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Recapturing Islâm from the Pacifists
By Usâma Hasan, may Allâh preserve him
With the Name of Allâh, Most Merciful, Ever-Merciful.
All Praise is due to Allâh. May the peace and blessings of Allâh be upon His beloved Messenger, and upon his family, companions and all those who follow their ways.
This essay is in response to some widely-broadcast transcripts of interviews with Hamza Yûsuf, plus three recent articles available at (url removed):
1. A Time for Introspection by Hamza Yûsuf, first published
2. Making the World Safe for (sic) Terrorism by Nûh Hâ Mîm Keller
3. Recapturing Islâm from the Terrorists by 'Abdul-Hakîm Murâd
All three writers seem to take it for granted that Muslims were responsible for the events of September 11th, and two of them go on to indulge in the usual Wahhâbî-bashing whilst the most moderate of them limits himself to holier-than-thou condemnations of "turbaned khawârij extremists." All this, despite the fact that no credible evidence of Muslim involvement has been produced so far. On the contrary, we have airline passenger lists which have no Muslim names. Several "suicide hijackers" are actually alive or died years ago. We have eight flight and data recorders, the contents of which are not being revealed – we are told most of them have perished in precisely the conditions that they were designed and tested to withstand! However, a paper passport (on a domestic flight!) escapes a plane crash, fireball, the collapse of the world's tallest skyscrapers and the resulting mountain of rubble, conveniently landing a few blocks away, to be picked up by the FBI.
(Perhaps our philosopher-mystics' omitting learning the physical sciences and engineering, in order to avoid becoming terrorists, explains their inability to critically evaluate the official explanations of the physically-astounding collapse of one of the world's great engineering accomplishments.)
We have a ludicrous five-page "last instructions" document in unconvincing Arabic that is clearly a fabrication, yet even Robert Fisk ignores his own advice to journalists to "call a spade a spade" and falls short of stating this obvious fact. Tony Blair's "incontrovertible evidence" has only been seen by him, and the "flood of evidence" he later claimed seems to be contained within the White House and 10 Downing Street – some flood! The whole business is very reminiscent of the Pharaonic methods, for the U.S. Government and President continually furnish striking resemblances to the descriptions of the Pharaoh and his end-of-time equivalent, the Dajjal Anti-Christ, in the divinely-revealed sources of Islâm.
Then Pharaoh sent heralds to all the Cities:
"These are truly but a small band, and they have provoked us; But we are a multitude alert (Warsh: prepared) …" [Sûrah ash-Shu'ara', 26:54-57]
Thus did he (Pharaoh) make fools of his people, And they obeyed him:
"Truly they were a people rebellious." [Sûrah az-Zukhruf, 43:54]
This assumption of Muslim guilt without proof goes against basic Islamic adab, let alone the peaks of spiritual behaviour about which some Sûfîs often speak but rarely actualise, and is a case of dreadful su' az-zann: to hold the worst suspicion about fellow-Muslims. Further, assumption of guilt until proven innocent is totally opposite to the Infinite Justice enshrined in Islamic Law. It would thus seem that in certain quarters, the twin-towers of Tasawwuf and Fiqh have also collapsed in spectacular fashion.
Sayyiduna 'Alî, when asked about the khawârij whom he fought fiercely, famously said, "They are our brothers, who have rebelled against us," and refrained from pronouncing takfîr upon them. However, just as the CNN-generation moulded by bigoted Western media will swallow lies that demonise Muslims, some people moulded by bigoted Muslim magazines will swallow lies and pseudo-arguments that demonise "Wahhâbîs" as khawârij. One writer even goes as far as calling for takfîr upon "Wahhâbî ultras" whom he assumes are the "terrorists", justifying this attitude with the strange evidence (from an Islamic viewpoint) of Christian practice with regard to David Koresh. Can we find no other people from whom to take a cue? Certainly no Sunni scholar has ever declared takfîr on the basis of murder, even mass-murder, from which tawbah is possible. Who is closer to being a takfîr-bandying kharijî here?
