Here is the recording of the talk given by brother Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad during his trip to Kuala Lumpur recently. I recorded three of the talks given. This is the last talk (after maghrib) he gave at Masjid Taman TAR (Ampang) just before he left back to UK on 29th March 2010.

The two other talks … inshaAllah. Please check again in the next few days.

Part 1/5:

Part 2/5:

Part 3/5:

Part 4/5

and Part 5/5

Note: I have to apologise for the background noise coming from the strong aircond blower. I need to learn how to do noise reduction!


I, ya Rasulullah!” Such were the words of the great Companion, Abu Hurayrah (radhiAllahu anhu) in acceptance of the request of his beloved, when he asked, “Who among you will accept of me the following words and adopt and execute their meaning or teach someone to adopt them and act according to them?”

Then, as Abu Hurayrah recalls; “So he held my hand and counted five things according to my five fingers as follows.” Upon pondering over this sentence, one can rightfully assume that this act of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) of teaching Abu Hurayrah in such a personal manner – one by one, on the fingers of his hand – was a significant step in the effort to keep these words etched in his heart. In fact, it was a method of aiding him in fulfilling the responsibility to which he agreed to moments earlier.

So, what were these teachings that numbered the fingers of Abu Hurayrah’s hand?

عن أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رضي الله عنه ، قَالَ : قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ :
( مَنْ يَأْخُذُ عَنِّي هَؤُلاَءِ الكَلِمَاتِ فَيَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ أَوْ يُعَلِّمُ مَنْ يَعْمَلُ بِهِنَّ ؟ فَقَالَ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ : فَقُلْتُ : أَنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ !
فَأَخَذَ بِيَدِي فَعَدَّ خَمْسًا وَقَالَ :
اتَّقِ الْمَحَارِمَ تَكُنْ أَعْبَدَ النَّاسِ ، وَارْضَ بِمَا قَسَمَ اللَّهُ لَكَ تَكُنْ أَغْنَى النَّاسِ ، وَأَحْسِنْ إِلَى جَارِكَ تَكُنْ مُؤْمِنًا ، وَأَحِبَّ لِلنَّاسِ مَا تُحِبُّ لِنَفْسِكَ تَكُنْ مُسْلِمًا ، وَلاَ تُكْثِرِ الضَّحِكَ ، فَإِنَّ كَثْرَةَ الضَّحِكِ تُمِيتُ القَلْبَ ) .
رواه أحمد والترمذي والطبراني في الأوسط

Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshippers.
Be content with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people.
Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.
Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.
Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.
(Recorded by Ahmad and al-Tirmidhi)

“Keep away from prohibited things and you will be the best of worshippers.”

In such concise words, our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) taught us that worship is not only in bringing forth good deeds, but also in abstaining from the prohibited. Extra prayers, fasting and charity are praiseworthy, but inclusive in worship is to be able to place boundaries between yourself and that which is haram. This is of particular importance to those sins that we may have become desensitized to, and as a result are prone to falling into them regularly.

Yusuf, (alayhe asallam), was in a situation with the wife of Al-Aziz, where there were many reasons available for him to easily fall into the haram. Yet he proved to be among the “best of worshippers” when she invited him to the forbidden, and he proclaimed; “I seek refuge in Allah (or Allah forbid)!” (Yusuf 12:23). In fact, his ardent will to stay away from the prohibited led him to prefer the life of prison; “O my Lord! Prison is dearer to me than that to which they invite me. Unless You turn away their plot from me, I will feel inclined towards them and be one (of those who commit sin and deserve blame or those who do deeds) of the ignorant.” (Yusuf 12:33).

To establish our personal level of ubudiyyah (worship) to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala), we should turn to our situation in cases where a sin is of easy access to us. Are we able to give our wealth in charity, yet weak when the desire to lie or indulge in ill-talk arises? Or perhaps it is easy for a person to perfect their conduct, yet they have fallen into the desire of not paying heed to acquiring their wealth from only the purest and halal of sources? The examples are many, and each of us can relate, on a personal level, which of the haram actions we are prone to slipping into.

In a hadeeth narrated by Thawban, the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) warned against this when he described the situation of those who fall into the prohibited when they are far from the eyes of others. He (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said:

“I certainly know people of my ummah who will come on the Day of Resurrection with good deeds like the mountains of Tihaamah, but Allah will make them like scattered dust.” Thawbaan said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, describe them to us and tell us more, so that we will not become of them unknowingly.’ He said: “They are your brothers and from your race, worshipping at night as you do, but they will be people who, when they are alone, transgress the sacred limits of Allah.” (Ibn Majah).

The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) himself was the utmost example of protecting himself from the haram. Anas narrated that the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) passed a date fallen on the way and said, “Were I not afraid that it may be from a sadaqa (charitable gifts), I would have eaten it.” (Bukhari).

So while we undergo efforts to increase our good deeds, we should also pay heed to those evil deeds, whether they are actions of the heart, tongue or limbs, which bar us from reaching this status. This is particularly to those ones which come about in daily life, such as evil talk or letting our gazes roam. Let us become more aware of our actions and work on building a barrier that stands between us and Allah’s prohibitions, thus serving as a step in the path of earning this title of the “best of worshippers.”

“Be content with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people.”

This beautiful part of the hadeeth, if truly and sincerely applied, can relieve heavy burdens off the most slender of shoulders. How many times have we allowed ourselves to be overcome by worries whose main source was not being fully content with what Allah has granted us?

We have laid forth excuses and placed barriers to our achievements, many of which arise from not being content. We tell ourselves, “If I lived in such and such place, I would be able to do such and such. And if I had what so and so had, I would….” The list is endless. It is true that perhaps we did not always openly proclaim such sentences, but we know that at times they have at least crossed our mind and deceived us into believing that our state of failure to achieve is unchangeable.

Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And do not extend your eyes toward that by which We have given enjoyment to [some] categories of them, [its being but] the splendor of worldly life by which We test them. And the provision of your Lord is better and more enduring.” (Ta-ha 20:131).

In order to fulfill this command, we should remember that whatever Allah decrees for the believers is better for them, and this is only for the believers. We should also avoid looking towards those who have been given more than us in matters of this dunya and divert our attention to the state of those who have been given less; who are deprived of blessings that we forget in ourselves. Think of the poor laborer who is able to fall fast asleep in the middle of his busy workplace, and the wealthy businessman who is deprived of sleep in the softest of beds. Think particularly of those who have lost both; their dunya due to an unhappy life of misery and lost their akhira (Hereafter) due to being deprived of the blessing of Islam. You will surely feel that you are among the richest of creation. Our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,

“Successful is the one who has entered the fold of Islam and is provided with sustenance which is sufficient for his needs, and Allah makes him content with what He has bestowed upon him.” (Muslim).

Another aspect of contentment is keeping oneself from asking from others and avoiding being dependent on them. An example of such character is that of the Companions of the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam), who if they dropped their whip while mounted on their riding animal, would not ask someone to retrieve it for them, although it would have been easier. Rather they would dismount and pick it up themselves, because they did not want to be dependent on others.

The meaning of contentment is not to be stretched to the matters of the Hereafter, as it is only praiseworthy in application to matters of this world. As for increasing virtuous deeds, then ‘greed’ is more befitting since the Muslim should always be in search of more. Allah says, (interpretation of the meaning) “Race toward forgiveness from your Lord and a Garden whose width is like the width of the heavens and earth.” (Al-Hadeed 57:21).

Allah says, (interpretation of the meaning) “And your Lord creates what He wills and chooses; not for them was the choice.” (Al-Qasas 28:68). A man may be poor, yet healthy. Another may be wealthy, yet he wishes for good health more than wealth.  Be pleased with what Allah has given you, and you will be the richest of people. Through this principle, we are able to overcome Shaytaan’s technique of making us feel sorry for ourselves as well as purify our hearts of diseases, such as envy. Such a teaching is in fact a key to one’s very own gate to riches that even those with much gold and silver have not been able to unlock.

“Be good to your neighbor and you will be a true believer.”

After focusing on points pertaining to strengthening our own souls, the Prophet’s (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) third piece of advice relates to strengthening one’s belief through the fulfillment of the rights of those around us.  A wonderful opportunity is present everyday to try and strengthen our bond with our neighbors. It is one of the most virtuous of deeds; the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) said,

“Jibreel kept advising me of the rights of neighbors so much that I thought he would make them my heirs.” (Agreed upon).

Whether it is through a smile, a kind word or a simple gift, all of these kind actions have an effect on the hearts and are of the best forms of silent da’wah. The sign of the true mu’min is that he is good to his neighbors; perhaps it may be such a simple deed for some, but the reward is great.

“Love for other people what you love for yourself and you will be a (perfect) Muslim.”

This advice from the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) is repeated often in gatherings, lectures and articles. Although it may be easy to say, this much-needed characteristic that strengthens community bonds and raises our status as Muslims, actually requires effort in achieving. This is because we sometimes limit the application of this characteristic to our hearts only and do not extend it practically in our lives. So, if for example, we love that we have knowledge, we should love that others have access to this knowledge as well. If we love that our acts of worship are done in a correct manner, likewise should this love stretch forth so that we may teach those whose worship may be contrary to the Shari’ah while they know not. When you have knowledge that what they are doing is incorrect and would not like for yourself to be left in the darkness if you were in their place, try to gently correct them and teach them what is right. Passing on knowledge is one example; by reflecting and asking ourselves the question of ‘would I like this for myself?’ before many acts and words is a step in the path of applying this principle in everyday life.

An extraordinary example of putting this teaching into practice is that of some of our righteous predecessors. Ibrahim al-Nakha’ee (rahimahullah) was a’war al-‘ayn (blind in one eye), and his student Sulayman ibn Mihran suffered from weak eyesight (a’mash al-‘ayn). Ibn al-Jawzi related a story about them in his book Al-Muntathim that they were walking in the streets of Al-Kufah headed to the masjid.

As they were walking, Imam Al-Nakha’ee said, “Sulayman, can you take one road and I take another? For I fear that if we were to pass together by the foolish people, they would say, ‘A’war – one eyed – is leading an a’mash – bleary eyed- (through the road) and they would then have backbitten us and fallen into sins.”

So Sulayman replied, “O Abu ‘Imran! What is wrong then when we are rewarded while they are sinful?”

Ibrahim al-Nakha’ee replied, “SubhanaAllah! Bal naslam wa yaslamun! Rather, that we be safe (from their backbiting) and they be safe (of sin) is better than if we are rewarded and they are sinful!” (al-Muntathim fee Tareekh al Muluk wal Umam).

Their application of this principle reached heights that perhaps we never even thought it could reach. Such were the hearts that understood the meaning of the one who wished good for his people even after he died in the ayah (interpretation of the meaning); “It was said, “Enter Paradise.” He said, “I wish my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among the honored.” (Yaa-Seen 36:26,27)

“Do not laugh too much, for excessive laughter deadens the heart.”

For every believer who wishes to keep the heart alive with faith, the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) taught in the final advice of this hadeeth that excessive laughter is a cause for a dead heart. Let no believer assume that this implies he or she must wear a frown in order to keep the heart alive with faith, for the Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) had the most cheerful countenance and taught us that to smile was a rewarded act of sadaqa.

Hence, if we are among those who have trouble keeping a cheerful face, this is not an opportunity to prove the virtue of such an expression, rather it is a chance to rethink and realize that while excessive laughter is denounced, a smile is praised and written as a good deed. Such a simple change in expression, will surely lead us to see notable change in our hearts towards others and in their character towards us.

The Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) used to make his Companions laugh and his Companions would make him laugh. But he taught us not to be excessive in laughter for it will cause a dead heart and dry eyes. Let us not be among those who only keep the company of those who make us laugh and find anyone else “boring.” Or those who only attend lectures of those who have the highest sense of humor. Or those who read only that which makes them laugh and watch only those programs that make them laugh. Rather, even in laughter, our religion teaches moderation. It is possible to forget this, and that is why our Prophet (sallaAllahu alayhe wasallam) did not forget to remind us; so that we may pay attention to the weight laughter carries in our everyday lives.

Such concise words, amounting to the fingers of one hand, yet beautiful in meaning and  comprehensive in application. With the same enthusiasm of Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with Him, who took upon himself the task of taking care of them until they reached us, let us work on remembering them, applying them and letting them affect our lives. Perhaps now, you will look at your fingers and view them from a different perspective, as you count on them 5 steps towards a more noble life.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

نحمده ونصلى على رسوله الكريم

A Learning Society: Issues and Challenges to Learners, Educators and Planners – an Islamic Perspective

Muhammad `Uthman El-Muhammady

[this article was first published in our previous website at Geocities in September 2004]

This paper- God willing- will argue for the successful implementation of a knowledge and learning society and also life of quality in the holistic sense and not only in certain aspects of both, because Islam as a tauhidic  ‘weltanschauung’ stands for the realization of total human needs, seeing man in terms of, firstly his theomorphism, and then secondly  his social , collective and civilizational needs.

Firstly we should be clear about  our understanding of the notion of knowledge society as it is understood in current cultural discourse. What is “knowledge society”?

As an example concerning one part of the Muslim World, in a recent report about developing ‘a knowledge society’  in the Arab world, it is stated in the Arab Human development report 2003: building knowledge society 2003

[means that] the Arab states should also encourage greater interaction with other nations, cultures and regions of the world, [urging] “[o]penness, interaction, assimilation, absorption, revision, criticism and examination cannot but prompt creative knowledge  production in Arab societies.[this report done ] by a group of distinguished Arab scholars and opinion leaders, is at once descriptive and perspective, with bold recommendations for change and analysis of the current state of education, scientific research, the media, the publishing industry, culture encompassing religion, intellectual heritage and the Arabic language, and other building blocks of a “knowledge society” in the Arab states.

It is observed that The Arab Human Development report 2003 (AHDR2003 ) which is the second of a planned four-part series which will also cover the issues of freedoms and political institutions, and gender imbalance and the empowerment of women in the 22 Arab states. The first Report (AHDR 2002 ), issued a year ago, outlined the most important development challenges facing the Arab states at the beginning of the third Millennium. The Egyptian renowned journalist Muhammad Hassanain Haikal said AHDR 2002 signaled the region’s “last chance to join the trip to the future.”(2)

There are a number of important points in the report touching upon “information society”.

The report is observed as: “Written into every line is the unwavering conviction that reform efforts, which genuinely serve the region’s interests must be initiated and launched from within.” Yet the construction of a viable “knowledge society” requires effective economic, social and political institutions, Khalaf emphasizing “The missing links are.. smothered by ideologies, societal structures and values that inhabit critical thinking, cut Arabs off from their knowledge rich heritage and block the free flow of ideas and learning”

It goes on to describe it: ” The report proposes a strategic vision that could support a creative renaissance buttressed by the “five pillars” of an Arab Knowledge society guaranteeing the key freedoms of opinion, and assembly through good governance bounded by the law.” A climate of freedom is an essential prerequisite of the knowledge society,” affirms the report and argues that “It is also imperative to end an era of administrative control and the grip of security agencies over the production and dissemination of knowledge and the various forms of creative activity that are the foundations for the knowledge society in Arab states.”(3)

In one international; conference last year (2003) dealing with the topic of engineering ‘knowledge society’ the organizers noted that:

«Engineering the Knowledge Society» (EKS)[involve] «Information technology supporting human development» Information Technology (or Information and Communication Technology) cannot be seen as a separate entity. Its application should support human development and this application has to be engineered.

What has to be taken into account when engineering the Knowledge Society? The Conference will address:

Lifelong Learning and education, e-inclusion, ethics and social impact, engineering profession, developing e-society, economy and e-Society.

o       What actions have to be undertaken to realize a human centered Knowledge Society? The presentations in this World Summit parallel event will reflect the active stance towards human development supported by ICT expressed in its title. A Round Table session will provide concrete proposals for action.(4)

In the Forum on «Engineering the Knowledge Society»  the topics covered are:

o       Education

Lifelong Learning in the Knowledge Society

Collective intelligence and Capacity building in the Information Society – Social Engineering of the Knowledge Society

  • The e-Society Repository: An Open Tool to Build a Human Information Society
  • Preserving Information – Orality, Writing and Memory in a Human Society
  • Towards an indigenous Vision for the Information Society
  • Vulnerabilities of Information Technologies and their impact on the Information Society
  • Professional Deontology [i.e.theory on duties], self regulation and Ethics in the Information Society
  • Development in the Field Software Engineering Professionalism, standards and Best Practice
  • The Role of Professional Society in the Information Age
  • Managing ICT Skills Profiles
  • Enabling ICT Adoption in Developing e-Societies
  • Sustainable Development and Information Society (From Rio to Geneva
  • Impact of Future Technology on Society
  • Telemedicine for medical Capacity Building in Developing Countries:Experiences and Lessons Learned in Mali
  • Understanding and interpreting the Drivers of the Knowledge Economy
  • Networked Economy – Effects on organizational Development and the Role of Education
  • Beyond Information Society: the Revolution of non-tangible Assets Social Engineering of the Internet in Developing Areas

Recently it is observed, in relation to the term: “knowledge society” or “information society” or whatever; it is stated that:

“We in Western Europe can probably agree that we have left the industrial society. What, then, have we entered instead? Information society, service society or knowledge society are, I guess, the most commonly used designations for the stage we currently are in. What designation we think is right very likely depends on where we are.”(5)

And, further, it is observed :

“Journalists would say information society; McDonald’s would say service society. “Where you stand depends on where you sit,” as the British are fond of saying. It is a question of what you value the most, for none of them – information, service or knowledge – are anything new. They have always existed and will probably always exist; but other phenomena – agriculture, industry – have tended to dominate the interpretation of reality.”


“Hence it is not so much a matter of objective truth as of what interpretation is the most fulfilling when we have to choose the designation for the current conditions. Knowledge society can be a very suitable designation for most societies in Western Europe. It is naturally a matter of definition when a society has become a knowledge society. The easiest criterion is perhaps the price per pound of a nation’s export. The higher it is, the more knowledge there is in the product.”

It is also stated : “Calling Western Europe a knowledge society the fact that we don’t want to compete with the 3rd world – at least not on the 3rd world’s premises – and it assumes an increasing amount of knowledge in the products. We don’t even have to go very far. If there are to be room for the new EU members, we must necessarily ‘escape’ into a higher knowledge content in our products”. (6)

The we come to the question of what is “a learning society”?  It is seen in a number of perspectives. Among others it is seen as: Notions of the learning society gained considerable currency in policy debates in a number of countries since the appearance of Learning to Be:

If learning involves all of one’s life, in the sense of both time-span and diversity, and all of society, including its social and economic as well as its educational resources, then we must go even further than the necessary overhaul of ‘educational systems’ until we reach the stage of a learning society. (Faure et al 1972: xxxiii)

The notion has subsequently been wrapped up with the emergence of so called ‘post-industrial’ or ‘post-Fordist’ societies and linked to other notions such as lifelong learning and ‘the learning organization’ (see, in particular, the seminal work or Argyris and Schon 1978). It is an extra-ordinarily elastic term that provides politicians and policymakers with something that can seem profound, but on close inspection is largely vacuous. All societies need to be charactized by learning or else they will die!( in ” the theory and rhetoric of the learning society” in )

The writer Donald Schon concerning what is called  the loss of the stable state stated his views in his work  providing an early view on the matter, defining it, giving his contribution  (1963, 1967, 1973). He provided a theoretical framework linking the experience of living in a situation of an increasing change with the need for learning.

“The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in continuous processes of transformation. We cannot expect new stable states that will endure for our own lifetimes.

“We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations. We must make the capacity for undertaking them integral to ourselves and to our institutions.

“We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are ‘learning systems’, that is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation. (Schon 1973: 28)

One of his  innovations was to explore the extent to which companies, social movements and governments were learning systems – and how those systems could be enhanced. He suggests that the movement toward learning systems is, of necessity, ‘a groping and inductive process for which there is no adequate theoretical basis’ (ibid.: 57). The business firm, according to Donald Schon’s argument , was a striking example of a learning system. He charted how firms moved from being organized around products toward integration around ‘business systems’ (ibid.: 64). He made the case that many companies no longer have a stable base in the technologies of particular products or the systems build around them.

Then he  went on with Chris Argyris to develop a number of important concepts with regard to organizational learning. Of particular importance for later developments was their interest in feedback and single- and double-loop learning.

However, as Griffin and Brownhill (2001) have pointed out three other earlier conceptions of the learning society also repay attention.

Another writer to be noted  is Robert M. Hutchins writing on  the learning society. Hutchins, in a book first published in 1968, argued that a ‘learning society’ had become necessary. Education systems were no longer able to respond to the demands made upon them. Instead it was necessary to look toward the idea that learning was at the heart of change. ‘The two essential facts are… the increasing proportion of free time and the rapidity of change. The latter requires continuous education; the former makes it possible (1970: 130). He looked to ancient Athens for a model. There:

education was not a segregated activity, conducted for certain hours, in certain places, at a certain time of life. It was the aim of the society. The city educated the man. The Athenian was educated by culture, by paideia. (Hutchins 1970: 133)

Slavery made this possible – releasing citizens to participate in the life of the city. Hutchins’ argument was that ‘machines can do for modern man what slavery did for the fortunate few in Athens’ (op. cit.).

To the writer of this present paper, in the perspective of the Islamic tradition we can see the madinan prophetic model as representing every  clear example of this module of education not being a segregated activity but rather integrated into the very rhythm of life, and then further making it sacred as struggle in the path of Allah, and those who die in its path they die as martyrs in the path of Allah. (See the Chapter on Book of Knowledge of Ihya of al-Ghazali rd).

Torsten Husén, technology and the learning society. Torsten Husén argued that it would be necessary for states to become ‘learning societies’ – where knowledge and information lay at the heart of their activities.( ibid)

In relation to this concept of the “learning society” there is also the phenomenon of what is called  ‘knowledge explosion’. It is stated that ;”Among all the ‘explosions’ that have come into use as labels to describe rapidly changing Western society, the term ‘knowledge explosion’ is one of the most appropriate. Reference is often made to the ‘knowledge industry’, meaning both the producers of knowledge, such as research institutes, and its distributors, e.g. schools, mass media, book publishers, libraries and so on. What we have been witnessing since the mid-1960s in the field of distribution technology may well have begun to revolutionize the communication of knowledge within another ten years of so. (Husén 1974: 239)(ibid).

We can observe that Husén’s approach was futurological (where Hutchins was essentially based on classical humanism). The organizing principles of Husén’s vision of a relevant educational system have been summarized by Stewart Ranson (1998) and included:

Education as something becoming a lifelong process.

The big issue is that education will not have any fixed points of entry and ‘cut-off’ exits. It will become a more continuous process within formal education and in its role within other functions of human life.

It  will take on a more informal character as it becomes accessible to more and more individuals. In addition to ‘learning centers’, facilities will be provided for learning at home and at the workplace, for example by the provision of computer terminals apart from the conventional media available in the society.

In this new scenario formal education will become more meaningful and relevant in its application in life and work.

