Thursday, March 10, 2011
Book Review: Who needs an Islamic State?
Abdelwahab El-Affendi is a Sudanese ex-diplomat, currently employed by Westminster University in London (formerly the Polytechnic of Central London) in its Centre for the Study of Democracy [Wmin 2007]. He has also been a journalist in Sudan. He studied philosophy and is not known to have studied Islam, and his writings imply that he is somewhat ignorant of the works of 1400 years of scholarship. Upon reading “Who needs an Islamic State” one is struck by the orientalist tone of the work. Although the author implies on page one that he is opening up a new debate, rather he comes across as just another follower of Ali Abdul Raziq and the orientalists who wrote on the matter around 1924, when the destruction of the Islamic State in Istanbul was a prime British foreign policy objective. Although there are some new points made in this book, it reads more as a supplement to ‘Al-Islam wa Ususl al-Hukm’, Ali Abdul Raziq’s book published in 1925, but written a number of years earlier.
That book caused a political storm in Egypt the year it was published, as two camps of politicians fought political and legal battles over whether its author could continue to be considered among the ulema (scholars) and hence continue his work as a shari’ah (Islamic law) court judge. Ali Abdul Raziq was a graduate of Al-Azhar university, from a wealthy politically positioned family who spent a couple of years in Britain, hoping to study economics at Oxford. He returned to Egypt in 1915, took up a position as a shari’ah court judge, then ten years later suddenly published his book, contradicting nearly all that he had learned while in Al-Azhar, and offending most, if not all, of his former shayukh (scholars and teachers). 62 of them petitioned for him to be tried, 24 of the higher council of azhari scholars presided at his university court case, refused to reply his salam (greeting of peace) and unanimously ruled that he should be stripped of his credentials as a scholar and find no work relating to such qualifications. The political struggles following the judgment were about whether the government should implement Al-Azhar’s judgment, and was mainly between the party closest to his family and supporters of new Western liberal values such as free speech on one side, and the more traditional forces on the other. The details of the political situation at the time do not concern this article, however, the scholarly discussions about the book do. A number of refutations were published shortly afterwards, settling the Islamic view on the matter. The book and its author became almost a dirty word, regarded as un-Islamic and have remained so ever since. Ali Abdul Raziq and his family did manage to get the judgment overturned, once his brother Mustapha Abdul Raziq became Shaykh al-Azhar in 1945. He joined the religious affairs ministry in 1948 and also worked as a parliamentarian in both houses. It is said that he had changed his views stated in ‘Al-Islam wa Ususl al-Hukm’ by the time he died in 1966, although he is not know to have stated so publicly. The book drew no significant interest for the next forty years, then in the early 1970s, a group of secular Egyptian journalists attempted to revive the debate, under the guise of historical research. This coincided with a growing general acceptance among the Muslim population, that Islam did indeed have political rules, which were even desirable as an alternative to the foreign agent dictators in power. Written in 1991, “Who needs an Islamic State” appears to have been written with the same view in mind. Its Arabic translation was serialized daily during August 1996 in the newspaper ‘Al-Quds al-Arabi’ [Al-Quds al-Arabi 1996]
El-Affendi’s book addresses the issue of whether there really is such a thing as a detailed Islamic political shari’ah. He opens his book, ever so humbly, stating his commitment to “the Islamic ideal” but also bringing the “virtues of the critical outlook, which has hitherto been the preserve of the opponents of Islam”. Yet, this vaguely defined critical approach, so common in orientalist literature, is exactly the same as is found in Ali Abdul Raziq’s book. It fundamentally differs from the Islamic approach to looking at the texts, and is wholly consistent with the Western pragmatic philosophy, where one decides a conclusion, then asks what is there to prevent me from it. Or put differently, one’s approach is to be ever creative in finding ways around legal texts. If there is a tiny fragment of a possibility that a text cannot be categorically denied as being interpretable in a particular way (which always happens to suit the desires of the one interpreting), then it must be accepted as a valid interpretation, even the strongest one, with a bit of luck. Western courtrooms are littered with skillful debaters, asking loaded questions to win on technicalities. Establishing the truth is never a real concern, only presenting a half decent twisting of the texts, or winning the debate.
This is in stark contrast to the Islamic way of looking at the texts. It is one borne out of reverence for the text, as it is believed in as containing a communication from Allah, to His slaves, about what is most pleasing to Him of their conduct. Hence, a believer’s approach is to distance any personal desires from his reading of the text, such that he is asking “what is wanted of me?” Then, when he becomes convinced that a rule is most likely to be correct, he moulds his desires around it and acts upon it. He has no time for “maybe it could mean this or that” and other such doubts. Just as he has no time for technicalities and excuses. If he ever found himself searching for such leeway, then he must know that he is no longer following what pleases His Lord, but what pleases himself. This is condemned repeatedly in the Qur’an. It is the most basic of Islamic ideas that man must submit his desires to that of His Lords. This is his Ibadah (worship) as he voluntarily makes himself a slave to Allah.
