue is the question of British Muslim identity.

Who is a British Muslim is an easy question: it is anyone who follows Islam and holds a U.K. passport. This is at once the easiest and probably the only workable definition. The more teasing question, which I wish to raise in this article is: what is a British Muslim? The query raises two problems related to belonging. What does it mean to be a British person who belongs to Islam? And, what does it mean to be a Muslim person who belongs to Britain? How do we map the overlap zone in a way that makes sense, and is legitimate, in terms of the co-ordinates of both of these terms?

Clearly, by virtue of the first definition, the British Muslim population, all 1.5 million of it, divides into three groups. Firstly, and least problematically, there are men and women whose cultural formation was not British, but who have migrated to this country. This essay will not touch centrally on their own particular struggle for self-definition, which is quite different to that addressed by converts.

Secondly, there are the children of the first group, and occasionally now their grandchildren. These people are usually seen to be torn between two worlds, but in reality, the British world has shaped their souls far more profoundly then they often recognise. Modern schooling is designed for a culture that puts an increasing share of acculturation and upbringing, as opposed to the simple inculcation of facts, on the shoulders of schoolteachers rather than of parents. Muslims who have moved to this country have done so at precisely the time when British education is also going into the business of parenting; most Muslim parents do not recognise the fact, but Muslim children in this country always have a third parent: the Education Secretary. Even those second-generation Muslims here who claim to have angrily rejected Britishness are in fact doing so in terms of types of radicalism which are deeply influenced by Western styles of dissent. Most noticeably, they locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centred religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.

Thirdly, we have the smallest group of all: the convert or so-called ‘revert’ community. This group is highly disparate, and it is not clear that one can make any meaningful generalisations about it at all. Almost by definition, a British person who is guided to Islam is an eccentric of some kind: one of the virtues, perhaps, of the British is that eccentrics have always been nurtured or at least more or less tolerated here. But the overall pattern is confusing. One can offer certain sociological generalisations about British people who become Buddhists, or evangelical Christians, or Marxists. But the present writer’s experience with new Muslims is that no discernable patterns exist which might shed light on the routes by which people awaken to the truth of Islam. This failure to discern patterns can only be described as lamentable, for were we to discern such patterns, they could immediately be exploited for da‘wa purposes. The most we can say is that a clear majority of converts to Islam in Britain are from Catholic rather than Protestant or Jewish backgrounds. Within this group, in my experience the only clergy that convert are Jesuits; I am not aware of a single member of another religious order that has become Muslim.

Other than this very general and not terribly helpful observation, few patterns are discernable, and our missionary efforts, never very coordinated, flounder accordingly.

But whatever the processes, and we may be wise to accept traditional invocations of divine providence and guidance which transcend and make irrelevant any sociological pattern-finding, this third group among British Muslims confronts certain sharp problems of self-definition. Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Indian Muslims becoming British do so slowly, perhaps over two or three generations. The identity problems can be sharp: in particular, there can be painful challenges to the hopes and expectations of parents. But the process is gentle in comparison with the abrupt jolt, which typically welcomes the convert. The signposts of the universe are not adjusted slowly, but all at once.

The initial and quite understandable response of many newcomers is to become an absolutist. Everything going on among pious Muslims is angelic; everything outside the circle of the faith is demonic. The appeal of this outlook lies in its simplicity. The newly rearranged landscape upon which the convert looks is seen in satisfying black and white terms of Them versus Us, good against evil.

This mindset is sometimes called ‘convertitis’. It is a common illness, which can make those who have caught it rather difficult to deal with. Fortunately, it almost always wears off. The only exceptions are those weak souls who imagine that the buzz of excitement caused by their absolutist, Manichean division of the world was a necessary part of Islamic piety, or even that it has some spiritual significance. Such people are often condemned to wander from faction to faction, always joining something new, in an attempt to regain the initial excitement engendered by their conversion.

Most new Muslims, however, soon see through this. A majority of people come to Islam for real spiritual or intellectual reasons, and will continue with their quest once they are inside Islam. Becoming Muslim is, after all, only the first step to felicity. Those individuals who adopt Islam because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. 

But actions are by intentions. A hundred years ago the founder of the Anglo-Muslim movement, Imam Abdallah Quilliam in Liverpool, was writing that those British people who convert for Allah and His Messenger, will, by the grace of God, be rightly guided. Those who convert for any other reason are in serious spiritual trouble. Just as the namaz [salaat] prayer is invisibly invalidated if the niyya [intention] at its outset is not correct, similarly, Islam will not work for us unless we have entered it in faith, out of a sincere questing for God’s good pleasure.  If things are not going right for us, if we find no delight in our prayers, if Ramadan simply makes us hungry, if we cannot seem to find the right mosque or the right company to take us forward, then we would do well to start by examining our intentions. Did we become Muslims only, and purely, to bring our souls to God? Other reasons: solidarity with the oppressed, admiration for Muslims we know, desire to join a group, the love of a woman - none of these are adequate foundations for our lives as Muslims deserving of Allah’s grace and guidance. Imam al-Qushayri says that spiritual aspirants ‘are only deprived of attainment when they neglect the foundations.’ So we need to look within, and if necessary, renew our faith, following the Prophetic sunna. ‘Renew your iman’, a celebrated hadith enjoins.

So what are we? Statistically, perhaps fifty thousand people. But once we have taken the plunge, and enjoyed the feel of Islam, and come to know through experience, rather than through reading books, that Islam is a way of sobriety, dignity, poise and rewarding spirituality, what exactly is our self-definition? When we meet family and friends who are not Muslim, how do we carry ourselves? Do we treat Islam as a great secret? A discreet eccentricity that we hope people will not be so crude as to mention? Or, on the contrary, something we wear on our sleeves, feeling that it is our duty constantly to steer the conversation back into sacred quarters, confronting people with Islam, that they might have no argument against us at the Resurrection?

More generally, what is our view of the wider world of unbelief, which, despite the breathless predictions of some of our co-religionists, continues to grow more powerful and more prosperous? How much of it can we affirm, and how much of it must we publicly or privately disown?

We can, of course, take the easy way out, and avoid engaging with these questions, by retreating from the mainstream of society, and consorting only with Muslims. But this is not so easy. We need to be employed, since this is pleasing to God; and we need to maintain good ties with our relations, since this is also enjoined in the Sunna. Wa-sahibhuma fi’l-dunya ma‘rufan - ‘Keep company with them both in the world in keeping with good custom’, says the Qur’an to converts who have unbelieving parents. And the Sunna explains that non-Muslim parents have significant rights over their Muslim children.

But more significantly even than this, to solve the problems thrown at us and at our identity by the real world outside the mosque gates, we need to engage regularly with non-Muslim society. But for this, there would be no effective da‘wa. People do not hear the word of Islam, generally, by being shouted at by some demagogue at Speakers Corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims. And this takes place, overwhelmingly, at the workplace. Other social contexts are closed to us: the pub, the beach, the office party. But work is a prime environment for being noticed, and judged, as Muslims.

There is nothing remotely new in this. Islam has always spread primarily through social interactions connected with work. The early Muslims who conquered half the world did not set up soapboxes in the town squares of Alexandria, Cordoba or Fez, in the hope that Christians would flock to them and hear their preaching. They did business with the Christians; and their nobility and integrity of conduct won the Christians over. That is the model followed by Muslims, particularly the Sufis, down the ages; and it is the one that we must retain today, by interacting honourably and respectfully with non-Muslims in our places of work, as much as we can.

If this is clear, then my initial question still begs a response. What is a British Muslim? What manner of creature is he, or she? The public consensus has clear ideas about other British identities: British Anglican, British Jew, British Asian Muslim or Hindu: all these are recognised categories and a certain community of expected response governs interactions between the majority and these groups. The Anglo-Muslim, however, is not a generally recognised type.

My own belief is that the future prosperity of the Anglo-Muslim movement will be determined largely by our ability to answer this question of identity. It is a question mainly for converts, but which many of whose dimensions will come to apply also to second-generation immigrant Muslims here, who have their own questions to ask themselves and this culture about what, exactly, they are.

To frame a response, I think it is useful to step back a little, and consider the larger picture of Islamic history of which we form a very small part. I mentioned earlier that Islam usually spread through the utilisation of commercial opportunities as opportunities for da‘wa. That picture is one of the most extraordinary success stories in religious history. Compare, for instance, the way in which the Muslim world was Islamised to the way in which the Americas were Christianised. Islamisation proceeded with remarkable gentleness, at the hands of Sufis and merchants. Christianisation used mass extermination of the native Americans, the baptism of uncomprehending survivors, and the baleful scrutiny by the Inquisition of any signs of backsliding. A more extreme contrast would be impossible to find.

Perhaps no less extraordinary than this contrast is its interesting concomitant: Christianisation brought Europeanisation. Islamisation did not bring Arabisation. The churches built by the Puritans or the Conquistadors in the New World were deliberate replicas of churches in Europe. The mosques constructed in the areas gradually won for Islam are endlessly diverse, and reflect and indeed celebrate local particularities. Christianity is a universal religion that has historically sought to impose a universal metropolitan culture. Islam is a universal religion that has consistently nurtured a particularist provincial culture. A church in Mexico City resembles a church in Salamanca. A mosque in Nigeria, or Istanbul, or Djakarta, resembles in key respects the patterns, now purified and uplifted by monotheism, of the indigenous regional patrimony.

No less remarkable is the ability of the Muslim liberators to accommodate those aspects of local, pre-Islamic tradition which did not clash absolutely with the truths of revelation. In entering new lands, Muslims were armed with the generous Qur'anic doctrine of Universal Apostleship; as the Qur'an says, ‘To every nation there has been sent a guide’. This conflicts sharply with the classical Christian view of salvation as hinging uniquely on one historical intervention of the divine in history: the salvific sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Non-Christian religions were, in classical Christianity, seen as demonic and under the sign of original sin. But classical Islam has always been able and willing to see at least fragments of an authentic divine message in the faiths and cultures of non-Muslim peoples. If God has assured us that every nation has received divine guidance, then we can look with some favour on the Other. Hence, for instance, we find popular Muslim poets in India, such as Sayid Sultan, writing poems about Krishna as a Prophet. There is no final theological proof that he was one, but the assumption is nonetheless not in violation of the Qur'an.

Even among Muslim ulema who had not been to India, we find interestingly positive appraisals of Hinduism. For instance, the great Baghdad theologian al-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religions and Sects, had access to enough reliable information about India to develop a very sophisticated theological reaction to Indian religion. He accepts that the higher forms of Hinduism are not polytheistic. He notes that that although the Hindus have no notion of prophecy, they do have what he calls ashab al-ruhaniyat: quasi-divine beings who call mankind to love the Real and to practice the virtues. He names Vishnu and Shiva as examples, and speaks positively of them. He focuses particularly on the veneration of celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planets. The reason why he fixes on these practices is that they seem to situate Hinduism within a recognisably Qur'anic paradigm. The Qur'an mentions quite favourably a group known as the Sabeans, who were by the second century identified with various star-worshipping but still vaguely monotheistic sects in Mesopotamia. The Sabeans are tolerated in Islamic law, although they are less privileged than the Jews and Christians, a position reflected in the ruling in Shari‘a that a Muslim may not marry their women or eat their meat.

Shahrastani explicitly assimilates many Hindus to this category of Sabeans. They are to be tolerated as believers in One God; and will only be punished by God if, having been properly exposed to Islam, they reject it.

Another example is supplied by the great Muslim epic in China. Those who believe that Muslim communities can only flourish if they ghettoise themselves and refuse to interact with majority communities would do well to look at Chinese history. Many of the leading mandarins of Ming China were in fact Muslims. Wang Dai-Yu, for instance, who died in 1660, was a Muslim scholar who received the title of ‘Master of the Four Religions’ because of his complete knowledge of China’s four religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many of the leading admirals in the navy of the Ming Empire were practising Muslims.

In China, mosques look very like traditional Chinese garden-temples, except that there is a prayer hall without idols, and the calligraphy is Qur'anic. In some of the most beautiful, you will find, as you enter, the following words in Chinese inscribed on a tablet:

Sages have one mind and the same truth. In all parts of the world, sages arise who possess this uniformity of mind and truth. Muhammad, the Great Sage of the West, lived in Arabia long after Confucius, the Sage of China. Though separated by ages and countries, they had the same mind and Truth.

In these examples from India and China, we see a practical confirmation of Islam’s proclamation of itself as the final, and hence universal, message from God. In a hadith we learn: ‘Other prophets were sent only to their own peoples, while I am sent to all mankind.’ It is not that the Qur'anic worldview affirms other religions as fully adequate paths to salvation. In fact, it clearly does not. But it allows the Muslim, as he encounters new worlds, to sift the wheat from the chaff in non-Muslim cultures, rejecting some things, to be sure, but maintaining others. In Islamic law, too, we find that shara‘i man qablana, the revealed laws of those who came before us, can under certain conditions be accepted as valid legal precedent, if they are not demonstrably abrogated by an Islamic revealed source. And Islamic law also recognises the authority of urf, local customary law, so that a law or custom is acceptable, and may be carried over into an Islamic culture or jurisdiction, if no Islamic revealed principle is thereby violated. Hence, we find the administration of Islamic law varying from country to country. If a wife complains of receiving insufficient dower from her husband, the qadi [judge] will make reference to what is considered normal in their culture and social group, and adjudge accordingly.

All of these historical observations have, I hope, served to make quite a simple point: Islam, as a universal religion, in fact as the only legitimately universal religion, also makes room for the particularities of the peoples who come into it. The traditional Muslim world is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures, all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation. Put differently, Revelation supplies parameters, hudud, rather than a complete blueprint for the details of cultural life. Local mindsets are Islamised, but remain distinct.

This point is obvious to anyone who has studied Islamic thought or Islamic history. I reiterate it today only because some Muslims nowadays reject it fiercely. Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.

These young people, who haunt our mosques and shout at any sign of disagreement, are either ignorant of Muslim history, or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake. For them, the grace and rahma of Allah has for some reason been withheld from all but a tiny fraction of the Umma. These people are the elect; and all disagreement with them is a blasphemy against God.

We cannot hope easily to cure such people. Simple proofs from our history or our scholarship will not suffice. What they need is a sense of security, and that, given the deteriorating conditions of both the Muslim world and of the ghettos in Western cities, may not come readily. For now, it is best to ignore their shouts and their melodramatic but always ill-fated activities. Our psychic problems are not theirs; and theirs can never be ours.

Islam is, and will continue to be, even amid the miserable globalisation of modern culture, a faith that celebrates diversity. Our thinking about our own position as British Muslims should focus on that fact, and quietly but firmly ignore the protests both of the totalitarian fringe, and of the importers of other regional cultures, such as that of Pakistan, which they regard as the only legitimate Islamic ideal.

So far, however, we have been too busy restating the initial question with which this chapter opened, and defending its legitimacy, to propose any substantive answer. It is time now to attempt a brief sketch of what I construe our cultural position and prospects to be.

As I have tried to emphasise, Islam’s presence in Britain is not an Islamic problem. Islam is universal, and can operate everywhere. It is not an Islamic problem, but it may be a British problem. Europe, alone among the continents, does not have a longstanding tradition of plurality. In medieval Asia or Africa, in China or the Songhai Empire, or Egypt, or almost everywhere, one could usually practice one’s own religion in peace, whatever it happened to be. Only in Europe was there a consistent policy of enforcing religious uniformity. The reason for this lay of course in the Church’s theology: unless you had some part in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, you were in the grip of original sin, and hence were an instrument of the devil. Medieval Catholics were even expected to believe that unbaptised infants would be tormented in Hell forever. Given that absolute view, it was only natural that Europe constantly strove for religious uniformity.

Britain, as part of the European world, has traditionally suffered the same totalitarian entailments in its history. Hence, although it has always been possible to be a Christian in a Muslim country, it was against the law to be a Muslim in Britain until 1812, with the passage through parliament of the Trinitarian Act. Nonetheless, three centuries before that, with Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, England cut itself off from formal submission to Vatican doctrines; and from that time a type of religious diversity has been, within severe constraints, at least a possibility. In fact, Britain was the first major European country to break with the medieval European tradition of absolute religious conformity. Perhaps it is because of this fact that exclusivist and xenophobic political manifestations are less common in Britain today than in most Continental countries. The National Front is a lunatic fringe party in the U.K., whereas its equivalents regularly scoop twenty percent of the votes in some regions of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Austria.

When England threw off the Papist yoke, opportunities arose for questioning ancient errors of understanding which had been introduced into Christianity by the Church Fathers. These opportunities, however, were not properly grasped. The English Reformation was an attempt not to extirpate bid‘a in the Muslim sense, and return to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which had been distorted by the Church on the basis of the Hellenising agendas of the anonymous gospel authors, but to reform the doctrines and liturgy of the medieval church. Hence the reformers did not attempt to return to the simple monotheistic worship of the Apostles, but, in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, created a new vernacular liturgy based largely on medieval trinitarian and incarnationist precedents.

This English willingness to challenge tradition, however, was to have immense repercussions. Despite the lack of awareness of the instability of the gospel texts, as revealed by 20th century scholarship, for the first time Europeans, and notably Britons, were questioning the innovations of the Church magisterium, and attempting to grope back towards the faith revealed by God to His prophet Jesus, upon whom be peace.

One repercussion of the Reformation on our ancestors was the revival of a mystical tradition, whose most obvious manifestation was the Cambridge Platonists. English mysticism has usually been of a moderate type: one thinks of the Cloud of Unknowing, or Julian of Norwich. Extreme feats of asceticism, or extravagant and obsessive preoccupations with visions and miraculous happenings, have never been part of the English style of spirituality. The Cambridge Platonists drew on this moderate mysticism, but insisted that mystical inspiration must work hand in hand with rational judgement, and with sound doctrine derived from the Scriptures. This position, which influenced John Locke in particular, again evinces the English style of religion: profound but not verbose, rational but not rationalistic, and scriptural but not literalistic.

This very English approach to religion in due course led to serious questions being asked about the centrepiece of medieval Christian dogma: the Trinity. Milton, and later John Locke himself, are known to have held discreetly Unitarian beliefs, having been unable to find convincing justification for trinitarian and incarnationist views in the Scriptures. Locke’s close friend Newton was even more frank, writing

of the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity ... Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part, I can make none.

The period around the Civil War threw up many Englishmen who were likewise concerned about the distortion of the teachings of Jesus by the Church; and the term Unitarian comes into being sometime during this period. But side by side with this tradition of dissent, and in often obscure ways interacting with it, went an even more revolutionary change: improved information about the Blessed Prophet of Islam.

The medievals chose to remain in ignorance about Islam. For them, Muslims were summa culpabilis: the sum of everything blameworthy. Knights from Britain had been at the forefront of the Crusades. The sack of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But the same quest for simplicity and honesty which made the Reformation possible, also made of England the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam could be challenged. 

To an extent which we cannot now determine, largely because an excess of sympathy with either Islam or Unitarianism could result in the dissenter being hung, drawn and quartered, new perspectives on Islam informed and reinforced the discreet Unitarian movement. This is implied by the title of Humphrey Prideaux’s hate-filled book of 1697, which he called, The true nature of Imposture, fully displayed in the life of Mahomet ... offered to the consideration of the Deists of the present age.

Prideaux is clearly implying that some radical Dissenters were being drawn towards Islam, and he is writing his polemic to hold back that tide. But a far clearer insight into this process is supplied by another author, a certain Henry Stubbe.

Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. In fact, he writes so favourably that we can only conclude that he had thrown off the heritage of Christianity, and privately adopted it. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as ‘the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.’ He died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.

Stubbe was a child of the Civil War, and the spiritual chaos of the Interregnum prompted him to question the official tenets of his inherited Anglicanism. He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible. Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.’

The book begins with a chapter demonstrating how the message of Jesus Christ has been perverted by the Church. He stresses the fact that Jesus, upon him be peace, had remained faithful to the Mosaic Law, and would have been horrified by the idea that later generations might use his name to justify the eating of pork, for instance. He says, of the Disciples:

They did never believe Christ to be the natural Son of God, by eternal Generation, or any tenet depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of persons in one Deity ... The whole constitution of the primitive Church Government relates to the Jewish Synagogue, not to the Hierarchy. The presbyters were not Priests, but Laymen set apart to their office by imposition of hands . . . Nor was the name of Priest then ever heard of’.

He concludes that the sacraments of the Church, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, are pagan rituals introduced into Christianity several decades after Christ’s death.

Stubbe then provides a chapter on ‘a brief History of Arabia and the Saracens’, followed by four on the Prophet. Chapter Eight is a vindication of the Prophet; chapter 9 is a vindication of Islam, and chapter 10 explains the moral necessity of the doctrine of Jihad.

His polemical intentions throughout are clear: he constantly shows Islam to be a purer and more rational form of religion than Christianity. Here is Stubbe, for instance, summarising the Prophet’s teaching:

This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man. 

And a little further on he adds:

Let us now lay aside our prejudices ... Their Articles of Faith are few and plain, whereby they are preserved from Schisms and Heresies, for altho’ they have great diversity of opinions in the explication of their Law, yet, agreeing in the fundamentals, their differences in opinion do not reach to that breach of Charity so common among the Christians, who thereby become a scandal to all other Religions in the world. Their Notions of God are great and noble, their opinions of the Future State are consonant to those of the Jews and Christians. As to the moral part of their Religion . . . we shall see that it is not inferior to that of the Christians. And lastly, their religious Duties are plainly laid down, which is the cause that they are duly observed, and are in themselves very rational.

He allocates an entire chapter to show the moral significance of the Jihad. This chapter is perhaps the most remarkable in the entire book, since it had long been a Christian idée fixe that Islam could only spread by the sword. He goes to some length, quoting travellers to the Ottoman Empire, to show that Christian minorities are usually protected better under Muslim rule than under the rule of their fellow Christians. He observes, for instance:

It is manifest that the Mahometans did propagate their Empire, but not their Religion, by force of arms . . . Christians and other Religions might peaceably subsist under their Protection . . . it is an assured truth, that the vulgar Greeks live in a better Condition under the Turk at present then they did under their own Emperors, when there were perpetual murders practised on their Princes, and tyranny over the People; but they are now secure from Injury if they pay their Taxes. And it is indeed more the Interest of the Princes & Nobles, than of the People, which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.

Having sung Islam’s praises in these terms, Stubbe could hardly expect to publish his book. He published several others, but this one languished discreetly in manuscript form until 1911, when a group of Ottoman Muslims in London rescued it from obscurity and published it.

At least six manuscripts did, however, circulate in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism. Some historians have suggested also that Gibbon was familiar with the work. For instance, Stubbe observes:

When Christianity became generally received, it introduced with it a general inundation of Barbarism and Ignorance, which over-run all places where it prevailed.

And Gibbon, several decades later, closes his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the words: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’ Gibbon himself was known for his private scepticism about Trinitarian dogma.

Stubbe’s book, as I have said, is the work of a brave pioneer. But it is also a considered reflection upon the religious instabilities of the interregnum period which generated it. It shows a sensitive and immensely cultivated English mind shaking off the complications of old dogma, using modern scholarship to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of something exotic, we see here a very English kind of religion expressing itself. Stubbe is spiritual, but not superstitious. He likes simplicity: the blank, Puritan wall of the mosque rather than the elaborate stone metaphors of Catholicism or of the dizzyingly high Anglicanism of Charles. He values wholesome morality that is pragmatic rather than irresponsibly idealistic: so he commends polygamy, and shows the moral dangers of legally imposed monogamy. He regards with distaste traditional Christian strictures on ‘the flesh’ - a century beforehand, Englishmen had rejected the arguments for a celibate clergy and had firmly quashed monkery as both unnatural and parasitic. For Stubbe, the Prophet’s approach was in accord with nature: the love of woman is as natural as the love of God. The Prophet, like the great Hebrew patriarchs, showed that sacred and profane love can and indeed must go together.

A generation earlier, John Donne had suffered passions for both woman and for God; and found his religion finally unable to reconcile the two. His early poems are among some of the most touching, and also sensual, love poems in the English language. Later, as Dean of St Paul’s, he realised that he must renounce the flesh as the instrument of the Fall and the perpetrator of original sin. Hence his agonising, tragic spiritual career, renouncing the flesh to serve God, composing poems wrapped in his winding sheet: Donne’s great Muslim soul caught in the flawed dialectic of a theology that regarded spirit and body as eternally at war.

Stubbe is also drawing on a particularly English pragmatism in his treatment of the Jihad. Far from regarding the Islamic institution of the just war as a reproach, he extols it, contrasting it with what he regarded as the insipid and irresponsible pacifism of the unknown New Testament authors. Stubbe is an English gentleman of a generation that had known war, and knew that there are some injustices in the world that cannot be dissolved through passive suffering, through turning the other cheek. He had sided with Parliament during the civil war, holding, with Cromwell, that the righteous man may sometimes justly bear the burden of the sword. An admirer of Cromwell, he became an admirer of the Prophet. For him, the Prophet was not a foreign, exotic figure: his genial vision of human life under God exactly conformed to what a civilised Englishman of the seventeenth century thought necessary and proper. In Stubbe’s work, in other words, we find a vindication of Muhammad as an English prophet.

There is more that can be said about the convergence of Islamic moderation and good sense with the English temper. Tragically, the rise of Dissent in England coincided also with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, which reached its intoxicating heights with the empire of Queen Victoria and the Edwardians. Under such Anglocentric and frankly racist banners, sympathy with Islam became once more a receding possibility. But there were exceptions. Perhaps the most celebrated was that most English of intellectuals, Carlyle. Carlyle, like Stubbe two centuries before, was a free spirit, unhampered either by obsessions with Trinity, or modern delusions about the ability of material progress to secure human happiness.

On May the 8th 1840, in a stuffy lecture room in Portman Square, London’s intellectual elite were hearing Carlyle speak about the Prophet. They had anticipated the usual invective; and they were astonished to watch him holding up the Prophet as a heroic, adventurous figure, whose sacrifices had brought a natural theism to his people, and had much to teach a materialistic Victorian England. The climax came when the lecturer cried:

Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam-engine . . . if you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it is not Mahomet. 

Stung to the quick, John Stuart Mill leaped to his feet, and cried out: ‘No!’

Carlyle was lecturing on ‘The Hero as Prophet’; and again we see the English realism towards the use of force, which had made possible the creation of the British Empire, inspiring a more positive appreciation of the Prophet of Islam. The great Christian blindness towards Islam has always been the belief that there can be only one type of perfection, namely the pacifist Jesus, who taught men to turn the other cheek, and who said, ‘Resist not him that is evil.’ For minds nurtured on such an image, the hero-Prophet is a difficult figure to comprehend. In the Far East, of course, there is no such mental block. Spirituality and the cultivation of the martial arts there went hand in hand. The love of women was also seen as a necessary part of this ethos. The samurai tradition in particular, of the righteous swordsman, a meditator who was also a great lover of women, ensures that a Japanese, for instance, will have few difficulties with the specific genius and greatness of the Prophet of Islam. But for Christians, there is no such model, although knightly ethics in the early Middle Ages, learned from Muslims in Spain and Palestine, dimly suggested it. But even for the Crusader knights, the ideal of celibacy was often accepted: the Knights Templar, for instance, a monastic warrior order, who were influenced enough by Islam to comprehend the importance of a sacred warriorhood, but who never quite got the point about celibacy.

With Carlyle, the Hero as Prophet, or the Prophet as Hero, reveals itself as a credible type for the English mind. And Carlyle’s insistence on the moral exaltation of the Prophet who transcended pacifism to take up arms to fight for his people was understood by at least one later British writer: George Bernard Shaw. For Shaw, as for Carlyle, there was no doubt about the correct answer to Hamlet’s question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

Edmund Burke had already pointed out that ‘for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing.’ Shaw, like Carlyle, recognised that this principle calls into question the Gospel ethic of passivity in the face of suffering and injustice. Let me read to you a few words from Hesketh Pearson’s biography of the generally post-Christian Shaw:

For many years (this was 1927), Shaw had been meditating a play on a prophet. The militant saint was a type more congenial to his nature than any other, a type he thoroughly sympathised with and could therefore portray with unfailing insight. In all history the one person who exactly answered his requirements, who would have made the perfect Shavian hero, was Mahomet.

In his diary for 1913, Shaw himself wrote: ‘I had long desired to dramatise the life of Mahomet. But the possibility of a protest from the Turkish Ambassador - or the fear of it - causing the Lord Chamberlain to refuse to license such a play, deterred me.’ And so, as Pearson records, he wrote Saint Joan instead.

Perhaps we can close this brief parenthetic summary of the convergence between British martial theory and traditions and Islam, with a final insight; this time offered by Colin Morris, former head of the BBC in Northern Ireland: ‘The false prophet is a moralist, he tells the world how things ought to be; the real prophet is a realist, he tells the world how things really are.’

Let us try to sum up the above arguments. Firstly, Islam is a universal religion. Despite its origins in 7th century Arabia, it works everywhere, and this is itself a sign of its miraculous and divine origin. Secondly, the British Isles have for several hundred years been the home of individuals whose religious and moral temper is very close to that of Islam. To move from Christianity to Islam is hence, for an English man or woman, not the giant leap that outsiders might assume. It is, rather, simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people. Christianity, formerly a Greek mystery religion advocating a moral code against the natural law, is in fact foreign to our national temperament. It is an exotic creed, and it is now fatally compromised by its positive view of secular modernity. Islam, once we have become familiar with it, and settled into it comfortably, is the most suitable faith for the British. Its values are our values. Its moderate, undemonstrative style of piety, still waters running deep; its insistence on modesty and a certain reserve, and its insistence on common sense and on pragmatism, combine to furnish the most natural and easy religious option for our people.

I should close by saying that nothing in what I have said is intended in a jingoistic sense. That the British have a convergence with Islam is to the credit of our people, certainly. But I am not commending any smug ethnocentrism; precisely because Islam itself came to abolish a tribal mentality. Islam is the true consanguinity of believers in the One True God, the common bond of those who seek to remain focussed on the divine Source of our being in this diffuse, ignorant and tragic age. But it is generous and inclusive. It allows us to celebrate our particularity, the genius of our heritage; within, rather than in tension with, the greater and more lasting fellowship of faith.

 

 

 

Making the World Safe for Terrorism

Nuh Ha Mim Keller - Sunday 30 September 2001

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

By what one can gather from the press, the FBI and CIA have seemingly been unable to prove who precisely, if anyone, may have masterminded the attack earlier this month on the World Trade Center other than the immediate assailants,who are presumed to have been a number of young men from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and one from the United Arab Emirates. Whoever they were, the facts point to a number of inescapable conclusions. The planning of it argues for a method to the madness, coupled with at least normal intelligence and a technical education, while the psychological facts entail that such people do not destroy themselves unless they see some advantage for themselves in doing so, which entails that they believed in an afterlife, meaning that according to their own standards, they were in all probability “religious.” The question arises: “What sort of religion condones killing thousands of ordinary civilian people?” The answer is “No religion at all.”

 

As far as I know, there is no religion or system of morality that justifies deliberately killing or injuring someone unless (1) he is an aggressor seeking to take one’s life, against whom one may defend oneself; (2) he has been proven to be guilty of a capital crime, or (3) he is a combatant in war. Most ethical systems agree upon these three justifications for deliberately inflicting death or injury upon someone. The World Trade Center tragedy raises the question of what on earth may have made some contemporary people think that these principles may be set aside?

 

If there are altogether no moral reasons for this crime, there is perhaps a discoverable mentality behind it. We call it “terrorism,” in view of its typical motive, which is to strike terror into the hearts of those conceived to be guilty by committing atrocities against those of the innocent who resemble the guilty closely enough, whether in race, citizenship, or social class, for the terror not to be lost on the guilty. But its enormity as a crime, as I apprehend it, lies less in the motive of its perpetrators, which is bad enough, than in the fact that shedding innocent blood is wrong. All previous moralities and religions agree that one cannot kill the innocent, but only the guilty. One cannot, for example, kill a generic “American” for the actions of other Americans, or for the actions of his country’s army if he is not part of it, or for the foreign policy of his government. In general, moral law mandates that one may not kill a man for what another man has done.

 

How has this now come to be set aside in some minds? While I am not a specialist in the history of atrocities, it seems to me that this basic principle of morality was first violated, and on a grand scale—and with the tacit and the spoken support of the intelligentsia, press, and policy makers—in the Second World War, with the advent of “carpet-bombing.” Here, ineffective attempts at precision bombing of military targets and factories gave way first to incendiary bombing of particular German cities to burn them down, then to “area bombing” of as much urban acreage as possible. Bombing everything—soldiers and civilians, combatants and non-combatants, residential areas and strategic targets—would shorten the war; so the bombs rolled out, and eliminating civilians became itself a major strategic aim. In Cologne, in Hamburg, in Dresden: the numbers of the dead were unprecedented and horrendous. In Dresden, where there were no war industries at all, some 130,000 were killed. Perhaps the ultimate “area bombing” (there is little reason not to call it “terror bombing”) was the atomic bomb dropped on the old Japanese provincial city of Hiroshima, and later on Nagasaki. Men, women, babies, schoolgirls: the first instantaneous flash of atomic radiation burned their clothes off them and cooked the outside of their bodies, then the concussion blew it off so that it hung down in flapping strips seen by those who survived when they looked at each other. One can read the eyewitness accounts. We were showing them what would happen if we dropped one on Tokyo. They got the picture.

 

My point is that a mentality has been given birth in this century, and the attempts by its beneficiaries to draw some legitimacy for it from existing morality or religion, if understandable at a psychological level, have nothing to do with morality or religion. This kind of terrorism is going on today, indeed has been carried out by American presidents and their proxies in Nicaragua, in Sudan, in Lebanon, and in Iraq for the last twenty years, as described by Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and others whose books and articles about these events are many and well-documented, and blithely ignored by almost everyone in America.

 

The little bands of bomb makers and plane hijackers are not at bottom religious men, but desperate men. They are inspired less by religion than by hope that on a symbolic scale they can somehow emulate the “success” of America’s and Israel’s “punitive strikes,” and “preemptive attacks.” Civilians die all the time in the West Bank and in Iraq. Someone in Jordan told me of a relative from another country who needed a kidney and could not find a donor of suitable blood group from his extended family, so he went to Iraq and bought one for two thousand dollars. The donor did not have food to eat, and was willing to sell his kidney. People are starving there. Birth defects and cancer are burgeoning from all the chemicals and explosives that have that been dropped on the people. Bombs are dropped from time to time to show them who is boss. According to Chomsky we have by now succeeded in killing one million civilians in Iraq, one half of whom were small children. The United States continually vetoes the United Nations initiative to allow UN observers into Israel to see what is being done to Palestinians there. In 1998 Clinton destroyed one half of Sudan’s pharmaceuticals and the means of replenishing them in punitive bombing raids on that country and killed untold numbers of civilians. How many? We don’t know, because the United States prevented the UN inquiry. Eighty percent of the refugees of the world bear Muslim last names. Desperation grows among these throngs, as hope wanes for a balanced U.S. foreign policy, or even an abatement of U.S. bombing and violence against Muslim civilian populations. There is no hope for people who know from the example of Nicaragua, Sudan, Iraq, and Israel that any attempt of redress or appeal to the United Nations or World Court will be vetoed or defied by the attackers. People without hope do a lot of things.

 

Someone recently informed me that half the terrorist organizations officially listed on some or another “terrorist watch website,” were Muslim. Though Islamic law does not countenance terrorism or suicide of any sort, and I know these organizations represent an extreme splinter of an extreme splinter of Islam, I did not find the statistic particularly shocking. Rather, if in the last fifty years world governments like the United States and Britain have somehow convinced themselves that it is morally acceptable to kill, starve, and maim civilians of other countries in order to persuade their governments to do something, it would be surprising if this conviction did not somehow percolate down to the dispossessed, the hopeless, the aggrieved, and the powerless of every religion and ethnic group in the world. It looks as if it has.

 

We Americans are not bombing people, young and old, whose lives, when they survive, are brutally interrupted by the loss of an arm or a leg, or a father, or a son, or a mother, or a house that the family saved for years to build. We are too civilized for that. Rather, we bomb Iraq. We bomb Sudan. We bomb Southern Lebanon. We bomb “Palestinian positions.” We don’t cause the tens of thousands of birth defective and mentally retarded babies with the chemical mayhem and ten-year famine we are currently paying for in Iraq: We are “imposing sanctions.” We don’t kill actual human beings with all the explosives we are dumping on these countries. We are killing generic Iraqis, generic Sudanis, generic Palestinians. It sounds like we may now have to kill some generic Afghanis. And now the shock of all shocks, the devastation of all devastations: some crazy people this past month decided to kill a lot of generic Americans. What on earth made them think it was morally acceptable to kill people who hadn’t committed any crime, who were not combatants, and were not killed in self-defense?

 

The answer, I apprehend, is not to be found in Islam, or in any religion or morality, but in the fact that there are fashions in atrocities and in the rhetoric used to dress them up. Unfortunately these begin to look increasingly like our own fashions and sound increasingly like our own rhetoric, reheated and served up to us. The terrorists themselves, in their own minds, were doubtless not killing secretaries, janitors, and firemen. That would be too obscene. Rather, they were “attacking America.”

 

The attack has been condemned, as President Bush has noted, by “Muslim scholars and clerics” across the board, and indeed by all people of decency around the world. I have read Islamic law with scholars, and know that it does not condone either suicide or killing non-combatants. But what to do about the crime itself?

 

The solution being proposed seems to be a technological one. We will highlight these people on our screens, and press delete. If we cannot find the precise people, we will delete others like them, until everyone else gets the message. We’ve done it lots of times. The problem with this is that it is morally wrong, and will send a clear confirmation—if more is needed beyond the shoot-em-ups abroad of the last decades that show our more or less complete disdain for both non-white human life and international law—that there is no law between us and other nations besides the law of the jungle. People like these attackers, willing to kill themselves to devastate others, are not ordinary people. They are desperate people. What has made them so is not lunacy, or religion, but the perception that there is no effective legal recourse to stop crimes against the civilian peoples they identify with. Our own and our clients’ killing, mutilating, and starving civilians are termed “strikes,” “preemptive attacks,” “raiding the frontiers,” and “sanctions”—because we have a standing army, print our own currency, and have a press establishment and other trappings of modern statehood. Without them, our actions would be pure “terrorism.”

 

Two wrongs do not make a right. They only make two wrongs. I think the whole moral discourse has been derailed by our own rhetoric in recent decades. Terrorism must be repudiated by America not only by words but by actions, beginning with its own. As ‘Abd al-Hakim Winter asks, “Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double agents?” I think we have to get back to basics and start acting as if we knew that killing civilians is wrong.

As it is, we seem to have convinced a lot of other people that it is right, among them some of the more extreme elements of the contemporary Wahhabi sect of Muslims, including the members of the Bin Laden network, whom the security agencies seem to be pointing their finger at for this crime. The Wahhabi sect, which has not been around for more than two and a half centuries, has never been part of traditional Sunni Islam, which rejects it and which it rejects. Orthodox Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, are neither Wahhabis nor terrorists, for the traditional law they follow forbids killing civilian non-combatants to make any kind of point, political or otherwise. Those who have travelled through North Africa, Turkey, Egypt, or the Levant know what traditional Muslims are like in their own lands. Travellers find them decent, helpful, and hospitable people, and feel safer in Muslim lands than in many places, such as Central America, for example, or for that matter, Central Park.