It is stated ‘[t]o an ever-increasing extent, the education system will become dependent on large supporting organizations or supporting systems… to produce teaching aids, systems of information processing and multi-media instructional materials’ (Husén 1974: 198-9)

Husén’s vision was based ‘upon projections from current trends in communications technology and the likely consequences of these for knowledge, information and production’ (Griffin and Brownhill 2001: 58. Significantly, these predictions have largely come true.(ibid)

Roger Boshier, adult education and the learning society. Boshier argued for an integrated model of education that allowed for participation throughout a person’s lifetime. Influenced by more radical and democratic writers like Freire, Illich and Goodman, and his appreciation of economic and social change, Boshier looked to the democratic possibilities of a learning society.

When we turn to current explorations of the learning society it is possible to discern the various strands developed by these writers: technological, cultural and democratic. (The philosophical underpinning of these models is discussed by Griffin and Brownhill 2001). However, it is the technological that appears to have become dominant in many policy documents.

There are a number of salient points which can be taken into consideration about the current models of the learning society. Among these points are (ibid):

The learning society can be seen  as an aspiration and as a description It is seen as something that is necessary if states and regions are to remain competitive within an increasingly globalized economy.
It may be sought after as a means of improving individual and communal well-being.-with  three key strands in  discourses around the notion of a learning society in which there is a shift from a focus on the provision of learning opportunities to one on learning.
The first is portrayed as a product of modernism,
the third as exhibiting a typically post-modern orientation.
The second strand, with its emphasis on markets, economic imperatives and individual achievement, has been argued as something which  currently dominates the scenario.
an educated society, committed to active citizenship, liberal democracy and equal opportunities.
supports lifelong learning within the social policy frameworks of post-Second World War social democracies. The aim is to provide learning opportunities to educate adults to meet the challenges of change and citizenship. This has happened in Europe.
A learning society is a learning market, enabling institutions to provide services for individuals as a condition for supporting the competitiveness of the economy.
This supports lifelong learning within the economic policy framework should be adopted by  governments
The aim being a market in learning opportunities to be developed to meet the demands of individuals and employers for the updating of skills and competences.
Support for this conception has to come also from employers’ bodies and modernizing policy think-tanks  in response to economic uncertainty. The usefulness or performativity of education and training becomes a guiding criterion.
learning society is one in which learners adopt a learning approach to life, drawing on a wide range of resources to enable them to support their lifestyle practices. This supports lifelong learning as a condition of individuals in the contemporary period to which policy needs to respond. This conception of a learning society formulates the latter as a series of overlapping learning networks…  and is implicit to much of the writing on post-modernity with its emphasis on the contingent, the ephemeral and heterogeneity.
It can be  argued that the  learning society idea can provide us with a helpful way of making sense of the shifts required in the context of the profound changes associated with globalization and other dynamics of social and economic change of the present scenario in human affairs.(ibid).

The above features concerning a learning society are in harmony with the Islam ideal and tradition, and they provide opportunities as well as challenges –whichever way we look at them- to learners, educators, and polici makers.

In the talk entitled : “Knowledge Work and Knowledge Society The Social Transformations of this Century” Peter F. Drucker, with whose important name  this term ‘knowledge society” is closely linked, on May 4, 1994(7) made a number of important observations.

In talking about the emergence of the “knowledge workers”, and hence from the “the knowledge society”, Peter Drucker observes:

“These are unprecedented developments, profoundly affecting social structure, community, government, economics and politics. What is even more astonishing and even less precedented is the rise of the group which is fast replacing both history’s traditional groups and the groups of industrial society; the group which is fast becoming the center of gravity of the working population; the group, incidentally, which is fast becoming the largest single group (though by no means a majority) in the work force and population of post-industrial society and in every developed country: knowledge workers.

Concerning the emergence of ‘knowledge society’ he says:

“Knowledge workers, even though only a large minority of the work force, already give the emerging knowledge society its character, its leadership, its central challenges and its social profile. They may not be the ruling class of the knowledge society, but they already are its leading class. In their characteristics, their social positions, their values and their expectations, they differ fundamentally from any group in history that has ever occupied the leading, let along the dominant position.

“In the first place, the knowledge worker gains access to  work, job and social position through formal education.

[In stressing the importance of formal education for access to work and social position he states]“A great deal of knowledge work will require high manual skill and substantial work with one’s hands. An extreme example is the neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon’s performance capacity rests on formal education and theoretical knowledge. Absence of manual skill disqualifies one for work as a neurosurgeon. Manual skill alone, no matter how advanced, will never enable anyone to be a neurosurgeon. The formal education that is required for knowledge work is education that can only be acquired in and through formal schooling. It cannot be acquired through apprenticeship.

He continues speaking in the same vein about the strong points of such a society with the necessary preparations in knowledge and the infrastructure: first implication of this is that education will become the center of the knowledge society and schooling its key institution. What knowledge mix is required for everyone? What is quality in learning and teaching? All these will, of necessity, become central concerns of the knowledge society and central political issues. In fact, it may not be too fanciful to anticipate that the acquisition and distribution of formal knowledge will come to occupy the place in the politics of the knowledge society which acquisition and distribution of property and income have occupied in the two or three centuries which we have come to call the Age of Capitalism.

He goes on giving his observations on this issue:

“Paradoxically, this may not necessarily mean that the school as we know it will become more important. For, in the knowledge society, clearly more and more of knowledge, and especially of advanced knowledge, will be acquired well past the age of formal schooling, and increasingly, perhaps, in and through educational processes which do not center on the traditional school, e.g. systematic continuing education offered at the place of employment. But, at the same time, there is very little doubt that the performance of the schools and the basic values of the schools will increasingly become of concern to society as a whole, rather than be considered professional matters that can be left to the educator.

And then concerning the image and character of the educated person in the “knowledge society” he observes:”We can also predict with high probability that we will redefine what it means to be an educated person. Traditionally and especially during the last two hundred years at least in the West (and since about that time in Japan as well) an educated person was someone who shared a common stock of formal knowledge what the Germans called Allgemeine Bildung and the English ( and following them, the nineteenth- century Americans) called the liberal arts. Increasingly, an educated person, will be someone who has learned how to learn, and throughout his or her lifetime continues to learn, especially in and out of formal education.

And concerning the dangers in the concept of the educated person as previously understood he observes: “There are obvious dangers to this. Society can easily degenerate into one in which the emphasis is on formal degrees rather than on performance capacity. It can easily degenerate into one of totally sterile, Confucian-type Mandarins a danger to which the American university, particularly, is singularly susceptible. It can, on the other hand, also fall prey to overvaluing immediately usable, practical knowledge, and underrate the importance of fundamentals and of wisdom altogether.

And considering the possible danger of new class conflict in the new scenario he states: “This society, in which knowledge workers dominate, is in danger of a new class conflict: the conflict between the large minority of knowledge workers and the majority of people who will make their living through traditional ways, either by manual work, whether skilled or unskilled, or by services work, whether skilled or unskilled. The productivity of knowledge work still abysmally low will predictably become the economic challenge of the knowledge society. On it will depend the competitive position of every country, industry and institution within society. The productivity of the non- knowledge services worker will increasingly become the social challenge to the knowledge society. On it will depend the ability of the knowledge society to give decent incomes and with them dignity and status to non-knowledge people.

He observes that  in the past no earlier society  faced such challenges as mentioned above.

Concerning the new opportunities in the new society open to all , he states:”Equally new are the opportunities of the knowledge society. In the knowledge society, for the first time in history, access to leadership is open to all.

“Equally, access to the acquisition of knowledge will no longer be dependent on obtaining a prescribed education at any given age. Learning will become the tool of the individual available to him or her at any age if only because so much of skill and knowledge can be acquired by means of the new learning technologies.

And further:

“Another implication is that the performance of an individual, an organization, an industry or a country in acquiring and applying knowledge will increasingly become the key competitive factor for career and earnings opportunities of individuals; for the performance, if not the survival of the individual organization; or of an industry, and for a country. The knowledge society will inevitably become far more competitive than any society we have yet known for the simple reason that with knowledge being universally accessible there are no excuses for nonperformance. There will be no poor countries. There will only be ignorant countries.

He continues giving his observations on the new developed society with the challenges and opportunities as follows:

“The same will be true for individual companies, individual industries, and individual organizations of any kind. It will be true for the individual, too. In fact, developed societies have already become infinitely more competitive for the individual than were the societies of the early twentieth century let alone earlier societies, those of the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries. Then most people had no opportunity to rise out of the class into which they were born, with most individuals following their fathers in their work and in their station in life.

He would like too use the term ‘knowledges’ for the new phenomenon in this new development in human culture. He says:“I have been speaking of knowledge. But the proper term is knowledges. For the knowledge of the knowledge society is fundamentally different from what was considered knowledge in earlier societies, and, in fact, from what is still widely considered knowledge. The knowledge of the German Allgemeine Bildung or of the Anglo-American liberal arts had little to do with one s life work. It focused on the person and the person s development, rather than on any application both nineteenth-century Allgemeine Bildung and liberal arts prided themselves on having no utility whatsoever. In the knowledge society, knowledge basically exists only in application.

And arguing for the new form of knowledge in terms of application, he observes:”Knowledge in application is, by definition, highly specialized which was why Plato s Socrates some 2500 years ago, refused to accept it as knowledge and considered it mere techne, that is, mere skill.

And concerning some knowledge requiring a limited amount of knowledge compared to others, he observes:

“Some knowledge work requires a fairly limited amount of knowledge examples are some paramedical technologists, the X-ray technologist, the technologist in the clinical laboratory, or the pulmonary technologist. Other knowledge work requires far more advanced theoretical knowledge, e.g., most of the knowledge work required in business, whether in market research; in product planning; in designing manufacturing systems; in advertising and promotion; in purchasing. In some areas the knowledge base is vast indeed, as in neurosurgery and in a good many areas of management, e.g., managing a major hospital, a big and complex university, or a multinational enterprise.

“Whatever the base, knowledge in application is specialized. It is always specific, and therefore not applicable to anything else. Nothing the X-ray technician needs to know can be applied to market research, for instance, or to teaching medieval history.

Concerning the central work-force in  the knowledge society, he observes:

“The central work force in the knowledge society will, therefore, consist of highly specialized people. In fact, it is a mistake to speak of generalists. What we mean by that term, increasingly, will be people who have learned how to acquire additional specialties, and especially to acquire rapidly the specialized knowledge needed for them to move from one kind of work and job to another, e.g., from being a market researcher into general management, or from being a nurse in a hospital into hospital administration. But generalists in the sense in which we used to talk of them are becoming dilettantes rather than educated people.

“This too is new. Historically, workers were generalists. They did whatever had to be done on the farm, in the household and in the craftsman s shop. This was true of the industrial worker as well. Manufacturing industry only expanded and became dominant when it learned to take the specialized skill out of the work. This was when it converted the skilled craftsmen of preindustrial times into the semiskilled or unskilled machine operator of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Concerning knowledge workers as specialists, he states:

“But knowledge workers, whether their knowledge be primitive or advanced, whether there be a little of it or a great deal, will, by definition, be specialized. Knowledge in application is effective only when it is specialized. Indeed, it is more effective the more highly specialized it is. This goes for the technicians, e.g., the person who services a computer, an X-ray machine or the engine of a fighter plan.1 But it equally applies to work that requires the most advanced knowledge, whether research into genetics or astrophysics or putting on the first performance of a new opera.

“As said before: the shift from knowledge to knowledges offers tremendous opportunities to the individual. It makes possible a career as a knowledge worker. But it equally presents a great many new problems and challenges. It demands for the first time in history that people with knowledge take responsibility for making themselves understood by people who do not have the same knowledge base. It requires that people learn and preferably early how to assimilate into their own work specialized knowledges from other areas and other disciplines.

“This is particularly important as innovation in any one knowledge area tends to originate outside the area itself. This is true in respect to products and processes where, in sharp contrast to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, innovations now tend to arise outside the industry or process itself. It is true just as much in scientific knowledge and in scholarship. The new approaches to the study of history have, for instance, come out of economics, psychology and archeology all disciplines that historians never considered relevant to their field and to which they had rarely before been exposed.


Concerning this he observes:”That the knowledge in the knowledge society has to be highly specialized to be productive implies two new requirements: 1. knowledge workers work in teams; and 2. knowledge workers have to have access to an organization which, in most cases, means that knowledge workers have to be employees of an organization.

“There is a great deal of talk these days about teams and team work. Most of it starts out with the wrong assumption, namely, that we never before worked in teams. Actually, people have always worked in teams very few people ever could work effectively by themselves. The farmer had to have a wife, and the farm wife had to have a husband. The two worked as a team. Both worked as a team with their employees, the hired hands. The craftsman also had to have a wife, with whom he worked as a team he took care of the craft work, she took care of the customers and the business altogether. Both worked as a team with the journeymen and apprentices. The present discussion also assumes that there is only one kind of team. Actually there are quite a few.2 But until now the emphasis has been on the individual worker and not on the team. With knowledge work being the more effective the more specialized it is, teams become the actual work unit rather than the individual himself.

Concerning the importance of team-work in the new society and the importance of new kinds of teams for various kinds of work he states: “The team that is being touted now as the team I call it the jazz combo team is only one kind of team. It is actually the most difficult kind of team, and the team that requires the longest time to gain performance capacity.

“We will have to learn to use different kinds of teams for different purposes. We will have to learn to understand teams and this is something to which, so far, very little attention has been paid. The understanding of teams, the performance capacities of different kinds of teams; their strengths; their limitations; the trade-offs between various kinds of teams, thus, increasingly, will become central concerns in the performance of people.

And in this new scenario the individual knowledge worker has got to learn the capability to be able to switch over to new kinds of teams :“The individual knowledge worker will also have to learn something that today practically no one has learned: how to switch from one kind of team to another; how to integrate one s self into a team; what to expect of a team; and, in turn, what to contribute to a team.

“The ability to diagnose what kind of team a certain kind of knowledge work requires for full effectiveness, and the ability, then, to organize such a team and integrate oneself into it, will increasingly become a requirement for effectiveness as a knowledge worker. So far, it is not taught or learned anywhere (except in a few research labs). So far, very few executives in any kind of organization even realize that it is their job, to a large extent, to decide what kind of team is needed for a given job, how to organize it and how to make it effective. We are now in the very early stages of work on teams, their characteristics, their specifications, their performance characteristics and their appraisal.

“Equally important is the second implication of the fact that knowledge workers are, of necessity, specialists: the need for them to work as members of an organization. It is only the organization that can provide the basic continuity which knowledge workers need to be effective. It is only the organization that can convert the specialized knowledge of the knowledge worker into performance.

“By itself, specialized knowledge yields no performance. The surgeon is not effective unless there is a diagnosis, which, by and large, is not the surgeon s task and not even within the surgeon s competence. Market researchers, by themselves, produce only data. To convert the data into information, let alone to make them effective in knowledge action, requires marketing people, sales people, production people and service people. As a loner in research and writing, the historian can be very effective. However, to produce the education of students, a great many other specialists have to contribute people whose specialty may be literature, mathematics or other areas of history. This requires the specialist to have access to an organization.

“This access may be as a consultant. It may be as a provider of specialized services. For the overwhelming majority of knowledge workers it will be as employees of an organization full-time or part-time whether it be a government agency, a hospital, a university, a business, a labor union or hundreds of other types of organizations. In the knowledge society, it is not the individual who performs. The individual is a cost center rather than a performance center. It is the organization that performs. The individual physician may have a great deal of knowledge. But the physician is impotent without the knowledge provided by a host of other scientific disciplines, i.e., physics, chemistry, genetics, etc. The physician cannot function without the test results produced by a host of diagnosticians that run the imaging machines whether X-ray or ultrasound, making and interpreting blood tests, administering brain scans, etc. The hospital is the lifeline to the physician. It administers the services to critically ill patients, and provides the physical and/or psychiatric rehabilitation without which there would be no full recovery. To provide any of these services, whether the electrocardiogram, the analysis of the blood samples, the magnetic resonance imaging or the exercises of the physical therapist, physicians need access to the organization of the hospital, that is, to a highly structured enterprise, organized to operate in perpetuity.

Then concerning what he calls the ‘employee society’ he observes:

“The knowledge society is an employee society. Traditional society, or, society before the rise of the manufacturing enterprise and the blue-collar manufacturing worker, was not a society of independents. Thomas Jefferson s society of independent, small farmers each being the owner of his own family farm and farming it without any help except that of his wife and his children, was never much more than a fantasy. Most people in history were dependents. But they did not work for an organization. They were working for an owner, as slaves, as serfs, as hired hands on the farm; as journeymen and apprentices in the craftsmen s shops; as shop assistants and salespeople for a merchant; as domestic servants, free or unfree, and so on. They worked for a master. When blue-collar work in manufacturing first arose they still worked for a master.

“In Dickens s great 1854 novel of a bitter labor conflict in a cotton mill (Hard Times), the workers worked for an owner. They did not work for the factory. Only late in the nineteenth century did the factory rather than the owner become the employer. And only in the twentieth century did the corporation, rather than the factory, then become the employer. Only in this century has the master been replaced by a boss, who, himself, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, is an employee and has a boss himself.

“Knowledge workers will be both employees who have a boss, and bosses who have employees. Organizations were not known to yesterday s social science, and are, by and large, not yet known to today s social science. The great German sociologist, Ferdinand Toennies (1855-1936), in his 1888 book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society) classified the known forms of human organization as being either community, which is organic, and fate, or society, which is a structure and very largely under social control. He never talked of organization. Nor did any of the other sociologists of the nineteenth or early twentieth century. But organization is neither community nor society, although it partakes of some characteristics of each. It is not fate. Membership in an organization is always freely chosen. One joins a company or a government agency or the teaching staff of a university. One is not born into it. And one can always leave one could only emigrate from traditional communities. It is not society, either, especially as it does not embrace the totality of its members. The director of market research in a company is also a member of half a dozen other organizations. She may belong to a church, to a tennis club, and may well spend especially if an American five hours a week as a volunteer for a local nonprofit organization, e.g., as a leader of a Girl Scout troop. Organizations, in other words, are not true collectives. They are tools, i.e., means to an end.

“There have been earlier organizations. The professional military as it arose after the seventeenth century was an organization; it was neither a society nor a community. The modern university, as it emerged after the foundation of the University of Berlin in 1809, was an organization.

“Faculty members freely joined and could always leave. The same can be said for the Civil Service as it arose in the eighteenth century, first in France, then on the European continent, and finally in late nineteenth century in Great Britain and Meiji, Japan (though not until 1933 or World War II in the United States). But these earlier organizations were still seen as exceptions. The first organization in the modern sense, the first that was seen as being prototypical rather than exceptional, was surely the modern business enterprise as it emerged after 1870 which is the reason why, to this day, most people think of management, that is of the organi-zation s specific organ, as being business management.

With the appearance of the knowledge society and the society becoming a society of organizations he observes:“With the emergence of the knowledge society, society has become a society of organizations. Most of us work in and for an organization, and we are dependent for our effectiveness and equally for our living on access to an organization whether as an organization s employee or as a provider of services to an organization, as a lawyer, for instance, or a freight forwarder. More and more of these supporting services to organizations are, themselves, organized as organizations. The first law firm was organized in the U.S. a little over a century ago until then lawyers practiced as individuals. In Europe there were no law firms to speak of until after World War II. Today, the practice of law is increasingly done in larger and larger partnerships. It is also true, especially in the U.S., of the practice of medicine. The knowledge society is a society of organizations in which practically every single task is being performed in and through an organization.

Concerning the question what is an employee, he  remarks as follows:

“Most knowledge workers will spend most if not all of their working life as employees. The meaning of the term is different from what it has been, traditionally and not only in English but in German, Spanish, or Japanese as well.

“Individually, knowledge workers are dependent on the job. They receive a wage or salary. They are being hired and can be fired. Legally, each is an employee, but, collectively, they are the only capitalists. Increasingly, through their pension funds and through their other savings (e.g., in the U.S. through mutual funds), the employees own the means of production. In traditional economics and by no means only in Marxist economics there is a sharp distinction between the wage fund all of which goes into consumption and the capital fund. Most social theory of industrial society is based, one way or another, on the relationship between the two, whether in conflict or in necessary and beneficial cooperation and balance. In the knowledge society, the two merge. The pension fund is deferred wage and, as such, a wage fund. It is also increasingly the main source of capital, if not the only source of capital, for the knowledge society.

“Equally important, perhaps more important: in the knowledge society the employees, that is knowledge workers, again own the tools of production. Marx s great insight was the realization that the factory worker does not and cannot own the tools of production and therefore has to be alienated. There was no way, Marx pointed out, for the worker to own the steam engine and to be able to take the steam engine with himself when moving from one job to another. The capitalist had to own the steam engine and had to control it. Increasingly, the true investment in the knowledge society is not in machines and tools. It is in the knowledge of the knowledge worker. Without it, the machines, no matter how advanced and sophisticated, are unproductive.

“The market researcher needs a computer. But increasingly this is the researcher s own personal computer, and a cheap tool the market researcher takes along wherever he or she goes. And the true capital equipment of market research is the knowledge of markets, of statistics, and of the application of market research to business strategy, which is lodged between the researchers ears and is their exclusive and inalienable property. The surgeon needs the operating room of the hospital and all of its expensive capital equipment. But the surgeon s true capital investment is the twelve or fifteen years of training and the resulting knowledge which the surgeon takes from one hospital to the next. Without that knowledge, the hospital s expensive operating rooms are so much waste and scrap.

“This is true whether the knowledge worker commands advanced knowledge like the surgeon, or simple and fairly elementary knowledge like the junior accountant. In either case, it is the knowledge investment that determines whether the employee is productive or not, rather than the tools, machines and capital the organization furnishes. The industrial worker needed the capitalist infinitely more than the capitalist needed the industrial worker the basis for Marx s assertion that there would always be a surplus of industrial workers, and an industrial reserve army which would make sure that wages could not possibly rise above the subsistence level (probably Marx s most egregious error). In the knowledge society the most probable assumption and certainly the assumption on which all organizations have to conduct their affairs is that they need the knowledge worker far more than the knowledge worker needs them. It is the organization s job to market its knowledge jobs so as to obtain knowledge workers in adequate quantity and superior quality. The relationship increasingly is one of interdependence, with the knowledge worker having to learn what the organization needs, but with the organization also having to learn what the knowledge workers needs, requires and expects.

“Because its work is based on knowledge, the knowledge organization is altogether not one of superiors and subordinates.

Using the symphony orchestra as the prototype for the new situation, he remarks:“The prototype is the symphony orchestra. The first violin may be the most important in the orchestra. But the first violinist is not the superior of the harp player. He is a colleague. The harp part is the harp player s part and not delegated to her by either the conductor or the first violinist.

