Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 2

The religion of Islam, hatched and nurtured in the crucibles of Makkah and Medina, had, soon after the end of prophecy, expanded beyond belief from Afghanistan to the East, Central Asia to the North and Morocco to the West. Scholarly movements thus sprang up in each region to address the theocratic and legal questions being posed by agile and inquisitive minds.

In the Kufa of 717 CE, a young Abu Hanifa had sought out a worthy master, Ibrahim Nakhai, who in turn could trace his scholarly heritage to a revered and knowledgeable companion, Abdullah bin Mas’ud RA. Abu Hanifa RE, when he came into his own, looked at the Quran as his foremost point of reference, followed by only those hadiths whose authenticity he felt certain about. In order to address the finer points of law, Abu Hanifa developed a systematic form of analytical reasoning called Qiyas to extend the ruling of one situation to another as based on a shared legal cause(illa) derived from the teachings of Allah and his Prophet. Imam Abu Hanifa realised that Qiyas needed to be handled delicately by always keeping the context in mind. The application of Qiyas did lead at times to a result deemed to be unjust and harmful. In order to counter this, he came up with the concept of Istihsan(seeking the best), an alternate analytical manoeuvre that yielded a beneficial result. Abu Hanifa always kept his eye on what he believed to be the public good, in the pursuit of which he was aided by his own gentle temperament as well as the cosmopolitan environment he grew up in. Although the methodology he employed became extremely influential in his own lifetime, he left it to his students to reduce it in writing. His leading students, Abu Yusuf and Shaybani, did not however see eye to eye with each other nor with their illustrious master, and since they also got integrated with the Abbasid court at Baghdad, the original teachings of the great Imam understandably got diluted along the way.

Imam Abu Hanifa’s younger colleague, Malik bin Anas, a lifelong resident of Medina, after studying under esteemed scholars like Nafi and Zehri, devised another approach to Islamic laws and beliefs. He based his teachings exclusively on the customs and practices endorsed by the scholars living in what he considered the bastion of pure Islam, the Prophet’s city. In his scholarly work Muwatta, the earliest surviving work of hadiths and Islamic law, Imam Malik showcased his topic-wise compilation in the form of hadiths(527), rulings made by companions(613), rulings by successors(285) and his own opinions(375. It may be safe to conclude that since he obtained his hadiths from teachers who had directly interacted with some of the companions, this work is arguably more authoritative and authentic than any other work. Imam Shafi’i said so as much, although his student Imam Hanbal,wasn’t impressed at all by the conclusions derived. Realising that he could not exclusively depend on the material that he collected for addressing all legal queries, Imam Malik simultaneously devised a technique of prohibiting things which appeared legal, simply because they tended to lead to a  prohibited result. The Caliph of the newly-established Abbasid dynasty was so enamoured by Imam Malik’s personality that he expressed his intention to make the Inam’s work the basis for an empire-wide code of Islamic law. Imam Malik, the scholar that he was, dissuaded him from doing so, for fear of disturbing the blossoming regional diversity, which he considered a blessing. Had the plan been implemented, the shape of Sunni Islam would be a lot different today.

A group of thinkers called the Mutazilites( lit. to separate, as their professed founder Wasil b. Ata did, from the circle of Hasan Basri) emerged in the cosmopolitan city of Basra( in the early 8th century CE), followed by the new Abbasid capital of Baghdad. In order to better respond to the queries raised by internal and external sceptics, they tried to base their understanding of Islam on things they could justify through logic. They took their cue in a way, without seemingly acknowledging it, from the principles of rational thinking espoused by Imam Ali. They came out strongly in favour of free will, without which they felt a just God would never have promised retribution or rewards.

Into this cauldron of conflicting opinions descended an intrepid scholar by the name of Muhammad b. Idris Shafii. While agreeing in principle with the concept of holding the Prophet’s precedence sacred, he disagreed with the manner in which it was being achieved, as well as virtually everything else the regional scholars had to offer. He not only faulted both Malikis and Hanfis for their limited exposure to hadiths, but was extremely critical of the notion of analogical reasoning, the principle of Istihsan, local customs and claims of Ijma(consensus). He came to the conclusion that gaps in the understanding of Sunnah can only be bridged by strictly obeying the actual words of the Prophet as transmitted in hadiths. He accordingly tried to build the edifice of a common body of hadiths, accessed from all corners of the Islamic dominion, so as to be universally acceptable.

