Friday, November 4, 2022

On Takfīrī Extremism: Part 1 - Intellectual tools required to question Takfīrī Fatawas of South Asian Sectarian Ideologues

By Mohammad Ali, New Age Islam Main points: · This essay is the first in a series of articles discussing the contents of the book, Masla-e-Takfīr wa Mutakallimīn: Tarīkh, Tahqīq, Tanqīd aur Tajziyya · This essay highlights the historical and theoretical context of the takfīrī extremism · It also criticizes some of the views discussed in the book. Fitna-e-takfīr denotes the reckless and excessive use of the intellectual device of takfir to anathematize a Muslim or a group of Muslims by an ‘ālim, a theologian-jurist. Takfir or anathematization is a tool that can be weaponized to instigate conflict and violence against non-Muslims as well as Muslims. In theology, the use of takfir is supposed to protect the faith from what is deemed to be destructive and dangerous ideas and interpretations that threaten to distort the true meaning of revelation and undermine its significance. However, in the medieval period, this theoretical tool was politicized and used against political and religious adversaries, to justify various actions ranging from social boycotts to violent conflicts against them. The politicized version of takfir plays a significant role in conflict within and beyond Muslim societies today. Therefore, to understand the recent and ongoing conflict in the name of Islam, one needs to unravel the fundamental theological assumptions first that have been distorted to justify the social and political violence. The best way to refute the takfīrīextremism is to depoliticize the concept of takfir by understanding it in its theoretical and theological framework. In a series of essays (this one is the first of them), I would like to discuss the principles of takfir according to the theologians and explore a new discourse based on theological tolerance in Islamic tradition. Several events can be recounted that have been termed fitna-e-takfīr in Muslim history, beginning with the emergence of Kharijites in the first century of Islam. They deemed Muslims other than themselves as kāfir. The same events spiraled again during the time of Ghazali who had to demarcate the boundaries of kufr and īmān: what meant to be a Muslim or a kāfir, in one of his seminal works, Faysal al-TafriqabaynalIslāmwa al-Zandaqa. Despite several warnings of caution against calling a Muslim a kāfir in Islamic scriptures, a number of Muslim scholars succumbed to their prejudices and negligence and unleashed this fitna numerous times. Issuing takfir against fellow Muslims excessively is a tendency that is caused by convincing himself of the superiority of his own theological opinions to his adversaries' understanding of the Islamic scriptures. Ghazali viewed people who act out such tendencies as heretics. Sherman Jackson, while commenting on Ghazali’s arguments offered in Faysal, writes, “Heretics are often just as strident in their judgments, just as swift in calling for sanctions against their adversaries, and even more convinced of the superiority of their own theological views.” (On the Boundaries of Theological Tolerance in Islam, P.4.) The recent events of fitna-e-takfīr originated in colonial India during the early nineteenth century and proliferated after that in the forms of schools of thought (known as maslak, pl. masālik): Deobandi, Barelvi, and Ahl-e-Hadith. These groups have doctrinal differences and on the bases of them accuse each other of blasphemy or/and innovation. A close look at the works of the leaders of these schools reveals that they fit in the category of what Ghazali termed as ‘heretics.’ No serious scholarly attention has been paid to understanding the approaches of these scholars and unearthing their underlying presuppositions. However, recently, a scholar, Zeeshan Ahmad Misbahi, felt the need to explore Ghazalian thoughts on the issue and tried to rekindle the discourse on takfīrī tendency among ‘ulamā and Muslims today, in his book, Masla-e-TakfīrwaMutakallimīn: Tarīkh, Tahqīq, Tanqīd aur Tajziyya. He wrote this book in Urdu and examined the principles of engaging with the issue of takfir in light of the writings of classical Muslim scholars. Even though he is not expressive in stating what a reader will get from his book, this book intends to provide its readers with the intellectual tools that can enable him/her to judge the demand of a maslak that its followers must declare a Muslim from another maslak a kāfir. Due to the importance of the book, I intend to discuss the contents of Misbahi’s book in a series of essays. It will benefit those who neither read Urdu nor have access to the technicalities of this complex subject. With regard to the issue of takfir, there have been two traditions in Islam, one is followed by mutakallimīn (plural for mutakallim, who engages in speculative theology), and the