“There was endless debate in the Middle Ages about the hierarchy of knowledges, with philosophy claiming to be the queen of knowledges. We long ago gave up that moot argument. There is no higher knowledge and no lower knowledge. When the patient s complaint is an ingrown toenail the podiatrist s knowledge controls, and not that of the brain surgeon even though the brain surgeon represents many more years of training and gets a much larger fee. Conversely, if an executive is posted to a foreign country, the knowledge he or she needs, and in a hurry, is the fairly low skill of acquiring fluency in a foreign language something every native of that country has mastered by age two without any great investment. The knowledge of the knowledge society, precisely because it is knowledge only when applied in action, derives its rank and standing from the situation and not from its knowledge content. What is knowledge, in other words, in one situation, e.g., the knowledge of Korean for the American executive posted to Seoul, is only information, and not very relevant information at that, when the same executive a few years later has to think through his company s market strategy for Korea. This, too, is new. Knowledges were always seen as fixed stars, so to speak, each occupying its own position in the universe of knowledge. In the knowledge society, knowledges are tools and, as such, dependent for their importance and position on the task to be performed.

“One final conclusion: Because the knowledge society perforce has to be a society of organizations, its central and distinctive organ is management.

“When we first began to talk of management, the term meant business management for large-scale business was the first of the new organizations to become visible. But we have learned in this last half-century that management is the distinctive organ of all organizations. All of them require management whether they use the term or not. All managers do the same things whatever the business of their organization. All of them have to bring people each of them possessing a different knowledge together for joint performance. All of them have to make human strengths productive in performance and human weaknesses irrelevant.

“All of them have to think through what are results in the organization and all of them have to define objectives. All of them are responsible to think through what I call the theory of the business, that is, the assumptions on which the organization bases its performance and actions, and equally, the assumptions on which organizations decide what things not to do.

“All of them require an organ that thinks through strategies, that is, the means through which the goals of the organization become performance. All of them have to define the values of the organization, its system of rewards and punishments, and its spirit and its culture. In all of them, managers need both the knowledge of management as work and discipline, and the knowledge and understanding of the organization itself, its purposes, its values, its environment and markets, its core competencies.

“Management as a practice is very old. The most successful executive in all history was surely that Egyptian who, 4,000 years or more ago, first conceived the pyramid without any precedent designed and built it, and did so in record time. Unlike any other work of man, that first pyramid still stands. But as a discipline, management is barely fifty years old. It was first dimly perceived around the time of World War I. It did not emerge until World War II, and then primarily in the United States. Since then, it has been the fastest growing new function, and its study the fastest growing new discipline. No function in history has emerged as fast as management and managers have done so in the last fifty to sixty years, and surely none has had such worldwide sweep in such a short period. Management, in most business schools, is still taught as a bundle of techniques, e.g., budgeting or organization development. To be sure, management, like any other work, has its own tools, and its own techniques. But just as the essence of medicine is not the urine analysis, the essence of management is not technique or procedure. The essence of management is to make knowledges productive. Management, in other words, is a social function. And, in its practice, management is truly a liberal art.

Without going further, we can mention  a number of points about the understanding of this knowledge society. Among these are:

  • the discovery and the intensive use of the new technology, the information and communication technology (ICT)
  • the necessity for greater interaction with other nations, cultures and regions of the world
  • the necessity for an attitude of openness, interaction, assimilation, absorption, revision, criticism and examination which will prompt creative knowledge  production in  societies
  • the attitude of society characterized by being descriptive and perspective, with readiness for positive change and  involving  analysis of the current state of education, scientific research, the media, the publishing industry, culture encompassing religion, intellectual heritage and the use of the national  language, and other building blocks of a “knowledge society”
  • people should be educated to be concerned about construction of a viable “knowledge society” which in turn requires effective economic, social and political institutions, involving solutions for negative attitudes and situations related to ideologies, societal structures and values that inhabit critical thinking, which cut off Muslims and others from their knowledge rich heritage and block the free flow of ideas and learning
  • People should be trained and educated so that they will be involved actively in the production and dissemination of knowledge and the various forms of creative activity that are the foundations for the knowledge society in the country..
  • the discussion about knowledge will involve  “engineering the ‘knowledge society’,  which may involve the issue of   Information technology supporting human development , since,  Information Technology (or Information and Communication Technology) cannot be seen as a separate phenomenon in human culture; it should be seen as a tool for helping human development and has  be taken into account when engineering the Knowledge Society.
  • This will involve  issues of life-long learning,   e-inclusion, ethics and social impact, engineering profession, developing

e-society, economy and e-Society.

And the question: What actions have to be undertaken to realize a human centered Knowledge Society? Is of utmost importance for the realization of the objective.

In relation to quality of life, we can begin to see this issue in relation to concept of knowledge which is of collective obligation (fard kifayah). Imam al-Ghazali  observes in the ‘Ihya’ as follows:((8)


Know, 0 dear readers, that learning about the duties are divided into two categories – those which are connected with religion and those which are not so connected. The religions learning are those which came from the Holy Prophets and in which there is no question of intellect, and the learnings that are not connected with the religion are Mathematics, Medicine etc. They are of three kinds – praiseworthy, blameworthy and permissible. The sciences which are necessary for progress in the world are praiseworthy, such as Medicine, Mathematics etc. These are Farz Kifayah or binding on the community as a whole. Fard Kifayah is such compulsory duty without which no nation can go on in this world. If a man at least acquires such learning or science in a town or locality, all other people in the town or locality get absolved from its sin. If, however nobody learns it, all will be transgressors. The sciences which should be learnt for agriculture, administration, industry, horticulture, weaving etc. are Fard Kifayah. To be expert in such learnings is not Fard Kifayah. The learnings which are blameworthy are sorcery, talismanic science juggling, gambling and the like. The branches of knowledge which are permissible are poetry, history, geography, biology etc.

All learning connected with the religion is praiseworthy, but when any other learning is mixed with any of them, it  becomes sometimes blameworthy. The praiseworthy branches of learning comprise sources and branches helpful and supplementary to those disciplines of learning. They are therefore of four kinds.

1) Sources of religious learning are four in number (a) the Book of God, the Sunnah or usages of the Holy Prophet, the unanimous opinions of Muslim jurists (Ijma) and the sayings of companions. Ijma is the third source of Islam as it shows the path towards the usages of the Prophet. The first source is the Quran and the second is the Sunnah. The fourth source is the sayings of the companions because they saw the Prophet, witnessed the coming down to revelations and they saw what others did not see through their association with the Prophet.

2) Branches of learning of religion are drawn from the sources not according to the literal meaning but according to the meaning adduced by the mind, thereby writing the understanding as indicated by the following Hadith: A judge shall not sit in judgment when angry. This means that he shall not pass judgment when he is pressed by calls of nature, hunger and disease. The last thing is of two kinds. One kind relates to the activities of the world, such as the books of law and is entrusted to the lawyers and jurisprudent; and the other kind relates to the activities of the hereafter. The latter is the science of the conditions of the heart and of its praiseworthy virtues and blameworthy evils.

3) The third is the sciences helpful to the praiseworthy sciences such as the science of language and grammar which are necessary to know the Quran and Sunnah. They are not themselves religious education. They were not necessary for the Holy Prophet as he was illiterate.

4) The fourth kind is the supplementary sciences and is connected with pronunciation of words and different readings and meanings, such as tafsir, knowledge of revocation of verses, books on authoritative transmission, biographies of illustrious companions and narrators of traditions.

These are the religious learning and are praiseworthy and as such Fard Kifayah or binding on the community as a whole.(9)

In discussing the importance of knowledge in relation to human life, al-Ghazali states in the Ihya’ as follows:

“The affairs of this world do not become orderly except through activities, but the human activities are divided into three categories. 1) The first category includes four fundamental activities without which the world can not go on in order. (i) Agriculture for raising food stuffs for maintaining lives, weaving for manufacturing clothes, architecture for building houses and government for regulating human relations for living in peace and harmony. 2) The second category includes such activities as are helpful to the above mentioned activities, such as iron crafts or ploughs for cultivation, instruments for spinning and weaving clothes and other implements. 3) The third category includes such activities as are supplementary to the principal industries previously mentioned, such as eating, drinking, making dresses, sewing clothes.
”These activities are necessary for human habitation just as the various organs of the body are necessary for up-keep of the human body. The organs of the body also are divided into three categories – 1) The fundamental organs, such as heart, liver and brain. 2) What is helpful to these principal organs are stomach, veins, and back-bone without which they can not function. 3) What is supplementary to the above two categories for perfection are nails, fingers, eye brows etc. Out of these three categories, the most noble are the fundamental things, out of which the most noble is government on account of which peaceful habitation becomes possible. For this reason, experienced and expert men are necessary to run the government.

Administration is divided into four classes.

  1. The first class is the highest as it is the government of the prophets and their jurisdiction spread over the public and private matters of the people.
  2. Next is the administration of temporal rulers over the public matters of the people and not their private matters.
  3. Next is the administration of the learned and the wise over the people in the matter of the religion of God as they are the heirs of the prophets. It involves thoughts of the privileged few.
  4. Next is the administration of the preachers which involves the thoughts of the common men. After the administration of the prophets, the most noble is the diffusion of knowledge whereby the people are saved from evil and destructive habits and are led towards fortune and constructive virtues.

This is the goal of knowledge and education.

Intellectual activities are more excellent than the other activities, because the excellence of an activity is known by three things –

  1. by examining the natural qualities of a man by the help of which an activity is recognised. For instance, acquisition of knowledge is better than learning a language as knowledge can be acquired by intellect, while language can be learnt through the sense of hearing. As intellect is better than the sense of hearing, so knowledge is better than language.
  2. By examining the extent of human usefulness, for instance, agriculture is superior to the craft of a goldsmith.
  3. By observing the excellence of a business, for instance, the business of a goldsmith is better than that of tanning hides.

Knowledge also has got the above three qualities.”

The inculcation of the various useful sciences will lead to the preservation of which will be instrumental in the preservation of the fundamentals of human life in the Islamic discourse on philosophy of law or jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh).

In discussing the five necessities in human life which are considered as the five aims preserved by the sacred law are  termed as the al-kulliyat al-khamsah or also termed as the daruriyyat al-Shatibi mentions religion, self,  intellect, progeny, wealth.In the al-Muwafaqat (I.38,II.10, IV.27)  the author mentions the necessities in the following order:  religion, life (nafs), progeny, wealth, and intellect.  In the al-I’tisam (II.179 and al-Muwafaqat II.299)  the mention is in the following order: religion, life, progeny, wealth, and intellect.Al-Zarkashi mentions these in the following order: life, wealth, progeny, religion, and intellect.Al-Ghazali in the al-Mustashfa, I.258 mentions these in the order: religion, life, intellect, progeny, and wealth.Al-Ghazali’s  opinion seems to be more acceptable. Whatever the order is, the issue of progeny and its importance is accepted by scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. Abdullah Darraz in his commentary of the al-Muwafaqat II.153 mentions that the view of al-Ghazali is adopted  by most scholars. Hence, in the matter of these daruriyyat the matter of religion is the first, then life, then the intellect, then progeny, then wealth.

Therefore we can state that these are the necessities of life determined by Islamic discourse in its philosophy of law.

In relation to this, we can find reformulation of such needs in the duties of the caliph in the Sunni  theory of the caliphate.This is clear  the Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah of al-Mawardi.(10)

These duties include: the preservation of the religion according to the original principles;  carrying out justice between parties involved in litigations in the state; the implementation of the laws and regulations of the religion  including punishments for crimes;  preserving the security of life for women in families so that people can carry out their business of looking for livelihood in peace; safeguarding the boundaries of the country so that people are secured; collecting revenue for the state according to the proper rules and regulations; putting proper people in charge of their duties in the state so that proper functioning of the  administration is maintained; paying of salaries in the proper time neither too late nor too early; carrying out the jihad in cases where situations demand; and inspecting the administration so that all run smoothly.

To these can be added the other duties of the state which are for the welfare of the subjects.

Then concerning “human rights” which constitute the essential aspect of human quality of life in Islam, there are several observations which can be made. Among these are as follows:

We can begin with several basic concepts of the Islamic worldview. Since God is the absolute and the sole master of men and the universe, and since He has given each man human dignity and honor, and breathed into him something of His own spirit, it follows that men are essentially the same. In fact, the only differences between them are such artificial ones as nationality, color, or race. Thus, all human beings are equal and form one universal community that is united in its submission and obedience to God.

And we can observe that at the centre of this universal brotherhood is the Islamic confession of the oneness of God and that, by extension, includes the oneness and brotherhood of humanity and hence an Islamic state may be established anywhere. While the state is geographically limited, the human rights and privileges granted to humanity by God are not. The Qur’an states that these are universal and fundamental, and that all individuals are to enjoy and observe them under all circumstances-including war-regardless of whether he is living in the geographical confines of an Islamic state or not:

The Qur’an asserts clearly:

O believers, be you securers of justice, witness for God. Let not detestation for a people move you not to be equitable; be equitable-that is nearer to God-fearing.(11) (5:8)

And then from  the last sermon of the Prophet in the Farewell pilgrimage in the year before his demise we can learn a number of important matters; among these are:human blood is sacred in any case and cannot be spilled without justification. Violating this rule is equivalent to killing all of humanity.

The text of the sermon is as follows:

After praising, and thanking Allah (The One True God) the Prophet began with the words:

“O People! lend me an attentive ear, for I know not whether after this year I shall ever be amongst you again. Therefore, listen carefully to what I am saying and Take These Words to Those Who Could Not Be Present Here Today.

“O People! just as you regard this month, this day, this city as Sacred, so regard the life and property of every Muslim as a sacred trust. Return the goods entrusted to you to their rightful owners. Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you. Remember that you will indeed meet your Lord, and that he will indeed reckon your deeds.

“Allah has forbidden you to take usury (interest), therefore all interest obligations shall henceforth be waived. Your capital is yours to keep. You will neither inflict nor suffer any inequity. Allah has Judged that there shall be no interest and that all the interest due to Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib (Prophet’s uncle) be waived.

“Every right arising out of homicide in pre-Islamic days is henceforth waived and the first such right that I waive is that arising from the murder of Rabiah ibn al-Harithiah.

“O Men! the unbelievers indulge in tampering with the calender in order to make permissible that which Allah forbade, and to prohibit which Allah has made permissible. With Allah the months are twelve in number. Four of them are holy, three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Shaban.

“Beware of Satan, for the safety of your religion. He has lost all hope of that he will be able to lead you astray in big things, so beware of following him in small things.

“O People! it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah’s trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with anyone of whom you do not approve, as well as never to be unchaste.

“O People! listen to me in earnest, worship Allah, say your five daily prayers, fast during month of Ramadan, and give your wealth in Zakat (obligatory charity). Perform Hajj if you can afford to.

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly.

“Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves. Remember one day you will meet Allah and answer your deeds. So beware, do not astray from the path of righteousness after I am gone.

“O People! No Prophet or Apostle Will Come after Me and No New Faith Will Be Born. Reason well, therefore, O People! and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur’an and my Sunnah (i.e., sayings, deeds, and approvals) and if you follow these you will never go astray.

“All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly.

“Be my witness O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”

As part of this sermon, the Prophet recited them a Revelation from Allah which he had just received and which completed the Qur’an, for it was the last passage to be revealed:

This day the disbelievers despair of prevailing against your religion, so fear them not, but fear Me (Allah)! This day have I perfected for you your religion and fulfilled My favor unto you, and it hath been My good pleasure to choose Islam for you as your religion (Surah 5, Ayah 3).

The sermon was repeated sentence by sentence by Safwan’s brother Rabiah (RA), who had a powerful voice, at the request of the Prophet and he faithfully proclaimed to over ten thousand gathered on the occasion. Toward the end of his sermon, the Prophet asked “O people, have I faithfully delivered unto you my message?” A powerful murmur of assent “O Allah, yes!”, arose from thousands of pilgrims and the vibrant words “Allahumma na’m” rolled like thunder throughout the valley. The Prophet raised his forefinger and said: “Be my witness O Allah, that I have conveyed your message to your people.”(12)

Then again the Qur’an states to the effect:

Whose slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, should be as if he had slain mankind altogether.(13)

It is not permissible to oppress women, children, old people, the sick or the wounded. Women’s honor and chastity are to be respected under all circumstances. The hungry must be fed, the naked clothed, and the wounded or diseased given medical treatment regardless of their pro- or anti-Muslim sentiments and activities.

In Islam, human rights are granted by God, not by kings or legislative assemblies, and therefore they can never be taken away or changed, even temporarily, for any reason. They are meant to be put into practice and lived, not to stay on paper or in the realm of unenforceable philosophical concepts or United Nation declarations. Every Muslim is required to accept them and recognize the people’s right to have them enforced and obeyed. The Qur’an states that: Those who do not judge by what God has sent [while denying its validity] down are the disbelievers (14)

Human Rights in an Islamic State

Concerning the security of life and property, we have seen in the Prophet’s address during his final pilgrimage,that  he had proclaimed: “Your lives and properties are forbidden to one another till you meet your Lord on the Day of Resurrection.” He also had stated : “One who kills a man under covenant (i.e., a non Muslim citizen of a Muslim land) will not even smell the fragrance of Paradise.”

Concerning the protection of honour, the Qur’an does not allow one’s personal honor to be abused:; the Qur’an clearly states: “O You who believe, do not let one set of people make fun of another set. Do not defame one another Do not insult by using nicknames. Do not backbite or spear? ill of one another” (15)

And concerning sanctity and security of human privacy, the Qur’an guarantees this right.It says:” Avoid having suspicion, for some suspicion is  a sin.And do not spy on one another  and let not some of you  backbite others…” (16)(49.12)and “do not enter  houses which are not yours’  until you have asked for the permission thereto  and given greetings of peace to the inmates. “(17)

As for personal freedom, Islam guarantees this, and it prohibits the imprisonment of any individual before his guilt has been proven before a public court. This means that the accused has the right to defend himself and to expect fair and impartial treatment from the court.

The Qur’an also prohibits tyranny against people through the spread of their misdeeds to others. This is mentioned clearly in the Qur’an: God does not love evil talk in public unless it is by some one who has been injured thereby. In Islam, as has been stated earlier, an individual’s power and authority is a trust from God. This is an awesome responsibility for a person, for he must use this trust in a way that is acceptable to God or else suffer the consequences.

The heavy responsibility involving power and authority has been  acknowledged by Abu Bakr, who said in his very first address when he was made the first caliph of Islam: “Cooperate with me when I am right, and correct me when I commit error. Obey me so long as I follow the commandments of Allah and His Prophet, but turn away from me when I deviate.”

Concerning freedom of expression , we can observe that Islam allows complete freedom of thought and expression, provided that it does not involve spreading that which is harmful to individuals and the society at large. For example, the use of abusive or offensive language in the name of criticism is not allowed. In the days of the Prophet, the Muslims used to ask him about certain matters. If he had received no revelation on that particular issue, they were free to express their personal opinions.

Freedom of Association:

The formation of associations, parties, and organizations is allowed, on the understanding that they abide by certain general rules.

Freedom of Conscience and Conviction:

The Qur’an states: There should be no coercion in the matter of faith. Totalitarian societies of all ages have tried to deprive individuals of their freedom by subordinating them to state authority This condition is equivalent to slavery, the only difference being that physical slavery has been replaced by mechanisms of control that allow the individual no freedom of choice Islam forbids such a practice.

Protection of Religious Sentiments:

Along with the freedom of conviction and freedom of conscience, Islam guarantees to the individual that his religious sentiments will be given due respect and the nothing will be said or done which may encroach upon his right.

Protection from Arbitrary Imprisonment:

Islam states that each individual is responsible only for his own actions. Therefore, he cannot be arrested and imprisoned for the offenses of someone else. We read in the Qur’an: “No bearer of burdens shall be made to bear the burden of another”.

The Right to Basic Necessities of Life:

Islam recognizes the right of the needy to demand help from those who are more fortunate: And in their wealth there is acknowledge right for the needy and the destitute.

Equality Before the Law:

Islam gives its citizens the right to absolute and complete equality in the eyes of the law.

Rulers Are Not Above the Law:

According to the Islamic concept of justice, absolutely no one is above the law, for all men are equal. This point was made in a very dramatic fashion by the Prophet himself. One day, a woman belonging to a high and noble family was arrested in connection with a theft. The case was brought to the Prophet with the recommendation that she be spared the mandated punishment for theft (amputation of the hand). The Prophet replied: “The nations that lived before you were destroyed by God because they punished the common man for their offenses and let their dignitaries go unpunished for their crimes. I swear by Him Who holds my life in His hand that even if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, had committed this crime, I would have amputated her hand.”

The Right to Participate in the Affairs of State:

In the Qur’an, we find the statement And their business is (conducted) through consultation among themselves (18).This procedure is known as shura, which is usually translated as “consultation.” In practice, it means that the executive head of the government and the members of the assembly should be elected by free and independent choice of the people. However, the leader is not bound to follow the decision that results from this deliberation.

Lastly, Islam seeks to achieve the above-mentioned human rights and many others through the provision of certain legal safeguards, but primarily through calling upon individuals to transcend their lower animal-like instincts so that they can go beyond mere ties fostered by the kinship of blood, racial superiority, linguistic arrogance, and economic privilege Islam urges man to move on to a plane of existence where, by reason of his inner excellence, he can realize the ideal of the brotherhood of man(19)

Concerning “ knowledge society” there are a number of observations which can be made. These are:

  • Muslims should understand accurately  the nature, characteristics and objectives of “knowledge society”  in the current cultural discourse.
  • They should take stock of the situation and see where they stand and understand what are their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Muslims should prepare themselves so that they can perform their task in the new “knowledge society” making the best use of the tools available in the new information and communication technology, with the internet, the intra-net, the e-mail, and whatever is available.
  • They should master the secrets of the trade in the new technology so that they are not duped. The Prophet s.a.w. has said that a person who knows the language of another people he cannot be fooled by them. The knowledge of the tongue of a people does not merely mean langiuage of communication in the ordin ary se4nse, but the present writer would like to suggest even the most up-to-date technical  and scientific language and  philosophy,  so that we are not duped in any way.Imam al-Ghazali rd says in the ‘al-Munqid’ that a person who can evaluate one form of knowledge is one who understands that knowledge, and goes beyond that knowledge so that, if he is knowledgable enough, he is capable of giving a    critique of that knowledge or an aspect of it.
  • And the government has prepared infrastructure  for this venture and is encouraging and supporting development in this arena.
  • Of course knowledge society for us is not merely society promoting  skills in commerce, economics, and administration, [including for war for defending the nation and the ummah], but also for understanding about God, his doctrines and rules in human life, as well as understanding and preserving our identity as  Muslims, Malays, Malaysians, in Asean, in the world community , within the matrix of the ummah.
  • Knowledge for us comprises of Divine and Prophetic Wisdom for our guidance, then the knowledge from human experience and the intellect, supported by evidences from the human senses and wisdom from collective history.