To be sure, he was exceptionally cut out for the job: born in Gaza, he studied with Imam Malik in Medina for many years, served as the Abbasid Governor in Yemen, hobnobbed with the leading Hanafi scholar, Shaybani, and ended his days in Egypt. Imam Shafi’i not only professed that the Quran cannot be accessed without the Sunnah, but went a step further in declaring that the Sunnah rules over the Book of Allah rather than the other way round, He moreover did not hesitate to enter into debates with not only the students of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa, but also with the Mu’tazilites. He countered the Mu’tazilite distrust of Hadiths owing to rampant forgery by asserting that the isnad, or chain of transmission, would serve as a guarantee as to its authenticity. An unbroken chain thus came to constitute a sound (sahih) Hadith, widely known hadiths through multiple chains of transmission were considered well-known (mashur), while hadiths with some flaw in its chain were deemed weak (da’if). This still serves as the benchmark for ascertaining the authenticity levels of hadiths and any scholar who tries to examine their contents through logic is subjected to derision. Faced with the task of adapting hadiths to the problems of his day, he favoured an innovative method known as Negatively Implied Meaning (Mafhum al-Mukhalafa) which meant that if the Quran or Hadiths made a positive statement about a thing, then the negative held true for all else. He made a limited concession to the use of reason by devising a form of analogy known as Manifest Analogy, Qiyas jali or by the stronger reasoning, which ensures a uniform ruling regardless of whether a particular factor is present in moderate or extreme form. Shafi’i is also credited with introducing the novel concept of Darul Aman or Abode of Peace (for countries under the banner of Islam) and Darul Harb or Abode of War (for those beyond). Since he envisioned constant warfare between them, he propped up the idea of jihad as a constant duty enjoined on all believers. In support of this contention, he introduced the idea of abrogation, whereby he considered as many as 124 verses of the Quran dealing with pacific resolution of disputes and use of warfare as a defensive tactic only, as abrogated in favour of the few so-called ‘sword verses’. This would have been considered sacrilegious had the narrative been pushed by a lesser scholar.

Two definitive camps emerged during Imam Shafii’s time: one, spearheaded by him, called the Ahle Hadith and the other incorporating voices of reason, inclusive of the Hanafis and the Mu’tazilites, known as the Ahl al Ra’y. Imam Shafii was the most authoritative voice of his time and many of the concepts that he introduced and the methods that he employed in matters of jurisprudence are still in widespread use today. Though Islam is believed to have been introduced in South India during the Prophet’s lifetime, the waves of Arab traders during Imam Shafii’s time and later, exported his ideas to the littorals of the Indian Ocean. The Mughals, it is believed, nudged the official shift to the Hanafi fiqh, as they felt it to be more conducive to their aspirations of ruling over a majority Hindu population than the Darul Harb concept.

Diffusion of Islamic Thought Part 1

Ever since our Holy Prophet(PBUH), whose gentle demeanour and compelling presence had kept his community united, left this world, the monolithic faith that he preached was destined never to be the same again. The political ascendancy of the Makkan aristocracy over the Ansars, the Ridda wars, the rapid expansion of the physical frontiers of the nascent faith, the empowerment of the Bani Umayyah and the two fitnas, leading ultimately to the tragedy of Karbala, were all events that brought the foundational principles of Islam into question and triggered a debate that shows no sign of abating.

The foray of the Arabs into the vast territory controlled by the Byzantines and the Persians generated some expected though unfortunate side effects. It not only managed to gradually shift the centre of gravity of the Islamic world away from Makkah and Medina, but also succeeded in creating a class of neo-capitalists out of the simple and frugal followers of the early faith. As more and more inhabitants of the newly liberated areas flocked to the Islamic banner, it became increasingly difficult to discern whether the battles were being fought for the glory of the faith or for personal enrichment. The lure and lust for power increased proportionally to the ever rising stakes.

