Shaykh Daoud’s Blog

Archive for June 2009

Sharia Law or One Law for All

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In the United Kingdom today, 29 June, the newspapers have been carrying write-ups about the latest Civitas Report “Sharia Law or One Law for All”, which claims that there are operating in Britain some 85 tribunals purporting to administer Sharia law, mostly in the contexts of financial and family disputes, and concludes that they should no longer be recognised under the Arbitration Act 1996.

Most of this media reportage shows, to my mind, an unwillingness to dig deeper than the superficial briefing that attended the launch, and the rather shallow content of the document itself.

There have been a couple of comments from politicians, too. Two of these were quoted in the Daily Mail, for example.

Patrick Mercer MP was reported to have said on Sunday, 28 June, “We have an established law of the land and a judiciary. Anything that operates outside that system must be viewed with great caution… In a sovereign state there must be one law and one law only”.

And Philip Davies MP, was quoted as saying, “Everyone should be deeply concerned about the extent of these courts. It leads to a segregated society. There should be one law, and that should be British law. Everyone should be equal under one law.”

I actually agree that the law should be universal, but it is either ignorant or disingenuous to take the approach that these two are supposed to have.

Since the 1950s, the arbitrations of the Beth Dins have been supported by the British legal system even though there has been some disquiet expressed within the Jewish communities about the rulings of some of these. It would be inequitable, in the context, to deny the Muslims the same privilege, whatever disquiet might be felt.

This isn’t to say that some ‘policing’ and regularising is not possible; in fact, these may very well be desirable – and urgently so – but the Report doesn’t address this.

Secondly, the United Kingdom has actually three legal systems – that of Northern Ireland, that applied in England and Wales, and Scottish Law. And within these there is the frequently frictional relationship between the ancient Common Law and a Statute law that is increasingly importing alien jurisprudential concepts from Europe – what I presume the Report is referring to when it states, “Sharia courts operating in Britain may be handling down rulings that are inappropriate to this country because they are linked to elements in Islamic law that are seriously out of step with trends in Western legislation”.

So, how actually did this problem come about; and what is it anyway? And how can it be ameliorated?

To deal with the last part first: Britain’s imperial history can provide the needed solutions, or rather the legacy of it can.

One of the things that marks out the Common Law countries from the rest is the importance of precedent established by Case Law. Rulings from one of these countries are often used to form an opinion in another. A case in point is the definition of ‘religion’ that was adduced in Australia and which is now used in New Zealand, and has been cited in Canada, the UK, and the USA.

There is a lot of such sharia Case Law.

And, let us remember, the Common Law was taken by King Henry II in the major part from the Maliki fiqh as administered in Caliphal Spain and its near neighbours in Sicily and north Africa. It can be said that for the most part British Common Law is “sharia compliant” (an awful phrase invented by one umbrella body).

In British India, there were two jurisprudential documents – the Indian Civil Code and the Indian Penal Code – that formed the law that was administered by the courts. Incorporated in these was the sharia according to the Hanafi, Shafi’i, and various Shi’ah rites as previously administered in the sub-continent. These courts were British Crown courts; and these legal codes and their precedents are available. This system has continued after Independence in 1947, and, in fact, the case law has continued to develop.

Malaysia has a system of sharia courts – the Mahkamah Syaria – that applies the civil law of the sharia, mostly of the Shafi’i, but with account taken for followers of the Hanafi school. This system is modelled on the British Courts. It also applies Case Law, many precedents being cited from British India and elsewhere in the Commonwealth; and, indeed, has generated its own body of Case Law.

With no difficulty at all, here is a system that can ameliorate the tribunals which are the subject of the Civitas Report. The obvious hurdles are enabling the Case Law, which can be done simply by Act of Parliament or even Order in Council; designing the tribunals in such a way that they fit into the British system, and I’m sure that the Malaysians would be most helpful in that; and the qualifications of those sitting on them. Herein lies the major problem, which is linked directly to the educational attainments of the imams of the mosques.

There needs to be a recognised means of certificating the imams as being fit to do their job, followed by continuation training to keep them abreast of the developments within the communities around them.

However, the imam of a mosque is not a judge and never has been necessarily a qadi. He may of course function in the ‘social worker’ role of the proverbial vicar or – more likely, vicar’s wife – giving advice and sorting out disputes, as is done by Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis.

I suspect it is this function that is being fingered by the Report as constituting most of the 85 sharia ‘courts’.

But for proper judgements through proper courts – if the authorities are truly interested in dealing with this – it would be necessary to have a body of quda (the plural of qadi) and muftis. These have to be trained and experienced, just as barristers, attorneys, and justices have to be. But most important they have to be ‘law officers of the Crown’.