Concerning quality of life, we can observe a number of points, among others, as the following:

  • Life quality must relate to the human body, spirit, and intellect. Hence in Islam the basic necessities of life preserved by Islam are; life, religion, intellect, wealth, progeny, wealth, and honour.
  • Hence shelter, food and drink, clothing, family life, communal  and societal life.
  • The state have certain functions relating to: life, intellect, religion, wealth, progeny, wealth and honour, relating to facilities in health, education, law, economic planning, the implementation of law, guaranteeing rights, and cultural milieu, including the media. All these are reflected in the administration of the state with the various ministries and departments, and government related organizations and bodies.
  • In the present cultural setting this is aided by the non-governmental organizations
  • The integrity of the nation should be monitored  by the National Integrity Board.
  • Life quality  includes within its purview, apart from matters relating to education and cultural matters, the provision of good roads, power supply, water supply, and now supply of broadband access to the electronic superhighway for informations, data, systematic knowledge, communication, and we can say,  within the balanced perspective, even   wisdom.
  • Of course, we cannot forget the question of national security and integrity.
  • Finally the quality of life in Islam is determined by the three categories of needs of man: the absolute necessities (al-daruriyyat), the important needs (al-hajjiyyat), and the ones which make life pleasant (al-tahsinat) which has been well explained by Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi.(20) Wallahu a’lam.




(2) ibid.

(3) ibid.


(5) of

(6) ibid.




(10)Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah,chapter on the contract of the imamah and other categories of duties concerning the administeration of the State.Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, of al-Mawardi, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, Libnan, 1985, p.18.See also in

(11) (5:8)

(12) ( )

(13) (5.32).

(14) (5:44).

(15) ( 49: 1 1-121.)

(16) (49.12)

(17) (24.27).

(18) (42:38).

(19) (

(20) In his Fiqh al-Awwaliyyat.

Concerning the neglect of the fiqh of priorities, Dr Yusuf writes:

The Neglect of the fiqh of Priorities Among many Muslims

The problem with many groups of the Islamic Awakening advocates is that the fiqh of priorities is nonexistent to them, as they often seek the secondary before paying attention to the principal, try to examine the particulars before grasping the generalities, and hold to the controversial before familiarizing themselves with the established. It is a pity that we ask for instance about the blood of a gnat, and do not care about the shedding of Al-Hussein’s blood, or fight for nafila, while the. people have wasted the faridas, or quarrel over a form, regardless of the content.

This is the situation today for Muslims in general. I see millions making the umra [minor pilgrimage] every year in Ramadan and other months and others making hajj for the tenth or even the twentieth time: if they saved the money they spent on these nafilas, they would accumulate thousands of millions of dollars. We have been running around for years trying to collect one thousand million dollars for the Islamic Philanthropic Institution, but have not collected a tenth, or even one- twentieth or one-thirtieth, of that amount. If you ask those performers of supererogatory umra and hajj to give you what they would spend on their voluntary journeys so that you may direct it to resisting Christianization or communism in Asia and Africa, or to combating famine here or there, they will not give you anything. This is a long-time ailment that no heart doctor has ever been able to cure.

The fiqh of priorities requires that we know which issue is more worthy of attention, so that we may give it more effort and time than we give others. The fiqh of priorities also requires us to know which enemy is more deserving of directing our forces and concentrating our attack against him, and which battle is more worthy of waging, for people are divided into several kinds in Islam’s eye, as follows:

There are the Muslims, the unbelievers and the hypocrites.

Unbelievers have in their ranks the pacifists and the militant. They also include those who only did not believe, and those who did not believe and also blocked the path to Allah [before those who believed].

Hypocrites include those of the lesser hypocrisy and those of the greater hypocrisy.

With whom do we start, then? Which area is more worthy of work? Which issue is more deserving of attention?

The fiqh of priorities requires that we know the time-limited duty so that we may treat it properly and not delay it and thus waste a chance that may not present itself again until after a long time, if it ever does.

A poet admonishes us about the value of time by saying: “Avail the chance, for a chance, If unavailable, becomes a grief. Our Arabic adage also says: “Do not put off today’s work till tomorrow”.

When Omar Ibn Abdel-Aziz was once advised to postpone some chore to the next day, he replied, “I am already tasked by a day’s work, how will I feel if I have two days work to do tomorrow? ”

A wise saying by Ibn-Ata is “There are certain duties with plenty of time given for their fulfillment, so they could be cautioned within the time-limit, but there are, besides, time-limited duties that, if out of time, are irredeemable, for with every new time there is a new duty and a new task demanded by Allah”!

Imam Al-Ghazali and the fiqh of Priorities

In his book “Al Ihiya”‘, Imam Al-Ghazali criticized those who were content with worship and did not pay attention to the | ranks of deeds. He said: “Another group is keen on nafilas but not as keen on faridas. We see some of them very pleased with the duha [forenoon optional] prayer and tahajjud “nighttime optional prayer] and other nafilas, but they find no pleasure in the farida’s, nor are they as keen on performing the farida prayers early in their time. They forget what the Prophet narrated from the Qudsi hadith [inspired by Allah the Almighty to His Messenger]: “Nothing that my slaves shall do to bring themselves closer to me shall be better than doing what I have ordered them to perform [as faridas]” (Al-Bukhari). Neglecting the order of prominence in good deeds falls under evil conduct. An individual may even find himself obliged to do only one of two compulsory things, or forced to do two things with a very limited time for one and ample time for the other: if he does not preserve their order, then he is deceived. “The similar instances are countless, for obedience and disobedience [of the commands of Allah] are both obvious. What is really ambiguous is giving precedence to some forms of obedience over others, such as giving prominence to faridas over nafilas; to individual duties over collective duties to a collective duty with no one to fulfill it over that fulfilled by other people; to the more important individual duties over those which have a lesser importance, to what cannot be postponed over what can be postponed; and to the needs of one’s mother over those of one’s father. The Prophet was asked, “Who is more entitled to be treated with the best companionship by me?” He replied, “Your mother”. And the man said, “Who is next?”, and the Prophet said, “Your mother”. And the man asked again, “And who is next”? and the Prophet said, “Your mother”. And the man asked for the fourth time, “And who is next?” and the Prophet said, “Your father”. And the man further asked, “And who is next?” and the Prophet replied, “The closest and then the closer of your relatives.”). A person should devote his companionship by the closeness of relationship. If two of his kins are of the same degree of relation, then he should help the one who needs help more, and if they need help equally then he should help the more pious of them.

“Similarly, if someone cannot meet the Costs of spending on his parents and making a pilgrimage at the same time, he should not make the pilgrimage because if he does, he would be acting in ignorance, for he should give the rights of his parents precedence over pilgrimage. In this case, he will be giving prominence to a religious duty over another religious duty that is of a lower rank.

Moreover, if someone has an appointment and the time for jumua [Friday congregational prayer] comes upon him, then he has to go to the prayer. If he goes to his appointment, he will be committing an act of disobedience [to Allah], even though the fulfillment of the appointment is, as such, an act of obedience.

Someone may also find some najasa [impurities] on his garment and speak roughly to his parents on that account. While najasa is unacceptable, hurting the parents is also unacceptable, and caring to avoid hurting the parents is more important than caring to avoid najasa.

“The examples of the combination of tabooed deeds and of compulsory duties are countless. He who neglects the order of Priorities in any of them is certainly deceived”



*Originally a paper, now with additions and modifications, to be tabled in the conference organized by UPM on 30th September, 2004, which was  previously presented in the Seminar organized by Sultan Iskandar Institute of Johor on the 19th of May 2004, Kuala Lumpur (11th Leadership Seminar of the Southeast Asian Centre of Enviromental and Urban Management (SEACEUM), Hotel Istana, Kuala Lumpur.)

The writer is currently Very Distinguished Academic Fellow, ISTAC, IIUM.

Understanding The Four Madhhabs – the problem with anti-madhhabism

by Shaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad

[revised edition now with footnotes (for Sidi Azhar Usman)]

© Abdal-Hakim Murad [from

The ummah’s greatest achievement over the past millennium has undoubtedly been its internal intellectual cohesion. From the fifth century of the Hijra almost to the present day, and despite the outward drama of the clash of dynasties, the Sunni Muslims have maintained an almost unfailing attitude of religious respect and brotherhood among themselves. It is a striking fact that virtually no religious wars, riots or persecutions divided them during this extended period, so difficult in other ways.

The history of religious movements suggests that this is an unusual outcome. The normal sociological view, as expounded by Max Weber and his disciples, is that religions enjoy an initial period of unity, and then descend into an increasingly bitter factionalism led by rival hierarchies. Christianity has furnished the most obvious example of this; but one could add many others, including secular faiths such as Marxism. On the face of it, Islam’s ability to avoid this fate is astonishing, and demands careful analysis.

There is, of course, a straightforwardly religious explanation. Islam is the final religion, the last bus home, and as such has been divinely secured from the more terminal forms of decay. It is true that what Abdul Wadod Shalabi has termed ‘spiritual entropy’[1] has been at work ever since Islam’s inauguration, a fact which is well-supported by a number of hadiths. Nonetheless, Providence has not neglected the ummah. Earlier religions slide gently or painfully into schism and irrelevance; but Islamic piety, while fading in quality, has been given mechanisms which allow it to retain much of the sense of unity emphasised in its glory days. Wherever the antics of the emirs and politicians might lead, the brotherhood of believers, a reality in the initial career of Christianity and some other faiths, continues, fourteen hundred years on, to be a compelling principle for most members of the final and definitive community of revelation in Islam. The reason is simple and unarguable: God has given us this religion as His last word, and it must therefore endure, with its essentials of tawhid, worship and ethics intact, until the Last Days.

Such an explanation has obvious merit. But we will still need to explain some painful exceptions to the rule in the earliest phase of our history. The Prophet himself (pbuh) had told his Companions, in a hadith narrated by Imam Tirmidhi, that “Whoever among you outlives me shall see a vast dispute”. The initial schisms: the disastrous revolt against Uthman (r.a.)[2], the clash between Ali (r.a.) and Talha, and then with Mu`awiyah[3], the bloody scissions of the Kharijites[4] – all these drove knives of discord into the Muslim body politic almost from the outset. Only the inherent sanity and love of unity among scholars of the ummah assisted, no doubt, by Providence overcame the early spasms of factionalism, and created a strong and harmonious Sunnism which has, at least on the purely religious plane, united ninety percent of the ummah for ninety percent of its history.[5]

It will help us greatly to understand our modern, increasingly divided situation if we look closely at those forces which divided us in the distant past. There were many of these, some of them very eccentric; but only two took the form of mass popular movements, driven by religious ideology, and in active rebellion against majoritarian faith and scholarship. For good reasons, these two acquired the names of Kharijism and Shi’ism. Unlike Sunnism, both were highly productive of splinter groups and sub-movements; but they nonetheless remained as recognisable traditions of dissidence because of their ability to express the two great divergences from mainstream opinion on the key question of the source of religious authority in Islam.

Confronted with what they saw as moral slippage among early caliphs, posthumous partisans of Ali (r.a.) developed a theory of religious authority which departed from the older egalitarian assumptions by vesting it in a charismatic succession of Imams. We need not stop here to investigate the question of whether this idea was influenced by the Eastern Christian background of some early converts, who had been nourished on the idea of the mystical apostolic succession to Christ, a gift which supposedly gave the Church the unique ability to read his mind for later generations. What needs to be appreciated is that Shi’ism, in its myriad forms, developed as a response to a widely-sensed lack of definitive religious authority in early Islamic society. As the age of the Righteous Caliphs came to a close, and the Umayyad rulers departed ever more conspicuously from the lifestyle expected of them as Commanders of the Faithful, the sharply-divergent and still nascent schools of fiqh seemed inadequate as sources of strong and unambiguous authority in religious matters. Hence the often irresistible seductiveness of the idea of an infallible Imam.[6]

This interpretation of the rise of Imamism also helps to explain the second great phase in Shi’i expansion. After the success of the fifth-century Sunni revival, when Sunnism seemed at last to have become a fully coherent system, Shi’ism went into a slow eclipse. Its extreme wing, as manifested in Ismailism, received a heavy blow at the hands of Imam al-Ghazali, whose book “Scandals of the Batinites” exposed and refuted their secret doctrines with devastating force.[7] This decline in Shi’i fortunes was only arrested after the mid-seventh century, once the Mongol hordes under Genghis Khan had invaded and obliterated the central lands of Islam. The onslaught was unimaginably harsh: we are told, for instance, that out of a hundred thousand former inhabitants of the city of Herat, only forty survivors crept out of the smoking ruins to survey the devastation.[8] In the wake of this tidal wave of mayhem, newly-converted Turcoman nomads moved in, who, with the Sunni ulama of the cities dead, and a general atmosphere of fear, turbulence, and Messianic expectation in the air, turned readily to extremist forms of Shi’i belief.[9] The triumph of Shi’ism in Iran, a country once loyal to Sunnism, dates back to that painful period.[10]

The other great dissident movement in early Islam was that of the Kharijites, literally, the seceders, so-called because they seceded from the army of the Caliph Ali when he agreed to settle his dispute with Muawiyah through arbitration. Calling out the Quranic slogan, “Judgement is only God’s”, they fought bitterly against Ali and his army which included many of the leading Companions, until, in the year 38, Imam Ali defeated them at the Battle of Nahrawan, where some ten thousand of them perished.[11]

Although the first Kharijites were destroyed, Kharijism itself lived on. As it formulated itself, it turned into the precise opposite of Shi’ism, rejecting any notion of inherited or charismatic leadership, and stressing that leadership of the community of believers should be decided by piety alone. This was assessed by very rudimentary criteria: the early Kharijites were known for extreme toughness in their devotions, and for the harsh doctrine that any Muslim who commits a major sin is an unbeliever. This notion of takfir (declaring Muslims to be outside Islam), permitted the Kharijite groups, camping out in remote mountain districts of Khuzestan, to raid Muslim settlements which had accepted Umayyad authority. Non-Kharijis were routinely slaughtered in these operations, which brought merciless reprisals from tough Umayyad generals such as al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. But despite the apparent hopelessness of their cause, the Kharijite attacks continued. The Caliph Ali (r.a.) was assassinated by Ibn Muljam, a survivor of Nahrawan, while the hadith scholar Imam al-Nasai, author of one of the most respected collections of sunan, was likewise murdered by Kharijite fanatics in Damascus in 303/915.[12]

Like Shi’ism, Kharijism caused much instability in Iraq and Central Asia, and on occasion elsewhere, until the fourth and fifth centuries of Islam. At that point, something of historic moment occurred. Sunnism managed to unite itself into a detailed system that was now so well worked-out, and so obviously the way of the great majority of ulama, that the attraction of the rival movements diminished sharply.

What happened was this. Sunni Islam, occupying the middle ground between the two extremes of egalitarian Kharijism and hierarchical Shi’ism, had long been preoccupied with disputes over its own concept of authority. For the Sunnis, authority was, by definition, vested in the Quran and Sunnah. But confronted with the enormous body of hadiths, which had been scattered in various forms and narrations throughout the length and breadth of the Islamic world following the migrations of the Companions and Followers, the Sunnah sometimes proved difficult to interpret. Even when the sound hadiths had been sifted out from this great body of material, which totalled several hundred thousand hadith reports, there were some hadiths which appeared to conflict with each other, or even with verses of the Quran. It was obvious that simplistic approaches such as that of the Kharijites, namely, establishing a small corpus of hadiths and deriving doctrines and law from them directly, was not going to work. The internal contradictions were too numerous, and the interpretations placed on them too complex, for the qadis (judges) to be able to dish out judgements simply by opening the Quran and hadith collections to an appropriate page.

The reasons underlying cases of apparent conflict between various revealed texts were scrutinised closely by the early ulama, often amid sustained debate between brilliant minds backed up with the most perfect photographic memories. Much of the science of Islamic jurisprudence (usul al-fiqh) was developed in order to provide consistent mechanisms for resolving such conflicts in a way which ensured fidelity to the basic ethos of Islam. The term taarud al-adilla (mutual contradiction of proof-texts) is familiar to all students of Islamic jurisprudence as one of the most sensitive and complex of all Muslim legal concepts.[13] Early scholars such as Ibn Qutayba felt obliged to devote whole books to the subject.[14]

The ulama of usul recognised as their starting assumption that conflicts between the revealed texts were no more than conflicts of interpretation, and could not reflect inconsistencies in the Lawgiver’s message as conveyed by the Prophet (pbuh). The message of Islam had been perfectly conveyed before his demise; and the function of subsequent scholars was exclusively one of interpretation, not of amendment.

Armed with this awareness, the Islamic scholar, when examining problematic texts, begins by attempting a series of preliminary academic tests and methods of resolution. The system developed by the early ulama was that if two Quranic or hadith texts appeared to contradict each other, then the scholar must first analyse the texts linguistically, to see if the contradiction arises from an error in interpreting the Arabic. If the contradiction cannot be resolved by this method, then he must attempt to determine, on the basis of a range of textual, legal and historiographic techniques, whether one of them is subject to takhsis, that is, concerns special circumstances only, and hence forms a specific exception to the more general principle enunciated in the other text.[15] The jurist must also assess the textual status of the reports, recalling the principle that a Quranic verse will overrule a hadith related by only one isnad (the type of hadith known as ahad), as will a hadith supplied by many isnads (mutawatir or mashhur).[16] If, after applying all these mechanisms, the jurist finds that the conflict remains, he must then investigate the possibility that one of the texts was subject to formal abrogation (naskh) by the other.

This principle of naskh is an example of how, when dealing with the delicate matter of taarud al-adilla, the Sunni ulama founded their approach on textual policies which had already been recognised many times during the lifetime of the Prophet (pbuh). The Companions knew by ijma that over the years of the Prophets ministry, as he taught and nurtured them, and brought them from the wildness of paganism to the sober and compassionate path of monotheism, his teaching had been divinely shaped to keep pace with their development. The best-known instance of this was the progressive prohibition of wine, which had been discouraged by an early Quranic verse, then condemned, and finally prohibited.[17] Another example, touching an even more basic principle, was the canonical prayer, which the early ummah had been obliged to say only twice daily, but which, following the Miraj, was increased to five times a day.[18] Mutah (temporary marriage) had been permitted in the early days of Islam, but was subsequently prohibited as social conditions developed, respect for women grew, and morals became firmer.[19] There are several other instances of this, most being datable to the years immediately following the Hijra, when the circumstances of the young ummah changed in radical ways.

There are two types of naskh: explicit (sarih) or implicit (dimni).[20] The former is easily identified, for it involves texts which themselves specify that an earlier ruling is being changed. For instance, there is the verse in the Quran (2:142) which commands the Muslims to turn in prayer to the Kaba rather than to Jerusalem.[21] In the hadith literature this is even more frequently encountered; for example, in a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim we read: “I used to forbid you to visit graves; but you should now visit them.”[22] Commenting on this, the ulama of hadith explain that in early Islam, when idolatrous practices were still fresh in peoples memories, visiting graves had been forbidden because of the fear that some new Muslims might commit shirk. As the Muslims grew stronger in their monotheism, however, this prohibition was discarded as no longer necessary, so that today it is a recommended practice for Muslims to go out to visit graves in order to pray for the dead and to be reminded of the akhira.[23]

The other type of naskh is more subtle, and often taxed the brilliance of the early ulama to the limit. It involves texts which cancel earlier ones, or modify them substantially, but without actually stating that this has taken place. The ulama have given many examples of this, including the two verses in Surat al-Baqarah which give differing instructions as to the period for which widows should be maintained out of an estate (2:240 and 234).[24] And in the hadith literature, there is the example of the incident in which the Prophet (pbuh) once told the Companions that when he prayed sitting because he was burdened by some illness, they should sit behind him. This hadith is given by Imam Muslim. And yet we find another hadith, also narrated by Muslim, which records an incident in which the Companions prayed standing while the Prophet (pbuh) was sitting. The apparent contradiction has been resolved by careful chronological analysis, which shows that the latter incident took place after the former, and therefore takes precedence over it.[25] This has duly been recorded in the fiqh of the great scholars.

The techniques of naskh identification have enabled the ulama to resolve most of the recognised cases of taarud al-adilla. They demand a rigorous and detailed knowledge not just of the hadith disciplines, but of history, sirah, and of the views held by the Companions and other scholars on the circumstances surrounding the genesis and exegesis of the hadith in question. In some cases, hadith scholars would travel throughout the Islamic world to locate the required information pertinent to a single hadith.[26]

In cases where in spite of all efforts, abrogation cannot be proven, then the ulama of the salaf recognised the need to apply further tests. Important among these is the analysis of the matn (the transmitted text rather than the isnad of the hadith).[27] Clear (sarih) statements are deemed to take precedence over allusive ones (kinayah), and definite (muhkam) words take precedence over words falling into more ambiguous categories, such as the interpreted (mufassar), the obscure (khafi) and the problematic (mushkil).[28] It may also be necessary to look at the position of the narrators of the conflicting hadiths, giving precedence to the report issuing from the individual who was more directly involved. A famous example of this is the hadith narrated by Maymunah which states that the Prophet (pbuh) married her when not in a state of consecration (ihram) for the pilgrimage. Because her report was that of an eyewitness, her hadith is given precedence over the conflicting report from Ibn Abbas, related by a similarly sound isnad, which states that the Prophet was in fact in a state of ihram at the time.[29]

There are many other rules, such as that which states that ‘prohibition takes precedence over permissibility.’[30] Similarly, conflicting hadiths may be resolved by utilising the fatwa of a Companion, after taking care that all the relevant fatwa are compared and assessed.[31] Finally, recourse may be had to qiyas (analogy).[32] An example of this is the various reports about the solar eclipse prayer (salat al-kusuf), which specify different numbers of bowings and prostrations. The ulama, having investigated the reports meticulously, and having been unable to resolve the contradiction by any of the mechanisms outlined above, have applied analogical reasoning by concluding that since the prayer in question is still called salaat, then the usual form of salaat should be followed, namely, one bowing and two prostrations. The other hadiths are to be abandoned.[33]

This careful articulation of the methods of resolving conflicting source-texts, so vital to the accurate derivation of the Shariah from the revealed sources, was primarily the work of Imam al-Shafi’i. Confronted by the confusion and disagreement among the jurists of his day, and determined to lay down a consistent methodology which would enable a fiqh to be established in which the possibility of error was excluded as far as was humanly possible, Shafi’i wrote his brilliant Risala (Treatise on Islamic jurisprudence). His ideas were soon taken up, in varying ways, by jurists of the other major traditions of law; and today they are fundamental to the formal application of the Shariah.[34]

Shafi’i’s system of minimising mistakes in the derivation of Islamic rulings from the mass of evidence came to be known as usul al-fiqh (the roots of fiqh). Like most of the other formal academic disciplines of Islam, this was not an innovation in the negative sense, but a working-out of principles already discernible in the time of the earliest Muslims. In time, each of the great interpretative traditions of Sunni Islam codified its own variation on these roots, thereby yielding in some cases divergent branches (i.e. specific rulings on practice). Although the debates generated by these divergences could sometimes be energetic, nonetheless, they were insignificant when compared to the great sectarian and legal disagreements which had arisen during the first two centuries of Islam before the science of usul al-fiqh had put a stop to such chaotic discord.

