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Saroyan, M. “Rethinking Islam in the Soviet Union” in Solomon, S.G. (ed.) Beyond Sovietology: Essays in Politics and History (New York, London: M.E. Sharpe, 1993) pp. 23-52.
REVIVAL AND REFORM IN ISLAM
The period in which formative developments took place in Islam, and at the end ofwhich Muslim orthodoxy crystallized and emerged, roughly covered a period oftwo centuries and a half. Since this was the formative period, one cannot strictly speak of either revival or reform in Islam during this time, for both revival and reform can logically occur only after an orthodoxy has been established. Nevertheless, it would be a grave error to overlook the developments that occurred during this period since the very emergence of orthodoxy occurred only after long struggle and conflict in the fields of politics, moral ideas and Spiritual motifs. Indeed the germs of all the subsequent major developments in Islam, involving moral and Spiritual issues, are traceable to this very early period in the history of the Muslim Community after the death of the Prophet. The issues as to whether the Muslims should have a State at all, and, if so, what would be its nature and structure; whether the Community should be based on a catholic toleration or exclusivism; what type of economic principles should be generally regarded as Islamic; whether man is free and responsible, or whether his actions are pre-determined; whether the Community should decide issues in a collective spirit through ijmä’ or whether it should accept the principle of an infallible Imäm—all these problems were in some form or another raised, and in some sort answered during the earliest generations of Islam.
These conflicts ultimately resulted by the third/ninth Century in the acceptance of certain settled attitudes and opiniöns which, during the course of these centuries, had been given currency in the form of Traditions (sing., Hadith) attributed to the Prophet. The 'people of the Tradition' (ahl al-Hadith) were responsible for formulating the content of Sunnism which has continued to constitute orthodoxy since then. In these struggles, one can speak of the Shi'i group as a protest phenomenon for a period, until Shi'ism developed its own theology and independent system. The protest was essentially social and political, against the suppressive attitude of the ascendant Arabs, particularly during the Umayyad period. But Shi'ism soon ceased to be a phenomenon of reform and protest, and hardened into a sect with its doctrines of the infallible imämate and oitaqiyya, i.e. dissimulation of belief.
The next reform phenomenon is the Süfi movement which started in the second/eighth Century, partly as a reaction against the political Situation, and partly as a complementary antithesis to the development of the Systems of law and theology in Islam. With the natural and rapid expansion ofMuslim administration, the speedy development ofMuslim law was inevitable. But since law can regulate only the external behaviour of man, some sensitive spirits reacted sharply to these developments, questioning the validity oflaw as an exhaustive or, indeed, as an adequate expression of Islam. The Süfi movement gathered momentum, and from its original moral and ascetic phase rapidly developed an ideal of ecstatic communion with God, a doctrine of esoteric knowledge as opposed to external, rational theology with a system of moral gymnastics as a means to the realization of its final goal. But Sufism, like Shi'ism, threatened to drift from the social and communal ethos oforthodoxy, both by making the individual the centre of its attention, and by its doctrine of esotericism.
Nevertheless, Sufism has exercised, next to orthodoxy, the greatest influence on the Muslim Community because of its insistence on the
inner reform of the individual, and has, ever since its birth, posed the biggest challenge to orthodoxy down to the dawn of modern times. Since the fourth/tenth Century, when Sufism aügned itself intellectually with liberalizing intellectual trends, and combined with ist esotericism the philosophic legaey of neo-Platonism, it has exerted a tremendous attraction on some of the best minds in Islam. Orthodoxy, however, did not and could not yield to the ideal of Sufism, which, being incurably individual, ran counter to the ethos of the Community. Finally, in the fifth/eleventh Century, al-Ghazäli forged a synthesis of Sufism and orthodoxy which has exercised one of the most durable influences on the subsequent development of the Community. The substance of al-Ghazäli's reform lies in adopting a Süfi methodology to realize the orthodox ideal. Sufism for al-Ghazäli is a way whereby the verities of the orthodox creed can be both established, and invested with füll meaning. This is, of course, not to say that the Sufism of al-Ghazäli is externally and mechanically attached to the truths of the faith; on the contrary, in his book al-Munqidh min al-daläl, he teils us how, after haVing forsaken traditional faith, and having wandered through philosophic thought and Ismä'ili doctrines, he discovered the truth in orthodox Islam, which, in the hands