Friday, January 27, 2012

Questions for comparative study of religions

Zoroaster (also called Zarathustra),
the founder of Zoroastrianism

Excerpt from 'Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal', a paper delivered by Iqbal in April 1909 at the anniversary of Anjuman Himayat-i-Islam, Lahore.
To begin with, we have to recognise that every great religious system starts with certain proposition concerning the nature of man and the universe. The psychological implication of Buddhism, for instance, is the central fact of pain as a dominating element in the constitution of the universe. Man, regarded as an individuality, is helpless against the forces of pain, according to the teachings of Buddhism. There is an indissoluble relation between pain and the individual consciousness which, as such, is nothing but a constant possibility of pain. Freedom from pain means freedom from individuality. Starting from the fact of pain, Buddhism is quite consistent in placing before man the ideal of self-destruction. Of the two terms of this relation, pain and the sense of personality, one (i.e., pain) is ultimate; the other is a delusion from which it is possible to emancipate ourselves by ceasing to act on those lines of activity, which have a tendency to intensify the sense of personality. Salvation, then, according to Buddhism, is inaction; renunciation of self and unworldliness are the principal virtues. Similarly, Christianity as a religious system, is based on the fact of sin. The world is regarded as evil and the taint of sin is regarded as hereditary to man, who, as an individuality, is insufficient and stands in need of some supernatural personality to intervene between him and his Creator. Christianity, unlike Buddhism, regards human personality as something real, but agrees with Buddhism in holding that man, as a force against sin, is insufficient. There is, however, a subtle difference in the agreement. We can, according to Christianity, get rid of sin by depending upon a Redeemer; we can free ourselves from pain, according to Buddhism, by letting this insufficient force dissipate or lose itself in the universal energy of nature. Both agree in the fact of insufficiency and both agree in holding that this insufficiency is an evil, but while the one makes up the deficiency by bringing in the force of a redeeming personality, the other prescribes its gradual reduction until it is annihilated altogether. Again, Zoroastrianism looks upon nature as a scene of endless struggle between the powers of evil and the powers of good, and recognises in man the power to choose any course of action he likes. The universe, according to Zoroastrianism, is partly evil, partly good; man is neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but a combination of the two principles-light and darkness continually fighting against each other for universal supremacy. We see then that the fundamental pre-suppositions, with regard to the nature of the universe and man, in Buddhism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism, respectively, are the following:
  1. There is pain in nature and man regarded as an individual is evil (Buddhism).
  2. There is sin in nature and the taint of sin is fatal to man (Christianity).
  3. There is struggle in nature; man is a mixture of the struggling forces and is free to range himself on the side of the powers of good, which will eventually prevail (Zoroastrianism).
The question now is, what is the Muslim view of the universe and man? What is the central idea in Islam, which determines the structure of the entire system?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Demystifying Islam

I propose to look at Islam from the standpoint of the critical student. But I may state at the outset that I shall avoid the use of expressions current in popular Revelation Theology; since my method is essentially scientific and consequently necessitates the use of terms which can be interpreted in the light of every-day human experience. For instance, when I say that the religion of a people is the sum-total of their life-experience finding a definite expression through the medium of a great personality, I am only translating the fact of Revelation into the language of science. Similarly, inter-action between individual and universal energy is only another expression for the feeling of prayer, which ought to be so described for purposes of scientific accuracy. It is because I want to approach my subject from a thoroughly human standpoint, and not because I doubt the fact of Divine Revelation as the final basis of all religion, that I prefer to employ expressions of a more scientific content. Islam is, moreover, the youngest of all religions, the last creation of humanity. Its founder stands out clear before us; he is truly a personage of history and lends himself freely even to the most searching criticism. Ingenious legend has weaved no screens round his figure; he is born in the broad day-light of history; we can thoroughly understand the inner spring of his actions; we can subject his mind to a keen psychological analysis. Let us then, for the time being, eliminate the supernatural element and try to understand the structure of Islam as we find it.
Excerpt from 'Islam as a Moral and Political Ideal', a paper delivered by Iqbal in April 1909 at the anniversary of Anjuman Himayat-i-Islam, Lahore.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Political freedom: an Islamic ideal

Greek lithograph celebrating the Young Turk revolt in 1908
and the re-introduction of a constitutional regime in the Ottoman Empire

