Gamal al-Banna

The people have risen up against their rulers. Will Muslims now rise up against their faqihs?[1]

The recent Egyptian uprising was a declaration that the era of treachery and oppression against the people, of the expropriation of their wealth and its confiscation by the clique or the Junta or the Mafia of opportunists and agents, and the continued exploitation of the pliant, submissive masses –  was at an end.

The Egyptian revolution: only half the story

But this revolution will not be able to secure its aims while another revolution does not work alongside it, one that will free the masses from forces that paint themselves with the colours of religion and arm themselves with the emotions of the people. These are the elements characterised by a wallowing in reaction and backwardness. For they imitate the Salaf, the ‘Predecessors’ who have defined the spectrum of Islamic knowledge for a thousand years, without any creative interpretation or thought, and have brought to the fore the most backward elements of the religious faculties.

They call themselves the ‘Salafists’ and take on the severest, most restrictive and extreme guise of Salafism: the Wahhabist Salafism propounded by Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhāb two centuries ago in Saudi Arabia. This Salafism has been reinvigorated by the rise of Saudi Arabia and the prominence of its role in step with the rise in oil price, starting from three dollars per barrel during the October War, to 40 dollars a barrel, and finally surpassing 100 dollars. It has provided Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states with huge fortunes, a portion of which has been earmarked to strengthening Wahhabi Salafist propaganda.

Salafism is mere antiquarianism and we cannot live our present through our past

Meanwhile the impotence afflicting Al-Azhar ever since the state assumed patronage over it from the days of Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir, and the appointment of its rector shaykhs according to the will of the President, has deprived that institution of its independence and its freedom to innovate. So too the incarceration of the Muslim Brotherhood’s preaching, which is seen to have been the strongest Islamic association and its most open, behind the prison walls right from ‘Abd al-Nasir to the present day. When the revolution came it freed them, but this did not alter the ‘reactionary’ form of the religious committees, since the difference was only one of degree and not a natural differentiation. Most religious preaching is reactionary, founded upon repetition rather than insight, and adopts a standpoint of opposition to the innovations of the modern age.  It may be that discussions for co-operation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists will take place to turn them into the strongest force among the people.

So, while we see the January 25th revolution carried out by the youth and the intelligentsia and aided in their activities by the adoption of forms of progress on the net and Facebook and email, we also see another force emerging, one that is powerful, well-organised and founded upon a religious component (the most powerful ingredient of the Egyptian personality) which pushes the people backward, which resists the employment of rationality, which is ruled by custom, tradition and superstition and is capable of halting the revolution’s course and setting it into reverse gear.

Martin Luther: a destroyer of institutional supremacy

Muslim society stands today at the point where European society stood prior to the French Revolution that put paid to the political power of the papacy which had come to impose itself over sovereigns. It stands prior to the reforms of Martin Luther, which put paid to the power of the monks, the clerics and their hegemony over the masses, along with their superstitions and the powers they claimed for themselves. Because of Luther the political and intellectual arena and religious belief was cleared of the supremacy of the institution that dominated Europe and under which all European peoples were considered ‘loyal subjects of the Church’.

It is no vain claim to say that the Reformation of Martin Luther served as a forerunner to the period of the Enlightenment and the ‘Renaissance’ and provided the cradle for them, in that it allowed the people to embrace the new thinking initiated by the Enlightenment philosophers.

A number of factors have led to the delay of an Islamic revolution since the emergence of the great revolutionary Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. He had stirred the Muslims to rise from their deep slumber and restore their hope and self-confidence after they had come to believe that colonialism was an overwhelming force and an irreversible judgement from God. Jamal al-Afghani awakened them, restored their hope, and shook the internal foundations of despotic rule and the domination of foreign colonialism. But he did not have enough time to do anything more than that.

