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How did Ottoman scholars from al-Azhar respond to Ali Abd al-Raziq's claims about the Caliphate (Khilafah)?

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Masters in Education from Nottingham University in the UK. Also studied Masters in Islamic Studies and Islamic Banking & Finance. Political activist with interests in Geopolitics, History and Phil ...
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In a Nutshell:
In 1925, following an enquiry by the University of al-Azhar into accusations against Sheikh Ali Abdul Raziq, who promoted modernist ideology, attacking the khilafah arguing Islam was secular, they concluded he was not suited to be described as a scholar (Aalim). In accordance with the university procedures and the unanimous agreement of twenty-four scholars from the Council of Senior Scholars, judged Sheikh Ali Abdul Raziq, a member of the University of al-Azhar and author of the book (Islam and governance) be expelled from the community of scholars.

Introduction

Sayyid Ahmad Khan of India (d. 1898) was one of the first scholars to argue Muslims should be loyal to whichever state they were part of, whether it was Islamic or not, an argument furthered by his colleague Shibli Nomani (d. 1914). Following the destruction of the Ottoman Caliphate in the heartlands of Islam, the Egyptian Ali Abdul Raziq took this argument to its fullest extent, generating considerable debate. More recently, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan of India and Egypt's Al-Ashmawy also furthered similar arguments.

What follows is an abridged translation of the verdict of leading Al-Azhar scholars on Ali Abdul Raziq's book "Islam and governance" (Al-Islam wa Usool al-Hukm) in 1925. The verdict refutes Abdul Raziq's views and arguments to depoliticise Islam and apply to all those who argued in a similar vein.

The Council

The council of senior scholars, in a disciplinary meeting on 12 August 1925, under the chairmanship of the distinguished Professor Sheikh Mohammed Abu Fadl, the Grand Sheikh of the al-Azhar in the presence of twenty-four scholars from senior scholars, distinguished professors. The secretarial duties for this council were undertaken by Muhammad Qadri, head of the General Secretarial division, and Ali Ahmad Izzat Efendi, the first scribe for al-Azhar.

They discussed the charges against Ali Abdul Raziq, a member of the University of Al-Azhar and a judge in the Primary Shari'ah Court of Mansoorah, included in his book and announced on 29 July 1925.

The Charges

The book called (Islam and governance) was published under the name of Abdul Raziq, one of the scholars of al-Azhar 18 university; so petitions were presented to the scholars of al-Azhar university signed by a large number of scholars on 15, 23 and 30 June 1925.

The petitions included that the book in question contains things contrary to the deen and to the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and the consensus of the ummah.

The charges include:

1 – That he made the Islamic Sharia law purely spiritual, unrelated with governing and implementation in the matters of this life.

2 - That he claims that the deen does not prevent understanding that the jihad of the Prophet was for kingship (mulk) not for the deen, nor for making the call (da'wah) to the world.

3 – That he claims that the system of ruling in the era of the Prophet was the subject of uncertainty, ambiguity, turbulence or shortcomings and so is perplexing.

4 – That he claims that the mission of the Prophet was to deliver the law abstract of governance and implementation.

5 - The denial of the consensus of the sahabah on the obligation of establishing an Imam and that it is imperative for the ummah to have someone who establishes their religious and worldly affairs.

6 – The denial that the judiciary is a shari'ah vocation.

7 - That he claims that the government of Abu Bakr and the Caliphs after him, may Allah be pleased with them were secular (la deeniya).

These were decided upon by the distinguished Sheikh Mohammed Abu Fadl, the Sheikh of al-Azhar University, based on the meeting of the council of senior scholars, in a disciplinary meeting on August 5 1925.

The Proceedings

On 12 August 1925 the council met with Abdul Raziq present. He was asked about his book Islam and governance (Al-Islam wa Usool al-Hukm), and he admitted he had produced it. The charges against him and his book were read to him.

Before his reply to him he mentioned a side point in his defence, that he did not consider himself in front of a disciplinary council and the council should not consider his presence in front of them as an admission from him that they have any legal right. After legal debate on this defence, the council decided to reject it, on the basis that they are implementing a right that the law authorised in article 101 of the al-Azhar University law number 10 of the year 1911.

Then Ali was invited to stand before the council, so its rejection of his defence was conveyed to him by the distinguished Professor grand sheikh, the chairman.

Ali requested the council listen to his defence against the charges against him, so he was granted permission to read them. After he had finished reading it and signing all of its papers, they were taken from him during the sitting, then he left.

The Senior scholars, having looked over the book (Islam and governance) and in full knowledge of the fact that it is contrary to the deen and the texts of the Qur'an and the Sunnah and the consensus of the ummah and after hearing the defence statement of Ali: having taken note of the 101st article of the Law of Al-Azhar University No. 10 of 1911, and 4th article of this law; and after legal deliberation concluded:

1 – That he made the Islamic Sharia law purely spiritual, unrelated with governing and implementation in the matters of this life.

He said on p78 and p79:

"He said on p85: "All of what Islam came with, from the doctrines and the transactions and the manners and the penalties, all of it is religious instruction (shar deeni) purely for Allah and in the religious interests of people only. It is immaterial after that whether those interests be clear to us or to be hidden from us. It is immaterial that from them are civilised interests for the people or not. That is not considered by the divine instruction, nor is it considered by the Prophet".