This is the final part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 were presented earlier.
In modern times - thanks to the influence of Western political ideas – Muslim countries have exhibited signs of political life. England has vitalised Egypt; Persia has received a constitution from the Shah, and the Young Turkish Party too have been struggling, scheming and plotting to achieve their object. But it is absolutely necessary for these political reformers to make a thorough study of Islamic constitutional principles, and not to shock the naturally suspicious conservatism of their people by appearing as prophets of a new culture. They would certainly impress them more if they could show that their seemingly borrowed ideal of political freedom is really the ideal of Islam, and is as such the rightful demand of free Muslim conscience.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Election: a fundamental Quranic principle

Illustration by Tabassum Khalid.
Courtesy: Iqbal Academy Pakistan

This is the seventh part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were presented earlier.
Such are, briefly, the main lines of Political Thought in Islam. It is clear that the fundamental principle laid down in the Quran is the principle of election; the details or rather the translation of this principle into a workable scheme of Government is left to be determined by other considerations. Unfortunately, however, the idea of election did not develop on strictly democratic lines, and the Muslim conquerors consequently failed to do anything for the political improvement of Asia. The form of election was certainly maintained in Baghdad and Spain, but no regular political institutions could grow to vitalise the people at large. It seems to me that there were principally two reasons for this want of political activity in Muslim countries:
  1. In the first place the idea of election was not at all suited to the genius of the Persians and the Mongols - the two principal races which accepted Islam as their religion. Dozy tells us that the Persians were even determined to worship the Caliph as a divinity, and on being told that worship belonged to God alone they attempted to rebel against the Caliph who would not be the centre of religious emotion.
  2. The life of early Muslims was a life of conquest. Their whole energy was devoted to political expansion which tends to concentrate political power in fewer hands, and thus serves as an unconscious handmaid of despotism. Democracy does not seem to be quite willing to get on with Empire - a lesson which the modern English Imperialist might well take to heart.
To be concluded next Friday

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Khawarij Political Theory

The palace of the Sultan of Oman in Old Muscat. The dynasty
is supposed to belong to the Khawarijite sect.

This is the sixth part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were presented earlier.

3. The Khawarij Republicanism

I shall be very brief in my account of the Khawarij, since the history of their opinions is yet to be worked out. The first Muslims who were so called were the notorious 12,000 who revolted against Ali after they had fought under him at the battle of Siffin. They were offended at his submitting the decision of his right to the Caliphate to the arbitration of men when, in their opinion, it ought to have been submitted to the law of God - the Qur’an.

“The nation,” they said to Ali, “calls us to the book of God; you call us to the sword”. Shahrastani divides them into twenty-four sects, differing slightly from one another in legal and constitutional opinion, e.g., that the ignorance of the law is a valid excuse; that the adulterer should not be stoned, for the Quran nowhere mentions this punishment; that the hiding of one’s religious opinions is illegal; that the Caliph should not be called the Commander of the faithful, that there is nothing illegal in having two or more Caliphs in one and the same time. In East Africa and Mazab-South Algeria-they still maintain the simplicity of their republican ideal. Broadly speaking, the Khawarij can be divided into three classes:
  1. Those who hold that there must be an elected Caliph but it is not necessary that he should belong to a particular family or tribe. A woman or even slave could be elected as Caliph provided he or she is a good Muslim ruler. Whenever they found themselves in power, they purposely elected their Caliph from among the socially lowest members of their community.
  2. Those who hold that there is no need of a Caliph, the Muslim congregation can govern themselves.
  3. Those who do not believe in Government at all - the anarchists of Islam. To them Caliph Ali is reported to have said: “You do not believe any Government, but there must be some Government, good or bad”.

To be continued tomorrow

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Shiah Political Theory

The parliament at Tehran, established as a result of
the peaceful constitutional revolution in 1906

This is the fifth part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 were presented earlier.