On the other hand, there will always be publicists who hate Muslims, and who for ideological or religious reasons want others to do so. Where there is an ill-will, there is a way. A fifth of humanity are Muslims, and if to err is human, we may reasonably expect Muslims to err also, and it is certainly possible to stir up hatred by publicizing bad examples. But if experience is any indication, the only people convinced by media pieces about the inherent fanaticism of Muslims will be those who don’t know any. Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral.

And we Americans should take the necessary measures to get the ship of state back on a course that is credible, fair, and at bottom at least moral in our dealings with the other peoples of the world. For if our ideas of how to get along with other nations do not exceed the morality of action-thriller destruction movies, we may well get more action than we paid for.

Bombing Without Moonlight

Abdul Hakim Murad

 

1. Amnesia

Attention deficit disorder seems to flourish under conditions of late modernity. The past becomes itself more quickly. Memories, individual as well as collective, tend to be recycled and consulted only by the old. For everyone else, there are only current affairs, reaching back a few months at most. Orwell, of course, predicted this, in his dystopic prophecy that may have been only premature; but today it seems to be cemented by postmodernism (Deleuze), and also by physicists, who are now proclaiming an almost Ash‘arite scepticism about claims for the real duration of particles.

This is a condition that has an ancestry in the stirrings of the modernity which it represents. Hume anticipated it in his stunning insistence on the non-continuity of the human self: we are ‘nothing but a collection of perceptions which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement;’ or so he thought.[1] Modern fiction may still explore or reaffirm identities (Peter Carey) and thus define human dignity as the honourable disposition of at least some aspects of an accumulated heritage. But this is giving way to the atomistic, playful, postmodern storytelling of, say, Elliot Perlman, which defines dignity - where it does so at all - in terms of freedom from all stories, even while lamenting the superficial tenor of the result. It is against the backdrop of this culture that the scientists, now far beyond Ataturk's ‘Science is the Truest Guide in Life’, raise the stakes with their occasionalism, and, for the neurologists, the increasing denial of the autonomy of the human will - a new predestinarianism that makes us always the consequence of genes and the present, not the remembered past.[2]

Our public conversations, then, seem to be the children of a marriage of convenience between two principles, neither of them religious or even particularly humanistic. The elitist mystical trope of the moment being all that is, significantly misappropriated by some New Age discourses, has become the condition of us all, albeit with the absence of God. Journalism thus becomes the privileged discourse to whose canons the public intellectual must conform, if he or she is to become a credible guide. More striking still is the observed fact that amidst our current crisis of wisdom it also seems to provide the language in which the public discussion of faith is carried on. Thus Catholicism becomes the humiliated cardinal of Boston, not St Augustine. Its morality is taken to be that which visibly clashes with the caprice of characters in Home and Away, not a severe but ultimately liberating cultivation of the virtues rooted in centuries of experience and example. Judaism, in its turn, becomes the latest land-grab of a settler rabbi, not a millennial enterprise of faith and promise. Of course, our new occasionalism does invoke the past. But it does so with reference either to scriptures, stripped of their normative exegetical armature, or to those events which remain in the consciousness of a citizenry raised on enlightenment battles with obscurantism. So again, we recall Galileo, not Eckhart; we recall the interesting hatreds of the Inquisition, not the charity of St Vincent de Paul. Otherwise, our culture is religiously amnesiac. Winston Churchill, near the end of his life, began to read the Bible. ‘This book is very well-written,’ he said. ‘Why was it not brought to my attention before?’

It is in this frankly primitive condition that we seek to discuss religious acts which, against all the predictions of our grandparents, claim to interrupt the progress of history towards a world in which there will be no continuity at all. To our perplexity, history, despite Fukuyama, does not seem to have ended. Humans do not always act for the economic or erotic now; Tamino still seeks his Sarastro. A residue of real human diversity persists. For the human soul is not yet, as Coleridge wrote,

Seraphically free, from taint of personality.[3]

This failed ultimacy, this sense that we, the Papageni, have to dust down the armour of an earlier generation of moral absolutes, when history was still running, when the victory of the corporations and of Hollywood was not yet assured, accounts for the maladroit condition of the world’s current argument about terrorism. The most active in seizing the moment, as they elbow impatiently past the fin de siécle multiculturalists and postmodernists, are the oddly-named American neoconservatives, who invoke Leo Strauss and roll up their sleeves to defend Washington against Oriental warriors who would defy the dialectics of history and seek to postpone the apotheosis of Anglo-Saxon consumer society, which they see as the climax of a billion years of evolution.[4] But despite such ideologised adversions to the longue durée, secularism seems to have little to offer that is not short-termist and reactive, and determined to reduce the globe to a set of variations on itself.

Traditionalists, who should be more helpful, seem paralysed. Much of the fury and hurt that currently abounds in the Christian and the Muslim worlds reveals a sense that the timetable which God has approved for history has been perverted. Christendom is not a virgin in this respect; in fact, it was first, with scholastic and Byzantine broadsides against Christian sin as invitation to Saracenic chastisement (Bernard, Gregory Palamas). Then it was the turn of Islam, when, from the seventeenth century on the illusion of the Muslims as materially and militarily God’s chosen people was dealt a series of shocking blows. Now it is, once again, the turn of Christendom (if the term be still allowed), which is currently wondering why history has not yet experienced closure, why a former rival should still be showing signs of life, either as the result of a misdiagnosis, or as a zombie-like revenant bearing only a superficial resemblance to his medieval seriousness. Certainly, the American president and his frequently evangelical team see themselves in these terms. Architects of a society which, Disney-like, appropriates the past only to emphasise the glory of the present, these zealots appeal to a prophecy-religion in which the Book of Revelation is the key to history. For them, too, the promised closure is imminent, and its frustration by the Other an outrage.

President Reagan, while less captivated by end-time visions than his successors, could offer these thoughts to Jewish lobbyists:

You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon and I find myself wondering if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of these prophecies lately, but, believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.[5]

The protagonists of the current conflict, then, are unusual in their confidence that history has not ended, although millennialism seems to hover in the background on both sides, helped along by the frequently Palestinian scenery. The triumph of the West, or the resurgence of an Islam interpreted by bestselling Pentecostal authors as a chastisement and a demonic challenge, signals the end of a growing worry about the religious meaninglessness of late modernity. Tragically, however, neither protagonist seems validly linked to the remnants of established religion, or shows any sign of awareness of how to connect with history. Fundamentalist disjuncture is placing us in a kind of metahistorical parenthesis, an end-time excitement in which, as for St Paul, old rules are irrelevant, and Christ and Antichrist are the only significant gladiators on the stage. Fundamentalists, as well as mystics, can insist that the moment is all that is real.

2. Sunna Contra Gentiles

In such a world of pseudo-religious reaction against the postmodern erosion of identity, it follows that if you are not ‘with us,’ you are with the devil. Or, when this has to be reformulated for the benefit of the blue-collar godless, you are a ‘cheese-eating surrender monkey’. Where religion exists to supply an identity, the world is Augustinian, if not quite Manichean. The West's ancient trope of itself as a free space, perhaps a white space, holding out against Persian or Semitic intruders, is being coupled powerfully, but hardly for the first time, with Pauline and patristic understandings of the New Israel as unique vessel of truth and salvation, threatened in the discharge of its redemptive project by the Oriental, Semitic, Ishmaelitic other. In the West, at least, the religious resources for this dualism are abundant and easily abused. Take Daniel Goldhagen, for instance, who in his most recent book suggests that the xenophobia of the Christian Bible is qualitatively greater than that of any other scripture. New Bibles, he urges, must be printed with many corrections to what he describes as this founding text of a lethal Western self-centredness.[6] Semites of several kinds would be well-advised to beware a culture raised on such a foundation.

It is remarkable that both sides, in constructing themselves against a wicked, fundamentalist rival, mobilise the ancient trope of antisemitism. The Self needs its dark Other, preferably nearby or within. That Other has standard features: in the case of Christian antisemitism it is that it stands for Letter rather than Spirit, for blind obedience rather than freedom, for an discreet but intense transnational solidarity in place of Fatherland and Church. It is sexually aberrant (hence the Nazi polemic against Freud). It hides its women (who should, instead, join the SS, or practice nacktkultur). It imposes archaic and unscientific taboos: diet, purity, circumcision. Such are the categories in which an almost dualistic West historically defines its relationship to its nearest and most irritating Other.[7]

Antisemitism is, in Richard Harries' words, a 'light sleeper'. But part of its strength is that it is not asleep at all; and never has been. As Christendom seeks its identity, the Dark Other today is now more usually Ishmael. Torched mosques, terrified asylum-seekers, bullied schoolchildren, and, we may not unreasonably add, a journalistic discourse of the type that is now being labelled ‘Islamophobic’, are less new than they seem. They represent a vicarious antisemitism. ‘Islamic law is immutable’ is a chorus in the new Horst Wessel song. ‘Circumcision is barbaric.’ ‘Their divorce laws are medieval and anti-woman.’ ‘They keep to themselves and don’t integrate.’ Such is the battle-cry of the resurgent Western right: Pim Fortuin, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jorg Haider, Filip de Winter. It has become startlingly popular, though always volatile at the polls. Thus is the old antisemitic metabolism of Europe and its American progeny being reinvigorated by the encounter with Ishmael. Again, history has started up again, and again our amnesiac culture ignores the vast cogwheels, deep beneath the surface, which move it.

On the other side, now, crossing the Mediterranean, or the Timor Sea, we generally find not a bloc of sincere fundamentalist regimes, but an archipelago of dictatorships, Oriental despots after the letter, which are in almost every case answerable not to their own electorates - for they recognise none - but to a distant desk in the State Department.[8] These are the neo-mamluks, ex-soldiers and condottieri of a system that penalises ethics. Ranged against them we observe the puritans, iconoclasts with El Greco eyes, whose claim it is to detest the modernity of the regimes. Such puritans, led by the memory of Sayyid Qutb, have no illusions about the nature of secular rule. They see clearly that the regimes are more modern than those of the West, because more frank in their conviction that science plus commerce does not equal ethics. Where the Western journalistic eye sees retardation, the Islamist sees modernity. Hitler and Stalin were more modern than Churchill and Roosevelt, more scientific, more programmatic, more distant from the past. The future is theirs, and it is neither Christ’s millennial reign nor the triumph of small-town America. It is Alphaville.

The Islamist, then, is not the caricature of the envious, uncomprehending Third Worlder. Typically he has spent much of his life in the West, and is capable of offering an empirical analysis, or at least a diagnosis. Sayyid Qutb, in his writing on what he calls ‘the deformed birth of the American man,’ sees Americans as advanced infants; advanced because of their technology, but puerile in their ignorance of earlier stages of human development.[9] There is something of Teilhard de Chardin in his account, which inverts Tocqueville to identify an American idiot-savant mania for possession. Technology made America possible, and ultimately, America need claim nothing else. Linked to Christian fundamentalism, it is an enemy of every other story; and unlike the East, it will not remain in its place. It must send out General Custer to subdue all remnants of earlier phases of human consciousness rooted in nature, spirituality or art. Its client regimes are therefore its natural, not opportunistic, adjuncts in its programme to subdue the world. They are not a transitional phase, they are the end-game.

Antisemitism forms part of this vision too, certainly. But since, as Goldhagen confirms, this is an essentially Christian phenomenon, to be healed by correcting the views of the Evangelists, in an Islamic context which lacks a letter-spirit dichotomy it seems a hazier resource for identity construction. Qutb was influenced by the Vichy theorist Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), through his odd, vitalist tract L’Homme, cet inconnu, which remains an ultimate, though unacknowledged, source text for much modern Islamism.[10] No medieval Muslim thinker of any note wrote a book against Judaism, although homilies against Christianity were quite common. If medieval Islam had a dark Other, it was more likely to be Zoroastrianism than Judaism, which, in Samuel Goitein’s phrase by which he summed up his magisterial work A Mediterranean Society, enjoyed a close and ‘symbiotic’ relationship with Islam.[11] But today’s Qutbian Islamist purges midrashic material from Koranic commentary, and studies the Tsarist forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and, even, Mein Kampf. Nothing can be discovered, it seems, in the Islamic libraries, so that this importation into an ostensively nativist and xenophobic milieu becomes inescapable - the fundamentalist’s familiar appeal to necessity.

As he surveys the wreckage of Istanbul synagogues and Masonic lodges, the journalist, as ibn al-waqt, is oblivious to the happier past of Semitic conviviality in the Ottoman Sephardic lands. And perhaps he is right, perhaps, under our conditions, the past is another religion. But the paradox has become so burning, and so murderous, that we cannot let it pass unremarked. The Islamic world, instructed to host Israel, was historically the least inhospitable site for the diaspora. The currently almost ubiquitous myth of a desperate sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael is nonsensical to historians.

Here, at the dark heart of Islam’s extremist fringe, we find what may be the beginnings of a solution. No nativist reaction can long survive proof of its own exogenous nature. And no less than its Christian analogues, Islamic ghuluww, at least in its currently terroristic forms, betrays a European etiology. It borrows its spiritual, as well as its material, armament from Western modernity. This, we may guess, marks it out for anachronism in a context where intransigence is xenophobic.[12]

This is an unpopular diagnosis; but one which is gaining ground. It cannot be without significance that outside observers, when not blinded by a xenophobic need to view terrorism as Islamically authentic, have sometimes intuited this well. Here, for instance, is the verdict of John Gray, in his book Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern:

No cliche is more stupefying than that which describes Al-Qaida as a throwback to medieval times. It is a by-product of globalisation. Its most distinctive feature - projecting a privatised form of organised violence worldwide - was impossible in the past. Equally, the belief that a new world can be hastened by spectacular acts of destruction is nowhere found in medieval times. Al-Qaida’s closest precursors are the revolutionary anarchists of late nineteenth-century Europe.[13]

And Slavoj Zizek, a still more significant observer, is convinced that what we are witnessing is not ‘Jihad versus MacWorld’ – the standard leftist formulation - but rather MacWorld versus MacJihad.[14]

This implies that if ghuluww has a future, it will be because modernity has a future, not because it has roots in Islamic tradition. That tradition, indeed, it rules out of order, as it dismisses the juridical, theological and mystical intricacies of medieval Islam as so much dead wood. The solution, then, which the world is seeking, and which it is the primary responsibility of the Islamic world, not the West to provide, must be a counter-reformation, driven by our best and most cosmopolitan heritage of spirit and law.

A point of departure, here, and a useful retort to essentialist reductions of Islam to Islamism, is the fact that orthodoxy still flies the flag in almost all seminaries. The reformers are, at least institutionally, in the Rhonnda chapels, not the cathedrals. Perhaps the most striking fact about regulation Sunni Islam over the past fifty years has been its insistence that religion’s general response to modernity must not take the form of an armed struggle. There have been local exceptions to this rule, as in the reactive wars against Serbian irredentism in Bosnia, and Soviet intrusion into Afghanistan. But a doctrine of generic jihad against the West has been conspicuous by its absence.[15]

It is not immediately clear how we gloss this. In the nineteenth century Sunni Islam frequently elected to resist European colonial rule by force, giving rise to the figure of the Mad Mullah who formed part of the imperial imagination, in the fiction of John Buchan, or Tolstoy’s Hajji Murad. In the twentieth century, however, the traditional pragmatism of Sunnism seemed to generate an ulema ethos that was certainly not quietist, but had nothing in common with Qutbian Islamism either. Hence the Deobandi movement in India, and its Tablighi offshoot, supported the Congress party, and generally opposed Partition. Arab religious leaders sometimes resorted to force, as with the Naqshbandi shaykh Izz al-Din al-Qassam in mandate Palestine; but the independence movements were overwhelmingly directed by secular modernists. The ancient universities, al-Qarawiyyin, al-Zaytuna, al-Azhar and the rest, regarded the modern period as a mandate for doctrinal retrenchment and the piecemeal ijtihad-based reassessment of aspects of Islamic law. In other words, mainstream Islam’s response to the startling novelty of a modernity that was forced on its societies at the point of an imperial or postcolonial bayonet was self-scrutinising and cautious, not militant.

Traditional wisdom and the texts, of course, were the reason for this. Sunnism, as inscribed by the great Seljuk theorists, had put its trust in prudence, pragmatism, and a strategy of negotiation with the sultan. So in British India, the Hanafi consensus decided that the Raj formed part of dar al-islam. In Russia, Shihab al-Din Marjani took the same view with regard the empire of the Tsars. But for Qutb, all this was paradigmatic of the error of classical Sunni thought. Islam was to be prophetic, and hence a liberation theology, challenging structures as well as souls, not by preaching and praying alone, but by agitation and revolution. Given his education and sitz im leben in the golden age of anti-colonialism, probably nothing could have extricated Qutb from his critique of what he saw as Sunni indifferentism, rooted, he suspected, in Ash‘ari deontology and a presumed Sufi fatalism. The prophetic is not meant to be accommodating; it fails, or it succeeds triumphantly. The normative political thinkers, Mawardi, Nizam al-Mulk, Ghazali, Katib Çelebi, and their modern advocates, had to be jettisoned. Technological empires had made the world anew, and, if it was to cope with an increasingly bizarre and offensive Other, Islamic thought had to be reformed in the direction of an increasingly unconditional insurrectionism.

Qutb’s resurrection of Ibn Taymiya, via Rashid Rida, became paradigmatic. In the fourteenth century this angry Damascene had attacked ulema who acquiesced in the rule of the nominally Muslim Mongols. Loyalty could be to a righteous imam alone. Rida and others had taken pains to dissociate this from the Kharijite slogan ‘No rule other than God’s’, for an unpleasant odour hung about the name of Kharijism. But de facto, the hard wing of Hanbalite Islam seemed vulnerable to a Kharijite reading. Prototypical al-Qaida supporters wrote to condemn the Syrian neo-Hanbali scholar Nasir al-Din al-Albani, when he released a series of taped sermons entitled Min Manhaj al-Khawarij, ‘From the Method of the Kharijites’, in the early 1990s.[16] Often the word used by less radical puritans in Saudi Arabia for those engaged in terrorism is, precisely, ‘Kharijite’.

What everyone agrees, however, is that al-Qaida is far, far removed from medieval Sunnism. For some, it is Kharijite; for others, an illicit Westernisation of Islam. As Carl Brown puts it, ‘it cannot be stressed too often just how much Qutb’s hardline interpretation departs from the main current of Islamic political thought throughout the centuries.’[17] For Brown, Qutbism is kharijism redux; but we would add, with Gray, that it is a Westernised kharijism. Like all identity movements, it ends with only a very arguable kind of authenticity.

The convergence between a malfunctioning Hanbalism and modern revolutionary vanguardism may owe its strength not to a shared potential for an instantiated xenophobia, although this will attract many party cadres; instead, I suspect, it relates to deeper structures of relationality with the world and its worldliness. The new Islamic zealotry is angry with the Islamic past, as Ibn Taymiya was. For Ibn Taymiya, the ulema had not adequately polarised light and dark. In the case of the mystics, they had disastrously confused them. There is something of the Augustine in Ibn Taymiya: a concrete understanding of a God who is radically apart from creation, or, in patristic terms, alienated from it, and a consequently high view of scripture that challenges Ash‘arite and Maturidi confidences in the direct intelligibility of God in the world, and revives essentially dualistic readings of the Fall narrative. It may be that Ibn Taymiya’s roots in Harran, scene of neo-Gnostic and astral speculations, parallel Augustine’s Manichean background. But there is certainly a furious, single-minded zeal in both men that expresses itself in a deep pessimism about the human mind and conscience, and hence the worth of intellectuals, poets, logicians, and mystics.[18] In such a cosmology, which deploys the absolute polarity abhorred by Deleuze’s Pli (his love of nomadic arts, with their ‘blocs of sensations’ is Islamically suggestive) gentilizing becomes first, not second nature.

Seljuk accommodationism, by contrast, had been driven by an ultimately Ghazalian moralism that feared the spiritual entailments of this crypto-dualism. Nizam al-Mulk, paradigm of high Sunni realpolitik, does not enforce a norm, but enforces the toleration of many norms. He finds that like all scripture, the Koran is super-replete, overflowing with meaning, and no exegete may taste all its flavours; this destabilising miracle may express itself in schism, historically the less favoured Islamic option, or in adab al-ikhtilaf, the forced courtesy of the scholar-jurist well aware of the ultimately unfixable quality of much of holy writ. The Sunni achievement, which was a moral as well as a pragmatic achievement, was to incorporate a wide spectrum of theological and juristic dispute into the universe of allowable internal difference. For zealotry, as Ghazali puts it, is a hijab, a veil.[19] It is a form of, in the Rabbis’ language, loving the Torah more than God. A besetting odium theologicum which can only be healed through self-scrutiny and a due humility before the often baffling intricacy of God’s word and world.

It was on the basis of this hospitable caution that non-Qutbian Sunnism engaged with modernity. Reading the fatwas of great twentieth-century jurists such as Yusuf al-Dajawi, Abd al-Halim Mahmud, and Subhi Mahmassani, one is reminded of the Arabic proverb cited on motorway signs in Saudi Arabia: fi’l-ta’anni as-salama - there is safety in reducing speed. Far from committing a pacifist betrayal, the normative Sunni institutions were behaving in an entirely classical way. Sunni piety appears as conciliatory, cautious, and disciplined, seeking to identify the positive as well as the negative features of the new global culture. Thus it is not the orthodox, but the merchants of identity religion, the Sunna Contra Gentiles, who insist on totalitarian and exclusionary readings of the Law and the state.[20]

If this is our curious situation, if al-Qaida is indeed a product and mirror not of the Sunni story, but of the worst of the Enlightenment’s possibilities, if it is, as it were, the Frankenstein of Frankistan (as Zionism is a golem), how effective can be America’s currently chosen antidote? This takes the form of killing, imprisoning and torturing the leadership, and many of the rank and file, using the methods which have been reported by British and other detainees released from Guantanamo Bay, and by Red Cross officials disturbed by news from Bagram air base in Kabul. Again, our occasionalism has allowed us to forget the history of revolutionary movements, which suggests that such measures are self-defeating, sowing the dragon’s teeth of martyrdom, and announcing to the world the depth of the torturer’s fear. A civilisation confident of victory would not resort to such desperate means. For after violence and internment, there is no last resort. Both moral advantage and deterrent threat have already been used up.

Traditional Sunnis intuit that al-Qaida is a Western invention, but one which cannot be defeated in a battleground where the logic is Western. This was one of the messages that emerged from the 2003 summit meeting of eight hundred Muslim scholars at Putrajaya.[21] Al-Qaida is inauthentic: it rejects the classical canons of Islamic law and theology, and issues fatwas that are neither formally nor in their habit of mind deducible from medieval exegesis. But it is not enough for the entire leadership of the religion to denounce al-Qaida, as it did at Putrajaya, and then to hope and pray that the same strange logic of modernity that bred this insurgency can spirit it away again. The West inseminates, but does not so easily abort. Faced with this, the Sunni leadership needs to be more alert to its responsibilities. Even the radical Westernisation of Islamic piety remains the responsibility of Muslim ulema, not, ultimately, of the Western matrix that inspired it. And it has to be said that the Sunni leadership has not done enough. Denunciations alone will not dent the puritan’s armour, and may strengthen it; this the Counter-Reformation learned by experience.

3. Jus in bello

The war against neo-Kharijite ideology can only be won by Sunni normalcy. Washington’s rhetoric of ‘religion-building’ disguises either a Texan missionary instinct or the triumphant relativism of the secular academy. Franklin Graham and the Ashcroft Inquisition will fail, as Christianity always does against Semitic monotheism, while liberalism, at once its rival and its hypocritical bedfellow, cannot be relied on to supply ethics under conditions of stress. For the Occidental energy all too often responds to such conditions either by apathy (remember the wartime Parisian intelligentsia), or by suspending the ethical teleologically, the classic revolutionary gambit since the days of the Paris commune, if not the English civil war.

The zealots of both sides insist that the validating of ‘soft targets’ is a representative Islamic act. How might they respond to evidence that it is, in fact, a representative secular-Western one? The evidence, as it turns out, is compelling, being a matter of historical record. Despite its claims in times of obese complacency to abhor the killing of the innocent, the secular West reverts with indecent haste to Cicero’s maxim, Silent enim leges inter arma - laws are silent during war. And it is in this Occidental culture, and not in mainline Islam, that we should seek the matrix of radical Islamism. Let us survey the record.

W.G. Sebald has been a recent and helpful contributor here. He writes lyrically of the vengeance visited by the RAF on Germany’s cities in the early 1940s, focussing on the thirty thousand who died in Operation Gomorrah (!) against the city of Hamburg. The object of such campaigns was military only in a very indirect way, for Churchill’s purpose in what he called ‘terror bombing’ (where it was not straightforward vengefulness) was to sap the morale of Germany’s civilian population. As Sebald shows, Parliament restructured the whole British economy to support the area bombing campaign, for one reason alone: it was the only way in which Britain could successfully strike back.[22]

In 1930, the British population had generally shared the view of one politician that to bomb civilians was ‘revolting and un-English.’[23] But with its back against the wall, the population changed its mind with impressive speed. In 1942, Bomber Command’s Directive No. 22 identified the 'morale of the enemy civil population’ as the chief target. By the end of the war, a million tons of high explosive had rained down on German cities, and half a million civilians were dead. By that time a majority of Britons explicitly supported the bombing of civilian targets.[24] As the MP for Norwich put it: ‘I am all for the bombing of working-class areas of German cities. I am Cromwellian - I believe in “slaying in the name of the Lord”,’[25] while after Operation Gomorrah, a popular headline crowed that ‘Hamburg has been Hamburgered.’[26] A third of the war economy was directed to serve this onslaught, with the development of new weapons of mass destruction, such as incendiary bombs, designed specifically to maximise devastation to private homes.[27] Yet after Dresden, which the postwar official history hailed as the ‘crowning achievement’ of the bombing campaign, Churchill was forced to reconsider:

It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed. Otherwise, we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land.[28]

This was no sort of repentance. To his last breath Churchill defended the terror campaign which he had instigated and which underpinned so much of his popularity. Mass destruction from the air of a target whose details were often obscured by clouds or the absence of moonlight, was not, for this icon of English defiance, a moral problem.

A largely secular person of the stamp of our wartime Prime Minister was clearly following a fairly standard Enlightenment philosophy which had replaced the wars of kings with the wars of peoples. Clausewitz, the chief architect of post-medieval military thought, was certain that ‘war is an act of force which theoretically can have no limits,’[29] a view that the most influential military theorists of the twentieth century extended to the use of airpower to terrorize civilians (Liddell Hart, Douhet, Harris). One might have hoped that this illustration of the moral calibre of secularity was found appalling by the Christian conscience of the day. But the stance taken by the leaders of British Christianity was already deeply influenced by modernism. The Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, followed by his brother bishop of York, consistently refused to join the anti-terror minority within the Anglican church. As a historian records, ‘only a handful of the clergy objected outright to area bombing;’[30] George Bell, the outspoken Bishop of Chichester, was a lonely exception in upholding earlier ideals of a just war which had regarded women and children as sacrosanct.

After the war, the victors reset the moral template to its rhetorical default position, and their earlier fatwas in favour of terror bombing were relegated to an outer, uncomfortable edge of the national memory. Once again, England and America (which had carried on its own targeting of civilians in Japan)[31] reverted to the traditional notion of civilian immunity, with its pre-Enlightenment roots. So five years later, the British press felt able to excoriate Menachem Begin as a terrorist, simply because, as he puts it in his memoirs: ‘our enemies called us terrorists […] but we used physical force only because we were faced by physical force.’[32] And today, who can claim that Al-Qaida’s logic is different? The 777 has become the poor man’s nuclear weapon, his own Manhattan Project. Again, he has turned traitor to the East by embracing the utilitarian military ethic of his supposed adversary. He, even more than the regimes, shows the cost of Westernisation.

In this light, how may we take the pulse of the West’s denunciation of ‘Muslim terror’? Let us recall Adorno’s First Law of sexual ethics: always mistrust the accuser.

4. Samson Terroristes

The targeting of civilians is more Western than otherwise; contemplating the Ground Zero of a hundred German cities, this can hardly be denied. Yet it will be claimed that suicidal terrorism is something new, and definitively un-Western. Here, we are told by xenophobes on both sides, the Islamic suicide squads, the Black Widows, the death-dealing pilots, are an indigenously Islamic product.[33] And yet here again, when we detach ourselves from the emotive chauvinism of the Islamists and their Judeo-Christian misinterpreters, we soon find that the roots of such practices in the Islamic imagination are as recent as they are shallow. The genealogy of suicide bombing clearly stretches back from Palestine, through Shi‘a guerillas in southern Lebanon, to the Hindu-nativist zealots of the Tamil Tigers, and to the holy warriors of Shinto Japan, who initiated the tradition of donning a bandanna and making a final testament on camera before climbing into the instrument of destruction. The kamikaze was literally the 'Wind of Heaven', a term evocative of the divine intervention which destroyed the Mongol fleet as it crossed the Yellow Sea.

Hindu and Buddhist tributaries of Middle-Eastern suicide bombing are conspicuous, and it is significant that the Islamists, driven as ever by nativist passion, recoil from them in fits of denial. (How happily, in the sermons, hunud rhymes with yahud!) Yet some scenic images may be instructive for those who take the philosophy of isnad seriously. After describing the Christian martyr Peregrinus, who set fire to himself in public, Sir James Frazier records:

Buddhist monks in China sometimes seek to attain Nirvana by the same method, the flame of their religious zeal being fanned by a belief that the merit of their death redounds to the good of the whole community, while the praises which are showered upon them in their lives, and the prospect of the honours and worship which await them after death, serve as additional incentives to suicide.[34]

But it was in South India that holy suicide seems to have been most endemic:

In Malabar and the neighbouring regions, many sacrifice themselves to the idols. When they are sick or involved in misfortune, they vow themselves to the idol in case they are delivered. Then, when they have recovered, they fatten themselves for one or two years; and when another festival comes around, they cover themselves with flowers, crown themselves with white garlands, and go singing and playing before the idol, when it is carried through the land. There, after they have shown off a good deal, they take a sword with two handles, like those used in currying leather, put it to the back of their necks, and cutting strongly with both hands sever their heads from their bodies before the idol.[35]

The atmaghataka, the suicidal Hindu, was a familiar sight of the premodern Indian landscape, where ‘religious suicides were highly recommended and in most cases glorified.’[36] Suicide often functioned as the culmination of a pilgrimage: ‘the enormous Tirtha literature (literature on pilgrimage) curiously enough describes in detail suicide by intending persons at different places of pilgrimage and the varying importance and virtues attached to them.’[37] Ibn Battuta and al-Biruni, among other Muslim visitors, had been particularly shocked by Hindu customs of sacred suicide, particularly bride-burning and self-drowning.[38] Altogether, in such a culture the development of suicidal methods as part of war is hardly surprising; they are deeply rooted in local non-monotheistic values.

Today’s Tamil extremists extend this tradition in significant ways. Each Tamil Tiger wears a cyanide capsule around his neck, to be swallowed in case of capture. The explosive belt, used to assassinate hated politicians as well as Sinhalese marines and ordinary civilians, predates its Arab borrowing: the first Tamil suicide-martyrs in modern times appear in the 1970s.[39] The Tiger’s Hindu roots[40] thus nourish the current Palestinian practice; as one observer notes: ‘the Black Tigers, as the suicide cadres are known, have been emulated by the likes of Hamas.’[41]

But there is also a strong Western precedent, in pagan antiquity, in early Judaism, and in Christianity.

Suicide had been a respectable option for many ancients. Achilles chooses battle against the Trojans, knowing that the gods have promised that this will lead to his death. Ajax takes his own life, in the confidence that this will not affect his honour. Chrysippus, Zeno, and Socrates all opt for suicide rather than execution or dishonour. Marcus Aurelius praises it to the skies. It was only the neo-Platonists and late Platonists (who not coincidentally became the most congenial Hellenes for Islam) who systematically opposed it.[42]

The Biblical text nowhere condemns suicide. (Judas is condemned for betrayal, not for taking his own life; although Augustine will claim otherwise.) On the contrary, it offers several examples of individuals who chose death.[43] Saul (the koranic Talut) falls on his own sword rather than be humiliated in Philistine captivity (I Samuel 31). Jonah (Yunus) asks the frightened mariners to cast him into the sea (Jonah 1.12), and begs ‘Take my life from me,’ (4.3) for ‘it is better for me to die than to live’ (4.8-9). Job (Ayyub) prays: ‘O that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire; that it would please God to crush me’ (Job 6:8-13), and even ‘I loath my life’ (7:15). Later, during the Maccabean revolts, the hero Razis falls on his sword to avoid falling into the hands of the wicked (2 Maccabees 14:42, 45-6). A notion of vicarious atonement has developed, so that the militant’s suicide which enrages the enemy brings a blessing to the people (4 Maccabees 17:21-2). [44]

The early rabbis typically accept self-immolation in situations of military desperation, to avoid humiliation and to impress the enemy. The deaths of Saul and Samson were regarded as exemplary.[45] And in 'the Jewish Middle Ages, enthusiasm for martyrdom (at least in Ashkenaz - northern Europe) became so great that it proved a positive danger to Jewish existence.’[46] Religious voices raised in support of 20th century Zionism could link this tradition to their own militancy.[47] Hence Avram Kook, the first Ashkenazy Chief Rabbi of mandate Palestine (in Walter Wurzburger’s words)

permitted individuals to volunteer for suicide missions when carried out in the interest of the collective Jewish community. In other words, an act that would be illicit if performed to help individuals, would be legitimate if intended for the benefit of the community.[48]

In the nascent Christian movement, Jesus came to be presented as a suicide, albeit one who knew that he would be resurrected. Some historians are convinced that Jesus, having armed his band with swords (Luke 22:36), formed part of the larger Zealot movement against Roman oppression,[49] while others adhere to the orthodox view that his deliberate death was to be a cosmic sacrifice for human sin; but in either case, the dominant voice in the New Testament presents him as going to Jerusalem in the awareness that this would bring about his certain death (see Mark 10:32-4). Hence the insistent courting of martyrdom by many early Christians praised by Tertullian (here in the words of a modern scholar):

In 185 the proconsul of Asia, Arrius Antoninus, was approached by a group of Christians demanding to be executed. The proconsul obliged some of them and then sent the rest away, saying that if they wanted to kill themselves there was plenty of rope available or cliffs they could jump off.[50]

And for Chrysostom, blasting the infidels, the Christians were better than the ancients, since Socrates had had little choice, while Christians volunteered for martyrdom. In fact, most orthodox Christian martyrs appear to have been volunteers, many of them appearing from nowhere to clamour for the death penalty, or emerging from the crowds to join the flames consuming one of their brethren. It was only with Augustine that this self-immolating behaviour came to an end, as involuntary martyrdom was established as the only acceptable Christian norm in the West.[51]

Orthodoxy, however, remained closer to the primitive tradition. As Frazier records (of sixteenth to nineteenth-century Russia): ‘whole communities hailed with enthusiasm the gospel of death, and hastened to put its precepts into practice.’ Although at first the volunteers were dropped into doorless rooms in which they starved to death ‘for Christ’, fire became the most popular method.

Priests, monks, and laymen scoured the villages and hamlets preaching salvation by the flames, some of them decked in the spoils of their victims; for the motives of the preachers were often of the basest sort. They did not spare even the children, but seduced them by promises of the gay clothes, the apples, the nuts, the honey they would enjoy in heaven. […] Men, women and children rushed into the flames. Sometimes hundreds, and even thousands, thus perished together.[52]

Combining the practice of suicidal martyrdom-seeking with the pursuit of warfare, resulted, for Europeans as well as for Tamils, in what would today be called suicidal warfare. This had the advantage of generating tremendous publicity for the cause in worlds such as the Indic and the Greco-Roman which, like today’s, had a penchant for the bizarre.[53] And for this, the most spectacular precedent was in the Bible. Brian Wicker, a modern Catholic interpreter, remarks that ‘to us, Samson just appears like a cross between Beowulf and Batman,’[54] while Bernhard Anderson in his book The Living World of the Old Testament, neutralises the Samson story by viewing him as the object of divine punishment.[55] Yet he is presented by the narrator of Judges 13 to 16 as an unambiguous hero, and traditionally the churches regarded his self-destruction and his massacre of three thousand Philistine men, women, and children, as a valid act of martyrdom. Augustine and Aquinas both pose the question: why is self-murder not here a sin, and answer: because God had commanded him, and the normal ethical rule was thus suspended.[56]

This suicide-warrior rises to the top of Western literature in Samson Agonistes. Milton is here smarting from the horror and shame of the Restoration. Once again, England is under the idolatrous law of king and bishops, a kind of jahiliyya, and Cromwell’s city of glass has been shattered. His poem, then, is autobiographical: Samson is a true hero, humiliated, blinded by an unjust king, kept captive in the world of the dark Other. Like the refugee-camp inmate he is

Exposed To daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong, Within doors, or without, still as a fool, In power of others, never in my own.[57]

His duty, confronted by a hypocritical War on Terror, is to take effective revenge by any means necessary. His father, recognising this grim necessity, makes the usual statement of fathers of suicide bombers everywhere:

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail, Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt, Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair. And what may quiet us in a death so noble.[58]

The theme continues, through Handel, to reach Saint-Saens. In the latter’s opera Samson and Delilah the Samson legend, far from falling by the wayside of progress and fraternité, seems the perfect icon for France’s contemporary humiliation before Prussian technology. The guns of Krupp have frustrated France’s destiny in her mission civilatrice, and the chosen people must be avenged. The story seems perfectly modern: there is the theme of the tragic power of sex - Delilah becomes a second Carmen - and we witness the inevitability of total destruction in a grand, cast-iron Götterdammerung. Ernst Jünger, Stalingrad, and the suicidal B-52 captain in Doctor Strangelove are not far behind.

