S. Abdullah Schleifer
Just as the Believers must pray behind the Imam, whatever
his moral standing, so in orthodox Sunni theory he must
follow the Imam in jihad. Ibn Hanbal in kitab al-sunna
summarizes this comprehensive position:
The jihad should be pursued alongside all
imams, whether good men or evildoers; the injustice of the tyrant
or the justice of the just matter little. The Friday prayer,
the Pilgrimage, the two Feasts should be made with those who
possess authority, even if they are not good, just or pious.
The legal alms, the tithe, the land taxes, the fay', are due
to the amirs, whether they put them to right use or not."38"
Within these limits, the 'ulama reconfirmed the duty of every
member of the community to the practice of jihad as al-amr bi'l-ma'ru,
f; commending right conduct and forbidding wrong conduct to
the best of their knowledge and means. Since al-amr bz'l-ma'ruf
is above all a vehicle for discernment, it is upon the 'ulama
that this obligation falls most heavily. Remaining within the
limits of loyalty, the outstanding thinkers among the 'Mama
proclaimed their duty to revive the sunna, to keep public opinion
vigilant, and to impose upon the effective ruler proper respect
The frequently quoted hadith, "The most excellent jihad
is when one speaks a true word in the presence of a tyrannical
ruler, "39" authenticated
the 'Mama's non-violent but at times fatal struggle to cheek
and correct wrongdoing by the state, as a self-conscious jihad.
This consensus of Sunni jurists was not arrived upon without
difficulty and debate. Tyrannical and secular modes of rule
practiced by the Ummayads profoundly offended the 'ulama who
were also sensitive to the imperative of al-amr bi'l-ma'ruf
contained in the canonic hadith.
He who from among you observes something evil should reverse
it with his hand; if he is unable to do that he should condemn
it with his tongue; if he is unable to do that he should at
least resent it in his heart; this is the lowest degree of faith."40"
According to Hamidullah, the first book of siyar to be composed
as a separate discipline within jurisprudence was written by
Abu Hanifa and authorized the resort to arms against oppressive
rulers. Abu Hanifa's position was opposed by Malik, who reportedly
spent and entire evening arguing the issue with Abu Hanifa in
a mosque in Medina, and also by the jurist and disciple of Abu
Hanifa, al-Awza'iy, who wrote: "We supported everything
from Abu Hanifa until he came with the sword."41"
Al-Mawardi did not rule out revolt against an impious imam and
he considered heresy as one of the conditions (in an otherwise
technical listing) to depose an imam. Al-Baqillani, in his political
theory of the caliphate, cited heresy, injustice and moral sin
(lisq) but he acknowledged that many schools of Sunni thought
refused these conditions as sufficient grounds to depose a ruler
and al-Baqillani implicitly supported this view."42"
Other 'Mama attempted to discriminate between types of fisq;
there could be no revolt against an imam who isfasiqin his private
life, but if a command of his runs counter to a previousshari'ahprecept,
disobedience to the command is not only obligatory, but the
imam must be deposed if there is a guarantee of success. "43"
But more significant is the overriding concern by the 'ulama
not to reopen the door to armed rebellion against those in authority.
Neither al-Baqillani nor al-Mawardi nor any of the other Sunni
writers dealing with the theory of the caliphate ever laid down
any rules of procedure of how to depose an imam - even though
the ethical issue of al-amr bi'l-ma'ruf aside, they had specified
such criteria as physical and mental illness, deafness, muteness
and senility as grounds for forfeiture of office as Imam "44"
In the end it is the unambiguous declaration
of al-Ashari, the great theologian of traditional sunni Islam,
which endures and defines the prevailing position:
We maintained the error of those who hold it right to rise
against the imams whensoever there may be apparent in them a falling-away
from right. We are opposed to armed rebellion against them and
civil war. "45"
As noted earlier, the theorists of the caliphate assumed the Imam
could be deposed (if only for technical reasons) without articulating
any legal means for deposing him. Gibb sees this as a "dilemma"
confronting all Sunni political thought of the period, and still
another proof that sunni political theory was in fact only the
rationalization of the history of the community.