It is a well-known principle of the Shariah that the law of the land must be obeyed. Unfortunately too many imams are ignorant or capriciously dismissive of this. This, as with many such problems that beset the mosques and their parishioners, is a regrettable consequence of the ignorance and stupidity of successive governments and their advisors for quite a long time. This doesn’t mean that it should be accepted or allowed to continue.

Although one is extremely reluctant to see Westminster extend any more its revolutionary grab for competence at the expense of the Constitution, and in particular of the Crown, there are two matters that are directly relevant to the subject of the Civitas Report.

These relate to the legitimacy of the British Crown in appointing qadis and imams, and an Office to oversee these people and their professions. Although such legalistic niceties are commonly derided in fashionable circles and their newspapers, for this to be acceptable to Muslims in the UK, let alone world-wide, under their Shariah such a competence would have to derive directly from the Caliphate.

And, as a matter of fact, this is actually the case.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, two significant events took place.

One was, in 1889, when the Caliph, Sultan Abdul Hamid II jannat makan, appointed Abdullah Quilliam to be the “Shaykhu-l Islam of the British Isles”, and this was endorsed by the Emir of Morocco, the King of Afghanistan, and the Qajar Shah of Persia. The Office of Shaykhu-l Islam was the adminstrator of the system of qadis, imams, and muftis in the Ottoman Empire, and the implications of using this title for the bestowal on Quilliam cannot have been missed. It is legitimate to speculate that it was, in fact, intentional.

At about the same time, the Caliph, conscious of the vast Muslim population of the British Empire, appointed the Queen-Empress a beylerbeyi: in essence a tributary ruler over Muslims under the Caliphate.

The authority to make Islamic religious appointments, and to regulate the administrations of mosques and tribunals, including the appointment of the Office of the Shaykhu-l Islam, in the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies rests with Queen Elizabeth II as the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. And, by residuary sovereignty, in the Republic of Ireland with the President.

Perhaps it is time to petition HM to revive this august Office of State? It is, of course, predominantly administrative, and would bring in expert advisors as needed. It could even commission fatwas from such authoritative sources as the University of Al-Azhar, when needed. But the trouble is who has the stature to fill it?

Before he died in 2006, the obvious choice would have been Dr Muhammad Zaki Badawi KBE, yarhamahu-Llah. But who now? At the time of his death I said that we’d miss him more that people realised. But maybe the Man would grow into the Office?

Something needs to be done. The “Islamic specialists” clearly don’t have a clue, and I don’t think that this Civitas Report advances any valuable solutions to the problems identified. One could ask what therefore was the point of the Report, other than to further feed the barely disguised frenzy of Islamophobia in the media and among politicians? I hardly think that would have been its intention, although it might become its effect.

Civitas is a Latin word, meaning ‘citizenship’. So, in the same language, as Laocoon said to his countrymen according to Virgil, Equo ne credite, Teucri. Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes: “Don’t trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even bearing gifts.”

He was, of course, right.

© D Rosser-Owen 2009 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

June 30, 2009 at 12:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God

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An Curàn Gàidhlig Beannachte

Sir mi tèarmann le Allah Fhèin bho’n t-Sàtain clachte

An Dara Buaileag (An Agh) (2): 115

An Ainm Allah an Nì Sàr-thruacanta ’s Sàr-thròcaireach

Agus tha an Ear is an Iar aig Dia; is mar sin ge b’ àite tionndaidh sibh, ‘s an àite sin Gnùis Dhé Fhéin. Gu dearbh tha Dia ‘na leathann-sgaoilteach is ‘n uile-fiosail.

Dearbh Allah Fhèin gu fìrinneach

© D Rosser-Owen 2009 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

June 8, 2009 at 11:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sufism, Wahhabi-ism, and Imperial Antics

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The word “Sufism” is an Anglicism. Specifically it is the Englishing of a word, der Sufismus, invented by 19th Century German Orientalists – maybe Ignaz Goldziher or Gustav von Grünebaum – to render into their contemporary thought the Arabic word tasawwuf. This word itself is a kind of back-formation. It is an abstract verbal noun made up from sufi, meaning the kind of things Sufis do. And Sufi has an obscure etymology – in other words nobody knows what it came from. There have been various theories advanced, although there are three main ones.

One claims that it is an arabicisation of the Greek word σοφíα, meaning ‘wisdom’, though in this case the ‘s’ sound should be spelt with a ‘sin’ not a ‘sad’; another that it comes from the Arabic word souf, meaning ‘wool’, supposedly referring to the woollen garb they affected; the third suggestion would have it derived from the root verb safa (sad-fa-waw), ‘to become clear, unpolluted, pure’, though the verbal noun from this would properly be tasfiyya.