An opinion that is truly based upon the Islamic texts, in the way outlined above, is considered a valid interpretation, even if it disagrees with others’. Yet, an opinion that is built upon the Western approach is rejected and not considered Islamic at all. This is why ‘Al-Islam wa Ususl al-Hukm’ faded into obscurity, as not only did its conclusions contradict even the very basics of Islam, its manner of deriving such results was so alien to Islam and the approach of a Muslim. It reeked of Western orientalism, so was rubbished, along with all the other orientalist filth. It even quoted orientalists such as Thomas Arnold (active in England at the time Abdul Raziq was there writing against the khilafah (caliphate)) for tafseer (explanation) of the Qur’an. On page 123 Abdul Raziq writes “if you want to find out more on this discussion then please refer to the book ‘The Caliphate’ by the scholar Sir Thomas Arnold. The explanation in chapter two and three of that book is excellent and convincing”. [‘Ammarah 1972]
Today, secular Muslim writers are too wary of Ali Abdul Raziq’s infamy to be caught quoting him directly. They generally disassociate themselves from him, even though the substance of their arguments are one and the same, born out of the same un-Islamic way of thinking. On page 181 he exaggerates what the Muslims said about the khalifah (caliph) “but even then the khulafaa were not satisfied with that … they even made the ruler Allah’s khalifah on His earth, and His shade extended over His slaves; Glory be to Allah over what they make in partnership with Him!” [‘Ammarah 1972] How can he mock the words of Muhammad salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam in this way? For these words narrated of the Prophet, that the sultan is Allah’s shade, meaning that he defends the people from harm as the shade defends from the heat of the sun. How can this book really be held up as a source to be referred to? Some researchers have accused it of only being published in Ali Abdul Raziq’s name; the original author being an infamous English Orientalist, David Samuel Margoliouth. [Al-Rayyis 1973] Nowadays it is mainly liberal campaigners for free speech that mention the name Ali Abdul Raziq, as they protest Egypt’s banning of another book, justified by the precedent of Abdul Raziq’s trial.
Both books are similar in style. They both argue obscure points that are not at all representative of the Muslim’s views, but they are portrayed as if they are. This shows that the books are written for the ignorant, hoping that the reader will allow his own view’s evidence to (wrongly) be defined for him, then refuted, then the author’s view be presented as the only remaining view, so must be accepted. The ignorant reader imagines that the refuted evidence is actually that of those who uphold Islamic law, and so rejects it. It is what we witness daily when Western newspapers quote Bush et-al calling on Muslims to reject political Islam, on the basis that al-Qaeda are terrorists. Aware Muslims know that al-Qaeda do not represent political Islam, yet many ignorant Muslims and non-Muslims are sucked into rejecting political Islam along with terrorism. It is a dirty trick, one suitable for a lawyer or a debater, but not for one seeking the truth.
Attempting to establish that obedience in the time of the Prophet was entirely moral, El-Affendi states on page 25 “Unlike conventional state authority which derives much of its validity from being almost inescapable, the political authority which the Prophet established was a voluntary association… Participation in the public domain (like joining military expeditions or the payment of dues) was also voluntary. The state had no method for enforcing this participation.” [El-Affendi 1991] Did the Prophet punish no one for their crimes? Was there no consequence for non-payment of zakat (wealth tax)? Did he send no collector? Were not the three who failed to join the Tabuk expedition severely punished?
This is only echoing the statements of Abdul Raziq when he states that the Prophet’s leadership was prophetic and not political or his endless claims throughout his book that the prophet was not a king. Such as when he says on page 150 “We don’t find for that (the claim that the religious authority (as-Sultat al-Deeniyyah) in Islam contains the political authority (as-Sultat as-Siyasiyyah) a basis (sanad) and moreover, it contradicts the meaning of the message.” [‘Ammarah 1972] Or on page 158 when he says “What is important is that we know whether the Prophet’s leadership over his people was leadership of a message, or leadership of a king?” [‘Ammarah 1972] On page 157 he writes “we warn you against mixing between al-hukmain (the two rules), and becoming confused about al-wilayatain (the two guardianships): the guardianship of the Messenger, as a messenger, and the guardianship of the kings and rulers. The guardianship of the Messenger over his people was a spiritual guardianship, established by the iman (belief) of the heart. Its submission is a true complete submission, followed by the submission of the body. The guardianship of the ruler is a civilian guardianship. It depends on the submission of the body without any connection to the heart. (The first) is guidance to Allah, (the second) is managing benefits and structuring the earth. (The first) is for the deen (religion), (the second) is for the dunya (this life). (The first) is for Allah, (the second) is for people. (The first) is religious leadership, (the second) is political leadership, and how far is there between politics and the religion!” [‘Ammarah 1972]
This is really just a red-herring, as the standard for Muslims is not whether He salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was similar to other kings or not, nor whether his state was similar to that of Western theorists’ models. Rather, the important matter was that he did impose his law, with the force of power, if necessary, regardless of who else this resembled. Uthman is famously reported to have said “Allah prevents with the authority what he does not prevent with the Qur’an.” Also, Abu Bakr said “By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the prayer and the zakah as zakah is the compulsory right to be taken from the property (according to Allah’s orders) By Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of Allah’s Apostle, I would fight with them for withholding it.” [al-Bukhari] Both these understandings were taken from the teachings of the Prophet.
