Classical Works on Creed and the Caliphate Imperative – Part 1: Imam Ghazali and Imam Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi

Ghazali Creed

The Grand Mufti of Damascus, Imam ‘Ala’ al-Dīn al-Haskafi, like other Islamic luminaries states in his famous Hanafi work Durr al-Mukhtār [The Chosen Pearl] written in the year 1070H:

“…The major (type) (i.e. the Caliphate) is the right of general administration over the people. Its study is in ‘ilm al-kalām and establishing it is the most important of obligations… ” [Book of Prayer, Chapter on Imāmah]

As the subject of ‘Ilm al-kalām addresses the proofs of beliefs, Imam Haskafi affirms the nature and scope of the Caliphate (Imāmah) within the Islamic sciences and elevates its rank as a foundational (‘aqīda) subject and not one that is merely a subject of Jurisprudence.

This is why so many classical works on creed comprise of sections on the Caliphate and its rulings. Imam Ghazali too in his essay on beliefs entitled al-Risāla al-qudsiyya fi qawā‘id al-‘aqā’id [The Jerusalem Epistle on the Principles of the Creed], as featured in his Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, states: ‘[…The people of truth] realized that expressing the devotional testimony “There is no god but God” [lā ilāha illa Llāh] is pointless and without benefit unless one completely comprehends the pillars and principles related to this testimony…Thus they came to know that faith is centred on these four pillars, each of which is centred on ten foundations.’

He then lists a summary of these pillars and foundations. The ‘fourth pillar of faith pertains to things known by transmitted reports, and has ten foundations’ including ‘the rulings pertaining to the Imām, the virtues of the Companions in their hierarchical order, the conditions of the Imāmah, and [to affirm] that even if a potential Imām does not possess piety and knowledge, his rule is valid if he fulfils the other conditions’.

Imam Ghazali concludes The Jerusalem Epistle with these words: ‘These, then, are the four pillars containing forty fundamentals which together constitute the principles of the creed. He who believes in them is in accordance with the people of the sunnah and distinct from the heretics’ [the translation from the Arabic quoted here is by Sidi Khalid Williams, The Principles of The Creed Kitāb Qawā‘id al-‘aqā’id Book 2 of The Revival of the Religious Sciences Iḥyāʾ ʿulūm al-dīn, Fons Vitae, Louisville, 2016, pp. 57-58, 89].

This therefore means that, for Ahl al-Sunnah, knowledge of the Imāmah (Caliphate) and its rulings is considered a foundational principle.

Another work on creed by Imam Ghazali is the book al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād, which includes a whole chapter on the Caliphate (Imāmah). In this section, he states ‘religion (dīn) and sultan are twins’ and he also presents what he describes as ‘definite legal proof’ (البرهان القطعى الشرعى) that appointing a caliph is an obligation. He states that ‘the obligation of appointing an Imām is among the essential requirements of the law [ضروريات الشرع] – a requirement that by no means can be ignored’. (To read more of the relevant excerpts from the book, see here).

The foundational nature of knowledge of the Caliphate is also mentioned by Imam Abu Mansur ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 429H/1037CE) in his al-Farq bayn al-Firaq which is a major work on the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah. In this book, he discusses the views of the various heretical sects and contrasts this with the Orthodox position. Section 3 of chapter 5 of this book is entitled An Exposition of the Fundamental Dogmas (Uṣūl) Upon which the Orthodox (Ahl al-Sunnah) are in Mutual Agreement.

The following is excerpted from this section:

“The generality (jamhūr) of Orthodox Muslims (Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamā‘ah) are agreed about certain principles (uṣūl) of the pillars (arkān) of the dīn, and a knowledge of the essence of every one of these is binding on every understanding, mature person…

As for these principles, the Orthodox are agreed about their basic character and they accuse of misguidance anyone who contradicts them…

The twelfth pillar (rukn) is knowledge concerning the Caliphate and Imāmah (and) the conditions of leadership…

Regarding the twelfth pillar relating to the Caliphate and Imāmah, they [the Orthodox] say that the Imāmah is a duty (farḍ) incumbent on the Community (Ummah), because the appointment of an Imām establishes judges and executives. He guards their frontiers, leads their armies, apportions the booty among them, and establishes justice for the wronged against the oppressor…”

So, according to Imam Baghdadi, knowledge of the Caliphate and its conditions is a fundamental pillar of the dīn.