It hardly needs remarking that although the Four Imams, Abu Hanifa, Malik ibn Anas, al-Shafi’i and Ibn Hanbal, are regarded as the founders of these four great traditions, which, if we were asked to define them, we might sum up as sophisticated techniques for avoiding innovation, their traditions were fully systematised only by later generations of scholars. The Sunni ulama rapidly recognised the brilliance of the Four Imams, and after the late third century of Islam we find that hardly any scholars adhered to any other approach. The great hadith specialists, including al-Bukhari and Muslim, were all loyal adherents of one or another of the madhhabs, particularly that of Imam al-Shafi’i. But within each madhhab, leading scholars continued to improve and refine the roots and branches of their school. In some cases, historical conditions made this not only possible, but necessary. For instance, scholars of the school of Imam Abu Hanifah, which was built on the foundations of the early legal schools of Kufa and Basra, were wary of some hadiths in circulation in Iraq because of the prevalence of forgery engendered by the strong sectarian influences there. Later, however, once the canonical collections of Bukhari, Muslim and others became available, subsequent generations of Hanafi scholars took the entire corpus of hadiths into account in formulating and revising their madhhab. This type of process continued for two centuries, until the Schools reached a condition of maturity in the fourth and fifth centuries of the Hijra.[35]

It was at that time, too, that the attitude of toleration and good opinion between the Schools became universally accepted. This was formulated by Imam al-Ghazali, himself the author of four textbooks of Shafi’i fiqh,[36] and also of Al-Mustasfa, widely acclaimed as the most advanced and careful of all works on usul, usul al-fiqh fil madhhab. With his well-known concern for sincerity, and his dislike of ostentatious scholarly rivalry, he strongly condemned what he falled ‘fanatical attachment to a madhhab’.[37] While it was necessary for the Muslim to follow a recognised madhhab in order to avert the lethal danger of misinterpreting the sources, he must never fall into the trap of considering his own school categorically superior to the others. With a few insignificant exceptions in the late Ottoman period, the great scholars of Sunni Islam have followed the ethos outlined by Imam al-Ghazali, and have been conspicuously respectful of each others madhhab. Anyone who has studied under traditional ulama will be well-aware of this fact.[38]

The evolution of the Four Schools did not stifle, as some Orientalists have suggested,[39] the capacity for the refinement or extension of positive law.[40] On the contrary, sophisticated mechanisms were available which not only permitted qualified individuals to derive the Shariah from the Quran and Sunnah on their own authority, but actually obliged them to do this. According to most scholars, an expert who has fully mastered the sources and fulfilled a variety of necessary scholarly conditions is not permitted to follow the prevalent rulings of his School, but must derive the rulings himself from the revealed sources. Such an individual is known as a mujtahid,[41] a term derived from the famous hadith of Muadh ibn Jabal.[42]

Few would seriously deny that for a Muslim to venture beyond established expert opinion and have recourse directly to the Quran and Sunnah, he must be a scholar of great eminence. The danger of less-qualified individuals misunderstanding the sources and hence damaging the Shariah is a very real one, as was shown by the discord and strife which afflicted some early Muslims, and even some of the Companions themselves, in the period which preceded the establishment of the Orthodox Schools. Prior to Islam, entire religions had been subverted by inadequate scriptural scholarship, and it was vital that Islam should be secured from a comparable fate.

In order to protect the Shariah from the danger of innovation and distortion, the great scholars of usul laid down rigorous conditions which must be fulfilled by anyone wishing to claim the right of ijtihad for himself.[43] These conditions include:

(a) mastery of the Arabic language, to minimise the possibility of misinterpreting Revelation on purely linguistic grounds;

(b) a profound knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah and the circumstances surrounding the revelation of each verse and hadith, together with a full knowledge of the Quranic and hadith commentaries, and a control of all the interpretative techniques discussed above;

(c) knowledge of the specialised disciplines of hadith, such as the assessment of narrators and of the matn [text];

(d) knowledge of the views of the Companions, Followers and the great imams, and of the positions and reasoning expounded in the textbooks of fiqh, combined with the knowledge of cases where a consensus (ijma) has been reached;

(e) knowledge of the science of juridical analogy (qiyas), its types and conditions;

(f) knowledge of ones own society and of public interest (maslahah);

(g) knowing the general objectives (maqasid) of the Shariah;

(h) a high degree of intelligence and personal piety, combined with the Islamic virtues of compassion, courtesy, and modesty.

A scholar who has fulfilled these conditions can be considered a mujtahid fil-shar, and is not obliged, or even permitted, to follow an existing authoritative madhhab.[44] This is what some of the Imams were saying when they forbade their great disciples from imitating them uncritically. But for the much greater number of scholars whose expertise has not reached such dizzying heights, it may be possible to become a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab, that is, a scholar who remains broadly convinced of the doctrines of his school, but is qualified to differ from received opinion within it.[45] There have been a number of examples of such men, for instance Imam al-Nawawi among the Shafi’is, Qadi Ibn Abd al-Barr among the Malikis, Ibn Abidin among the Hanafis, and Ibn Qudama among the Hanbalis. All of these scholars considered themselves followers of the fundamental interpretative principles of their own madhhabs, but are on record as having exercised their own gifts of scholarship and judgement in reaching many new verdicts within them.[46] It is to these experts that the Mujtahid Imams directed their advice concerning ijtihad, such as Imam al-Shafi’i’s instruction that ‘if you find a hadith that contradicts my verdict, then follow the hadith’.[47] It is obvious that whatever some writers nowadays like to believe, such counsels were never intended for use by the Islamically-uneducated masses. Imam al-Shafi`i was not addressing a crowd of butchers, nightwatchman and donkey-drovers.

Other categories of mujtahids are listed by the usul scholars; but the distinctions between them are subtle and not relevant to our theme.[48] The remaining categories can in practice be reduced to two: the muttabi (follower), who follows his madhhab while being aware of the Quranic and hadith texts and the reasoning, underlying its positions,[49] and secondly the muqallid (emulator), who simply conforms to the madhhab because of his confidence in its scholars, and without necessarily knowing the detailed reasoning behind all its thousands of rulings.[50]

Clearly it is recommended for the muqallid to learn as much as he or she is able of the formal proofs of the madhhab. But it is equally clear that not every Muslim can be a scholar. Scholarship takes a lot of time, and for the ummah to function properly most people must have other employment: as accountants, soldiers, butchers, and so forth.[51] As such, they cannot reasonably be expected to become great ulama as well, even if we suppose that all of them have the requisite intelligence. The Holy Quran itself states that less well-informed believers should have recourse to qualified experts: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know (16:43).[52] (According to the tafsir experts, the people of remembrance are the ulama.) And in another verse, the Muslims are enjoined to create and maintain a group of specialists who provide authoritative guidance for non-specialists: A band from each community should stay behind to gain instruction in religion and to warn the people when they return to them, so that they may take heed (9:122). Given the depth of scholarship needed to understand the revealed texts accurately, and the extreme warnings we have been given against distorting the Revelation, it is obvious that ordinary Muslims are duty bound to follow expert opinion, rather than rely on their own reasoning and limited knowledge. This obvious duty was well-known to the early Muslims: the Caliph Umar (r.a.) followed certain rulings of Abu Bakr (r.a.), saying I would be ashamed before God to differ from the view of Abu Bakr. And Ibn Masud (r.a.), in turn, despite being a mujtahid in the fullest sense, used in certain issues to follow Umar (r.a.). According to al-Shabi: Six of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) used to give fatwas to the people: Ibn Masud, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali, Zayd ibn Thabit, Ubayy ibn Kab, and Abu Musa (al-Ashari). And out of these, three would abandon their own judgements in favour of the judgements of three others: Abdallah (ibn Masud) would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Umar, Abu Musa would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ali, and Zayd would abandon his own judgement for the judgement of Ubayy ibn Kab.[53]

This verdict, namely that one is well-advised to follow a great Imam as ones guide to the Sunnah, rather than relying on oneself, is particularly binding upon Muslims in countries such as Britain, among whom only a small percentage is even entitled to have a choice in this matter. This is for the simple reason that unless one knows Arabic,[54] then even if one wishes to read all the hadith determining a particular issue, one cannot. For various reasons, including their great length, no more than ten of the basic hadith collections have been translated into English. There remain well over three hundred others, including such seminal works as the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal,[55] the Musannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba,[56] the Sahih of Ibn Khuzayma,[57] the Mustadrak of al-Hakim,[58] and many other multi-volume collections, which contain large numbers of sound hadiths which cannot be found in Bukhari, Muslim, and the other works that have so far been translated. Even if we assume that the existing translations are entirely accurate, it is obvious that a policy of trying to derive the Shariah directly from the Book and the Sunnah cannot be attempted by those who have no access to the Arabic. To attempt to discern the Shariah merely on the basis of the hadiths which have been translated will be to ignore and amputate much of the Sunnah, hence leading to serious distortions.[59]

Let me give just two examples of this. The Sunni Madhhabs, in their rules for the conduct of legal cases, lay down the principle that the canonical punishments (hudud) should not be applied in cases where there is the least ambiguity, and that the qadi should actively strive to prove that such ambiguities exist. An amateur reading in the Sound Six collections will find no confirmation of this.[60] But the madhhab ruling is based on a hadith narrated by a sound chain, and recorded in theMusannaf of Ibn Abi Shayba, the Musnad of al-Harithi, and the Musnad of Musaddad ibn Musarhad. The text is: “Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.”[61] Imam al-Sanani, in his book Al-Ansab, narrates the circumstances of this hadith: “A man was found drunk, and was brought to Umar, who ordered the hadd of eighty lashes to be applied. When this had been done, the man said: Umar, you have wronged me! I am a slave! (Slaves receive only half the punishment.) Umar was grief-stricken at this, and recited the Prophetic hadith, Ward off the hudud by means of ambiguities.”[62]

Another example is provided by the practice of istighfar for others during the Hajj. According to a hadith, ‘Forgiveness is granted to the Hajji, and to those for whom the Hajji prays.’ This hadith is not related in any of the collections so far translated into English; but it is narrated, by a sound isnad, in many other collections, including al-Mu`jam al-Saghir of al-Tabarani and the Musnad of al-Bazzar.[63]

Another example pertains to the important practice, recognised by the madhhabs, of performing sunnah prayers as soon as possible after the end of the Maghrib obligatory prayer. The hadith runs: Make haste to perform the two rakas after the Maghrib, for they are raised up (to Heaven) alongside the obligatory prayer. The hadith is narrated by Imam Razin in his Jami.

Because of the traditional pious fear of distorting the Law of Islam, the overwhelming majority of the great scholars of the past – certainly well over ninety-nine percent of them – have adhered loyally to a madhhab.[64] It is true that in the troubled fourteenth century a handful of dissenters appeared, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim;[65] but even these individuals never recommended that semi-educated Muslims should attempt ijtihad without expert help. And in any case, although these authors have recently been resurrected and made prominent, their influence on the orthodox scholarship of classical Islam was negligible, as is suggested by the small number of manuscripts of their works preserved in the great libraries of the Islamic world.[66]

Nonetheless, social turbulences have in the past century thrown up a number of writers who have advocated the abandonment of authoritative scholarship. The most prominent figures in this campaign were Muhammad Abduh and his pupil Muhammad Rashid Rida.[67] Dazzled by the triumph of the West, and informed in subtle ways by their own well-documented commitment to Freemasonry, these men urged Muslims to throw off the shackles of taqlid, and to reject the authority of the Four Schools. Today in some Arab capitals, especially where the indigenous tradition of orthodox scholarship has been weakened, it is common to see young Arabs filling their homes with every hadith collection they can lay their hands upon, and poring over them in the apparent belief that they are less likely to misinterpret this vast and complex literature than Imam al-Shafi’i, Imam Ahmad, and the other great Imams. This irresponsible approach, although still not widespread, is predictably opening the door to sharply divergent opinions, which have seriously damaged the unity, credibility and effectiveness of the Islamic movement, and provoked sharp arguments over issues settled by the great Imams over a thousand years ago.[68] It is common now to see young activists prowling the mosques, criticising other worshippers for what they believe to be defects in their worship, even when their victims are following the verdicts of some of the great Imams of Islam. The unpleasant, Pharisaic atmosphere generated by this activity has the effect of discouraging many less committed Muslims from attending the mosque at all. No-one now recalls the view of the early ulama, which was that Muslims should tolerate divergent interpretations of the Sunnah as long as these interpretations have been held by reputable scholars. As Sufyan al-Thawri said: ‘If you see a man doing something over which there is a debate among the scholars, and which you yourself believe to be forbidden, you should not forbid him from doing it.’[69] The alternative to this policy is, of course, a disunity and rancour which will poison and cripple the Muslim community from within.[70]

In a Western-influenced global culture in which people are urged from early childhood to think for themselves and to challenge established authority, it can sometimes be difficult to muster enough humility to recognise ones own limitations.[71] We are all a little like Pharaoh: our egos are by nature resistant to the idea that anyone else might be much more intelligent or learned than ourselves. The belief that ordinary Muslims, even if they know Arabic, are qualified to derive rulings of the Shariah for themselves, is an example of this egotism running wild. To young people proud of their own judgement, and unfamiliar with the complexity of the sources and the brilliance of authentic scholarship, this can be an effective trap, which ends by luring them away from the orthodox path of Islam and into an unintentional agenda of provoking deep divisions among the Muslims. The fact that all the great scholars of the religion, including the hadith experts, themselves belonged to madhhabs, and required their students to belong to madhhabs, seems to have been forgotten. Self-esteem has won a major victory here over common sense and Islamic responsibility.[72]

The Holy Quran commands Muslims to use their minds and reflective capacities; and the issue of following qualified scholarship is an area in which this faculty must be very carefully deployed. The basic point should be appreciated that no categoric difference exists between usul al-fiqh and any other specialised science requiring lengthy training. Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, who has articulated the orthodox response to the anti-Madhhab trend in his book: Non-Madhhabism: The Greatest Bida Threatening the Islamic Shari`a, likes to compare the science of deriving rulings to that of medicine. “If ones child is seriously ill”, he asks, “does one look for oneself in the medical textbooks for the proper diagnosis and cure, or should one go to a trained medical practitioner?” Clearly, sanity dictates the latter option. And so it is in matters of religion, which are in reality even more important and potentially hazardous: we would be both foolish and irresponsible to try to look through the sources ourselves, and become our own muftis. Instead, we should recognise that those who have spent their entire lives studying the Sunnah and the principles of law are far less likely to be mistaken than we are.[73]

Another metaphor might be added to this, this time borrowed from astronomy. We might compare the Quranic verses and the hadiths to the stars. With the naked eye, we are unable to see many of them clearly; so we need a telescope. If we are foolish, or proud, we may try to build one ourselves. If we are sensible and modest, however, we will be happy to use one built for us by Imam al-Shafi’i or Ibn Hanbal, and refined, polished and improved by generations of great astronomers. A madhhab is, after all, nothing more than a piece of precision equipment enabling us to see Islam with the maximum clarity possible. If we use our own devices, our amateurish attempts will inevitably distort our vision.

A third image might also be deployed. An ancient building, for instance the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, might seem imperfect to some who worship in it. Young enthusiasts, burning with a desire to make the building still more exquisite and well-made (and no doubt more in conformity with their own time-bound preferences), might gain access to the crypts and basements which lie under the structure, and, on the basis of their own understanding of the principles of architecture, try to adjust the foundations and pillars which support the great edifice above them. They will not, of course, bother to consult professional architects, except perhaps one or two whose rhetoric pleases them nor will they be guided by the books and memoirs of those who have maintained the structure over the centuries. Their zeal and pride leaves them with no time for that. Groping through the basements, they bring out their picks and drills, and set to work with their usual enthusiasm.

There is a real danger that Sunni Islam is being treated in a similar fashion. The edifice has stood for centuries, withstanding the most bitter blows of its enemies. Only from within can it be weakened. No doubt, Islam has its intelligent foes among whom this fact is well-known. The spectacle of the disunity and fitnas which divided the early Muslims despite their superior piety, and the solidity and cohesiveness of Sunnism after the final codification of the Shariah in the four Schools of the great Imams, must have put ideas into many a malevolent head. This is not to suggest in any way that those who attack the great madhhabs are the conscious tools of Islam’s enemies. But it may go some way to explaining why they will continue to be well-publicised and well-funded, while the orthodox alternative is starved of resources. With every Muslim now a proud mujtahid, and with taqlid dismissed as a sin rather than a humble and necessary virtue, the divergent views which caused such pain in our early history will surely break surface again. Instead of four madhhabs in harmony, we will have a billion madhhabs in bitter and self-righteous conflict. No more brilliant scheme for the destruction of Islam could ever have been devised.[74]


[1] Abdul Wadod Shalabi, Islam: Religion of Life (2nd ed., Dorton, 1989), 10. This is the purport of the famous hadith : ‘The best generation is my own, then that which follows them, then that which follows them’. (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 210, 211, 212, 214)

[2] The Khalifa was killed by Muslim rebels from Egypt, whose grievances included his alleged ‘innovation’ of introducing a standard text of the Holy Koran. (Evidently the belief among some modern Muslims that there can be no such thing as a ‘good innovation’ (bid`a hasana) has a long history!) For the full story, see pages 63-71 of M.A. Shaban, Islamic History AD 600-750 (AH 132): A New Interpretation (Cambridge, 1971).

[3] Shaban, 73-7.

[4] For the Kharijtes see Imam al-Tabari, History, vol. XVIII, translated by M. Morony (New York, 1987), 21-31. Their monstrous joy at having assassinated the khalifa `Ali ibn Abi Talib is recorded on page 22.

[5] For an account of the historical development of the fiqh, see Ahmad Hasan, The Early Development of Islamic Jurisprudence (Islamabad, 1970); Hilmi Ziya Ulken, Islam Dusuncesi (Istanbul, 1946), 68-100; Omer Nasuhi Bilmen, Hukuki Islamiyye ve Istalahati Fikhiyye Kamusu (Istanbul, 1949-52), I, 311-338.

[6] For a brief account of Shi’ism, see C. Glasse, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam (london, 1989), 364-70.

[7] Fada’ih al-Batiniya, ed. `Abd al-Rahman Badawi (Cairo, 1964).

[8] For a detailed but highly readable account of the Mongol onslaught, see B. Spuler, History of the Mongols, based on Eastern and Western Accounts of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (London, 1972); the best-known account by a Muslim historian is `Ala’ al-Din al-Juwayni, Tarikh-i Jihangusha, translated by J.A. Boyle as The History of the World-Conqueror (Manchester, 1958).

[9] For the slaughter of the ulema, see the dramatic account of Ahmad Aflaki, Manaqib al-`Arifin, ed. Tahsin Tazici (Ankara, 1959-61), I, 21, who states that 50,000 scholars were killed in the city of Balkh alone.

[10] The critical battle was fought in 873/1469, when the Mongol ruler of Iran was defeated by the Turkomans of the (Sunni) Ak Koyunlu dynasty, who were in turn defeated by Shah Isma`il, an extreme Shi`ite, in 906-7/1501, who inaugurated the Safavid rule which turned Iran into a Shi`i country. (The Cambridge History of Iran, VI, 174-5; 189-350; Sayyid Muhammad Sabzavari, tr. Sayyid Hasan Amin, Islamic Political and Juridical Thought in Safavid Iran [Tehran, 1989].)

[11] The Kharijites represent a tendency which has reappeared in some circles in recent years. Divided into many factions, their principles were never fully codified. They were textualist, puritanical and anti-intellectual, rejected the condition of Quraishite birth for their Imam, and declared everyone outside their grouping to be kafir. For some interesting accounts, see M. Kafafi, ‘The Rise of Kharijism’, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Egypt, XIV (1952), 29-48; Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal fi’l-milal wa’l-nihal (Cairo, 1320), IV, 188-92; Brahim Zerouki, L’Imamat de Tahart: premier etat musulman du Maghreb (Paris, 1987).

[12] Probably because he had written a book celebrating the virtues of the caliph `Ali. See Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (Hyderabad, 1325), I, 36-40.

[13] See, for example, Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, al-Burhan fi usul al-fiqh (Cairo, 1400), §§1189-1252.

[14] Ibn Qutayba, Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (Cairo, 1326). Readers of French will benefit from the translation of G. Lecomte: Le Traite des divergences du hadith d’Ibn Qutayba (Damascus, 1962). There is also a useful study by Ishaq al-Husayni: The Life and Works of Ibn Qutayba (Beirut, 1950). Mention should also be made of a later and inmost respects similar work, by Imam al-Tahawi (d. 321): Mushkil al-Athar (Hyderabad, 1333), which is more widely used among the ulema.

[15] Imam Abu’l-Wahid al-Baji (d. 474), Ihkam al-Fusul ila `Ilm al-Usul, ed. A. Turki (Beirut, 1986/1407), §§184-207; Imam Abu Ishaq al-Sirazi (d. 476), al-Luma` fi usual al-fiqh (Cairo, 1377), 17-24; Juwayni, §§327-52, 1247; Imam al-Shafi`i, tr. Majid Khadduri, Al-Shafi`i’s Risala: Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1987), 103-8. Shafi`i gives a number of well-known examples of Koranic texts being subject to takhsis. For instance, the verse ‘As for the thief, male and female, cut of their hands as a retribution from Allah,’ (5:42) appears to be unconditional; however it is subject to takhsis by the hadith which reads ‘Hands should not be cut off for fruits, nor the spadix of a palm tree, and that the hand should not be cut off unless the price of the thing stolen is a quarter of a dinar or more.’ (Malik, Muwatta’, Abu Daud, Sunan; see Shafi`i, Risala, 105.)

[16] Mohammad Hashim Kamali, Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Cambridge, 1991), 356-65. This excellent book by a prominent Afghan scholar is by far the best summary of the theory of Islamic law, and should be required reading for every Muslim who wishes to raise questions concerning the Shari`a disciples.

[17] The verses in question were: 2:219, 4:43, and 5:93. See Kamali, 16-17.

[18] Kamali, 150; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, tr. Imran Nyazee and Muhammad Abdul Rauf (Reading, 1994), 97. This new translation of the great classic Bidayat al-Mujtahid, only the first volume of which is available at present, is a fascinating explanation of the basic arguments over the proof texts (adilla) used by the scholars of the recognized madhhabs. Ibn Rushd was a Maliki qadi, but presents the views of other scholars with the usual respect and objectivity. The work is the best-known example of a book of the Shari`a science of `ilm al-khilaf (the ‘Knowledge of Variant Rulings’; for a definition of this science see Imam Hujjat al-Islam al-Ghazali, al-Mustasfa min `ilm al-usul, [Cairo, 1324] I, 5).

[19] Kamali, 150 quoting Shatibi, Muwafaqat, III, 63.

[20] Kamali, 154-160; Baji, §§383-450; Shirazi, 30-5; Juwayni, §§1412-1454; Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 107-129. The problem was first addressed systematically by Imam al-Shafi`i. ‘There are certain hadiths which agree with one another, and others which are contradictory to one another; the abrogating and the abrogated hadiths are clearly distinguished [in some of them]; in others the hadiths which are abrogating and abrogated are not indicated.’ (Risala, 179.) For cases in which the Holy Koran has abrogated a hadith, or (more rarely) a hadith has abrogated a Koranic verse, see Ghazali, Mustasfa, I, 124-6; Baji, §429-39; Juwayni, §1440-3. The sunna is able to abrogate the Koran because it too is a revelation (wahy); as Imam al-Baji explains it, ‘The Blessed Prophet’s own sunnas do not in reality abrogate anything themselves; they only state that Allah has cancelled the ruling of a Koranic passage. Hence the abrogation, in reality, is from Allah, whether theabrogating passage is in the Koran or the Sunna.’ (Baji, §435.)