Abdul Raziq mentioned two historical opinions among the Muslims with regards to the authority of the khalifah: those who uphold him to be a successor in prophethood and those who believe him to be only an elected executor of the shari’ah. El-Affendi barely acknowledges the existence of the second opinion, building much of his thesis on the assumption that the first one was the dominant view. On page 25 he states “a system which was based on the ruler being a stand-in for the Prophet was not designed to cope with a khalifah whose conduct did not rise to the Prophetic standard.” [El-Affendi 1991] On page 27 “Muslim thinkers did not see the root of this collapse in the self-contradictions of the original vision which attempted to assign the role of the Prophet to ordinary men.” [El-Affendi 1991] Again, on page 36 “The erroneous identification of the ruler as a replacement of the Prophet rather than a mere official answerable to the community…” [El-Affendi 1991]
His view is taken directly from Abdul Raziq’s book, as on page 114 he writes “so the khalifah for them has the status that the Rasool salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam has over the believers, he has over them the general guardianship, the complete obedience and the comprehensive authority.” [‘Ammarah 1972] On page176 he writes “the claim is found that the leadership of the Muslims is a religious position and a stand-in for Rasool Allah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam” [‘Ammarah 1972] and on page 181 “so they imagined …that whoever governs the affair of the Muslims holds the position that was held among them by Rasool Allah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.” [‘Ammarah 1972] He says on page 117 “that opinion’s spirit is found among the masses of scholars and the masses of Muslims also. All of their words on the khilafah and researches into it veer in that direction and point to that belief.” [‘Ammarah 1972]
These are truly obscure conclusions to draw from the writings of Muslim scholars, whose view is that the khalifah is an elected fallible man, contracted to do a job. As long as he fulfills the terms of the contract then he retains his employment.
As for the other view, it is very difficult to mention even one scholar who ever held this view. Certainly neither of the authors attempt to identify whom it is they are referring to. They just refute vehemently what no one says, to appear as if they have an argument; El-Affendi merely echoing the words of the original. Sheikh Khidr Hussayni, on page 226 of his book ‘Naqd Kitab al-Islam wa usul al-Hukm’ refutes the claim after mentioning a lengthy research in many books “I did not find a word that suggest this, not even by way of allusion, that the authority of the khalifah extends from the authority of Allah… What is taken by way of deduction is that the author knew that in the West are two schools of thought on the authority of kings, so he wished that there was the like of them among the Muslims. So when he did not find in the words of the people of knowledge on the khilafah what agrees or comes close to the statement that the authority of the khalifah extends from Allah’s authority, he searched for it in the exaggerations of poetry or prose, then claimed that he was successful with his desire. He used them as evidences of the establishment of a madhab (school of thought) that does not have among the scholarly people who follows it nor who has innovated it. I do not suppose that the author will even smell in the papers on the khilafah the scent of that madhab, so is left to use as evidence the sayings of poets or words that were presented as exaggerations and praise.” [‘Ammarah 1997]
Abdul Raziq writes on page 120 “And the first madhab (that the authority of the khalifah extends from the authority of Allah) is just about in agreement with what the philosopher (Thomas) Hobbes is known by, that the authority of the kings is holy and that they have divine rights.” [‘Ammarah 1972] Sheikh Khidr on page 233 writes “Establish a just scale! Look how Hobbes says ‘every individual must submit his will to the ruler’ whereas the Muslim scholars say ‘the ruler is not obeyed except if he orders with the truth.’ Hobbes says ‘the religion must submit to the will of the ruler’, yet the scholars of Islam say ‘the ruler must submit to the laws of Islam…’” [‘Ammarah 1997]
It was perhaps inevitable that, as Abdul Raziq used a mocking tone about the description of the khalifah as Allah’s shade, despite this being narrated of the Prophet, so we see El-Affendi imitating his shaykh on page 89 “Some Muslims have equated the khalifah with God by giving him the right to force the community into acting against their consciences. This was the inevitable consequence of viewing the khalifah as a saint, and the community as impotent and sin-prone, a raiyya (herd) to be shepherded by its wise herdsman. The freedom denied to the herd was allowed to the shepherd, and the shepherds have turned out to be wolves.” [El-Affendi 1991] Despite that it is related of the Prophet that “the Imam is a shepherd and he is responsible for those in this care (raiyyatihi).” [al-Bukhari and Muslim]
El-Affendi, on page 24, presents arguments favouring the opinion that Abu Bakr saw himself as a fallible follower of the Prophet, and a leader who should be accounted. He then implies that Abu Bakr was guided by conscience, not by the sunnah (teachings of the prophet). However, he refused the interpretation of those refusing to pay zakah, as he had strong daleel (evidence). He also refused Umar’s advice, due to having a daleel, which he presented, and then Umar accepted. On page 29 he concedes that authority is with the ummah (world community) to account the khalifah but then contradicts his earlier conclusion as he writes “Abu Bakr, as we have seen, also believed he represented the authority of the Prophet.” [El-Affendi 1991] From this he finds a contradiction, as ultimate political authority then only rests with one man. He views the khalifah as a privileged interpreter of the law, a guider of the community [El-Affendi 1991, p24]. Really it is the daleel that is the guide, anyone can interpret, the khalifah merely adopts. It is his adoption that is binding, though, as long as it is based upon daleel.