Murâd claims that all those who supported the "terroristic acts" (without distinguishing between the military installation in Washington and the civilian usurious installation in New York) were of the "Wahhâbî persuasion". Yet there were people celebrating the events of September 11th on one international Sûfî electronic mailing-list, whilst in contrast another contributor there attempted to justify the horrific nuclear holocaust perpetrated by the terrorist US government on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
As an aside, no "Sûfî" has been able to provide a satisfactory definition of "Wahhâbî", a term which is sometimes used interchangeably with "Salafî" and sometimes as a wider brush to include all Salafî (in the sense of Ahl al-Hadîth), Ikhwân and Deobandi reformist and revivalist movements. The fact remains that no Muslim calls themselves "Wahhâbî", a label employed as a term of abuse by many ignorant Sûfîs; and using it in this way is disrespectful to the Generosity of al-Wahhâb Himself, the Bestower of Endless Gifts.
Keller repeats the old claim that the "Wahhâbî sect" has "not been around for more than two and a half centuries." As the seasoned Wahhâbî-bashers usually point out themselves, the movement of Shaykh Muhammad bin 'Abdul-Wahhâb was a revival inspired by that of Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728 H). So perhaps the "Wahhâbî sect" has been around for seven centuries? Or could it be that there have always been Muslims around who have maintained the purest worship of Allâh, without invoking complicated arguments and fabricated ahadîth to justify strange rituals and concepts borrowed from corrupted Eastern and Western religions?
Murâd accuses the Tâlibân of shifting away from "traditional Islâm" towards "Ibn Taymiyyah's position", as though one of the greatest Hanbalî scholars, if not the greatest after Imâm Ahmad himself, was not a "traditional Muslim"! This new-wave mantra of "traditional Islâm, traditional Muslim" is belied by institutions and movements that pay lip-service to the Four Madhhabs, yet conspicuously exclude the Hanbalî madhhab, with all its outstanding scholars, from their curriculum.
It is true that Shaykh Hamza Yûsuf, in his talk at the Kensington Town Hall in October 2001, where the chair unjustly introduced him by putting bigoted words into his mouth, apologised for being "too harsh against his brothers" in his above-mentioned article, after being prompted by one of the sâlihûn in a dream he had. No such apology is likely to be forthcoming from fanatical Sûfîs, however, for bigotry is a veil upon the heart which keeps people entrenched in sectarianism, a state of being which, in Qur'anic terms, is the way of the mushrikûn while the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, has nothing to do with it in the least, despite the claims of ardent love for the Best of Creation. In any case, the damage had already been done, since these articles only helped to justify the savage US bombing of Afghanistan; Tony Blair was very quick to cite Muslim condemnation of the "terrorists behind September 11th" in defence of his slavery to US foreign policy.
Murâd calls for the adoption of a Ghazâlian position, rather than an Ibn Taymiyyan one, worldwide. This oft-repeated dichotomy is superficial and unhelpful. As Hamza Yûsuf states in one of his lectures, in response to people who will only read one or other of these great Imams, "Read both!" (a moderate position similar to that of the late Egyptian Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazâlî, formerly of the Ikhwân). There are more than two great thinkers in our history: There are thousands. We need creative syntheses of all positive strands of thought from our rich intellectual history to deal with our unique predicament.
Furthermore, the Ibn Taymiyyan viewpoint also allows for non-Muslims who do not hear the message of Islâm to be admitted to Paradise. In our current situation, the absence of military experience from the Ghazâlian worldview is significant. As Shaykh 'Âsim Baytar, son of the Shaykh Bahjat al-Baytar, says in his introduction to Maw'izat al-Mu'minîn, the muhaddith Jamâluddîn al-Qâsimî's abridgement of the Ihyâ',
"Here I must refer to two critical issues: Firstly, that al-Ghazâlî in all his works does not refer at all, neither directly nor indirectly, to the Crusader War against the land of ash-Sham; that savage war in which sanctities were transgressed upon, lands were destroyed and human dignities violated, placing the sword of transgression, injustice and enmity upon the neck of peaceful Muslims. Secondly, that al-Ghazâlî in his magnificent work Ihyâ' 'Ulûm ad-Dîn did not devote a section for Jihâd in order to explain its virtue, nay its necessity, and that it is an individual obligation upon every capable Muslim when the Muslim lands are invaded and their enemy attacks them in their own territories. Did al-Ghazâlî ignore these two issues because he disconnected himself from the world of men and followed the path of those striving hard for the Hereafter through separation, solation and taking account of the self? Or did he ignore them because what befell the Muslims was a just punishment upon them from Allâh due to their falling short in His rights, their taking to disobedience and sins, the deafening of their ears to the voice of guidance and truth; and that the way to removing the confusion and lifting the tribulation was by returning to the essence of the religion, and by following the way of the Chief of the Messengers, and his companions, the blazing steeds? For Allâh says, 'If you help Allâh, He will help you, and strengthen your footing.' [Sûrah Muhammad, 47:7] Whatever may be said in justifying al-Ghazâlî's silence on these two matters, one does not cease to be amazed at his stance regarding them in a time when the Ummah needed, as much as ever, fighting talk plus expenditure of effort, wealth and lives in defending lands and sanctities."
In contrast, Ibn Taymiyyah says at the beginning of his Manâqib ash-Sham wa Ahlih (Virtues of al-Sham and Its People), explaining his reason for composing the treatise in the midst of events of the years 700-702 H, when Damascus was successfully defended against the ravaging Mongol army that had sacked Baghdad and was aiming for the holy cities of Makkah and Madînah in order to deal a fatal blow to Islâm itself, "There are many virtues of ash-Sham and its people established by the Book, the Sunnah and the traditions of the people of knowledge, and this is one of the things I relied upon in my encouraging the Muslims to fight the Tatars, my order to them to remain in Damascus, my forbidding them from fleeing to Egypt, and my inviting the Egyptian military to Syria and consolidating the Syrian military already there …" Ibn Taymiyyah ends the treatise thus, "Indeed, the fulfilment of these Prophetic texts became apparent in the most complete manner during our Jihâd against the Tatars. Allâh manifested for the Muslims the truth of that which we had promised them, and the barakah of that with which we had commanded them. This was a magnificent victory, the like of which the Muslims had not seen [in that age]: the imposing edifice of the Tatar kingdom, that had humiliated the people of Islâm, was never routed or defeated the way it was defeated at the gate of Damascus in the great battle [of Shaqhab] during which Allâh showered upon us so many of His favours that we cannot enumerate them, neither generally nor specifically."
Thus spoke the scholar and soldier, (himself an impressive philosopher as shown in his critique of Greek logic, abridged by Imâm as-Suyûtî and translated into English by Wael Hallaq), in contrast to the philosopher-mystic. We need both perspectives, both inspirations, but each according to the situation. In times of war, a general does not talk to his troops about the "moral ambiguities" of their predicament, and does not philosophise about relationships between orgasm and mystical experiences.
The above difference between the Ghazâlian and Ibn Taymiyyan viewpoints, and the total lack of military experience of some writers, may explain statements such as "Jihâd is not used with a military meaning in the Qur'ân. Not once." This statement is so outrageous that husn az-zann requires us to assume that it is a journalist's misquote, or a transcription error. Surely someone as learned as Shaykh Hamza Yûsuf could not have said it? The analysis also explains statements such as, "One of the unseen, unsung triumphs of true Islâm in the modern world is its complete freedom from any terrorist involvement … No-one has ever heard of Sûfî terrorism." Since the U.S. now defines any legitimate resistance struggle or jihâd as "terrorism", the above statement says that no-one has heard of Sûfî jihad, which is true enough, at least recently. Whilst thousands of "Wahhâbîs" from around the world sacrificed comfortable family lives, risked, and indeed laid down, their lives for the defence of Bosnia, many Sûfîs could only continue to dance and sing in "dhikr" and celebrate the milâd of the Beloved Prophet who physically led dozens of military expeditions for ten years starting from the age of 53, may Allâh bless him and grant him peace; the Prophet who said, "The Garden is beneath the shade of swords," and did not say, "We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihâd: the jihâd against the self," for the latter statement is that of the Successor, Ibrâhîm b. Abî 'Ablah, as categorically stated by the hâfidh of hadîth Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalânî, and therefore needs to be understood in context. Jihâd and qitâl, terms used interchangeably in our traditional heritage of hadîth and fiqh, have associated with them certain ahwâl and maqamât, to use Sûfî terminology, just as for any other outward act of worship. The inward states in this case relate to observing military and spiritual discipline, conquering the fear of the enemy and death, the longing to return to one's family and normal occupation, and the impulses of ostentation and worldly partisanship. Clearly, if people were really engaged seriously in the inward "greater jihâd", they would find it very easy to perform the outward "lesser jihâd."
Whilst the "Wahhâbî ultras" helped, and in many cases spearheaded, the Bosnian Muslim forces' astonishing victories which swept across the country and sent the U.S. scurrying to finally halt the war with the Dayton accords, now that Muslim armies were actually gaining the upper hand, some Sûfî writers were busy in their jihâd of mocking Wahhâbî trouser-lines from the safety of their Oxbridge ivory towers. The same story is repeated in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and probably in future cases of Muslim peoples rising up against oppression. Whilst the Western Allies honour their war-dead over the last century, some of us continually insult the memory of the brave men and women who fell as shuhadâ' by rubbishing the movements that motivated them.
Murâd hopes for a "crisis among 'moderate Wahhâbîs' … a mass exodus from Wahhâbism." On the contrary, we should hope for a mass exodus from the numerous competing and divided versions of pseudo-Sûfîsm on offer, to authentic forms of spirituality. Many 'moderate Sûfîs' must surely be appalled by the pacifism, naivety, neo-Christian toothlessness and capitulation to the kâfir political agenda displayed by some of those who claim to speak for the essence of Islâm. The dangerous outburst against "95% of American mosques" by the head of the self-styled Sûfî Supreme Islamic Council of North America, at the State Department can only have helped to confirm the "terrorist" stereotype of ordinary American Muslims, and Muslim organisations were right to condemn this irresponsible intervention. The Sûfî Grand Muftî of Chechnya is a Russian agent co-operating with an army that has used chemical weapons against his people. Similar is the case of the active Sûfî Italian "Islamic" centre, in reality a zionist organisation, a passionate supporter of the state of Israel and critic of the intifâda. To be fair, it must be admitted that Sûfîs with deep awareness of international politics do disown these figures, and complain of the absence of Sûfî involvement in jihâd since the Second World War.
It is time to recall those moving lines of poetry written from the front line by Imâm 'Abdullâh ibn al-Mubârak, the great muhaddith, faqih, zâhid, mujâhid, warrior-poet, pupil of Imâm Abû Hanîfah and Shaykh of Imâm al-Bukhârî, to Fudayl b. 'Iyâd at-Tamîmî, the great 'âbid, Shaykh of the Makkan haram, pupil of Imâm ash-Shâfi'î:
Yâ 'âbid al-Haramayni law absartana Lâ 'alimta annaka bi l-'ibâdati tal' abu Man yakhdubu khaddahu bi dumû'ihi Fa nuhûruna bi l-dima'i tatakhaddabu
O worshipper at the Two Sanctuaries, were you to see us
You would know that your worship is mere play, frivolous;
O you who stains his cheek with pious fears,
Our chests are weeping bloody tears.
The tradition of Islamic warrior-poets, widely manifested in Companions such as Hassan b. Thâbit, Thumâmah b. Uthâl and Khâlid b. Walîd's versatile commander al-Qa'qa' b. 'Amr at-Tamîmî, continues to this day. Ironically, both Ibn al-Mubârak and Ibn 'Iyâd are claimed by some as Sûfîs. Comparing their situation with our present, it would appear that Sûfîsm today remains, in the words of Imâm Junayd of Baghdad, "a name without a reality" – a fact often acknowledged by Sûfîs themselves.
Murâd is surely right in saying that the keys to success are spirituality, toleration and wisdom. We also need to recover the Qur'anic character of being humble and merciful towards the believers, and dignified and severe against the non-believers, rather than being tolerant of a shockingly-materialistic culture of dehumanising immorality at the same time as we are "vehement and adversarial" amongst ourselves. We must especially move on to discuss our differences maturely, rather than hiding behind puerile name-calling, stereotypes and superficial discussions of theological and jurisprudential matters. The approach of Hamza Yûsuf, who said in one lecture, "If the Wahhâbîs think you're a Sûfî, and the Sûfîs think you're a Wahhâbî, then you're somewhere along the right lines," must be welcomed. More interaction is needed between people of 'ilm and 'amâl from all persuasions. Where are the muhaddithin and fuqahâ' training with the mujâhidîn and advising them? Fanaticism and extremism occurs amongst all persuasions, and must be rejected, whether it is from "Wahhâbîs" or "Sûfîs" or anyone else.
We must ask Allâh, especially as the blessings of Ramadân are almost upon us, to open the hearts of Muslims everywhere to the realisation that all dignity and honour belong to Allâh, His Messenger, and the mu'minûn, never mind that the munâfiqûn do not know; that our wali is Allâh, then His Messenger and the people of îmân who establish the salât and pay the zakât with humility, and that if we are truly loyal to Allâh, His Messenger and the people of îmân, then the Party of Allâh will surely be the Victorious.
28th Sha'ban 1422 / 14th November, 2001.
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