[21] For this as an instance of abrogation, see Shafi`i, Risala (Khadduri), 133.

[22] Muslim, Jana’iz, 100.

[23] Kamali, 154.

[24] Kamali, 155; see also Shafi`i, Risala (khadduri), 168.

[25] Sayf ad-Din Ahmed Ibn Muhammad, Al-Albani Unveiled: An Exposition of His Errors and Other Important Issues (London, 2nd ed., 1415), 49-51; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, 168-170; Shafi`i, Risala (Khadduri), 199-202.

[26] M.Z. Siddiqi, Hadith Literature, its Origins, Development and Special Features (Revised ed. Cambridge, 1993), 3, 40, 126.

[27] Defects in the matn can sometimes make a hadith weak even if its isnad is sound (Siddiqi, 113-6).

[28] Kamali, 361; Bilmen, I, 74-6, 82-4. The classification of revealed texts under these headings is one of the most sensitive areas of usul al-fiqh.

[29] Kamali, 361.

[30] Kamali, 362.

[31] Kamali, 235-44; Ghazali, Mustasfa, 1, 191,2; Juwayni, §343.

[32] For some expositions of the difficult topic of qiyas, see Kamali, 197-228; Shirazi, 53-63; Juwayni, §§676-95; Imam Sayf al-Din al-Amidi (al-Ihkam fi Usul al-Ahkam, Cairo, 1332/1914), III, 261-437, IV, 1-161.

[33] Kamali, 363-4.

[34] The accessible English translation of his best-known work on legal theory has already been mentioned above in note 15.

[35] The question is often asked why only four schools should be followed today. The answer is straightforward: while in theory there is no reason whatsoever why the number has to be four, the historical fact is that only these four have sufficient detailed literature to support them. In connection with the hyper-literalist Zahiri madhhab, Ibn Khaldun writes: ‘Worthless persons occasionally feel obliged to follow the Zahiri school and study these books in the desire to learn the Zahiri system of jurisprudence from them, but they get nowhere, and encounter the opposition and disapproval of the great mass of Muslims. In doing so they often are considered innovators, as they accept knowledge from books for which no key is provided by teachers.’ (Muqaddima, tr. F. Rosenthal [Princeton, 1958], III, 6.)

[36] These are (in order of length, shortest first), al-Khulasa, al-Wajiz, al-Wasit and Basit. The great Imam penned over a hundred other books, earning him from a grateful Umma the title ‘Hujjat al-Islam’ (The Proof of Islam). It is hardly surprising that when the ulema quote the famous sahih hadith ‘Allah shall raise up for this Umma at the beginning of each century someone who will renew for it its religion,’ they cite Imam al-Ghazali as the renewer of the fifth century of Islam. See for instance Imam Muhammad al-Sakhawi (d. 902AH), al-Maqasid al-Hasana fi bayan kathirin min al-ahadith al-mushtahira `ala al-alsina (Beirut, 1405), 203-4, who lists the ‘renewers’ as follows: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, Ibn Surayj, Abu Hamid al-Isfaraini, Hujjut al-Islam al-Ghazali, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ibn Daqaq al-`Id, al-Balqini. Imam Ibn `Asakir (d. 571AH), in his famous work Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima nusiba ila al-Imam Abi’l-Hasan al-Ash`ari, ed. Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kawthari (Damascus, 1347, reproduced Beirut, 1404), 52-4, has the following list: `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, al-Shafi`i, al-Ash`ari, al-Baqillani, al-Ghazali.

[37] Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya `Ulum al-Din (Cairo: Mustafa al-Halibi, 1347), III, 65.

[38] ‘The most characteristic qualities of the great ulema are dignity and serenity, respect for other scholars, compassionate concern for the Umma, and following the Prophet, upon whom be blessings and peace, whose view was always broad, his wisdom perfect, and his toleration superb.’ Imam Yusuf al-Dajawi (d. 1365AH), Maqalat wa-Fatawa (Cairo: Majmu` al-Buhuth al-Islamiya, 1402), II, 583. `True fairness is to regard all the Imams as worthy; whoever follows the madhhab of a Mujtahid because he has not attained the level of Ijtihad, is not harmed by the fact that other imams differ from his own.’ (Shatibi, I`tisam, III, 260.) There are many examples cited by the scholars to show the respect of the madhhabs for each other. For instance, Shaykh Ibrahim al-Samadi (d. 1662), a pious scholar of Damascus, once prayed to be given four sons, so that each might follow one of the recognized madhhabs, thereby bringing a fourfold blessing to his house. (Muhammad al-Amin al-Muhibbi, Khulasat al-atar fi a`yan al-qarn al-hadi `ashar [Cairo, 1248], I, 48.) And it was not uncommon for scholars to be able to give fatwas in more than one madhhab (such a man was known technically as mufti al-firaq). (Ibn al-Qalanisi, Dhayl Tarikh Dimasq [Beirut, 1908], 311.) Hostility between the Madhhabs was rare, despite some abuse in the late Ottoman period. Al-Dhahabi counsels his readers as follows: ‘Do not think that your madhhab is the best, and the one most beloved by Allah, for you have no proof of this. The Imams, may Allah be pleased with them, all follow great goodness; when they are right, they receive two rewards, and when they are wrong, they still receive one reward.’ (al-Dhahabi, Zaghal al-`Ilm wa’l-Talab, 15, quoted in Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti, Al-Lamadhhabiya Akhtar Bid`a tuhaddid al-Shari`a al-Islamiya, 3rd edition, Beirut, 1404, 81.) The final words here (‘right … reward’) are taken from a well-known hadith to this effect (Bukhari, I`tisam, 21.)

[39] Most notoriously N. Couson, Conflicts and Tensions in Islamic Jurisprudence (Chicago, 1969), 43, 50, 96; but also I. Goldziher, Louis Ardet and Montgomery Watt.

[40] It will be useful here to refute an accusation made by some Orientalists, and even by some modern Muslims, who suggest that the scholars were reluctant to challenge the madhhab system because if they did so they would be ‘out of a job’, and lucrative qadi positions, restricted to followers of the orthodox Schools, would be barred to them. This is a particularly distasteful example of the modern tendency to slander men whose moral integrity was no less impressive than their learning: to suggest that the great Ulema of Islam followed the interpretation of Islam that they did simply for financial reasons is insulting and a disgraceful form of ghiba (backbiting). In any case, it can be easily refuted. The great ulema of the past were in almost every case men of independent means, and did not need to earn from their scholarship. For instance, Imam Ibn Hajar had inherited a fortune from his mother (al-Sakhawi, al-Daw’ al-Lami` li-Ahl al-Qarn al-Tasi` (Cairo, 1353-5), II, 36-40). Imam al-Suyuti came from a prominent and wealthy family of civil servants (see his own Husn al-Muhadara fi akhbar Misr wa’l-Wahira [Cairo, 1321], I, 153, 203). For examples of scholars who achieved financial independence see the editor’s notes to Ibn Jam`a’s Tadhkirat al-Sami` fi Adab al-`Alim wa’l-Muta`allim (Hyderabad, 1353), 210: Imam al-Baji was a craftsman who made gold leaf: ‘his academic associates recall that he used to go out to see them with his hand sore from the effects of the hammer’ (Dhahabi, Tadhkira, III, 349-50); while the Khalil ibn Ishaq, also a Maliki, was a soldier who had taken part in the liberation of Alexandria from the Crusaders, and often gave his fiqh classes while still wearing his chain mail and helmet (Suyuti, Husn al-Muhadara, I, 217.) And it was typical for the great scholars to live lives of great frugality: Imam al-Nawawi, who died at the age of 44, is said to have damaged his health by his ascetic lifestyle: for instance, he declined to eat of the fruit of Damascus, where he taught, because it was grown on land whose legal status he regarded as suspect. (al-Yafi`I, Mir’at al-Janan wa-`Ibrat al-Yaqzan [Hyderabad, 1338], IV, 1385.) It is not easy to see how such men could have allowed motives of financial gain to dictate their approach to religion.

[41] A mujtahid is a scholar qualified to perform ijtihad, defined as ‘personal effort to derive a Shari`a ruling of the furu` from the revealed sources.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.) His chief task – the actual process of derivation – is called istinbat, originally signifying in Arabic ‘bringing up water with difficulty from a well.’ (Bilmen, I, 247.)

[42] ‘When Allah’s Messenger, upon him be blessings and peace, wished to send Mu`adh ibn Jabal to the Yemen, he asked him: ‘How will you judge if an issue is presented to you for judgement?’ ‘By what is in Allah’s Book,’ he replied. ‘And if you do not find it in Allah’s Book?’ ‘Then by the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger.’ ‘And if it is not in the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger?’ ‘Then I shall strive in my own judgement’ (ajtahidu ra’yi). (Abu Daud, Aqdiya, 11.)

[43] Kamali, 366-393, especially 374-7; see also Amidi, IV, 219-11; Shirazi, 71-2; Bilmen, I, 247, 250, 251-2.

[44] Kamali, 386-8. Examples of such men from the time of the Tabi`un onwards include ‘Ibrahim al-Nakha`I, Ibn Abi Layla, Ibn Shubruma, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Hasan ibn Salih, al-Awza`i, `Amr ibn al-Harith, al-Layth ibn Sa`d, `Abdullah ibn Abi Ja`far, Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Salam, Abu Thawr, Ibn Khuzayma, Ibn Nasr al-Marwazi, Ibn Mundhir, Daud al-Zahiri, and Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, may Allah show them all His mercy.’ (Bilmen, I, 324.) It should be noted that according to some scholars a concession (rukhsa) exists on the matter of the permissibility of taqlid for mujtahid: Imam al-Baji and Imam al-Haramayn, for instance, permit a mujtahid to follow another mujtahid in cases where his own research to establish a matter would result in dangerous delay to the performance of a religious duty. (Baji, §783; Juwayni, §1505.)

[45] Kamali, 388; Bilmen, I, 248.

[46] ‘The major followers of the great Imams did not simply imitate them as some have claimed. We know, for instance, that Abu Yusuf and al-Shaybani frequently dissented from the position of Abu Hanifa. In fact, it is hard to find a single question of fiqh which is not surrounded by a debate, in which the independent reasoning and ijtihad of the scholars, and their determination to locate the precise truth, are very conspicuous. In this way we find Imam al-Shafi`i determining, in his new madhhab, that the time for Maghrib does not extend into the late twilight (shafaq); while his followers departed from this position in order to follow a different proof-text (dalil). Similarly, Ibn `Abd al-Barr and Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi hold many divergent views in the madhhab of Imam Malik. And so on.’ (Imam al-Dajawi, II, 584.)

[47] ‘Whenever a mujtahid reaches a judgement in which he goes against ijma`, or the basaic principles, or an unambiguous text, or a clear qiyas (al-qiyas al-jali) free of any proof which contradicts it, his muqallid is not permitted to convey his view to the people or to give a fatwa in accordance with it … however no-one can know whether this has occurred who has not mastered the principles of jurisprudence, clear qiyas, unambiguous texts, and anything that could intervene in these things; and to know this one is obliged to learned usul al-fiqh and immerse oneself in the ocean of fiqh.’ (Imam Shihab al-Din al-Qarafi, al-Furuq (Cairo, 1346), II, 109.)

[48] The ulema usually recognize seven different degrees of Muslims from the point of view of their learning, and for those who are interested they are listed here, in order of scholarly status. (1,2) The mujtahidun fi’l-shar` (Mujtahids in the Shari`a) and the mujtahidun fi’l-madhhab (Mujtahids in the Madhhab) have already been mentioned. (3) Mujtahidun fi’l-masa’il (Mujtahids on Particular Issues) are scholars who remain within a school, but are competent to exercise ijtihad on certain aspects within it which they know thoroughly. (4) Ashab al-Takhrij (Resolvers of Ambiguity), who are competent to ‘indicate which view was preferable in cases of ambiguity, or regarding suitability to prevailing conditions’. (5) Ashab al-Tarjih (People of Assessment) are ‘those competent to make comparisons and distinguish the correct (sahih) and the preferred (rajih, arjah) and the agreed-upon (mufta biha) views from the weak ones’ inside the madhhab. (6) Ashab al-Tashih (People of Correction): ‘those who could distinguish between the manifest (zahir al-riwaya) and the rare and obscure (nawadir) views of the schools of their following.’ (7) Muqallidun: the ‘emulators’, including all non-scholars. (Kamali, 387-9. See also Bilmen, I, 250-1, 324-6.) Of these seven categories, only the first three are considered to be mujtahids.

[49] This is explained by Imam al-Shatibi in the context of the following passage, all of which is quoted here to furnish a further summary of the orthodox position on taqlid. ‘A person obliged to follow the rules of the Shari`a must fall into one of three categories. [I] He may be a mujtahid, in which case he will practice the legal conclusions to which his ijtihad leads him. [II] He may be a complete muqallid, unappraised of the knowledge required. In his case, he must have a guide to lead him, and an arbitrator to give judgements for him, and a scholar to emulate. Obviously, he follows the guide only in his capacity as a man possessed of the requisite knowledge. The proof for this is that if he knows, or even suspects, that he does not in fact possess it, it is not permissible for him to follow him or to accept his judgement; in fact, no individual, whether educated or not, should think of following through taqlid someone who he knows is not qualified, in the way that a sick man should not put himself in the hands of someone whom he knows is not a doctor. [III] He may not have attained to the level of the Mujtahids, but he understands the dalil and its context, and is competent to understand it in order to prefer some rulings over others in certain questions. In his case, one must either recognize his preferences and views, or not. If they are recognized, then he becomes like a mujtahid on that issue; if they are not, then he must be classed alone with other ordinary non-specialist Muslims, who are obliged to follow Mujtahids. (al-I`tisam [Cairo, 1913-4] III, 251-3.)

An equivalent explanation of the status of the muttabi` is given by Amidi, IV, 306-7: ‘If a non-scholar, not qualified to make ijtihad, has acquired some of the knowledge required for ijtihad, he must follow the verdicts of the Mujtahids. This is the view of the correct scholars, although it has been rejected by some of the Mu`tazilites in Baghdad, who state: “That is not allowable, unless he obtains a clear proof (dalil) of the correctness of the ijtihad he is following.” But the correct view is that which we have stated, this being proved by the Koran, Ijma` and the intellect. The Koranic proof is Allah’s statement, “Ask the people of remembrance if you do not know,” which is a general (`amm) commandment to all. The proof by Ijma` is that ordinary Muslims in the time of the Companions and the Followers used to ask the mujtahids, and follow them in their Shari`a judgements, while the learned among them would answer their questions without indicating the dalil. They would not forbid them from doing this, and this therefore constitutes Ijma` on the absolute permissibility of an ordinary Muslim following the rulings of a mujtahid.’ For Amidi’s intellectual proof, see note 51 below.

[50] A muqallid is a Muslim who practices taqlid, which is the Shari`a term for ‘the acceptance by an ordinary person of the judgement of a mufti.’ (Juwayni, §1545.) The word ‘mufti’ here means either a mujtahid or someone who authentically transmits the verdict of a mujtahid. ‘As for the ordinary person [`ammi], it is obligatory [wajib] upon him to make taqlid of the ulema.’ (Baji, §783.) The actual choice of which mujtahid an ordinary Muslim should follow is clearly a major responsibility. ‘A muqallid may only make taqlid of another person after carefully examining his credentials, and obtaining reliable third-party testimony as to his scholarly attainments’ (Juwayni, §1511). (Imam Ibn Furak, however holds that a mujtahid’s own self-testimony is sufficient.) Imam Juwayni goes on to observe (§1515) that is is necessary to follow the best mujtahid available; whichis also the positoin of Imam al-Baji (§794). See also Shirazi (p. 72): ‘It is not permissible for someone asking for a fatwa to ask just anyone, lest he ask someone who has no knowledge of the fiqh. Instead it is obligatory (wajib) for him to ascertain the scholar’s learning and trustworthiness.’ And Qarafi (II, 110): ‘The Salaf, may Allah be pleased with them, were intensely reluctant to give fatwas. Imam Malik said, “A scholar should not give fatwas until he is regarded as competent to do so both by himself and by others.” In other words, the scholars must be satisfied of his qualifications. Imam Malik did not begin to give fatwas until he had been given permission (ijaza) to do so by forty turbaned ones [scholars].’

[51] ‘The dalil for our position is Allah’s commandment: So ask the people of remembrance, if you do not know. For if we forbade taqlid, everyone would need to become an advanced scholar, and no-one would be able [have time] to earn anything, and the earth would lie uncultivated.’ (Shirazi, 71.) ‘The intellectual proof [of the need for taqlid] is that if an issue of the furu` arises for someone who does not possess the qualifications for ijtihad then he will either not adopt an Islamic ruling at all, and this is a violation of the Ijma`, or, alternatively, he will adopt an Islamic ruling, either by investigating the proofs involved, or by taqlid. But an adequate investigation of the proofs is not possible for him, for it would oblige him, and all humanity, fully to investigate the dalils pertaining to the issues, thereby distracting them from their sources of income, and leading to the extinction of crafts and the ruin of the world.’ (Amidi, Ihkam, IV, 307-8.) ‘One of the dalils for the legitimacy of following the verdicts of the scholars is our knowledge that anyone who looks into these discussions and seeks to deduce rulings of the Shari`a will need to have the right tools, namely, the science of the rulings of the Koran and Sunna and usul al-fiqh, the principles of rhetoric and the Arabic language, and other sciences which are not easily acquired, and which most people cannot attain to. And even if some of them do attain to it, they only do so after long study, investigation and very great effort, which would require that they devote themselves entirely to this and do nothing else; and if ordinary people were under the obligation to do this, there would be no cultivation, commerce, or other employments which are essential for the continuance of humanity – and it is the ijma` of the Umma that this is something which Allah ta`ala has not obliged His slaves to do. … There is therefore no alternative for them to following the ulema.’ (Baji, §793.)

[52] ‘There is ijma` among the scholars that this verse is a commandment to whoever does not know a ruling or the dalil for it to follow someone who does. Almost all the scholars of usul al-fiqh have made this verse their principle dalil that it is obligatory for an ordinary person to follow a scholar who is a mujtahid.’ (al-Buti, 71; translated also in Keller, 17.)

[53] See also Dajawi, II, 576: ‘The Companions and Followers used to give fatwas on legal issues to those who asked for them. At times they would mention the source, if this was necessary, while at other times they would limit themselves to specifying the ruling.’ Al-Ghazali (Mustasfa, II, 385) explains that the existence of taqlid and fatwa among the Companions is a dalil for the necessity of this fundamental distinction: ‘The proof that taqlid is obligatory is the ijma` of the Companions. For they used to give fatwas to the ordinary people and did not command them to acquire the degree of ijtihad for themselves. This is known necessarily (bi’l-darura) and by parallel lines of transmission (tawatur) from both the scholars and the non-scholars among them.’ See also Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima (Bulaq ed., p. 216): ‘Not all the Companions were qualified to give fatwas, and Islam was not taken from all of them. That privilege was held only by those who had learnt the Koran, knew what it contained by what of abrogated and abrogating passages, ambiguous (mutashabih) and perspicuous (muhkam) expressions, and its other special features.’ And also Imam al-Baji (§793): ‘Ordinary Muslims have no alternative but to follow the Ulema. One proof of this is the ijma` of the Companions, for those among them who had not attained the degree of ijtihad used to ask the ulema of the Companions for the correct ruling on something which happened to them. Not one of the Companions criticized them for so doing; on the contrary, they gave them fatwas on the issues they had asked about, without condemning them or telling them to derive the rulings themselves [from the Koran and Sunna].’ See also Imam al-Amidi: in note 49 above.

A list of the muftis among the Companions is given by Juwayni (§§1494-9); they include the Four Khalifas, Talha ibn `Ubaydillah, `Abd al-Rahman ibn `Awf, and Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. Others were not muftis, such as Abu Hurayra, who despite his many narrations of hadiths was never known for his judgements (§1497). Shirazi (p. 52) confirms the obvious point that some Companions are considered more worthy of being followed in legal matters than others.

[54] As we have seen above, the ulema regard a mastery of the Arabic language as one of the essential qualifications for deriving the Shari`a directly from the Koran and Sunna. See Juwayni, §§70-216, where this is stressed. Juwayni records that Imam al-Shafi`i was so expert in the Arabic language, grammar and rhetoric that at a very young age he was consulted by the great philologist al-Asma`i, who asked his help in editing some early and very difficult collections of Arabic poetry. (Juwayni, §1501.) We also learn that Imam `Ibn al-Mubarak, the famous traditionalist of Merv, spent more money on learning Arabic than on traditions [hadith], attaching more importance on the former than the latter, and asking the students of hadith to spent twice as long on Arabic than on hadith … al-Asma`i held that someone who studied hadith without learning grammar was to be categorized with the forgers of hadith.’ (Siddiqi, 84-5.)

[55] Published in 6 volumes in Cairo in 1313 AH. Another work by him, the Kitab al-Zuhd (Beirut, 1403), also contains many hadiths.

[56] Published in 13 volumes in Bombay between 1386 and 1390.

[57] Edited by M.M. al-A`zami, Beirut, 1391-97.

[58] This is an important collection of hadiths who accuracy Imam al-Hakim al-Nisaburi considered to meet the criteria of Imams al-Bukhari and Muslim, but which had not been included in their collections. Published in four large volumes in Hyderabad between 1334-1342.

[59] Needless to say, the amateurs who deny taqlid and try to derive the rulings for themselves are even more ignorant of the derivative sources of Shari`a than they are of the Koran and Sunna. These other sources do not only include the famous ones such as ijma` and qiyas. For instance, the fatwas of the Companions are considered by the ulema to be a further important source of legislation. ‘Imam al-Shafi`i throughout his life taught that diya (bloodmoney) was increased in cases of crimes committed in the Haramayn or the Sacred Months, and he had no basis for this other than the statements of the Companions.’ (Juwayni, §1001.)

[60] There is a version of this hadith in Tirmidhi (Hudu, 2), but attached to an isnad which includes Yazid ibn Ziyad, who is weak.

[61] Ibn Abi Shayba, Musannaf, XI, 70.

[62] Sakhawi, 74-5.

[63] Sakhawi, 742.

[64] For a complete list of the most famous scholars of Islam, and the madhhabs to which they belonged see Sayf al-Din Ahmad, Al-Albani Unveiled, 97-9.