This leads to another of his arguments against the khilafah, that if the leader is fallible, then how can he be trusted to interpret the law? If it is his interpretation that we are following, then we are really following him, not the shari’ah, so are really secular, not Islamic. In an article written be the author in 2006 he claims “one central problem with this vision of the khilafah system is that it contradicts the basic assumptions in the underlying claim that legitimizes it, in particular when the claim of sovereignty of the shari’ah is vacated by making the shari’ah subject to the will of the ruler.” [Khan 2006, p237] From his reading of Ibn Khaldun, El-Affendi concludes that the Muslim ulema viewed the masses to be inherently wretched and unable to come to interpret the divine law for themselves, hence they needed privileged khulafaa to do that for them. So he writes “but how can the community be trusted to find the right person and elect him when the whole point is that the community cannot be trusted with managing its own affairs without the guidance of this presumed leader?” [Khan 2006, p244] Of course, all this is built upon El-Affendi and Abdul Raziq’s over generalizing the statements of the ulema and, frankly, imagining their opinions, even though they were clearly not held by the Muslim scholars. This is perhaps the only line of argument innovated by El-Affendi himself, although it is no more than another weak justification of the prior rejection of the Islamic law in favour of secularism.
Perhaps the reason that such reasoning makes no appearance in Ali Abdul Raziq’s book is that it reveals an astonishing lack of understanding of the most basic principles of Islamic law. It appears that El-Affendi has next to no background in reading Islamic law, including arguments so weak that others would have been ashamed to do so. A basic political principle in Islam is that we are required to obey the leader, as long as he does not order us with a sin. This is established in many clear ahadith of the Prophet. As long as an opinion relies upon Islamic evidence, then it is to be accepted as valid, even if it disagrees with one’s own opinion. Accountability, therefore, is on the basis of evidence, from Qur’an and sunnah. If Muslims neglected this important duty, so leaving their rulers to become more and more corrupt, it is not for us to blame the law, or deny its existence, which is obvious to all who read the Islamic texts, but rather we accuse the Muslims who were neglectful, learn our lesson and move on. It is true, some of the khulafaa became wolves, so it is our job to restrain them. “The master of martyrs is Hamzah and a man who stood up to an unjust ruler, commanded him (to do good) and forbade him (from doing evil) and he (the ruler) killed him.” (Abu Dawud)
El-Affendi gets himself all tied up in knots as he tries to claim that the dominant thesis for Muslim scholars was that the elected Khalifah must be the most pious from among us, yet how do we judge the piety of another? So, therefore we can’t have a khalifah at all, as it is impractical. He writes “The problem is complicated by the categorical Quranic prescription against a person ascribing to himself (or to anybody else for that matter) qualities such as piety. (Qur’an, 53:32) By definition, then, a person who puts himself forth as a pious man or commended as such by his fellow men does not fit the bill, and must be disqualified.” [Khan 2006, p244]
On page 81 he writes “they persisted in detailing a job description for a ruler who could only be a saint or a prophet.” [El-Affendi 1991] Then on page 82 “A major flaw, therefore, in the traditional Muslim perception of the Righteous Caliphate was the erroneous belief that the rules of government must be designed to fit rulers who were almost saints – saints do not need the rules anyway.” On page 39 he exaggerates “this theory assumed saintly perfection in men (especially rulers, who are normally the farthest removed from sainthood).” On page 39 he refutes his own argument “the insistence on perfection in the khalifah has automatically removed from the community the right to criticize him, for everyone is by definition less pious, less learned and less wise than he is.” [El-Affendi 1991] Yet, if it were understood that the condition of justness and piety in a candidate for the position of khalifah is only to say that we would prefer not to have a man known for his corruption or crimes. Where is the perfection in this? It is only in El-Affendi’s imagination. Even if the best among us was to be chosen, we would still have to account his actions if they were ever to contradict the shari’ah. A matter made clear by what the author quotes of Abu Bakr on page 24 when he said “I have been appointed as your leader whilst I am not the best among you… I am following the Prophet and not establishing new practices. So if I get it right, help me, and if I go astray redirect me.” [El-Affendi 1991]
He, again, quotes no references for this strange view, hardly seen among the writings of scholars. It appears to be a mere logical conclusion of his own, built upon the previously discussed views that he took from Abdul Raziq, that the khalifah was seen as a stand-in for the Prophet. He then goes on to refute this idea of his.