[Cf.  Moslem Schisms and Sects by Abu Mansur ‘Abd-al-Kahir ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi (d.1037) Part II: Translated from the Arabic with introduction and notes by Abraham S. Halkin, Porcupine Press, Philadelphia, 1935, pp. 171, 210]

In part 2 of this 4-part series of posts, we will examine the creedal works of al-Laqqani and al-Shahrastani

Imam Ghazali’s ‘Definite Proof’ that Appointing a Caliph is Obligatory


Despite the fact that Imam Ghazali’s al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād is a book on beliefs (‘aqīda), he includes a whole chapter on the imamate (caliphate) in this work. At the beginning of this chapter, he includes a discussion of what he describes as ‘definite legal proof’ (al-burhān al-qaṭ‘ī al-shar‘ī) that appointing an imam is an obligation. In this discussion, he also says that ‘religion (dīn) and sultan are twins’:

“We should not think that this obligation derives from the intellect. We have explained that obligations derive from the revelation, except when ‘obligatory’ is interpreted to designate an act, such that there is benefit in performing it or harm in refraining from it. According to this interpretation, it cannot be denied that appointing an imam is obligatory, since it leads to benefit and prevents harm in this worldly life. However, we present a conclusive legal demonstration [البرهان القطعى الشرعى] that it is obligatory. We will not rely solely on the consensus [ijmā‘] of the Muslim community; rather we bring attention to the basis of this consensus.

Hence we say:

Well ordered religious affairs are decidedly a purpose of the man with the revelation [Muhammad] (ﷺ). This is an unquestionable premise about which no dispute is imaginable. We add to it another premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can only be achieved through an imam who is obeyed. The correctness of the proposition that the appointment of an imam is obligatory follows from these two premises.

If it is said that the last premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through an imam, is not conceded, then we say: “Its demonstration is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only by well-ordered worldly affairs and well-ordered worldly affairs can be achieved only by an imam who is obeyed.” These are two premises: which one is the subject of dispute?

It might be said: “Why do you say that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs? On the contrary, it can be achieved only by destruction of worldly affairs, for religious affairs and worldly affairs are opposites, and hence to be occupied with making one of them flourish is the ruin of the other.”

We say:

This is the argument of someone who does not understand what we intend here by ‘worldly affairs’. For it is an ambiguous term that may be used to designate luxury and pleasure and being excessive beyond what is needed and necessary, or it may be used to designate all that is required prior to one’s death. One of the designations is opposed to religion and the other is its very condition. It is this way that the one who does not distinguish between the meaning of ambiguous terms errs.

We thus say:

Well-ordered religious affairs are achieved through knowledge and worship. These cannot be achieve without the health of the body, the maintenance of life, the fulfillment of needs – such as those for clothing, shelter and food – and security from the onset of calamities. How true this is: “When a man wakes up safe among his family, with a healthy body, and in possession of his daily sustenance, it is as if the whole world is made available to him.”[1] A man does not achieve security in his life, body, wealth, home, and sustenance under all circumstances but [only] under some. Religious affairs cannot flourish unless security is achieved in these important and necessary matters. Otherwise, if one spends all his time being occupied with protecting himself against the swords of oppressors, and with winning his sustenance from exploiters, when would he find time for working and seeking knowledge, which are his means for achieving happiness in the hereafter? Therefore well-ordered worldly affairs – I mean the fulfillment of needs – are a condition for well-ordered religious affairs.

As for the second premise, which is that worldly affairs and security in life and wealth can be maintained only through an imam who is obeyed, it is confirmed by observing the periods of social upheavals when the sultans and imams die. If these periods are prolonged and not quickly terminated by the appointment of another sultan who is obeyed, the killing would continue and the sword would dominate, famine would spread, livestock would diminish, and industry would collapse; and whoever wins would plunder; and no one who manages to stay alive would have time to worship or seek knowledge; and the majority would die under the shadows of the swords. For this reason it has been said that religion [dīn] and sultan are twins, and also that religion is a foundation and the sultan is a guard: that which has no foundation collapses and that which has no guard is lost.

In sum, no rational person doubts that if mankind, given their different classes, diverse desires, and disparate opinions, are left to their own devices without decrees that they obey and that unify their factions, they would all end in ruin. This is an epidemic that has no remedy other than a strong sultan who is obeyed and who unifies their disparate opinions. This shows that a sultan is necessary for achieving well-ordered worldly affairs, and well-ordered worldly affairs are necessary for achieving well-ordered religious affairs, and well-ordered religious affairs are necessary for achieving happiness in the hereafter, which is decidedly the purpose of all the prophets. Therefore, the obligation of appointing an imam is among the essential requirements of the law [ضروريات الشرع] – a requirement that by no means can be ignored.”