Though a broad section of the community of Islam came to embrace the concept of a Caliph acting as God’s temporal deputy on earth, either through an engendered belief in this being the most correct course of action or through a simple acceptance of the fait accomplii, the question of whether the actions of an unjust ruler can supersede the laws of God and His Prophet continues to be a vexing one. It’s corollary is that acceptance of such a leader translates automatically into condoning the methods employed, namely the use of force and dirty dealing, to secure and perpetuate his rule. A similar basic issue which still bedevils a consensus is whether allegiance should be given willingly or whether it can be extracted through force, something which defeats it’s very purpose.

Amidst all this turmoil in the hearts and minds of people appeared a group which appeared to be cocksure of the soundness of their beliefs, the precursor of all violent ‘Islamic’ fundamentalists, who earned the nomenclature Kharjis(the rejectionists) or ‘those who go out’. Though the Prophet had forewarned his followers about the appearance of just such a group, dubbing them the ‘dogs of hell’, the Khwarjis considered themselves the purest of the pure, the only true interpreters of the word of God. ‘Judgement belongs to God alone’ was their rallying cry but each time they said that, they ended up projecting their own radical beliefs as the voice of God. It was however only when they began to terrorise the countryside around Nahrawan by setting up an inquisition to dispense the most brutal of punishments to those whose answers failed to meet their standards of rigidity, that Ali RA felt compelled to act against them. The Kharijites were completely routed at the battle of Nahrawan, with the handful of survivors drifting off towards Oman and Yemen to bide their time.

Abdullah Ibn Abad of the Banu Tamim broke off from the wider Khawarij movement around two decades after their defeat at Nahrawan to found what is known as the Abadi school. Abadi theology, which became the basis of this sect and which distanced itself from the takfiri doctrine espoused by the Khwarjis, was nurtured at Basra. Jabir Ibn Zayd of Nizwa, who took over the reins of the Abadi community from Ibn Abad, established a toehold in Oman, where his hadiths as well as the hadiths of the early Ibadi scholars, provided a solid foundation for their faith. They felt strong enough in due course to stage a revolt in Makkah and Yemen, but this was brutally put down by the Umayyad Caliph Marwan the Second. Ibadis in Shibam(western Hadramaut), though surrounded, managed to extract a peace deal from the Umayyads. It was in Shibam then that they continued to retain a modest presence for the next four centuries or so, while still paying taxes to the Ibadi authorities in Oman. The Ibadi Imamate, established in the inner regions of Oman sometime during the 8th century, was not an inherited one, but one based on election. Once the coastal areas of Oman became rich and powerful through conquests in Eastern Africa, Sultan Taimur of the Al Busaidi dynasty, taking advantage of the warring Ibadi factions, united the Imamate with the Sultanate, and thus it has remained over the years in one form or another. The current Sultan of Oman, who seized power from his father in 1970, managed to extend his writ over all of Oman, thereby effectively unifying the posts of the Imam and the Sultan, and renaming the country from Muscat and Oman to the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultanate now happens to be the only Ibadi-majority country in the world, with around 75% of the populace professing the faith.

The horrific events surrounding Karbala created unease amongst a large segment of the inhabitants and in the course of a few years gave rise to the phenomenon of Mukhtar Al-Saqafi. Mukhtar first sought the patronage of Imam Hussain’s sole surviving son, Imam Zainul Abideen, in avenging the martyrs of Karbala, failing which he turned to Muhammad Ibn al Hanafiyyah, a step brother of Imam Hussain. After achieving his mission and then dying a martyr, his supporters, the Mukhtarriya, or the Kaysannia as they were more popularly called, attained the status of a cult, which considered Hazrat Ali RA and his three sons, Al-Hasan, Al-Hussain and Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyyah as successive divinely appointed imams and which also believed in the reappearance of the Mahdi, the occulting imam, for dispensing retribution and justice before the qiyamah.

As a counter reaction to the Kharji doctrine, and possibly in an endeavour to staunch the criticism levelled against the Umayyads because of their immoral and unjust ways, there emerged the Murji’ah, which shrank from judging human conduct, leaving this exclusively to God. This was again an extreme position, which left the field open to the rulers and their camp followers to indulge in unhindered exploitation and debauchery. The Umayyads understandably lent their weight to this philosophy.