Exhumers of Abdul Raziq’s views, such as Muhammad ‘Ammarah and El-Affendi, generally see a weakness in ‘Al-Islam wa Ususl al-Hukm’, in that it only denied that the Prophet left a defined political system, stating that we are left free to choose one for ourselves. On page p165 “that is from the objectives of the dunya, that Allah left between us and our minds. He left the people free in managing it with what their minds, knowledge, benefits, desires and inclinations guide them to.” [‘Ammarah 1972] It did not go far enough to encourage us to pragmatically adopt the dominant Western system. Hence, their role is not to just deny the khilafah, but to provide details of what Muhammad salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was actually bringing. Due to their pragmatism, they adopt the most popular system (in their circles) of their day as a starting point. Then they say ‘it is not necessary to understand the texts as traditionalists have – look, there are other possible ways of interpretation (ta’weel) away from the text’s literal meanings’. This is, of course, not a shari’i ta’weel befitting of a Muslim, whose basic premise is submission. Then they provide very general supporting arguments, such as the spirit of the shari’ah and what Allah really wants [El-Affendi 1991, p94], to oppose the literal meanings of the Islamic texts.
Both books major weaknesses are that they both rely upon Western developed (called modern) theories of the state. This automatically means that the Islamic texts are to be viewed from a foreign perspective, and judged accordingly. Basically, if the Islamic laws do not fit with the authors’ Western influenced view of what a state should be, then it will be rejected. Then after, the rejection needs justification for the Muslim readership, who would not normally care for what non-Muslim academics and philosophers consider to be suitable for society. Justification comes in the form of stating vague Islamic values, then generalizing them to become pseudo Islamic principles, more solid than any direct injunctions of the Qur’an or Sunnah, hence serving as a basis for re-interpreting clear and accepted laws as only being circumstantial, not really necessary, styles, mistakes etc.
El-Affendi’s thought can be seen clearly in his later writing on the same subject “while it is true that Islam requires the individual and community to orient their lives in all its aspects towards pleasing God, this does not entail that very specific instructions were given about how to achieve this in every conceivable situation. This would have left little for human creativity and constrained life unduly.” [Khan 2006, p242]
On page 135 of Abdul Raziq’s book we read “If the jurists want with imamah and khilafah that which the scholars of politics and government want, then what they said was right, that the establishment of the religion’s symbols and straightening of the community depend upon the khilafah, meaning government, whatever shape it takes and from any type. Whether, absolute or limited, individual or collective, authoritarian, constitutional or consultative, democratic, socialist or Bolshevik.” [‘Ammarah 1972] Then on the last page “Nothing in the deen forbids the Muslims from … building the foundations of their system of government on the newest that human minds produce and the strongest principles of ruling that the peoples’ experiences lead them to.” [‘Ammarah 1972]
On page 77 El-Affendi argues that modern nation states do not entirely contradict Islamic ideals and that “the tendency towards democratization represents a certain convergence with Islamic values.” [El-Affendi 1991]
On page 72 El-Affendi argues that there is relative justice in the West, so there is no need to oppose them as Muhammad salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam opposed the Roman’s and Persian, for they “were not exactly liberal democracies which guaranteed the rights of man and freedom of conscience.” [El-Affendi 1991] As if the ‘illah (legal reason) for struggling against them was only the removing of injustice. The author, writing in 1991, naively sees that the “phase of crude repression is on its way out.” [El-Affendi 1991] Yet, on what basis is oppression to be judged, if it is not the Islamic shari’ah? On page 79, speaking of Israeli aggression, he writes “the challenge to Islam is not only that it must convince the world that such injustices are incompatible with peaceful coexistence as long as they rest merely on brute force and have no moral justification or sanction from a globally recognized authority, but more significantly, Islam must redefine these causes in its own terms.” [El-Affendi 1991] Radical language, with a compromising message: oppression ceases to be oppression when a globally recognized authority (UN perhaps?) sanctions it.
Both books rely heavily upon Ibn Khaldun’s ‘Muqaddimah’ as the major reference for classical Islamic thought on political law. El-Affendi attempts to portray Ibn Khaldun’s thought as similar to and a stage before Hobbes’. On page 81 “Ibn Khaldun who, like Hobbes many centuries later, believed that men were self interested brutes who could only be restrained by force.” [El-Affendi 1991] The implication is that Ibn Khaldun’s observations of man’s nature are to be resigned to and so become the justification upon which the khilafah system is built. All this is the foundation for claiming that the Muslims viewed their leaders as necessarily unquestionably strong saints, guiding the wretched sinful masses. Most of the two books’ arguments against the khilafah system are built upon this central false thesis.