But perhaps the most recent, and also the most fascinating, mobilisation of the Samson ‘ideal’ in Western literature is the novel Samson by the Zionist ideologue Vladimir Jabotinsky. ‘Homeland, whatever the price!’ is the captured Israelite’s slogan. Like the Islamist, the Zionist hero stresses the impossibility of conviviality:

The second thing I have learned in the last few days is the wisdom of having boundary–stones […] Neighbours can agree so long as each remains home, but trouble comes as soon as they begin to pay each other visits. The gods have made men different and commanded them to respect the ditch in the fields. It is a sin for men to mix what the Gods have separated.[59]

Like a good Islamist, the Zionist Samson combines this xenophobia with a passion to acquire the Other’s technology. When asked if he had a message for his own people, he cries:

They must get iron. They must give everything they have for iron – their silver and wheat, oil and wine and flocks, even their wives and daughters. All for iron! There is nothing in the world more valuable than iron. Will you tell them that?[60]

Like the Islamist, too, Jabotinsky’s suicide-hero is envious of the unbeliever’s skills at organisation:

One day, he was present at a festival at the templeof Gaza. Outside in the square a multitude of young men and girls were gathered for the festive dances [...] A beardless priest led the dances. He stood on the topmost step of the temple, holding an ivory baton in his hand. When the music began the vast concourse stood immobile [...] The beardless priest turned pale and seemed to submerge his eyes in those of the dancers, which were fixed responsively on his. He grew paler and paler; all the repressed fervor of the crowd seemed to concentrate within his breast till it threatened to choke him. Samson felt the blood stream to his heart; he himself would have choked if the suspense had lasted a few moments longer. Suddenly, with a rapid, almost inconspicuous movement, the priest raised his baton, and all the white figures in the square sank down on the left knee and threw the right arm towards heaven – a single movement, a single, abrupt, murmurous harmony. The tens of thousands of onlookers gave utterance to a moaning sigh. Samson staggered; there was blood on his lips, so tightly had he pressed them together [...] Samson left the place profoundly thoughtful. He could not have given words to his thought, but he had a feeling that here, in this spectacle of thousands obeying a single will, he had caught a glimpse of the great secret of politically minded peoples.[61]

Lest this be thought an aberrant, marginal use of the suicide-hero, let us recall the words of another Zionist thinker, Stephen Rosenfeld: ‘All our generation was brought up on that book.’[62]

Samson provides an important Biblical archetype for the national hero who is a semi-outcast among his own people, but who saves them nonetheless. In the dying months of Nazi Germany, selbstopfereinsatz missions were flown by Luftwaffe pilots against Soviet bridgeheads on the Oder.[63] In 1950, Cecil B. DeMille used Jabotinsky’s novel as the basis for his film Samson and Delilah. And a still more recent example is the film Armageddon, in which a group of socially marginalised Americans sacrifice their lives by detonating their spacecraft inside a comet that is on a collision course with Earth. In doing so they are defying tradition and even lawful orders, but they earn thereby the eternal gratitude of their people. As Robert Jewett and John Lawrence have shown, this image of the American hero as the ordinary man impatient of traditional authority who risks or destroys himself to save the world (John Brown, Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone, Captain America, Superman, Spiderman, and Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek), is the great monomyth of today’s West.[64] In some Eastern parts, the popularity of magically vanishing Bin Laden figures, who emerge from undistinguished lives to break conventional laws in order to save the world, offers another suggestion of how deeply Westernised Arab culture has become.

Let no-one claim, then, that suicide bombing is alien to the West. It is a recurrent possibility of Europe’s heritage. What needs emphasizing, against the snapshot thinking of the journalists, is the absence of a parallel strand in Islamic thinking. For Islam, suicide is always forbidden; some regard it as worse than murder.[65] Many Biblical stories are retold by Islam, but the idea of suicidal militancy is entirely absent from the scriptures. Saul’s suicide is not present in the Koran, nor do we find it in Tabari’s great Annals (which wish simply to record that he died in battle).[66] The Koranic Jonah does not ask to be pitched overboard, and Job does not pray for death. Similarly, the suicidal istishhad of Samson is absent from the Koran and Hadith, no doubt in line with their insistence on the absolute wickedness of suicide. The same Islamic idealism that cannot accept David’s seduction of Bathsheba, or Lot’s incest, has here airbrushed out Samson’s killing of the innocent and his self-destruction.

Again, the point is clear: the scriptural and antique sensibilities which provided some cultural space for suicidal warfare in Western civilisation appear to have very thin foundations in Islam. Flying into a skyscraper to save the world is closer to the line which links Samson to Captain America, with a detour through the Book of Revelation, than to any Muslim conception of futuwwa.

Here are Buruma and Margalit, in their important study of Westernised anti-Westernism:

Bin Laden’s use of the word ‘insane’ is more akin to the Nazis’ constant use of fanatisch. Human sacrifice is not an established Muslim tradition. Holy war always was justified in defence of the Islamic state, and believers who died in battle were promised heavenly delights, but glorification of death for its own sake was not part of this, especially in the Sunni tradition. […] And the idea that freelance terrorists would enter paradise as martyrs by murdering unarmed civilians is a modern invention, one that would have horrified Muslims in the past. Islam is not a death cult.[67]

Let us now move on to consider other hints of the Western roots of radical Islamism. One symptom may be detected in a shared fondness for conspiracy theories. The messianic importance of the hidden deliverer is emphasised by the machinations of the forces of darkness which are ranged against him. The mu’amara, or Plot, is everywhere, as Robert Fisk, that dauntless lamentor of Mid-East fantasies, regularly observes.[68] A sadly typical example is given by Abdelwahab Meddeb:

When I was at Abu Dhabi in May 2001, a number of my interlocutors, of various Arab communities (Lebanese, Syrian, Sudanese, etc.), confirmed the warning, spread by the local newspapers, to the public of the countries of the Near East not to buy the very inexpensive belts with the label Made in Thailand. These belts, the people told me, were actually Israeli products in disguise and carried a kind of flea that propagated an incurable disease: one more Zionist trick to weaken Arab bodies, if not eliminate them. These interlocutors, otherwise reasonable and likable, gave credit to information as fantastic as that. Those are the fantasies in which the symptoms of the sickness of Islam can be seen, the receptive compost in which the crime of September 11 could be welcomed joyfully.[69]

Again, this is historically unusual for Muslims. Healthy communities far from Western influence find it incredible. The current prevalence of a kind of Islamic McCarthyism, often hysterical in its attempts to reduce a complex and enraging modernity to a monomaniac opposition, is simply another indication of how far the Islamists have travelled from the tradition. Religion makes us more attentive to reality, while secularity, bereft of real disciplines of self-knowledge and self-disdain, permits a dream-self. ‘They think that every shout is against themselves,’ says the Koran of the hypocrites (63:4), while praising the believers for their clearsighted faith that only God is simple, and it is only He that should be feared. The correct mindset is specified in scripture:

Those to whom the people said: ‘The people have gathered against you, therefore fear them!’ But it increased them in faith, and they said: ‘Allah is enough for us, an excellent Guardian is he!’

So they returned with grace and favour from Allah, and no harm touched them. They followed the good-pleasure of Allah, and Allah is of great bounty.

It is only the devil who would make [men] fear his allies. Fear them not; fear Me, if you are believers. (3:173-5)

The context is the aftermath of Uhud, when waverers warned of the strength of the combined enemies around Medina. Paranoia thus becomes the marker of imperfect faith and undue respect for the asbab. But despair is kufr: Islam’s Samson could never say:

Hopeless are all my evils, all remediless; This one prayer yet remains, might I be heard, No long petition, speedy death, The close of all my miseries, and the balm.[70]

Moreover, it requires an apparently unbearable humility for the Islamist conspiracy theorist to recognise that until very recently Muslims have seldom been perceived by the United States as a noteworthy enemy. For most of its history, America has opposed and feared and stereotyped Englishmen, Rebels, Red Indians, Spaniards, Huns, Reds or Gooks. The current preoccupation with Muslims is shallow in the US memory, if we discount the brief and long-forgotten enthusiasms of the Decatur episode.

Again, as with the conspiracy theories which urgently needed to see 9/11 as the work of Mossad, and the utilitarian justification of the vanguard’s suspension of the ethical, the radical Islamists are an expression of the very Westernising alienation they profess to defy. In a sense, the West hates them because they are more modern than itself, and thus remind it of the unbearable risks it has taken by following the road of Enlightenment. It is as Meddeb reminds us: ‘Who are those who died while spreading death in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania? [...] They are the sons of our times, the pure products of the Americanisation of the world.’[71]

Self-immolation in Gaza to bring down the unbelieving temple. This is tragedy in Wagnerian mode. It is suicide, selbstmord, not really prefatory to redemption, but to publicity and therapy. It was Nietzsche, not any Islamic sage, who wrote: ‘The thought of suicide is a great source of comfort: with it a calm passage is to be made across many a bad night.’[72] After being ‘eyeless in Gaza, at the mill with slaves,’ Samson experiences ‘calm of mind, all passion spent’[73] - the English idiom begins with Milton’s ending, linking, as do some readings of the Samson legend, eros and thanatos, desire and death.

But it is Nietzsche who introduces the modern superhero. If ‘the splendrous blond beast, avidly rampant for plunder and victory’ cannot take the revenge which heals his heart, he will end his unworthy existence in a magnificent, Hitlerian funeral pyre. Samson thus becomes an anticipation of modernity.

Religion, if it has the right to exist at all, must consider this a spurious healing. Neither vainglory nor despair can have a place in the metabolism of a religion based on the idea of God’s unique mastery of history, the polar opposite of dualistic paganism, or of the romantic Enlightenment dream which found its tragic moods congenial. The scriptures denounce hamiyya, the feverish identity-politics of the pagan Arabs; the post-orthodox Islamist admits it to his heart. ‘Roots of Muslim Rage’ is the title of Bernard Lewis’ most notorious piece on Islamism.[74] His pathology of the roots is far astray; but the rage is undeniable. How are we to understand such rage in the heart of a religion built on submission to the Divine will, hulwihi wa-murrihi, the bitter and the sweet of it? Which insisted that ‘it is not the wrestler who is strong; it is the man who masters himself when angry’?[75] Why did the Blessed Prophet pray for ‘a certainty by which You render slight in our eyes the calamities of this world’?[76]

The roots are, as it turns out, instrumental reason, natural causality, and the enthroning of Aristotle over Plato, or Newton over St Denys. Without the certainty of an omnipotent God (and is not Islam here better at restraining passion than all other faiths?) the experience of adversity leaves us prey to wild emotion. It was this same jahili craving for revenge that led Churchill astray, as one historian suggests: ‘In this superheated and bloody time emotion may have masqueraded as political thinking in a rationalizing Prime Minister’s mind.’[77]

Religion is never more tested than when our emotions are ablaze. At such a time, the timeless grandeur of the Law and its ethics stand at our mercy. ‘Let the qadi not judge when he is angry,’ as it is said. But here is the reality of Gaza:

‘Hamas operations are not directed and have never been directed against children,’ says Hamas political leader Ismail Abu Shanaab. ‘It is directed at military targets.’ When pushed, however, he goes further. ‘To be frank with you, there are a lot of the moralities which got broken in this war,’ he says. ‘They are letting the Israelis kill Palestinians and they want the Palestinians to be moderate, to be moral. We cannot control the game because it has no rules, it has no limits.’[78]

Revenge, rage, the teleological suspension of the ethical. It is Churchillian, but also aromatic with a not-yet-dispersed Marxism. Here, for instance, is Mawdudi, a tributary of the Hamas vision:

‘Muslim’ is the name of the international revolutionary party which Islam organizes to implement its revolutionary program and Jihad is that revolutionary struggle which the Islamic party carries out to achieve its objectives.[79]

As Abdullah Schleifer goes on to remark:

Mawdoodi took as his enduring model a progression of dynamic relationships - the movement, the party, revolutionary struggle, the revolution - defined by one of the major desacralizing forces in contemporary times, in pursuit of a concept of state that draws its substance from non-Islamic sources, and all with that same innocence of the modern Muslim importing his ‘value-free’ technology.[80]

The antinomian quality of this furious insurrectionist method confirms Gray’s suggestion that Islamism is simply another modern weapon against religion. For theists, the ethical can never be suspended; on the contrary, it is needed most when most under strain. Yet the militant transgressions of radicals form only part of a much wider picture of covert but deep surrender to Enlightenment thought.

Islamism, that soi-disant hammer of the Franks, is ironically modern in very many ways. It is modern in its eagerness for science and its hatred of ‘superstition.’ It is modern in its rejection of all higher spirituality (Qutb recommends, instead, ‘al-fana’ fi’l-‘aqida’).[81] It is modern in its rejection of the principle of tradition, and, despite itself, cannot but impose the insecurities of Western-trained minds (and are they not all engineers and doctors?) on scripture. Intertextuality and the community of sages are barred. The theopolitics of classical Islam, where both scholarship and the state are invigorated by mutual tension (the Men of the Pen and the Men of the Sword), is replaced by the finally Western model of the ideological totalitarian state, with a self-appointed clerisy (albeit composed of technocrats) requiring absolute control over policy and the Shari‘a. The modular diversities of pre-modern Muslim societies, where villages, tribes, and millat minorities regulated themselves, give way to the Islamist appropriation of the machinery of centralised post-colonial etatism. Social subsets which flourished for centuries under, say, Ottomanism, already eroded by centralising colonial regimes, are finally liquidated by a vision that is purely Western, albeit camouflaged by loud religious language. As Maryam Jameelah puts it, in a courageous article in which she publicly announces her disillusionment with the Islamist model:

The tragic paradox of the life and thought of Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdoodi was his subconscious acceptance of the very same Western ideas he dedicated his entire life to struggling against.[82]

In such a system, those who should be serving God end up obeying the men of the state who are His all too fallible interpreters. They worship in fear of the police, not in fear of God. Dissidence becomes a simultaneous treason and blasphemy. The failure of this totalitarian model of the ‘Islamic State’, this ‘carceral Islamism’ which makes a Muslim land a prison rather than a landscape of options and regional variety, is today everywhere apparent, and is a sign, perhaps, that God will not allow victory to such a perversion. For the Muslims will not long be allowed to bow before any other than God.

6. Dies Irae

Is this attack on tradition a modernity with a future? Zealotry itself is not normally refuted, it has to subside. Often that subsidence is enabled by schism: Cromwell could not be replicated because of the powerfully fissiparous quality of Dissent. Calvin’s Geneva hardly outlived him. Hutterites, Levellers, Anabaptists, and the other fragments of the Protestant detonation could perpetuate themselves, but their energy source seemed to have a half-life. Islamic extremism, what has historically been called ghuluww, excess, and has occasionally, though not often, troubled the religion’s equilibrium, usually knows a similar deflation through internal factionalism and the disappointment which seeps into all annunciatory movements when the world does not either improve or come to an end. In the case of Muslim puritanism, we see, currently, infighting, as in Algeria, and on the streets of Riyadh. Apathy may not be long postponed.

This seems likely, to the extent that Islamism is the product of indigenous decay, a second Reformation. But will its porosity to Enlightenment thought prolong or accelerate this decay? (How ironic that Islam’s Reformation should come after its Enlightenment!) Here predictions about Islamism may not be so different from predictions about a certain kind of exhibitionist postmodernism. Take Foucault, for instance. On his death, he had been praised by Le Monde as ‘the most important event of thought in our century.’ He was an iconic Western iconoclast, but more honest about the consequences of modernity than most liberal seekers after virtue. He had been strongly pro-Khomeini, and had also praised the Baader-Meinhof terrorists. Like many Islamists, he was a lapsed Marxist, concerned with making a statement, with angering the middle-class West, with disruption. A second Bakunin, he was concerned not with advancing a detailed and realistic agenda, but with a passionate desire to shock. And like his hero Nietzsche, he died of a venereal disease, his immensely careless sexual habits indicating the powerful allure of suicide for the sake of making a statement. We need to ask: is this too close for comfort to radical Islamism, with its penchant for épater les blancs by whatever means? For how long can the West portray the Islamists as its own polar opposite? Will it be harder to forget the zealots than to forget Foucault?

This is less hopeful: Foucault has not been forgotten. The ambient vacuum which permitted a philosophy of the absurd in France and in the Middle East shows no signs of abatement. Capitalist shortsightedness wedded to postmodern philosophy may offer the only real life-support system that the Muslim reformation can hope for. Thus the defeat of the Muslim aberration may depend on nothing less than the defeat of the current global system, and its replacement with an order grounded in the ethical brilliance of the monotheisms. This diagnosis places us far beyond both Qutb’s chauvinism and the narcissism of the neocons. The same classical Islamic strength through cosmopolitanism that helped our ancient order to endure as a non-totalitarian expression of certainty must be remobilised to affirm the Other’s heart, in order to reconnect the global system with religious reality. That is, a successful ‘war on terror’ cannot be detached from a humanly consensual war on environmental loss, on unfair trade, on identity feminism, and on genetic manipulation. If it is so detached, it will be lost.

Blake portrays the spirit of the industrial age as Urizen, blind ignorance, fettered in laws of causality unveiled by Newton, and sunk in feral emotionalism. Religion is indispensable to the nurturing of a true humanism because it fights this, and insists that humanity has a telos, and that the soul is therefore sacrosanct.

To succeed, then we must be able to realise that self-judgement, that greatest and most irreplaceable gift of the Abrahamic religions, is more than an evolutionary confidence trick. Consider Jürgen Habermas’ latest book, which reflects on human nature as challenged by genetic science.[83] Postmodernism seems to problematise self-judgement; and its associated ethical practice seems to reduce Aristotle’s greatness of soul, which he, against later monotheist reaction, considered a virtue, to superbia, greatest of the seven deadly sins. But Habermas reminds us that confronted by genetic science, we are required, after a long hiatus, to judge ourselves. For science seeks our permission to rebuild our bodies to reduce the suffering of future generations; yet in the process it must ask us to define what we presently are. Liberal ethics, which resist both such definitions, and any exercise in using human beings for our own purposes, however idealistic, are thereby interrogated. Habermas is quite clear that the West’s conception of virtue is a Christian ghost, rooted in a Kantianism that has been the basis of liberal notions of individual autonomy. Yet he seems convinced that this ghost still lives, and can be maintained perpetually, and may even serve as the stable basis of ever more ambitious projects for universal codes of human rights, in the arena of bioethics, as elsewhere. This will include, presumably, the war on Carrelian Islamism.

John Gray, iconoclastically again, is unsure that this is as coherent as it is helpful. Gray, whose understanding of Al-Qaida as an Enlightenment project we noted earlier, would rather we revisited Schopenhauer’s deconstruction of Kant. Frightened ethicists have deceived themselves that there is no Christianity in this Christian ghost. Yet true Kantianism would reject the categoric imperative as a false projection upon the Noumenon. Our desperate desire to find a new moral anchorage after the sinking of Christian scholasticism blinds us to what is for Gray the unanswerable insight that without God, we are beyond good and evil. Schopenhauer saw, as Gray put it, ‘that the enlightenment was only a secular version of Christianity’s central mistake.’[84] There is no soul, only the individual will, and we have no reason to suppose that we are any more free in our decision-making than the animals from which religion taught us that we were so categorically distinct. Our consciousness is just one more part of the world. Heidegger turns out to be worse: he insists that he excludes Christian paradigms, but internalises them implicitly in his consideration of the human plight, suffering, guilt, and the paradox of being. And while Schopenhauer maintained a pure and private pessimism, Heidegger sought to intuit Being in his tribe. ‘The Führer himself and alone,’ he exclaimed, ‘is the present and future German reality and its law.’ Hitler’s xenophobia allowed the philosopher to repair his wounds, and reconnect with Being. Qutbian fundamentalism is not far away.

It is impossible to exaggerate the debt Giddens’ ‘runaway world’ owes to Christianity, for showing so much vitality even after Nietzsche proclaimed the death of its God. But for the Gospels, the Western empire would not have benefited from Kant’s conjuring trick, or Rawls’ benign adversion to ‘good people’. Yet the fact of its precariousness remains; and the risk of a tribal resolution is enormous.[85] Science harnessed to Geist dragged up Hitler; and something similar has beset Islam. Solidarity, mythologically voiced, technologically imposed, is to be the cure for our desperate alienation. Remember the words of the Furies in Aeschylus:

For many ills one attitude is the cure When it agrees on what to hate.[86]

The danger, then, is that liberalism will prove too weak to prevent one form of Enlightenment chauvinism – carceral Islamism – from triggering a sudden revival of another such form – Hitlerian essentialism. The prosperity of the far-right across the liberal West shows how far this march has already come. Postmodernity is methodologically incapable of resisting this; and monotheism must step into the breach. A monotheism, however, which bears all the arms it has acquired and sharpened during its travels: its intellectual appropriation of Athens, its hospitality to the autochthonously non-Semitic, its insistence on diversity, all enabled and preserved by the centrality of spiritual purgation. The civil war within Enlightenment modernity that Gray identifies as the essence of the ‘war on terror’ is suicidal. Only a ressourcement in the anchored past can deliver us.


NOTES

[1] Cited in Joh n Gray, Straw Dogs: thoughts on humans and other animals (London, 2002), 75.

[2] Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (London, 1992); Daniel Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will (Bradford, 2002).

[3] Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

[4] For the neocons see now Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order (Cambridge, 2004).

[5] Cited in Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence, Captain America and the Crusade against Evil: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism (Grand Rapids andCambridge, 2003), 131.

[6] Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (London: 2002), 369-70; e.g. ‘The Catholic Church and other Christian churches […] could include in every Christian Bible a detailed, corrective account alongside the text about its many antisemitic passages, and a clear disclaimer explaining that even though these passages were once presented as fact, they are actually false or dubious and have been the source of much unjust injury. They could include essays on the various failings of the Christian Bible, and a detailed running commentary on each page that would correct the texts’ erroneous and libellous assertions.’

[7] Cf. Julia Lipton, ‘Othello Circumcised: Shakespeare and the Pauline Discourse of Nations’, Representations 57 (1997), 78: ‘Christian typologists also used Esau, Pharoah and Herod to couple the Jew and the Muslim as carnal children of Abraham facing each other across the world-historical break effected by the Incarnation.’

[8] See Fukuyama: ‘A country that makes human rights a significant element of its foreign policy tends toward ineffectual moralizing at best, and unconstrained violence in pursuit of moral aims at worst.’ Harper’s Magazine, August 2001, p. 36.

[9] Salah Abd al-Fattah al-Khalidi, Amrika min al-dakhil bi-minzar Sayyid Qutb (Beirut, 2002).

[10] Roxanne L. Euben, Enemy in the Mirror: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Limits of Modern Rationalism (Princeton, 1999), 52; citing Qutb’s Khasa’is al-Tasawwur al-Islami; Youssef Choueiri, Islamic Fundamentalism (London 1990), 142-9. As Choueiri concludes: ‘What Qutb fails to inform his vanguard, however, is that the code of conduct he subsequently elaborated in his ‘commentary’ on the Koran matches that of Carrel much more than Muhammad’s own Traditions.’ The result is not an indigenous form of governance, but ‘aThird World version of Fascism.’

[11] Samuel Goitein, Jews and Arabs (New York, 1955), 130: ‘Never has Judaism encountered such a close and fructuous symbiosis as that with the medieval civilization of Arab Islam’.

[12] Many Muslims who have rejected the new radicalism in favour of authenticity will sympathise with the experience of Franky Schaeffer, who in the 1970s was an extreme Calvinist advocate of totalitarian government. In the 1980s, shocked by the reality of fundamentalist leaders, he joined the Greek Orthodox Church, denouncing the Protestant radicals as ‘a hybrid composed of fragments of ancient Christian faith and thoroughly modern, anti-traditional, materialist and often utopian ideas.’ Cited in Steve Bruce, Fundamentalism (Cambridge, 2000), 122.

[13] John Gray, Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (London, 2003), 1-2.

[14] Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London andNew York: Verso, 2002), 146.

[15] See for instance Richard Martin, ‘The Religious Foundations of War, Peace and Statecraft in Islam’, in John Kelsay and James Turner Johnson (eds), Just War and Jihad: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic Traditions. (New York, Westport and London, 1991.)

[16] Naqd Kalam al-Shaykh al-Albani fi Sharitihi Min Manhaj al-Khawarij. N.d., n.p.

[17] L. Carl Brown, Religion and State: the Muslim approach to politics (New York, 2000), 156-7. It needs to be added that Qutb’s aberration is typical of those who carry out radical ijtihad without the needful qualifications in shari‘a sciences. For instance, he develops his absolutist rejection of any conversation with the West in his Ma‘alim fi’l-tariq (Cairo, 1980), 145, on the basis of out-of-context Koranic verses (2:109, 2:120, and 3:100), which warn only of the dangers of cooperating with some of the ahl al-kitab. To try and force the issue, he then produces a hadith from Abu Ya‘la, ‘Do not ask the People of the Book about anything …’ (Abu Ya‘la, Musnad [Damascus and Beirut, 1985/1405], IV, 102), apparently unaware that this hadith is weak; see ‘Abduh ‘Ali Kushak, al-Maqsad al-A‘la fi taqrib ahadith al-Hafiz Abi Ya‘la (Beirut, 1422/2001), I, 83. In any case, who is more absurd than the radical who rejects all Western influence, and then writes books with titles like Khasa’is al-Tasawwur al-Islami (‘Special Qualities of the Islamic Conception’)? Qutb’s whole manner of expression would be unimaginable without modernity.

[18] Abdelwahab Meddeb, Islam and its discontents (London, 2003), 48-52. Qutb’s waning interest in literature is one symptom of this.

[19] Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Disciplining the Soul, tr. T. Winter (Cambridge, 1995), 86.

[20] ‘Asian Muslims in particular have come to reify the shari‘a as much as any Orientalist, converting the law into a symbol of ethnic identification.’ Lawrence Rosen, The Justice of Islam: Comparative perspectives on Islamic law and society (Oxford, 2000), 186.

[21] www.dfw.com/mld/bayarea/news/6281132.htm?1c.

[22] W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction (London, 2004), 17.

[23] Stephen A. Garrett, Ethics and airpower in World War II: the British bombing of German cities (New York and Basingstoke, 1993), 28.

[24] Garrett, 90; Harvey Tress, British strategic bombing through 1940: politics, attitudes, and the formation of a lasting pattern (Lewiston, 1988), 304.

[25] Garrett, 90.

[26] Garrett, 103.

[27] Tress, 335.

[28] Cited in Garrett, 20.

[29] Cited in Garrett, 132.

[30] Garrett, 96.

[31] General Curtis LeMay, who planned the Tokyo attacks which killed perhaps a hundred thousand civilians, remarked that they were ‘scorched and boiled and baked to death.’ (John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War [New York, 1986], 50.)

[32] Menahem Begin, The Revolt (revised edition,London 1979), 59-60.

[33] A substantial literature now exists seeking to identify suicide bombing as a paradigmatically Muslim act. See, for instance, Shaul Shay, The Shahids: Islam and Suicide Attacks (Transaction, 2003); also Christoph Reuter, My Life is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing (Princeton, 2004). This forms part of a larger determination to show the radicals as authentic expressions of Islamic tradition (see, for instance, the works of Emmanuel Sivan). The level of Islamic knowledge present in this literature is usually poor; see for instance Reuter’s belief (p.22) that the Mu‘tazilites were founded by Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd! Reuter is a Stern journalist, whose patronage by Princeton University Press shows the fragility of the standards of American academic institutions in times of international crisis.

[34] Sir James Frazier, The Golden Bough. Part III: The Dying God (London, 1913), 42. For a more recent study see Jacques Gernet, ‘Les suicides par le feu chez les bouddhiques chinoises de Ve au Xe siecle’, Mélanges publiés par l’Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises I (1960), 527-558. For Buddhist suicide in India see W. Rahula, ‘Self-Cremation in Mahayana Buddhism’ in his Zen and the Taming of the Bull (London, 1978), 111-6. Rahula amplifies (p.113): ‘Usually a self-cremation was done in public, but there were some monks who burnt themselves secretly. One monk burnt himself in a cauldron of oil. Some made a modest offering to a stupa by cutting off a finger or a hand, wrapping it with cloth drenched in oil, and setting fire to it.’ The practice is traced back to the time of the Buddha himself; as F. Woodward records: ‘The Buddha approved of the suicide of bhikkus; but in these cases they were Arahants, and we are to suppose that such beings who have mastered self, can do what they please as regards the life and death of their carcases’ (‘The Ethics of Suicide in Greek, Latin and Buddhist Literature’, Buddhist Annual of Ceylon [1922], p.8).

[35] Ibid, 54. See also the ritual described on page 47, in which the king ofCalicut ‘had to cut his throat in public at the end of a twelve years’ reign.’

[36] Upendra Thakur, The History of Suicide in India: An Introduction (Delhi, 1963), xv-xvi.

[37] Ibid., 9. See also the section on ‘Religious Suicide’, on pp.77-111.

[38] Rihlat Ibn Battuta (Beirut, 1379/1960), 411-3, focussing on the practice of bride-burning, but referring also to Hindu self-drowning rituals. See also Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni, Tahqiq ma li’l-Hind (Hyderabad, 1377/1958), p.480: ‘Those among them who kill themselves do so during eclipses; or they may hire a man to drown them in theGanges. Such people hold them underwater until they die.’ For more on this practice see Thakur, 112.

[39] Edgar O’Ballance, The Cyanide War: Tamil Insurrection in Sri Lanka 1973-88 (London, 1989), p.13, for the first Tamil suicide martyrs in the 1970s. Other Tamil Tiger terrorist habits include beheading (p.10), taking Western hostages (p.40), and drug-dealing to fund operations (p.120).

[40] For the religious puritanism of the Tamil Tigers (no extramarital relations, no alcohol, etc.), see Dagmar Hellmann-Rajayanagar, The Tamil Tigers: armed struggle for identity (Stuttgart, 1994), 37. Sometimes considered to be Marxist, the Tamil Tigers are primarily inspired by national and religious tradition (ibid., p. 56).

[41] Amantha Perera, ‘Suicide bombers feared and revered,’ Asia Times, July 17, 2003. For more on Islamist borrowings from Tamil suicide warfare see Amy Waldman, ‘Masters of Suicide Bombing: Tamil Guerillas of Sri Lanka’ (New York Times,14 January 2003).

[42] Cf. Plotinus, against the Stoics: ‘if each man’s rank in the other world depends on his state when he goes out, one must not take out the soul as long as there is any possibility of progress’ (Ennead I.9; cf. also the Elias fragment of Plotinus found after this section in Armstrong’s Loeb translation). This is similar to the Islamic virtue of praying for a long life in the service of God. (Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, VI, 23.)

[43] ‘Within Israelite society, as early as the period of the united monarchy, voluntary death, given the proper circumstances, was understood as honorable and even routine.’ (Arthur J. Droge and James D. Tabor, Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in antiquity [San Francisco, 1992], 56.)

[44] See J.W. van Henten, The Maccabean martyrs as saviours of the Jewish people: a study of 2 and 4 Maccabees (Leiden and New York, 1997).

[45] Droge and Tabor, 87, 100. See also Sidney Hoenig, ‘The Sicarii in Masada – Glory or Infamy?’ Tradition 11 (1970), 5-30; Sidney Goldstein, Suicide in Rabbinic Literature (Hoboken, 1989), 41-2.

[46] Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Stanford, 1999), 171. It is not insignificant that ‘during the Moslem period, mass suicides among Jews do not seem to have occurred’ (Goldstein, 49).

[47] The former Ashkenazy Chief Rabbi ofIsrael, Shlomo Goren, allowed suicide as an alternative to prisoner-of-war status, following the examples of Saul andMasada (Goldstein, 49).

[48] Walter S. Wurzburger, Ethics of Responsibility: Pluralistic Approaches to Covenantal Ethics (Philadelphia, 1994), 92. For more, see Goldstein’s chapter entitled ‘Suicide as an Act of Martyrdom’, pp.41-50.

[49] ‘In strictly historical terms it is unlikely that Jesus of Nazareth ever expected to give his life as “a ransom for many” (Mark10:45). Rather, his intention was to bring about the restoration ofIsrael and to usher in thekingdom ofGod.’ (Droge and Tabor, 115.) Islam would probably be more impressed by the Lucan Jesus, who apparently never intended to die.

[50] Droge and Tabor, 136.

[51] Droge and Tabor, 134-9, 152-5; 167-83. Voluntary martyrdom continued in some places, such as early Muslim Cordova, where 48 Christians were beheaded between 850 and 859: ‘the majority of the victims deliberately invoked capital punishment by publicly blaspheming Muhammad and disparaging Islam.’ They were eulogised by the Church. (K. B. Wolf, Christian Martyrs in Muslim Spain [Cambridge, 1988], 1.)

[52] Frazier, 45.

[53] Glen Bowersock, Martyrdom and Rome (Cambridge, 1995), 66-7.

[54] Brian Wicker, ‘Samson Terroristes: A Theological Reflection on Suicidal Terrorism’, New Blackfriars, vol. 84 no.983 (January 2003), 45. I am indebted to Wicker for much of the information in the next two paragraphs.

[55] Bernhard Anderson, The Living World of the Old Testament (London, 1958), 111.

[56] Droge and Tabor, 186.

[57] John Milton, Poetical Works (Edinburgh, 1853), II, 76.

[58]Milton, 125.

[59] Vladimir Jabotinsky, Prelude to Delilah (New York, 1945), 131. This is a translation of the original, published as Samson in 1926.

[60] Jabotinsky, 330.

[61] Jabotinsky, 200.

[62] Stephen Rosenfeld, ‘Straight to the Heart of Menachem Begin’, Present Tense (Summer 1980), 7.

[63] Antony Beevor, Berlin 1945, the downfall. (London, 2002), 238. Focke-Wulf fighter-bombers packed with explosives would deliberately ram Soviet bridges and command centres.

[64] Jewett and Lawrence, 35-9.

[65] ‘Abdallah ibn Qutayba, ‘Uyun al-akhbar (Cairo, 1348/1930), iii, 217.

[66] Tabari, History, Volume III: The Children of Israel, translated by William M. Brinner (Albany, 1991), 139.

[67] I. Buruma and A. Margalit, Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism (London, 2004), 68-9.

[68] Robert Fisk, Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War (London, 1990), 78, 79, 85, 139, 166, 175, 178, 302, 320, 374, 408, 523, 530, 567, 603.

[69] Meddeb, 115.

[70]Milton, 93.

[71] Meddeb, 9.

[72] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, tr. Helen Zimmern (London, 1907, repr.1967), 98.

[73]Milton, 126.

[74] Bernard Lewis, ‘Roots of Muslim Rage,’ The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990

[75] Bukhari and Muslim from Abu Hurayra.

[76] Tirmidhi and al-Hakim (1, 528), from Ibn ‘Umar.

[77] Tress, 289.

[78] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2179606.stm

[79] Cited by S. Abdullah Schleifer, ‘Jihad: Sacred Struggle in Islam IV,’ The Islamic Quarterly 28/ii (1984), 98.

[80] Schleifer, 100.

[81] William E. Shepard, Sayyid Qutb and Islamic Activism: A Translation and Critical Annotation of Social Justice in Islam (Leiden, 1996), p.xxxiii. Here we have, again, the phenomenon of ‘loving the Torah more than God’.

[82] Maryam Jameelah, ‘An Appraisal of Some Aspects of the Life and Thought of Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi’, Islamic Quarterly xxxi (1407-1987), 116-130, p.130.

[83] Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (London: 2003).

[84] Gray, Straw Dogs, 41.

[85] See Gray, Straw Dogs, 102-3: ‘The egalitarian beliefs on which Rawls’s theory is founded are like the sexual mores that were once believed to be the core of morality. The most local and changeable of things, they are revered as the very essence of morality. As conventional opinion moves on, the current egalitarian consensus will be followed by a new orthodoxy, equally certain that it embodies unchanging moral truth.’

[86] The Eumenides 996-7.

 

Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists

 Abdal-Hakim Murad

As New York turns its gap-toothed face to the sky, wondering if the worst is yet to come, Muslims, largely unheeded by the wider world, are counting the cost of the suicide bombings. The backlash against mosques and hijabs has been met by statements from Muslim communities around the globe, some stilted, but others which have clearly found an articulate and passionate voice for the first time. In comparison with the pathetic near-silence that hovered around mosques and major organisations during the Rushdie and Gulf War debacles, the communities now seem alert to their cultural situation and its potential precariousness. Many of the condemnations have been more impressive than those of the American President, who seems unable to rise above clichés.

The motives are twofold. Firstly, and most patently, Sunni Muslims have been brought up in a universe of faith that renders the taking of innocent lives unimaginable. By condemning the attacks, we know that we defend the indispensable essence of Islam. Secondly, Muslims as well as others have died in large numbers. The Friday Prayers in the World Trade Centre always attracted more than 1,500 worshippers from the office community, many of whom have now surely died. The tourists, who spent their last moments choking on the observation deck, waiting for the helicopters that never came, no doubt included many Muslim parents and their children.

But the Western powers and their fearful Muslim minorities, both battered so grievously by recent events, now need to think beyond press-releases and ritual cursings. We need to recognise, firstly, that there has been a steady 'mission-creep' in terrorist attacks over the past twenty years. Hijackings for ransom money gave way to parcel bombs, then to suicide bombs, and now to kiloton-range urban mayhem. It is not at all clear that this escalation will be terminated by further anti-terrorist legislation, further billions for the FBI, or retina scans at Terminal Three. America’s tendency to assume that money can buy or destroy any possible obstacle to its will now stands under a dark shadow. Far from being a climax and the catalyst for a hi-tech military solution, the attacks may be of more historical significance as an announcement to the militant subculture that a Star-Wars superpower is utterly vulnerable to a handful of lightly-armed young men. There could well be more and worse to come.

Sobered by this, the State Department is likely to come under pressure from business interests to ask the question it never seems to notice. Why is there so much hatred of the United States, and so much yearning to poke it in the eye? Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double-agents? Businessmen and bankers will now start to read carefully enough to discern that it is not US national interest, but the power of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, that tends to drive Washington’s policy in the world’s greatest troublespot. Threatened with disaster, corporate America may just prove powerful enough to face AIPAC down, and suggest, firmly, that the next time Israel asks Washington to veto the UN’s desire to send observers to Hebron, it pauses to consider where its own interests might lie.

Among Muslims, the longer-term aftershock will surely take the form of a crisis among ‘moderate Wahhabis’. Even if a Middle-Eastern connection is somehow disproved, they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism. They must realise that it is traditional Islam, the only possible alternative to their position, which owns rich resources for the respectful acknowledgement of difference within itself, and with unbelievers. The lava-stream that flows from Ibn Taymiyya, whose fierce xenophobia mirrored his sense of the imminent Mongol threat to Islam, has a habit of closing minds and hardening hearts. It is true that not every committed Wahhabi is willing to kill civilians to make a political point. However it is also true that no orthodox Sunni has ever been willing to do so. One of the unseen, unsung triumphs of true Islam in the modern world is its complete freedom from any terroristic involvement. Maliki ulama do not become suicide-bombers. No-one has ever heard of Sufi terrorism. Everyone, enemies included, knows that the very idea is absurd.

Two years ago, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, warned of the dangers of mass terrorism to American cities; and he was brushed aside as a dangerous alarmist. Muslim organisations are no doubt beginning to regret their treatment of him. The movement for traditional Islam will, we hope, become enormously strengthened in the aftermath of the recent events, accompanied by a mass exodus from Wahhabism, leaving behind only a merciless hardcore of well-financed zealots. Those who have tried to take over the controls of Islam, after reading books from we-know-where, will have to relinquish them, because we now know their destination.

When that happens, or perhaps even sooner, mainstream Islam will be able to make the loud declaration in public that it already feels in its heart: that terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible school of Sunni Islam. Suicide bombing is so foreign to the Quranic ethos that the Prophet Samson is entirely absent from our scriptures. Islam is a great world religion that has produced much of the world’s most sensitive art, architecture and literature, and has a rich life of ethics, missionary work, and spirituality. Such are the real, and historically-successful, weapons of Islam, because they are the instruments that make friends of our neighbours, instead of enemies fit for burning alive. Those that refuse them, out of cultural impotence or impatience, will in the longer term be perceived as so radical in their denial of what is necessarily known to be part of Islam, that the authorities of the religion are likely to declare them to be beyond its reach. If that takes place, then future catastrophes by Wahhabi ultras will have little impact on the image of communities, whose spokesmen can simply say that Muslims were not implicated. This is the approach taken by Christian churches when confronted by, say, the Reverend Jim Jones’s suicide cult, or the Branch Davidians at Waco. Only a radical amputation of this kind will save Islam’s name, and the physical safety of Muslims, particularly women, as they live and work in Western cities.

