‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s Secular Heresy and the Orthodox Response

“In 1925, ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq (1888-1966), brother of Mustafa, published a work on Islam and the bases of political authority. Like his brother, he had studied at the Azhar and had then come to Europe, but to Oxford and not Paris…The immediate problem with which ‘Abd al-Raziq is concerned is that of the caliphate. In 1922, after the revolution of Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish National Assembly had abolished the sultanate and set up a shadow-caliphate with spiritual powers only; in 1924 they abolished that as well.” [Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 183]

‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq wrote:

“The truth is that the Muslim religion is innocent of this institution of the caliphate such as it is commonly understood by Muslims. It is innocent of all the apparel of seduction and intimidation, and the pomp of force and power with which they surrounded the institution of the caliphate. This institution has nothing in common with religious functions, no more than the judiciary and the other essential functions and machinery of power and state. All these functions are purely political; they have nothing to do with religion. Religion neither admits nor denies them. It neither orders nor forbids them. It simply leaves them to our free choice so that we will have recourse to rational judgement in their regard and base our judgement on the experience of nations and the rules of politics” [‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq, al-Islam wa usul al-hukm (Islam and the Bases of Power), translated in Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives, edited by Donohue, John J. and Esposito, John L., New York, Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 36]

Continuing with the excerpts from Albert Hourani’s book:

“ ‘Abd al-Raziq’s book aroused a violent storm, and the consequences for him were serious. It was refuted and denounced by Muslim thinkers of another complexion, and formally condemned by a council of the leading ‘ulama’ of the Azhar. In their judgment they refuted, by quotations from the Quran and hadith, seven propositions contained, or so they claimed, in ‘Abd al-Raziq’s work; and they pronounced the author unfit to hold any public function…”

“Once critic of the book, Rashid Rida, declared it was the latest attempt of the enemies of Islam to weaken and divide it from within, and another, Muhammad Bakhit, maintained that what non-Muslims said of Islam should never be accepted, and above all what they said about the caliphate, ‘the fearful ghost which, if the bravest man in Europe saw it even in his sleep, would cause him to rise in fear and panic’. [72] ‘Abd al-Raziq, he asserted, had accepted the historical thesis of Sir Thomas Arnold in preference to the whole consensus of Islamic thought; and he set himself, in great detail and at enormous length, to refute the author’s interpretation of Muslim history and cast doubt on his knowledge and understanding of the sources. He produced much evidence to refute the idea that there was no organized government in the Prophet’s [] time, and that the Prophet [] never taught his people about political organization [73], and to prove that there was as nearly a complete ijma’ on the necessity of some sort of imamate as there was on any question of doctrine.” [74]

“There was a still graver charge against the book, made by the  ‘ulama’ in their judgment and elaborated by Shaykh Bakhit. By implication, ‘Abd al-Raziq’s thesis attacked the whole system of Islamic doctrine in one of its two bases: the theory of prophecy. Muslim theologians had always taught that, while some prophets were sent into the world to reveal a Book only, that is to say, reveal a truth about God and the world, others were sent also to reveal a law, a system of morality derived from the Book, and to execute it; and that, while Jesus was a prophet of the first type, Muhammad [] was one of the second. [75] To execute the law was an essential part of his mission; [76] but this implies that he had political power, and that from the start the Islamic community was a political community. Moreover, since the Book and the law were not given for one generation only but for all time, there must always be someone who exercises political power in the umma:

[Shaykh Bakhit writes:] ‘The Islamic religion is based on the pursuit of domination and power and strength and might, and the refusal of any law which is contrary to its shari‘a and its divine law, and the rejection of any authority the wielder of which is not charged with the execution of its edicts.’ [77]

“If the Prophet was not a political leader, and if the umma was not a political umma, then either there was no Prophet and no umma, or else the conception of them – that is to say, the very essence of Islam – would have to be changed … The careful method of reasoning by analogy, with Quran  and hadith as its premises, the consensus which was both the product and the guardian of the process: all this had been rejected by ‘Abd al-Raziq, and in its place he had put the reason, fantasy and passion of the individual mind:

‘He has relied … on intellectual sophistry, suppositions and poetical proofs, although these matters which he denies, and of which he denies the proofs, are matters of jurisprudence and law, into which one cannot plunge with the intellect alone, and in regard to which tthere is no alternative but to rely on the Quran, the Sunna, the ijma’, or reasoning by analogy.’ [78]

“…The danger, in Bakhit’s view, was not theoretical only. In the last analysis, what ‘Abd al-Raziq was saying was that there was no such thing as the Shari‘a. But if there was no Shari‘a, no law standing above the government, then there was no political society in the true sense, and the umma would dissolve into anarchy. Men need a regulator and governor who will keep them within their due limits, prevent oppression and do justice, and to manage their worldly affairs by their own reason and knowledge, their interests and desires, for that would simply mean the domination of the strong over the weak and the end of individual security.” [80]

[Hourani, Albert, op. cit., pp. 188-191]

(72) Shaykh Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i, Haqiqat Islam wa usul al-hukm, p. 43

(73) Ibid., pp. 113ff., 298ff

(74) Ibid., p.33

(75) Ibid., p.293

(76) Ibid., p. 238

(77) Ibid., p. 294

(78) Ibid., p. 3

(80) Ibid., p. 352abdelraziq

Post Script: the following is from Ibn Kathir’s tafsir of the Qur’an, volume 3, p. 202:

“Do they then seek the judgement of (the days of) ignorance? And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm faith?” [Translated Meaning of Al-Qur’an 5:50]

Allah criticizes those who ignore His commandments which include every type of righteous good thing and prohibit every type of evil, but they refer instead to opinions, desires and customs that people themselves invented, all of which have no basis in His religion. During the time of Jahiliyyah, the people used to abide by the misguidance and ignorance that they invented by sheer opinion and lusts. The Tatar (Mongols) abided by the law that they inherited from their king Genghis Khan who wrote Al-Yasiq for them. This book contains some rulings that were derived from various religions, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Many of these rulings were derived from his own opinion and desires. Later on, these rulings became the followed law among his children, preferring them to the Law of the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Therefore, whoever does this, he is a disbeliever who deserves to be fought against, until he reverts to Allah’s and His Messenger’s decisions, so that no law, minor or major, is referred to except by His Law. Allah said:

“Do they then seek the judgement of (the days of) ignorance?”

Meaning, they desire and want this and ignore Allah’s Judgement.

“And who is better in judgement than Allah for a people who have firm faith?”

Who is more just in decision than Allah for those who comprehend Allah’s Law, believe in Him, who are certain that Allah is the best among those who give decisions and that He is more merciful with His creation than the mother with her own child? Allah has perfect knowledge of everything, is able to do all things, and He is just in all matters.

[End of quote from Ibn Kathir’s commentary of the Qur’an]

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