The Monumental Sunni Pledge


The essential point of the ‘Pledge of Mutual Respect and Co-operation Between Sunni Muslim Scholars, Organisations, and Students of Knowledge’ – published in Ramadan 2007 on many websites, including www.suhaibwebb.com (posted 22 September) – is, to a large extent, to temper the theological controversy between ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’ in the West. These two aforementioned groups have raised the standard of theological studies in the West in recent years. However, both, in general, have claimed an exclusivity to being the true upholders of the People of the Sunnah, with polemics – let’s face it – equating the other with anti-Islamic theological groupings: arguably most ‘salafis’ putting the ‘Ash’aris’ with the Jahmiyyah sect (clear deniers of necessary truths of revelation); and many ‘Ash’aris’ charging the ‘salafis’ with anthropomorphism [tajsim]. This pledge has one monumental reading that has both gladdened some and upset others, and that reading is one that recognises the other as essentially Sunni, or orthodox. The apparent wording of the document supports the idea of a monumental reading; however, it is also possible that a monumental reading is not intended, but that it is only intended to bring about better social relations between the two groups, so as to facilitate future co-operation on societal issues of common concern. If the defined monumental reading was not the intent of some or all of the signatories, we are still, nevertheless, left with a pledge of monumental potentiality for successful unified ‘Sunni’ endeavours in the West, by the will of God.

The Ash’ari-Salafi Debate: A Summary

The debate between the two sides relates, essentially and in the main, to the theological discussion of the attributes of God. On the vexed question of the attributes of God according to the Ash’ari school – and here I could speak of the Maturidis with the Ash’aris because they are essentially one, with minor differences, as enunciated by Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in Saviours of the Islamic Spirit – one can read line 40 from Ibrahim Laqani’s standard theological poem entitled Jawharah at-tawhid as a summary of their stance:

Every text instilling a groundless fear of their implying the similarity of the Creator to His creation
Figuratively explain it or consign the knowledge of it to God, and exalt God above the attributes of creation.

[wa kullu nassin awhama at-tashbiha/awwilhu aw fawwid wa rum tanziha.]

The recourse to figurative interpretation, as one of two alternatives, is highly qualified by the scholars of this method, and is not open-ended to all or everything. It is this restraint that clearly separates the Ash’aris from the overly figurative, such as the Mu’tazilah and Jahmiyyah, not to mention the Batiniyyah.

Scholars of this understanding have deemed their approach valid according to the Sacred Law, as well as identifying both methods with the early Muslims [as-salaf]: one can see such arguments put forward by Imam Nawawi (in his Sharh Sahih Muslim and al-Majmu’, as translated by Nuh Keller in his Reliance of the Traveller and elsewhere) and al-‘Izz Ibn ‘Abdas-Salam (as quoted, from his Fatawa, by Gibril Haddad in his translation of excerpts from Imam Bayhaqi’s al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat). Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi, in his Priorities of the Islamic Movement, has written how the foremost Muslim ‘universities’ – and he names al-Azhar, al-Zaytuna, al-Qarawiyyin, and Deoband – are upon what can fairly be described as the Ash’ari-Maturidi method. The ‘salafis’ propose a vehement oppositional argument against the use of figurative interpretation in some of the areas in which some, not all, Ash’aris have ventured into; in the process, they issue forth an outright condemnation of the Ash’aris, considering them to be astray from the correct path of the early Muslims, as defined by themselves.

The ‘salafis’ claim to follow the theological method of Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, and are thus associated with the Athariyyah school (commonly identified, also, as the ‘followers of Imam Ahmad’). However, the exact correlation between the ‘school of Imam Ahmad’ and what we can now call the ‘school of the salafis’ in the current age is intensely disputed. The firmest opponents of the ‘salafis’ refute the notion that they are upon Imam Ahmad’s way, and in turn they accuse the ‘salafis’ of anthropomorphism, whilst exonerating the Imam of such a charge.

The debate surrounding the ‘salafis’ ascription to Imam Ahmad surrounds the holding to the ‘outward’ [zahir] of such verses and hadith that are deemed to concern the attributes of God. The matter is even more obscure when the ‘salafis’ make extensive verbatim use of the language attributable to early theological utterances – see, for example, some of the ‘salafi’ language used by Imam Abu Hanifa in his al-Fiqh al-akbar, which is attributed to him by some (as argued by Gibril Haddad in his Four Imams), and disputed by others (including Shibli Numani in his Imam Abu Hanifa). Of course, it is a different matter if people are using similar words but arriving at different conclusions and understandings – a clearly valid point made by al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abdas-Salam, as referred to earlier. Now the ‘salafis’ are, to all outward appearances, upon the way of Ibn Taymiyyah, which they believe is the way of Imam Ahmad. Yet, Ibn Taymiyyah is the subject of controversy amongst the Ash’aris, with individuals affiliated to the school holding divergent opinions about him.