On page 8 he interprets Ibn Khaldun’s view to be “religion and moral worth of a just cause are not the real power, but only a reinforcement of the strength generated by ‘assabiyya (tribalism).” He then draws the conclusion that “this pessimism about human nature justified the attitude of resignation in the face of the decadence and rampant injustice which reigned in the Muslim world at the time, because it insisted on endless compromises with the existing powers, and did not offer any hope in transcending them.” [El-Affendi 1991]
This from an author advocating the most compromise with existing powers, as is seen on page 67 “the Muslims represent a marginalized minority within the modern international order. The task of creating an Islamic state, which should include non-Muslims, has to be resolved within this system…Thus, a decision on the norms of governing a particular Muslim state cannot be made by its citizens without taking into account the wider international community.” [El-Affendi 1991] Also, from the book’s conclusion on page 93 “Human experience shows that democracy, broadly defined, offers the best possible method of avoiding such disappointments in rulers, and affords a way of remedying the causes for such disappointments once they occur.” [El-Affendi 1991] What is democracy if it is not a system of endless compromise, regardless of right and wrong? In fact democracy is among the worst of systems for defending rampant injustice. It only ensures that the people accept oppression, have no real choice, yet feel that they do. It legitimizes all corruption, as a majority of a tiny minority voted for it, and it makes easy the road for all kinds of exploitation.
On page 94 he says “the tyrants lording it over the Muslims today, aided and abetted by their foreign allies, justify their existence by fear of Muslim ‘fanatics’ who want to coerce others into adopting an unacceptable lifestyle. This lame excuse for tyranny must be removed by affirming our commitment to democracy as the governing principle of the Muslim polity in all its states.” [El-Affendi 1991] The logic implies that we stop calling for Islam, so that the tyrants can’t use the excuse of stopping us to justify their tyranny. I.e. we compromise the truth, to stop a liar!?! But, he is lying anyway, so even if we stop, he’s only protecting his throne, so will not stop his tyranny for anyone.
He goes on to say “The raison d’être of a political community is to assure the peaceful coexistence among its members. A Muslim political community is therefore an institution required to ensure that Muslims live in peace and harmony with one another, with other communities within the territory ruled by their polity and with other nations and communities on our planet.” [El-Affendi 1991] Who said that Islam came to live in peace with oppressive regimes? What kinds of compromises must be made today with the existing oppressive rulers to make this a reality? Rather, Allah states that “it is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the deen of truth, to dominate over all other deens, even though the pagans may detest (it).” (Qur’an 9:33)
From this point, we not only see how contradictory the arguments are, but also how superficial. Ibn Khaldun’s writings are presented as no more than a justification for rejecting Islamic political laws, as ‘they are too pessimistic’, yet the real basis for their rejection is that they disagree with the author’s adopted view of “the raison d’être of a political community” adopted from Western political thinkers.
Ali Abdul Raziq’s book also rejects shari’ah rules on the basis of them contradicting Western political principles, such as on p125 he rejects the sunnah on the basis that it contradicts the Western secular Christian principle “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” [‘Ammarah 1972] Coincidently, this principle is also quoted on page 34 of El-Affendi’s book [El-Affendi 1991].
The Western roots of Abdul Raziq’s thought are revealed on page 157 as he uses the English words of political thinkers to explain Arabic words. “We want with al-Hukoomah, ad-Dawlah, as-Sultanah and al-Mamlikah what the political scholars want with the words ‘government’, ‘state’ or ‘kingdom’ or what resembles that.” [‘Ammarah 1972]
Abdul Raziq writes on page 165 “It is credible for the entire world to have one deen and for all humans to be organized in a religious unity. As for the whole world to have one government and be gathered under a shared political unity, that is what is outside human nature, and Allah’s desire is not connected to it.” [‘Ammarah 1972] On page 169 he states that the Arab unity at the time of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was “a unity of belief and religious madhab, not a unity of the state.” [‘Ammarah 1972] El-Affendi also calls for a weak unity on page 91 he argues that the unity an Islamic state seeks “should not be enforced.” [El-Affendi 1991]
Abdul Raziq writes of the Prophet’s society on page 171 “the Messenger’s leadership among them was a religious leadership, not civilian. Their submission to him was the submission of belief, not the submission to a government or ruler. Their gathering around him was entirely for Allah ta’ala.” [‘Ammarah 1972] On page 148 he writes of the Prophet’s message “it only depended on convincing and preaching. It was not for it to depend upon force or power.” [‘Ammarah 1972] He presents these statements in the context of arguing that any use of force by the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was purely out of necessity for benefits in the dunya. However, a conclusion that El-Affendi makes a big deal out of is the claim that Islam intends to purify the hearts of man, so all submission must be voluntary. Therefore, Islam cannot have ever legislated enforcing a rule upon another person against his will, as that leads to submission not for Allah’s sake, which is hypocrisy. On page 94 he states “the central misunderstanding of current Muslim political thought is the confused belief that a state based on Islamic principles is one which forces people to live according to Islam. In truth, the purpose of an Islamic political community is to enable individual Muslims to live according to Islam, and protect them from coercion which tends to subvert their commitment to Islam…When it is imposed, it is not shari’ah. When only coercion underpins shari’ah, it becomes hypocrisy.” [El-Affendi 1991]
That only a sincere submission to shari’ah is worthy is true from the perspective of the individual. However, the Muslims are forbidden to tolerate oppression and crimes on their doorstep, so must prevent it. Even if the criminal’s submission is forced, the objective is not to cleanse his soul this way, but to protect the society from his crimes. Shari’ah is a liberation from desires and manmade law. If a person only submits to public pressure or fear of punishment, then it is a hypocrisy and not taqwa. The pious person should not need this. However, we are not saints, so even if a pious person errs, or is about to about to err. The fear of public scorn is protecting us from the sin, then he can re-consider, asking forgiveness for even starting on the path to a sin. A Muslim is grateful to Allah for being helped to avoid all temptation. Even a pious Muslim could err if surrounded by fitnah all day long. Even if imposed, however, it is still shari’ah. This argument is along the lines of the spirit of Islam, where the text is ignored, and only vague general moral principles are adhered to. Coincidentally, these moralistic principles just happen to be 100% in line with the Western secular culture.