To conclude: there is much despair, but there are also grounds for hope. The controls of two great vehicles, the State Department, and Islam, need to be reclaimed in the name of sanity and humanity. It is always hard to accept that good might come out of evil; but perhaps only a catastrophe on this scale, so desolating, and so seemingly hopeless, could provide the motive and the space for such a reclamation.


Addendum

Although the response from Muslims in the UK seems to have been very favourable to my essay, with one or two requests that it be sent to national newspapers for reprinting on their pages, it is inevitable that under pressure from real or potential rioters and cross-burners, some Muslims consider premature any attempt to begin a debate among ourselves about the cultural and doctrinal foundations of extremism.

It is true that no convictions have been secured, and that in the Shari'a suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However it is also regrettably the case that these suspects will not be tried under Shari'a law, and that we need, in the absence of a traditional framework of accusation and assessment, to hold our own discussions. This is particularly urgent in this case, since the damage to the honour of Islam, and the physical safety of innocent Muslims, in the West and in Central Asia and elsewhere, is very considerable. We Muslims are now at 'ground zero'. As such, we cannot simply ignore the duty to ask each other what has caused the attitudes that probably, but not indisputably, lie at the root of these events.

My essay, which endeavoured to kick-start this debate, takes its cue primarily from the UK situation, which is no doubt less intense than in the US, but is nonetheless serious. In particular I am concerned to insist that Muslims distance themselves from, for instance, the janaza prayer for the hijackers that was held two days ago at a London Wahhabi mosque (the term Wahhabi is more useful, since 'Salafi' can also refer to the Abduh-Rida reformism and is hence confusing). Having spoken to the editor of one of this country's major Muslim magazines, it is clear that the small minority of voices which have been raised in support of the terrorist act were in every case of the Wahhabi persuasion. Clearly, we cannot simply ignore this on grounds of 'Muslim unity', since those people appear so determined to destroy Muslim unity, and endanger the security of our community.

I hope that the recent events will spur Muslims to consider the implications for the wider ethos in which we understand our religion of the shift which we have witnessed over the past twenty years or so away from accommodationist and tolerant forms of Islam, and towards narrowmindedness. Al-Ghazali recommends a tolerant view of non-Muslims, and is prepared to grant that many of them may be saved in the next world; Ibn Taymiya, as Muhammad Memon has shown in his book on him, is vehement and adversarial. In our communities in the West, and indeed worldwide, we surely need the Ghazalian approach, not the rigorism of Ibn Taymiya. Not just because we need to reassure our neighbours, but also because we need to reassure those very many born Muslims who are made unsure about their attachment to Islam by events such as this that they can belong to the religion without being harsh and narrow-minded. Extremism can drive people right out of Islam. In 1999 the Conference of French Catholic bishops announced that 300 Algerians were among the year's Easter baptisms. Noting that ten years earlier Muslims never converted at all, they reported that the change was the result of the spread of extreme forms of Islam in Algeria.

In Afghanistan, too, there are now Christians for the first time ever, and I have heard from one ex-Taliban member that this is because of the extremism with which Islam is imposed on the people. The shift away from traditional Islam, and towards Ibn Taymiya's position, has been widely documented, for instance by Ahmad Rashid, in his chapter 'Challenging Islam', in his book on the Taliban. The Saudi-Wahhabi connection has been very conspicuous.

We must ask Allah to open the hearts of the Muslims everywhere to recognise that narrowmindedness and mutual anathema will lead us nowhere, and that only through spirituality, toleration and wisdom will we be granted success.

The most appropriate du'a' for our situation would seem to be: 'Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum, bi-rahmatika astaghiith', which is recommended in a hadith in cases of fear and misfortune. It means: 'O Living, O Self-Subsistent; by Your mercy I seek help.'

 

Defending the Civilians: Mudafi' al-Mazlum Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti's Fatwa on Suicide Bombings Introduction by Shiekh Gibril f Haddad

Introduction

In the Name of God, the All-Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

Gentle reader, Peace upon those who follow right guidance!

I am honored to present the following fatwa or "response by a qualified Muslim Scholar" against the killing of civilians by the Oxford-based Malaysian jurist of the Shafi`i School and my inestimable teacher, Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti, titled "Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians."

The Shaykh authored it in a few days, after I asked him to offer some guidance on the issue of targeting civilians and civilian centers by suicide bombing in response to a pseudo-fatwa by a deviant UK-based group which advocates such crimes.

Upon reading Shaykh Afifi's fatwa do not be surprised to find that you have probably never before seen such clarity of thought and expression together with breadth of knowledge of Islamic Law applied (by a non- native speaker) to define key Islamic concepts pertaining to the conduct of war and its jurisprudence, its arena and boundaries, suicide bombing, the reckless targeting of civilians, and more.

May it bode the best start to true education on the impeccable position of Islam squarely against terrorism in anticipation of the day all its culprits are brought to justice.

Dear Muslim reader, as-Salamu `alaykum wa-rahmatullah:

Read this luminous Fatwa by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti carefully and learn it, distribute it, publicize it, and teach it. Perhaps we will be counted among those who do something to redress wrong, not only with our hearts as we always do, but also with our tongues, in the fashion of the inspired teachers and preachers of truth.

I have tried to strike the keynote of this Fatwa in a few lines of free verse, mostly to express my thanks to our Teacher but also to seize the opportunity of such a long-expected response to remind myself of the reasons why I embraced Islam in the first place.

A TAQRIZ – HUMBLE COMMENDATION:

Praise to God Whose Law shines brighter than the sun! Blessings and peace on him who leads to the abode of peace! Truth restores honor to the Religion of goodness. Patient endurance lifts the oppressed to the heights While gnarling mayhem separates like with like: The innocent victims on the one hand and, on the other, Silver-tongued devils and wolves who try to pass for just! My God, I thank You for a Teacher You inspired With words of light to face down Dajjal's advocates. Allah bless you, Ustadh Afifi, for _Defending the Transgressed By Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians_! Let the powers that be and every actor-speaker high and low Heed this unique Fatwa of knowledge and responsibility. Let every lover of truth proclaim, with pride once more, What the war-mongers try to bury under lies and bombs: Islam is peace and truth, the Rule of Law, justice and right! Murderous suicide is never martyrdom but rather perversion, Just as no flag on earth can ever justify oppression. And may God save us from all criminals, East and West!

By permission of Shaykh Afifi, I have done some very light editing having to do mostly with style, spelling, or punctuation such as standardizing spacing between paragraphs, providing in-text translations of a couple of Arabic supplications, adding quotation marks to mark out textual citations, and so forth.

I also provided an alphabetical glossary of arabic terms not already glossed by the Shaykh directly in the text.

May Allah Subhan wa-Ta`ala save Shaykh Muhammad Afifi here and hereafter, may He reward him and his teachers for this blessed work and grant us its much-needed benefits, not least of which the redress of our actions and beliefs for safety here and hereafter. Blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions, wal-Hamdu lillahi Rabb al-`Alamin. G.F. Haddad Day of Jumu`a after `Asr 1 Rajab al-Haram 1426 5 August 2005 Brunei Darussalam


SHAYKH AFIFI'S TEXT Defending the Transgressed, by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians

If you have time to address this delicate issue for the benefit of this mercied Umma which is reeling in fitna day in and day out, perhaps a few blessed words might use a refutation of the following text as a springboard? I would like you to read the following article which highlights some of the problems we are facing, and why it is quite possible that young muslims turn to extremism. the article was issued by al-Muhajiroun not long ago, headed by Omar Bakri Mohammed [aka Omar Bakri Fostok], and whatever our reservations about the man, it is the content I am more concerned about, and it is possibly these types of writings which need to be confronted head-on:

AQD UL AMAAN: THE COVENANT OF SECURITY

The Muslims living in the west are living under a covenant of security, it is not allowed for them to fight anyone with whom they have a covenant of security, abiding by the covenant of security is an important obligation upon all Muslims. However for those Muslims living abroad, they are not under any covenant with the kuffar in the west, so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west whether in retaliation for constant bombing and murder taking place all over the Muslim world at the hands of the non-muslims, or if it an offensive attack in order to release the Muslims from the captivity of the kuffar. For them, attacks such as the September 11th Hijackings is a viable option in Jihad, even though for the Muslims living in America who are under covenant, it is not allowed to do operations similar to those done by the magnificent 19 on the 9/11. This article speaks about the covenant and what the scholars have said regarding Al Aqd Al Amaan - the covenant of security. [...]


bismillahi r-rahman al-rahim

al-hamdulillah alladhi yahuddu l-harba wa-la yuhibbu l-mu'tadina wa s-salatu wa-s-salamu 'ala qa'idi l-ummah alladhi huwa asbaru 'ala adha l-a'da'i bi-futuwwatin kamilatin wa-muru'atin shamilatin wa-'ala alihi wa-ashabihi wa-jayshihi ajma'in! [Praise be to God Who sets the boundaries of war and does not love transgressors! Blessings and peace on the Umma's leader, the most enduring of men in the face of the harm of enemies with perfect chivalry and complete manliness, and upon all his Family, Companions, and Army!]

This is a collection of masa'il, entitled: Mudafi' al-Mazlum bi-Radd al-Muhamil 'ala Qital Man La Yuqatil [Defending the Transgressed, by Censuring the Reckless against the Killing of Civilians]; written in response to the fitna reeling this mercied Umma, day in and day out, which is partly caused by those who, wilfully or not, misunderstand the legal discussions of the chapter on warfare outside their proper contexts [of which the technical fiqh terminology varies with bab: Siyar, Jihad, or Qital], which have been used by them to justify their wrong actions. May Allah open our eyes to the true meaning [haqiqa] of sabr and to the fact that only through it can we successfully endure the struggles we face in this dunya, especially during our darkest hours; for indeed, He is with those who patiently endure tribulations!

There is no khilaf that all of the Shafi'i fuqaha' of today and other Sunni specialists in the Law from the Far East to the Middle East reject outright [mardud] the above opinion and consider it not only an anomaly [shadh] and very weak [wahin] but also completely wrong [batil] and a misguided innovation [bid'a dalala]: an 'amal that cannot at all be adopted by any mukallaf. It is regrettable too that the above was written in a legal style at which any doctor of the Law should be horrified and appalled (since it is an immature yet persuasive attempt to mask a misguided personal opinion with authority from Fiqh, and an effort to hijack our Fiqh by invoking one of its many qadaya of this bab while recklessly neglecting others). It should serve to remind the students of Fiqh of the importance of forming in one's mind and being aware throughout, of the thawabit and the dawabit when reading a furu' text, in order to ensure that those principal rules have not been breached in any given legal case.

The above opinion is problematic in three legal particulars: (1) the target [maqtul]: without doubt, civilians; (2) the authority for carrying out the killing [amir al-qital]: as no Muslim authority has declared war, or if there has been such a declaration there is at the time a ceasefire [hudna]; and (3) the way in which the killing is carried out [maqtul bih]: since it is either Haram and is also cursed as it is suicide [qatil nafsah], or at the very least doubtful [shubuhat] in a way such that it must be avoided by those who are religiously scrupulous [wara']. Any sane Muslim who would believe otherwise and think the above to be not a crime [jinaya] would be both reckless [muhmil] and deluded [maghrur]. Instead, whether he realizes it or not, by doing so he would be hijacking rules from our Sacred Law which are meant for the conventional (or authorized) army of a Muslim state and addressed to those with authority over it (such as the executive leader(s), the military commanders and so forth), but not to individuals who are not connected to the military or those without the political authority of the state [dawla].  

The result in fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is: if a Muslim carries out such an attack voluntarily, he becomes a murderer and not a martyr or a hero, and he will be punished with that in the Next World.

I. The Target: Maqtul

The proposition: "so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west", where "non-Muslims" can be taken to mean, and indeed does mean in the document, non-combatants, civilians, or in the terminology of Fiqh: those who are not engaged in direct combat [man la yuqatilu].

This opinion violates a well known principal rule [Dabit] from our Law: "la yajUzu qatlu nisA'ihim wa-la SibyAnihim idhA lam yuqAtilU" [it is not permissible to kill their [i.e., the opponents'] women and children if they are not in (direct) combat], which is based on the Prophetic prohibition on soldiers from killing women and children, from the well known Hadith of Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with them both!) related by Imams Malik, al-Shafi'i, Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi and al-Baghawi (may Allah be well pleased with them all!) and other Hadiths.

Imam al-Subki (may Allah be pleased with him!) made it unequivocally clear what scholars have understood from this prohibition in which the standard rule of engagement taken from it is that: "[a Muslim soldier] may not kill a woman nor a child soldier unless they are in combat directly, and they can only be killed in self-defence" [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 21:57].

It goes without saying that men and innocent bystanders who are not direct combatants are also included in this prohibition. The nature of this prohibition is so specific and well defined that there can be no legal justification, nor can there be a legitimate Shar'i excuse, for circumventing this convention of war by targeting non-combatants or civilians whatsoever, and that the Hukm Shar'i of killing them is not only Haram but also a Major Sin [kabira] and contravenes one of the principal commandments of our way of life.

II. The Authority: Amir al-Qital

The proposition: "so it is acceptable for them to attack the non-muslims in the west whether in retaliation for constant bombing and murder taking place all over the Muslim world at the hands of the non-muslims," where it implies that a state of war exist with this particular non-Muslim state on account of its being witnessed as the aggressor.

This opinion violates the most basic rules of engagement from our Law: "amru l-jihAdi mawkulun ila l-imAmi wa-ijtihAdihi wa-yalzamu r-ra'iyyata TA'atuhu fImA yarAhu min dhalika" [The question of declaring war [or not] is entrusted to the executive authority and to its decision: compliance with that decision is the subject's duty with respect to what the authority has deemed appropriate in that matter] and "wa-li-imamin aw amirin khiyarun bayna l-kaffi wa l-qitAli" [The executive or its subordinate authority has the option of whether to declare war or not].

Decisions of this kind for each Muslim state, such as those questions dealing with ceasefire ['aqd al-hudna], peace settlement ['aqd al-aman] and the judgment on prisoners of war [al-ikhtar fi asir] can only be dealt with by the executive or political authority [imam] or by a subordinate authority appointed by the former authority [amir mansubin min jihati l-imam]. This is something Muslims take for granted from the authority of our naql [scriptures] such that none will reject it except those who betray their 'aql [intellect]. The most basic legal reason ['illa asliyya] is that this is a matter involving the public interest in which only the authority has jurisdiction in considering it [li-anna hadhA l-amra mina l-masAliHi l-'Ammati allati yakhtassu l-imAmi bi-n-naZari fI-hA].

All of this is based on the well known legal principle:

taSarrufu l-imAmi 'ala r-ra'iyyati manUTun bi l-maSlaHati [the decisions of the authority on behalf of the subjects are dependent upon the public good].

And:

fa-yaf'alu l-imAmu wujUban al-aHaZZa li-l-muslimIna li-ijtihAdihi [So the authority must act for the greatest advantage of (the rest of) the Muslims in making his judgement].

Nasiha! Uppermost in the minds of our authority during their deliberation over whether to wage war or not should be the awareness that war is only a means and not the end. Hence, if there are other ways of achieving the aim, and the highest aim is the right to practice our religion openly (as is indeed the case in modern day Spain, for example, unlike in medieval Reconquista Spain), then it is better [awla] not to go to war. This has been expressed in a few words by Imam al-Zarkashi (may Allah be pleased with him!) as:

wujUbuhu wujUbu l-wasA'ili lA l-maqASidi [Its necessity is the necessity of means, not ends]

The upshot is, whether one likes it or not, that the decision and the discretion and the right to declare war or jihad for Muslims lies solely with the various authorities today represented by the respective Muslim states - and not with any individual, even if he is a scholar or a soldier – and not just anyone is a soldier or a scholar – in the same way that only an authority (such as the Qadi in a court of law: mahkamah) is the only one with the right to excommunicate or declare someone an apostate [murtad]. Otherwise, the killing would be extra-judicial and unauthorized.

Even during the period of the Ottoman caliphate, for example, another Muslim authority elsewhere such as in the Indian subcontinent could have been engaged in a war when at the same time the Khalifa's army was at peace with the same enemy. This is how it has been throughout our long history and this is how it will always be and this is what the reality is on the ground.

III. The Method: Maqtul bih

The proposition: "attacks such as the September 11th Hijackings is a viable option in Jihad," where such attacks employ a tactic – analogous to the Japanese "Kamikaze" missions during the Second World War – that have been described variously as self-sacrificing/martyrdom/suicide missions.

There is no question among scholars and there is no khilaf on this question by any Qadi, Mufti or Faqih, that this proposition and those who accept it are without doubt breaching the scholarly consensus [mukhalifun li-l-ijma'] of the Muslims since it resulted in the killing of non-combatants, and moreover, the proposition is an attempt to legitimize the killing of indisputable non-combatants.

As for the Kamikaze method and tactic in which it was carried out, there is a difference of opinion among some jurists as to whether it constitutes suicide, which is not only Haram but also cursed, or whether it does not. In this, there are further details. (Note that in all of the following cases, the target is assumed to be already legitimate – i.e., a valid military target – and that the action is carried out during a valid war when there is no ceasefire [fi hal al-harb wa-la l-hudna fihi], just as with the actual circumstance of the Japanese Kamikaze attacks.)

Tafsil I: If the attack involves a bomb* placed on the body or placed so close to the bomber that when the bomber detonates it the bomber is certain [yaqin] to die, then the More Correct Position [Qawl Asahh] according to us is that it does constitute suicide. This is because the bomber, being also the Maqtul [the one killed], is unquestionably the same Qatil [the immediate/active agent that kills] = Qatil Nafsahu.

Furu' If the attack involves a bomb (such as the lobbing of a grenade and the like) but when it is detonated, the attacker thinks that it is uncertain [zann] whether he may die in the process or survive the attack, then the Correct Position [Qawl Sahih] is that this does not constitute suicide, and were he to die in this selfless act, he becomes what we call a martyr or hero [shahid]. This is because the attacker, were he to die, is not the active, willing agent of his own death, since the Qatil is probably someone else.

An example [sura] of this is: when in its right place and circumstance, such as in the midst of an ongoing fierce battle against an opponent's military unit, whether ordered by his commanding officer or whether owing to his own initiative, the soldier makes a lone charge and as a result of that initiative manages to turn the tide of the day's battle but dies in the process (and not intentionally at his own hand): that soldier died as a hero (and this circumstance is precisely the context of becoming a shahid – in Islamic terminology – as he died selflessly). If he survives, he wins a Medal of Honour and becomes an honoured war hero and is remembered as a famous patriot (in our terminology, becoming a true mujahid).

This is precisely the context of the mas'ala concerning the "lone charger" [al-hajim al-wahid] and the meaning of putting one's life in danger [al-taghrir bi-l-nafs] found in all of the Fiqh chapters concerning warfare. The Umma's Doctor Angelicus, Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him!) provides the best impartial summation:

"If it is said: What is the meaning of the words of the Most High:

"wa-lA tulqU bi-aydIkum ila t-tahlukati" [and do not throw into destruction by your own hands!]

(al-Baqara, 2:195) ?

We say: There is no difference [of opinion amongst scholars] that regarding the lone Muslim [soldier] who charges into the battle-lines of the [opposing] non-Muslim [army that is presently in a state of war with his army and is facing them in a battle] and fights [them] even if he knows that he will almost certainly be killed – a case misconstruable to be against the requirements of the Verse, that it is not so. Indeed, Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with both of them!) says: [the meaning of] "destruction" is not that [incident]. Instead, [its meaning] is to neglect providing [adequate] supplies [nafaqa: for the military campaign; and in the modern context, the state should provide for the arms and equipment, for example, for which all of this is done] in obedience to God [as in the first part of the Verse which says: "wa-anfiqU fI sabIli LlAhi" [And spend for the sake of God] (al-Baqara, 2:195)]. That is, those who fail to do that will destroy themselves. [In another Sahabi authority:] al-Bara' Ibn 'Azib [al-Ansari (may Allah be well pleased with them both!)] says: [the meaning of] "destruction" is [a Muslim] committing a sin and then saying: 'my repentance will not be accepted'. [A Tabi'i authority] Abu 'Ubayda says: it [the meaning of "destruction"] is to commit a sin and then not perform a good deed after it before he perishes. [Ponder over this!]

In the same way that it is permissible [for the Muslim soldier in the incident above] to fight the non-Muslim [army] until he is killed [in the process], that [extent and consequence] is also permissible for him [i.e., the enforcer of the Law, since the 'a'id (antecedent) here goes back to the original pronoun [damir al-asl] for this bab: the muhtasib or enforcer, such as the police] in [matters of] law enforcement [hisba].

However, [note the following qualification (qayd):] were he to know [zanni] that his charge will not cause harm to the non-Muslim [army], such as the blind or the weak throwing himself into the [hostile] battle-lines, then it is prohibited [Haram] and [this latter incident] is included under the general meaning ['umum] of "destruction" from the Verse [for in this case, he will be literally throwing himself into destruction].

"It would only be permissible for him to advance [and suffer the consequences] if he knows that he will be able to fight [effectively] until he is killed, or knows that he will be able to demoralize the hearts and minds of the non-Muslim [army]: by their witnessing his courage and by their conviction that the rest of the Muslim [army] are [also] selfless [qilla al-mubala] in their loyalty to sacrifice for the sake of God. By this, their will to fight [shawka] will become demoralized [and so this may cause panic and rout them and thereby be the cause of their battle-lines to collapse]." [al-Ghazali, Ihya', 2:354].

It is clear that this selfless deed which any modern soldier, Muslim or non-Muslim, might perform in battle today is not suicide. It may hyperbolically be described as a 'suicidal' attack, but to endanger one's life is one thing and to commit suicide during the attack is obviously another. And as the passage shows, it is possible to have both situations: an attack that is taghrir bi-l-nafs, which is not prohibited; and an attack that is of the tahluka-type, which is prohibited.

Tafsil II: If the attack involves ramming a vehicle into a military target and the attacker is certain to die, precisely like the historical Japanese Kamikaze missions, then our jurists have disagreed whether it does or does not constitute suicide.

Qawl A: Those who consider it a suicide argue that there is the possibility [zanni] that the Maqtul is the same as the Qatil (as in Tafsil I above) and would therefore not allow for any other qualification whatsoever since suicide is a cursed sin.

Qawl B: Whereas those who consider otherwise, even with the possibility that the Maqtul is the same Qatil, will allow some other qualification such as the possibility that by carrying it out the battle of the day could be won. There are further details in this alternative position, such as that the commanding officer does not have the right to command anyone under him to perform this dangerous mission so that were it to be sanctioned, it could only be when it is not under anyone else's orders other than the lone initiative of the concerned soldier (such as in defiance of the standing orders of his commanding officer).

The first of the two positions is the Preferred Position [Muttajih] among our jurists, as the second is the rarer because of the vagueness of a precedent, and its legal details are fraught with further difficulties and ambiguities, and its opposing position [muqabil] carries such a weighty consequence (namely, that of suicide, for which there is Ijma' that the one who commits suicide will be damned to committing it eternally forever).

In addition to this juristic preference, the first position is also preferable and better since it is the original or starting state [Asl], and by invoking the well known and accepted legal principle: al-khurUju mina l-khilAfi mustaHabbun [to avoid the controversy is preferable].

Finally, the first position is religiously safer, since owing to the ambiguity itself of the legal status of the person performing the act – whether it will result in the Maqtul being also the Qatil – and since there is doubt and uncertainty over the possibility of it either being or not being the case, then this position falls under the type of doubtful matters [shubuhat] of the kind [naw'] that should be avoided by those who are religiously scrupulous [wara']. And here, the wisdom of our wise Prophet may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him! is illuminated from the Hadith of al-Nu'man may Allah be well pleased with him!):

"fa-mani ttaqA sh-shubuhAti istabra'a li-dInihi wa 'irDihi" [He who saves himself from doubtful matters will save his religion and his honour] (Related by Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, al-Tirmidhi,  Ibn Majah, al-Tabarani, and al-Bayhaqi with variants.)

wallahu a'lam bi-s-sawab!

Fa'ida

The original ruling [al-Asl] for using a bomb (the medieval precedents: Greek fire [qital bi l-nar or ramy al-naft] and catapults [manjaniq]) as a weapon is that it is Makruh [offensive] because it kills indiscriminately [ya'ummu man yuqatilu wa-man la yuqatilu], as opposed to using rifles (medieval example: a single bow and arrow). If the indiscriminate weapon is used in a place where there are civilians, it becomes Haram except when used as a last resort [min darura] (and of course, by those military personnel authorised to do so).

From the consideration of the foregoing three legal particulars, it is evident that the opinion expressed regarding the 'amal in the above article is untenable by the standards of our Sacred Law.

As to those who may still be persuaded by it and suppose that the 'amal is something that can be excused on the pretext that there is scholarly khilaf on the details of Tafsil II from the third particular (and that therefore, the 'amal itself could at the end of the day be accommodated by invoking the guiding principle that one should be flexible with regards to legal controversies [masa'il khilafiyya] and to agree to disagree); know then there is no khilaf among scholars that that rationale does not stand, since it is well known that:

lA yunkaru l-mukhtalafu fIhi wa-innamA yunkaru l-mujma'u 'alayhi [The controversial cannot be denied; only {breach of} the unanimous can be denied]

Since at the very least, it is agreed upon by all that killing non-combatants is prohibited, there is no question whatsoever that the 'amal overall is outlawed. 

Masa'il Mufassala 

If it is said:

"I have heard that Islam says the killing of civilians is allowed if they are non-Muslims."

We say: On a joking note (but ponder over this so your hearts may be opened!): the authority is not with what Islam says but with what Allah (Exalted is He) and His Messenger may His blessings and peace be upon him! - have said!

But seriously: the answer is absolutely NO, for even a novice student of Fiqh would be able to see that the first Dabit above concerns already a non-Muslim opponent in the case of a state of war having been validly declared by a Muslim authority against a particular non-Muslim enemy even when that civilian is a subject or in the care [dhimma] of the hostile non-Muslim state [Dar al-Harb]. If this is the extent of the limitation to be observed with regards to non-Muslim civilians associated with a declared enemy force, what higher standards will it be in cases if it is not a valid war or when the status of war becomes ambiguous? Keep in mind that there are more than 100 Verses in the Qur'an commanding us at all times to be patient in the face of humiliation and to turn away from violence [al-i'rad 'ani l-mushrikin wa l-sabr 'ala adha l-a'da'], while there is only one famous Verse in which war (which does not last forever) becomes an option (in our modern context: for a particular Muslim authority and not an individual), when a particular non-Muslim force has drawn first blood.

If it is said:

"What about the verse of the Qur'an which says 'kill the unbelievers wherever you find them' and the Sahih Hadith which says 'I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify ... '?"

We say: It is well known among scholars that the following verse, "fa-qtulU l-mushrikIna Haythu wajad-tumUhum" [kill the idolaters wherever you find them] (al-Tawba, 9:5) is in reference to a historical episode: those among the Meccan Confederates who breached the Treaty of Hudaybiyya [Sulh al-Hudaybiyya] which led to the Conquest of Mecca, and that therefore, no legal rulings, or in other words, no practical or particular implications can be derived from this Verse on its own. The Divine Irony and indeed Providence from the last part of the Verse, "wherever you find them" – which many of our Mufassirs understood in reference to place (i.e., attack them whether inside the Sacred Precinct or not) – is that the victory against the Meccans happened without a single battle taking place, whether inside the Sacred Precinct or otherwise, rather, there was a general amnesty [wa-mannun 'alayhi bi-takhliyati sabilihi or naha 'an safki d-dima'] for the Jahili Arabs there. Had the Verse not been subject to a historical context, then you should know that it is of the general type ['amm] and that it will therefore be subject to specification [takhsis] by some other indication [dalil]. Its effect in lay terms, were it not related to the Jahili Arabs, is that it can only refer to a case during a valid war when there is no ceasefire.

Among the well known exegeses of "al-mushrikin" from this verse are: "al-nakithina khassatan" [specifically, those who have breached (the Treaty)] [al-Nawawi al-Jawi, Tafsir, 1:331]; "alladhina yuharibunakum" [those who have declared war against you] [Qadi Ibn 'Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur'an, 2:889]; and "khassan fi mushkriki l-'arabi duna ghayrihim" [specifically, the Jahili Arabs and not anyone else] [al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur'an, 3:81].

As for the meaning of "people" [al-nas] in the above well related Hadith, it is confirmed by Ijma', that it refers to the same "mushrikin" as in the Verse of Sura al-Tawba above and therefore what is meant there is only the Jahili Arabs [muskhriku l-'arab] during the closing days of the Final Messenger and the early years of the Righteous Caliphs and not even to any other non-Muslims.

In sum, we are not in a perpetual state of war with non-Muslims. On the contrary, the original legal status [al-Asl] is a state of peace, and making a decision to change this status belongs only to a Muslim authority who will in the Next World answer for their ijtihad and decision, and this decision is not divinely charged to any individuals – not even soldiers or scholars (and to believe otherwise would go against the well known rule in our Law that a Muslim authority could seek help from a non-Muslim with certain conditions, including for example that the non-Muslim allies are of goodwill towards the Muslims [la-yast'Inu bi-mushkrikin illA bi-shurUTin ka-an takUna niyyatuhu Hasanatan li-l-muslimIna]).

If it is said:

"I have heard a scholar say that 'Israeli women are not like women in our society because they are militarised'. By implication, this means that they fall into the category of women who fight and that this makes them legitimate targets but only in the case of Palestine."

We say: No properly schooled jurists from any of the four schools would say this as a legal judgement if they faithfully followed the juridical processes of the orthodox schools in this bab, for if it is true that the scholar made such a statement and meant it in the way you've implied it, then not only does this violate the well known principal rule above {Section I: "It is not permissible to kill their women and children if they are not in (direct) combat"} but the supposed remarks also show a lack of sophistication in the legal particulars. If this is the case, then it has to be said here that this is not among the masa'il khilafiyya that one can afford to agree to disagree, since it is outright wrong by the principles and the rules from our Usul and Furu'.

Let us restate the Dabit again, as our jurists have succinctly summarised its rule of engagement: a soldier can only attack a female or (if applicable) child soldier (or a male civilian) in self-defence and only when she *herself* (and not someone else from her army) is engaged in direct combat (as for male soldiers, it goes without saying that they are considered combatants as soon as they arrive on the battlefield even if they are not in direct combat – provided of course that the remaining conventions of war have been observed throughout and that all this is during a valid war when there is no ceasefire).

Not only is this strict rule of engagement already made clear in our secondary legal texts, but this is also obvious from the linguistic analysis of the primary proof-texts used to derive this principal rule. Hence, the form of the verb used in the scriptures, yuqAtilu, is of the musharaka-type so that the verb denotes a direct or a personal or a reciprocal relationship between two agents: the minimum for which is when one of them makes an effort or attempt to act upon the other. The immediate legal implication here is that one of the two can only even be considered a legitimate target when there is a reciprocal/direct relationship.

In reality, this is not what happens on the ground (since the bombing missions are offensive in nature – as they are not after all targeting, for example, a force that IS *attacking* an immediate Muslim force but rather the attack is directed at an overtly non-military target, so the person carrying it out can only be described as attacking it – and the target is someone unknown until only seconds before the mission reaches its termination).

In short, even if these women are soldiers, they can only be attacked when they are in *direct combat* and not otherwise. In any case, there are other overriding particulars to be considered and various conditions to be observed throughout, namely, that it must be during a valid state of war when there is no ceasefire.

If it is said:

"When a bomber blows up himself he is not directing the attack towards civilians. On the contrary, the attack is designed to target off-duty soldiers (which I was told did not mean reservists, since most Israelis are technically reservists). The innocent civilians are unfortunate collateral damage in the targeting of soldiers."

We say: There are two details here.

Tafsil A: Off-duty soldiers are treated as civilians.

Our jurists agree that during a valid war when there is no ceasefire, and when an attack is not aimed at a valid military target, a hostile soldier (whether male or female, whether conscripted or not) who is not on operational duty or not wearing a military uniform and when there is nothing in the soldier's outward appearance to suggest that the soldier is in combat is considered a non-combatant [man la yuqatilu] (and the soldier in this case must therefore be treated as a normal civilian).

A valid military target is limited to either a battlefield [mahall al-ma'raka or sahat al-qital] or a military base [mu'askar; medieval examples: citadel or forts; modern examples: barracks, military depots, etc.] but certainly NEVER at anything else such as restaurants, hotels, around a traffic light, a public bus or at any other public place, since firstly, these are not places and bases from which an attack would normally originate [mahall al-ra'y]; secondly, because there is certain knowledge [yaqin] that there is intermingling [ikhtilat] with non-combatants; and thirdly, the non-combatants have not been given the option to leave the place.

As for when the soldiers are on the battlefield, the normal rules of engagement apply.

As for when the soldiers are in a barracks or the like, there is further discussion on whether the soldiers become a legitimate target, and the Qawl Asahh [the more correct position] according to our jurists is that they do, albeit to attack them there is Makruh.

Tafsil B: Non-combatants cannot be considered collateral damage

Non-combatants cannot at all be considered collateral damage except at a valid military target for which they may be so deemed, depending on certain extenuating circumstances.

There is no khilaf that non-combatants or civilians cannot at all be considered collateral damage at a non-military target in a war zone, and that their deaths are not excusable by our Law, and that the one who ends up killing one of them will be sinful as in the case of murder, even though the soldier who is found guilty of it would be excused from the ordinary capital punishment [hadd], unless the killing was found to be premeditated and deliberate [aw ata bi-ma'siyyatin tujibu l-hadda]. If not, the murderer's punishment in this case would instead be subject to the authority's discretion [ta'zir] and he would in any case be liable to pay the relevant compensation [diya].

As for a valid military target in a war zone, the Shafi'i school have historically considered the possibility of collateral damage, unlike the position held by others that it is unqualifiedly outlawed. The following are the conditions stipulated for allowing for this controversial exception (in addition to meeting the most important condition of them all: that this takes place during a valid war when there is no ceasefire):

(1) The target is a valid military target. (2) The attack is as a last resort [min darura] (such as when the civilians have been warned to leave the place and after a period of siege has elapsed). [wujUb al-indhAri qabla l-bad'i bi-l-qatli li-annahu lA yajUzu an yaqtula illA man yuqAtilu] (3) There are no Muslim civilians or prisoners. (4) The decision to attack the target is based on a considered judgement of the executive or military leader that by doing so, there is a good chance that the battle would be won.

(Furthermore, this position is subject to khilaf among our jurists with regard to whether the military target can be a Jewish/Christian [Ahl l-Kitab] one, since the sole primary text that is invoked to allow this exception concerns an incident restricted to the same "mushrikin" as the Verse of Sura al-Tawba above.)

To intentionally neglect any of these strict conditions is analogous to not fulfilling the conditions [shurut] for a prayer with the outcome that the Salat would become invalidated [batil] and useless [fasad]. This is why the means of an act ['amal] must be correct and validated according to the rule of Law in order for its outcome to be sound and accepted, as expressed succinctly in the following wisdom of Imam Ibn 'Ata'illah:

man ashraqat bidayatuhu ashraqat nihayatuhu [He who makes good his beginning will make good his ending].

In our Law, the ends can never justify the means except when the means are in themselves permissible, or Mubah (and not Haram) as is made clear in the following famous legal principle:

wasIlatu T-TA'ati TA'atun wa-wasIlatu l-ma'Siyati ma'Siyatun [the means to a reward is itself a reward and the means to a sin is itself a sin].

Hence, even a simple act such as opening a window, which on its own is only Mubah or Halal, religiously entailing no reward nor being a sin, when a son opens it with the intention for his mother's comfort on a hot summer's day before she asks for it to be opened, the originally non-consequent act itself becomes Mandub [recommended] and the son is rewarded in his 'amal account for the Next World and acquires the pleasure of Allah.

wallahu a'lam wa-ahkam bi-s-sawab! {God knows and judges best what is right!}

If it is said:

"In a classic manual of Islamic Sacred Law I read that

"it is offensive to conduct a military expedition [ghazw] against hostile non-Muslims without the caliph's permission (though if there is no caliph, no permission is required)."

Doesn't this entail that though it is Makruh for anyone else to call for or initiate such a jihad, it is permissible?"

We say: lA ghazwata illA fi l-jihAdi [there can be no battle except during a war]!

Secondary legal texts, just as with primary proof-texts (a single Verse of the Qur'an from among the relatively few Ayat al-Ahkam or a Hadith from among the limited number of Ahadith al-Ahkam), must be read and understood in context. The conclusion drawn that it is offensive or permissible for anyone other than those in authority to declare or initiate a war is evidently wrong, since it violates the principal rule of engagement discussed above.

The context is that of endangering one's life [taghrir bi-nafs] when there is already a valid war with no ceasefire as seen in the above example from the Ihya' passage, but certainly not in executive matters of the kind of proclaiming a war and the like. This is also obvious from the terminology used: a ghazw [a military act, assault, foray or raid; the minimum limit in a modern example: an attack by a squad or a platoon [katiba]* can take place only when there is a state of jihad [war] not otherwise.

Fa'ida

Imam Ibn Hajar (may Allah be pleased with him!) lists the organizational structure of an army as follows: a ba'th [unit] and when together, a katiba [platoon], which is a part of a sariyya [company; made up of 50-100 soldiers], which is in turn a part of a minsar [regiment; up to 800 soldiers], which is a part of a jaysh [division; up to 4000 soldiers], which is a part of a jahfal [army corps; exceeding 4000 soldiers], which makes up the jaysh 'azim [army]. [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfa, 12:4]

In our School, it is offensive but not completely prohibited for a soldier to defy or in other words to take the initiative against the wishes of his direct authority, whether his unit is strong or otherwise. In the modern context, this may include cases when soldier(s) disagree with a particular decision or strategy adopted by their superior officers, whether during a battle or otherwise. 

The accompanying commentary to the text you quoted will help clarify this for you:

[Original Text:] "It is offensive to conduct an assault [whether the unit is strong (man'a) or otherwise; and some have defined a strong force as 10 men] without the permission of the authority ([Commentary]: or his subordinate, because the assault depends on the needs [of the battle and the like] and the authority is more aware about them. It is not prohibited [to go without his permission] {if} there is no grave endangering of one's life even when that is permissible in war.)" [Ibn Barakat, Fayd, 2:309]

If it is said:

"What is the meaning of the rule in fiqh that I always hear, that Jihad is a Fard Kifaya [communal obligation] and when the Dar al-Islam is invaded or occupied it is a Fard 'Ayn [personal obligation]? How do we apply this in the context of a modern Muslim state such as Egypt?"

We say: It is Fard Kifaya for the eligible Muslim subjects of the state (as for non-Muslim subjects, they evidently are not religiously obligated but can still serve) in the sense that recruitment to the military is only voluntary when the state is at war with a non-Muslim state. It becomes a Fard 'Ayn for any able-bodied Muslim when there is a conscription or a state-wide draft to the military if the state is invaded by a hostile non-Muslim force, but only until the hostile force is repelled or the Muslim authority calls for a ceasefire. As for those not in the military, they have the option to defend themselves if attacked even if they have to resort to throwing stones and using sticks [bi ayyi shay'in aTAqUhu wa-law bi-HijAratin aw 'aSA].