Al-Afghani: the beginnings of hope

Reformers who came after him busied themselves with this or that trend of Islamic thought so that academic preoccupations came to dominate over them, with the result that they had no decisive influence through which to promote reform. A reformer best suited to undertake this reform might have been Hasan al-Banna, yet he became obsessed with matters of organisation over contemplation, and consumed by forming the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’. The end result was that they were unable, and still are unable, to go beyond the safe limits and distinguish themselves in the promotion of necessary, revolutionary reforms.

Yet what is surprising is that this Islamic reform is actually already in existence and has been operating for a number of years. It is the ‘Call for Islamic Revival’ promoted by the present author. Nevertheless, it is having to fight a dogged war, since it does not hail from Al-Azhar and does not wear a turban. Nor does it follow the traditional course which imposes conformity to the views of the imams and Predecessors laid down a millennium ago, and held to be the building blocks of Islamic thinking.

No one else is in possession of the elements and connections that enable the Call for Islamic Revival to promote fully the resurgent ‘Islamic Project’. It does not ignore any aspect, but deals with government, the economy, and society. It particularly concerns itself with the issue of women and workers, and has presented exhaustive researches on these, in addition to the reform of the usūl al-fiqh in the tri-partite work Towards a New Fiqh. There is also its criticism and revision of the most revered work of the Islamic heritage: the Sahīh of al-Bukhārī in the work Stripping al-Bukhārī and Muslim of the Non-Obligatory Hadīth, and the work Jināyat Qabīlat “Hadathnā[2] and the amendment of the Sunna according to the dictates of the Qur’ān and of reason.

If the text of the Shari'a falls short for a reason we are to adjust the text

The innovative secret of the Call for Islamic Revival is that it is open to the modern world and believes that the achievements of European civilization constitute what may be considered ‘wisdom’ as accepted by the Qur’ān and indeed associated by it with The Book, at a time when its rationality prevented its being influenced by all the superstitions that cram the works of the traditional heritage. The deep root of this innovative secret is Islamic and revolves around the Qur’ān, a fact which preserves it from distortion. From this starting point it arrives at an Islam that can coexist with the modern age and face up to its challenges, yet one that at the same time holds close to what the Qur’ān has revealed.

What is required is a new foundation and a new understanding of what it is that constitutes Islamic knowledge. Any partial or patched-up reform of the prevailing mentality is insufficient, nor is it enough simply to ignore modern civilization. This new understanding is what the Call for Islamic Revival is promoting. We may summarise these points as the following:

1)      It is ‘deputized humankind’[3] that is the aim. Mankind is the ultimate end, and Islam is the means.

2)      The basis for deputized humankind is the equality of rights and obligations among all peoples without exception.

3)      Rationality and its products in the field of science and knowledge are what distinguish mankind and are what makes the angels subservient to him. Thus the rational mind is the foundation of religious thought; nothing is beyond its grasp other than the essence of God, His nature and the hereafter. The corollary of this is the permeation of science and knowledge throughout society.

Hassan al-Banna: an organiser more than a thinker

4)      We must return to the Qur’ān as a book of guidance, and perforce avoid obeying every commentary recorded by commentators on abrogated sūras or ‘reasons of the revelation’. The form of the Qur’ān has its own power of guidance, and the Qur’ān wields its influence through its impact. The commentaries are a transgression against the Qur’ān and constitute fabrications of what it never in fact says. Consequently Muslims have not drawn benefit from the Qur’ān even though it constitutes the true spirit of Islam and contains the tool for liberation and revolution. In reality these commentaries are the reason for Muslim regression.

5)      The Sunna has to be understood according to the ordinances of the Qur’ān and does not share its perpetuity. This is the most important issue in Islamic thinking, since the Sunna was the door through which enemies of Islam have entered and established thousands of Hadīth defaming the Qur’ān and deforming the creed. Indeed these Hadīth distort the image of the Prophet. All of this eluded the Hadīth scholars who assiduously compiled and collected tales, considering that the isnād, the chain of transmission, is some guarantee of soundness. Whereas in fact it was the means by which fabricators of Hadīth inserted their wares. It would not be overstating it to say that some of the Hadīth scholars went so far as to ‘terrorize’ people and saw fit to impose the Sunna as something superior to the Qur’ān itself.