of its official exponents, had become a mere shell, a set of formal propositions without inner power.1 While, however, al-Ghazäli's influence has been of the utmost fecundity in the religious history of Islam, and has produced a broad via media, developments occurred soon after him which led Sufism and orthodoxy in different directions. Al-Ghazäli is a great watershed of religious ideas in Islam, and his influence has not altogether been in one direction. Although he himself claimed to rediscover the verities of the orthodox creed through Sufism, and many followed him in this path, there are strong elements in his writings which do not yield easily to this synthetic treatment, and he often gives the appearance of being a pure mystic rather than an orthodox mystic. It is certainly difficult to infer an effective societal ethos from his teachings. During the seventh/thirteenth Century, the Spanish Muslim Ibn al-'Arabi developed Sufism into a full-fledged pantheistic doctrine, and became the apostle of the new theosophic Sufism, around which clustered the majority of heterodox Süfis in the succeeding centuries. From the sixth/twelfth Century onwards, Sufism also became a mass movement in the form of organized brotherhoods (sing., tariqa) which invaded the entire Muslim world from east to west. The antinomian tendencies, which had often been latent in Sufism, and erupted sppradically in the form ofintellectual and Spiritual movements, now became rampant in the Muslim world, through their alliance with local religious milieus. Henceforward, this fact constitutes a permanent challenge and a threat to orthodoxy. The Süfi movement, in fact, gathered up a multifarious and vast stock of ideas, beliefs and practices; and, indeed, threw its mantle over all those trends which either wanted to soften the rigours of the orthodox strueture of ideas, or even rebelled against them, whether openly or covertly. Sufism thus not only afforded a haven to certain primitive practices and beliefs from various regions of the gradually islamized world, such as the worship of saints and veneration of tombs; but, in some of its manifestations, looked like being simply a spiritualized Version of Ismä'ili esotericism, or a philosophical dissipation of the orthodox position through intellectual or pseudo-intellectual arguments.
1 That al-Ghazäli's mysticism is a purely external and 'methodological' affair is a thesis put forward by Farid JabteinhisLanotiondelama'rifacheszal-GhazäliQieinit, 1958); for ist criticism, see Fazlur Rahman's review of the same in BSOAS xxii/2 (1959), 362-4; also
his book Islam (London, 1966), Ch. VIII.
Whereas, therefore, Sufism, in its moderate forms, became acceptable to, and was even espoused by, the orthodox, ist flanks became the focal points of all those trends of.varymg degrees of intensity when sought either to reform orthodox Islam, or to dissipate it completely. The concentration of all these under cover of Süfi thought and practice offered a challenge, to meet which henceforth absorbed all the energies of the orthodox 'ulamä'. We thus see a whole complex of reform and counter-reform.
Just as the 'people of the Tradition' had played a decisive role in the early struggles against the Mu’tazila, the Shi’a and the Kharijites, and had helped to crystallize and formulate Sunni orthodoxy, so once again the same revivalist and reformist zeal appeared with the remarkable Ibn Taymiyya in the seventh-eighth/thirteenth-fourteenth centuries. Ibn Taymiyya was a professed follower of Ahmad b. Hanbal, and a typical representative of the right wing of orthodoxy. The immediate objects of his fiery criticism were Sufism and its representatives, but he was no less vehement against the pure thought of the philosophers, the esotericism of the Shi'a in general and the Ismä'ilis in particular. Even the orthodox Ash'arite formulation of the Muslim creed receives ist share of Ibn Taymiyya's critique.1 But although Ibn Taymiyya generally gives the impression of being a rigid conservative, uncompromising with either rationalism or Sufism, this impression is not altogether correct.
There is discernible in his wrtings a positive movement of the mind and spirit which genuinely seeks to go behind all historic formulations of Islam by all Muslim groups, to the Qur'än itself and to the teaching of the Prophet. There is ample evidence that he did not reject all forms of Sufism, and that he in fact regarded the Sufi intuition as being on a par with the ijtihäd of orthodox 'ulamä', both of which, he demanded, must be judged in the light of the Qur'än and the Sunna: Similarly, his critique of existing orthodoxy on some of the fundamental points of the creed, such as the freedom and the efficacy of the human will, almost tilts the balance in favour of the Mu’tazilites against the entrenched orthodoxy, and shows glaringly his boldness in resenting reigning opinions, even when orthodoxy had thrown ist manue upon them. Ibn Taymiyya, therefore, undoubtedly sought, with a large measure of success, to start afresh from the Qur'än and the Sunna, and to assign their due places to the subsequent developments in Islam, both orthodox and heterodox.