Furu'

When it is not possible to prepare for war [and rally the army for war (ijtima' li-harb), and a surprise attack by a hostile force completely defeats the army of the state and the entire state becomes occupied] and someone [at home, for example] is faced with the choice of whether to surrender or to fight [such as when the hostile force comes knocking at the door], then he may fight, or he may surrender, provided that he knows [with certainty] that if he resisted [arrest] he would be killed and that [his] wife would be safe from being raped [fahisha] if she were taken. If not [that is to say, even if he surrenders he knows he will be killed and his wife raped when taken], then [as a last resort] fighting [jihad] becomes personally obligatory for him. [al-Bakri, I'ana, 4:197].

Reflect upon this legal ruling of our Religion and the emphasis placed upon preserving human life and upon the wisdom of resorting to violence only when it is absolutely necessary and in its proper place, and witness the conjunction between the maqasid and the wasa'il and the meaning of the conditions when fighting actually becomes a Fard 'Ayn for an individual!

If it is said today:

"In the {Shafi`i} Madhhab, what are the different classifications of land in the world? For example, Dar al-Islam, Dar al-Kufr and so forth, and what have the classical ulema said their attributes are?"

We say: As it is also from empirical fact [tajriba], Muslim scholars have classified the territories in this world into: Dar al-Islam [its synonyms: Bilad al-Islam or Dawla al-Islam; a Muslim state or territory or land or country, etc.] and Dar al-Kufr [a Non-Muslim state or territory].

The definition of a Muslim state is: "Any place at which a resident Muslim is capable of defending himself against hostile forces [harbiyyun] for a period of time is a Muslim state where his judgements can be applied at that time and those times following it." [Ba'alawi, Bughya, 254]. A non-Muslim who resides in a Muslim state is in our terminology: kafir dhimmi or al-kafir bi-dhimmati l-muslim [a non-Muslim in the care of a Muslim state].

By definition, a country is a Muslim state as long as Muslims continue to live there and enjoy the political and executive authority. (Think about this, for the Muslim lands are many, varied, wide and extensive; and how poor and of limited insight are those who have tried to limit the definition of what a Muslim state must be, and whether realizing it or not thus tries to shrink the Muslim world!)  

As for a non-Muslim state, it is the absence of a Muslim state.

As for the Dar al-Harb [sometimes called, Ard al-'Adw], it is a non-Muslim state which is in a state of war with a Muslim state. Therefore, a hostile non-Muslim soldier from there is known in our books as: kafir harbi.

Furu'

Even if such a person enters or resides in a Muslim country that is in a state of war with his home country, provided of course he does so with the permission of the Muslim authority (such as entering with a valid visa and the like), the sanctity of a kafir harbi's life is protected by Law just like the rest of the Muslim and non-Muslim subjects of the state. [al-Kurdi, Fatwa, 211-2]. In this case, his legal status becomes a kafir harbi bi-dhimmati l-imam [a hostile non-Muslim under the protection of the Muslim authority], in which, for all intent and purposes, he becomes exactly like the non-Muslim subject of the state. In this way, the apparent difference between a dhimmi and a harbi non-Muslim becomes only an academic exercise and a distinction in name only.

The implications of this rule for the pious, godfearing and law-abiding Muslims are not only that to attack non-Muslims becomes something illegal and an act of disobedience [ma'siya], but also that the steps taken by the Muslim authority and enforcers, such as in Malaysia or Indonesia today, to protect their places, including churches or temples, from the threat of killings and bombings, is included under the bab of amr bi-ma'ruf wa nahi 'ani l-munkar [the duty to intervene when another is acting wrongly; in the modern context: enforcing the Law], even if the Muslim enforcers [muhtasib] die in the course of protecting non-Muslims.

If it is said:

"What land classification are we in the European Union, and what is the hukm of those who are here? Should they theoretically leave?"

We say: It is clear that the countries in the Union are non-Muslim states, except for Turkey or Bosnia, for example, if they are a part of the Union. The status of the Muslims who reside and are born in non-Muslim states is the reverse of the above non-Muslim status in a Muslim state: al-muslim bi-dhimmati l-kafir [a Muslim in the care of a non-Muslim state] and from our own Muslim and religious perspective, whether we like it or not, there are similarities to the status of a guest which should not be forgotten.

There is precedent for this status in our Law. The answer to your question is that they should as a practical matter remain in these countries, and if applicable, learn to cure the schizophrenic cultural condition in which they may find themselves – whether of torn identity in their souls or of dissociation from the general society. If they cannot do so, but find instead that their surroundings are incompatible with the life they feel they must lead, then it is recommended for them to leave and reside in a Muslim state. This status is made clear in the fatwa of Imam al-Kurdi (may Allah be pleased with him!):

"He (may Allah's (Exalted is He!) mercy be upon him) was asked:

"In a territory ruled by non-Muslims, they have left the Muslims [in peace] other than that they pay tax [mal] every year just like the jizya-tax in reverse, for when the Muslims pay them, their protection is ensured and the non-Muslims do not oppose them [i.e.,  do not interfere with them]. Thereupon, Islam becomes practiced openly and our Law is established [meaning that they have the freedom to practice their religious duty in the open and in effect become practicing Muslims in that non-Muslim society]. If they do not pay them, they could massacre them by killing or pillage. Is it permissible to pay them the tax [and thereby become residents there]? If you say it is permissible, what is the ruling about the non-Muslims mentioned above when they are at war [with a Muslim state]: would it or would it not be permissible to oppose them and if possible, take their money? Please give us your opinion!

"The answer: Insofar as it is possible for Muslims to practice their religion openly with what they can have power over, and they are not afraid of any threat [fitna] to their religion if they pay tax to the non-Muslims, it is permissible for them to reside there. It is also permissible to pay them the tax as a requirement of it; rather, it is obligatory [Wajib] to pay them the tax for fear of their causing harm to the Muslims. The ruling about the non-Muslims at war as mentioned above, because they protect the Muslims [in their territory], is that it would not be permissible for the Muslims to murder them or to steal from them."

[al-Kurdi, Fatawa, 208]

The Dabit for this mas'ala is:

wa-in qadara 'ala iZhAri d-dIni wa-lam yakhfi l-fitnata fi d-dIni wa-nafsihi wa-mAlihi lam tajib 'alayhi al-hijratu [if someone is able to practice his religion openly and is not afraid of trouble to his religion, life and property, then emigration is not obligatory for him].

Furu'

Our Shafi'i jurists have discussed details concerning the case of Muslims residing in a non-Muslim state, and they have divided the legal rulings about their emigration from it to a Muslim state into four sorts (assuming that an individual is capable and has the means to emigrate):

1. Prohibited to leave: when they are able to defend the territory from a hostile non-Muslim force and withdraw from it and they do not need to ask for help from a Muslim state, since their place is a Muslim state: if they emigrated it would become a non-Muslim state.

2. Offensive: when it is possible for them to practice their religion openly and they wish to do so openly.

3. Recommended: when that is possible but they do not wish to do so openly.

4. Obligatory: when in the only remaining option, that {to practice their religion openly} is not possible.

If it is said:

"Would you say that in the modern age with all the considerations surrounding sovereignty and inter-connectedness, these classical labels do not apply any longer, or do we have sufficient resources in the school to continue using these same labels?"

We say: As Imam al-Ghazali would say: "once the real meaning is understood, there is no need to quibble over names". Labels can never be relied upon; it is the meaning behind them that must be properly understood. Once they are unpacked, they immediately become relevant for all times; just as with the following loaded terms: Jihad, Mujahid and Shahid. The result for Muslims who fail to notice the relevance and fail to connect the dots of our own inherited medieval terms with the modern world may be that they will live in a schizophrenic cultural reality and will be unable to associate themselves with the surrounding society and will not be at peace [sukun] with the rest of creation.

Just as the sabab al-wujud of this article is a Muslim's misunderstanding of his own medieval terminology from a long and rich legacy, the fitna in the world today has been the result of those who misunderstand our Laws.

Pay heed to the words of Mawlana Rumi (may Allah sanctify his secrets!):

Go beyond names and look at the qualities, so that they may show you the way to the essence.

The disagreement of people takes place because of names. Peace occurs when they go to the real meaning.

Every war and every conflict between human beings has happened because of some disagreement about names.

It's such an unnecessary foolishness, because just beyond the arguing there's a long table of companionship, set and waiting for us to sit down.

End of the Masa'il section


It is truly sad that despite our sophisticated and elaborate set of rules of engagement and in spite of the strict codes of warfare and the chivalrous disciplines which our soldiers are expected to observe, all having been thoroughly worked out and codified by the orthodox jurists of the Umma from among the generations of the Salaf, there are today in our midst those who are not ashamed to depart from these sacred conventions in favour of opinions espoused by persons who are not even trained in the Sacred Law at all let alone enough to be a Qadi or a Faqih – the rightful heir and source from which they should receive practical guidance in the first place. Instead they

should receive practical guidance in the first place. Instead they rely on engineers or scientists and on those who are not among its ahl yet speak in the name of our Law. With these "reformist" preachers and da'i comes a departure from the traditional ideas about the rules of Siyar/Jihad/Qital, i.e., warfare. Do they not realise that by doing so and by following them they will be ignoring the limitations and restrictions cherished and protected by our pious forefathers and that they will be turning their backs on the Jama'a and Ijma' and that they will be engaging in an act for which there is no accepted legal precedent among the orthodoxy in our entire history? Have they forgotten that part of the original maqsad of warfare/jihad was to limit warfare itself and that warfare for Muslims is not total war, so that women, children and innocent bystanders are not to be killed and property not to be needlessly destroyed?

To put it plainly, there is simply no legal precedent in the history of Sunni Islam for the tactic of attacking civilians and overtly non-military targets. Yet the awful reality today is that a minority of Sunni Muslims, whether in Iraq or Beslan or elsewhere, have perpetuated such acts in the name of Jihad and on behalf of the Umma. Perhaps the first such mission to break this long and admirable precedent was the Hamas bombing on a public bus in Jerusalem in 1994 – not that long ago. (Ponder about this fact!) Immediately after the incident, the almost unanimous response of the orthodox Shafi'i jurists from the Far East and the Hadramawt was not only to make clear that the minimum legal position from our Sacred Law is untenable, but also to warn the Umma that by going down that path we would be compromising the optimum way of Ihsan and that we would thereby be running a real risk of losing the moral and religious high ground. Those who still defend this tactic, invoking blindly a nebulous usuli principle that it is justifiable out of darura while ignoring the far'i strictures, must look long and hard at what they are doing and ask the question: was it absolutely necessary, and if so, why was this not done before 1994, and especially during the earlier wars, most of all during the disasters of 1948 and 1967?

How could such a tactic be condoned by one of our rightly guided caliphs and a heroic fighter such as 'Ali (may Allah ennoble his face!), who when in the Battle of the Trench his notorious non-Muslim opponent, who was seconds away from being killed by him, spat on his noble face, immediately left him alone. When asked later his reasons for withdrawing when Allah clearly gave him power over him, answered: "I was fighting for the sake of God, and when he spat in my face I feared that if I killed him it would have been out of revenge and spite!" Far from being an act of cowardice, this characterizes Muslim chivalry: fighting, yet not out of anger.

In actual fact, the only precedent for this tactic from Muslim history is the cowardly terrorism carried out by the "Assassins" of the Nizari Isma'ilis. Their most famous victim was the suicide mission in assassinating the wise minister and the Defender of the Faith who could have been alive to deal with the Fitna of the Crusades: Nizam al-Mulk, the Jamal al-Shuhada' (may Allah encompass him with His mercy!) on Thursday, the 10th of the holy month of Ramadan 485/14 October 1092. Ironically, in the case of Palestine, the precedent was set not by Muslims but by early Zionist terrorist gangs such as the Irgun, who, for example, infamously bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on the 22nd of July 1946. So ask yourself as an upright and godfearing believer whose every organ will be interrogated: do you really want to follow the footsteps and the models of those Zionists and the heterodox Isma'ilis, instead of the path taken by our Beloved may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!, who for almost half of the {twenty-three} years of his mission endured Meccan persecution, humiliation and insults? Is anger your only strength? If so, remember the Prophetic advice that it is from the Devil. And is darura your only excuse for following them instead into their condemned lizard-holes? Do you think that any of our famous Mujahid from history, such as 'Ali, Salah al-Din, and Muhammad al-Fatih (may Allah be well pleased with them all!) will ever condone the article you quoted and these acts today in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Cairo, Bali, Casablanca, Beslan, London and New York, some of them committed on days when it is traditionally forbidden by our Law to fight: Dhu l-Qa'da and al-Hijja, Muharram and Rajab? Every person of fitra will see that this is nothing other than a sunna of perversion. This is what happens to the Banu Adam when the wahm is abandoned by 'aql, when one of the maqasid justifies any wasila, when the realities of furu' are indiscriminately overruled by generalities of usul, and most tragically, as illustrated from the eternal blunder of Iblis, when Divine tawakkul is replaced by basic nafs.

Yes, we are one Umma such that when one part of the macro-body is attacked somewhere, another part inevitably feels the pain. Yet at the same time, our own history has shown that we have also been a wise and sensible, instead of a reactive and impulsive, Umma. That is the secret of our success, and that is where our strengths will always lie as has been promised by Divine Writ: in sabr and in tawakkul. It is already common knowledge that when Jerusalem fell to the Crusading forces on 15 July 1099 and was occupied by them, and despite its civilians having been raped, killed, tortured and plundered and the Umma at the time humiliated and insulted – acts far worse than what can be imagined in today's occupation – that it took more than 100 years of patience and legitimate struggle under the Eye of the Almighty before He allowed Salah al-Din to liberate Jerusalem. We should have been taught from childhood by our fathers and mothers about the need to prioritize and about how to reconcile the spheres of our global concerns with those of our local responsibilities – as we will definitely not escape the questioning in the grave about the latter – so that by this insight we may hope that our response will not be disproportionate nor inappropriate. This is the true meaning [haqiqa] of the true advice [nasiha] of our Beloved Prophet may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!: to leave what does not concern one [tark ma la ya'nih], where one's time and energy could be better spent in improving the lot of the Muslims today or benefiting others in this world.

Yes, we will naturally feel the pain when any of our brothers and sisters die unjustly anywhere when their deaths have been caused directly by non-Muslims, but it MUST be the more painful for us when they die in Iraq, for example, when they are caused directly by the self-destroying/martyrdom/suicide missions carried out by one of our own. On tafakkur, the second pain should make us realize and feel insaf that missions of this sort when the means and the legal particulars are all wrong – by scripture and reason – are not only a scourge for our non-Muslim neighbours but a plague and great fitna for this mercied Umma, so that out of maslaha and the general good, it must be stopped.

To this end, we could sum up a point of law tersely in the following maxim: two wrongs do not make the second right [lA yaj'alu Z-ZulmAni th-thAniya Haqqan]. If the first pain becomes one of the mitigating factors and ends up being used as a justification by our misguided young to retaliate in a manner which our Sacred Law definitely and without doubt outlaws (which makes your original article the more appalling, as its author will have passed the special age of 40), then the latter pain should by its graver significance generate a greater and more meaningful response. With this intention, we may hope that we shall regain our former high ground and reputation and rediscover our honour and chivalrous qualities and be no less brave.

I end with the first ever Verse revealed in the Qur'an which bestowed the military option only upon those in a position of authority:

wa-qAtilU fI sabIli LlAhi l-ladhIna yuqAtilUnakum wa-lA ta'tadU inna LlAha lA yuHibbu l-mu'tadIna [And fight for the sake of God those who fight you: but do not commit excesses, for God does not love those who exceed (i.e., the Law)] (al-Baqara, 2:190).

Even then, peace is preferred over war:

wa-in janaHU li-s-salmi fa-jnaH la-hA wa-tawakkal 'ala LlAhi [Now if they incline toward peace, then incline to it, and place your trust in God] (al-Anfal, 8:61).

Even if you think that the authority in question has decided wrongly and you disagree with their decision not to war with the non-Muslim state upon which you wish war to be declared, then take heed of the following Divine command:

yA ayyhuhA l-ladhIna AmanU aTI'u l-LAha wa-aTI'u r-rasUla wa-uli l-amri minkum [O believers, obey Allah, and obey the messenger, and those with authority among you!] (al-Nisa', 4:58).

If you still insist that your authority should declare war with the non-Muslim state upon which you wish war to be declared, then the most you could do in this capacity is to lobby your authority for it. However, if your anger is so unrestrained that its fire brings out the worse in you to the point that your disagreement with your Muslim authority leads you to declare war on those you want your authority to declare war on, and you end up resorting to violence, then know with certainty that you have violated our own religious Laws. For then you will have taken the Shari'a into your own hands. If indeed you reach the point of committing a violent act, then know that by our own Law you would have been automatically classified as a rebel [ahl al-baghy] whom the authority has the right to punish: even if the authority is perceived to be or is indeed corrupt [fasiq]. (The definition of rebels is: "Muslims who have disagreed [not by heart or by tongue but by hand] with the authority even if it is unjust [ja'ir] and they are correct ['adilun]" [al-Nawawi, Majmu', 20:337].)

That is why, my brethren, when the military option is not a legal one for the individuals concerned, you must not lose hope in Allah; and let us be reminded of the words of our Beloved may Allah's blessings and peace be upon him!:

afDalu l-jihAdi kalimatu Haqqin 'inda sulTAnin jA'irin

[The best Jihad is a true (i.e., brave) word in the face of a tyrannical ruler]. (From a Hadith of Abu Sa'id al-Khudri may Allah be well pleased with him!) among others, which is related by Ibn al-Ja'd, Ahmad, Ibn Humayd, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa'i, Abu Ya'la, Abu Bakr al-Ruyani, al-Tabarani, al-Hakim, and al-Bayhaqi, with variants.)

For it is possible still, and especially, today to fight injustice or zulm and taghut in this dunya through your tongue and your words and through the pen and the courts, which still amounts in the Prophetic idiom to Jihad, even if not through war. As in the reminder [tadhkira] of the great scholar, Imam al-Zarkashi: war is only a means to an end and as long as some other way is open to us, that should be the course trod upon by Muslims.

Masha-Allah, how true indeed are the Blessed words, so that the latter Mujahid or activist will be no less brave or lacking in any courage with his or her campaign for a just cause in an oppressive country or one needing reforms than the former Mujahid or patriot who fought bravely for his country in a just war.

fa-t-taqillaha wa-raji' mufatashata nafsika wa-islaha fasadiha wa-huwa hasbuna wa-ni'ma l-wakil wa-la hawla wa-la quwwata illa billahi l-'aliyyi l-'azim! wa-salawatuhu 'ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa-alihi wasallim waradiyallahu tabaraka wa-ta'ala 'an sadatina ashabi rasulillahi ajma'in wa-'anna ma'ahum wa-fihim wa-yaj'aluna min hizbihim bi-rahmatikaya arhama r-rahimin! Amin!

May this be of benefit.

With heartfelt wishes for salam & tayyiba from Oxford to Brunei,

M. Afifi al-Akiti 16 Jumada II 1426 23 VII 2005


GLOSSARY OF TERM

ahl = 1: people; 2: qualified adherents or practicioners `aql = intellect, reason `amal = deed asl = see usul bab = chapter Banu Adam = human beings dabit = see dawabit darura = necessity dawabit = pl. of dabit = standard or pricipal rule Doctor Angelicus = Angel-like scholar or Scholar of the angels, a title given to Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian of the Western Church. da`i = summoner dunya = this world fa'ida = benefit Faqih = see Fiqh fard `ayn = personal categorical obligation far`i = adj. from far`, see furu` fiqh = Islamic jurisprudence, the expertise of the Faqih fitna = strife, temptation, seduction, delusion, chaos, trial and tribulation fitra = sane mind and soul, primordial disposition Fuqaha' = pl. of Faqih (q.v.) furu` = pl. of far`, 1: branches (of the Law), secondary legal texts; 2: corollaries hadith = saying of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him blessings and peace halal = lawful, permitted haram = categorically prohibited, unlawful hukm shar`i = legal status Iblis = Satan Ihsan = Excellence, the pinnacle of religious practice Ijma` = Consensus insaf = fairness Jama`a = congregation (of the Muslims) Jamal al-Shuhada' = Beauty of Martyrs, the title of the murdered vizier Nizam al-Mulk Jihad = military or moral struggle by the Mujahid khilaf = (juridical) disagreement khilafiyya = fem. adjective from khilaf= having to do with (juridical) disagreement madhhab = school of law makruh = detestable, abhorrent, abominable, disliked, legally offensive maqasid = pl. of maqsad, objective maqsad = see maqasid masa'il = pl. of mas'ala = question mas'ala = see masa'il maslaha = welfare mubah = indifferently permissible mufassir = exegete mufti = one who formulates fatwas or formal legal responses mujahid = one who does jihad (q.v.) mukallaf = legally-responsible Muslim musharaka = mutual or reciprocal matter nafs = ego, self nasiha = faithful, sincere advice qadaya = pl. of qadiyya = issue qadi = judge in an Islamic court of law qatil nafsahu = self-killer, suicide qawl = saying, position qital = warfare, battle sabab al-wujud = raison d'etre sabr = patient endurance and fortitude shahid, pl. suhada' = self-sacrificing believer who dies for the sake of God alone, "martyr" shar`i = adj. legitimate in the eyes of the Shari`a (Islamic Law), lawful siyar = military expeditions sunna = way, path tafakkur = reflexion tafsil = detailed discussion tahluka = self-destruction thaghrir bi l-nafs = risking one's life tawakkul = God-reliance thawabit = pl. of thabit = axiom Umma = Community (of the Prophet Muhammad ) usul = pl. of asl = foundational principle. Adj. usuli wahm = imaginative faculty wasa'il = pl. of wasila, means wasila = see wasa'il


Select Bibliography:

  • Ba'alawi, Abd al-Rahman. Bughyat al-Mustarshidin fi Talkhis Fatawa ba'd al-Muta'akhkhirin. Bulaq, 1309 H.
  • al-Bakri. Hashiyat I'anat al-Talibin. 4 vols. Bulaq, 1300 H.
  • al-Ghazali. Ihya' 'Ulum al-Din. Edited by Badawi Ahmad Tabanah. 4 vols.
  • Cairo: Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya, 1957.
  • Ibn 'Arabi, Qadi. Ahkam al-Qur'an. Edited by 'Ali Muhammad al-Bajawi. 4 vols.Cairo: Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-'Arabiyya, 1957-8.
  • Ibn Barakat. Fayd al-Ilah al-Malik fi Hall Alfaz 'Umdat al-Salik wa-'Uddat al-Nasik. Edited by Mustafa Muhammad 'Imara. 2 vols.Singapore: al-Haramayn, 1371 H.
  • Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. Tuhfa al-Muhtaj bi-Sharh al-Minhaj al-Nawawi in Hawashi al-Shirwani wa-Ibn Qasim 'ala Tuhfa al-Muhtaj. Edited by Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-Khalidi. 13 vols.Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, 1996.
  • al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur'an. 3 vols.Istanbul: Dar al-Khilafa al-'Aliya, 1335-1338.
  • al-Kurdi. Fatawa al-Kurdi al-Madani. In Qurrat al-'Ayn bi-Fatawa 'Ulama' al-Haramayn. Edited by Muhammad 'Ali b. Hussayn al-Maliki.Bogor: Maktaba 'Arafat, n.d.
  • al-Nawawi. al-Majmu' Sharh al-Muhadhdhab. Edited by Mahmud Matraji. 22 vols.Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1996.
  • al-Nawawi al-Jawi. Marah Labid Tafsir al-Nawawi: al-Tafsir al-Munir li-Ma'alim al-Tanzil al-Mufassir 'an Wujuh Mahasin al-Ta'wil al-Musamma Marah Labid li-Kashf Ma'na Qur'an Majid. 2 vols. Bulaq, 1305 H.

Islamic Spirituality: the forgotten revolution

Abdal-Hakim Murad


THE POVERTY OF FANATICISM

'Blood is no argument', as Shakespeare observed. Sadly, Muslim ranks are today swollen with those who disagree. The World Trade Centre, yesterday's symbol of global finance, has today become a monument to the failure of global Islam to control those who believe that the West can be bullied into changing its wayward ways towards the East. There is no real excuse to hand. It is simply not enough to clamour, as many have done, about 'chickens coming home to roost', and to protest that Washington's acquiescence in Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing is the inevitable generator of such hate. It is of course true - as Shabbir Akhtar has noted - that powerlessness can corrupt as insistently as does power. But to comprehend is not to sanction or even to empathize. To take innocent life to achieve a goal is the hallmark of the most extreme secular utilitarian ethic, and stands at the opposite pole of the absolute moral constraints required by religion.  

There was a time, not long ago, when the 'ultras' were few, forming only a tiny wart on the face of the worldwide attempt to revivify Islam. Sadly, we can no longer enjoy the luxury of ignoring them. The extreme has broadened, and the middle ground, giving way, is everywhere dislocated and confused. And this enfeeblement of the middle ground, was what was enjoined by the Prophetic example, is in turn accelerated by the opprobrium which the extremists bring not simply upon themselves, but upon committed Muslims everywhere. For here, as elsewhere, the preferences of the media work firmly against us. David Koresh could broadcast his fringe Biblical message from Ranch Apocalypse without the image of Christianity, or even its Adventist wing, being in any way besmirched. But when a fringe Islamic group bombs Swedish tourists in Cairo, the muck is instantly spread over 'militant Muslims' everywhere.  

If these things go on, the Islamic movement will cease to form an authentic summons to cultural and spiritual renewal, and will exist as little more than a splintered array of maniacal factions. The prospect of such an appalling and humiliating end to the story of a religion which once surpassed all others in its capacity for tolerating debate and dissent is now a real possibility. The entire experience of Islamic work over the past fifteen years has been one of increasing radicalization, driven by the perceived failure of the traditional Islamic institutions and the older Muslim movements to lead the Muslim peoples into the worthy but so far chimerical promised land of the 'Islamic State.'  

If this final catastrophe is to be averted, the mainstream will have to regain the initiative. But for this to happen, it must begin by confessing that the radical critique of moderation has its force. The Islamic movement has so far been remarkably unsuccessful. We must ask ourselves how it is that a man like Nasser, a butcher, a failed soldier and a cynical demagogue, could have taken over a country as pivotal as Egypt, despite the vacuity of his beliefs, while the Muslim Brotherhood, with its pullulating millions of members, should have failed, and failed continuously, for six decades. The radical accusation of a failure in methodology cannot fail to strike home in such a context of dismal and prolonged inadequacy.  

It is in this context - startlingly, perhaps, but inescapably - that we must present our case for the revival of the spiritual life within Islam. If it is ever to prosper, the 'Islamic revival' must be made to see that it is in crisis, and that its mental resources are proving insufficient to meet contemporary needs. The response to this must be grounded in an act of collective muhasaba, of self-examination, in terms that transcend the ideologised neo-Islam of the revivalists, and return to a more classical and indigenously Muslim dialectic.  

Symptomatic of the disease is the fact that among all the explanations offered for the crisis of the Islamic movement, the only authentically Muslim interpretation, namely, that God should not be lending it His support, is conspicuously absent. It is true that we frequently hear the Quranic verse which states that "God does not change the condition of a people until they change the condition of their own selves."[1] But never, it seems, is this principle intelligently grasped. It is assumed that the sacred text is here doing no more than to enjoin individual moral reform as a precondition for collective societal success. Nothing could be more hazardous, however, than to measure such moral reform against the yardstick of the fiqh without giving concern to whether the virtues gained have been acquired through conformity (a relatively simple task), or proceed spontaneously from a genuine realignment of the soul. The verse is speaking of a spiritual change, specifically, a transformation of the nafs of the believers - not a moral one. And as the Blessed Prophet never tired of reminding us, there is little value in outward conformity to the rules unless this conformity is mirrored and engendered by an authentically righteous disposition of the heart. 'No-one shall enter the Garden by his works,' as he expressed it. Meanwhile, the profoundly judgemental and works - oriented tenor of modern revivalist Islam (we must shun the problematic buzz-word 'fundamentalism'), fixated on visible manifestations of morality, has failed to address the underlying question of what revelation is for. For it is theological nonsense to suggest that God's final concern is with our ability to conform to a complex set of rules. His concern is rather that we should be restored, through our labours and His grace, to that state of purity and equilibrium with which we were born. The rules are a vital means to that end, and are facilitated by it. But they do not take its place.

The Holy Qur'an Sura 13:11.

To make this point, the Holy Quran deploys a striking metaphor. In Sura Ibrahim, verses 24 to 26, we read:  

Have you not seen how God coineth a likeness: a goodly word like a goodly tree, the root whereof is set firm, its branch in the heaven? It bringeth forth its fruit at every time, by the leave of its Lord. Thus doth God coin likenesses for men, that perhaps they may reflect. And the likeness of an evil word is that of an evil tree that hath been torn up by the root from upon the earth, possessed of no stability. 

According to the scholars of tafsir (exegesis), the reference here is to the 'words' (kalima) of faith and unfaith. The former is illustrated as a natural growth, whose florescence of moral and intellectual achievement is nourished by firm roots, which in turn denote the basis of faith: the quality of the proofs one has received, and the certainty and sound awareness of God which alone signify that one is firmly grounded in the reality of existence. The fruits thus yielded - the palpable benefits of the religious life - are permanent ('at every time'), and are not man's own accomplishment, for they only come 'by the leave of its Lord'. Thus is the sound life of faith. The contrast is then drawn with the only alternative: kufr, which is not grounded in reality but in illusion, and is hence 'possessed of no stability'.[2]  

This passage, reminiscent of some of the binary categorisations of human types presented early on in Surat al-Baqara, precisely encapsulates the relationship between faith and works, the hierarchy which exists between them, and the sustainable balance between nourishment and fructition, between taking and giving, which true faith must maintain.  

It is against this criterion that we must judge the quality of contemporary 'activist' styles of faith. Is the young 'ultra', with his intense rage which can sometimes render him liable to nervous disorders, and his fixation on a relatively narrow range of issues and concerns, really firmly rooted, and fruitful, in the sense described by this Quranic image?  

Let me point to the answer with an example drawn from my own experience.  

I used to know, quite well, a leader of the radical 'Islamic' group, the Jama'at Islamiya, at the Egyptian university of Assiut. His name was Hamdi. He grew a luxuriant beard, was constantly scrubbing his teeth with his miswak, and spent his time preaching hatred of the Coptic Christians, a number of whom were actually attacked and beaten up as a result of his khutbas. He had hundreds of followers; in fact, Assiut today remains a citadel of hardline, Wahhabi-style activism.  

The moral of the story is that some five years after this acquaintance, providence again brought me face to face with Shaikh Hamdi. This time, chancing to see him on a Cairo street, I almost failed to recognise him. The beard was gone. He was in trousers and a sweater. More astonishing still was that he was walking with a young Western girl who turned out to be an Australian, whom, as he sheepishly explained to me, he was intending to marry. I talked to him, and it became clear that he was no longer even a minimally observant Muslim, no longer prayed, and that his ambition in life was to leave Egypt, live in Australia, and make money. What was extraordinary was that his experiences in Islamic activism had made no impression on him - he was once again the same distracted, ordinary Egyptian youth he had been before his conversion to 'radical Islam'.  

This phenomenon, which we might label 'salafi burnout', is a recognised feature of many modern Muslim cultures. An initial enthusiasm, gained usually in one's early twenties, loses steam some seven to ten years later. Prison and torture - the frequent lot of the Islamic radical - may serve to prolong commitment, but ultimately, a majority of these neo-Muslims relapse, seemingly no better or worse for their experience in the cult-like universe of the salafi mindset.  

This ephemerality of extremist activism should be as suspicious as its content. Authentic Muslim faith is simply not supposed to be this fragile; as the Qur'an says, its root is meant to be 'set firm'. One has to conclude that of the two trees depicted in the Quranic image, salafi extremism resembles the second rather than the first. After all, the Sahaba were not known for a transient commitment: their devotion and piety remained incomparably pure until they died.  

What attracts young Muslims to this type of ephemeral but ferocious activism? One does not have to subscribe to determinist social theories to realise the importance of the almost universal condition of insecurity which Muslim societies are now experiencing. The Islamic world is passing through a most devastating period of transition. A history of economic and scientific change which in Europe took five hundred years, is, in the Muslim world, being squeezed into a couple of generations. For instance, only thirty-five years ago the capital of Saudi Arabia was a cluster of mud huts, as it had been for thousands of years. Today's Riyadh is a hi-tech megacity of glass towers, Coke machines, and gliding Cadillacs. This is an extreme case, but to some extent the dislocations of modernity are common to every Muslim society, excepting, perhaps, a handful of the most remote tribal peoples.  

Such a transition period, with its centrifugal forces which allow nothing to remain constant, makes human beings very insecure. They look around for something to hold onto, that will give them an identity. In our case, that something is usually Islam. And because they are being propelled into it by this psychic sense of insecurity, rather than by the more normal processes of conversion and faith, they lack some of the natural religious virtues, which are acquired by contact with a continuous tradition, and can never be learnt from a book.  

One easily visualises how this works. A young Arab, part of an oversized family, competing for scarce jobs, unable to marry because he is poor, perhaps a migrant to a rapidly expanding city, feels like a man lost in a desert without signposts. One morning he picks up a copy of Sayyid Qutb from a newsstand, and is 'born-again' on the spot. This is what he needed: instant certainty, a framework in which to interpret the landscape before him, to resolve the problems and tensions of his life, and, even more deliciously, a way of feeling superior and in control. He joins a group, and, anxious to retain his newfound certainty, accepts the usual proposition that all the other groups are mistaken.  

This, of course, is not how Muslim religious conversion is supposed to work. It is meant to be a process of intellectual maturation, triggered by the presence of a very holy person or place. Tawba, in its traditional form, yields an outlook of joy, contentment, and a deep affection for others. The modern type of tawba, however, born of insecurity, often makes Muslims narrow, intolerant, and exclusivist. Even more noticeably, it produces people whose faith is, despite its apparent intensity, liable to vanish as suddenly as it came. Deprived of real nourishment, the activist's soul can only grow hungry and emaciated, until at last it dies.  

THE ACTIVISM WITHIN

How should we respond to this disorder? We must begin by remembering what Islam is for. As we noted earlier, our din is not, ultimately, a manual of rules which, when meticulously followed, becomes a passport to paradise. Instead, it is a package of social, intellectual and spiritual technology whose purpose is to cleanse the human heart. In the Qur'an, the Lord says that on the Day of Judgement, nothing will be of any use to us, except a sound heart (qalbun salim). [3] And in a famous hadith, the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, says that  

"Verily in the body there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the body is all sound. If it is corrupt, the body is all corrupt. Verily, it is the heart. 

Mindful of this commandment, under which all the other commandments of Islam are subsumed, and which alone gives them meaning, the Islamic scholars have worked out a science, an ilm (science), of analysing the 'states' of the heart, and the methods of bringing it into this condition of soundness. In the fullness of time, this science acquired the name tasawwuf, in English 'Sufism' - a traditional label for what we might nowadays more intelligibly call 'Islamic psychology.'  

At this point, many hackles are raised and well-rehearsed objections voiced. It is vital to understand that mainstream Sufism is not, and never has been, a doctrinal system, or a school of thought - a madhhab. It is, instead, a set of insights and practices which operate within the various Islamic madhhabs; in other words, it is not a madhhab, it is an ilm. And like most of the other Islamic ulum, it was not known by name, or in its later developed form, in the age of the Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) or his Companions. This does not make it less legitimate. There are many Islamic sciences which only took shape many years after the Prophetic age: usul al-fiqh, for instance, or the innumerable technical disciplines of hadith.  

Now this, of course, leads us into the often misunderstood area of sunna and bid'a, two notions which are wielded as blunt instruments by many contemporary activists, but which are often grossly misunderstood. The classic Orientalist thesis is of course that Islam, as an 'arid Semitic religion', failed to incorporate mechanisms for its own development, and that it petrified upon the death of its founder. This, however, is a nonsense rooted in the ethnic determinism of the nineteenth century historians who had shaped the views of the early Orientalist synthesizers (Muir, Le Bon, Renan, Caetani). Islam, as the religion designed for the end of time, has in fact proved itself eminently adaptable to the rapidly changing conditions which characterise this final and most 'entropic' stage of history.  

What is a bid'a, according to the classical definitions of Islamic law? We all know the famous hadith:  

Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in Hell. [4] 

Does this mean that everything introduced into Islam that was not known to the first generation of Muslims is to be rejected? The classical ulema do not accept such a literalistic interpretation.  

Let us take a definition from Imam al-Shafi'i, an authority universally accepted in Sunni Islam. Imam al-Shafi'i writes:  

There are two kinds of introduced matters (muhdathat). One is that which contradicts a text of the Qur'an, or the Sunna, or a report from the early Muslims (athar), or the consensus (ijma') of the Muslims: this is an 'innovation of misguidance' (bid'at dalala). The second kind is that which is in itself good and entails no contradiction of any of these authorities: this is a 'non-reprehensible innovation' (bid'a ghayr madhmuma). [5] 

This basic distinction between acceptable and unacceptable forms of bid'a is recognised by the overwhelming majority of classical ulema. Among some, for instance al-Izz ibn Abd al-Salam (one of the half-dozen or so great mujtahids of Islamic history), innovations fall under the five axiological headings of the Shari'a: the obligatory (wajib), the recommended (mandub), the permissible (mubah), the offensive (makruh), and the forbidden (haram).[6]  

Under the category of 'obligatory innovation', Ibn Abd al-Salam gives the following examples: recording the Qur'an and the laws of Islam in writing at a time when it was feared that they would be lost, studying Arabic grammar in order to resolve controversies over the Qur'an, and developing philosophical theology (kalam) to refute the claims of the Mu'tazilites.  

Category two is 'recommended innovation'. Under this heading the ulema list such activities as building madrasas, writing books on beneficial Islamic subjects, and in-depth studies of Arabic linguistics.  

Category three is 'permissible', or 'neutral innovation', including worldly activities such as sifting flour, and constructing houses in various styles not known in Medina.  

Category four is the 'reprehensible innovation'. This includes such misdemeanours as overdecorating mosques or the Qur'an.  

Category five is the 'forbidden innovation'. This includes unlawful taxes, giving judgeships to those unqualified to hold them, and sectarian beliefs and practices that explicitly contravene the known principles of the Qur'an and the Sunna.  

The above classification of bid'a types is normal in classical Shari'a literature, being accepted by the four schools of orthodox fiqh. There have been only two significant exceptions to this understanding in the history of Islamic thought: the Zahiri school as articulated by Ibn Hazm, and one wing of the Hanbali madhhab, represented by Ibn Taymiya, who goes against the classical ijma' on this issue, and claims that all forms of innovation, good or bad, are un-Islamic.  

Why is it, then, that so many Muslims now believe that innovation in any form is unacceptable in Islam? One factor has already been touched on: the mental complexes thrown up by insecurity, which incline people to find comfort in absolutist and literalist interpretations. Another lies in the influence of the well-financed neo-Hanbali madhhab called Wahhabism, whose leaders are famous for their rejection of all possibility of development.  