Later on in the chapter, Imam Ghazali argues that necessity dictates that in some circumstances a caliph who does not fulfill all the conditions (as was the case in his time) should still be recognized and obeyed, because of the dire consequences of not having an imam:

“I wish I knew how someone who does not accept this [principle] could judge that the imamate in our time is invalid insofar as its conditions are not fulfilled, while he is unable to replace the imam with someone who seeks it, for even he cannot find someone who fulfills its conditions. Which of his states is better; to say that 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]; or to say that, based on the current state and necessity, the imamate is valid and the decrees and appointments are enforceable?”

[1] This is a ḥadīth. It is reported by Ibn Maja, Sunan, XXXVII.9, No. 414; and Tirmidhi, al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, XXXVII.34, No. 2347

[Al-Ghazali’s Moderation in Belief: Al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād, translated by A M Yaqub, Unviersity of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013, pp. 229-231 and 234 (some words in square brackets have been added)]

Imam Ghazali: The Sahabah [رضي الله عنهم] delayed burying the Prophet ﷺ while appointing a Caliph

It is seen from the first generation that the Sahabah [رضي الله عنهم] rushed to appoint an Imam and pledge allegiance after the death of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, and they believed that it is an obligation binding upon them and a right that should be fulfilled immediately, and they avoided its postponement which even made them delay preparing the Messenger of Allah ﷺ for burial since they were busy with the appointment of an Imam; all this because they knew that, should there be a moment in which they have no leader that unites them under one opinion and they face a problem, and they differ in the mode of solving it, then their system would be a mess, unity would be nullified and the laws (aḥkām) would cease (to be lived by). It is because of this that they prioritised rushing towards appointing a leader and they did not occupy themselves during this time with anything else other than that. This is decisive (proof) that appointing an Imam is necessary for the preservation of Islam.”

[Imam Ghazali, فضائح الباطنية وفضائل المستظهرية (The Infamies of the Esotericists and the Virtues of the Mustazhirites),  pp. 154-155]
Hat Tip: Abdullah al Andalusi

Imam Ghazālī on Socialising with Despotic Rulers

Anyone who knows of a tyrant’s injustice, or of a sinner’s sins, should lower his esteem for that person in his heart. In fact, it is required (wājib) to do so. This is because if something that is disapproved is committed by a person, it is certain to detract from his standing. So, sin should be disapproved. This is because sin may be ignored, or condoned, or disapproved. Obviously, if there is knowledge of the sin, then it cannot be ignored. And there can be no reason for condoning it. Therefore, it must be disapproved. Anyone’s transgression against the rights of God should be the same as transgression against your rights.

OBJECTION: Disapproval (karāha) is not a matter of choice. How, then, can it be required?
My reply is, ‘This is not so.’ This is because a lover, by nature, will dislike whatever his beloved dislikes and stand opposed to it. Then, anyone who does not dislike sins against God does not love God. Furthermore, only those who do not know God will not love Him. Knowledge [of God] is essential, and [thereafter] love of God is certain to follow. If someone loves Him, he will dislike what He dislikes and love what He loves. A complete explanation of this will be given in the Book of Love and Contentment.

OBJECTION: The scholars among our Predecessors used to visit rulers.
My reply is, ‘Yes, they did. But first learn how they used to visit, before you go [and do the same].’ It is related that Hishām b. ‘Abd al-Malik went to Mecca for the pilgrimage. When he arrived, he said, ‘Bring me someone from the Companions.’ When he was told that they had all passed away, he said, ‘Then, from among the Successors.’ And so Ṭāwūs al-Yamānī [1] was brought to him.

When Ṭāwūs entered, he removed his sandals at the edge of the carpet; and he did not greet him as Commander of the Faithful, saying instead no more than, ‘Peace be upon you.’ Nor did he use the agnomen [2]. Then he sat by his side and said, ‘How are you, O Hishām?’ At that, Hishām flew into a towering rage, such that he considered killing him [Ṭāwūs]. But he was reminded, ‘You are within the sacred precincts of God [Mecca] and the sacred precincts of His Messenger [ﷺ], and that [killing] is not possible!’