1 See Fazlur Rahman's article'Post-F6rmative Developments in Islam', in Islamic Studies, Karachi, 1,4 (1962), 13.
1 Cf. Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Ch. VI.
Nevertheless, however, salutary and fresh the content of Ibn Taymiyya's attempt at the reconstruction of Islam may have been, it had certain serious limitations, which became conspicuous among his followers. These arose essentially from the fact that rationalism is condemned on principle, and insistence is almost entirely laid on the Tradition in understanding Islam. Ibn Taymiyya had acted as a liberalizing force against the authority of the medieval schools, and this wasthe reason for the unrelenting Opposition of the contemporary orthodox 'ulamä' who Wanted to maintain the medieval structure of beliefs and practices of Islam. Nevertheless the effect of his activity was to make rigid the earliest interpretations of Islam, and to entrench them more thoroughly, because of his summons back to the Qur'än and the Sunna.
For the Sunna was taken in a literalist sense, since Ibn Taymiyya was opposed on principle to rationalism. Secondly, the Sunna, as it appears in the form of Hadith literature, is not actually the work of the Prophet, but is largely attributable to the early generations of Muslims. The essentially formal and external cänons of criticism of Hadith, devised by the classical and medieval Muslim authorities/are inadequate for bringing about a genuine historical evaluation of"Hadith literature. The net result is that, whenever an invitation is given to the Muslims to go back to the Sunna of the Prophet, in actual terms it is an invitation to accept the formulations of the early generations of Muslims.
We have dwelt at some length on Ibn Taymiyya's work because, even though he was opposed by his'contemporaries, his teaching has not only had historical consequences, in the form of certain major reform movements in recent centuries, but his spirit of free and fresh thinking and enquiry may be said to be alive in much of Modernist Islam.
The epitome of Ibn Taymiyya's message may be formulated as follows: Man on earth must discover and implement the will of God. The will of God lies enshrined in the Qur'än and embodied in the Sunna of the Prophet.
This will of God is the Shari'a. A Community which consciously sets out to implement the Shari'a is a Muslim Community. But in order to implement the Shari'a, the Muslim society must set üp certain institutions, the most important of which is the State. No form of the state, therefore, has any inherent sanctity: it possesses sanctity only in so far as it is an effective instrument of the Muslim Community.1 This implementation of the will of God is the 'ibäda or 'service to God'. It will be seen that this message emphasizes not merely the individual, but Sie collective being of the Community, and, therefore, lays greater stress on social virtues and justice than on mere individual virtues. In so doing, Ibn Taymiyya once again captures the essential spirit of the Qur'än and of the Sunna of Muhammad, and thus goes beyond the historic "Muslim Community. Now the reform movements which burst upon the Muslim world during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries exhibit this common characteristic, that they bring into the centre of attention the socio-moral reconstruction of Muslim society, as against Sufism, which had stressed primarily the individual and not the society.
1 I. Goldziher, Muhammadanisehe Studien, Vol. II; J. Schacht, The Origins of MuhammadanJurisprudence (Oxford, 1959); Fazlur Rahman,' Sunnah, Ijtihäd and Ijmä' in the Early period, in Islamic Studies, I,/i, (1962); idem, 'Sunnah and hadith', in Islamic Studies, 2, (1962).
It is common to begin an account of these reform movements with Wahhabism, the puritanical, right-wing reform movement led by Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhäb (d. 1206/1792) in central Arabia. Alreadyin the first quarter of the seventeenth Century, however, the Indian divine, Shaykh Ahmad of Sirhind, had laid the theoretical basis of a similar reform. Shaykh Ahmad (d. 1034/1-62 5) reacting specifically against the abuses into which Sufism had fallen both theoretically and at the practical level, and working against the background created by the eclecticism ofthe Mughal Emperor Akbar under the intellectual sponsorship of the two brothers Abu'1-Fazl and Fayzi, vindicated the claims of the Shari'a with its socio-moral ethos, against the latitudinarianism of the Süfis, and the vague liberalism of the pure intellectuals. As with Ibn Taymiyya, so with Ahmad Sirhindi, the activism of classical Islam came into füll focus with the re-emphasizing of the Shari'a? But political developments in India, and the rapid decline of Muslim power in the subcontinent, could not provide the necessary conditions for the realization of Sirhindi's objectives. Nevertheless, through his work and that of his followers, a reformed Spiritual tradition came into existence which played a prominent role in keeping the threads of the Community together in the political and social chaos that followed the decay of Mughal power. But the Wahhäbi revolt in the heart of the Arabian peninsula during the next Century was much more radical and uncompromising towards the un-Islamic accretions, and the superstitious cults Hnked with populär Sufism. The movement of Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Wahhäb was directly inspired by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, but in some major aspects it departed from Ibn Taymiyya himself. Thus, unlike Ibn Taymiyya, the Wahhäbis rejected all forms of Sufism, even though they termed their system tariqa Muhammadiyya.
