Classical Works on Creed and the Caliphate Imperative – Part 2: Al-Laqqani and Al-Shahrastani

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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, // 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]

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]

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.

 

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 Political Significance of the Kalimah

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The following is related by Al-Wahidi in his Asbab al-Nuzul [The Circumstances of Revelation] regarding Surah 38 verses 5 to 12

“When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab embraced Islam, the Muslims were overjoyed while the Quraysh was devastated. Al-Walid ibn al-Mughirah said to the nobles and chiefs of Quraysh: ‘Go to Abu Talib and say to him: you are our elder and chief and you know well what these fools have done. We have come to you so that you judge between us and your nephew’. Abu Talib sent for the Prophet and when he answered his call, he said to him: ‘Son of my brother, these are your own people and they are asking you for fairness, so do not swerve completely from them’. The Prophet asked: ‘What do they want from me?’ They said: ‘Cease mentioning our deities and we will leave you alone with your God’. The Prophet said to them: ‘Will you grant me one word [kalimah] by means of which you will rule over the Arabs and subjugate the non-Arabs?’ Abu Jahl said: ‘We will surely grant it and grant you ten like it!’ The Prophet said: ‘Say: there is no deity except Allah!*’ The Quraysh were repelled and left, saying: ‘Does he make the gods One God? How can One God be sufficient for the whole creation?’ And so Allah, exalted is He, revealed about them these verses [i.e. from 38:5], up to His words (The folk of Noah before them denied (their messenger)…) [38:12]”

*i.e. La ilaha illa Llah

Michael Hart: The Most Influential Person in History

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Above is a depiction of Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih and his army

“My choice of Muhammad [] to lead the list of the world’s most influential persons may surprise readers and may be questioned by others, but he was the only man in history who was supremely successful on both the religious and secular levels.

Of humble origins Muhammad [] founded and promulgated one of the great world religions, and became an immensely effective political leader. Today, thirteen centuries after his death, his influence is still powerful and pervasive.

The majority of persons in this book had the advantage of being born and raised in centres of civilization, highly cultured or politically pivotal nations. Muhammad [], however, was born in the year 570, in the city of Mecca, in southern Arabia, at the time a backward area of the world, far from the centres of trade, art and learning…

The Bedouin tribesman of Arabia had a reputation as fierce warriors. But their number was small; and plagued by disunity and internecine warfare, they had been no match for the larger armies of the kingdoms in the settled agricultural areas to the north. However, unified by Muhammad [] for the first time in history, and inspired by their fervent belief in the one true God, these small Arab armies now embarked upon one of the most astonishing series of conquests in human history. To the northeast of Arabia lay the Neo-Persian Empire of the Sassanids; to the northwest lay the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman Empire, centred in Constantinople [1]. Numerically the Arabs were no match for their opponents. On the field of battle, though, the inspired Arabs rapidly conquered all of Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine. By 642, Egypt had been wrested from the Byzantine Empire, while the Persian armies had been crushed at the key battles of Qadisiyya in 637, and Nehavend in 642.

But even these enormous conquests – which were made under the leadership of Muhammad’s [] close friends and immediate successors, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab – did not mark the end of the Arab advance. By 711, the Arab armies had swept completely across North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. There they turned north and, crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, overwhelmed the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

For a while, it must have seemed that the Moslems would overwhelm all of Christian Europe. However, in 732, at the famous Battle of Tours, a Moslem army, which had advanced in to the centre of France, was at last defeated by the Franks. Nevertheless, in a scant century of fighting, these Bedouin tribesmen, inspired by the word of the Prophet [], had carved out an empire stretching from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean – the largest empire the world had yet seen.”

[Michael H. Hart, The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, 1991, pp. 33-35]

[1] Constantinople was later conquered by Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih in 1453. In a hadith, the Prophet predicted:

“Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will he be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!”

Narrated from Bishr al-Khath’ami or al-Ghanawi by:
Ahmad, al-Musnad 14:331 #18859 [sahih chain according to Hamza al-Zayn] al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak 4:421-422 [sahih according to him and al-Dhahabi concurred] al-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Kabir 2:38 #1216 [sahih chain according to al-Haythami 6:218-219] al-Bukhari, al-Tarikh al-Kabir 2:81 and al-Saghir 1:306 Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Isti`ab 8:170 [hasan chain according to him] al-Suyuti, al-Jami` al-Saghir [sahih according to him]

Charles Clarke: No Negotiation About Re-creating the Caliphate

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“However, there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of the Caliphate; there can be no negotiation about the imposition of Sharia law…”

British Home Secretary Charles Clarke, speaking at the Heritage Foundation on October 5, 2005 [full speech here and download pdf here].

Post Script

Contrast this with someone who speaks with knowledge about the Caliphate:

“All pious Muslims well-read in the Hadith (the compiled sayings of the Prophet*) firmly believe in the need to establish an Islamic State headed by a Muslim Caliph. This is mentioned twice in the Holy Quran and it’s central to the Islamic faith. No Muslim scholar would debate an Islamic state and the caliphate.”