So instead he replied, ‘O Ṭāwūs! What made you do what you have done? Ṭāwūs replied, ‘What did I do?’ Then Hishām grew even more angry and agitated. He said, ‘You took your sandals off at the edge of my carpet, but then you failed to kiss my hand. Nor did you greet me as Commander of the Faithful! Nor did you address me by my agnomen! Then you sat down beside me without first taking permission. Finally, you said, “How are you O Hishām!” ’

[Ṭāwūs] replied, ‘As for my removing my sandals by the edge of your carpet, I take them off five times a day when I go [to pray] before the Lord of All the Worlds. He has never punished me for doing so, or grown angry with me. As for your saying that I failed to kiss your hand, I once heard ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, the Commander of the Faithful, (may God be pleased with him), say that is it is unlawful for anyone to kiss the hand of another unless it is a man kissing the hand of his wife in a surfeit of passion, or kissing the hand of his child in a surfeit of affection. As for your saying that I failed to greet you as Commander of the Faithful, well, not everyone is happy with your rule; so I disliked having to lie. As for your saying that I did not address you by your agnomen, God called His prophets and saints by their first name, saying, ‘O Dā’ūd!’ or ‘O ‘Īsā!’ or ‘O Yaḥyā!’ and He addressed His enemies, like Abū Lahab, by means of their  agnomen. Now, as for your saying that I sat next to you, I heard ‘Alī, the Commander of the Faithful, (may God be pleased with him) say, ‘If you want to look at a person from among the inhabitants of the Fire, look at someone who is seated while others remain standing around him.’ At that, Hishām said, ‘Please advise me.’ [Ṭāwūs] said, ‘I heard ‘Alī, the Commander of the Faithful, (may God be pleased with him) say, “Verily in hell there are snakes like the summits of mountains and spiders the size of mules to bite [and sting] any amīr who is not just to his subjects.” ’ Then Ṭāwūs rose and left.

It is related that Sufyān al-Thawrī (may God be pleased with him) said, ‘I was brought into the presence of Abū Ja‘far al-Manṣūr at Mina and he said to me, “Tell us what you need.” I replied, “Fear God! For verily the earth is filled with injustice and discrimination!” So he dropped his head [in shame]. But again he raised it and said, “Tell us what you need?” I replied, “You have reached this stage [in the conquest of new territories] by means of the swords of the Emigrants and Helpers, yet their children are dying of starvation! So fear God, and see that they get their due!” So he dropped his head [in shame]. But again he raised it and said, “Tell us what you need?” So I replied, “When ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb performed the Pilgrimage, he said to his treasurer, ‘How much have I spent?’ The treasurer replied, ‘Ten and something dirhams.’ But here I see more opulence than a camel load of money could pay for!” Thereafter, Sufyān departed.

So that was how they used to visit rulers, even if they did so under duress. Indeed, they risked their own lives in order to avenge for the Almighty those who had been treated unjustly.

[Ghazālī on the Lawful and the Unlawful: Kitab al ḥalāl wa’l-ḥarām – Book XIV of the Revival of the Religious Sciences Iḥya’ ‘ulum al-dīn (translated with an introduction and notes by Shaykh Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo), Islamic Texts Society, Cambridge, 2014, pp. 214-217]

[1] Ṭāwūs ibn Kaysān al-Yamānī was named Ṭāwūs (which means ‘peacock’) because of his fine reading of the Qur’an. He was one of the scholars of the Tābi‘īn, a narrator of hadith and a companion of ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Abidīn (The Prophet’s (ﷺ) great grandson – son of Al-Ḥusayn bin ‘Alī (رضي الله عنه)). Ibn Ḥayyān said about him, “He was among the worshippers of the people of Yemen and one of the masters of the leading members of the next generation.” He performed the pilgrimage forty times. He was also a student of ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Abbās (رضي الله عنه) and narrated ḥadīths from him. It was said he had met over 50 companions. He was the main teacher of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Azīz. He passed way in the year 106H (723 CE).

[2] “To do so would have been another way of showing respect, by saying, for example, O Abū Sulayman! To have neglected to address Hishām either by his title or by his agnomen was to have emphasised the fact that his words were chosen carefully, and that Ṭāwūs had meant to slight the ruler.” [Shaykh Yusuf’s footnote]

[3] “Sufyān ibn Sa‘īd ibn Masrūq Abū ‘AbdAllah al-Thawrī al-Muḍarī al-Kūfī (97-161) [716-778 CE], the Godfearing, wise, grief-stricken, Mujtahid Imām, was “Commander of the Believers in Ḥadīth” – the highest level in ḥadīth Mastership –, ‘Shaykh al-Islām, the Imam of ḥadīth Masters, the leader of the practicing Ulema in his time, the author of the Jāmi‘ ’ (al-Dhahabi)…‘If I had been asked to choose someone to lead this Umma [as a Caliph] I would have chosen Sufyān al-Thawrī’ (Al-Awzā‘ī)”
[The Four Imams and their Schools, Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, Muslim Academic Trust, Cambridge, 2007, p. 103]