II. The Shi'ah View

According to the Shi‘ah view the State is of divine origin, and the Caliph or, as they call Imam, governs by divine right. This view arose among an obscure Arabian sect known as the Saba’ites whose founder Abdullah ibn Saba was a Jew of Sana in Yemen. In the time of Uthman he became a convert to Islam, and finally settled in Egypt where he preached his doctrine. This doctrine harmonised with the pre-Islamic habits of political thought in Persia, and soon found a permanent home in that country. The Imam, according to the Persians, is not elected (the Shi‘ahs of Oman, however, adopted the elective principle and held that the Imam might be deposed) but appointed by God. He is the re-incarnation of Universal Reason, he is endowed with all perfections, his wisdom is superhuman and his decisions are absolute and final. The first Imam, Ali, was appointed by Muhammad; Ali’s direct descendants are his divinely ordained successors. The world is never without a living Imam whether visible or invisible. The 12th Imam, according to the Shi‘ahs, suddenly disappeared near Kufa, but he will come again and fill the world with peace and prosperity. In the meantime, he communicates his will, from time to time, through certain favoured individuals - called Gates - who hold mysterious intercourse with him. Now this doctrine of the absence of the Imam has a very important political aspect which few students of Islam have fully appreciated. Whether the Imam really disappeared or not, I do not know, but it is obvious that the dogma is a clever way of separating the Church and the State. The absent Imam, as I have pointed out above, is absolute authority on all matters; the present executive authorities are, therefore, only guardians of the estate which really belongs to the Imam, who, as such, inherits the property of deceased inter-states in case they leave no heirs. It will therefore be seen that the authority of the Shah of Persia is limited by the authority of the Mullas-the representatives of the absent Imam. As a mere guardian of the estate he is subject to the religious authority of the Mullas-though, as the chief executive authority, he is free to adopt any measure for the good of the estate. It is not, therefore, surprising that the Mullas took an active part in the recent constitutional reform in Persia.

To be continued tomorrow

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sunni Political Theory

Mustansariya University (Baghdad),
 a surviving reminder of the grandeur of
 the Abbasid Dynasty. 

This is the fourth part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1, 2 and 3 were presented earlier.

I shall now describe the three great political theories to which I have alluded above. I shall first take up the Sunni view [i.e. Elective Monarchy].

1. Elective Monarchy

A . The Caliph and the People

During the days of the early Caliphate things were extremely simple. The Caliphs were like private individuals, sometimes doing the work of an ordinary constable. In obedience to the Quranic verse-“and consult them in all matters” –they always consulted the more influential companions of the Prophet, in judicial and executive matters, but no formal ministers existed to assist the Caliph in his administrative work. It was not until the time of the House of Abbas that the Caliphate became the subject of scientific treatment. In my description of the Sunni view I shall mainly follow Al-Mawardy, the earliest Muslim constitutional lawyer who flourished during the reign of the Abbasi Caliph Al-Qadir. Al-Mawardy divides the whole Muslim community into two classes-(1) the electors, (2) the candidates for election. The qualifications absolutely necessary for a candidate are thus enumerated by him:
  1. Spotless character.
  2. Freedom from physical and mental infirmity. (The predecessor of the present Sultan of Turkey was deposed under this condition.)
  3. Necessary legal and theological knowledge in order to be able to decide various cases. This is true in theory; in practice the power of the Caliph, especially in later times, was divided.
  4. Insight necessary for a ruler.
  5. Courage to defend the empire.
  6. Relationship with the family of the Quraish. This qualification is not regarded as indispensable by modern Sunni lawyers, on the ground that the prophet never nominated any person as his successor.
  7. Full age (Al-Ghazzali). (It was on this ground that the chief judge refused to elect Al-Muqtadir).
  8. Male sex (Al-Baidawi). This is denied by the Khawarij who hold that woman can be elected as Caliph.
If the candidate satisfies these conditions, the representatives of all influential families, doctors of law, high officials of the state and commanders of the army, meet together and nominate him to the Caliphate. The whole assembly then proceeds to the mosque where the nomination is duly confirmed by the people. In distant places representatives of the elected Caliph are permitted to receive homage on behalf of the Caliph. In the matter of election the people of the capital, however, have no precedence over other people though, in practice, they have a certain amount of precedence, since they are naturally the first to hear of Caliph’s death. After the election, the Caliph usually makes a speech, promising to rule according to the law of Islam. Most of these speeches are preserved. It will be seen that the principle of representation is, to a certain extent, permitted in practical politics; in the law of property, however, it is expressly denied. For instance, if B dies in the lifetime of his father, A and his brother C, leaving issue, the whole property of A goes to C. The children of B have no claim; they cannot represent their father, or “stand in his shoes”.

From a legal standpoint, the Caliph does not occupy any privileged position. In theory, he is like other members of the Commonwealth. He can be directly sued in an ordinary law court. The second Caliph was once accused of appropriating a larger share in the spoils of war, and he had to clear his conduct before the people, by production of evidence according to the law of Islam. In his judicial capacity he is open to the criticism of every Muslim. Omar I was severely reprimanded by an old woman who pointed out to him that his interpretation of a certain Quranic verse was absolutely wrong. The Caliph listened to her argument, and decided the case according to her views.