But at the level of consciousness rather than articulation, there
is not necessarily a dilemma. The verifying hadith for violent
deposal - that the commander does not observe prayer - is verifiable
with certainty only within the walls of the palace of the ruler
among officers of his entourage; so too, with the technical disabilities
leading to forfeiture. The palace coup that minimizes bloodshed
without disrupting the order and unity of the community just beyond
those walled is neither armed rebellion in the broader, more protracted
and disruptive sense, nor civil war, and the sin of Muslim killing
Muslim is veiled or hidden from the public. This is a paramount
consideration in Islamic consciousness, in which discretion or
its lack (for reasons of the corrupting nature of indiscretion)
determines the degree of reprehensibility of the wrongdoing or
sin and the need or extent of its punishment in this world."46"
The passing of protracted civil war and revolution as the pattern
for political change in the centuries following Abbasid rule;
the firm political triumphs of Sunni Islam and the continued appropriateness
of the i coup d'etat in preference to revolution or counter-revolution
(or, for that matter, to the protraced, non-violent civil war
of genuine parliamentary party politics) in the modern sunni
world, all argue that it is the history of the community armed
this theory-by-elipsis, which within this elipsis has provided
a vehicle of deposition without allowing the doctrine of jihad
to be turned against the unity of the community.
So, too, the knowledgement by Ibn Jama'a of an "Imamate by usurpation,"
is in this context not a "continuing rationalization of the mances
of the historic community," but an articulation on the level of
theory of a consistent and enduring part of Islamic consciousness
from the time of the Prophet. Ibn Jama'a continues to insist that
the raison d'etre of any ruler, however abominable, is to implement
shari'a and wage jihad.
The essence of the final articulation of traditional sunni
political theory (developed by Ibn Jama'a's leading critic), Ibn
Taimiyya's equivalent of concordat between ruler and 'ulama
in which theimplementationof shari'a is acknowledged in
exchange for legitimacy, is implicitly contained within Ibn Jama'a's
formulation, as it is also contained within the totality of the
same traditional consciousness. "47"
The price paid by the best of the 'ulama in the painful
circumstances by which this Consciousness was made articulate
cannot be categorized as moral bankrupcy. The manner in which
an 'alim such as al-Ghazali could confront the rulers of
his time in a work such as Nasihat al-muluk confirms this
- the extensive dire warnings of the torment in hell and on the
Day of Judgement for the sultan who rules unjustly, not to mention
the dangers he invites in the world of the living. AI-Ghazali
quickly informs his sultan of his imamate duties and strongly
advises him to learn how to control his passions protect the people
from the greed of his administrators, find safety with independent-minded
pious 'ulama and not those who toady to his whims, and
to implement shari'a."48"
This work, which so clearly contains a theory of the Islamic state
that is profoundly ethical in content without losing its sense
of political realism, cannot be dismissed as expedient.
What the 'ulama as a class did sacrifice was the collective
spiritual legitimacy they had inherited first as the original
community of the Prophet and then as the pietist party of Medina,
by force of the historic requirement of their identity with the
very state they continuously struggled to Islamize for the sake
of sacralizing society.
This state was still further deprived of spiritual legitimacy
(beyond that void in its own origins) by the requirements of sunni
juridical logic as it was deployed against shia' claims of a spiritual
Imamate with inherited lines of legitimacy - claims and rebuttals
which are not within the province of this study but which nevertheless
involved (as in the case of the khawaridj) the use of the doctrine
of] ihad against the sunni state.
