From Taqwa to Fatwa
(Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is the Director of the American Institute of Islamic History and Culture, located at 1160 Ridgemont Place, Concord, CA 94521. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is a thinker, author, writer, legislator and an academician. Professionally he is an Engineer and holds several Patents in Engineering. He is the author of several books; prominent among them is "Islam in Global History." He can be reached by E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org )
What drives the Islamic civilization today? Does it have a focus? What accounts for the tribulations of the global Islamic community for the last two hundred years?
A civilization is held together by one of three elements: faith, kinship and contract. There are examples of all three in human history. The modern global civilization, if one is permitted to attach the word “civilization” to “global”, is sustained by contract and self-interest. Kinship, or “asabiyah” to use Ibn Khaldun’s terminology, was the motive power behind the rise of the Turks, the Mongols and the tribes of North Africa. The same power may be found behind the thrust of Hitler’s Germany. Islam, by contrast, is a civilization based on faith. Indeed, it opposes asabiyah in no uncertain terms and extols humankind to rise above a narrow allegiance to race or tribe in a global endeavor to create divine patterns on earth. Another way to state this is to assert that Islam is God focused, whereas some other civilizations were man focused.
But alas! Such philosophical generalizations do not apply to the Islamic world today. The Islamic world has no focus today. Somewhere in the last three hundred years, Muslims took a detour from the highway onto byways and are lost therein to this day. They have attempted to stumble back to the highway, but in the process have spent enormous energies and the highway still eludes them. In this article, we will try to briefly recapture the major milestones that have contributed to this historical detour.
Between the thirteen and the sixteenth century of the Common Era, the driving force for the Islamic enterprise was tazkiyah, commonly known as tasawwuf. It was the cement as the dynamic principle of Islamic civilization. Following the devastations of the Mongols (1219-1262), Islam turned inwards to a rediscovery of its own soul. It was the age of the Awliyah. The work of great Sheikhs such as Abdul Qader Jeelani of Baghdad (1166), Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer (1235), Shadhuli of Cairo (1252), Mevlani Rumi of Konya (1273) and Bahauddin Naqshband of Samarqand (1375) saved the day for the Muslims. The hearts of the marauding Mongols were transformed and the conquerors became the new defenders of faith. With the conversion of Ghazan the great of Persia (1302), the menace from the North faded away and Islam expanded into India, Indonesia, Southeastern Europe and deep into Africa.
The focus of Islam in this period was the human soul and its purification. It found its expression in the thousands of zawiyas that sprang up over much of the Islamic world. People met in these zawiyas, conducted dhikr, interacted socially, trained youngsters in the arts and trades and provided secure stopovers for weary travelers. It was the age of passionate hymns and magnificent monuments. This passion found its expression in the soul-moving rhymes of Amir Khusroe, the Mathnavi of Mevlani Rumi and the Taj Mahal of Shah Jehan. The civilization that the zawiya culture produced was cosmopolitan, providing equal opportunity to Christians under the Ottomans and Hindus under the Great Moguls of India.
This zawiya culture proved just about strong enough to resist foreign invasions. The great battles of Ayn Jalut (1262) and Al Qasr al Kabir (1578) approximately mark the beginning and the end of this period. At Ayn Jalut, Sultan Baybars of Egypt stopped the combined armies of the Mongols, the Crusaders and the Armenians and possibly saved the world of Islam from extinction. At Al Qasr al Kabir, Sultan Ahmed al Mansur of Morocco stopped King Sebastian of Portugal, preventing the Crusaders from eliminating Islam from the Maghreb as they had done in Spain. It may justifiably be argued that the continental advance of the Ottomans towards Vienna (1526) was also carried under the zawiya culture, as the influence of Bektashi and other Sufi orders was quite strong in the Turkish armies.
The turn of the seventeenth century brought a profound change in this paradigm. It is an irony of history that the Sufi bent of Islamic civilization was changed by one of the greatest of Sufis who ever lived. And it is also a paradox that this change originated in the India-Pakistan subcontinent, far from the Arab-Persian heartland of the Islamic world. Largely as a reaction to the policies of the Great Mogul Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar (1603), Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi of the Punjab (1622) launched a protest movement that in due course changed the very nature of Islamic civilization. Shaikh Ahmed, who is referred to as Mujaddid alf e Thani, took an exception to the liberal, seemingly irreligious practices of Akbar. In his Maktubat, he argued for strict adherence to the Shariah and its applications through Fiqh. The ideas of Shaikh Ahmed took root. Within fifty years of his passing away, the character of the Mogul court went through a fundamental transformation. During the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan, Akhlaq and Ehsan, derived from a zawiya culture, were the principles of governance. In the person of Aurangzeb, Fiqh became the principle of governance. The emphasis in the society at large changed from taqwa to fatwa. The well-known compendium Fatwa e Alamgiri of Aurangzeb (1707) contrasts with Aeen e Akbari of Akbar (1603) in content as well as emphasis. Islamic civilization had taken a turn towards form and away from content. The Mufti replaced the Wali and the focus shifted from the heart to the body.