The Caliph may indicate his successor who may be his son; but the nomination is invalid until confirmed by the people. Out of the fourteen Caliphs of the House of Umayyah only four succeeded in securing their sons as their successors. The Caliph cannot secure the election of his successor during his own lifetime. Ibn Athir tells us that Abdul Malik-the Umayya Caliph-endeavoured to do so, but Ibn Musayyib, the great Mekkan lawyer, strongly protested against the Caliph’s behaviour. The Abbasi Caliph Hadi, however, succeeded in securing the election of his son Ja‘far, but after his death the majority declared for Harun. In such a case, when the people declare for another Caliph, the one previously elected, must, on penalty of death, immediately renounce his right in public.

If the Caliph does not rule according to the law of Islam, or suffers from physical or mental infirmity, the Caliphate is forfeited. Usually one influential Muhammadan stands up in the mosque after the prayer and speaks to the congregation giving reasons for the proposed deposition. He declares deposition to be in the interest of Islam, and ends his speech by throwing away his finger-ring with the remark-“I reject the Caliph as I throw away this ring”. The people then signify their assent in various ways, and the deposition is complete.

The question whether two or more rival Caliphates can exist simultaneously is discussed by Muslim lawyers. Ibn Jama holds that only one Caliphate is possible. Ibn Khaldun holds that there is nothing illegal in the co-existence of two or more Caliphates, provided they are in different countries. Ibn Khaldun’s view is certainly contrary to the old Arabian idea, yet in so far as the Muslim Commonwealth is governed by an impersonal authority, i.e., law, his position seems to me to be quite a tenable one. Moreover, as a matter of fact, two rival Caliphates have existed in Islam for a long time.

Just as a candidate for the Caliphate must have certain qualifications, so, according to Al-Mawardy, the elector also must be qualified. He must possess:
  1. Good reputation as an honest man.
  2. Necessary knowledge of State affairs.
  3. Necessary insight and judgement.
In theory all Muslims, men and women, possess the right of election. There is no property qualification. In practice, however, women and slaves did not exercise this right. Some of the early lawyers seem to have recognised the danger of mass-elections as they endeavour to show that the right of election resides only in the tribe of the prophet. Whether the seculsion of women grew up in order to make women incapable of exercising a right, which in theory could not be denied to them, I cannot say.

The elector has the right to demand the deposition of the Caliph, or the dismissal of his officials if he can show that their conduct is not in accordance with the law of Islam. He can, on the subject, address the Muslim congregation in the mosque after the prayer. The mosque, it must be remembered, is the Muslim Forum, and the institution of daily prayer is closely connected with the political life of Muslim communities. Apart from its spiritual and social functions, the institution is meant to serve as a ready means of constant criticism on the state. If, however, the elector does not intend to address the congregation, he can issue a injudicial inquiry concerning the conduct of any State official, or any other matter which affects the community as a whole. The judicial inquiry as a rule, does not mention the name of any individual. I quote an illustration in order to give an idea of this procedure:

“In the name of God, most Merciful and Clement, What is the opinion of the doctors of law, the guides of the people, on the encouragement of the Zimmis, and on the assistance we can demand from them, whether as clerks to the Amirs entrusted with the administration of the country, or as collectors of taxes? Explain the above by solid proofs, establish the orthodox belief by sound arguments, and give your reasons. God will reward you.”
Such judicial inquiries are issued by the State as well, and when the lawyers give conflicting decisions, the majority prevails. Forced election is quite illegal. Ibn Jama, an Egyptian lawyer, however, holds that forced election is legal in times of political unrest. This opportunist view has no support in the law of Islam; though, undoubtedly, it is based on historical facts. Tartushi, a Spanish lawyer, would probably hold the same view, for he says: “Forty years of tyranny are better than one hour of anarchy.”

Let us now consider the relation between the elected and the elector. Al-Mawardy defines this relation as “Aqd”-binding together, contract. The State, therefore, is a contractual organism, and implies rights and duties. He does not mean, like Rousseau, to explain the origin of society by an original social contract; he holds that the actual fact of election is a contract in consequence of which the Caliph has to do certain duties, e.g., to defend the religion, to enforce the law of Islam, to levy customs and taxes according to the law of Islam, to pay annual salaries and properly to direct the State treasury. If he fulfils these conditions, the people have mainly two duties in relation to him, viz., to obey him, and to assist him in his work. Apart from this contract, however, Muslim lawyers have also enumerated certain cases in which obedience to the Caliph is not necessary.