[65] For these writers see Ahmad ibn al-Naqib al-Misri, tr. Nuh Keller, Reliance of the Traveller (Abu Dhabi, 1991), 1059-60, 1057-9. The attitude of Ibn al-Qayyim is not consistent on this issue. In some passages of his I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in he seems to suggest that any Muslim is qualified to derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. But in other passages he takes a more intelligent view. For instance, he writes: ‘Is it permissible for a mufti who adheres to the madhhab of his Imam to give a fatwa in accordance with a different madhhab if that is more correct in his view? [The answer is] if he is [simply] following the principles of that Imam in procedures of ijtihad and ascertaining the proof-texts [i.e. is a mujtahid fi’l-madhhab], then he is permitted to follow the view of another mujtahid which he considers correct.’ (I`lam al-Muwaqqi`in, IV, 237.) This is a broad approach, but is nonetheless very far from the notion of simply following the ‘dalil’ every time rather than following a qualified interpreter. This quote and several others are given by Shaykh al-Buti to show the various opinions held by Ibn al-Qayyim on this issue, which, according to the Shaykh, reveal ‘remarkable contradictions’. (Al-Buti, 56-60.)

[66] Many of Ibn Taymiya’s works exist only as single manuscripts; and even the others, when compared to the works of the great scholars such as al-Suyuti and al-Nawawi, seem to have been copied only very rarely. See the list of ancient manuscripts of his works given by C. Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur (2nd. Ed. Leiden, 1943-9), II, 126-7, Supplement, II, 119-126.

[67] `Abduh, in turn, was influenced by his teacher and collaborator Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1839-97). Afghani was associated with that transitional ‘Young Ottoman’ generation which created the likes of Namik Kemal and (somewhat later) Zia Gokalp and Sati` al-Husari: men deeply traumatized by the success of the Western powers and the spectacle of Ottoman military failure, and who sought a cultural renewal by jettisoning historic Muslim culture while maintaining authenticity by retaining a ‘pristine essence’. In this they were inspired, consciously or otherwise, by the wider 19th century quest for authenticity: the nationalist philosophers Herder and Le Bon, who had outlined a similar revivalist-essentialist project for France and Germany based on the ‘original sources’ of their national cultures, had been translated and were widely read in the Muslim world at the time. Afghani was not a profound thinker, but his pamphlets and articles in the journal which he and `Abduh edited, al-`Urwat al-Wuthqa, were highly influential. Whether he believed in his own pan-Islamic ideology, or indeed in his attenuated and anti-historicist version of Islam, is unclear. When writing in contexts far from his Muslim readership he often showed an extreme scepticism. For instance, in his debate with Renan concerning the decline of Arab civilization, he wrote of Islam: ‘It is clear that where-ever it becomes established, this religion tried to stifle the sciences and it was marvellously served in its designs by despotism.’ (Reply to Renan, translated by N. Keddie in An Islamic Response to Imperialism: Political and Religious Writings of Sayyid Jamal al-Din ‘al-Afghani’ (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968), 183, 187. It is hardly surprising that `Abduh should have worked so hard to suppress the Arabic translation of this work!

Afghani’s reformist ideology led him to found a national political party in Egypt, al-Hizb al-Watani, including not only Muslims, but in which ‘all Christians and Jews who lived in the land of Egypt were eligible for membership.’ (Jamal Ahmed, The Intellectual Origins of Egyptian Nationalism (London, 1960), 16.) This departure from traditional Islamic notions of solidarity can be seen as a product of Afghani’s specific attitude to taqlid. But his pupil’s own fatwas were often far more radical, perhaps because `Abduh’s ‘partiality for the British authority which pursued similar lines of reform and gave him support’ (Ahmed, 35). We are not surprised to learn that the British governor of Egypt, Lord Cromer, wrote: ‘For many years I gave to Mohammed Abdu all the encouragement in my power’ (Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt [ New York, 1908], II, 180). An example is the declaration in `Abduh’s tafsir (much of which is by Rida) that the erection of statues is halal. The same argument was being invoked by Ataturk, who, when asked why he was erecting a statue of himself in Ankara, claimed that ‘the making of statues is not forbidden today as it was when Muslims were just out of idolatry, and that it is necessary for the Turks to practice this art, for it is one of the arts of civilization’. (C. Adams, Islam and Modernism in Egypt [London, 1933], 193-4.)

[68] A poorly-argued but well-financed example of a book in this category is a short text by the Saudi writer al-Khajnadi, of which an amended version exists in English. This text aroused considerable concern among the ulema when it first appeared in the 1960s, and Shaykh Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti’s book was in fact written specifically in refutation of it. The second and subsequent editions of al-Buti’s work, which shows how Khajnadi systematically misquoted and distorted the texts, contain a preface which includes an account of a meeting between al-Buti and the Albanian writer Nasir al-Din al-Albani, who was associated with Khajnadi’s ideas. The three-hour meeting, which was taped, was curious inasmuch as al-Albani denied that Khajnadi was stating that all Muslims can derive rulings directly from the Koran and Sunna. For instance where Khajnadi makes the apparently misleading statement that ‘As for the Madhhabs, these are the views and ijtihads of the ulema on certain issues; and neither Allah nor His messenger have compelled anyone to follow them,’ Al-Albani explains that ‘anyone’ (ahad) here in fact refers to ‘anyone qualified to make ijtihad’. (Al-Buti, 13.) Al-Albani went on to cite several other instances of how readers had unfortunately misunderstood Khajnadi’s intention. Shaykh al-Buti, quite reasonably, replied to the Albanian writer: ‘No scholar would ever use language in such a loose way and make such generalizations, and intend to say something so different to what he actually and clearly says; in fact, no-one would understand his words as you have interpreted them.’ Albani’s response was: ‘The man was of Uzbek origin, and his Arabic was that of a foreigner, so he was not able to make himself as clear as an Arab would. He is dead now, and we should give him the benefit of the doubt and impose the best interpretation we can on his words!’ (al-Buti, 14.) But al-Albani, despite his protestations, is reliably said to believe even now that taqlid is unacceptable. Wa-la hawla wa-la quawwata illa bi’Llah.

[69] The ulema also quote the following guiding principles of Islamic jurisprudence: ‘That which is wrong (munkar) need not be condemned as [objectively] wrong unless all scholars agree (in ijma`) that it is so.’ (Dajawi, II, 583.) Imam al-Dajawi (II, 575) also makes the following points: ‘The differences of opinion among the ulema are a great mercy (rahma) upon this Umma. `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz declared: “It would not please me if the Companions of Muhammad, upon whom be blessings and peace, had not disagreed, for had they not done so, no mercy would have come down.” Yahya ibn Sa`id, one of the great hadith narrators among the Followers (Tabi`un), said: “The people of knowledge are a people of broadness (ahl tawsi`a). They continue to give fatwas which are different from each other, and no scholar reproaches another scholar for his opinion.” However, if ordinary people took their rulings straight from the Koran and Sunna, as a certain faction desires, their opinions would be far more discordant than this, and the Four Schools would no longer be four, but thousands. Should that day come, it will bring disaster upon disaster for the Muslims – may we never live to see it!’

One could add that ‘that day’ seems already to be upon us, and that the resulting widening of the argument on even the most simple juridical matters is no longer tempered by the erstwhile principles of politeness and toleration. The fiercely insulting debate between Nasir al-Din al-Albani and the Saudi writer al-Tuwayjiri is a typical instance. The former writer, in his book Hijab al-Mar’a al-Muslima, uses the Koran and Sunna to defend his views that a woman may expose her face in public; while the latter, in his al-Sarim al-Mashhur `ala Ahl al-Tabarruj wa’l- Sufur, attacks Albani in the most vituperative terms for failing to draw from the revealed sources and supposedly obvious conclusion that women must always veil their faces from non-mahram men. Other example of this bitter hatred generation by the non-Madhhab style of discord, based in attempts at direct istinbat, are unfortunately many. Hardly any mosque or Islamic organization nowadays seems to be free of them.

The solution is to recall the principle referred to above, namely that two mujtahids can hold differing opinions on the furu`, and still be rewarded by Allah, while both opinions will constitute legitimate fiqh. (Juwayni, §§1455-8; Bilmen, I, 249.) This is clearly indicated in the Koranic verses: ‘And Daud and Sulayman, when they gave judgement concerning the field, when people’s sheep had strayed and browsed therein by night; and We were witness to their judgement. We made Sulayman to understand [the case]; and unto each of them We gave judgement and knowledge.’ (21:78-9) The two Prophets, upon them be peace, had given different fatwas; and Sulayman’s was the more correct, but as Prophets they were infallible (ma`sum), and hence Daud’s judgement was acceptable also.

Understanding this is the key to recreating the spirit of tolerance among Muslims. Shaykh Omer Bilmen summarizes the jurists’ position as follows: ‘The fundamentals of the religion, namely basic doctrine, the obligatory status of the forms of worship, and the ethical virtues, are the subject of universal agreement, an agreement to which everyone is religiously obliged to subscribe. Those who diverge from the rulings accepted by the overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims are considered to be the people of bid`a and misguidance, since the dalils (proof-texts) establishing them are clear. But it is not a violation of any Islamic obligation for differences of opinion to exist concerning the furu` (branches) and juz’iyyat (secondary issues) which devolve from these basic principles. In fact, such differences are a necessary expression of the Divine wisdom.’ (Bilmen, I, 329.)

A further point needs elucidating. If the jurists may legitimately disagree, how should the Islamic state apply a unified legal code throughout its territories? Clearly, the law must be the same everywhere. Imam al-Qarafi states the answer clearly: ‘The head of state gives a judgement concerning the [variant rulings which have been reached by] ijtihad, and this does away with the disagreement, and obliges those who follow ijtihad verdicts which conflict with the head of state’s to adopt his verdict.’ (Qarafi, II, 103; affirmed also in Amidi, IV, 273-4.) Obviously this is a counsel specifically for qadis, and applies only to questions of public law, not to rulings on worship.

[70] This was understood as early as the 18th century. Al-Buti quotes Shah Waliullah al-Dahlawi (Hujjat Allah al-Baligha, I, 132) as observing: ‘The Umma up to the present date … has unanimously agreed that these four recorded madhhabs may be followed by way of taqlid. In this there are manifest benefits and advantages, especially in these days in which enthusiasm has dimmed greatly, and souls have been given to drink of their own passions, so that everyone with an opinion is delighted with his opinion.’ This reminds us that Islam is not a totalitarian religion which denies the possibility and legitimacy of variant opinions. ‘The Muslim scholars are agreed that the mujtahid cannot incur a sin in regard to his legitimate ijtihad exercised to derive judgements of Shari`a. [Only the likes of] Bishr al-Marisi, Ibn `Aliyya, Abu Bakr al-Asamm and the deniers of qiyas, such as the Mu`tazilites and the Twelver Shi`a, believe that there is only one true ruling in each legal issue, so that whoever does not attain to it is a sinner.’ (Amidi, IV, 244.) This is of course an aspect of the Divine mercy, and a token of the sane and generous breadth of Islam. ‘Allah desires ease for you, not difficulty.’ (Koran, 2:185) ‘I am sent to make things easy, not to make them more difficult.’ (Bukhari, `Ilm, 12.) ‘Never was Allah’s Messenger, may blessings and peace be upon him, given the choice between two options but that he chose the easier of them, unless it was a sin.’ (Bukhari, Manaqib, 23.) But the process lamented in Dahlawi’s day, by which people simply ignored this Sunna principle, has nowadays become far more poisonous. What is particularly damaging is that egos have become so powerful that the old Muslim adab of polite tolerance during debate has been lost in some circles, as people find it hard to accept that other Muslims might hold opinions that differ from their own. It must be realized that if Allah tells Musa (upon him be peace) to speak ‘gently’ to Pharoah (20:43), and commands us ‘not to debate with the People of the Book save in a most excellent way,’ (29:46) then how much more important must it be to debate politely with people who are neither Pharoahs nor Christians, but are of our own religion?

[71] Probably because of an underlying insecurity, many young Muslim activists cannot bear to admit that they might not know something about their religion. And this despite the example of Imam Malik, who, when asked forty questions about fiqh, answered ‘I do not know’ (la adri) to thirty-six of them. (Amidi, IV, 221; Bilmen, I, 239.) How many egos nowadays can bear to admit ignorance even once? They should remember the saying: ‘He who makes most haste to give a fatwa, makes most haste to the Fire.’ (Bilmen, I, 255.) Imam al-Subki condemns ‘those who make haste to give fatwas, relying on the apparent meaning of the [revealed] phrases without thinking deeply about them, thereby dragging other people into ignorance, and themselves into the agonies of the Fire.’ (Taj al-Din al-Subki, Mu`id al-Ni`am wa-Mubid al-Niqam (Brill, 1908), 149. Even Imam al-Sha`bi (d.103), out of his modesty and adab, and his awareness of the great complexity of the fiqh, did not consider himself a mufti, only a naqil (transmitter of texts). (Bilmen, I, 256.)

[72] Cf. Imam al-Dajawi, II, 579: ‘By Allah, this view (that ordinary people should not follow madhhabs) is nothing less than an attempt to fling the door wide open for people’s individual preferences, thereby turning the Book and the Sunna into playthings to be manipulated by those deluded fools, driven by their compounded ignorance and their corrupt imaginings. It is obvious that personal preferences vary enormously, and that ignorant people will arrive at their conclusions on the basis of their own emotions and imaginings. So what will be the result if we put them in authority over the Shari`a, so that they are able to interpret it in the light of their own opinions, and play with it according to their preferences?’

[73] Buti, 107-8. The same image is used by Imran Nyazee: ‘Taqlid, as distinguished from blind conversatism, is the foundation of all relationships based on trust, like those between a patient and his doctor, a client and his lawyer, and a business and its accountant. It is a legal method for ensuring that judges who are not fully-qualified mujtahids may be able to decide cases in the light of precedents laid down by independent jurists … The system of taqlid implies that as long as the layman does not get the training for becoming a doctor he cannot practice medicine, for example. In the case of medicine such a person may be termed a quack and may even be punished today, but in the case of Islamic law he is assuming a much graver responsibility: he is claiming that the opinion he is expressing is the law intended by Allah.’ (Introduction to The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer, xxxv.)

[74] It hardly needs adding, as a final observation, that nothing in all the above should be understood as an objection to the extension and development of the fiqh in response to modern conditions. Much serious ijtihad is called for; the point being made in this paper is simply that such ijtihad must be carried out by scholars qualified to do so.

“The Islamic movement risks ceasing to form an authentic summons to cultural and spiritual renewal, and existing 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.”

By British convert to Islam, Abdal-Hakim Murad


‘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 judgmental 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.

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.


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.

British convert to Islam, Abdal-Hakim Murad, was born in 1960 in London. He was educated Cambridge University (MA Arabic), and at al-Azhar University, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam.  He has studied under traditional Islamic scholars in Cairo and Jeddah, including Shaykh Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad, and Shaykh Ismail al-Adawi.  Abdal-Hakim Murad has translated several classical Arabic works, including Imam al-Bayhaqi’s ‘Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith’, and ‘Selections from the Fath al-Bari’. He is also the Trustee and Secretary of The Muslim Academic Trust and Director of The Anglo-Muslim Fellowship for Eastern Europe.

Read other articles by Abdal-Hakim Murad on this site here.


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.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

نحمده ونصلى على رسوله الكريم



To those who love I present Sunni intellectual way

In the Malay World beloved land far away

Embracing all countenance of knowing traditional and rational way

All manner of knowing – divine and human mental sway

Guaranteeing Truth acts honour and man’s worthy way

In globalization values and morals withering away


Knowledge begins as lights from One Most Knowing

Then touching universal reason – manifesting revealing

Descending to human recipient prophetic receptacle receiving

Moving then unto human reason purified being

Crystalizing as pearls treasure in Sunni way of knowing

Combining in totality traditional and rational path perceiving


Within this ocean dive the learned in sacred sciences

From the Companions the blessed to ones like Ash’aris

Continuing with Baqillani to al-Ghazali and al-Razi

Truly including al-Shafi’I and the mujtahids all Sunnies

Therein ibn Khaldun among learned in rational sciences

Also Suyuti up to Waliyullah al-Dihlawi


In Sunni World here there is al-Raniri ‘Abd al-Rauf also al-Fansuri

Also al-Falimbani again al-Banjari  again Yusuf Makasari

Continuing with Daud Ahmad and Zain al-Fatani

Rows of them the learned divines of the Sunnies

Presenters of the creed, sacred laws, morals, rationality, spirituality

In constellation stars in knowing among Sunnies


Sunni frame in knowing total harmonizing

Capable of salvation for morals and heart realizing

Curing the malady of minds confused in fever suffering

So many suffering seriously yet choosing the way of covering

Sunni way giving safety in faith values and morals in behaving

Facing fatal trials while globalizing


Only through these truth in faith be solved

Including about God in servitude devotions involved

Values on good and evil in life resolved

As in the adage ‘life is based on customs followed

Customs based on Sacred Law hallowed

Sacred law based on Scripture obeyed’


Through their intelligence pearls of knowledge more than thousand years

Strength for handhold human intelligence anchored on sustained views

Giving conviction confidence to man in cultures with conflicts

In age of postmodern culture clashing without ends

In age when power of Satan serenading false melodies

Come we take shelter for safety under shades


In culture of dialogues we need certainty

The axis determining truth direction and equity

Without Sunni mode of knowing constituting truth sustainability

We drift away to the coasts of destruction cultural calamity

Sans meanings sans directions sans identity

Bereft of honour enemies victorious we in bankruptcy


Together in this meeting in Bangi we arrive at the decision

Determine Sunni frame of knowing guaranteeing salvation

Combining within it the welfare of the world and eternal salvation

Enhancing philosophy of knowing in religion and worldly life estimation

Combining works of reason the senses with guidance of revelation

That is the path the one only with acts saving civilization


Come we save the Malay World this Sunni region

We choose the frame for way of knowing for saving the religion

Facing the West those against reality of human welfare

Empowering all strength from revelation prophecy and human reason

Combined within it sharpness in intellectual penetration, taqwa and morals in iman

Realizing the life of a servant of the One being His vicegerent


This is the path one only coming from the One Creator

Teaching mankind life of devotion not in disobedience

Providing the way good and evil values stable with power

Way of life civilization complete ready

Combining strength of reason the heart and senses

Bestowing manner of knowing securing life of safety and success


From God we make supplications for blessings and clemency

Our gathering bestowed with guidance and mercy

So that this will recur in the land showered with mercy

In the Nusantara with history promoting learning in plenty

This being continuous guidance for the region for the Community

Guidance in the age when civilization and culture ravaged by infamy


Composed by the Roving Preacher of the Malay World 23rd of August 2001

Composed in English – the Second Conference of Islamic Thought UKM 6th Oct.2009.

To be recited in the Bilik Senat UKM on 6th Oct 2009



Muhammad ‘Uthman El-Muhammady[1]

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

نحمده ونصلى على رسوله الكريم

This paper argues that the Malay-Indonesian World should maintain its adherence to and benefit from the ethical, spiritual, intellectual and cultural guidance of the Islamic mainstream Sunni discourse which has for so long been the core of its culture and civilization apart from its adherence to the local customary practices. This mainstream universal Islamic discourse can be seen as to be represented by the  four universal themes of Islamic intellectuality: the theological, crystallizing in the Ash’ari-Maturidi theological school; the spiritual, ethical and philosophical stance in the school of al-Ghazali and those like him; in the modern world that of Sai’d Nursi; the legal crystallizing in the  legal narratives of the mujtahid imams; for the Malay World that of Imam al-Shafi’i, and finally the cultural and civilizational crystallizing in the Khaldunian discourse; in the modern era that of Malik Bennabi which can be considered as the prolongation of  the Khaldunian discourse. Then there should be the additional relevant input from the best intellectual and cultural experience of the modern world. This is for a number of most pressing reasons: for maintaining the guaranteed eternal saving truths of the Islamic message, for intellectual homogeneity, for ethical, moral and spiritual stability, for performing the stable foundation of the ummatic civilization, and, of course, for facing the onslaught of philosophic and ethical modernity and postmodernity – Allah willing – without losing out. Issues and perspectives involved in these themes will be considered.


What is meant by mainstream intellectual discourse of Islam here is that religious discourse of the great majority of scholars of Islamic sacred scholarship covering various fields of learning: like Qur’anic and its sciences, the traditions and its sciences, the classical theology in kalam, discourse on spirituality in tasawwuf, the legal discourse in classical fiqh, including the new legal rulings made by the jurists and included into this discourse on historical and civilizational issues. This discourse is characterized by the intellectual stance of understanding revelation and prophecy through the mediation of the epistemological construct and its methodology throughout the centuries. This position is fundamentally related to a number of principles determining the nature of this discourse: the Absolute Being,  being al-Haqq,[2] the Absolute Truth, He Being on the Straight Divine Axis,[3] He being the Preserver (al-Muhaimin)[4] [of beings, things, meanings], then the Qur’anic revelation itself as muhaiminan ‘alaihi[5] being guardian over fundamental meanings of Divine Revelation in history, the principle of consensus in the verse on sabil al-mu’minin,[6] the role of the mujtahids,  the existence  and function of consensus (ijma’),  the appearance of the mujaddids at the head of Muslim century.[7] Then the prophetic guarantee about the continuous existence of a group in my community who will be prominently victorious on the truth until the Day of Judgment, those who differ from them will not be able to harm them.[8]

Mainstream theological discourse[9] preeminently  means the accepted theological discourse of figures like al-Ash’ari, al-Maturidi, al-Tahawi, Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i, al-Baqillani, al-Baghdadi, Imam al-Haramayn, al-Ghazali, al-Razi and so on until the spread of the theological texts of Umm al-Barahin, Jawharah of al-Laqqani and so on within the mainstream discourse. This covers fundamental discussions of God, Divine Nature, Attributes, Acts, manifestations in sacred history, prophecy, its function reality and nature, the angelic world, its nature, functions, revelation, the prophets and messengers, their reality, nature and functions, the hereafter, its reality, nature and function, the divine governance expressed in Divine Decree and Pre-Measurement. These realities remain, and will not cease to be. The discussions and proofs can come from revealed texts, human reasoning, the realm of nature, science, Quantum Theory, whatever. But they shall continuously be, and will not cease to be; in the nature of things, as has been so well stated, in the nature of things, it is the human who must conform to the Divine and not the Divine to the human, with all the attending intellectual and spiritual consequences.

In the domain of spirituality, the mainstream discourse in this  field is guided by  discourses of figures like Junaid al-Baghdadi, al-Qushairi, al-Ghazali, with his magisterial Ihya,  al-Jilani, al-Shadhili, and others and for those who can appreciate their real position within the ambiance of this discourse, Ibn ‘Arabi and Jalal al-Din Rumi (provided their statements are understood while anchored to the moorings of this mainstream discourse).[10] These works portray not philosophical systems but results of spiritual witnessing and not mere mental speculations of the thinker in the modern provincial sense of those who have lost their sense of the sacred and the transcendent. In modern times the work of Sa’id Nursi does provide guidance in this domain-him being a figure with a masterly grasp of mainstream classical discourse, intimate knowledge and understanding of science and technology, with authentic spiritual vision and realization, and intense educational and social activism.

In the domain of spiritual ethics, again the above figures with their discourses do guide those who are the adherents of the mainstream discourse in their ethical life in the most profound way. The spiritual ethics of al-Qushairi can be seen in his Risalah al-Qushairiyyah that of al-Ghazali of course is in the Ihya’, the Minhaj al-‘Abidin, the al-Munqidh min al-Dadal and at the deepest level, can be found in the al-Madnun (which is being edited by our young scholar al-Akiti, at the University of Oxford). The philosophical views of al-Ghazali can be seen in the Tahafut al-Falasifah and Maqasid al-Falasifah.