This last throws up the interesting cognate that gives the Aramaic nickname applied by Jesus to Simon bar Jonah – “Simon called Peter” – that is, Cephas, namely safwa or sifwa, meaning ‘the best’ or ‘choicest friend’, and by a typical semitic play on words safwa also means ‘rocks’ (πετρο∫ ‘petros’ being the Greek translation).

Naturally many latter-day Sufis opted for this last; though most academics prefer the ‘wool’ derivative. Whichever it came from, it seems to have been originally applied as a nickname, pejorative or otherwise, and eventually adopted by the people themselves.

An analogy for this comes from British-Irish-American-Canadian political history. In the 17th Century, about 1679, the English opponents of the succession of the Duke of York (later James II) to the throne, a group led by the 1st earl of Shaftesbury (Anthony Ashley Cooper), were derisively termed Whiggamores (shortened to Whigs) from whiggamor, a cattle driver. This was originally a term of abuse used for Scottish Covenanters earlier in the century.

In the 18th Century they in turn capped this by calling their political opponents Tories (from the Gaelic tóraidhe ‘outlaw, robber, footpad’ from the verb tóir ‘to pursue, chase after’). By the final quarter of that century, each political group was apparently quite happy to use its own nickname to refer to itself. Today, although Whig is no longer used, the Conservatives usually call themselves Tories.

However, for most of their existence Sufis have not called themselves Sufis, nor their way tasawwuf. They have normally used the Arabic terms faqir (poor man), salik (traveller, seeker), ahlu-t tariqah (follower of the Way), or the Farsi darwish (supplicant, beggar).

Detractors often make a big thing out of the novelty of the term Sufi, along the lines of “it doesn’t appear in the Quran” or “it doesn’t appear in the hadith”. However, it is not alone in this. There are other words and phrases in common use that don’t either: tajwid, fiqh, seerah, siyar, madrassah, qanoun, dawlah, madh’hab, for example. And a number that are used in a different way from that of the Quran or hadith: e.g. Shi’ah, Sunnah (as the shorthand term for the beliefs of the ahlu-s sunnah wa-l jama’ah), or salaf. These terms are in common use, and have been for centuries, because they are handy epistemological tools – they neatly describe the thing being talked about so that the hearer or reader knows exactly what it is that is being discussed.

Many of the major figures of Islamic history and jurisprudence would be described, were the describer to be consistent, as “Sufis”. Included among these would be Abu Hurayrah the Companion (who stated that he had received ‘two cups of knowledge’ from the Prophet: “the contents of one you know; if you knew the contents of the other, you would kill me”), Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Imam Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali, or Imam ibn Hazm, for example.

Interestingly, considering their influence on the modernising movement known awkwardly as “Islamism”, one would have to include in this list Taqiyuddin ibn Taymiyyah, who was a follower of ‘Abdul Qadir al-Jaylani, Muhammad Rashid Rida, who was a Naqshbandi, and Hasan al-Banna al-shahid, who was a Shadhili-Hasafi.

There are, in essence, two ‘phases’ in the development of what would be called ‘Sufism’. The first would be up to the Mongol Invasions of the early to late 13th Century, and the second would be the period after that to the present day. The first was marked by individual seekers after wisdom, some of whom attracted pupils. Many are familiar with such names as Sari al-Saqati, Al Hasan al-Basri, Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyyah, Imam al-Junayd, and the like. Then came the catastrophic invasion of Khorasan, Fars, Mesopotamia, and the Levant by Hulagu Khan and his Mongol Hordes, which was followed by the Ilkhanids, and the Timurids, and others. The societal collapse that accompanied these, led to people seeking out centres and personages around which to rebuild communities. Thus the importance of mashayikh, zawaya, and tara’iq developed out of this chaos as a vehicle for restoring order, learning, and trade.

So this second ‘phase’ becomes marked by the prominence of “Sufi Orders”, especially in the East and Central Asia, such as the Qadiriyyah and Naqshbandiyyah. And it is noteworthy that the chains (silsilah) of transmission of these Orders include the prominenti of the ahlu-s salaf: Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, Imam Qasim b. Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, Abu Hurayrah, Salman al-Farsi, ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, and the Prophet Muhammad himself. The Naqshbandiyyah, for example, state that the first halqatu-dh dhikr took place in the Gharu-th Thawr during the Flight from Mecca involving the Prophet and his Companion Abu Bakr.

