Ulama and Politicians Must Take Heed of History
In his profound analysis on the progressive weakening of the Muslim world for the past one thousand years, Prof Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas identified its primary cause with internal elements that created a condition referred to as the loss of adab. In particular, he makes reference to the false ‘ulama’ and the false umara’.
For the past one thousand years, the false ‘ulama’ refers to those who restrict knowledge (al-‘ilm) to the domain of jurisprudence (fiqh). Al-Ghazzali (d. 505/1111) already pointed out in the 11th Century, that those false ‘ulama’ had even restricted the original meaning of fiqh as “religious insight and discernment which brings about God-consciousness (taqwa)”, to merely “jurisprudence”.
Unfortunately, as those false ‘ulama’ were not men of keen intelligence and profound insight, what they referred to as “jurisprudence” comprises endless controversy and disputation. Their polemics thus comprise insignificant issues, unnecessary juristic details and scholastic hair-splitting trivialities, even when the Qur’an repeatedly condemns such attitudes (see, for example, surah al-Kahf, 18: 21-22).
Nor are they men of integrity in keeping the trust of right spiritual leadership. Already during his time, al-Ghazzali spoke through his Ihya’ ‘Ulumiddin against the worldly jurists who were “pursuing the easy access to executorships of religious endowments, trusteeship of the charitable trusts, enforcement of the bequests, guardianship of the estates and properties of orphans, appointment to the posts of judges and official jurists, respect and honour in government positions, superiority over one’s peers and power over one’s foes.”
Similar observations have been stated by later social critics such as Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 638/1240) in his Risalah Ruh al-Quds fi Muhasabat al-Nafs.
As observed by al-Ghazzali, their misguidance also leads to an emphasis on differences between the various madhahib (Islamic legal schools) and to obstinate adherence to trivialities within those schools, for example between the Shafi‘i school and the Hanafi school.
Such false ‘ulama’ have even committed crimes by hurling accusations of irreligiousness and unbelief against the other. A similar attitude is reflected in cases relative to false theologians, who at that time dabbled with the vexed question between the createdness or otherwise of the Qur’an, as well as the question of fate and predestination (qada and qadr).
This prompted al-Ghazzali to pen his famous treatise Faysal al-Tafriqah bayna al-Islam wa al-Zandaqah [The Decisive Criterion for Distinguishing Islam from Masked Infidelity].
Rulers, administrators and nobles among the Muslims contributed significantly to the chaos, by their mismanagement, misadministration, inefficiency, illegal extortions, high handedness, and vainglorious arrogance.
However, the most destructive was that such rulers took prime delight in endless struggle and warfare. Al-Attas cited the classic example of Timur Lenk (d. 1405) given by Arnold J. Toynbee in his A Study of History.
As a military genius who possessed unique talents, Timur had the golden opportunity to conquer Russia and China. Toynbee believed that, since conquering China and Russia was a feat which Timur was well able to accomplish, he missed the opportunity to alter the course of world history for the better by making Islam the religion of all Eurasia, whereby “Samarqand would rule Moscow instead of Moscow ruling Samarqand.”
On the contrary, however, Timur turned against the Persians, the Turks, and the Egyptians. Almost the whole of the last twenty-four years of Timur’s life was devoted to bring havoc and devastation among fellow Muslims.
History reported that, among others, he buried alive 2,000 prisoners at Sabzawar and piled 5,000 human heads into minarets at Zirih both in 1383; massacred 70,000 people and piled their heads into minarets at Isfahan in 1387; and built twenty towers of skulls in Syria in 1400 and 1401.
According to Toynbee, “the range of his victories was as sensational as their results were suicidal….Its only traceable after-effect is wholly negative”, including causing the fall of the prestige of Islam in the estimation of the later, other non-Muslims in general and Eurasians in particular.
The chaos caused by such false ‘ulama’ and umara’ inevitably leads to the neglect of the real problem of education among the Muslims i.e., the acquisition of fardu kifayah knowledge in proportionate balance with fardu ‘ayn knowledge at all levels of education.