In the domain of Islamic sacred law, mainstream discourse is found in the views of the mujtahid imams of the four schools and their adherents. All this is relevant for contemporary times. For the Malay World the Shafi’i school is the dominant legal school which is being loyally adhered to, with a number of minor departures in some details of the law.[11]

In the domain of culture and civilization, mainstream discourse can be found in the works of Ibn Khaldun (the Muqaddimah), and those of Malik Bennabi. The  diverse subjects discoursed in this sacred community[12] is reflected in al-Fihrist of Ibn Nadim,  the  Kitab al-Sa’adah of Tashkopruzade, discussed in al-Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, with the technical terms elucidated in such works, among others as the monumental Kashshat Istilahat al-Funnun of ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Tahanawi.[13]


When we come to the question of the position of Islamic mainstream discourse in the Malay World, we find that this has been discussed in an engaging manner in that important work Modern Trends in Islamic Theological Discourses in Twentieth Century Indonesia: A Critical Survey by Fauzan Saleh[14] We can touch on some of the important issues in the work later. The other work Islam and the Malay-Indonesian World by Peter Riddell[15] gives very summarized situation of the Islamic discourse in the Malay-Indonesian World, of course with no special focus on the notion of mainstream intellectual discourse as such. Nevertheless it is a useful work giving a summary of the intellectual situation. Only that the present writer feels other dimensions from the Malaysia scene should addressed.

We have  seen this mainstream discourse in the Malay-Indonesian World in the theological texts like Matan al-Jawharah of al-Laqqani, the Bidayatul Hidayah of Shamsuddin  of Acheh, the elaborations of texts of Umm al-Barahin and others, the texts ranging from the simple Faridah al-Fara’id of Ahmad al-Fatani to the possibly most   massive theological work Ward alZawahir of Shaikh Daud al-Fatani, then ‘Aqidatul-Najin of Shaykh Zayn al-‘Abidin al-Fatani and others. The mainstream position in theological domain is also reflected in the Tuhfah al-Raghibin of Shaykh Arsyad al-Banjari dealing with various deviationist groups which are at variance with the accepted mainstream discourse of the community.[16]

In relation to this discussion on mainstream discourse and its realization in the Malay World there are a number of concerns like the following:

  • Rejection of ta’wil for mutashabihat elements in the Qur’an and Sunnah, whereas the salaf also did use ta’wil[17] whenever necessary; not using ta’wil will make certain expressions not understandable to the  common believer; so the  choice is between tafwid submission and acceptance, leaving the meanings and reality to Allah or ta’wil for the common man of belief to avoid  leading people to heresy of attributing attributes of creation to God.
  • The intellectual attitude of rejection of the use of elements from philosophy in theological discussions considering this as bid’ah; mainstream position permits its use whenever necessity demands; reasoning has to use tools, like logic, terms or  jauhar, arad – like now substance, accidents, atoms, quarks, electrons and etc even though the Prophet saw did not use it for obvious reasons to person of sound reason. Use of logic has been considered as part of the meanings of the hadith which reads wisdom is the lost property of the believer, wherever he finds it he is most entitled to it by al-Munawi in his commentary of the Jami al-Saghir of al-Suyuti.
  • The accusation that there is rejection of philosophy totally, leading to intellectual sterility, something not compatible with the intellectual aspirations of a man like al-Ghazali and others like him.
  • Division of tauhid into various categories such as tawhid rubiyyah, uluhiyyah and asma’ wa al-sifat in total isolation, hence leading to the attribution of  shirk to tawassul and so on; a stance not found in mainstream discourse, with  the practical consequences in history and life. The Qur’anic verses taken as proofs for this stance are not valid (al-‘Ankabut, 65) etc.
  • The claim of some quarters that  secularism has prevailed  in the Malay World  and elsewhere in the Muslim World leading to wholesale apostasy, collective apostasy etc, what are the implications? The  coming of the British to Malaya brought secularism and etc (with the theologico-spiritual  consequence with Turkey as an exception, with her Principles of Kemalism)
  • See the concept of secularism as defined by George J. Holyoake.[18] “Secularism is the study of promoting human welfare by material means; measuring human welfare by the utilitarian rule, and making the service of others a duty of life. Secularism relates to the present existence of man, and to action, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life – having for its objects the development of the physical, moral, and intellectual nature of man to the highest perceivable point, as the immediate duty of society: inculcating the practical sufficiency of natural morality apart from Atheism, Theism, or Christianity: engaging its adherents in the promotion of human improvement by material means, and making these agreements the ground of common unity for all who would regulate life by reason and ennoble it by service. The Secular is sacred in its influence on life, for by purity of material conditions the loftiest natures are best sustained, and the lower the most surely elevated. Secularism is a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable. It replaces theology, which mainly regards life as a sinful necessity, as a scene of tribulation through which we pass to a better world. Secularism rejoices in this life, and regards it as the sphere of those duties which educate men to fitness for any future and better life, should such transpire.”[19] To the present writer of this paper this has nothing to do with Malaysia and many other Muslim countries, with the exception of Turkey, which has made secularism as her state philosophy.[20]
  • The rejection of classical theology and metaphysics under the influence of postmodernism,  deconstructionism etc, rejection of rigid definitions in theology, of iman-kufr dichotomy, truth-batil  etc considered as ‘irrelevant confrontations’ in intellectual discourse.

In the  domain  of spirituality we have seen the  writings of Shaikh Abd al-Samad al-Falimbani with his Sayr al-Salikin and the Hidayah al-Salikin and others Kan al-Minan Sharah of Hikam Abi Madyan by Shaykh Daud al-Fatani, the translation of Minhaj al-‘Abidin of al-Ghazali by Shaykh Daud al-Fatani and others, then the  writings of Shaikh Yusuf of Maskasar (in Arabic and some already translated into Indonesian  for example by Tudjimah) and other works reflecting mainstream position in spirituality, away from deviationist  leanings.

So with the mainstream epistemological construct in the Malay World, together with its methodology and tools, this remains intellectually and spiritually valid until the present; and all this include matters like revelation, prophecy, human reason and experience, within a system teaching man dimensions of knowing. Other data of knowledge – including contemporary findings and useful interpretations – can be incorporated within it and there is no intellectual necessity for abandoning this intellectual construct in seeking for a better one as alternative for us simply there is no better one. And there is no question of looking for an alternative either, because this is not a matter of looking for something like clothing for the sake of novelty; this is a question touching the substance of the human spirit and intellect.

For example, the epistemological construct of Shafi’i in law and the philosophy of law, has not been intellectually invalidated; new matters should be incorporated into it, new keys can be found for unraveling its discussions, but the framework is valid. The spiritual, ethical and philosophical construct of al-Ghazali is still valid and legitimate; it has never been successfully invalidated intellectually and spiritually; in fact we are indebted to him for such profound discussions on religious matters starting from the philosophical, ethical, spiritual and metaphysical, ranging from al-Munqidh, Tahafut, al-Ihya then Mishkat al-Anwar then al-Madnun.[21]

In fact there is no question of substituting new epistemological constructs to take the place of those narratives, simply because critiques  against them has failed to provide convincing arguments for such substitutions, all the more so those arguments has not been based on authentic understanding  of the previous constructs which are considered as to have been invalidated or intellectually obsolete.

Arguments of being jumud or static and unchanging, stagnant, can be leveled against individuals and certain institutions but not against the authentic expressions of the mainstream discourse itself. So when the issue is seen in the context of the total construct, there is no valid argument against the construct or the discourse itself. Granted there is the necessity for re-understanding the discourse; but there is no argument invalidating it.

The argument about Islamic theology being based on Greek philosophy, or infused with Greek influence, this has to be looked at closely. First Islamic theology in the sense of usul al-din is based on the Qur’an, Hadith, ijma’, and elaborations of those who are knowledgeable in Islamic learning. The theological conclusions are not based on hurried speculations but based on the Qur’an and Sunnah as well as ijma’. Logic was accepted for systematic reasoning and disciplined thinking and writing; that is why al-Munawi the traditionist calls it as one of the meanings of the hadith about the lost property of the believer (dallatul-mu’min).For example the use of such terms as jawhar and ‘arad by Imam Shafi’i for example, this shows the imam’s exposure to the intellectual currents of his day. For us now we should also not be unaware of Quantum Theory in physics etc.

There are other arguments against mainstream theological discourse, arguments against ilm al-kalam quoting the imams as being against this field itself such arguments against kalam are based either on prejudicial interpretations of their statements (Shafi’i’s statements and others against kalam) not in accordance with the context of those statements themselves. For example their statements are not blanket statements covering all of ilm al-kalam, for instance as explained by Imam al-Ghazali, but those which lead people astray  from the correct theological position of mainstream  discourse.

Arguments of bid’ah: arguments against matters seen as reprehensible innovations; yet   when examined in the light of objective mainstream discourse they will be found to be hasty conclusions, immature reasoning, misdirected or not based on thorough understanding of the issues; or just pure fanatical adherence to a certain view closing the mind against other views, coupled with the attitude of rejecting the ethics of differences taught by the imams of the community. Hence the necessity for education in the objective total mainstream discourse legitimized by consensus as well as for education in the etiquette and ethics of handling differences.

Arguments against madhhab: arguments against the emergence of and adherence to the madhhabs in fiqh, usul al-fiqh with their methodologies, if looked deeper into the relevant issues, will speak for their intellectual and positive strength rather than the reverse.

Arguments of backwardness of the community supposedly caused by Islamic sacred sciences: when examined objectively both from the point of view of the authentic expressions of the sciences themselves and the manifestations of such so called impacts will be found to have been half-truths; and many of such matters of such questions are results of half-truths.

Arguments  concerning the negative impact of Sufism on the ummah, apart from the practice and wrongful understanding of that science as explained by the Sufis themselves,  when  scrutinized objectively will be proven to have  been grounded on imperfect or insufficient understanding of that field of discipline, from the authentic original sources, and legitimized in mainstream discourse.

Arguments of Batiniyyah influence in Islamic spirituality: usually are arguments by selected instances, not taking into consideration the total perspective of spirituality; usually they are persuaded by   prejudicial interpretations of data and not objective.

Then arguments against Sufism as pantheism (even by a figure like Iqbal) and others are not based on the authentic understanding of the issues by the recognized Sufis themselves, but rather on prejudicial interpretations of “outsiders” even if these happen to be Muslims, but who have lost real contact with their own tradition and have lost intellectual and cultural confidence vis-à-vis that tradition. So there is the intellectual and spiritual necessity for re-learning this tradition seriously. Of course there is no measure between the spiritual witnessing of the Gnostics (knowers in God) (arifin bi’Llah)   and mere philosophical speculation of the Western pantheists of the 19th century West. But with the loss of real spiritual perspective the arguments carry weight for some writers, including Muslims who have been schooled in that alien intellectual ambiance.

Arguments of extraneous influences on Sufism not from Islamic sources is not based on authentic understanding of the  sources and its intrinsic history, but rather on intellectual fashion influenced by Western scholarship of a certain kind, with the position of always seeing “influences” in things and thoughts, whenever appearances of superficial  similarities are observed,  without considering the inward reality of the ummatic civilization and the dynamics of revelation and the life in the sacred, spiritual illumination, for instance as discussed in Risalah al-Qushairiyyah and even the Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, Qut al-Qulub and Kitab al-Ta’arruf of al-Kalabadhi, among others. Only later some Western scholars have revised some of their views like Arberry and Massignon. This is not to forget also, of course, the works of Martin Lings and others in his group.

Concerning arguments against the authenticity and the history of the text of the Qur’an and the hadith, this has been done by our scholars based on painstaking research into the original sources, including newly found manuscripts, which support the mainstream position of Muslim scholars. Hence the negative position taken by Ignaz Goldziher and Joseph Schacht in such matters has been given the necessary responses by scholars like Hamidullah, Zubayr Siddiqi, Mustafa al-Siba’i, and Mustafa al-A’zami. Yet those   who prefer to choose the path of taqlid in relation to the views of such scholars still   follow those exploded views; among them can be mentioned Mohammed Arkoun of Paris.

In relation to this discussion on mainstream discourse and its realization in the Malay World there are a number of concerns like the following:

  • The claim of some quarters that  secularism has prevailed  in the Malay World  and elsewhere in the Muslim World leading to wholesale apostacy, collective apostacy etc…what are the implications? The  coming of the British to Malaya brought secularism…etc (with the theologico-spiritual  consequences… with Turkey as an exception, with her Principles of Kemalism)
  • See the concept of secularism as defined by George J. Holyoake.[22] “Secularism is the study of promoting human welfare by material means; measuring human welfare by the utilitarian rule, and making the service of others a duty of life. Secularism relates to the present existence of man, and to action, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life – having for its objects the development of the physical, moral, and intellectual nature of man to the highest perceivable point, as the immediate duty of society: inculcating the practical sufficiency of natural morality apart from Atheism, Theism, or Christianity: engaging its adherents in the promotion of human improvement by material means, and making these agreements the ground of common unity for all who would regulate life by reason and ennoble it by service. The Secular is sacred in its influence on life, for by purity of material conditions the loftiest natures are best sustained, and the lower the most surely elevated. Secularism is a series of principles intended for the guidance of those who find Theology indefinite, or inadequate, or deem it unreliable. It replaces theology, which mainly regards life as a sinful necessity, as a scene of tribulation through which we pass to a better world. Secularism rejoices in this life, and regards it as the sphere of those duties which educate men to fitness for any future and better life, should such transpire.”[23] This has nothing to do with Malaysia and other Muslim countries, with the exception of Turkey, which has made secularism as her state philosophy.
  • There are matters of spiritual and intellectual concerns which should be addressed effectively and seriously.
  • The rejection of epistemological authority in the classical sense.
  • The position of taking the Qur’an as product of history and culture like other documents in human history.
  • Rejection of hadith, as a product of culture, “projection backwards” theory.
  • The rejection of classical theology and metaphysics under the influence of postmodernism,  deconstructionism etc, rejection of rigid definitions in theology, of iman-kufr dichotomy, truth-batil  etc considered as “irrelevant confrontations” in intellectual discourse.
  • Rejection of traditional notion of  wahy,  nubuwwah.
  • Existence of two parallel system Sharia courts And civil courts now being addressed with various degrees of success and failure in Muslim countries.
  • Rejection of schools of Islamic jurisprudence and the claim of ijtihad, the rejection of taqlid or following qualified scholarship  in Islamic legal discourse by “reformists”, “reformers” as compared to the conservative traditionalists
  • Kaum Tua-Kaum Muda  controversy of the  1950s and 1960s –coming back under the name of Salafi movement
  • The rejection of  classical legal schools of jurisprudence under the influence of thinking along postmodernist lines in Indonesia,  manifested in the intellectual trend of Norcholish Majid, Ulil Abshar Abdalla etc, influence of Arkoun e.g the essay in Liberal Islam A Source Book edited by Charles Kurzman. Thinking that Islamic fiqh is product of culture like other human laws (not infallible , change with the times etc if understood literally, unreservedly then).
  • The notion that Islamic sacred law is a product of culture and history like any other aspects of human discourse being  products  of history and culture, hence  time-bound and space-bound
  • The people-ulil-amri relationship of classical discourse being replaced by neo-Kharijie position of  the position of rebellion against authority etc
  • The interpretation of the verse wa man lam yahkum[24] etc leading to rebellion against authority.


  • Back to mainstream discourse  with education, da’wah, social  work, dissemination of  publications in mainstream discourse.
  • Heal relationship between the ulil-amri and the people.
  • Cooperation of all quarters- the authorities,  the media, educationists, professionals.
  • Enhance  mainstream discourse through writings, seminars, workshops,  blogs, etc
  • Formation of networking for promoting mainstream discourse.
  • Research and translations, publications in relation to works on mainstream discourse. Mention can be made of the Islamic Text Society of United Kingdom which is publishing such texts in English.[25]
  • Mention can be made of conferences by YADMI-YADIM in Indonesia and Malaysia  since around four years ago leading  to the acceptance of the position that : the Malay World must continue  with mainstream discourse of the People of Tradition and the Community, enhancing this position, taking this discourse as creed, epistemology and civilizational framework. Wal-hamdulillah Rabbi al-‘alamin.

In conclusion it can be suggested that there is certitude, clarity, stability, and coherence in this discourse; and traditional sources tell us in such matters traditional sources only do matter- this is the discourse that is guaranteed to be victorious till the end of time and be sustainable in the intellectual and spiritual sense to the end of early time. Hence  there is the absolute necessity for re-understanding of and  adherence to as well as being enhanced by the four intellectual poles of mainstream discourse: Ash’ari-Maturidi theological discourse, with suitable additional  materials; the Ghazalian spiritual, ethical and philosophical discourse,  with suitable additional materials (in modern times with additional materials from the writings of Badiuzzaman Said Nursi); the Shafi’e legal discourse, and that of  other mujtahids etc, with suitable  additional materials;  the Khaldunian discourse with suitable additional materials in cultural and civilizational discourse (in modern times  with additional materials from the  works of Malik Bennabi).

Wallahu a’lam.

[1] This paper is prepared for the Second International Seminar On Islamic Thought, organized by the National University of Malaysia on 6th October 2009. The author is Very Distinguished Academic Fellow, at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Board of Directors at the Integrity Institute of Malaysia.

[2] One of the Beautiful Perfect Divine Names of the Asma’ al-Husna

[3] Reference to the verse to the effect Truly my Lord is on the Straight Path (Sirat al-Mustaqim)

[4] Al-Muhaimin being one of the Asma’ al-Husna. Al-Hashr, 23.

[5] Reference to the Qur’anic verse  to the effect standing as a guardian over it (Scripture) determining what is true therein hence its  statements about the Jewish and Christian traditions, correcting their positions in fundamental matters (al-Ma’idah, 48.Tr Tafsir al-Rahman, English version, JAKIM, 2008).

[6] With reference to the verse al-Nisa’,115.

[7] With reference to the tradition related in Abu Daud, “Truly Allah will raise up at the beginning of every century one (reviver man yujaddidu) who will revive the religion of this community.”

[8] Hadith Muslim: (رواه مسلم في كتاب الإمارة، باب قوله صلى الله عليه وسلم: ”لاتزال طائفة من أمتي ظاهرين على الحق لا يضرهم من خالفهم” حديث .1926). And hadith Muslim (أخرج مسلم عن معاوية قال سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم  يقول :لا تزال طائفة من أمتى قائمة بأمر الله لا  يضرهم من خذلهم أو خالفهم حتى يأتى أمر الله وهم ظاهرون على الناس))

[9] The spiritual and intellectual ‘temper’ of this discourse has been well summariseby by ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi in his al-Farq bain al-Firaq, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah,n Beirut,  n.d. especially pp 239- 286, among others. The positions taken can be gleaned from from previous texts of  Imam Abu Hanifah, al-Shafi’I, al-Tahawi, al-Ash’ari, al-Baqillani, al-Juwaini,   with differences in some details; followed later in texts of al-Ghazali, al-Razi, al-Sanusi, al-Laqqani,  Shah Waliyullah al-Dihlawi and so on.

[10] One example of seeing Ibn ‘Arabi  anchored to the mainstream discourse  can be done for instance as elucidated, among many others,  in easily accessible and  very useful and informative article ‘Shaykh Muhyi al-Din Ibn Arabi in the site with the necessary references.

[11] Like the payment of cash for ‘zakat fitrah’  and other matters especially in relation to economic and financial transactions.

[12] Of course  we are not forgetting the monumental work of Carl Brockelmann the well known GAL with the  supplement volumes.

[13] Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun A Dictionary of the Technical Terms used in The Sciences of the Musalmans, edited by Mawlawies Mohammad Wajih, Abd al-Haqq and Gholam Kadir under the superentendance  of Dr Aloys Sprenger , M.D., Ph.D. and Captain W.Nassau  Lees, LLD. Published by The Asiatic Society of Bengal, under the series of Bibliotheca Indica, A Collection of Oriental Works, Old Series,   printed at W.N.Lee’s Press, 1862.

[14] Publisher: Brill, Boston, 2001.

[15] Horizon Books, Singapore, 2003 (reprinted from 2001 edition)

[16] Concerning the contents of this work this can be dseen in the paper presented by the present writer entitled Pendidikan dan Da’wah oleh Syaykh Muhammad Arsyad al-Banjari (r.a.) presented in the Regional Seminar On Shaykh Muhammad Arshad Al-Banjari – Seminar Serantau Sheikh Muhammad Arsyah al Banjari – at Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan from 4th October  2003. This conference was organized jointly by ABIM, DBP Malaysia, IAIN Antasari Banjarmasin, Majlis Ulama Propinsi Kalimantan Selatan and Badan Pengelola Masjid Raya Sabil al-Muhtadin with the cooperation of  Fakulti Bahasa Moden dan Komunikasi Universiti Putra Malaysia, Akademi Kajian Ketamadunan dan Persatuan Ulama Kedah. Important data among others are accessed through the good offices of our late Brother  Tuan Haji Wan Mohd Shaghir bin Abdullah, who has managed to gather much materials  with so much labour of love. Kaththara’Llahu amthalah. Amin.

[17] For example the ‘leader of the Salaf generation’ al-Tabari uses ta’wil for a number of mutashabihat verses of the Qur’an in his tafsir.

[18] In the work  Principles of Secularism by George Jacob Holyoake,1870, 3rd edition revised, London, Austin & Co, 17, Johnson’s Court Fleet Street.

[19] Chapter III p.11.

[20] There is even the intellectually indefensible stance stating that Mu’awiyah –Allah be pleased with him- was the one who started secularism in Islamic history, and that the Umayyad dynasty was a ‘secular government’. Subhana’Llah. Where are the thought-categories of our people in the ummah based on the pervasive ‘ahkam khamsah’? We seemed to have borrowed an alien thought-category to the point ofd losing grasp of our own.

[21] Recollecting a private discussion with our brother Dr al-Akiti of Oxford about a month ago in Kuala Lumpur.

[22] In the work  ‘Principles of Secularism’ by George Jacob Holyoake,1870,3RD edition, revised, London:Austin & Co, 17, Johnson’Court, Fleet Street..

[23] Chapter III p.11.

[24] Al-Ma’idah: 47, 48, 50 the understanding of which should be referred to mainstream theological discourse and exegesis, and not personal musings.

[25] The present writer recently presented a paper ‘The Sustainability of the Translation Field: The case of Mainstream Islamic Intellectual Discourse’,(18th August, Hotel Park Royal, Penang, 11.00-12,00 noon) ; it is published  in proceedings of the 12th International Conference On Translation 2009 entitled, The Sustainability of the Translation Field, eds.Hasuria Che Omar Ph.D, Haslina Haroon, Ph.D., Aniswal Abd.Ghani, Ph.D., published by Persatuan Penterjemah Malaysia, 2009 pp.22-27; it is accepted as one of the 5 plenary papers.