In any case, armed with this more sophisticated and classical awareness of Islam's ability to acknowledge and assimilate novelty, we can understand how Muslim civilisation was able so quickly to produce novel academic disciplines to deal with new problems as these arose.  

Islamic psychology is characteristic of the new ulum which, although present in latent and implicit form in the Quran, were first systematized in Islamic culture during the early Abbasid period. Given the importance that the Quran attaches to obtaining a 'sound heart', we are not surprised to find that the influence of Islamic psychology has been massive and all-pervasive. In the formative first four centuries of Islam, the time when the great works of tafsir, hadith, grammar, and so forth were laid down, the ulema also applied their minds to this problem of al-qalb al-salim. This was first visible when, following the example of the Tabi'in, many of the early ascetics, such as Sufyan ibn Uyayna, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak, had focussed their concerns explicitly on the art of purifying the heart. The methods they recommended were frequent fasting and night prayer, periodic retreats, and a preoccupation with murabata: service as volunteer fighters in the border castles of Asia Minor.  

This type of pietist orientation was not in the least systematic during this period. It was a loose category embracing all Muslims who sought salvation through the Prophetic virtues of renunciation, sincerity, and deep devotion to the revelation. These men and women were variously referred to as al-bakka'un: 'the weepers', because of their fear of the Day of Judgement, or as zuhhad, ascetics, or ubbad, 'unceasing worshippers'.  

By the third century, however, we start to find writings which can be understood as belonging to a distinct devotional school. The increasing luxury and materialism of Abbasid urban society spurred many Muslims to campaign for a restoration of the simplicity of the Prophetic age. Purity of heart, compassion for others, and a constant recollection of God were the defining features of this trend. We find references to the method of muhasaba: self-examination to detect impurities of intention. Also stressed was riyada: self-discipline.  

By this time, too, the main outlines of Quranic psychology had been worked out. The human creature, it was realised, was made up of four constituent parts: the body (jism), the mind (aql), the spirit (ruh), and the self (nafs). The first two need little comment. Less familiar (at least to people of a modern education) are the third and fourth categories.  

The spirit is the ruh, that underlying essence of the human individual which survives death. It is hard to comprehend rationally, being in part of Divine inspiration, as the Quran says:  

"And they ask you about the spirit; say, the spirit is of the command of my Lord. And you have been given of knowledge only a little."[7] 

According to the early Islamic psychologists, the ruh is a non-material reality which pervades the entire human body, but is centred on the heart, the qalb. It represents that part of man which is not of this world, and which connects him with his Creator, and which, if he is fortunate, enables him to see God in the next world. When we are born, this ruh is intact and pure. As we are initiated into the distractions of the world, however, it is covered over with the 'rust' (ran) of which the Quran speaks. This rust is made up of two things: sin and distraction. When, through the process of self-discipline, these are banished, so that the worshipper is preserved from sin and is focussing entirely on the immediate presence and reality of God, the rust is dissolved, and the ruh once again is free. The heart is sound; and salvation, and closeness to God, are achieved.  

This sounds simple enough. However, the early Muslims taught that such precious things come only at an appropriate price. Cleaning up the Augean stables of the heart is a most excruciating challenge. Outward conformity to the rules of religion is simple enough; but it is only the first step. Much more demanding is the policy known as mujahada: the daily combat against the lower self, the nafs. As the Quran says:  

'As for him that fears the standing before his Lord, and forbids his nafs its desires, for him, Heaven shall be his place of resort.'[8] 

Hence the Sufi commandment:  

'Slaughter your ego with the knives of mujahada.' [9] 

Once the nafs is controlled, then the heart is clear, and the virtues proceed from it easily and naturally.  

Because its objective is nothing less than salvation, this vital Islamic science has been consistently expounded by the great scholars of classical Islam. While today there are many Muslims, influenced by either Wahhabi or Orientalist agendas, who believe that Sufism has always led a somewhat marginal existence in Islam, the reality is that the overwhelming majority of the classical scholars were actively involved in Sufism.  

The early Shafi'i scholars of Khurasan: al-Hakim al-Nisaburi, Ibn Furak, al-Qushayri and al-Bayhaqi, were all Sufis who formed links in the richest academic tradition of Abbasid Islam, which culminated in the achievement of Imam Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazali. Ghazali himself, author of some three hundred books, including the definitive rebuttals of Arab philosophy and the Ismailis, three large textbooks of Shafi'i fiqh, the best-known tract of usul al-fiqh, two works on logic, and several theological treatises, also left us with the classic statement of orthodox Sufism: the Ihya Ulum al-Din, a book of which Imam Nawawi remarked:  

"Were the books of Islam all to be lost, excepting only the Ihya', it would suffice to replace them all." [10] 

Imam Nawawi himself wrote two books which record his debt to Sufism, one called the Bustan al-Arifin ('Garden of the Gnostics', and another called the al-Maqasid (recently published in English translation, Sunna Books, Evanston Il. trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller).  

Among the Malikis, too, Sufism was popular. Al-Sawi, al-Dardir, al-Laqqani and Abd al-Wahhab al-Baghdadi were all exponents of Sufism. The Maliki jurist of Cairo, Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha'rani defines Sufism as follows:  

'The path of the Sufis is built on the Quran and the Sunna, and is based on living according to the morals of the prophets and the purified ones. It may not be blamed, unless it violates an explicit statement from the Quran, sunna, or ijma. If it does not contravene any of these sources, then no pretext remains for condemning it, except one's own low opinion of others, or interpreting what they do as ostentation, which is unlawful. No-one denies the states of the Sufis except someone ignorant of the way they are.'[11] 

For Hanbali Sufism one has to look no further than the revered figures of Abdallah Ansari, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, Ibn al-Jawzi, and Ibn Rajab.  

In fact, virtually all the great luminaries of medieval Islam: al-Suyuti, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Ayni, Ibn Khaldun, al-Subki, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami; tafsir writers like Baydawi, al-Sawi, Abu'l-Su'ud, al-Baghawi, and Ibn Kathir[12] ; aqida writers such as Taftazani, al-Nasafi, al-Razi: all wrote in support of Sufism. Many, indeed, composed independent works of Sufi inspiration. The ulema of the great dynasties of Islamic history, including the Ottomans and the Moghuls, were deeply infused with the Sufi outlook, regarding it as one of the most central and indispensable of Islamic sciences.  

Further confirmation of the Islamic legitimacy of Sufism is supplied by the enthusiasm of its exponents for carrying Islam beyond the boundaries of the Islamic world. The Islamization process in India, Black Africa, and South-East Asia was carried out largely at the hands of wandering Sufi teachers. Likewise, the Islamic obligation of jihad has been borne with especial zeal by the Sufi orders. All the great nineteenth century jihadists: Uthman dan Fodio (Hausaland), al-Sanousi (Libya), Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri (Algeria), Imam Shamil (Daghestan) and the leaders of the Padre Rebellion (Sumatra) were active practitioners of Sufism, writing extensively on it while on their campaigns. Nothing is further from reality, in fact, than the claim that Sufism represents a quietist and non-militant form of Islam.  

With all this, we confront a paradox. Why is it, if Sufism has been so respected a part of Muslim intellectual and political life throughout our history, that there are, nowadays, angry voices raised against it? There are two fundamental reasons here.  

Firstly, there is again the pervasive influence of Orientalist scholarship, which, at least before 1922 when Massignon wrote his Essai sur les origines de la lexique technique, was of the opinion that something so fertile and profound as Sufism could never have grown from the essentially 'barren and legalistic' soil of Islam. Orientalist works translated into Muslim languages were influential upon key Muslim modernists - such as Muhammad Abduh in his later writings - who began to question the centrality, or even the legitimacy, of Sufi discourse in Islam.  

Secondly, there is the emergence of the Wahhabi da'wa. When Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, some two hundred years ago, teamed up with the Saudi tribe and attacked the neighbouring clans, he was doing so under the sign of an essentially neo-Kharijite version of Islam. Although he invoked Ibn Taymiya, he had reservations even about him. For Ibn Taymiya himself, although critical of the excesses of certain Sufi groups, had been committed to a branch of mainstream Sufism. This is clear, for instance, in Ibn Taymiya's work Sharh Futuh al-Ghayb, a commentary on some technical points in the Revelations of the Unseen, a key work by the sixth-century saint of Baghdad, Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani. Throughout the work Ibn Taymiya shows himself to be a loyal disciple of al-Jilani, whom he always refers to as shaykhuna ('our teacher'). This Qadiri affiliation is confirmed in the later literature of the Qadiri tariqa, which records Ibn Taymiya as a key link in the silsila, the chain of transmission of Qadiri teachings.[13]  

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, however, went far beyond this. Raised in the wastelands of Najd in Central Arabia, he had little access to mainstream Muslim scholarship. In fact, when his da'wa appeared and became notorious, the scholars and muftis of the day applied to it the famous Hadith of Najd:  

Ibn Umar reported the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) as saying: "Oh God, bless us in our Syria; O God, bless us in our Yemen." Those present said: "And in our Najd, O Messenger of God!" but he said, "O God, bless us in our Syria; O God, bless us in our Yemen." Those present said, "And in our Najd, O Messenger of God!". Ibn Umar said that he thought that he said on the third occasion: "Earthquakes and dissensions (fitna) are there, and there shall arise the horn of the devil."[14] 

And it is significant that almost uniquely among the lands of Islam, Najd has never produced scholars of any repute.  

The Najd-based da'wa of the Wahhabis, however, began to be heard more loudly following the explosion of Saudi oil wealth. Many, even most, Islamic publishing houses in Cairo and Beirut are now subsidised by Wahhabi organisations, which prevent them from publishing traditional works on Sufism, and remove passages in other works considered unacceptable to Wahhabist doctrine.  

The neo-Kharijite nature of Wahhabism makes it intolerant of all other forms of Islamic expression. However, because it has no coherent fiqh of its own - it rejects the orthodox madhhabs - and has only the most basic and primitively anthropomorphic aqida, it has a fluid, amoebalike tendency to produce divisions and subdivisions among those who profess it. No longer are the Islamic groups essentially united by a consistent madhhab and the Ash'ari [or Maturidi] aqida. Instead, they are all trying to derive the shari'a and the aqida from the Quran and the Sunna by themselves. The result is the appalling state of division and conflict which disfigures the modern salafi condition.  

At this critical moment in our history, the umma has only one realistic hope for survival, and that is to restore the 'middle way', defined by that sophisticated classical consensus which was worked out over painful centuries of debate and scholarship. That consensus alone has the demonstrable ability to provide a basis for unity. But it can only be retrieved when we improve the state of our hearts, and fill them with the Islamic virtues of affection, respect, tolerance and reconciliation. This inner reform, which is the traditional competence of Sufism, is a precondition for the restoration of unity in the Islamic movement. The alternative is likely to be continued, and agonising, failure.

 

NOTES

1. Sura 13:11. 

2. For a further analysis of this passage, see Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad, Key to the Garden (Quilliam Press, London 1990 CE), 78-81. 

3. Sura 26:89. The archetype is Abrahamic: see Sura 37:84. 

4. This hadith is in fact an instance of takhsis al-amm: a frequent procedure of usul al-fiqh by which an apparently unqualified statement is qualified to avoid the contradiction of another necessary principle. See Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller, tr. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Abu Dhabi, 1991 CE), 907-8 for some further examples. 

5. Ibn Asakir, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari (Damascus, 1347), 97. 

6. Cited in Muhammad al-Jurdani, al-Jawahir al-lu'lu'iyya fi sharh al-Arba'in al-Nawawiya (Damascus, 1328), 220-1. 

7. 17:85. 

8. 79:40. 

9. al-Qushayri, al-Risala (Cairo, n.d.), I, 393. 

10. al-Zabidi, Ithaf al-sada al-muttaqin (Cairo, 1311), I, 27. 

11. Sha'rani, al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (Cairo, 1374), I, 4. 

12. It is true that Ibn Kathir in his Bidaya is critical of some later Sufis. Nonetheless, in his Mawlid, which he asked his pupils to recite on the occasion of the Blessed Prophet's birthday each year, he makes his personal debt to a conservative and sober Sufism quite clear. 

13. See G. Makdisi's article 'Ibn Taymiyya: A Sufi of the Qadiriya Order' in the American Journal of Arabic Studies, 1973. 

14. Narrated by Bukhari. The translation is from J. Robson, Mishkat al-Masabih ((Lahore, 1970), II, 1380)

 

 

 

 

 

Is An Islamic State Just a Form of Muslim Zionism

Question: Is An Islamic State Just a Form of Muslim Zionism?

Question: Assalamu alaykum Dr. Blankinship. I was watching a lecture by you titled “The Life of the Prophet Muhammad,” and towards the end of it there was a discussion on the concept of a Muslim state. Just as a clarification on your stance on the topic, do you negate the idea of a state that governs according to the dictates of sharia’ or a state that becomes affiliated with the religion (as per Iran, for example)? You have stated that historically Muslims opposed the concept, viewing the institution of a state as “profane” and that you think that what is happening today is a form of Muslim Zionism. I feel like I may have misunderstood your statements, and a clarification would be much appreciated. Thank you.

Response (Dr. Khalid Blankinship):

Dear Br,

Al-salamu `alaykum. This is a historical question (see original questions below) that can only be addressed with reference to actual history. The answer does not preclude the possibility of an acceptable or even an ideal state, but one does need to attend to the details.

The state established by the Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) in al-Madinah was extremely rudimentary and lacked any of the institutionalization connected with the modern state. That is, while the Prophet (SAAS) was clearly and absolutely in charge, because of his direct connection with Allah through revelation and because of his good example, as amply proven in the Qur’an through frequent direct commands to obey him, no other offices seem to have existed until quite late in the Prophet’s career, and these were few.

Thus, there is no evidence of any subordinate officials at al-Madinah. The first real office created seems to have been with the appointment of `Attab ibn Asid as governor of Makkah at the surrender of Makkah in 8/630. Before that, a temporary official called the kharras was sent out to Khaybar, which had surrendered in 7/629, to collect the tax, but he did not even reside there. That is, the Prophet’s polity was hardly an institutional, territorial state in the sense that we think of states today. The Qur’an, interestingly, never refers to the Muslim polity as a state, and the only complimentary reference to khalifah, the later title of caliph, is in one verse referring to the Prophet Dawud (AS). While the believers are urged to obey ulu al-amr minkum=those of authority among you (Q 4:59), this text is not further explained. In the tafsir, the most plausible explanation is that it refers to those in command of expeditions sent out by the Prophet (SAAS), as is attested by a sahih hadith. The other explanation offered by the scholars was that it meant to obey the scholars. No word is ever said linking this verse’s possessors of authority to the later rulers, because, apart from the four Rashidun khalifahs and, for some, the Umayyad khalifah `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, all later rulers were regarded as having only a very limited legitimacy that required only acquiescence, not active support.

The institutionalization of the state did not go far under the early khalifahs, either, although of course there had to be some arrangements for administering what had become a kind of empire. Most of these arrangements remained informal for a long time. Thus, the governors of al-amsar, the military cities in the Fertile Crescent and elsewhere, were in charge of worship, warfare, and judicial decisions at the same time, while they always appointed literate local non-Muslims to be in charge of finance. While `Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (ruled 66-86/685-705) adopted a more ideological program, the elaboration of institutions was still not very developed at the time of Hisham ibn `Abd al-Malik (ruled 105-125/724-743), who was the subject of my book that you can read, The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham ibn `Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads, at nearly the end of the Umayyad caliphate. Thus, the treasury, despite an earlier effort by `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, was still not separated from the khalifah’s private purse, the khalifah had only a very few personal secretaries instead of a cabinet (although he had one friend, al-Abrash, who advised him), the khalifah even occasionally resorted to writing his own correspondence, and he lived in one of several very small and isolated desert castles whose extensive ruins may still be seen.

When, after the Umayyad collapse, the `Abbasids tried to establish a more articulated and bureaucratic regime, it was a failure, and the Abbasids spent their time, while they still had any power, trying to suppress rebellions and drum up support, but they were deserted by all, and had to rely on the Khurasani army which had put them in power in the first place. Even so, their real state lasted only briefly, being practically ended by the upheaval in the 860s. There is much more to this history, which you can pick up in my article on the caliphate.

Even the Ottoman sultanate, although the most highly-articulated, developed, stable, and long-lived of all the premodern Muslim polities, did not until its modernization very late in its life have anything approaching the degree of institutionalization of a modern state. So, confronted with and being overrun by modern institutional states from Europe, the Muslims naturally accepted this type of state as normative, and then began looking for classical authorizing precedents for such a state, and what was found was certainly often developed out of context, sometimes in misleading ways. In particular, the Muslims could argue, the situation is so desperate that we need to fight fire with fire, to adopt all of the colonizers’ ways, in order to preserve independence.

Now, opposing colonial impositions certainly appears to be a noble purpose, but one does not want on the other hand to be deceived into giving up one’s own principles as the price of such resistance. And most religious Muslims would agree, surely, that for example the extreme rejection of the Muslim past by Mustafa Kemal in Turkey was going too far. So that establishes that there have to be some kind of limits.

But is it sufficient merely to declare that we will have a state based on the Shari`ah and everything wll be perfect? Remember, the Shari`ah of classical times was almost entirely something sought out and voluntarily conformed to, not something imposed and enforced, because, although there was some enforcement through the muhtasib, eventually, the resources and means for the kind of intrusive enforcement used by modern states did not exist. Indeed, the Shari`ah-based state as usually envisioned by its modern supporters never really existed before, and especially not as an institutional state. The problem lies in the exercise of power: Who is qualified to do it, and what means of enforcing limitation and accountability on absolute power are there? The Umayyad reform program of 126/744 announced by the short-lived Yazid ibn al-Walid might suggest an answer, but it is not at all the answer that modern statists want to hear, usually.

See, modern statism is always connected with nationalism, in the sense that the nation becomes identical with the state. This is the case here in the US where the right-wing bleating sheep express outrage if the presidency or the American state is criticized, even sometimes explicitly identifying “patriotism” as support of the state. Ditto for Israel, which has become a litmus test for Jews. The apparently material success of Israel, belied by a total moral failure, indeed, a destruction of Judaism as a religion, has dazzled a lot of the Muslims, so it would not be surprising if some of them adopted these ideas too, and they have. Thus, some want an authoritative, authoritarian, institutional state. Being out of power, they are innocent and do not yet perceive the moral consequences, the worst of which is that the state itself becomes an idol which sits on Allah’s throne, a`udhu billah, and expects to be, or rather demands to be, worshiped, as we see with nationalist regimes around the world, and especially the American and Israeli ones. Such a project is not improved by being dressed up in “Islamic” window dressing. So may Allah make us all far from that outcome.

However, the problem of rule remains, and it cannot be all or nothing. While the Prophet (SAAS) urged us to stay away from those in power in the sahih hadith “man ya’ti abwab al-sultan yuftatan”=”whoever frequents the gates of the ruler suffers fitnah,” Muslims still must remain engaged with the world. Therefore, I wish the Turkish AKP, the Tunisian al-Nahdah Party, and the youth wing of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood well in their stated attempt to re-inject ethics into political systems that had been lacking them, even though I fear that the world of politics, being the ground of compromise rather than sincerity, tends always to corrupt. But I am willing to entertain and will support any good example that might arise.

Khalid Yahya Blankinship

Muslim loyalty and belonging

 Our silence in the face of evil differs from that of secular people. For traditional theists, the sense of loss which evil conveys, of the fearful presence of a void, comes with a personal face: that of the devil. But the devil, being, in the Qur’an’s language, weak at plotting, carries in himself the seeds of his own downfall. The very fact that we can name him is consoling, since understanding is itself a consolation. The cruellest aspect of secularity is that its refusal to name the devil elevates him to something more than a mere personalised absence. The solace of religion, no less consoling for being painful, is that it insists that when we find no words to communicate our sense that evil has come and triumphed, our silence is one of bewilderment, not despair; of hope, not of finality.

The world is at present in the grip of fear. We fear an unknown absence that hides behind the mundanity of our experience; perhaps ubiquitous and confident, perhaps broken and at an end. Symbols of human communication such as the internet and the airlines have suddenly acquired a double meaning as the scene for a radical failure of communication. Above all, the fear is that of the unprecedented, as the world enters an age drastically unlike its predecessors, an age in which the religions are fragmenting into countless islands of opinion at a time when their members - and the world - are most insistently in need of their serene and consistent guidance.

At a time such as the present, a furqan, a discernment, between true and false religion breaks surface. Despite the endless, often superbly fruitful, differences between the great world religions, the pressure of secularity has threatened each religion with a comparable confiscation of timeless certainties, and their replacement by the single certainty of change. Many now feel that they are not living in a culture, but in a kind of process, as abiding canons of beauty are replaced with styles and idioms the only expectation we can have of which is that they will briefly gratify our own sense of stylishness, then to be replaced by something no less brilliantly shallow. Postmodernity, anticipated here by Warhol, is occasionalistic, a series of ruptured images, hostile to nothing but the claim that we have inherited the past and that language is truly meaningful.

In such conditions, the timeless certainties of religious faith must work hard to preserve not only their consistent sense of self, but the very vocabularies with which they express their claims. The American philosopher Richard Rorty offers this account of the secularisation process:

Europe did not decide to accept the idiom of Romantic poetry, or of socialist politics, or of Galilean mechanics. That sort of shift was no more an act of will than it was a result of argument. Rather, Europe gradually lost the habit of using certain words and gradually acquired the habit of using certain others. [1]

What has happened over the past century, in a steadily accelerating fashion, is that the series of mutations in values, often grounded in popular perceptions of scientific paradigm shifts, has placed the traditional vocabularies of religion under unprecedented stress. Against this background, we can see three large possibilities amidst the diversity of the world faiths. Firstly, the ‘time-capsule’ option, often embedded in local ethnic particularities, which seeks to preserve the lexicon of faith from any redefinition which might subvert the tradition’s essence. The risk of anachronism or irrelevance is seen as worth running in order to preserve ancient verities for later generations that might, in some hoped-for time of penitence, return to them. Secondly, there are movements, usually called ‘liberal’, which adopt the secular world’s reductionist vocabulary for the understanding of religion, whether this be psychological, philosophical, or sociological, and try to show how faith, or part of it, might be recoverable even if we use these terms. In the Christian context this is an established move, and has become secure enough to be popularised by such writers as John Robinson and Don Cupitt. In Islam, the marginality of Muhammad Shahrur and Farid Esack shows that for the present a thoroughgoing theological liberalism remains a friendless elite option, despite the de facto popularity of attenuated and sentimental forms of Muslimness.

The third possibility is to redefine the language of religion to allow it to support identity politics. Religion has, of course, always had the marking of collective and individual identity as one of its functions. However, in reaction against the threat of late modernity and postmodernity to identity, and in tacit acknowledgement of the associated problematizing of metaphysics and morality, this dimension has in all the world religions been allowed to expand beyond its natural scope and limits. Increasingly, religionists seem to define themselves sociologically, rather than theologically. The Durkheimian maxim that ‘the idea of society is the soul of religion’ [2] is not so far from the preoccupations of activists who are more eager to establish institutes for Islamic social sciences than to build seminaries.

The result has often been a magnification of traditional polarities between the self and the other, enabled by the steady draining-away of religiously-inspired assumptions concerning the universality of notions of honour and decency. Examples are many and diverse. Who could have thought that Buddhism, apparently the most pacific of religions, could have provided space for a movement such as Aum Shinrikyo, thousands of whose acolytes have been interrogated in connection with terrorist outrages against innocent civilians? Central to the cult’s appeal, it seems, has been a redefinition of Buddhism as a movement for the preservation of East Asian identity. [3]

In India, a vegetarian creed such as Hinduism, in Gandhi’s province of Gujarat, has now generated religious identity movements which, to the horror of more traditional practitioners, appear to recommend the expulsion, forced conversion, or massacre, of non-Hindu minorities. The process of the ‘saffronising’ of India , descending on the Ayodhya flashpoint, is seemingly well-advanced, and the prospects for regional peace and conviviality have seldom seemed less hopeful. [4]

In the universe of Islam, the same transposition of the vocabulary of faith into the vocabulary of identity is well underway. What would Averroes have made of the common modern practice of defining the Hajj as the ‘annual conference of the Muslims’? Why do social scientists increasingly interpret the phenomenon of veiling in terms of the affirmation of identity? Why does congregational prayer sometimes suggest a political gesture to what is behind the worshippers, rather than to what lies beyond the qibla wall?

The instrumentality of religion has changed, in important segments of the world faiths. God is not denied by the sloganeers of identity; rather He is enlisted as a party member. No such revivalist can entertain the suggestion that the new liberation being recommended is a group liberation in the world that marginalises the more fundamental project of an individual liberation from the world; but his vocabulary nonetheless steadily betrays him. In the Qur’an, the word iman (usually translated as ‘faith’) appears twenty times as frequently as the word islam. In the sermons of the identity merchants, the ratio usually seems to be reversed.

Neither does the instrumentality of identity advocate a return to the indigenous and the particular. Were it to do so, it would necessarily require a respectful engagement with the art, spirituality, and intellectuality of the religion’s cultural provinces. And it is a shared feature of all identity politicking in world religions today that whereas religious revivals in the great ages of faith invariably generated artistic and literary florescence, the revivalists seem to produce only impoverishment. Beauty must wait; because da‘wa, the Mission, is more urgent; an odd logic to premodern believers, who assumed that every summons to the Real must be beautiful, and that nothing transforms a society or an individual soul more deeply than a great work of art, a building, a poem, or the serenity of a saint.

Perhaps we could even invoke this as the nearest approximation we will find to an objective yardstick against which to judge the spiritual authenticity (asala ruhiyya) of religious revivals. Truth, as Plato taught, ineluctably produces beauty. The illuminated soul shines, and cannot confine the light within its own self. Whatever is done, or made, or said, or written, by such a soul, is great art, and this is part of our caliphal participation and responsibility in creation. As Abd al-Rahman Jami puts it:

Every beauty and perfection manifested in the theatre of the diverse grades of beings is a ray of His perfect beauty reflected therein. It is from these rays that exalted souls have received their impress of beauty and their quality of perfection. [5]

If we apply this measure, how much authenticity may we really attribute to the soi-disant Islamic revivalism of today? ‘Say: who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He hath brought forth for His bondmen?’ (7:32) Who indeed?

The modern Muslim instrumentality of identity, then, does not seem to be about the affirmation of a culturally embedded self. The young radical activist does not really want to be a Pakistani, or an Algerian, or an American. Such a person requires what one might call a negative identity. He or she desperately desires not to be someone. The medievals knew God by listing all the things that God could not be; this is the strategy known as negative theology, richly deployed in both Muslim and Christian metaphysics. The moderns, it seems, being more interested in religion than in God, define religion by listing all the things that it cannot be. Hence Islam, we are loudly told, is a list of prohibitions. Everywhere we turn there is something we must not believe, and certainly must not do. The list of ideas entailing shirk or bid‘a grows ever-longer; and no-one any longer takes pleasure and joy even in the diminishing list of things which are still allowed.

Islam, then, is about not being and doing things. What is left is one’s identity. Because the list of prohibitions is so desperately extended, and embraces most if not all the beloved practices of the village or the urban district, one is no longer allowably Sylheti, or Sarajevin. This is a questing for identity that denies real, embedded identity. As such, it often betrays its twentieth-century tributaries:

The type and forms of cultural valuations employed by the new fundamentalist movements cannot be explained by an analysis of the tradition of Islamic religion and history; it has to be seen as an effect of inter-cultural exchange, which is fundamentally based on a Western understanding of Islam as the culture of the Other. [6]

Long ago, the ever-insightful Hourani was no less frank in noticing the Western etiology of ‘movement Islam’:

Much has been written in recent years about modern movements in Islam, and the origins and direction of some of them are by now well-known: a new emphasis on virtuous activity, justified in terms of certain traditional sayings, but derived in fact from the European ‘scientific’ thought of the 19th century, and tending sometimes towards a revolutionary nihilism. [7]

 Other, more psychological tributaries might also be cited. The shift to a culturally disembedded radicalism is often malignantly driven by a desire to wreak revenge on one’s traditionalist parents or one’s community for frustrations suffered at their hands. Again, it appears as a Western social phenomenon, rather than as traditional tawba. Often, too, it is perversely responsive to a global discourse that may despise those countries or their diaspora ethnicities. It is, in short, a way of legitimising self-hatred; a religio-legal justification of an inferiority complex.

What, then, remains? Once the son of Pakistani migrants has stripped himself of his shalvar, his pir, his qawwalis, his gulab jamon, his entire sense of living as the product of a great civilisation that produced the Taj Mahal and the ghazals of Ghalib, what does he have left? Again, the negative theology option will define his identity as what-is-left-over; a religion of the gaps, a kind of void. That void he understands as the Sunna. The Sunna, that is, as figured negatively, as a list of denials, of wrenchings from disturbing memories, as a justification for the abandonment of techniques of spirituality that obstruct rather than reassure the ego.

Is this, then, a failure of religion? Is the young zealot so overwhelmed by his alienation, his humiliation, and sense of rootlessness, that the Sunna which is what-is-left-over cannot restore his spirit? Surely the scriptures insist that a turn to the Sunna must heal him, and help him to come to terms with his history and the trials of his life?

Actions, however, are by intentions. According to tradition, people tend to have the rulers they deserve, and the forces that rule the human soul are also in every case the appropriate ones for that person. The Sunna is a model of sacred humanity. That is to say, humanity bathed in sakina, the peaceable ‘habitation’ of God’s presence.  ‘He is the one who sent down the sakina upon the believers’ hearts, that they might grow in faith.’ (48:4) This is in Sura al-Fath, which unveils to the believing community the nature of the test that they have just passed through, and which endured for several long years. The triumph at Mecca came about not through anger, anxiety, fear, and rage at the difficult, sometimes desperate situation of the Muslims, a small island of monotheists in a pagan sea. It came about through their serenity, their sakina, which, Ibn Juzayy tells us, means stillness (sukun), contentment (tuma’nina), and also mercy (rahma). [8] These are the gifts of reliance on Allah’s promise amidst apparent misfortune. The alternative is to be of those who are described as az-zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’: ‘Those who think ill thoughts of Allah’, which, the commentators explain, means the suspicion that He will let the believers down.

The monotheistic God, of course, does not let the believers down. ‘Weaken not; nor grieve. You are the uppermost, if you have iman’ (3:139): the verse revealed in the aftermath of the shock of Uhud.

So the young zealot, driven half out of his mind by his sense of alienation and despair, reads the Sunna with the wrong dictionary. His view of the history of his community is one of khidhlan - that God has effectively abandoned it. Only a tiny, almost infinitesimal fraction of the scholars of historic Islam were even believers. The Ottomans, the Moguls, the Uzbek khanates, the Seljuks, the Malay states, the Hausa princedoms; all of these were lands of pure shirk and innovation; deserts with no oases of faith. And this conviction has to make him one of az-zannina bi’Llah zanna’s-saw - those who think ill thoughts of Allah. Their contention is that Islamic civilisation has been an atrocious, monumental, desperate failure; and the consequences of this conviction, for their religious faith, and for their ability to feel sakina, are no less disastrous. A God that has allowed the final religion to go astray so calamitously cannot, ultimately, be trusted. His policy seems usually to have been one of khidhlan, of the betrayal of the believers. Religion itself becomes, in Durkheim’s language, entirely ‘piacular’, it is an attempt at cathartic, ritualised breast-beating, a rite of atonement and mourning, that seeks to channel one’s fear of the uncontrollable and apparently blind forces which punish and threaten one’s tribe. A cathartic component of religion has here become co-extensive with faith itself.

What it feels like to worship such a God is hard to imagine. But today, in Islam, as at the fringes of other religions, there are indeed people who worship him. No peace can come of such worship, only a growing sense of being trapped inside a logic that leads only to fear and despair, unrelieved by anything more than the faintest glimmer of hope. Perhaps, the activist feels, worshipping his God, if we are pure enough, and angry enough, God will relent towards us; and we can anticipate the Second Coming by defying time itself, and creating a utopia for the pure somewhere on this earth. The piacular thus accumulates into an apocalypse.

Long ago, Toynbee saw that such projects invariably end in misery. In the end, even Herod serves the oppressed community better than does Bar Kochva. Toynbee wrote of

‘Zealotism’: a psychological state - as unmistakeably pathological as it is unmistakeably exaggerated - which is one of the two possible alternative reactions of the passive party in a collision between two civilizations. [9]

The zealot, Toynbee’s ‘barbarian saviour-archaist’, cannot imagine that faith might require the wisdom to recognise the capacities of individual human beings in different ages. Invoking a ferocious definition of amr bi’l-ma‘ruf, ‘Commanding the Good’, at a time when most people are weak and struggle even to honour the basic demands of religion, betrays an abject and disastrous lack of common sense. [10] ‘Forcing religion down people’s throats’ will induce many of them to vomit it up again; such is the resilience or perversity of human nature. States which impose severe moral codes in public will find that they cannot deal with the proliferation of private vice, which almost masquerades as virtue in a political context where religion has identified itself with a piacular rite of repression. States which behave in such a way as to be excluded from global trade will languish in poverty, further fostering disenchantment and exporting streams of refugees.

The sunna, brandished as a weapon of revenge against the sources of one’s humiliation, will not allow itself to be used in this way. The sunna, as pure form, as a structure of life, cannot be itself if the inward reality of sakina is absent. The Law is merciful when interpreted and applied by those who believe that God’s practice towards His people has been merciful. In the hands of the zealot, it may become the most persuasive of all arguments against religion.

Actions, then, are by intentions, and the interpretation of scripture is the proof of this. Scripture is a holy place; and we need to calm ourselves before entering it. If we march in, hearts blazing with fury, viewing the world with suspiciousness about the divine intention, then we violate that holy place. In earlier times, only the pure of heart, and those with decades of humbling scholarship behind them, were allowed to cross the threshhold into that space. Now the doors have been kicked open, and a crowd of furious, hungry, desperate men, stands quarrelling around the text.

*          *          *

I would like to move on now. Much of what I have said has been dismal; but religion is surely about facing reality. Too many of us today live amid delusions, no doubt because we find the reality of our times too disturbing to contemplate. Conspiracy theories, paranoia, fantasies about the past or the future; these abound in religious conferences; not just among Muslims, but among religionists everywhere. Religion, however, invites us to ‘get real’ - to use a very Muslim Americanism. Because we believe in God and an afterlife, and in the ultimate restitution for injustice, we should have souls great enough to look reality in the face without flinching.

My experience of the world of faith which we all inherit is, despite all that I have said about the sickness of identity mania, a positive one. I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture that there are three religious paths commonly taken today: the time-capsule, the liberal, and that of identity politics dressed up as scripturalism. The liberal option, despite the shallow purchase of its theology, is in practice widely followed among Muslims: these are the millions of individuals who may cherish the memory of a pious aunt, or perhaps a moment of religious insight earlier in their lives, or some vague sense of belonging to an inherited religious culture, but who seldom attend the mosque.

For most religiously-active Muslims, the conservative option, with a variety of variations, is the most commonly pursued. Almost all senior ulema in Sunni countries adhere to some form of conservatism, entailing adherence to one of the four Sunni madhhabs and to either the Ash‘ari or the Maturidi theology. Often, too, they will be actively involved in Sufism. This is a reality of which the West is largely unaware, given that it constructs its images of Muslim action from media images which inevitably focus on the frantic and the dangerous. [11]

What is needed, then, is for mainstream Islam to reassert its possession of tafsir. It remains in a strong position to do this. The zealots are everywhere a very small percentage of the total of believers. The masses are either too traditional or too religiously weak to want to follow them. Never will extremism triumph for long, simply because normal people do not want it. Already we find a growing sense around the Muslim world that zealotry damages only Islam, and serves its rivals. ‘That which does not kill me makes me stronger’, as Nietszche observes.

A further reason why extremism has an uncertain future is that human beings are naturally religious. Secularisation theories are now everywhere in confusion; and religion prospers mightily in most countries of the world. Belief in the transcendent is, it seems, hard-wired into our species, and what most human beings crave is not a megaphone for their frustrations, but a voice for justice which also serves as a source of peace and serenity in a stressful world. Any religion that fails to supply this will soon be replaced by something else. There has never been an exception to this in human history. Christianity succeeded because pagan Roman religion failed to provide a sense of spiritual upliftment. Islam succeeded because the Eastern churches were spiritually debilitated by centuries of bitter polemic. New religious movements in the West succeed by offering techniques of meditation and alternative therapies which seem absent from established religions as they are presently formulated. Islam, wherever it degenerates into a primal scream of panic about one’s situation in the world, will certainly be replaced by any other religion that offers sakina.

The mainstream, then, must reclaim the initiative, and expel the zealots from the sacred place. It should not find it difficult to do this. It has, after all, a great civilisation behind it, which extremism cannot claim. It has, too, a rich tradition of spirituality, still vibrant in many countries, which, where made available to Westerners, can seem hard to resist. This was recently made plain to me by the director of the Swedish Islamic Academy. He told me that consistently, during his quarter-century as a Muslim in Stockholm, whenever he mentions that he is a Sufi, people lean forward to learn more. When he mentions Islam, they lean back, alarmed. Is this merely the expression of prejudice? Perhaps. But Muslims should also consider the possibility that educated Western people may be sincerely, rather than cynically, horrified by expressions of Islamic identity politics; and may be sincerely, rather than superficially, impressed by the literature and practice of traditional spiritual Islam. No-one who wishes to practice da‘wa in the West, or among Westernised Muslims, can afford to bypass that reality.

Once the sakina has been found again, once religion becomes a matter of the love of God rather than the hatred of our political and social situation, we can begin to extract our communities from the hole which we have dug for ourselves. Let us take, as a topical example, the question of suicide bombing. Historians might well wonder how this form of warfare could take root in any of the Abrahamic religions. One thinks of the kamikaze pilots of Shinto Japan, whose religious rituals, coupled with a final message read before a camera, provoked such horror and alienation in 1940s America . One thinks, too, of the self-immolation of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam war. The religious motivation behind many Tamil terrorists, rooted in a Buddhist South Asian culture, also springs to mind. Such a mentality is possible only for those who do not fully believe in a personal God, and hence have no notion of the human body as made, in some sense in God’s image. For Sunni Islam, however, in which even tattooing is a forbidden practice, such an activity is historically without precedent. Coupled with the policy of targeting the enemy’s civilians virtually at random, it is clearly the symptom of a deep-rooted sickness. It recalls the collectivist ethos (‘asabiyya) of the pre-Islamic Arabs, whose code of revenge (tha’r) authorised the taking of any life from a rival tribe to compensate for the loss of one of one’s own, a system decisively abrogated by the Qur’an’s ‘no soul shall bear the burden of another’ (6:164). [12] It is also, we may speculate, connected with the phenomenon of radical religion as a form of self-hatred of which I spoke earlier. The piacular believer is so alienated from his self that he can contemplate its physical destruction, thus replicating, in Toynbee’s words, ‘the melodramatic suicide of the Zealots who faced hopeless military odds’. [13]

This desperation is unworthy of the umma of Islam. Entirely traditional scholars speak out against it in the strongest terms, as a bid‘a in the most necessary sense of the term. But we need also to re-engage with the principle of rahma, of mercy, which flows from sakina. Why exactly do the hadith suggest that Muslims must not ‘destroy anyone with fire’? [14] Why are believers commanded so strongly to avoid taking the lives of civilians? One reason is because if we do this, we damage the lives of others whom we will probably never even meet. ‘Whosoever kills a human being for other than murder or corruption in the earth, it will be as if he had killed all mankind.’ (5:32) Many suffer when one is killed. Orphans, widows, relations, friends, neighbours; all these are the victims of the single crime. Crime is never against an individual; it never has a single victim. War in the valid shari‘a sense targets only combatants, whose relatives recognise that such was their status. The targeting of civilians, however, is part of the barbarism of modern Western, Clausewitzian conflict, inflicting a deeper sense of loss and alienation; and it is entirely foreign to our heritage.