The origin of the State then, according to Al-Mawardy, is not force, but free consent of individuals who unite to form a brotherhood, based upon legal equality, in order that each member of the brotherhood may work out the potentialities of his individuality under the law of Islam. Government, with him, is an artificial arrangement, and is divine only in the sense that the law of Islambelieved to have been revealeddemands peace and security.

B. Ministers and other Officials

The Caliph, after his election, appoints the principal officials of the State, or confirms those previously in office. The following are the principal State officials with their duties defined by the law:
  1. The Wazir - The Prime Minister - either with limited or unlimited powers. The Wazir with unlimited powers must possess the same qualifications as the Caliph, except that, according to Al-Mawardy, he need not necessarily belong to the Quraish tribe. He must be thoroughly educated especially in Mathematics, History, and Art of speaking. He can perform all the functions of the Caliph, except that he cannot nominate the Caliph’s successor. He can, without previous sanction of the Caliph, appoint officers of the various departments of the State. The Wazir with limited powers cannot do so. The dismissal of the Wazir with unlimited powers means the dismissal of all officials appointed by him; while the dismissal of the Wazir with limited powers does not lead to the dismissal of the officials appointed by him. More than one Wazir with unlimited powers cannot be appointed. The Governors of various provinces can appoint their own Wazirs. A non-Muhammadan may be appointed Wazir with limited powers. The Shi‘ah dynasty of the Obaidies appointed a Jew to this position. An Egyptian poet expresses his sentiments as follows: “The Jews of our time have reached the goal of their ambition - Theirs is all honour, theirs is all gold-O people of Egypt I advise you to become Jews; God himself has become a Jew.”
  2. The Governors - Next to the Wazir the most important executive officers of the State were governors of various provinces. They were appointed by the Caliph with limited or unlimited powers. The governor with unlimited powers could appoint sub-governors to adjoining smaller provinces. For instance, the sub-governor of Sicily was appointed by the Governor of Spain and that of Scind by the Governor of Bassora. This was really an attempt to create self-governing Muslim colonies. The officer in charge was, so to speak, a miniature caliph of his province; he appointed his own Wazir, Chief Judge and other state officers. Where special commander of the provincial army was not appointed, the Governor, ex-officio, acted as the commander. This, however, was an error, since the governors became gradually powerful and frequently asserted their independence. But in his capacity of the commander, the governor had no right to raise the salaries of his soldiers except in very special circumstances. It was his duty to send all the money to the central treasury after defraying the necessary State expenses. If the provincial income fell short of the expenses, he could claim a contribution from the central treasury. If he is appointed by the Caliph, the death of the latter is not followed by his dismissal, but if he is appointed by the Wazir, the death of the Wazir means the dismissal of all governors appointed by him, provided they are not newly confirmed in their respective posts. The governor with limited powers was a purely executive officer. He had nothing to do with judicial matter, and in criminal matters too his authority was very much limited. Muslim lawyers, however, recognise a third kind of governorship, i.e., by usurpation. But the usurper must fulfil certain conditions before his claim is legally justified.
  3. Commanders of Armies - Here too the distinction of limited and unlimited powers is made, and the duties of commanders, subordinate officers, and soldiers are clearly defined.
  4. The Chief Judge - The Chief Judge could be appointed by the Caliph or the Wazir. According to Abu Hanifa in some cases, and according to Abu Ja‘far Tabariy, a non-Muslim, can be appointed to administer the law of his co-religionists. The Chief Judge, as representative of the Law of Islam, can depose the Caliph-he can kill his own creator. His death means the dismissal of his staff; but the death of the sovereign is not followed by the dismissal of the judges appointed by him. During the interregnum a judge can be elected by the people of a town, but not during the sovereign’s lifetime.
  5. President of the Highest Court of Appeal and general control - The object of this institution was to hear appeals and to exercise a general supervision over all the departments of the State. Abdul Malik-the Umayyah Caliph and the founder of this court, personally acted as the president, though more difficult cases he transferred to Qazi Abu Idris. In later times, the president was appointed by the Caliph. During the reign of the Abbasi Caliph Al-Muqtadir, his mother was appointed President, and she used to hear appeals, on Fridays surrounded by Judges, priests and other notables. In one respect, the President of this court differed from the Chief Judge. He was not bound by the letter of the law like the Qazi; his decisions were based on general principles of natural justice, so that the President was something like the keeper of the Caliph’s conscience. He was assisted by a council of judges and lawyers whose duty was to discuss every aspect of the case before the President announced his decision. The importance of this institution may be judged from the fact that it was among the few Muslim institutions which the Normans retained after their conquest of Sicily in the 11th century.
To be continued tomorrow