They also rejected, with much more virulence than Ibn Taymiyya or Ahmad Sirhindi, the intellectualist trends inIslam, which they looked upon with great distrust. Although they rejected the authority of the medieval schools of law, following Ibn Taymiyya, and, like him, insisted on ijtihäd, or fresh thinking, they did practically everything in their power to discourage the actual tools of positive fresh thinking by rejecting intellectualism.The untiring emphasis of the Wahhäbis (and kindred groups) on ijtihäd has hence proved fruitless andpractically they have become' followers' (muqallidün) of the sum total of the Islamic legacy of the first two centuries and a half, even though being described as 'followers' is anathema to them. The Wahhäbis, however, have done good work by bringing into relief the principles of Islamic egalitarianism and co-operation, and actually founded co-operative farm-villages.
1 This question has been more precisely studied in a forthcoming monograph by Mr Qamaruddin Khan, to be published by the Central Institute of Islamic Research, Karächi; in a general way it has been treated by H. Laoust in his Les docirines sociales etpolitiquts d'Ibn Taimiya (Cairo, 1939).
1 See Fazlur Rahman Selected letters of'AhmadSirhindi, to be published by the historical
Society of Pakistan, Introduction.
Reform movements, fundamentally of a puritanical character, and seeking to rid the Muslim society of the causes responsible for ist degeneration and corruption, grew up in a large part of the Muslim world in the Indian subcontinent. Shäh Wali Allah of Delhi (d. 1176/ 1.762), following upon Ahmad Sirhindi, set to work on broadly similar lines. He saw, however, that the political Situation in India had radically changed since Sirhindi's time, and he therefore propounded a system which would be congenial to the Spiritual environment of the Indian subcontinent, and at the same time calculated to regenerate Islamic forces. His attitude towards Sufism is not one of rejection, but of assimilation as far as possible. But while interpreting the message of Islam in these terms, Shäh Wali Allah endeavoured to create a social-political substructure for it. He attacked the social and economic injustices preväiling in society, criticized the heavy taxes to which the peasantry was subjected, and called upon the Muslims to build a territorial State which might be integrated into an international Muslim super-state. The thinking of Shäh Wali Allah, although fundamentally in agreement with other similar reform movements, so far as the social side is concerned, sharply contrasts with the Wahhäbi movement in that it seeks to integrate various elements rather than to reject them. Political conditions were ünfavourable to him, and his ideas ultimately generated a purely puritanical type of movement, not unlike that of 'Abd al-Wahhäb. This movement, which swept over northern India during the first half of the nineteenth Century, was led by Sayyid Ahmad Barelwi of Räe Bareli and a grandson of Shäh Wali Allah, Muhammad Ismä'il, both of whom were killed in battle against the Sikhs in 1831.
It is doubtful, however, whether Sayyid Ahmad was directly influenced by the Wahhäbis as is generally believed.1 The Sanüsi movement of the nineteenth Century in Libya exhibits similar characteristics. Although it had the organized. form of a Süfi tariqa and included some Süfi practices as well, its objectives were radically different. It was basically a social refprm movement, aiming at the purification of society from degenerate beliefs, and particularly from corrupting malpractices. Above all, it sought to promote a sene of moral solidarity based on honesty, egalitarianism and economic justice. In spite of the fact that some of the views of the Sanüsi shaykh were attacked by some of the al-Azhar authorities as being heretical, the sociological bases helped its growth, and subsequently it waged a bitter struggle against the expansionist policies of Euro pean colonial powers. On more or less similar, but basically more militant lines, were laid the foundations of the Fulani Jihäd involevement of 'Uthmän dan Fodio and the Mahdist movement in the Sudan. We may sum up the general characteristics of all these movements as follows.
Although the attitudes of these reform phenomena towards Sufism ranged from an outright rejection to a more or less modified acceptance of it, the purely world-negating attitudes of medieval Sufism were combated by them. Those movements, such as the Indian, which integrated Sufism into their system, developed a much more positive Sufism, endeavoured to eradicate the socio-moral evils that came in the wake of the spread of Sufism and, on the whole, gave it a more dynamic outlook.
1 See Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Ch. XII. It is noteworchy, however, that Sayyid Ahmad also called his movement Tariqa Muhammadiyya, cf. Murray Titus, Indian Islam (Oxford, 1930, revised edition under the title Islam in India and Pakistan, i960), 181-2.
