The cover of a recently published commentary on Jawharat al-Tawḥīd

In the second part of this series of blog posts, we will examine works on creed by Ibrahim al-Laqqani al-Maliki (d. 1041H/1631CE) and Muhammad ibn ‘Abdul Karim al-Shahrastani al-Shafi‘i (d. 548H/1153CE). Part 1, examining the creedal thought of Imam Ghazali and Imam Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi, can be viewed here. The main thrust of this series is to illustrate that the classical scholars considered the institution of the Caliphate (Imāmah) so foundational to Islam that they included this subject in their works on ‘aqīda (beliefs).

Jawharat al-Tawḥīd (The Pearl of Oneness), a popular poem by Ibrahim al-Laqqani outlining the the Islamic ‘aqīda, has been memorised and studied throughout the Muslim world for centuries. Numerous glosses and commentaries have been written by various scholars, including one by al-Laqqani’s son ‘Abd al-Salam al-Laqqani (d. 1078H).

In one couplet, al-Laqqani stresses how the obligation of appointing a caliph is based on Sharī‘ah proofs, as opposed to rational evidence in fierce opposition to the Mu‘tazilah sect. In the words of al-Laqqani:

“It is an obligation to appoint a just Imām.
Know that this is by divine precept, not the judgement of human reasoning.”

Abd al-Salam al-Laqqani (the son) comments in Itḥāf al-Murīd Sharḥ Jawharat al-Tawḥīd:

“That is, to appoint and install an Imām. This law is addressed to the whole community (umma) as from the death of the Prophet (عليه الصلاة و السلام) until the Day of Resurrection; but when the influential men (ahl al-ḥall wa al-‘aqd) perform this task, it suffices for all, no matter whether it be in times of civil strife or otherwise. This is according to the Sunnis, and, when [the term] Imamate is used unrestrictedly, it means the Caliphate, which is an overall leadership embracing all religious and temporal affairs – [undertaken] on behalf of the Prophet ﷺ.”

And on the meaning of ‘by divine precept’, he explains:

“It means that the obligation of appointing an Imām over the community (umma) is based on divine law according to the Sunnis, and most of the Mu‘tazilah, for a number of reasons, the chief of which is the ijmā‘ of the Companions (raḍyAllāhu 'anhum (may Allāh be pleased with them)) who so emphasised it that they considered it the most important of duties and were [thus] distracted by it from burying the Prophet ﷺ. A similar [situation has occurred] following the death of every Imām up to the present day. However, their disagreement on who is suitable for the office of Caliph does not detract from their agreement on the obligation of appointing one. Thus none of them said that there was no need for an Imām.”

[The translation used here is that of Fathi Hasan El-Masri in his English rendering of Bayān Wujūb al-Hijra ʿalā ʾl-ʿIbād, Khartoum, Khartoum University Press; New York, Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 61. Cf. Arabic text pp. 259 to 260 – click here]

Imam al-Shahrastani is perhaps best known for his encyclopedia of religions and sects, Kitāb al-Milal wa al-Nihal. He also authored several other works, among them Nihāyat al-aqdām fi ‘ilm al-kalām (The End of Steps in the Science of Theology). This creedal work, divided into twenty chapters, includes a section on the Imāmah (Caliphate). A brief excerpt follows:

“The jamhūr (overwhelming majority) of hadith scholars from the Ash‘ariyyah, the fuqahā’ (jurists), the Shī‘ah, Mu‘tazilah and most of the Khawārij believe in the necessity of the Imāmah as a command (farḍ) from Allah the Exalted. Ahl al-Sunnah said it is a duty (farḍ) which all Muslims must carry out.

There must be an Imām to administer their laws, establish their ḥudūd limits, protect their territories guard their frontiers, equip their armies, distribute their spoils and alms (zakat), arbitrate in disputes, conduct marriages, supervise jumu‘ah and the two Eids, establish justice for the wronged against the oppressor, appoint judges and governors in every province, send out reciters and preachers to every region, disseminate knowledge, guidance and right thought to discerning students with sharp minds and to those who denounce the truth and stray from the path. The Imam must warn sinners and bring them back to the right path, and cleanse the land of reprehensible innovation and error by use of the sword (if necessary)…

The institution of the Imāmah is testified by agreement of the Ummah from the first generation to our own day in the words: ‘The earth can never be without an Imām wielding authority.’ ”

[Cf. Alfred Guillaume, The Summa Philosophiae of Al-Shahrastani: Edited with a Translation from Manuscripts in the Libraries of Oxford, Paris and Berlin, Oxford University Press; London, Humphrey Milford, 1934, p. 151. The translation has been amended in parts. Cf. Arabic text p. 267 – click here]

In the third part of this 4-part series, we will examine the creedal works of Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni, Mulla ‘Ali al-Qari, Imam Nasafi and Imam al-Taftazani.