The Political Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ: Part 1

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In relation to the requirement to obey Allah and His Messeger (ﷺ), Imam Shafi‘i quotes many verses of the Qur’an in his most famous book, Al-Risāla fī Uṣūl al-Fiqh (Treatise on the Foundations of Islamic Jurisprudence). Among them is the following:

“O believers! Obey Allah and His Messenger…” (8:20)

And

“When Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter, it is not for a believing man or a woman to exercise a choice in a matter affecting him; whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger has deviated into manifest error.” (33:36)

He states “the Messenger [ﷺ] has laid down a Sunnah [on matters] for which there is a text in the Book of Allah as well for others concerning which there is no [specific] text. But whatever he laid down in the Sunnah Allah has ordered us to obey, and He regards [our] obedience to him as obedience to Him, and [our] refusal to obey him as disobedience to Him for which no man will be forgiven…” (Cf. pp.112-114, 119 of the English translation).

The Prophet [ﷺ] made clear and detailed Allah’s orders. As Imam Shafi‘i states, the Sunnah “makes evident what Allah meant [in the text of His book], indicating His general and particular [commands]” (Ibid. p. 112)

This point is illustrated by Imam Shafi‘i elsewhere in the book. He mentions a number of verses of the Qur’an in which Allah commands us to pray, pay zakat and perform the hajj. He explains that Allah then “specified clearly by the tongue of his Messenger [ﷺ] the required numbers of prayers, their times and the modes of their performance; the amount of zakat and the times of its payment; the performance of the major (ḥajj) and minor (‘umra) pilgrimages and when these duties are required or not required…Other parallels may be found in the Qur’an and Sunnah” (Ibid., pp.74-75).

However, the Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) is not only his sayings, but his actions and his approval as well. The following are the three types of Sunnah:

  1. Qawli (Verbal)
    This consists of the words of the Prophet (ﷺ) on any subject, for example: “He who cheats us is not one of us” (Musnad Ahmad)
  2. Taqriri (Approval)
    If something was done in front of the Prophet (ﷺ) and he did not disapprove of it, then it is considered to be an approval. An example is how he (ﷺ) approved of the way that women prayed in the mosque, separate from the men but in the same room behind them.
  3. Fa‘ili (Actions)
    These consist of his deeds and practices, such as how he prayed or indeed how he ruled the city of Madina and other parts of the Arabian Peninsula.

(Cf. Understanding Usul al-Fiqh: Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,  Revival Publications, New Delhi, 2007, p. 58)

This last point leads us to the central theme of this post. The Prophet not only exemplified and instructed us in individual worship such as how to fast, but after he established the first Islamic state in Madina he received and sent emissaries, declared war and enacted peace treaties. This aspect of his example is elaborated in books of fiqh on Siyar, or international relations, by the classical scholars from the Salaf up until today. Both of Imam Abu Hanifah’s foremost students authored works on this subject. Imam Abu Yusuf (d. 181 H/798 CE) wrote Al-Radd ‘alā Siyar al-Awzā‘ī in response to Imam al-Awza‘i’s (d. 158/774) work on the subject, and Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani (d. 189/774) authored Al-Siyar al-Saghīr, which is considered a record of Imam Abu Hanifah’s views on the topic (Cf. “An Early Discussion on Islamic Jurisprudence: Some Notes on Al-Radd ‘alā Siyar al-Awzā‘īIn Khurshid Ahmad and Zafar Ishaq Ansari (Eds.), Islamic Perspectives, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, 1979, pp. 147-167).

And Imam Abu Yusuf also wrote a book on revenues and taxation in the Caliphate entitled Kitab al-Kharaj, at the request of Harun al-Rashid.

The classical scholars also referred to the Prophet’s (ﷺ) political Sunnah when examining the fiqh of how to rule and govern. Perhaps the most well-known work on the subject is Imam al-Mawardi’s (d. 450/1058) Al-Aḥkām al-Ṣulṭāniyyah wa al-Wilāyāt al-Dīnīyah, (two English translations of this book have been completed). Among the chapters in this book are those that deal with the appointment of judges, wazirs and governors of provinces, as well as the Amirate of Jihad, the distribution of zakat and the administrative system of the Caliphate. Several other scholars, incuding the Hanbali scholar Qadi Abu Ya‘la (d. 458/1066), have written similar works.