Strict adherence to the Shariah, or more precisely, to its application in the various schools of fiqh, received added emphasis in the reform movements of the eighteenth century. In the person of Shaykh Abdul Wahab of Arab, they found an expression in their uncompromising certitude. In India, the newly established rigidity of the Mogul courts was a major factor in the implosion of Mogul India. The subcontinent came apart, first with the eruption of the Marathas, and then through successive invasions from the Persians and the Afghans. It was finally subdued by the British.
India was the first major non-Western civilization to fall to the Europeans. With the enormous resources of the subcontinent at their command, the British embarked on building a world empire, subduing Asia and Africa alike. As colonial rule solidified, the process of fiqh became even more rigid. The colonial rulers stripped the body politic of many aspects of Shariah and imposed their own legal codes on the subjugated peoples. The Islamic world recoiled from within and tried to hold onto the remnants of the Shariah, even if that meant only a “Muslim Personal Law” largely limited to marriage, divorce and inheritance. Where the process of fiqh once supplied the dynamic principle of Islamic political life, as it did in the hands of Imam Abu Haneefa, it now degenerated into a static compendium of bida, kufr and shirk. At the same time, political subjugation robbed tasawwuf of its soul, and it degenerated into tomb worship. Where the great Awliyah once taught tazkiah, and produced towering men and women of action and character, it now produced mujawars who claimed to cure real and imagined diseases with broomsticks.
For more than two hundred years, it is this emphasis on fiqh that has characterized Islamic civilization. Most, if not all of the Islamic movements in this period have had their thrust either at the implementation of fiqh or on its reforms. These include the struggles of Uthman Dan Fuduye of West Africa, the liberal reforms of Mohammed Abduh of Egypt, and in recent years, the reform movements of Jamat e Islami and the Muslim brotherhood. It is very significant that Mohammed Iqbal, perhaps the most incisive Islamic thinker of the twentieth century, also gravitated towards a fiqh-based body politic. In the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930), he observes, “The transfer of the power of Ijtihad from individual representatives of schools to a Muslim Legislative Assembly which, in view of the growth of opposing sects, is the only possible form Ijma can take in modern times, will secure contributions to legal discussion from laymen who happen to possess a keen insight into affairs. In this way alone we can stir into activity the dormant spirit of life in our legal system, and give it an evolutionary outlook. In India, however, difficulties are likely to arise; for it is doubtful where a non-Muslim legislative assembly can exercise the power of Ijtihad”. This was the first indication of Iqbal’s thinking in the direction of separate legislatures for Muslims in British India, which quickly found an expression in a demand for Pakistan.
The emphasis on fiqh, or rather a rigid application of Hanbali fiqh, found a great champion in the Wahhabi sect of Arabia. The year 1927 was an important year in the twentieth century history of Muslim peoples. It was during that year that the Saudis, champions of Wahhabi views, captured the Hijaz. Their hold on Mecca and Madina bestowed legitimacy on the extreme rigidity of Wahhabi ideas. And then in the 1960s, as petrodollars flowed into the kingdom, the newfound largesse was used to further this point of view across the globe.
Islamic political life has thus moved successively in the direction of marginalizing its own horizons. First, in the seventeenth century, the displacement of taqwa by fatwa goaded it in the direction of religious form rather than content, just as political decay was setting in. Second, even this emphasis has progressively moved in the direction of narrower foundations until today it stands on a pin head of bida, kufr and shirk. There was a time in history when Islamic life was impelled from within by the stirrings of the soul, and from without by the grandeur of nature and the dynamics of human history. In the last two hundred years, none of these dynamic principles have been operational. Deen, for most Muslims, has become a set of rules, and religion has become a statue without soul.
The Jamaats, of which there are dozens, have replaced the universality of the ummah. Each jamaat applies its own methodology to its own static view of a skeletal fiqh. There are Ahle Hadith, Ahle Sunnah, Ahle Jamaat, Tablighee Jamaat, Jamaate Islami, Ansars, the Sufis, the Salafis and others too numerous to recite. To put it bluntly, modern-day Islamic civilization has lost its focus and it no longer has a moving principle. It has fumbled for two hundred years trying to find its course through nationalism, socialism, communism, separatism, secularism, jingoism, and Arabism. And it continues to fumble.
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