The sacralizing jihad of the 'ulama to Islamize state and
society was successful to the degree that a vast network of juridical
and educational institutions arose defining and preserving orthodox
rites and doctrines and popularizing them through the turbulent
centuries that led finally to the flowering of medieval sunni
Muslim society -institutions, doctrines and rites that generally
enjoyed the generous support of a state legitimatized by the ulama
in exchange for the state's acknowlegement of the sovereignty
of shari'a interpreted by the 'ulama, a concordat with
worldly rule towards which the 'ulama had been moving from the
beginning of their jihad.
But religious legitimacy, particularly in its juridical sense,
which is so paramount to Islamic consciousness, is not necessarily
the same as spiritual legitimacy. And while the earliest sunni
theory of the Caliphate/ Imamate effectively rebutted shia' as
well as kharadji political claims on a juridical plane, the very
sunni arguments, based on the example of the Rashi dun as the
sunna of political legitimacy, could not help but contrast the
spiritual quality of rule in the Prophet's community to the sunni
dynasties that followed with the emergence of the state.The main
thrust of this argument was not so much to deny shia' claims on
behalf of their lines of imams to a spiritual legitimacy (the
Prophet's family retained a special position characterized by
the deepest attachment in sunni religiosity) as to deny the relevance
of this spiritual legitimacy to the ca liphate/imamate, its functions
(and thus to its political heir, the sultanate), just as the 'ulama's
response to the excessive ethical content of kharidji thought
was to deny or severely limit the role of jihad as an instrument
for the ethical rectification of unjust, tyrannic government.The
juridical response to kharidji and shia' threats to the
unity of the community was to further concentrate the employment
of jihad as an armed struggle in the hands of the state
- a state whose own historic convolutions could not but still
further deprive this facet of jihad of its personal, ethical,
voluntaristic character and its spiritual dimension, for all the
courage and dedication of the 'ulama.
Mercenary Armies, Sufi Response
The concept of the Prophet's Community-in-arms had been displaced
only partly in spirit and form by the tribal militias that made
up the Muslim Army at the time of the Rashidun caliphate.
Progressive professionalization rapidly followed, first of the
Arab tribal warriors settled in Syria who were the mainstay of
Ummayad power and then with recruits from the waves of converts
(largely Persian and Turkish) enrolled in the armies of the caliphs
during Abbasid period or the armies of the various independent
kingdom and amirates that emerged during Abbasid rule. All of
this suggests that the juridical literature on jihad had
become as much an ideal response to the degeneration of Islamic
sensibility under arms as it was, in its earliest phase, a practical
response to the momentum of the wars of conquest."49"
38) Mishkat, XVIII, Ch. I.
39) Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Mishkat, XVII, Ch. I.
40) Ibn Hanbal, cited by H. Laoust, "Ahmed b. Hanabal,"
in Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st. ed, 1965.
41) Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah, Mishkat, XVIII, Ch. II
42) An-Nawawi, Riyad as-salihin. Gardens of
the Righteous, M. Z. Khan, trans: (London: Curzon, 1975),
43) Hamidullah, Muslim Conduct of State,
44) Ibish, op. cit. p. 103.
45) L.Gardet, "Fasik," in Enc. Islam.
46) Ibish, op. cit. p. 104-105.
47) Cited by Gibb, in "Al-Mawardi's Theory ...,"
48) This is but the other side of the coin of the concept
"Islamic Conformism." To the degree wrongdoing is public
is to the degree thewrongdoer sins against his fellow man (bycorrupt
example, by seductive intention, by defiance of community) as
well as he sins against God. Examination of the fikr literature
on the hadd (unalterable punishment prescribed by shari'a)
and the hadith dealing with the hadd penalities
will bear out the above analysis not to mention, as more immediately
relevant to this study, the 'ulama's discrimination between
the ruler as public fasiq or private fasiq.
49) Ibn Jama's, Emancipated Judgement in the Government
of Muslims," in Williams, Thames of Islamic Civilization,
pp. 90-94. Ibn Taimiyya, Private and Public Law in Islam,
Omar A. Farruhk , trans. (Beirut: Khayats, 1966). pp. 187-188,
The Islamic Quarterly, London
Fourth Quarter 1983