The consensus of Muslims holds that the Islamic deen is what was brought by the Prophet of beliefs, acts of Worship and transactions to correct matters of this the world and the Hereafter. The Qur'an and the Sunnah of His Messenger, both include many rules of matters of the world, and many rules of matters of the afterlife.

2 - With regard to his allegation that the deen does not prevent understanding that the jihad of the Prophet was for kingship (mulk) not for the deen, nor for making the call (da'wah) to the world:

He said on p52:

"it is apparent at first glance that jihad is not simply to make a call to religion, nor to bring people to belief in Allah and His Messenger". Then he said on p53: "and if he has resorted to force and terror, it was not for the promotion of religion, nor for delivering his message to the world, and we should only understand that it was only for kingship".

So Ali, with these words definitively states Jihad of the Prophet was for kingship, not for religion, nor for making the call (da'wah) to the world.

In his words, which we shall mention, he claims the deen does not prevent his jihad was for kingship.

As for the Kingdom of the Prophet being a work separate from the Islamic call and outside the limits of the message, that is a view that we do not know the like of it among the Muslims' schools of thought and we do not recall in their words any evidence for it, yet it is a fine view to adopt, and we do not see that saying it is disbelief nor atheistic.

However, he did not stop at this point, but just as he allowed that jihad was in the way of kingship and from the governmental matters allowed the zakat, the spoils and the tribute and so on be for the sake of kingship as well, and he made all of this outside the remit of the message of the Prophet, not sent down by revelation, nor ordered by Allah Almighty.

3 - With regard to his claims that the system of ruling in the era of the Prophet was the subject of uncertainty, ambiguity, turbulence or shortcomings and so is perplexing:

He said on p40:

"We noticed that the situation of the judiciary at the time of the Prophet was vague and ambiguous from all angles". He said on p46: "often, each time we looked at the situation of the judiciary at the time of the Prophet and at the situation of other than the judiciary also from the activities of governance and types of jurisdiction, we find increasing ambiguity in the study, serious hidden matters in the matter, and then unending confusion in the thinking, moving from muddle to confusion and from study to study, until we reached the limits of that confused and doubt filled field". He said on p57: "if the Messenger of Allah had built the foundations of a political state or legislated its establishment, why then are many pillars of the state and government missing from his state? And why are the rules in the appointment of judges and governors not known? And why did he not talk to his people about the system of ruling and the rules of the consultation? Why did he leave the scholars in confusion and disorder about the system of government in his time?"

This is a clear statement from Ali which proves the charge. If he admits to some of the systems of governance in Islamic law, then he contradicts his admission and decrees these systems are nonexistent.

As for what he said in his defence: that he presented that in the context of an objection to those who say: "The Prophet was a man of government" and he had responded to the objection immediately after presenting it. But he answered the objection with two replies, not approving of any one of them, pages 59 and 63; so the accusation remains. After that he chose for himself an opinion, as he says: "but the mandate of Muhammad over the believers was the mandate of a message, not resembling anything of government" - p80.

This is the dangerous route he took, namely, that he stripped the Prophet of governance, saying: "a message not a rule, and religion not a state". Ali clashes with the clear statements of the Qur'an.

4 - As for his claims that the mission of the Prophet was to deliver the law abstract of governance and implementation:

He said on p71:

"The apparent meaning of the Quran supports the saying: that the Prophet was not significant in the political domain, and its verses closely support the view his divine work did not exceed the limits of delivering the message, devoid of all aspects of authority". He confirmed on p73: "the Qur'an, as you see, is explicit Muhammad has no other work but to convey the message of Allah to the people, and he was not accountable for anything other than that conveyance and not to make the people take what he brought, nor to force them on it".

If it was as he claimed, then it was a rejection of of many verses of rules in the Qur'an.

Ali said in his defence: "in another part of the book it is decreed explicitly the Prophet had a general authority, and he struggled in call (da'wah) with his tongue and his spear".

This defence is useless, as, if the meaning is his decision on p66 and p70, is the divine work of the Messenger did exceed the limits of delivering the message devoid of all aspects of authority, then it was not justified to say after p71: "and its verses closely support the view his divine work did not exceed the limits of delivering the message, devoid of all aspects of authority".

Ali's words are contrary to the Qur'an, which refutes his claim and proves his mission exceeded the delivering of the message to others, to include rule and implementation.

5 - As for the denial of a consensus of the sahabah on the obligation of establishing an Imam and it is imperative for the ummah to have someone who establishes their religious and worldly affairs:

He said on p22:

"as for the claims of consensus in this matter – the obligation of establishing an Imam – we do not a justification to accept it in any event, and it is impossible if we asked them for proof for them to succeed in bringing an evidence, considering we will confirm for you with the following that the claims of consensus are untrue and unheard, whether the consensus of the sahabah alone, or companions and their followers, or the Muslim scholars, or all of the Muslims, after we introduce with this preface".