On page 88 of El-Affendi’s book we read “The search for an Islamic state must start with the search for freedom for Muslims. Freedom to think, to act, to sin, to repent and finally to find oneself and one’s fulfillment in obeying God.” [El-Affendi 1991] However, this freedom is the opposite of being a slave. There is a consequence when people are left to sin openly, let alone the harm done by criminals, they also create an atmosphere that does not look down upon sin. How can this conclusion of El-Affendi be Islamic when it stands so clearly in contradiction to the duty to forbid munkar (evil deeds)? Has the author not heard the story narrated by the Prophet of the pious slave whom was destroyed first by Allah, as he lived in a town surrounded by munkar, yet did not forbid it? Has the author not read Allah’s words “And fear the fitnah (affliction and trial) which affects not in particular (only) those of you who do wrong.” [Qur’an 8:25] Public opinion establishes values for the community, and then the tyrants are restrained by that public opinion.
Also, on p136 Abdul Raziq’s book implies that the ‘illah for the khilafah is straightening of the people, which means that if another way can be found to do the same, then it is an equally valid way and, as in our history the people did decline and were not actually straightened by implementing the political shari’ah rules, then another way must be sought. Again, a principle not taken from Islam, and wholly contradictory to it. The Muslims have long known the difference between a hikmah (wisdom) and an ‘illah, as none would say that we need not pray, if the people are not practically straightened by their prayers. Allah says “Verily, the prayer keeps one from the great sins and evil deeds” [Qur’an 29:45] A person desiring submission to his lord would rather ask, is there something missing from our prayer, or from our implementation of the shari’ah rules that is causing the people to not be straightened.
This is where both books lean on for most of their excuses: the history of the Muslim world. In order to put doubt into readers’ minds of the practicality of implementing Islamic law, the authors attempt to bring as many incidents of disputes among sahabah (companions of the prophet) and those who came after them, as they can gather. Never mind that the shari’ah is divinely revealed and unquestionable as to whether it is to be implemented or not, Ali Abdul Raziq and his followers use Muslims’ disputes as a basis for rejecting the law itself. The pragmatist looking at history always throws the baby out with the bath water, as he rejects sound ideas on the basis that some have misapplied them.
El-Affendi on page 22 mentions the events after Abu Bakr’s succession as Khalifah, where all but three cities of Arabs rejected to pay the zakat, and some even rejected Islam itself [El-Affendi 1991]. It is the exact same discussion that appears to the end of Abdul Raziq’s book. There he argues that Abu Bakr’s leadership was secular (La deeniyyah), on the basis that Abu Bakr himself had not been divinely appointed as Muhammad’s successor. He also argues that many who rebelled against his commands were possibly rebelling against the choice of him as a leader and not the din, as they did not see his position as a religious injunction. [‘Ammarah 1972] This is mere wishful thinking. Allah knows what was in the hearts of the rebels, but it is a commonly accepted view that some rebelled against him personally and others against any leadership after the Prophet. Others left Islam entirely. Either way, it is not the opinion of the masses that defines our din, but the revelation as transmitted to us by his close companions. That revelation commands us to appoint an Imam, and then obey him. If we are united in this way and another attempts to destroy that unity, then he must be prevented by force. The authors generally ignore the explicit injunctions of Muhammad salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam on this matter. Refusing to pay the zakat, for whatever reason, is refusing the authority of the khalifah and so disturbing the unity of the Muslims. They are dealt with as rebels, or apostates depending on whether their refusal is a denial of the law, or just refusal to implement it. It is this action of enforcing the unity that the sahabah had consensus over and it was based upon textual evidence, so it is an indication of revelation for us.