Another genre is that of al-Siyāsah al-Sharʻīyyah which deals with the machinery of Islamic government and the obligations of both the ruler and the ruled. An example is al-Ṭuruq al-ḥukmiyyah fī al-siyāsah al-sharʻīyyah by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (d. 751/1350).

There is another aspect of the Prophet’s (ﷺ) political Sunnah which the classical scholars did not mention as the circumstances relating to it had not occurred. In their times, they had a Caliph who ruled by the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Messenger (ﷺ). But about 100 years ago, the Caliphate was abolished and now we are in a situation with no Imam. As Imam Ghazali said, in such a situation “the judges are dismissed, appointments are invalid, marriages are annulled, all the decrees of the governors everywhere in the world are unenforceable, and all of mankind are [on the verge of] engaging in what is unlawful [ḥarām]”(see here for the full quote). And Ibn Hajar indicates that if we died in this situation, the hadiths state we would die the death of the days of al-jāhilīyyah [ignorance], meaning “to die in a state of misguidance with no Imam [Caliph] to obey” (Cf. commentary on hadith #7053, Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī)

Whosoever dies without a bay‘ah (pledge of allegiance to a caliph) on his neck dies the death of al-jāhilīyyah.” (Hadith in Sahih Muslim on the authority of Nafi’)

Regarding this situation, Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997CE) insists that “after the abolishment of the Caliphate, the duty of evidence of the Truth fell on each and every individual in the same way as the duty of protection of life and property devolves on the individuals of a society in a state of total anarchy. So long as the Muslims do not re-institute this righteous and wholesome Islamic order which has been enjoined on them by God as a duty, every Muslim is earning the sin of neglecting this duty and will be called to account for it on the Day of Reckoning” [See here for the full quote].

But how are we to re-institute the Caliphate. Did Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ) give us guidance?

In fact, Allah instructs the Prophet (ﷺ) to seek political power in order to implement Islam in the Qur’an:

And say: “My Lord! Let my entry be good, and (likewise) my exit be good. And grant me from You a helping authority.” (17:80)

Commenting on the meaning of ‘grant me from You a helping authority [سُلْطَـناً نَّصِيرًا]’ Ibn Kathir says in his  tafsir,  “Al-Hasan Al-Basri explained this Ayah; ‘His Lord promised to take away the kingdom and glory of Persia and give it to him, and the kingdom and glory of Byzantium and give it to him.’ Qatadah said, ‘The Prophet of Allah knew that he could not achieve this without authority or power, so he asked for authority to help him support the Book of Allah, the Laws of Allah, the obligations of Allah and to establish the religion of Allah…’ ”

The issue in today’s world is that terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda aim to re-establish the Caliphate by planting a bomb here or there and by declaring war on the military and police of Muslim countries in the Middle East. It is of course prohibited to undertake such actions, but is also not acceptable as this is not in accordance with the political Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ). Again, if we refer to Ibn Kathir, he explains while commenting on verse 18:110:

“These are the two basic features of acceptable deeds: their intent is for the sake of Allah alone, and are done in accordance with the way of the Messenger of Allah.”

So just as we pray, fast and perform the pilgrimage according to the method of the Prophet (ﷺ), similarly, we must re-institute the Islamic State in accordance with his example.

In his book, The Qur’an and Politics, the Sudanese-born scholar Dr. Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid includes a section entitled The Prophets’s Attempts to Establish an Islamic State in Makkah. He explains that “the establishment of the Islamic state was urgently needed to save the Quraysh and the rest of the world from ruin owing to their social decadence, spiritual bankruptcy, and corruption” (p. 127). This need is perhaps even greater in the world of today.

And according to another Sudanese-born scholar and thinker, Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris:

“If we wish to be on the side of God and win His favour, it is necessary but not enough to be sincere and pure of heart. To the right actions and ways that please Him and which He judges to be the best means to achieve the ends we have set before us. This applies to our desire for a model Muslim state. Since it was one of the aims of the Prophet, while at Mecca, to create such a state, his authentic sīra and sayings should be studied in addition to the Qur’an.”
[Cf. jaafaridris.com]

Thus, it is necessary for us now to follow the methodology of the Prophet (ﷺ) to establish an Islamic state and re-institute the Caliphate.

In the next few posts in this series, we will examine the political Sunnah of the Prophet (ﷺ) and the steps he took to establish the Madinan State.

 

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