[Sami Moubayed, Syrian historian and former Carnegie Scholar, writing in the Daily Telegraph, 23rd September, 2015]

*ﷺ Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him

The Black Man

black manWhen Muslims conquered Egypt and advanced to the Fort of Bablion, Muqauqis the ruler of Egypt sent a delegation to speak to Muslims to find out what they wanted. He also expressed a desire to receive a delegation of Muslims. Therefore ‘Amr bin al ‘As [raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)] sent a delegation comprising ten people. This delegation was led by ‘Ubada ibn Samit [raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)], and he alone was authorized to talk to Muqauqis.

‘Ubada was tall and very black, and when the delegation approached Muqauqis to speak to him, he was struck by his appearance alone, and said to the members of the delegation, “Keep this black person away from me, and bring forward somebody else to speak to me.” The members of the delegation unanimously said to him, “He is superior to us in intellect, knowledge, opinion, insight and in every other way. He is our leader. We all turn to him for his opinion and advice. Moreover, our governor has given him some particular instructions, and he has ordered us not to go against him in any matter whatsoever.”

At this, Muqauqis said to the delegation, “How could you agree to make him your leader and superior, whereas he ought to have been your subordinate?” To this the delegation replied, “No, despite the fact that you see him as black, he is the best among us in knowledge, in nobility, in intellect and opinion, and we do not look down upon the black man.” Muqauqis said to  ‘Ubada, “Come forward, O black [man] and speak to me gently, for I fear your colour, and if you were to talk to me in a harsh tone, my distress shall be all the greater.” ‘Ubada, noticing Muqauqis’ fear of  black people, said, “ We have in our army a thousand people darker than me.”

[Dr. Mustafa Siba‘i, The Islamic Civilization, Awakening Publications, Swansea,  2002, pp. 67-68]

How al-Awza‘i* Spoke the Truth to a Tyrant Ruler

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After the Banu Umayyah were massacred and banished from Syria by the tyrannical Amir of Syria, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Ali (the first Abbasid caliph’s uncle), he summoned al-Awza‘i. After going missing for three days, the latter appeared before the court of the Amir.

Al-Awza‘i relates:

“I went in to see him and he was reclining on his bed with a staff in his hand and soldiers to his right and left bearing menacing swords and iron rods. So I imparted the Islamic greetings to him but he didn’t reply. He banged the staff in his hand and asked: ‘O, Awza‘i, what’s your view regarding what we have done to the people and this land in removing the oppression of those [Banu Umayyah]? Was it considered Jihad and defending Islam?’

I thought to myself and decided to tell the truth, bracing for certain death [and said]: O Amir! I heard Yahya b. Sa`id al-Ansari say: I heard Muhammad b. Ibrahim al-Taymi say: I heard `Alqama b. Waqqas say: I heard `Umar b. al-Khattab say: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: “Actions are based on intentions and every person will get what he intended…” [Bukhari, Muslim and others]

[The ruler] stamped his staff harder than before and made all those around him seize their swords with their hands saying: ‘O Awza‘i! What do you say regarding the blood of the Banu Umayyah being spilled?’

I said: ‘The Messenger of Allah said: “A Muslim may not spill the blood of another except in three cases: [1] a life for a life, [2] an adulterer and [3] someone who leaves his religion by separating from the community” [Bukhari, Muslim and others]’

The Amir continued: ‘Tell me about the caliphate, is it not our inheritance as stipulated by the Prophet ?’ I replied, ‘Had that been the case, ‘Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) would have never let anyone come before him.’

He stamped his staff even more fiercely than before and said: ‘But what do you say about the treasure of the Banu Umayya?’. I replied: ‘If it were lawful for them, it is unlawful for you, and if it were unlawful for them, it is even more unlawful for you!’

He then banged his staff down even harder than before that and said: ‘Shall we give you a position of authority [in the courts]?’ I replied: ‘Your predecessors were not fond of offering me such a position. I wish to complete the excellence that was begun by them for me’.

He said: ‘So, you desire to leave?’

I was waiting for my head to be severed from my shoulders in front of him. So he ordered me to leave. When I left with his messenger following behind me, he had with him 100 dinars and said I should take it and spend as it was from the Amir.

So I did take it but distributed it to the needy as sadaqa because I took it out of fear…”

* ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Amr ibn Yahmad Abu ‘Amr al-Awza‘i (88 H/707 CE to 158 H/774 CE), Shaykh al-Islam, the saintly, wise Scholar of the People of Sham (Greater Syria), was one of the mujtahid Imams of the Salaf along with the Four Imams, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Tabari, and others, the first – with Ibn Jurayj and Abu Hanifa – to compile the Sunna of the Prophet and the Companions under fiqh subheadings. Born orphaned and poor in Ba‘balak and raised in al-Kark in the Biqa‘ valley, he came to live in the area known as – and populated by – the Auza‘ or “variegated tribes” in Damascus then moved to Beirut where he remained garrisoned until his death, his fame having spread to the entire Islamic world of his time.

[Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, vol. 10, pp. 124-126. Cf. The Four Imams and their Schools, Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, Muslim Academic Trust, 2007, p. 100]