other is followed by fuqaha, jurists. The latter approach is not as complex as the former one. I will try to discuss these two approaches later in detail. Misbahi thinks that mutakallimīn are more cautious in issuing a fatwa of takfīr than the jurists. Therefore, as the word, mutakallimīn, in the title of the book suggests, he believes that if the approach of mutakallmīn is employed sectarian bigotry among the Muslim community can be reduced. In the introduction to the book, Misbahi outlines the preliminary characteristics of the current takfīrī tendencies as well as the concerns that motivated him to write the book. The foremost reason that has been strengthening the takfīrī culture among Muslims in South Asia is the existence of the modern maslaks. These maslaks were established in the colonial period and persist today. As pointed out earlier, each maslak demands complete obedience to the theology propounded by its leaders, plus imprecation or anathematization of the people (Muslims) associated with other maslaks. Misbahi thinks that the existence of these maslaks feeds into the growth of takfīrīextremism. How did these maslaks survive and become so powerful? Misbahi responds to this question by arguing that it became possible due to the absence of a ‘grand leadership,’ meaning a global, or at least, national leadership, possessing the power to censor the heretic views and prevent them from spreading. This instance of lamenting for the socio-political and religious decline of Muslims because of the absence of a political and religious authority one finds in Misbahi’s book is not rare among traditional Islamic scholars. I found one such example in Fazl-e-Rasūl Badauni’s book, Saif al-Jabbār, a polemic, which he wrote around 1853 against Shah Ismail’s interpretations of Islamic creeds. This argument can hold some value, but it ignores the historical fact, meaning, such takfīrī extremism have had emerged during the time of the Muslim caliphate and sultans. It is also premised on the old assumption that the caliphate or a religiopolitical authority could protect the Muslim world from disintegration. I believe that the takfīrī extremism is the result of a simple and atomistic reading of the religious texts and believing that only one interpretation can be true. It has also resulted from the blind following of what has been said in theological matters refusing to allow any fresh inquiry into the interpretations that have already been propounded by maslak leaders. For example, Barelvis do not allow fresh thinking into some issues that are fundamental to their maslak and have been interpreted by Ahmad Raza Khan. The same is true in other South Asian maslaks as well. In order to counter ideological extremism, one needs to devise an intellectual response as did Ghazali in his time. Thinking about the need for a political authority, whether it is a caliphate or some other form of power, that could repel the heretical tendencies among Muslim societies can have some serious repercussions. A political authority can sensor some heretical claims, but investing such power in it in modern times will be tantamount to allowing the persecution of intellectual freedom. Misbahi argues that ‘ulamā in general have become a part of this takfīrī industry. When he says ‘ulamā in general, I believe, he is talking about the ‘ulamā who are associated with a maslak and belong to South Asia or the South Asian diaspora in the world. Because it would be absurd to believe that all ‘ulamā in the world have been indoctrinated into this extremism. Many ‘ulamā in other parts of the world do not condone the practice of anathematizing Muslims without any valid and explicit proof. Misbahi asserts that the maslakī‘ulamā are unaware of the harm they are doing to the Muslim community. Their takfīrī extremism and mutual ideological conflicts are not only obscuring the image of Islam, but they are also making the lives of Muslims difficult. In the presence of these maslaks, when everyone is anathematizing the other, Misbahi argues, it becomes impossible to conceptualize an ummah, a global Muslim faith community. ….......... Mohammad Ali has been a madrasa student. He has also participated in a three years program of the "Madrasa Discourses,” a program for madrasa graduates initiated by the University of Notre Dame, USA. Currently, he is a PhD Scholar at the Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. His areas of interest include Muslim intellectual history, Muslim philosophy, Ilm-al-Kalam, Muslim sectarian conflicts, madrasa discourses. ------------ URL: New Age Islam, Islam Online, Islamic Website, African Muslim News, Arab World News, South Asia News, Indian Muslim News, World Muslim News, Women in Islam, Islamic Feminism, Arab Women, Women In Arab, Islamophobia in America, Muslim Women in West, Islam Women and Feminism

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