During the Second World War, my grandfather worked as a firefighter in the London Blitz. After the war, his behaviour grew erratic, and his marriage ended painfully, inflicting shock-waves on children and a wider world of relatives. Years afterwards the reason for it became clear. One night, after an air-raid, he had pulled from the rubble of a building the body of a small girl who looked exactly like his own daughter. The trauma of that moment never left him until he died, fifty years later. That trauma lives on, subtly, in the lives of all his descendants.

Those who take the lives of women and children, indiscriminately, and simply because they live on the other side of a frontier, should remember that they are inflicting wounds on other lives as well that can never properly be healed.

What is required, then, is an act of repentance, tawba. Our communities need to turn away from the utilitarian ethic that justifies even the worst and most inhuman barbarities as expedient means, and turn back to the authentic religious teaching that it is better to pray patiently than to descend into a tit-for-tat moral relativism that recalls the worst practices of the Jahiliyya. Religious patience, moreover, never runs out, because it knows that it will one day be crowned with glory. ‘True patience’, the Muslim proverb runs, ‘is never exhausted.’ And in the Qur’an: ‘the patient shall be given their full reward without reckoning.’ (39:10) The phrasing is superb. Yuwaffa suggests that they will be given a full, fair, proportionate reckoning; and then the phrase bi-ghayri hisab - it is to be without any reckoning at all. Patience, one of the supreme Qur’anic virtues, which led to the success of the peaceful entry into Mecca, is rewarded also in the next life, infinitely.

Here, then, is another possible yardstick against which to measure the authenticity of our Islam. Impatience is impiety, it is the way of the zannina bi’Llahi zanna’s-saw’. And those who cannot restrain themselves will be smacked down. Worse, they will bring misfortunes upon their communities. ‘Beware of a tribulation which will certainly not afflict only the wrongdoers amongst you,’ the Qur’an warns us. (8:25) To act impatiently on grounds of ‘asabiyya, and to defy fundamental religious teachings about the sanctity of life, and to harbour ill thoughts about God’s providence - all these sins must lead, in the traditional Muslim understanding, to divine punishment. Those who regard them as a shortcut to a world in which their self-image will be healed are likely to be disappointed.

That disappointment is now palpable in the world of Islamic identity-politics. It is time that the great majority stopped being a silent majority, and raised its voice courageously. The sunna must be reclaimed as a via positiva. This is not, I believe, a heroic option; it is a fundamental religious duty. To uphold the honour of Islam, as a great world religion, and to defy the voices that would turn it into little more than a resentful sect, is a fard ‘ayn - an individual obligation.

We need institutions and faces that can believably do this. A few of our mosques and Islamic centres are in the grip of a small minority of worshippers who care nothing for peaceful coexistence with their fellow citizens, and whose hearts and minds are overseas. Most Muslims here, however, wish to be accepted as full and respected partners in the project of building a just and prosperous society, and do not wish their places of worship to be directed by the representatives of other governments or zealot political movements. Neither are they at ease with the reinvention of religion as a ritual of distress. This majority must now speak out. Sullenness, jealousy, lack of tawakkul, lack of optimism, all these are vices which must be transcended. And that transcending can only take place where religion is once again centred on the love and fear of God, not on attempts to heal a wounded pride.

I am very optimistic that this will take place. As I have already indicated, the extremists remain numerically and intellectually on the extremes. Islam is, despite the headlines, a success story. Most Muslims prefer the spiritual to the frantic; patience to the primal scream. We must now make it clear to our institutions of learning, and to those who would help us from abroad, that the principle of shura demands that the extremes be excluded, and that the voice of majoritarian Islam be allowed its natural place.

*          *          *

This optimism must, however, be tempered with an awareness of the immediate tactical situation. Despite the alarmism of a few intransigent voices such as Daniel Pipes and Lamin Sanneh, [15] few if any of us respect the Middle Eastern mass-murderers who are currently inviting the world to regard Islam as the great political and moral failure of the new century. Nonetheless, we breathe the air that they have poisoned. And the poison exists here, as elsewhere, because of the aggression of a small minority of zealots.

Again, it is time to speak out in favour of normalcy. The message is a positive one: Islam is not intrinsically committed to violent reaction against the global consensus. Most scholars do not teach that globalisation obliges us to make hijra to a neighbouring planet. Of course we have our own distinctive assurances on moral matters, and a deep scepticism about the ability of a consumer society to increase human fulfilment and to protect the integrity of creation. But Muslims are not committed to jumping ship. In British India, a political context far less egalitarian than the one we inhabit here, there were few who chose the option of hijra to Afghanistan . The ulema overwhelmingly stayed in place, and were not prominent during the Mutiny. ‘Some scholars,’ as a historian of the period notes, ‘held that a country remained daru’l-Islam as long as a single provision of the Law was kept in force. [16] Once the bitterness of the Mutiny had subsided, the Muslims were a peaceful presence who contributed much to the deeply flawed but stable global enterprise that was the British Empire. Those Pathans who fought and died at Monte Cassino, the Hausas of the Nigeria Regiment who fought with the Chindits in Burma; the Bengali Lascars who died in the Battle of the Atlantic, were not conscripts, they were volunteers. Fighting against a common totalitarian enemy they were engaged, in the broad understanding of the term, in a jihad. One cannot deplore too strongly the attempt by a few Muslims, such as Ataullah Kopanski, to present Nazism as a potential ally for Islam. [17] Clearly, had National Socialism triumphed, its scientists would have aimed at the elimination or reduction to servile status of all the non-white races of the world, not excepting the followers of Islam. To fight for the Allies was unquestionably a jihad.

More recently, the struggle against communism effectively united Muslims and Christendom, a long alliance which both sides seem to have forgotten with astonishing speed and completeness.

English law, with its partial legal privileging of Anglican faith, is dimly theocratic, but does not make the totalising claims which the radicals make for their own various imams. Muslims in the United Kingdom are not being offered a choice between God’s law and man’s. God’s law, for the mainstream fuqaha’, is an ideal for whose realisation we cherish a firm and ultimate hope. But it also includes the duty to act, out of maslaha, within the framework of laws drafted by majoritarian non-Muslim legislatures. This is, no doubt, why the tale of the prophet Joseph was so popular in pre-modern Muslim minority contexts. Some of the greatest Muslim poetical works written in Spain after the reconquista were based on the story of the monotheist prophet who accepted a senior post in a non-believing political order. The story is no less popular in the villages of Tatarstan, of Muslim Siberia, and of China .

Islam, therefore, supplies arguments for loyalty. Not because it regards the present state of affairs as ideal (a view commended by no-one) but because it recognises that it is the point from which one needs to begin working towards the ideal, an ideal which will itself be reshaped by the powerful instruments of ijtihad. The fundamental objects, maqasid, of the Shari‘a are the right to life, mind, religion, lineage, and honour; and these are respected in the legal codes of the contemporary West. We may even venture to note that they appear to be better maintained here than in the hamfisted attempts at creating Shari‘a states that we see in several corners of the Muslim world. Muslims may be unhappy with the asylum laws here, but would one wish to claim asylum in any Muslim country that currently springs to mind? We may not approve of all the local rules of evidence, but if we are honest, we will surely hesitate to claim that a murder investigation is better pursued in, say, Iran or Saudi Arabia , than in English jurisdiction.

The radicals in our inner cities, of course, will at this point revert to their primal scream. They know full well that their movements have failed, and that despite decades of effort by them there is no Shari‘a order in the world. They intuit that they are engaged in acts of collective religious suicide. Yet they protest and rail against the established political order, because for them religion has become nothing but the piacular rite of protest. Shouting at rallies and denouncing the mainstream are for them the most satisfying acts of worship. Were they to be denied these practices, they would be forced back on their own spiritual resources, and they are well-aware of how much they will find there.

Loyalty, then, is to the balanced, middle way, the wasat, which is the Sunna. Islam is a wisdom tradition that has seldom if ever generated extremes that have had a permanent impact. The current wave of zealotry will, I make no doubt, pass away as rapidly as it came, perhaps after some climacteric Masada. Some souls will have been damaged by it; the name of the religion will have been damaged by it, and the historians will note, with a regretful curiosity, how Islam was for a few years associated with terrorism. But the extremism will disappear, because no-one who has a future really desires it.

Can we accelerate this healing process? We are, I think, obliged to try. We have the advantage of knowing how to speak, and to whom to speak. The radical has to shout for a long time before anyone outside the Muslim community notices him. But the traditionally-committed Muslim who is part of society at large already possesses the network. He can claim membership in one of the world’s great traditions of art and literature, one that has already attracted many cultivated people in the West. Although the central mosques in most Western capitals are controlled by Saudis with no affection for the society around them, and no ability to speak to it, Islam’s non-hierarchical nature means that such people can simply be circumvented. Their cultural maladroitness will always work to the mainstream’s advantage. Alternative mosques and institutions of learning need to be established as matrices for the proclamation of authentic, mainstream, spiritual, moral Islam. There are strong reasons why this must succeed. Firstly, because everyone who has an interest in social cohesion wants it to succeed. Secondly, because unlike the Islam of those who distrust the divine purposes in history, traditional Islam is optimistic and brings sakina to the human soul. And finally, and most momentously, because this version of faith happens to be true.

 

NOTES

1.                  Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, (repr. New Delhi, 1989), p.6.

2.                  Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, tr. J Swain. (New York, 1915), p.419.

3.                  Robert Jay Lifton, Destroying the world to save it. Aum Shinrikyo, apocalyptic violence, and the new global terrorism. (New York, 1999.)

4.                  Brenda Crossman, Secularism’s Last Sigh? Hindutva and the (mis)rule of law. New Delhi and (Oxford, 1999.)

5.                  Abdülkadir Emiroglu, Molla Cami’nin eserleri (Ankara, 1976), p.70.

6.                  Mona Abaza and Georg Stauth, ‘Occidental Reason, Orientalism, Islamic fundamentalism: a critique’, in Martin Albrow and Elizabeth King (eds.), Globalization, Knowledge and Society (London etc., 1990), p.223. Carrell’s influence on Sayyid Qutb is frequently cited in this connection.

7.                  A. Hourani, ‘Shaikh Khalid and the Naqshbandi Order’, in S.M. Stern et al., (eds), Islamic Philosophy and the Classical Tradition (Oxford, 1972), 89.

8.                  Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, Tafsir (Beirut, 1403), 694.

9.                  Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History (Oxford, 1939), IV, 639. Cf. ibid., V, 331n: ‘The Jewish Zealots of that age, like the Wahhhabis at the present day, combine their puritanism with militancy.’

10.              Here the question has been posed of the present-day appropriateness of Imam al-Ghazali’s strongly ‘jihadist’ stance. In his fiqh works, such as the Wasit, Ghazali suggests no more than a mainstream Shafi‘i understanding of the believer’s relationship to war and peace; but the Ihya’ shows that jihad is integrated into the very centre of his understanding of Prophetic emulation (see for instance Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Cairo, 1347; = K. Adab al-ma‘isha, bayan shuja‘atih), 338-9: ‘no-one was more vehement in war than him’, ‘he was always the first to exchange blows with the enemy’, etc. Reflecting on the Ihya’s ‘jihadist’ aspects, Michael Cook has shown that in comparison with the majority of ulema, Ghazali’s views on amr bi’l-ma‘ruf are ‘marked by a certain flirtation with radicalism … Ghazali is no accommodationist: he displays great enthusiasm for men who take their lives in their hands.’ (Michael Cook, Commanding the Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000), p.456.) Modern Arab activists, even of the mainstream ‘Islamist’ variety, have frequently been embarrassed by Ghazali’s emphatic ‘jihadism’; and Cook shows (p.527) how several modern summaries of the Ihya’ remove Ghazali’s remarks on changing evil ‘with the hand’. More radical writers, however, applaud Ghazali: the Algerian revolutionary Ali Belhajj ‘quotes Ghazali’s passage on armed bands with obvious relish’ (p.528). The response to such implicit accusations should surely be that Imam al-Ghazali adopted a stance within his own lifetime that he would not necessarily counsel for our own complex and fitna-ridden age and circumstances, in which the use of armed force against heavy odds is typically denounced by the ulema as an action against Muslim interests (masalih).

11.             Blaming the West for this is sometimes, but not invariably fair; the newsmedia cannot be expected to focus on the pacific or the spiritual. Perhaps we need to be more frank in blaming our own Muslim communities for failing to engage in more successful and sophisticated public relations. My own encounters with television and newspaper journalists have confirmed that the mass media are only too happy to take articles from Muslims, or broadcast films made by Muslims; but that they cannot see where to find the contributions. In the United Kingdom , there is only one Muslim film production company, but several hundred cable and satellite TV channels. Major mosques and organisations have little or no public relations expertise. To accuse the West of misrepresentation is sometimes proper, but all too often reflects a hermeneutic of suspicion rooted in zealot attitudes to the Other.

12.              For pre-Islamic Arab ‘pride’ suicide, see Mustafa Jawad, ‘Al-Muntahirun fi’l-Jahiliyya wa’l-Islam’, in Al-Hilal, 42 (1934), 475-9. For Islam’s understanding of suicide as an ‘Indian foolishness’ see Baydawi, Tafsir (Istanbul, 1329), 109 (to Qur’an, 4:29). It is presumably not without significance that the deaths of Saul and Samson do not figure in the Muslim scriptures.

13.              Toynbee, op. cit., VI, 128.

14.              Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader (Princeton, 1996), 36.

15.              Lamin Sanneh, ‘Sacred and Secular in Islam’, ISIM Newsletter 10 (July, 2002), 6, makes the following incendiary claim about the September 11 attacks: ‘The West […] has sought comfort in the convenient thought that it is only a renegade breakaway group of Muslim fundamentalists who have struck out in violence. Most Muslims do not share that view.’

16.              Barbara Metcalf, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860-1900 (Princeton, 1982), 51. For the muted role of the ulema during the Mutiny, see p. 82.

17.              Ataullah Kopanski, Sabres of Two Easts: an untold history of Muslims in Eastern Europe (Islamabad, 1995).

 

British and Muslim?

It is said that the 19th century French poet Mallarmé can only be fully understood by those who are not French, because they read him more slowly. Converts to Islam, the subject of this essay, can perhaps claim the same ambiguous advantage in their reading of the Islamic narrative. Several consequent questions impose themselves: can the clarity of vision brought by novelty outweigh the absence of a Muslim upbringing? Is adoption a more culturally fertile condition than simple sonship? Has the dynamism of Islamic culture after the initial Arab era owed everything to the energy of recent converts, with their own ethnic genius: the Persians, and then, pre-eminently, the Turks; and if so, might the appearance of converts in the West presage a larger revival of the fortunes of an aged and tired Islamic umma?

I hope to return to these interesting queries at a later date. Here, I shall confine myself to the issue that presents itself most sharply to those British people who, like myself, have boarded the lifeboat of Islam. The issue is the question of British Muslim identity.

Who is a British Muslim is an easy question: it is anyone who follows Islam and holds a U.K. passport. This is at once the easiest and probably the only workable definition. The more teasing question, which I wish to raise in this article is: what is a British Muslim? The query raises two problems related to belonging. What does it mean to be a British person who belongs to Islam? And, what does it mean to be a Muslim person who belongs to Britain? How do we map the overlap zone in a way that makes sense, and is legitimate, in terms of the co-ordinates of both of these terms?

Clearly, by virtue of the first definition, the British Muslim population, all 1.5 million of it, divides into three groups. Firstly, and least problematically, there are men and women whose cultural formation was not British, but who have migrated to this country. This essay will not touch centrally on their own particular struggle for self-definition, which is quite different to that addressed by converts.

Secondly, there are the children of the first group, and occasionally now their grandchildren. These people are usually seen to be torn between two worlds, but in reality, the British world has shaped their souls far more profoundly then they often recognise. Modern schooling is designed for a culture that puts an increasing share of acculturation and upbringing, as opposed to the simple inculcation of facts, on the shoulders of schoolteachers rather than of parents. Muslims who have moved to this country have done so at precisely the time when British education is also going into the business of parenting; most Muslim parents do not recognise the fact, but Muslim children in this country always have a third parent: the Education Secretary. Even those second-generation Muslims here who claim to have angrily rejected Britishness are in fact doing so in terms of types of radicalism which are deeply influenced by Western styles of dissent. Most noticeably, they locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centred religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.

Thirdly, we have the smallest group of all: the convert or so-called ‘revert’ community. This group is highly disparate, and it is not clear that one can make any meaningful generalisations about it at all. Almost by definition, a British person who is guided to Islam is an eccentric of some kind: one of the virtues, perhaps, of the British is that eccentrics have always been nurtured or at least more or less tolerated here. But the overall pattern is confusing. One can offer certain sociological generalisations about British people who become Buddhists, or evangelical Christians, or Marxists. But the present writer’s experience with new Muslims is that no discernable patterns exist which might shed light on the routes by which people awaken to the truth of Islam. This failure to discern patterns can only be described as lamentable, for were we to discern such patterns, they could immediately be exploited for da‘wa purposes. The most we can say is that a clear majority of converts to Islam in Britain are from Catholic rather than Protestant or Jewish backgrounds. Within this group, in my experience the only clergy that convert are Jesuits; I am not aware of a single member of another religious order that has become Muslim.

Other than this very general and not terribly helpful observation, few patterns are discernable, and our missionary efforts, never very coordinated, flounder accordingly.

But whatever the processes, and we may be wise to accept traditional invocations of divine providence and guidance which transcend and make irrelevant any sociological pattern-finding, this third group among British Muslims confronts certain sharp problems of self-definition. Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Indian Muslims becoming British do so slowly, perhaps over two or three generations. The identity problems can be sharp: in particular, there can be painful challenges to the hopes and expectations of parents. But the process is gentle in comparison with the abrupt jolt, which typically welcomes the convert. The signposts of the universe are not adjusted slowly, but all at once.

The initial and quite understandable response of many newcomers is to become an absolutist. Everything going on among pious Muslims is angelic; everything outside the circle of the faith is demonic. The appeal of this outlook lies in its simplicity. The newly rearranged landscape upon which the convert looks is seen in satisfying black and white terms of Them versus Us, good against evil.

This mindset is sometimes called ‘convertitis’. It is a common illness, which can make those who have caught it rather difficult to deal with. Fortunately, it almost always wears off. The only exceptions are those weak souls who imagine that the buzz of excitement caused by their absolutist, Manichean division of the world was a necessary part of Islamic piety, or even that it has some spiritual significance. Such people are often condemned to wander from faction to faction, always joining something new, in an attempt to regain the initial excitement engendered by their conversion.

Most new Muslims, however, soon see through this. A majority of people come to Islam for real spiritual or intellectual reasons, and will continue with their quest once they are inside Islam. Becoming Muslim is, after all, only the first step to felicity. Those individuals who adopt Islam because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. 

But actions are by intentions. A hundred years ago the founder of the Anglo-Muslim movement, Imam Abdallah Quilliam in Liverpool, was writing that those British people who convert for Allah and His Messenger, will, by the grace of God, be rightly guided. Those who convert for any other reason are in serious spiritual trouble. Just as the namaz [salaat] prayer is invisibly invalidated if the niyya [intention] at its outset is not correct, similarly, Islam will not work for us unless we have entered it in faith, out of a sincere questing for God’s good pleasure.  If things are not going right for us, if we find no delight in our prayers, if Ramadan simply makes us hungry, if we cannot seem to find the right mosque or the right company to take us forward, then we would do well to start by examining our intentions. Did we become Muslims only, and purely, to bring our souls to God? Other reasons: solidarity with the oppressed, admiration for Muslims we know, desire to join a group, the love of a woman - none of these are adequate foundations for our lives as Muslims deserving of Allah’s grace and guidance. Imam al-Qushayri says that spiritual aspirants ‘are only deprived of attainment when they neglect the foundations.’ So we need to look within, and if necessary, renew our faith, following the Prophetic sunna. ‘Renew your iman’, a celebrated hadith enjoins.

So what are we? Statistically, perhaps fifty thousand people. But once we have taken the plunge, and enjoyed the feel of Islam, and come to know through experience, rather than through reading books, that Islam is a way of sobriety, dignity, poise and rewarding spirituality, what exactly is our self-definition? When we meet family and friends who are not Muslim, how do we carry ourselves? Do we treat Islam as a great secret? A discreet eccentricity that we hope people will not be so crude as to mention? Or, on the contrary, something we wear on our sleeves, feeling that it is our duty constantly to steer the conversation back into sacred quarters, confronting people with Islam, that they might have no argument against us at the Resurrection?

More generally, what is our view of the wider world of unbelief, which, despite the breathless predictions of some of our co-religionists, continues to grow more powerful and more prosperous? How much of it can we affirm, and how much of it must we publicly or privately disown?

We can, of course, take the easy way out, and avoid engaging with these questions, by retreating from the mainstream of society, and consorting only with Muslims. But this is not so easy. We need to be employed, since this is pleasing to God; and we need to maintain good ties with our relations, since this is also enjoined in the Sunna. Wa-sahibhuma fi’l-dunya ma‘rufan - ‘Keep company with them both in the world in keeping with good custom’, says the Qur’an to converts who have unbelieving parents. And the Sunna explains that non-Muslim parents have significant rights over their Muslim children.

But more significantly even than this, to solve the problems thrown at us and at our identity by the real world outside the mosque gates, we need to engage regularly with non-Muslim society. But for this, there would be no effective da‘wa. People do not hear the word of Islam, generally, by being shouted at by some demagogue at Speakers Corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims. And this takes place, overwhelmingly, at the workplace. Other social contexts are closed to us: the pub, the beach, the office party. But work is a prime environment for being noticed, and judged, as Muslims.

There is nothing remotely new in this. Islam has always spread primarily through social interactions connected with work. The early Muslims who conquered half the world did not set up soapboxes in the town squares of Alexandria, Cordoba or Fez, in the hope that Christians would flock to them and hear their preaching. They did business with the Christians; and their nobility and integrity of conduct won the Christians over. That is the model followed by Muslims, particularly the Sufis, down the ages; and it is the one that we must retain today, by interacting honourably and respectfully with non-Muslims in our places of work, as much as we can.

If this is clear, then my initial question still begs a response. What is a British Muslim? What manner of creature is he, or she? The public consensus has clear ideas about other British identities: British Anglican, British Jew, British Asian Muslim or Hindu: all these are recognised categories and a certain community of expected response governs interactions between the majority and these groups. The Anglo-Muslim, however, is not a generally recognised type.

My own belief is that the future prosperity of the Anglo-Muslim movement will be determined largely by our ability to answer this question of identity. It is a question mainly for converts, but which many of whose dimensions will come to apply also to second-generation immigrant Muslims here, who have their own questions to ask themselves and this culture about what, exactly, they are.

To frame a response, I think it is useful to step back a little, and consider the larger picture of Islamic history of which we form a very small part. I mentioned earlier that Islam usually spread through the utilisation of commercial opportunities as opportunities for da‘wa. That picture is one of the most extraordinary success stories in religious history. Compare, for instance, the way in which the Muslim world was Islamised to the way in which the Americas were Christianised. Islamisation proceeded with remarkable gentleness, at the hands of Sufis and merchants. Christianisation used mass extermination of the native Americans, the baptism of uncomprehending survivors, and the baleful scrutiny by the Inquisition of any signs of backsliding. A more extreme contrast would be impossible to find.

Perhaps no less extraordinary than this contrast is its interesting concomitant: Christianisation brought Europeanisation. Islamisation did not bring Arabisation. The churches built by the Puritans or the Conquistadors in the New World were deliberate replicas of churches in Europe. The mosques constructed in the areas gradually won for Islam are endlessly diverse, and reflect and indeed celebrate local particularities. Christianity is a universal religion that has historically sought to impose a universal metropolitan culture. Islam is a universal religion that has consistently nurtured a particularist provincial culture. A church in Mexico City resembles a church in Salamanca. A mosque in Nigeria, or Istanbul, or Djakarta, resembles in key respects the patterns, now purified and uplifted by monotheism, of the indigenous regional patrimony.

No less remarkable is the ability of the Muslim liberators to accommodate those aspects of local, pre-Islamic tradition which did not clash absolutely with the truths of revelation. In entering new lands, Muslims were armed with the generous Qur'anic doctrine of Universal Apostleship; as the Qur'an says, ‘To every nation there has been sent a guide’. This conflicts sharply with the classical Christian view of salvation as hinging uniquely on one historical intervention of the divine in history: the salvific sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Non-Christian religions were, in classical Christianity, seen as demonic and under the sign of original sin. But classical Islam has always been able and willing to see at least fragments of an authentic divine message in the faiths and cultures of non-Muslim peoples. If God has assured us that every nation has received divine guidance, then we can look with some favour on the Other. Hence, for instance, we find popular Muslim poets in India, such as Sayid Sultan, writing poems about Krishna as a Prophet. There is no final theological proof that he was one, but the assumption is nonetheless not in violation of the Qur'an.

Even among Muslim ulema who had not been to India, we find interestingly positive appraisals of Hinduism. For instance, the great Baghdad theologian al-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religions and Sects, had access to enough reliable information about India to develop a very sophisticated theological reaction to Indian religion. He accepts that the higher forms of Hinduism are not polytheistic. He notes that that although the Hindus have no notion of prophecy, they do have what he calls ashab al-ruhaniyat: quasi-divine beings who call mankind to love the Real and to practice the virtues. He names Vishnu and Shiva as examples, and speaks positively of them. He focuses particularly on the veneration of celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planets. The reason why he fixes on these practices is that they seem to situate Hinduism within a recognisably Qur'anic paradigm. The Qur'an mentions quite favourably a group known as the Sabeans, who were by the second century identified with various star-worshipping but still vaguely monotheistic sects in Mesopotamia. The Sabeans are tolerated in Islamic law, although they are less privileged than the Jews and Christians, a position reflected in the ruling in Shari‘a that a Muslim may not marry their women or eat their meat.

Shahrastani explicitly assimilates many Hindus to this category of Sabeans. They are to be tolerated as believers in One God; and will only be punished by God if, having been properly exposed to Islam, they reject it.

Another example is supplied by the great Muslim epic in China. Those who believe that Muslim communities can only flourish if they ghettoise themselves and refuse to interact with majority communities would do well to look at Chinese history. Many of the leading mandarins of Ming China were in fact Muslims. Wang Dai-Yu, for instance, who died in 1660, was a Muslim scholar who received the title of ‘Master of the Four Religions’ because of his complete knowledge of China’s four religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many of the leading admirals in the navy of the Ming Empire were practising Muslims.

In China, mosques look very like traditional Chinese garden-temples, except that there is a prayer hall without idols, and the calligraphy is Qur'anic. In some of the most beautiful, you will find, as you enter, the following words in Chinese inscribed on a tablet:

Sages have one mind and the same truth. In all parts of the world, sages arise who possess this uniformity of mind and truth. Muhammad, the Great Sage of the West, lived in Arabia long after Confucius, the Sage of China. Though separated by ages and countries, they had the same mind and Truth.

In these examples from India and China, we see a practical confirmation of Islam’s proclamation of itself as the final, and hence universal, message from God. In a hadith we learn: ‘Other prophets were sent only to their own peoples, while I am sent to all mankind.’ It is not that the Qur'anic worldview affirms other religions as fully adequate paths to salvation. In fact, it clearly does not. But it allows the Muslim, as he encounters new worlds, to sift the wheat from the chaff in non-Muslim cultures, rejecting some things, to be sure, but maintaining others. In Islamic law, too, we find that shara‘i man qablana, the revealed laws of those who came before us, can under certain conditions be accepted as valid legal precedent, if they are not demonstrably abrogated by an Islamic revealed source. And Islamic law also recognises the authority of urf, local customary law, so that a law or custom is acceptable, and may be carried over into an Islamic culture or jurisdiction, if no Islamic revealed principle is thereby violated. Hence, we find the administration of Islamic law varying from country to country. If a wife complains of receiving insufficient dower from her husband, the qadi [judge] will make reference to what is considered normal in their culture and social group, and adjudge accordingly.

All of these historical observations have, I hope, served to make quite a simple point: Islam, as a universal religion, in fact as the only legitimately universal religion, also makes room for the particularities of the peoples who come into it. The traditional Muslim world is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures, all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation. Put differently, Revelation supplies parameters, hudud, rather than a complete blueprint for the details of cultural life. Local mindsets are Islamised, but remain distinct.

This point is obvious to anyone who has studied Islamic thought or Islamic history. I reiterate it today only because some Muslims nowadays reject it fiercely. Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.

These young people, who haunt our mosques and shout at any sign of disagreement, are either ignorant of Muslim history, or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake. For them, the grace and rahma of Allah has for some reason been withheld from all but a tiny fraction of the Umma. These people are the elect; and all disagreement with them is a blasphemy against God.

We cannot hope easily to cure such people. Simple proofs from our history or our scholarship will not suffice. What they need is a sense of security, and that, given the deteriorating conditions of both the Muslim world and of the ghettos in Western cities, may not come readily. For now, it is best to ignore their shouts and their melodramatic but always ill-fated activities. Our psychic problems are not theirs; and theirs can never be ours.

Islam is, and will continue to be, even amid the miserable globalisation of modern culture, a faith that celebrates diversity. Our thinking about our own position as British Muslims should focus on that fact, and quietly but firmly ignore the protests both of the totalitarian fringe, and of the importers of other regional cultures, such as that of Pakistan, which they regard as the only legitimate Islamic ideal.

So far, however, we have been too busy restating the initial question with which this chapter opened, and defending its legitimacy, to propose any substantive answer. It is time now to attempt a brief sketch of what I construe our cultural position and prospects to be.

As I have tried to emphasise, Islam’s presence in Britain is not an Islamic problem. Islam is universal, and can operate everywhere. It is not an Islamic problem, but it may be a British problem. Europe, alone among the continents, does not have a longstanding tradition of plurality. In medieval Asia or Africa, in China or the Songhai Empire, or Egypt, or almost everywhere, one could usually practice one’s own religion in peace, whatever it happened to be. Only in Europe was there a consistent policy of enforcing religious uniformity. The reason for this lay of course in the Church’s theology: unless you had some part in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, you were in the grip of original sin, and hence were an instrument of the devil. Medieval Catholics were even expected to believe that unbaptised infants would be tormented in Hell forever. Given that absolute view, it was only natural that Europe constantly strove for religious uniformity.

Britain, as part of the European world, has traditionally suffered the same totalitarian entailments in its history. Hence, although it has always been possible to be a Christian in a Muslim country, it was against the law to be a Muslim in Britain until 1812, with the passage through parliament of the Trinitarian Act. Nonetheless, three centuries before that, with Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, England cut itself off from formal submission to Vatican doctrines; and from that time a type of religious diversity has been, within severe constraints, at least a possibility. In fact, Britain was the first major European country to break with the medieval European tradition of absolute religious conformity. Perhaps it is because of this fact that exclusivist and xenophobic political manifestations are less common in Britain today than in most Continental countries. The National Front is a lunatic fringe party in the U.K., whereas its equivalents regularly scoop twenty percent of the votes in some regions of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Austria.

When England threw off the Papist yoke, opportunities arose for questioning ancient errors of understanding which had been introduced into Christianity by the Church Fathers. These opportunities, however, were not properly grasped. The English Reformation was an attempt not to extirpate bid‘a in the Muslim sense, and return to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which had been distorted by the Church on the basis of the Hellenising agendas of the anonymous gospel authors, but to reform the doctrines and liturgy of the medieval church. Hence the reformers did not attempt to return to the simple monotheistic worship of the Apostles, but, in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, created a new vernacular liturgy based largely on medieval trinitarian and incarnationist precedents.

This English willingness to challenge tradition, however, was to have immense repercussions. Despite the lack of awareness of the instability of the gospel texts, as revealed by 20th century scholarship, for the first time Europeans, and notably Britons, were questioning the innovations of the Church magisterium, and attempting to grope back towards the faith revealed by God to His prophet Jesus, upon whom be peace.

One repercussion of the Reformation on our ancestors was the revival of a mystical tradition, whose most obvious manifestation was the Cambridge Platonists. English mysticism has usually been of a moderate type: one thinks of the Cloud of Unknowing, or Julian of Norwich. Extreme feats of asceticism, or extravagant and obsessive preoccupations with visions and miraculous happenings, have never been part of the English style of spirituality. The Cambridge Platonists drew on this moderate mysticism, but insisted that mystical inspiration must work hand in hand with rational judgement, and with sound doctrine derived from the Scriptures. This position, which influenced John Locke in particular, again evinces the English style of religion: profound but not verbose, rational but not rationalistic, and scriptural but not literalistic.

This very English approach to religion in due course led to serious questions being asked about the centrepiece of medieval Christian dogma: the Trinity. Milton, and later John Locke himself, are known to have held discreetly Unitarian beliefs, having been unable to find convincing justification for trinitarian and incarnationist views in the Scriptures. Locke’s close friend Newton was even more frank, writing

of the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity ... Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part, I can make none.

The period around the Civil War threw up many Englishmen who were likewise concerned about the distortion of the teachings of Jesus by the Church; and the term Unitarian comes into being sometime during this period. But side by side with this tradition of dissent, and in often obscure ways interacting with it, went an even more revolutionary change: improved information about the Blessed Prophet of Islam.

The medievals chose to remain in ignorance about Islam. For them, Muslims were summa culpabilis: the sum of everything blameworthy. Knights from Britain had been at the forefront of the Crusades. The sack of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But the same quest for simplicity and honesty which made the Reformation possible, also made of England the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam could be challenged. 

To an extent which we cannot now determine, largely because an excess of sympathy with either Islam or Unitarianism could result in the dissenter being hung, drawn and quartered, new perspectives on Islam informed and reinforced the discreet Unitarian movement. This is implied by the title of Humphrey Prideaux’s hate-filled book of 1697, which he called, The true nature of Imposture, fully displayed in the life of Mahomet ... offered to the consideration of the Deists of the present age.

Prideaux is clearly implying that some radical Dissenters were being drawn towards Islam, and he is writing his polemic to hold back that tide. But a far clearer insight into this process is supplied by another author, a certain Henry Stubbe.

Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. In fact, he writes so favourably that we can only conclude that he had thrown off the heritage of Christianity, and privately adopted it. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as ‘the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.’ He died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.

Stubbe was a child of the Civil War, and the spiritual chaos of the Interregnum prompted him to question the official tenets of his inherited Anglicanism. He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible. Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.’

The book begins with a chapter demonstrating how the message of Jesus Christ has been perverted by the Church. He stresses the fact that Jesus, upon him be peace, had remained faithful to the Mosaic Law, and would have been horrified by the idea that later generations might use his name to justify the eating of pork, for instance. He says, of the Disciples:

They did never believe Christ to be the natural Son of God, by eternal Generation, or any tenet depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of persons in one Deity ... The whole constitution of the primitive Church Government relates to the Jewish Synagogue, not to the Hierarchy. The presbyters were not Priests, but Laymen set apart to their office by imposition of hands . . . Nor was the name of Priest then ever heard of’.

He concludes that the sacraments of the Church, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, are pagan rituals introduced into Christianity several decades after Christ’s death.

Stubbe then provides a chapter on ‘a brief History of Arabia and the Saracens’, followed by four on the Prophet. Chapter Eight is a vindication of the Prophet; chapter 9 is a vindication of Islam, and chapter 10 explains the moral necessity of the doctrine of Jihad.

His polemical intentions throughout are clear: he constantly shows Islam to be a purer and more rational form of religion than Christianity. Here is Stubbe, for instance, summarising the Prophet’s teaching:

This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man. 

And a little further on he adds:

Let us now lay aside our prejudices ... Their Articles of Faith are few and plain, whereby they are preserved from Schisms and Heresies, for altho’ they have great diversity of opinions in the explication of their Law, yet, agreeing in the fundamentals, their differences in opinion do not reach to that breach of Charity so common among the Christians, who thereby become a scandal to all other Religions in the world. Their Notions of God are great and noble, their opinions of the Future State are consonant to those of the Jews and Christians. As to the moral part of their Religion . . . we shall see that it is not inferior to that of the Christians. And lastly, their religious Duties are plainly laid down, which is the cause that they are duly observed, and are in themselves very rational.

He allocates an entire chapter to show the moral significance of the Jihad. This chapter is perhaps the most remarkable in the entire book, since it had long been a Christian idée fixe that Islam could only spread by the sword. He goes to some length, quoting travellers to the Ottoman Empire, to show that Christian minorities are usually protected better under Muslim rule than under the rule of their fellow Christians. He observes, for instance:

It is manifest that the Mahometans did propagate their Empire, but not their Religion, by force of arms . . . Christians and other Religions might peaceably subsist under their Protection . . . it is an assured truth, that the vulgar Greeks live in a better Condition under the Turk at present then they did under their own Emperors, when there were perpetual murders practised on their Princes, and tyranny over the People; but they are now secure from Injury if they pay their Taxes. And it is indeed more the Interest of the Princes & Nobles, than of the People, which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.

Having sung Islam’s praises in these terms, Stubbe could hardly expect to publish his book. He published several others, but this one languished discreetly in manuscript form until 1911, when a group of Ottoman Muslims in London rescued it from obscurity and published it.

At least six manuscripts did, however, circulate in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism. Some historians have suggested also that Gibbon was familiar with the work. For instance, Stubbe observes:

When Christianity became generally received, it introduced with it a general inundation of Barbarism and Ignorance, which over-run all places where it prevailed.

And Gibbon, several decades later, closes his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the words: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’ Gibbon himself was known for his private scepticism about Trinitarian dogma.

Stubbe’s book, as I have said, is the work of a brave pioneer. But it is also a considered reflection upon the religious instabilities of the interregnum period which generated it. It shows a sensitive and immensely cultivated English mind shaking off the complications of old dogma, using modern scholarship to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of something exotic, we see here a very English kind of religion expressing itself. Stubbe is spiritual, but not superstitious. He likes simplicity: the blank, Puritan wall of the mosque rather than the elaborate stone metaphors of Catholicism or of the dizzyingly high Anglicanism of Charles. He values wholesome morality that is pragmatic rather than irresponsibly idealistic: so he commends polygamy, and shows the moral dangers of legally imposed monogamy. He regards with distaste traditional Christian strictures on ‘the flesh’ - a century beforehand, Englishmen had rejected the arguments for a celibate clergy and had firmly quashed monkery as both unnatural and parasitic. For Stubbe, the Prophet’s approach was in accord with nature: the love of woman is as natural as the love of God. The Prophet, like the great Hebrew patriarchs, showed that sacred and profane love can and indeed must go together.