The primary concern of all these movements was with the socio-moral reconstruction and reform of society. Although it would be a bold denial of facts to say that any of these movements gave up or even hnderplayed the concept of the after-life, yet it is significant to note that the emphasis had shifted more towards the positive issues of society, whether in political, moral or Spiritual terms. The reason for this is not far to seek. It was the social degeneration ofMuslim society that had called forth these movements in the first place. They had not come into existence to rectify or strengthen beliefs about the other world but to reform the socio-moral failures of the Muslim Community, through which this society had become petrified. Because oftheir very nature, therefore, these movements strengthened, in varying degrees, the activism and the moral dynamism which had been characteristic of pristine Islam. All of these movements were politically active; most of them resorted tojihädto realize their ideals.
This fact, again, aligns them more directly with pristine Islam rather than with historic Islam. All of these movements, without exception, emphasized a 'retum' to pristine Islam in terms of the Qur'än and the Sunna of the Prophet. In practice, however, as we pointed out in the case of Ibn Taymiyya above, the Sunna oi the Prophet meant the practice or the doctrines worked out by the earliest generations of Muslims.
For this reason, although all these movements unanimously proclaimed the right of ijtihäd, and denied final authority to all but the Prophet, they were yet able to make but little headway in the reformulation of the content of Islam. The historical belief that the Hadith genuinely contains the Sunna of the Prophet, combined with the further belief that the Sunna of the Prophet and the Qur'anic rulings on social behaviour have to be more or less literally implemented in all ages, stood like a rock in the way of any substantial rethinking of the social content ofIslam. When, therefore, the leaders ofthese movements issued the call 'back to the Qur'än and the Sunna'', they literally meant that history should move backwards. For the ideal had already been enacted at a given time in the past, viz. in seventh-century Arabia. We shall subsequently see that this utterly revivalist attitude has undergone a considerable modification under the impact ofthe Modernist movements in Islam, although what revivalism exactly means still remains unclear to the revivalist himself as we shall see.
The account given above ofthe pre-Modernist reform movements which swept over the larger part of the Muslim world during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has clearly established that the consciousness of degeneration, and ofthe corresponding need to remedy social evils and raise moral Standards, was generated from the heart of Muslim society itself. This needs to be pointed out emphatically, because there is a common error which leads many observers of presentday Muslim society, and its attempts at rethinking and reconstruction, to regard these as being primarily the result of the impact of the West.
There are certain considerations which seem.to render such a conclusion plausible. The impact of the modern West upon the Muslim East begins with the political and economic expansionism of the West. In almost every case, the Muslim lands suffered a political and military reverse at the hands of the West, and consequently came under ist subjection. Because of this political subjection, and the psychologicäl - forces generated by it, the Muslim response tö the West on the plane of intellectual and scientific thought, and the religious issues raised by this thought, has not been, in its first phase, as constructive as it would have been if the Muslims had been politically ascendant. An average foreign observer, therefore, tends to look upon the Muslim society as an inert mass suffering from a reaction to the Western impact at all levels, but unable to adopt a positive enough attitude towards it. Worse still, many of the modern educated Muslims themselves have come to believe this. The trouble is that the average modern educated Muslim knows as little about his past heritage as does the average foreign observer.
Besides being ignorant of his own cultural background, he is mentally a creature of what is essentially the Western educational System the projection of the West into the Muslim East. He, therefore, begins to think that in so far as progress is actually being achieved in the Muslim world, or is even conceivably achievabje, it will be a mere duplication of the West, and that Islam is either neutral in all this, or is perhaps a positive hindrance.
The reform movements described above naturally owed nothing whatsoever to any foreign influence in their genesis, since to postulate any such influence would be a historical absurdity. From the characteristics common to those movements enumerated at the end of the last section, we must conclude that, in so far as thefact and the form of the reformist zeal are concerned, they antedate modern Islam, and that modern Islam is a simple continuation, in these respects, of the pre-Modernist reform movements. Where modern Islam does differ from the legacy of these movements is in its positive content. We have seen above that all these movements laid emphasis on fresh thinking (ijtihäd), but that they were unable to give any large new content to their thinking, because their actual intention was focussed on pristine Islam. What the Modernist Muslim has essentially achieved is the maintenance of pristine Islam as a Source of inspiration and motive energy, and to this energy he has sought to attach a Modernist content. The meäsure of success with which this has been done so far, and the rhythm of this entire movement, are now left for us to describe. But we must once again emphasize the continuity between the pre-Modernist äwakening and the Modernist renaissance, inasmuch as both are concerned with society. Even the terrific zest and dynamism displayed by the modern movements of überation from foreign rule are essentially a continuation of the activism of the pre-Modernist reform movements. It is true that to this early Islamic activism, a new nationalist motif has usually been added; but we shall have'to discuss more closely the relationship of the nationalist thrust to the einliestjihäd motivation in various segments of Muslim society.
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