Ali claimed in that preface the wealth of political science in the Islamic era was little, despite the availability of the grounds on which to research, most notably the status of the Khilafah since the time of the first Khaleefah was the objective of those who rebelled against it, however the opposition movement weakened and strengthened. Then he put forward some examples that support the claim the Khilafah was based on the sword and force, neither the pledge nor consent.

If all that was accepted from Ali for the sake of argument would not support his claims of denial of the consensus of the sahabah on the necessity of establishing an Imam for the Muslims, as the consensus of that is one thing and their consensus over pledging to a specific Imam is something else. Their differences over the pledge to a specific Imam do not disprove their agreement on the obligation to instal an Imam, whoever the Imam was. The consensus of Muslims has been proved over the prohibition of being without an Imam for a time; it was transmitted to us by the way of tawatur, so there is no way for its denial.

Ali admits in his defence he denies the consensus on the necessity of appointing an Imam in the sense mentioned by scholars, he said of himself: he stands on the side of a not insignificant group of the people of the Qiblah (he means some of the Kharijites and al-Asamm). This defence does not prove his innocence of going against the consensus of the Muslims, and it is enough for him that in his bida'a (innovation) he is the row of the Kharijites not the rows of the masses of Muslims.

6 – As for the denial that the judiciary is a shari'ah vocation:

He said on p103:

"The Khilafah is absolutely not something of the religious plans, nor is neither the judiciary, nor other jobs of government or positions of the state, but all those are purely political plans nothing to do with the deen. It did not acknowledge them nor deny them, nor ordered them nor forbade them, rather it left them for us to go back to the laws of the mind, the experiences of nations and political principles."

Ali's words in his defence imply that those who adopted that the judiciary is a Shari'ah vocation made it a branch of the Khilafah, so whoever denied the Khilafah, denied the judiciary. His words are not true; for the judiciary is fixed in the deen in every analysis that considers the Shari'ah evidences that cannot be rebutted. We have stated above many of the verses and ahadith about the government and the judiciary.

He mentioned a statement from Imam Ahmad that the judiciary is Sunnah. So, if it the judiciary was not a collective obligation in Imam Ahmad opinion, then it is a Sunnah for him, made a Sunnah from the shari'ah plans. So, what Ali claimed that the judiciary is not a shari'ah vocation or a shari'ah plan is false and contradictory to the verses of the Qur'an.

7 - As for his claim the government of Abu Bakr and the Caliphs after him were secular (la deeniya/unreligious):

He said on p90:

"it is natural and reasonable to me, to the level of being obvious, there should not be after the Prophet a religious leadership. What one can imagine the existence of is a new type of leadership, unrelated to the message nor based on the deen, so it is therefore a secular type".

This boldness is secular. What is natural and reasonable for Muslims to the point of obviousness is the leadership of Abu Bakr (ra) was religious. The Muslim predecessors and their followers knew that, generation after generation. His leadership was on the basis "it is necessary for this deen that there be one who executes it". A consensus of the sahabah (ra) was established on that.

Ali's defence as to what he meant by "the leadership of Abu Bakr was secular" is it does not relate back to revelation nor to the message is regrettably a laughable position, as no one imagines Abu Bakr (ra) was a prophet receiving revelation, such Ali should defend against this illusion. The masses of sahabah, from al-Muhajireen and al-Ansar, pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr (ra) that he establishes the deen in this ummah after the Prophet, and like him, the rest of the rightly guided Caliphs.

What Ali described Abu Bakr with (ra) that his government was secular has not been put forward by anyone of the Muslims. But the one who can degrade the status of Prophethood can find it easy to degrade the status of Abu Bakr and his brothers, the rightly guided Caliphs (ra).

Conclusion

As it is apparent from the foregoing, the accusations against Sheikh Ali Abdul Raziq remain and is thus not suited to be described as a scholar (alim) in accordance with article (101) of Act No. 10 of 1911, which reads:

If one of the scholars, whatever their occupation or profession, issue which does not fit the description of being a scholar, he is to be judged by the Sheikh of the University of al-Azhar and unanimous agreement of nineteen of the council of senior scholars, as provided for in Part VII of this Act, with removal from the community of scholars.

No appeal is to be accepted about this judgement. It follows on from the judgement mentioned, the name of the convicted person be erased from the records of the University of al-Azhar and other institutions, they be expelled from all posts, their payroll is cut and they are not suitable to be employed for any public job, whether religious or non-religious."

Based on these reasons:

We, the Sheikh of the University of al-Azhar along with the unanimous agreement of twenty-four scholars from the Council of Senior Scholars, judged Sheikh Ali Abdul Raziq, a member of the University of al-Azhar and a shari'ah judge in the Primary shari'ah Court of Mansoorah and the author of the book (Islam and governance) be expelled from the community of scholars.

The Office of General Administration of the Religious Institutions issued this judgement on 12 August 1925).

Signed:

The Sheikh of the University of al-Azhar.

References

Irfan Ahmed (2009) Genealogy of the Islamic State: Reflections on Maududi's Political Thought and Islamism, The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 15

Reza Pankhurst, (2013) The Inevitable Caliphate? A History of the Struggle for Global Islamic Union, Oxford University Press


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