Doubts regarding the morality or otherwise of human actions and individual or collective culpability still persisted. The al-Jabariyah or Mujabirah were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Qadar, also mentioned in the Quran as the decree of Allah, to absolve man of all culpability over their actions since everything, in their opinion, was dictated by God. The Qadriyyah or Mufawadah belief however falls at the other end of the spectrum in that humans have complete control of their destiny to the extent that God does not even know what we will choose to do. Majority of Sunni scholars have over time gravitated to a middle position wherein humans have freedom of choice, though God has knowledge of everything that will transpire.

When asked about the issue, Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the 6th ordained Imam of the Shias, clarified that there is no compulsion from Allah’s side, nor is there absolute delegation of power (tafwid) from Allah to man, but the real position lies between the two extremes. He went on to elaborate that predetermination(qada) and Divine decree(qadar) are amongst the secrets of Allah. Regarding the doctrine of bada(change of man’s intention to undertake a particular action), he explained that this concept cannot be extended to Allah, as some are prone to do, since no believer can conceive of bada happening to Allah regarding some matter, causing Him to regret.

The worldliness of the Umayyad dynasty(661-749 CE) resulted in the creation of a large body of people who revelled in the materialism of the era, while a smaller number of pious men were equally repulsed by such profligacy. The latter group found a champion in the shape of a revered theologian named Hasan al-Basri(b.642 CE). Having spent time in the midst of companions like Hazrat Ali RA and Hazrat Anas bin Malik RA, he not only established a school of religious thought in Basra, but did not also hesitate to criticise the unjust policies of the governors in Iraq. Sufi thought encompassing asceticism, Quranic meditation, piety, humanism and a predilection for Zikr and night prayers first appeared in small pious circles like that of Hasan Basri, followed some four centuries later by another renowned mystic Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani(1078-1166 CE) in Baghdad. Jilani RE, whose lineage could be traced to the 8th Shiite Imam Ali ar-Raza, preached to a small select circle of followers about the importance of humility, piety, moderation and philanthropy. His sons however formed a formal order which has since spread to nearly all corners of the world. Other tariqas or silsilas like Shadhili, Chishtiya, Rifa’iyya, Suhrawardiyya and Naqshbandiyya soon followed. Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti, who is known as a mujaddid(reviver) of the Chishtiya order, brought the silsila to India at the turn of the 11th century. His shrine in Ajmer continues to be thronged with pilgrims of all denominations. Most of these orders claim to have received their esoteric knowledge from Hazrat Ali RA, but identify themselves as Sunni; Chishtiya and Naqshbandiyya are Hanafi, Shadhiliyya is Maliki, while Qadriyyah is Hanbali. They are however the polar opposite of other Sunni groupings in their beliefs and rituals.

The landscape of present day Pakistan is dotted with shrines of Sufi saints, who still continue to exercise a larger than life influence on their devotees: Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai in Hyderabad, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, Shah Ruknuddin in Multan(which is also known as the city of saints), Baba Farid Ganjshakar in Pakpattan, Baba Bulleh Shah in Kasur, Data Ganj Bakhsh in Lahore, Bari Imam in Islamabad and Rahman Baba in Peshawar. Though their annual urs continue to attract millions of devotees, the impact of their humane teachings have witnessed a steady erosion since the 1980s by the influx into the country of a petrodollar fuelled intolerant version of Islam, which has even infected the Sufi-cum-Barelvi community in its own way.

Pakistan in the Crosshairs


Beyond its shores, Pakistan’s fair name has unfortunately become synonymous with terrorism of the Islamic variety. Its reputation has, over the years, taken so much of a hit that even President Obama once referred to it as a ‘disastrously dysfunctional country’. Though most of us remain in defiant denial, the unpalatable fact is that the rising tide of radicalism and religious exclusivity that continues to envelop us in its embrace since the early nineteen eighties has forced its way unhindered into the national consciousness.