A generation earlier, John Donne had suffered passions for both woman and for God; and found his religion finally unable to reconcile the two. His early poems are among some of the most touching, and also sensual, love poems in the English language. Later, as Dean of St Paul’s, he realised that he must renounce the flesh as the instrument of the Fall and the perpetrator of original sin. Hence his agonising, tragic spiritual career, renouncing the flesh to serve God, composing poems wrapped in his winding sheet: Donne’s great Muslim soul caught in the flawed dialectic of a theology that regarded spirit and body as eternally at war.

Stubbe is also drawing on a particularly English pragmatism in his treatment of the Jihad. Far from regarding the Islamic institution of the just war as a reproach, he extols it, contrasting it with what he regarded as the insipid and irresponsible pacifism of the unknown New Testament authors. Stubbe is an English gentleman of a generation that had known war, and knew that there are some injustices in the world that cannot be dissolved through passive suffering, through turning the other cheek. He had sided with Parliament during the civil war, holding, with Cromwell, that the righteous man may sometimes justly bear the burden of the sword. An admirer of Cromwell, he became an admirer of the Prophet. For him, the Prophet was not a foreign, exotic figure: his genial vision of human life under God exactly conformed to what a civilised Englishman of the seventeenth century thought necessary and proper. In Stubbe’s work, in other words, we find a vindication of Muhammad as an English prophet.

There is more that can be said about the convergence of Islamic moderation and good sense with the English temper. Tragically, the rise of Dissent in England coincided also with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, which reached its intoxicating heights with the empire of Queen Victoria and the Edwardians. Under such Anglocentric and frankly racist banners, sympathy with Islam became once more a receding possibility. But there were exceptions. Perhaps the most celebrated was that most English of intellectuals, Carlyle. Carlyle, like Stubbe two centuries before, was a free spirit, unhampered either by obsessions with Trinity, or modern delusions about the ability of material progress to secure human happiness.

On May the 8th 1840, in a stuffy lecture room in Portman Square, London’s intellectual elite were hearing Carlyle speak about the Prophet. They had anticipated the usual invective; and they were astonished to watch him holding up the Prophet as a heroic, adventurous figure, whose sacrifices had brought a natural theism to his people, and had much to teach a materialistic Victorian England. The climax came when the lecturer cried:

Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam-engine . . . if you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it is not Mahomet. 

Stung to the quick, John Stuart Mill leaped to his feet, and cried out: ‘No!’

Carlyle was lecturing on ‘The Hero as Prophet’; and again we see the English realism towards the use of force, which had made possible the creation of the British Empire, inspiring a more positive appreciation of the Prophet of Islam. The great Christian blindness towards Islam has always been the belief that there can be only one type of perfection, namely the pacifist Jesus, who taught men to turn the other cheek, and who said, ‘Resist not him that is evil.’ For minds nurtured on such an image, the hero-Prophet is a difficult figure to comprehend. In the Far East, of course, there is no such mental block. Spirituality and the cultivation of the martial arts there went hand in hand. The love of women was also seen as a necessary part of this ethos. The samurai tradition in particular, of the righteous swordsman, a meditator who was also a great lover of women, ensures that a Japanese, for instance, will have few difficulties with the specific genius and greatness of the Prophet of Islam. But for Christians, there is no such model, although knightly ethics in the early Middle Ages, learned from Muslims in Spain and Palestine, dimly suggested it. But even for the Crusader knights, the ideal of celibacy was often accepted: the Knights Templar, for instance, a monastic warrior order, who were influenced enough by Islam to comprehend the importance of a sacred warriorhood, but who never quite got the point about celibacy.

With Carlyle, the Hero as Prophet, or the Prophet as Hero, reveals itself as a credible type for the English mind. And Carlyle’s insistence on the moral exaltation of the Prophet who transcended pacifism to take up arms to fight for his people was understood by at least one later British writer: George Bernard Shaw. For Shaw, as for Carlyle, there was no doubt about the correct answer to Hamlet’s question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

Edmund Burke had already pointed out that ‘for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing.’ Shaw, like Carlyle, recognised that this principle calls into question the Gospel ethic of passivity in the face of suffering and injustice. Let me read to you a few words from Hesketh Pearson’s biography of the generally post-Christian Shaw:

For many years (this was 1927), Shaw had been meditating a play on a prophet. The militant saint was a type more congenial to his nature than any other, a type he thoroughly sympathised with and could therefore portray with unfailing insight. In all history the one person who exactly answered his requirements, who would have made the perfect Shavian hero, was Mahomet.

In his diary for 1913, Shaw himself wrote: ‘I had long desired to dramatise the life of Mahomet. But the possibility of a protest from the Turkish Ambassador - or the fear of it - causing the Lord Chamberlain to refuse to license such a play, deterred me.’ And so, as Pearson records, he wrote Saint Joan instead.

Perhaps we can close this brief parenthetic summary of the convergence between British martial theory and traditions and Islam, with a final insight; this time offered by Colin Morris, former head of the BBC in Northern Ireland: ‘The false prophet is a moralist, he tells the world how things ought to be; the real prophet is a realist, he tells the world how things really are.’

Let us try to sum up the above arguments. Firstly, Islam is a universal religion. Despite its origins in 7th century Arabia, it works everywhere, and this is itself a sign of its miraculous and divine origin. Secondly, the British Isles have for several hundred years been the home of individuals whose religious and moral temper is very close to that of Islam. To move from Christianity to Islam is hence, for an English man or woman, not the giant leap that outsiders might assume. It is, rather, simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people. Christianity, formerly a Greek mystery religion advocating a moral code against the natural law, is in fact foreign to our national temperament. It is an exotic creed, and it is now fatally compromised by its positive view of secular modernity. Islam, once we have become familiar with it, and settled into it comfortably, is the most suitable faith for the British. Its values are our values. Its moderate, undemonstrative style of piety, still waters running deep; its insistence on modesty and a certain reserve, and its insistence on common sense and on pragmatism, combine to furnish the most natural and easy religious option for our people.

I should close by saying that nothing in what I have said is intended in a jingoistic sense. That the British have a convergence with Islam is to the credit of our people, certainly. But I am not commending any smug ethnocentrism; precisely because Islam itself came to abolish a tribal mentality. Islam is the true consanguinity of believers in the One True God, the common bond of those who seek to remain focussed on the divine Source of our being in this diffuse, ignorant and tragic age. But it is generous and inclusive. It allows us to celebrate our particularity, the genius of our heritage; within, rather than in tension with, the greater and more lasting fellowship of faith.

 

British & Muslim

 British & Muslim

T. J. WINTERS

 Who is a British Muslim is an easy question: it is anyone who follows Islam and holds a U.K. passport. This is at once the easiest and probably the only workable definition. The more teasing question, which I wish to raise in this article is: what is a British Muslim? The query raises two problems related to belonging. What does it mean to be a British person who belongs to Islam? And, what does it mean to be a Muslim person who belongs to Britain? How do we map the overlap zone in a way that makes sense, and is legitimate, in terms of the co-ordinates of both of these terms?

Clearly, by virtue of the first definition, the British Muslim population, all 1.5 million of it, divides into three groups. Firstly, and least problematically, there are men and women whose cultural formation was not British, but who have migrated to this country. This essay will not touch centrally on their own particular struggle for self-definition, which is quite different to that addressed by converts.

Secondly, there are the children of the first group, and occasionally now their grandchildren. These people are usually seen to be torn between two worlds, but in reality, the British world has shaped their souls far more profoundly then they often recognise. Modern schooling is designed for a culture that puts an increasing share of acculturation and upbringing, as opposed to the simple inculcation of facts, on the shoulders of schoolteachers rather than of parents. Muslims who have moved to this country have done so at precisely the time when British education is also going into the business of parenting; most Muslim parents do not recognise the fact, but Muslim children in this country always have a third parent: the Education Secretary. Even those second-generation Muslims here who claim to have angrily rejected Britishness are in fact doing so in terms of types of radicalism which are deeply influenced by Western styles of dissent. Most noticeably, they locate their radicalism not primarily in a spiritual, but in social and political rejection of the oppressive order around them. Their unsettled and agitated mood is not always congenial to the recent convert, who may, despite the cultural distance, feel more comfortable with the first rather than the second generation of migrants, preferring their God-centred religion to what is often the troubled, identity-seeking Islam of the young.

Thirdly, we have the smallest group of all: the convert or so-called ‘revert’ community. This group is highly disparate, and it is not clear that one can make any meaningful generalisations about it at all. Almost by definition, a British person who is guided to Islam is an eccentric of some kind: one of the virtues, perhaps, of the British is that eccentrics have always been nurtured or at least more or less tolerated here. But the overall pattern is confusing. One can offer certain sociological generalisations about British people who become Buddhists, or evangelical Christians, or Marxists. But the present writer’s experience with new Muslims is that no discernable patterns exist which might shed light on the routes by which people awaken to the truth of Islam. This failure to discern patterns can only be described as lamentable, for were we to discern such patterns, they could immediately be exploited for da‘wa purposes. The most we can say is that a clear majority of converts to Islam in Britain are from Catholic rather than Protestant or Jewish backgrounds. Within this group, in my experience the only clergy that convert are Jesuits; I am not aware of a single member of another religious order that has become Muslim.

Other than this very general and not terribly helpful observation, few patterns are discernable, and our missionary efforts, never very coordinated, flounder accordingly.

But whatever the processes, and we may be wise to accepttraditional invocations of divine providence and guidance which transcend and make irrelevant any sociological pattern-finding, this third group among British Muslims confronts certain sharp problems of self-definition. Egyptian, or Indonesian, or Indian Muslims becoming British do so slowly, perhaps over two or three generations. The identity problems can be sharp: in particular, there can be painful challenges to the hopes and expectations of parents. But the process is gentle in comparison with the abrupt jolt, which typically welcomes the convert. The signposts of the universe are not adjusted slowly, but all at once.

The initial and quite understandable response of many newcomers is to become an absolutist. Everything going on among pious Muslims is angelic; everything outside the circle of the faith is demonic. The appeal of this outlook lies in its simplicity. The newly rearranged landscape upon which the convert looks is seen in satisfying black and white terms of Them versus Us, good against evil.

This mindset is sometimes called ‘convertitis’. It is a common illness, which can make those who have caught it rather difficult to deal with. Fortunately, it almost always wears off. The only exceptions are those weak souls who imagine that the buzz of excitement caused by their absolutist, Manichean division of the world was a necessary part of Islamic piety, or even that it has some spiritual significance. Such people are often condemned to wander from faction to faction, always joining something new, in an attempt to regain the initial excitement engendered by their conversion.

Most new Muslims, however, soon see through this. A majority of people come to Islam for real spiritual or intellectual reasons, and will continue with their quest once they are inside Islam. Becoming Muslim is, after all, only the first step to felicity. Those individuals who adopt Islam because they need an identity will be condemned to wander the sectarian and factional hall of mirrors, constantly looking for the perfect group that will give them their desperately needed sense of specialness and superiority. 

But actions are by intentions. A hundred years ago the founder of the Anglo-Muslim movement, Imam Abdallah Quilliam in Liverpool, was writing that those British people who convert for Allah and His Messenger, will, by the grace of God, be rightly guided. Those who convert for any other reason are in serious spiritual trouble. Just as the namaz [salaat] prayer is invisibly invalidated if the niyya [intention] at its outset is not correct, similarly, Islam will not work for us unless we have entered it in faith, out of a sincere questing for God’s good pleasure.  If things are not going right for us, if we find no delight in our prayers, if Ramadan simply makes us hungry, if we cannot seem to find the right mosque or the right company to take us forward, then we would do well to start by examining our intentions. Did we become Muslims only, and purely, to bring our souls to God? Other reasons: solidarity with the oppressed, admiration for Muslims we know, desire to join a group, the love of a woman - none of these are adequate foundations for our lives as Muslims deserving of Allah’s grace and guidance. Imam al-Qushayri says that spiritual aspirants ‘are only deprived of attainment when they neglect the foundations.’ So we need to look within, and if necessary, renew our faith, following the Prophetic sunna. ‘Renew your iman’, a celebrated hadith enjoins.

So what are we? Statistically, perhaps fifty thousand people. But once we have taken the plunge, and enjoyed the feel of Islam, and come to know through experience, rather than through reading books, that Islam is a way of sobriety, dignity, poise and rewarding spirituality, what exactly is our self-definition? When we meet family and friends who are not Muslim, how do we carry ourselves? Do we treat Islam as a great secret? A discreet eccentricity that we hope people will not be so crude as to mention? Or, on the contrary, something we wear on our sleeves, feeling that it is our duty constantly to steer the conversation back into sacred quarters, confronting people with Islam, that they might have no argument against us at the Resurrection?

More generally, what is our view of the wider world of unbelief, which, despite the breathless predictions of some of our co-religionists, continues to grow more powerful and more prosperous? How much of it can we affirm, and how much of it must we publicly or privately disown?

We can, of course, take the easy way out, and avoid engaging with these questions, by retreating from the mainstream of society, and consorting only with Muslims. But this is not so easy. We need to be employed, since this is pleasing to God; and we need to maintain good ties with our relations, since this is also enjoined in the Sunna. Wa-sahibhuma fi’l-dunya ma‘rufan - ‘Keep company with them both in the world in keeping with good custom’, says the Qur’an to converts who have unbelieving parents. And the Sunna explains that non-Muslim parents have significant rights over their Muslim children.

But more significantly even than this, to solve the problems thrown at us and at our identity by the real world outside the mosque gates, we need to engage regularly with non-Muslim society. But for this, there would be no effective da‘wa. People do not hear the word of Islam, generally, by being shouted at by some demagogue at Speakers Corner, or by reading some angry little pamphlet pushed into their hand by a wandering distributor of tracts. They convert through personal experience of Muslims. And this takes place, overwhelmingly, at the workplace. Other social contexts are closed to us: the pub, the beach, the office party. But work is a prime environment for being noticed, and judged, as Muslims.

There is nothing remotely new in this. Islam has always spread primarily through social interactions connected with work. The early Muslims who conquered half the world did not set up soapboxes in the town squares of Alexandria, Cordoba or Fez, in the hope that Christians would flock to them and hear their preaching. They did business with the Christians; and their nobility and integrity of conduct won the Christians over. That is the model followed by Muslims, particularly the Sufis, down the ages; and it is the one that we must retain today, by interacting honourably and respectfully with non-Muslims in our places of work, as much as we can.

If this is clear, then my initial question still begs a response. What is a British Muslim? What manner of creature is he, or she? The public consensus has clear ideas about other British identities: British Anglican, British Jew, British Asian Muslim or Hindu: all these are recognised categories and a certain community of expected response governs interactions between the majority and these groups. The Anglo-Muslim, however, is not a generally recognised type.

My own belief is that the future prosperity of the Anglo-Muslim movement will be determined largely by our ability to answer this question of identity. It is a question mainly for converts, but which many of whose dimensions will come to apply also to second-generation immigrant Muslims here, who have their own questions to ask themselves and this culture about what, exactly, they are.

To frame a response, I think it is useful to step back a little, and consider the larger picture of Islamic history of which we form a very small part. I mentioned earlier that Islam usually spread through the utilisation of commercial opportunities as opportunities for da‘wa. That picture is one of the most extraordinary success stories in religious history. Compare, for instance, the way in which the Muslim world was Islamised to the way in which the Americas were Christianised. Islamisation proceeded with remarkable gentleness, at the hands of Sufis and merchants. Christianisation used mass extermination of the native Americans, the baptism of uncomprehending survivors, and the baleful scrutiny by the Inquisition of any signs of backsliding. A more extreme contrast would be impossible to find.

Perhaps no less extraordinary than this contrast is its interesting concomitant: Christianisation brought Europeanisation. Islamisation did not bring Arabisation. The churches built by the Puritans or the Conquistadors in the New World were deliberate replicas of churches in Europe. The mosques constructed in the areas gradually won for Islam are endlessly diverse, and reflect and indeed celebrate local particularities. Christianity is a universal religion that has historically sought to impose a universal metropolitan culture. Islam is a universal religion that has consistently nurtured a particularist provincial culture. A church in Mexico City resembles a church in Salamanca. A mosque in Nigeria, or Istanbul, or Djakarta, resembles in key respects the patterns, now purified and uplifted by monotheism, of the indigenous regional patrimony.

No less remarkable is the ability of the Muslim liberators to accommodate those aspects of local, pre-Islamic tradition which did not clash absolutely with the truths of revelation. In entering new lands, Muslims were armed with the generous Qur'anic doctrine of Universal Apostleship; as the Qur'an says, ‘To every nation there has been sent a guide’. This conflicts sharply with the classical Christian view of salvation as hinging uniquely on one historical intervention of the divine in history: the salvific sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Non-Christian religions were, in classical Christianity, seen as demonic and under the sign of original sin. But classical Islam has always been able and willing to see at least fragments of an authentic divine message in the faiths and cultures of non-Muslim peoples. If God has assured us that every nation has received divine guidance, then we can look with some favour on the Other. Hence, for instance, we find popular Muslim poets in India, such as Sayid Sultan, writing poems about Krishna as a Prophet. There is no final theological proof that he was one, but the assumption is nonetheless not in violation of the Qur'an.

Even among Muslim ulema who had not been to India, we find interestingly positive appraisals of Hinduism. For instance, the great Baghdad theologian al-Shahrastani, in his Book of Religions and Sects, had access to enough reliable information about India to develop a very sophisticated theological reaction to Indian religion. He accepts that the higher forms of Hinduism are not polytheistic. He notes that that although the Hindus have no notion of prophecy, they do have what he calls ashab al-ruhaniyat: quasi-divine beings who call mankind to love the Real and to practice the virtues. He names Vishnu and Shiva as examples, and speaks positively of them. He focuses particularly on the veneration of celestial bodies: the sun, the moon, and the planets. The reason why he fixes on these practices is that they seem to situate Hinduism within a recognisably Qur'anic paradigm. The Qur'an mentions quite favourably a group known as the Sabeans, who were by the second century identified with various star-worshipping but still vaguely monotheistic sects in Mesopotamia. The Sabeans are tolerated in Islamic law, although they are less privileged than the Jews and Christians, a position reflected in the ruling in Shari‘a that a Muslim may not marry their women or eat their meat.

Shahrastani explicitly assimilates many Hindus to this category of Sabeans. They are to be tolerated as believers in One God; and will only be punished by God if, having been properly exposed to Islam, they reject it.

Another example is supplied by the great Muslim epic in China. Those who believe that Muslim communities can only flourish if they ghettoise themselves and refuse to interact with majority communities would do well to look at Chinese history. Many of the leading mandarins of Ming China were in fact Muslims. Wang Dai-Yu, for instance, who died in 1660, was a Muslim scholar who received the title of ‘Master of the Four Religions’ because of his complete knowledge of China’s four religions: Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Many of the leading admirals in the navy of the Ming Empire were practising Muslims.

In China, mosques look very like traditional Chinese garden-temples, except that there is a prayer hall without idols, and the calligraphy is Qur'anic. In some of the most beautiful, you will find, as you enter, the following words in Chinese inscribed on a tablet:

Sages have one mind and the same truth. In all parts of the world, sages arise who possess this uniformity of mind and truth. Muhammad, the Great Sage of the West, lived in Arabia long after Confucius, the Sage of China. Though separated by ages and countries, they had the same mind and Truth.

In these examples from India and China, we see a practical confirmation of Islam’s proclamation of itself as the final, and hence universal, message from God. In a hadith we learn: ‘Other prophets were sent only to their own peoples, while I am sent to all mankind.’ It is not that the Qur'anic worldview affirms other religions as fully adequate paths to salvation. In fact, it clearly does not. But it allows the Muslim, as he encounters new worlds, to sift the wheat from the chaff in non-Muslim cultures, rejecting some things, to be sure, but maintaining others. In Islamic law, too, we find that shara‘i man qablana, the revealed laws of those who came before us, can under certain conditions be accepted as valid legal precedent, if they are not demonstrably abrogated by an Islamic revealed source. And Islamic law also recognises the authority of urf, local customary law, so that a law or custom is acceptable, and may be carried over into an Islamic culture or jurisdiction, if no Islamic revealed principle is thereby violated. Hence, we find the administration of Islamic law varying from country to country. If a wife complains of receiving insufficient dower from her husband, the qadi [judge] will make reference to what is considered normal in their culture and social group, and adjudge accordingly.

All of these historical observations have, I hope, served to make quite a simple point: Islam, as a universal religion, in fact as the only legitimately universal religion, also makes room for the particularities of the peoples who come into it. The traditional Muslim world is a rainbow, an extraordinary patchwork of different cultures, all united by a common adherence to the doctrinal and moral patterns set down in Revelation. Put differently, Revelation supplies parameters, hudud, rather than a complete blueprint for the details of cultural life. Local mindsets are Islamised, but remain distinct.

This point is obvious to anyone who has studied Islamic thought or Islamic history. I reiterate it today only because some Muslims nowadays reject it fiercely. Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.

These young people, who haunt our mosques and shout at any sign of disagreement, are either ignorant of Muslim history, or dismiss it as a gigantic mistake. For them, the grace and rahma of Allah has for some reason been withheld from all but a tiny fraction of the Umma. These people are the elect; and all disagreement with them is a blasphemy against God.

We cannot hope easily to cure such people. Simple proofs from our history or our scholarship will not suffice. What they need is a sense of security, and that, given the deteriorating conditions of both the Muslim world and of the ghettos in Western cities, may not come readily. For now, it is best to ignore their shouts and their melodramatic but always ill-fated activities. Our psychic problems are not theirs; and theirs can never be ours.

Islam is, and will continue to be, even amid the miserable globalisation of modern culture, a faith that celebrates diversity. Our thinking about our own position as British Muslims should focus on that fact, and quietly but firmly ignore the protests both of the totalitarian fringe, and of the importers of other regional cultures, such as that of Pakistan, which they regard as the only legitimate Islamic ideal.

So far, however, we have been too busy restating the initial question with which this chapter opened, and defending its legitimacy, to propose any substantive answer. It is time now to attempt a brief sketch of what I construe our cultural position and prospects to be.

As I have tried to emphasise, Islam’s presence in Britain is not an Islamic problem. Islam is universal, and can operate everywhere. It is not an Islamic problem, but it may be a British problem. Europe, alone among the continents, does not have a longstanding tradition of plurality. In medieval Asia or Africa, in China or the Songhai Empire, or Egypt, or almost everywhere, one could usually practice one’s own religion in peace, whatever it happened to be. Only in Europe was there a consistent policy of enforcing religious uniformity. The reason for this lay of course in the Church’s theology: unless you had some part in Christ’s redemptive sacrifice, you were in the grip of original sin, and hence were an instrument of the devil. Medieval Catholics were even expected to believe that unbaptised infants would be tormented in Hell forever. Given that absolute view, it was only natural that Europe constantly strove for religious uniformity.

Britain, as part of the European world, has traditionally suffered the same totalitarian entailments in its history. Hence, although it has always been possible to be a Christian in a Muslim country, it was against the law to be a Muslim in Britain until 1812, with the passage through parliament of the Trinitarian Act. Nonetheless, three centuries before that, with Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy, England cut itself off from formal submission to Vatican doctrines; and from that time a type of religious diversity has been, within severe constraints, at least a possibility. In fact, Britain was the first major European country to break with the medieval European tradition of absolute religious conformity. Perhaps it is because of this fact that exclusivist and xenophobic political manifestations are less common in Britain today than in most Continental countries. The National Front is a lunatic fringe party in the U.K., whereas its equivalents regularly scoop twenty percent of the votes in some regions of France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Austria.

When England threw off the Papist yoke, opportunities arose for questioning ancient errors of understanding which had been introduced into Christianity by the Church Fathers. These opportunities, however, were not properly grasped. The English Reformation was an attempt not to extirpate bid‘a in the Muslim sense, and return to the religion of Jesus of Nazareth, which had been distorted by the Church on the basis of the Hellenising agendas of the anonymous gospel authors, but to reform the doctrines and liturgy of the medieval church. Hence the reformers did not attempt to return to the simple monotheistic worship of the Apostles, but, in the Book of Common Prayer published in 1549, created a new vernacular liturgy based largely on medieval trinitarian and incarnationist precedents.

This English willingness to challenge tradition, however, was to have immense repercussions. Despite the lack of awareness of the instability of the gospel texts, as revealed by 20th century scholarship, for the first time Europeans, and notably Britons, were questioning the innovations of the Church magisterium, and attempting to grope back towards the faith revealed by God to His prophet Jesus, upon whom be peace.

One repercussion of the Reformation on our ancestors was the revival of a mystical tradition, whose most obvious manifestation was the Cambridge Platonists. English mysticism has usually been of a moderate type: one thinks of the Cloud of Unknowing, or Julian of Norwich. Extreme feats of asceticism, or extravagant and obsessive preoccupations with visions and miraculous happenings, have never been part of the English style of spirituality. The Cambridge Platonists drew on this moderate mysticism, but insisted that mystical inspiration must work hand in hand with rational judgement, and with sound doctrine derived from the Scriptures. This position, which influenced John Locke in particular, again evinces the English style of religion: profound but not verbose, rational but not rationalistic, and scriptural but not literalistic.

This very English approach to religion in due course led to serious questions being asked about the centrepiece of medieval Christian dogma: the Trinity. Milton, and later John Locke himself, are known to have held discreetly Unitarian beliefs, having been unable to find convincing justification for trinitarian and incarnationist views in the Scriptures. Locke’s close friend Newton was even more frank, writing

of the vehement universal and lasting controversy about the Trinity ... Let them make good sense of it who are able. For my part, I can make none.

The period around the Civil War threw up many Englishmen who were likewise concerned about the distortion of the teachings of Jesus by the Church; and the term Unitarian comes into being sometime during this period. But side by side with this tradition of dissent, and in often obscure ways interacting with it, went an even more revolutionary change: improved information about the Blessed Prophet of Islam.

The medievals chose to remain in ignorance about Islam. For them, Muslims were summa culpabilis: the sum of everything blameworthy. Knights from Britain had been at the forefront of the Crusades. The sack of the Muslim city of Lisbon in 1147 during which perhaps 150,000 Muslims were massacred, was largely the work of soldiers from Norfolk and Suffolk. But the same quest for simplicity and honesty which made the Reformation possible, also made of England the first country in Europe where medieval images of Islam could be challenged. 

To an extent which we cannot now determine, largely because an excess of sympathy with either Islam or Unitarianism could result in the dissenter being hung, drawn and quartered, new perspectives on Islam informed and reinforced the discreet Unitarian movement. This is implied by the title of Humphrey Prideaux’s hate-filled book of 1697, which he called, The true nature of Imposture, fully displayed in the life of Mahomet ... offered to the consideration of the Deists of the present age.

Prideaux is clearly implying that some radical Dissenters were being drawn towards Islam, and he is writing his polemic to hold back that tide. But a far clearer insight into this process is supplied by another author, a certain Henry Stubbe.

Stubbe is the first European Christian to write favourably of Islam. In fact, he writes so favourably that we can only conclude that he had thrown off the heritage of Christianity, and privately adopted it. He was educated at Westminster and Oxford, and worked as a physician in Warwick, and as personal physician to King James. His biographer Anthony Wood described him as ‘the most noted person of his age that these late times have produced.’ He died in 1676, after being accused of heresy, and spending some time in prison.

Stubbe was a child of the Civil War, and the spiritual chaos of the Interregnum prompted him to question the official tenets of his inherited Anglicanism. He was also a scholar, who had mastered Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and was fully conversant with the new critical scholarship on the Bible. Putting all these gifts together, and thanks to his friendship with Pococke, the Laudian Professor of Arabic in Oxford, he wrote a book, which for the nineteenth century would have been advanced, but which for the seventeenth is positively astounding. Just the title alone gives some hint of this: ‘An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahometanism, and a Vindication of him and his Religion from the Calumnies of the Christians.’

The book begins with a chapter demonstrating how the message of Jesus Christ has been perverted by the Church. He stresses the fact that Jesus, upon him be peace, had remained faithful to the Mosaic Law, and would have been horrified by the idea that later generations might use his name to justify the eating of pork, for instance. He says, of the Disciples:

They did never believe Christ to be the natural Son of God, by eternal Generation, or any tenet depending thereon, or prayed unto him, or believed the Holy Ghost, or the Trinity of persons in one Deity ... The whole constitution of the primitive Church Government relates to the Jewish Synagogue, not to the Hierarchy. The presbyters were not Priests, but Laymen set apart to their office by imposition of hands . . . Nor was the name of Priest then ever heard of’.

He concludes that the sacraments of the Church, particularly baptism and the Eucharist, are pagan rituals introduced into Christianity several decades after Christ’s death.

Stubbe then provides a chapter on ‘a brief History of Arabia and the Saracens’, followed by four on the Prophet. Chapter Eight is a vindication of the Prophet; chapter 9 is a vindication of Islam, and chapter 10 explains the moral necessity of the doctrine of Jihad.

His polemical intentions throughout are clear: he constantly shows Islam to be a purer and more rational form of religion than Christianity. Here is Stubbe, for instance, summarising the Prophet’s teaching:

This is the sum of Mahometan Religion, on the one hand not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense; nor on the other hand loading them with the performance of many troublesome, expensive and superstitious Ceremonies, yet enjoining a due observance of Religious Worship, as the surest Method to keep Men in the bounds of their Duty both to God and Man. 

And a little further on he adds:

Let us now lay aside our prejudices ... Their Articles of Faith are few and plain, whereby they are preserved from Schisms and Heresies, for altho’ they have great diversity of opinions in the explication of their Law, yet, agreeing in the fundamentals, their differences in opinion do not reach to that breach of Charity so common among the Christians, who thereby become a scandal to all other Religions in the world. Their Notions of God are great and noble, their opinions of the Future State are consonant to those of the Jews and Christians. As to the moral part of their Religion . . . we shall see that it is not inferior to that of the Christians. And lastly, their religious Duties are plainly laid down, which is the cause that they are duly observed, and are in themselves very rational.

He allocates an entire chapter to show the moral significance of the Jihad. This chapter is perhaps the most remarkable in the entire book, since it had long been a Christian idée fixe that Islam could only spread by the sword. He goes to some length, quoting travellers to the Ottoman Empire, to show that Christian minorities are usually protected better under Muslim rule than under the rule of their fellow Christians. He observes, for instance:

It is manifest that the Mahometans did propagate their Empire, but not their Religion, by force of arms . . . Christians and other Religions might peaceably subsist under their Protection . . . it is an assured truth, that the vulgar Greeks live in a better Condition under the Turk at present then they did under their own Emperors, when there were perpetual murders practised on their Princes, and tyranny over the People; but they are now secure from Injury if they pay their Taxes. And it is indeed more the Interest of the Princes & Nobles, than of the People, which at present keeps all Europe from submitting to the Turks.

Having sung Islam’s praises in these terms, Stubbe could hardly expect to publish his book. He published several others, but this one languished discreetly in manuscript form until 1911, when a group of Ottoman Muslims in London rescued it from obscurity and published it.

At least six manuscripts did, however, circulate in a more or less clandestine fashion. No fewer than three of them were preserved in the private library of the Revd John Disney, who at the beginning of the 19th century shocked the established church by publicly converting to Unitarianism. Some historians have suggested also that Gibbon was familiar with the work. For instance, Stubbe observes:

When Christianity became generally received, it introduced with it a general inundation of Barbarism and Ignorance, which over-run all places where it prevailed.

And Gibbon, several decades later, closes his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire with the words: ‘I have described the triumph of barbarism and religion.’ Gibbon himself was known for his private scepticism about Trinitarian dogma.

Stubbe’s book, as I have said, is the work of a brave pioneer. But it is also a considered reflection upon the religious instabilities of the interregnum period which generated it. It shows a sensitive and immensely cultivated English mind shaking off the complications of old dogma, using modern scholarship to reconstruct the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Muhammad. Instead of something exotic, we see here a very English kind of religion expressing itself. Stubbe is spiritual, but not superstitious. He likes simplicity: the blank, Puritan wall of the mosque rather than the elaborate stone metaphors of Catholicism or of the dizzyingly high Anglicanism of Charles. He values wholesome morality that is pragmatic rather than irresponsibly idealistic: so he commends polygamy, and shows the moral dangers of legally imposed monogamy. He regards with distaste traditional Christian strictures on ‘the flesh’ - a century beforehand, Englishmen had rejected the arguments for a celibate clergy and had firmly quashed monkery as both unnatural and parasitic. For Stubbe, the Prophet’s approach was in accord with nature: the love of woman is as natural as the love of God. The Prophet, like the great Hebrew patriarchs, showed that sacred and profane love can and indeed must go together.

A generation earlier, John Donne had suffered passions for both woman and for God; and found his religion finally unable to reconcile the two. His early poems are among some of the most touching, and also sensual, love poems in the English language. Later, as Dean of St Paul’s, he realised that he must renounce the flesh as the instrument of the Fall and the perpetrator of original sin. Hence his agonising, tragic spiritual career, renouncing the flesh to serve God, composing poems wrapped in his winding sheet: Donne’s great Muslim soul caught in the flawed dialectic of a theology that regarded spirit and body as eternally at war.

Stubbe is also drawing on a particularly English pragmatism in his treatment of the Jihad. Far from regarding the Islamic institution of the just war as a reproach, he extols it, contrasting it with what he regarded as the insipid and irresponsible pacifism of the unknown New Testament authors. Stubbe is an English gentleman of a generation that had known war, and knew that there are some injustices in the world that cannot be dissolved through passive suffering, through turning the other cheek. He had sided with Parliament during the civil war, holding, with Cromwell, that the righteous man may sometimes justly bear the burden of the sword. An admirer of Cromwell, he became an admirer of the Prophet. For him, the Prophet was not a foreign, exotic figure: his genial vision of human life under God exactly conformed to what a civilised Englishman of the seventeenth century thought necessary and proper. In Stubbe’s work, in other words, we find a vindication of Muhammad as an English prophet.

There is more that can be said about the convergence of Islamic moderation and good sense with the English temper. Tragically, the rise of Dissent in England coincided also with the rise of nationalism and xenophobia, which reached its intoxicating heights with the empire of Queen Victoria and the Edwardians. Under such Anglocentric and frankly racist banners, sympathy with Islam became once more a receding possibility. But there were exceptions. Perhaps the most celebrated was that most English of intellectuals, Carlyle. Carlyle, like Stubbe two centuries before, was a free spirit, unhampered either by obsessions with Trinity, or modern delusions about the ability of material progress to secure human happiness.

On May the 8th 1840, in a stuffy lecture room in Portman Square, London’s intellectual elite were hearing Carlyle speak about the Prophet. They had anticipated the usual invective; and they were astonished to watch him holding up the Prophet as a heroic, adventurous figure, whose sacrifices had brought a natural theism to his people, and had much to teach a materialistic Victorian England. The climax came when the lecturer cried:

Benthamee Utility, virtue by Profit and Loss; reducing this God’s world to a dead brute Steam-engine . . . if you ask me which gives, Mahomet or they, the beggarlier and falser view of Man and his Destinies in this Universe, I will answer, it is not Mahomet. 

Stung to the quick, John Stuart Mill leaped to his feet, and cried out: ‘No!’

Carlyle was lecturing on ‘The Hero as Prophet’; and again we see the English realism towards the use of force, which had made possible the creation of the British Empire, inspiring a more positive appreciation of the Prophet of Islam. The great Christian blindness towards Islam has always been the belief that there can be only one type of perfection, namely the pacifist Jesus, who taught men to turn the other cheek, and who said, ‘Resist not him that is evil.’ For minds nurtured on such an image, the hero-Prophet is a difficult figure to comprehend. In the Far East, of course, there is no such mental block. Spirituality and the cultivation of the martial arts there went hand in hand. The love of women was also seen as a necessary part of this ethos. The samurai tradition in particular, of the righteous swordsman, a meditator who was also a great lover of women, ensures that a Japanese, for instance, will have few difficulties with the specific genius and greatness of the Prophet of Islam. But for Christians, there is no such model, although knightly ethics in the early Middle Ages, learned from Muslims in Spain and Palestine, dimly suggested it. But even for the Crusader knights, the ideal of celibacy was often accepted: the Knights Templar, for instance, a monastic warrior order, who were influenced enough by Islam to comprehend the importance of a sacred warriorhood, but who never quite got the point about celibacy.

With Carlyle, the Hero as Prophet, or the Prophet as Hero, reveals itself as a credible type for the English mind. And Carlyle’s insistence on the moral exaltation of the Prophet who transcended pacifism to take up arms to fight for his people was understood by at least one later British writer: George Bernard Shaw. For Shaw, as for Carlyle, there was no doubt about the correct answer to Hamlet’s question

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.

Edmund Burke had already pointed out that ‘for evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing.’ Shaw, like Carlyle, recognised that this principle calls into question the Gospel ethic of passivity in the face of suffering and injustice. Let me read to you a few words from Hesketh Pearson’s biography of the generally post-Christian Shaw:

For many years (this was 1927), Shaw had been meditating a play on a prophet. The militant saint was a type more congenial to his nature than any other, a type he thoroughly sympathised with and could therefore portray with unfailing insight. In all history the one person who exactly answered his requirements, who would have made the perfect Shavian hero, was Mahomet.

In his diary for 1913, Shaw himself wrote: ‘I had long desired to dramatise the life of Mahomet. But the possibility of a protest from the Turkish Ambassador - or the fear of it - causing the Lord Chamberlain to refuse to license such a play, deterred me.’ And so, as Pearson records, he wrote Saint Joan instead.

Perhaps we can close this brief parenthetic summary of the convergence between British martial theory and traditions and Islam, with a final insight; this time offered by Colin Morris, former head of the BBC in Northern Ireland: ‘The false prophet is a moralist, he tells the world how things ought to be; the real prophet is a realist, he tells the world how things really are.’

Let us try to sum up the above arguments. Firstly, Islam is a universal religion. Despite its origins in 7th century Arabia, it works everywhere, and this is itself a sign of its miraculous and divine origin. Secondly, the British Isles have for several hundred years been the home of individuals whose religious and moral temper is very close to that of Islam. To move from Christianity to Islam is hence, for an English man or woman, not the giant leap that outsiders might assume. It is, rather, simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people. Christianity, formerly a Greek mystery religion advocating a moral code against the natural law, is in fact foreign to our national temperament. It is an exotic creed, and it is now fatally compromised by its positive view of secular modernity. Islam, once we have become familiar with it, and settled into it comfortably, is the most suitable faith for the British. Its values are our values. Its moderate, undemonstrative style of piety, still waters running deep; its insistence on modesty and a certain reserve, and its insistence on common sense and on pragmatism, combine to furnish the most natural and easy religious option for our people.

I should close by saying that nothing in what I have said is intended in a jingoistic sense. That the British have a convergence with Islam is to the credit of our people, certainly. But I am not commending any smug ethnocentrism; precisely because Islam itself came to abolish a tribal mentality. Islam is the true consanguinity of believers in the One True God, the common bond of those who seek to remain focussed on the divine Source of our being in this diffuse, ignorant and tragic age. But it is generous and inclusive. It allows us to celebrate our particularity, the genius of our heritage; within, rather than in tension with, the greater and more lasting fellowship of faith.

 

 

 

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