Among the criticisms directed at the Sufis are that they are an innovation, and that they are escapists spending all their time in the mosques and zawiyas and not engaging with the world. These are, however, difficult to sustain. The Naqshbandiyyah have frequently challenged the detractors to identify which of their dhikrs and practices are innovations without receiving any substantial indications. The Naqshbandis’ challenge remains open. General assertions are insufficient: which specific practices are innovations?

And given that all the anti-colonialist struggles of the later decades of the 19th Century and early 20th Century were led and conducted by Sufis the putative ‘otherworldliness’ is difficult to find: Imam Shamil in the Caucasus against the Russians in the 1830s, 40s, and 50s; Emir Abdel Qadir against the French in the 1830s in Algeria; the Banten Revolt in Java in 1888; Abdel Karim al-Khattabi in the Rif against the Spaniards and French in the 1920s; Omar al-Mukhtar against the Italians in Libya in the 1930s; and most of these leaders were acknowledged mainstream scholars and, in a couple of cases, judges.

The Basmachi Revolt against the Russian Communists in Central Asia from 1919 until about 1936 was almost entirely the work of the Naqshbandis. It is possible to see their influence in Sultangalievism, and it was certainly they along with the Qadiris (which the Soviets referred to as “the alternative religious leadership”) who kept Islam alive in Central Asia during the Communist hegemony. Many Sufis served in the Ottoman Armed Forces in World War 1 – in some cases whole battalions were manned by the followers of particular tariqahs.

It could be said that even with this history of resistance, they maintained a dialogue with the colonialists aimed at keeping the independence as far as possible, but certainly the integrity, of their peoples under foreign occupation, while learning as much as possible that was good and beneficial from the new power. They stood for continuity and tradition back to the Prophet, but with organic change and development, and the mitigation of the damage to their communities done by exposure to the colonialists.

It could be said that their methodology was that of a grudging retreat through a series of last ditches against the onslaught, relinquishing at each as little as possible while teaching and preserving the possibility of bouncing back to some status quo ante when the colonialists left, as they believed they would.

In marked contrast are the figures associated with the misnamed Salafi Movement.

The Salaf is the term used to describe the three generations of the Companions of the Prophet (the Sahabahs), the generation that followed them (the Followers, or Tabi’een), and the generation that followed that (the Followers of the Followers, or Tabi’eenu-t Tabi’een). In these three generations are to be found the ‘founders’ – or, more accurately, the eponymuses – of the four major Schools of Sunni jurisprudence (the madh’habs of the Malikis, Hanafis, Shafi’is, and Hanbalis) and many of the early Imams of the Shi’ah. It makes little sense, therefore, in the pursuit of a claim to be trying to restore the Salaf that these madh’habs should be rejected. Where else would one look for the Way of the Salaf?

This rejection can only be subversive of the structure of Islamic society, given that the madh’habs form the basis of Muslim communities across the world from west and north Africa to central China and South East Asia. And this is the role played by Wahhabi-ism since its inception.

Each of the major ‘names’ of this Salafi Movement is associated with ideas and practices that could only serve the interests of those alien powers that had the emasculation and reduction of Islam and Islamic communities as an aim of policy.

These names are Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792), Jamaluddin Afghani (Sayyid Muhammad bin Safdar Husayni Asadabadi)(1838-1897), Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905), and Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865-1935); of whom Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab is the key, hence the movement is often, and perhaps more accurately, called Wahhabi-ism.

He was born at Uyayna in the Najd (hence he is often called the Shaykh of the Najd) in the Banu Tamim tribe in 1703. His father, Abdul Wahhab al-Tamimi was a scholar at Medina and his brother Sulaiman eventually was a qadi (judge). Muhammad seems to have been taught at home and by attending the classes of certain other scholars in Medina, one of whom was the famous Jawi shaykh who became the Mufti of Mecca, Ahmad bin Zaini Dahlan. It was he who expelled Muhammad from Medina and the Jazeera as having severely heretical views, a decision that was endorsed by the man’s father (who disowned him) and brother.

At some point in his education Muhammad had developed some strange ideas, this may have been while travelling in Basra (where he also studied), Baghdad, and other places.

He resurrected the teachings of Taqiyuddin ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), an obscure scholar from Mongol times who was noteworthy among his contemporaries for espousing the doctrine of tashabbuh (that is that the attributes of God are physical ones, so that when the Quran says “God’s hand is above them” it means that literally). His contemporary namesake, the Shafi’ite jurisprudent Taqiyuddin ibnu-s Subki stated that because of the extent of his knowledge ibn Taymiyyah might just save himself from the Fire, but any who followed him were in danger of it.