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CPEC – Opportunities for Karachi

CPEC – just four simple letters, letters on which an entire nation’s hopes and aspirations are pinned. This huge injection of Chinese investment is vital for jump-starting the Pakistani economy. Such a generous shot in the arm can also unfortunately have the opposite effect, that of dooming the country to perpetual servitude. A high level of preparedness, ability and capacity to exploit the opportunities on offer is a prerequisite for avoiding this setback. And as the term ‘Economic Corridor’ signifies, opportunities herein are indeed aplenty.

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Gloom and Boom in the City of Lights

Karachi is in many ways a microcosm of the country itself. One finds all religions, nationalities and ethnicities represented here. There is no dearth of good entrepreneurs, businessmen, traders, transporters, educationists, artisans and other professionals, and no shortage of skilled labour either. So why doesn’t the city click? An avid follower of the Karachi scene would perhaps frame the question differently: ‘How has the city managed to survive and thrive despite the adversities it is pitted against?’But prior addressing this question as well as the major issue of how to go about reinvigorating the socio-economic dynamism of Karachi, it is useful to understand what the city has gone through and is going through and what are the major impediments in its path to glory.

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Cracking the FATA Code

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (better known by its acronym FATA) had been created in 1849 to serve as a buffer between British India and Afghanistan, while Afghanistan itself was being softened through invasions, coercion, subsidies and diplomacy to keep Czarist Russia at bay. Having entered into a joint agreement with the Afghan Emir for the demarcation of the international border, the British also managed to persuade Russia to follow suit, resulting thereby in bifurcating the Pashtun tribes on the British side and the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik Territories on the Russian side of the demarcated Afghan border.

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CPEC – Building Bridges in a Troubled Region


No sooner had the Karakoram Highway, which connects the northern stretches of  Pakistan with China’s westernmost autonomous region through the high-altitude Khunjerab Pass, opened for business in 1979, it ushered in its wake numerous possibilities and opportunities. Hasan Abdal, which constitutes the starting point of this highway, was already connected to the North South road and rail network from  Peshawar to Karachi. Most of the developments that followed, like the motorway branches emanating from Lahore for instance, all took place along the already developed areas of the River Indus and its tributaries. This made good commercial and political sense at the time as all major centres of population as well as those associated with agricultural and industrial productivity were concentrated there.

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Driven By Evolution, God’s Creation!

Although Darwin has managed to whip up a frenzy for unleashing a ‘dangerous idea’ that supposedly undercuts religious beliefs about creationism- that all species were concurrently created in their present form by God a couple of thousand years ago- the fact is that in his magnum opus ‘The Origin of Species’, based on his painstaking practical observations during his extensive scientific forays in and around South America, the Galápagos Islands in particular, Darwin just shows how one species gradually changes into another, without really exploring in detail the origin of life. His basic premise, that all life forms evolved from a single cell organism, came in later articles. The one thing the Catholic Church latched on to, about apes being man’s immediate forefather, earned him a great deal of scorn for not only belittling man, but also belittling the word of God.
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The United Nations – Geared for Change?

For I dipp’d into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens filled with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew,
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue,
Till the war drums throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled,
In the Parliament of Man, the Federation of the world.

(Lord Alfred Tennyson, Locksley Hall, 1842)

The Phoenix-like emergence of the United Nations Organisation from the ashes of the Second World War was a calculated move to fend off the possibility of such a catastrophe ever recurring, something that its much-discredited predecessor, the League of Nations, had failed to do. To be fair, the sort of baggage the League of Nations had been saddled with had primed it for disaster. For one thing, the Covenant of the League, drawn up by the victors of the First World War, was primarily designed to supplement the terms of the uneven peace treaty with Germany. Such arrogance was not well received in the US, whose senate refused to ratify the Covenant.
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Pak-US Ties – An Uneasy Alliance

Since Pakistan’s emergence on the world map, Pak-US ties have been characterised more by mutual dependence than shared interests as is the norm. America to its credit has always made its concerns clear: Soviet Union being its favourite bugbear till the end of the Cold War and the deceptively ambiguous war on terror thereafter. Though Pakistan officially tows the same line, its commitment is diffused by the singular prism, that of India, through which it views all its assessments.
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