6)      We should consider ‘wisdom’ as one of the foundations of Islam, since the Qur’ān associated it with The Book. For it says: and it teacheth them the Scripture and wisdom.[4] By wisdom we mean every law and principle and cause that mankind has arrived at and whose validity has been demonstrated over the generations. The Sunna, naturally, is no such thing, as al-Shāfi‘ī well understood.

Islam, for all its utmost importance, is only one amongst many dimensions of truth

7)      We are to consider zakāt as a sacred obligation such as prayer, and organize it so that it serves the role of social security and social insurance. The fuqahā still understand zakāt as a dirham of gold and silver, and ruminate to this day over whether it is to be applied to things other than camels, sheep and date palms, or how this is to be distributed, and so on. We should handle this in a contemporary way, so that it is imposed on all wealth exceeding a certain level, and is supervised by a civilian, voluntary body that is organised and methodical. The state can execute this through an entirely independent body (after the fashion of the judiciary). Its budget should be fully independent from the state exchequer so that those supervising it do not derive their salaries from the state, but rather draw them from the zakāt itself. It should be distributed to those with limited income and those facing unemployment and sickness, and so on, in conformity with what is practiced in social security systems, which are themselves a modern translation of what was referred to as Zakāt banks.

8)      All the rulings of the Sharī‘a that refer to mundane matters, whether these be in the Qur’ān or the Sunna, are revealed for a purpose which, generally speaking, is one of securing justice and the common weal. Should it be that developments take place whereby the text of the law falls short for a reason (that is in its task of promoting justice and the common interest), we are to adjust the text so that it duly achieves its end. This is what ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb was guided to do in his well-known re-interpretation initiatives. Similarly, it may happen that developments will cancel out the legal argumentation altogether, so that the ruling is voided, as happened with the rulings on slaves, or booty or jizya[5] and the like. For Islam did not invent these things, but encountered them and attempted to reform them to the point of eliminating them. This is what Islam intended.

9)      We dispense with Salafism and declare no confidence in it. Salafism is mere antiquarianism and we cannot live our present through our past.

10)   We dismiss the idea that Islam is to control all things. Islam, for all its utmost importance, is only one amongst many dimensions of truth – such as the sciences, technology, the arts and philosophy – each of them issuing from its own starting point and presenting its own evidence. Even if their evidence differs from that offered by faith, they do not stand in competition to it, nor contradict it, just as faith in its turn does not consider them beyond the pale.

11)   Freedom of thought and belief are absolute, and the relationship between faiths is to be one of co-existence.

12)   We hold to the emancipation of womankind from the subservient position which some weak or fabricated Hadīth advocate, and the establishment of her equality to men.

 


 

[1] This article is an apologia for a specific movement of reform, but it is included for its interesting 12-part definition of the essential ingredients that must underlie Islamic reform initiatives. (Ed.)

[2] جناية قبيلة 'حدثنا'  (‘The Crime of the Tribe Named “We Heard Tell”’) that is, the damage done to Islam by the uncontested acceptance of false Hadīth ascribed to the Prophet. The Hadīth texts generally begin with the formula: “We heard tell that....”. (Ed.)

[3] The ‘deputized human’ comes from the allegory of creation, whereby God made the human to be His khalīfa (‘deputy’), that is, His successor or vice-regent on earth, superior to all other beings and therefore second only to God Himself. (Ed.)

[4] Qur’ān III,164: Allah verily hath shown grace to the believers by sending unto them a messenger of their own who reciteth unto them His revelations, and causeth them to grow, and teacheth them the Scripture and wisdom; although before (he came to them) they were in flagrant error

[5] See Glossary.