It seems unlikely that Muhammad would have come across this figure unaided, and so it’s probable that he was being schooled with the ideas he eventually became notorious for. Who had been doing this remains conjectural.

After his expulsion from the Jazeera he went to Basra and Kuwait, where the Honourable East India Company had a factory that also served as an agency for the Intelligence Section of the Maritime Service of the Company. He received significant support from the Factor, acting on orders from Bombay, and Muhammad was eventually reinserted into the Jazeera to his birth place at Uyayna in 1740. But he was expelled from the place later that year, and invited to settle at Dar’iyyah (now Riyadh) by Muhammad ibn Saud, a client of the HEIC.

It is almost certain that the HEIC had spotted the opportunity for disruption and trouble-making in Ottoman domains, though it is unlikely that it realised at the time just how disruptive and corrosive Wahhabi-ism would prove to be.

The Banu Saud proved to be powerful partners, and eventually – nearly 200 years of bloody strife and chaos later – took over the whole peninsula making Wahhabi-ism the official religion. Oil wealth enabled them to spread the doctrine world-wide, buying control of access and the teaching of Islam in favour of Wahhabi-ism. They now teach that Muhammad’s father and brother recanted and accepted his doctrine, which is unlikely short of force majeure.

The Ottoman authorities then, and later during the 19th and 20th Centuries, pronounced with sound argumentation that Wahhabi-ism was a dangerous heresy and zandaqah.

After a lot of fighting, the Ottomans eventually regained control of the Arabian Peninsula from the Saud and Wahhabis, but not before those had massacred the populations of Taif, Mecca and destroyed many of the graves of the Companions in Medina. At one point the Ottoman rearguard during the withdrawal from Medina in 1813 was commanded by a Scot (Thomas Keith, sometime armourer with 78th Highlanders, the Ross-shire Buffs), known as Ibrahim Agha. For a while the Wahhabis were driven out. Some of them found a refuge in British India, others in Qajar Iran.

Later, towards the middle of the 19th Century, Sayyid Muhammad Safdar Husayni Asadabadi (known as Jamaluddin Afghani, and identified by the British as a Russian agent), who had been brought up in Iran as a Shiah, became influenced by Wahhabi-ism probably during his sojourn in Kabul. In 1868, while travelling at a leisurely pace from Kabul to Istanbul via Cairo, he met and inspired Muhammad ‘Abduh, who later became the Rector of Al Azhar University where Muhammad Rashid Rida from Tarablus in Syria (now Lebanon) became his pupil.

Afghani also introduced Abduh to the thinking and teachings of European revolutionary socialism associated with the Risorgiamento, Giuseppe Mazzini, and the Giovine Italia (“Young Italy”) movement. Giovine Italia became the blueprint for the Young Egypt and Young Turks movements. Abduh spent some time in Paris, where he published the newsletter Al Manar, before returning to Cairo and Al Azhar, where he eventually became Grand Master of the Cairo Masonic Lodge. Afghani died in Istanbul in an Ottoman prison.

Wahhabi-ism has proved to be a corrosive influence in the Muslim World, working solely for the interest of alien powers, and with their encompassing of the downfall of the Ottoman Empire during World War 1 there remains no political or religious authority to stem its spread or to check its constant mutation into more extreme and destructive forms of takfir.

As the hadith states, “from the Najd comes fitnah (turmoil) and nifaq (hypocrisy) [or in a variant “in that place are earthquakes (zalazil), and seditions (fitan)], and in that place shall rise the devil’s horn [qarnu-sh shaytan].”

The Wahhabis have tried for some time to claim that the Najd referred to is not in the Jazeera but in Iraq, and have attempted to flood reference works with this. However this claim of theirs doesn’t stand up to informed analysis, and even their hero Taqiyuddin ibn Taymiyyah was quite clear and categorical that the Najd was in the Jazeera and was quite different from Iraq.

© D Rosser-Owen 2009 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

June 7, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Am Buaileag An t-Àm: Souratu-l ‘Asr

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An Curàn Gàidhlig Beannachte

Sir mi tèarmann le Allah Fhèin bho’n t-Sàtain clachte

An Ceudamh Buaileag thar an Trì (103):

An t-Àm

An Ainm Allah an Nì Sàr-thruacanta ’s Sàr-thròcaireach

Air an t-Àm,
‘S ann a tha an cinneadh-daonna air chall,
Saor o iad a’ creidsinn is a’ dèanamh deagh-bheusan
Agus ag earalachadh air an fhìrinn,
Agus ag earalachadh air an fhoighidinn.

Dearbh Allah Fhèin gu fìrinneach

© D Rosser-Owen 2009 All Rights Reserved

Written by David Rosser Owen

June 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized