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

The Caliphate in Durr al-Mukhtār*

al durr al mukhtar arabic

Book of Prayer, Section on Imāmah

It (the Imāmah) is either minor or major. The major (type) (i.e. the caliphate) is the right of general administration over the people. Its study is in ‘ilm al-kalām (scholastic theology) and establishing it is the most important of obligations**, hence they (the Sahabah) gave it priority over the burial [1] of the Possessor of Miracles (ﷺ).

*The Durr al-Mukhtār [‘The Chosen Pearl’] is one of the central late texts of the Hanafi school. Its author, ‘Ala’ al-Dīn al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him), was the Grand Mufti of Damascus during the 11th Islamic century, and his works, particularly the Durr, profoundly influenced all texts that came after it, and became the central reference for legal details and rulings (Shaykh Faraz Rabbani).

Al-Durr al-Mukhtār, the commentary on Tanwīr al-Absār, has flown through the lands, and circled the cities, and become more manifest than the sun at midday, until people have busied themselves with it, and it has become their recourse. It is most deserving of being sought, and of the school (madhhab) being on it… for it contains more well-verified rulings, and sound details than many a longer work…” [Ibn ‘Abidīn, Radd al-Muhtār, 1: 2] (ibid)

**Explaining this point, Ibn ‘Abidīn states in his commentary Radd al-Muhtār: “it is of the most important of obligations because the fulfillment of so many other shari‘ah obligations depend on it”

[1] Ibn Kathīr said, “What is famously related from the majority of scholars is that the Prophet (ﷺ) died on Monday and was buried on Tuesday night.” (al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah (5/237) and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Sīrah al-Nabawīyyah, p.728)