Chapter 5 of El-Affendi’s book sees our author introduce his main theme, that Ibn Khaldun’s theories were too pessimistic and reflected the pragmatism in the minds of classical scholars [El-Affendi 1991]. Yet, it is irrelevant whether we agree or disagree with Ibn Khaldun; the scholars’ opinions were based upon evidence, not on social theories. It is the text that solidly establishes the obligation of the khilafah system. For this reason scholars adopted and repeated this rule. Perhaps pessimism did influence some of their periphery opinions to a certain extent, but we have the same texts today and must still follow them, not abandon them.
Vagueness is employed to disguise the shallowness of the arguments. Both books heavily attack the Prophet’s sunnah, as they attempt to say that he had no defined details of a ruling system. This often repeated accusation is built upon the notion that Western thinkers have defined what a state should be, and the prophet’s state does not live up to that ideal. So, on page 150 Abdul Raziq writes “If Rasool Allah salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam established a political state, or legislated its establishment, then why were many of the pillars of states and ruling absent from His state?” [‘Ammarah 1972] This is just saying, why did the Prophet’s state not resemble that of the Western political scholars’?
Restricting the references to only the Qur’an and Sunnah of the prophet is erroneous as the Islamic law is built upon these and the Ijmaa (consensus) of the sahabah which is an indication of what the Prophet brought, but which did not reach us as a direct narration. It is an indication of Sunnah. Hence, the khilafah ar-Rashidah is a model built upon the Prophet’s Sunnah, so is for us to emulate along with what we know directly of the Prophet’s actions.
All of El-Affendi’s assertions about the role of the sahabah’s, the Umayyid and Abbasid khilafahs in serving as a model or standard to build shari’ah upon, shows his complete ignorance of usul al-fiqh. Just as Ali Abdul Raziq can flippantly quote from a sycophant poet, so does El-Affendi draw conclusions from any source, regardless of how representative that may be. It is the classic approach of the orientalist, to summarise a whole century in a single incident. Pages 35 to 37 are littered with erroneous assumptions about how opinions were derived from Islamic texts [El-Affendi 1991]. El-Affendi tries to classify all ‘theory’ on state into modern and classical. If he can find abuses, or minor flaws then he can throw all out in favour of secularism. Even if a scholar says a silly statement about prayer, we would be foolish to say that the prophet didn’t pray, nor did the sahabah. We would just say the scholar got it wrong.
The conclusions of these two authors do very little to please Allah, but do much to further the plans of the colonialists. They are not Islamic opinions as they are not built upon Islamic evidences and they contradict fundamentals of the Islamic aqeedah (belief). Short on evidence for their claims, both books rely upon repeating their claim over and over and refusing Islamic daleel without any discussion.
In the end El-Affendi proposes freedom and democracy as the solution to the Muslims’ problem. Abdul Raziq’s La deeniyyah is secularism pure and simple, but is undefined where its borders lie. This is the age old problem with secularism – where are the limits and who defines them? How is the distinction between the public and private life to be defined. With too much freedom then Muslims will drift from their deen. In the West people have drifted away from all morality. The next generation will not agree with our values or morality. They will demand more freedom, so we tend towards anarchy. El-Affendi portrays a choice only between despotic rule on one side and democracy on the other. He considers the authoritarianism of the khilafah to be the source of corruption. This is true, if there is no accountability. We should never have to choose only between a current despot, the corrupt khulafaa of the past, and democracy. We choose an enlightened revival based upon the implementation of the Islamic shari’ah and a righteous khilafah.
Al-Quds al-Arabi 1996, From 20th August, Arabic daily newspaper, published in London
Al-Rayyis, Muhammad Diya’ al-Din, 1973, ‘Al-Islam wa al-khilafah fi al-‘Asr al-Hadith: naqd Kitab al-islam wa usul-al-hukm’, Manshurat al-‘Asr al-Hadith, Cairo
‘Ammarah, Dr. Muhammad, 1997 ‘Ma’rakat al-Islam wa usul al-Hukm’, Dar ash-Shuruq, Cairo (first published in 1989)
‘Ammarah, Dr. Muhammad (ed.), 1997 ‘al-Islam wa usul al-Hukm’, al-Mu’assasat al-Arabiyyah li al-Dirasat wa al-Nashr, Beirut
El-Affendi, Dr. Abdelwahab, 1991, ‘Who needs an Islamic State?’, Grey Seal Books, London
Khan, M.A. Muqtadeer (ed.), 2006, ‘Islamic Democratic Discourse – theory, debates and philosophical perspectives’,
Wmin 2007, http://www.westminster.ac.uk/schools/humanities/politics-and-international-relations/people/staff/el-effendi,-abdelwahab
Page numbers for the books ‘Al-Islam wa Ususl al-Hukm’ and ‘Naqd Kitab al-Islam wa usul al-Hukm’ refer to the texts republished by Muhammad ‘Ammara in 1972 and 1997 respectively.