What we can call ‘revived Ash’arism’ in English seems to be really the consequence of mainly Muslim converts translating the research of Shaykh Zahid Kawthari (1879-1952) – one can merely compare the notes of Kawthari that ‘Abdullah bin Hamid ‘Ali included in his translation of Ibn al-Jawzi’s Daf’ shubah at-tashbih, entitled The Attributes of God, with the works of translators such as Nuh Keller and Gibril Haddad for the detailed similarity to be palpably obvious. There are two features that dominate Kawthari’s method in this regard: 1) his success in bringing together a long stream of quotations from recognised authorities on the subject of figurative interpretation [ta’wil] and the attributes of God; 2) his clear attack on Ibn Taymiyyah as an ‘unmitigated anthropomorphist’ (as stated by Gibril Haddad, in an article on Kawthari, posted on www.masud.co.uk).

There are other scholars who are also affiliated to the Ash’ari school, through having progressed through Azhari or Deobandi educations, who have opted to not follow the second characteristic of Kawthari’s that I have identified. Such people, like my own teacher Shaykh Iqbal Azami, encourage the laity to not engage in such complexities, and to just remain ‘Sunni’ at basis; and he certainly rejected the idea of Ibn Taymiyyah being upon anthropomorphism. Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari told me that the explicit opinion of his teacher Shaykh Taqi ‘Uthmani is against attributing such a major heresy to Ibn Taymiyyah (as is the opinion of Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in his Saviours and Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti (al-Azhari) – one can find Buti’s stance on Ibn Taymiyyah’s theological position regarding the attributes of God in an essay on Ibn Taymiyyah by Abu Rumaysah, available at www.islamicawakening.com).

The ‘salafi’ theological method in English is largely the translation of numerous scholars, ancient and modern, from the Hanbali school, who – apart from Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim – are not household names for most religious Muslims in the same way that the scholars utilised by Kawthari are. Kawthari uses a ‘who’s who’ of Islamic scholarly greatness to buttress his proofs: Tabari, Bayhaqi, Ghazali, Razi, Qurtubi, ‘Iyad, Nawawi, Ibn al-Jawzi, Suyuti, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, al-Izz ibn ‘Abdas-Salam, etc.

There are now sufficient English resources for the muqallid, or unmitigated follower, of either school to trade blows with: Ibn al-Jawzi’s Attributes of God for Ibn Qudama’s Prohibition of Studying Works on Speculative Theology and al-‘Uthaymin’s Tenets of Faith, or www.sunnah.org and www.masud.co.uk on ‘aqida for www.saheefah.org. The reality of being a muqallid, like myself, is that one should proceed with caution with regards to such certainty and passion concerning matters of dispute amongst the scholars of the world, even if one is simply propagating the views of one’s teacher, for the world of Islamic scholarship is bigger than just our teacher or teachers. Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali, in Faysal at-tafriqa (translated into English, and included in R.J. McCarthy’s translation of Ghazali entitled Deliverance from Error), warns against all such muqallid behaviour:

‘[When requesting your companion to provide a definition of unbelief [kufr],] if he claims that the definition of unbelief is: That which is contrary to the doctrine [madhhab] of Ash’ari, the Mu’tazilah or the Hanbalis, or other than them – then know that he is gullible [or: inexperienced], pure conformism [taqlid] has bound him, and he is one of the blind [fa huwa a’ma min al-‘umyan]: don’t waste time on his reform…The condition of the conformist [shart al-muqallid] is that he cannot speak and cannot be spoken to because he is incapable of travelling the path of argument. If he were qualified for it, he would be one who is followed [mustatbi’an], and not a follower [tabi’an].’

Of course, where us muqallidin are dealing with decisively proven religious matters [al-qat’iyyat], then our entrenchment upon one position is completely justified. However, when a matter is one of confirmed dispute – such as one scholar saying that ‘such-and-such, said by So-and-so, is kufr [disbelief] or innovation [bid’a]’, and another scholar directly responds, ‘So-and-so did say such-and-such, yes, but he did not mean what you understand as kufr or bid’a from it’ – then we should refrain from the one dimensionality of ‘my-shaykhness’, i.e. that we will completely hold onto whatever our shaykh says, even if not categorically proven. We love our teachers, and indeed we follow them, but on non-decisive interpretations, as exampled, we acknowledge their humanity and the possibility of their being mistaken, even if we incline to their stance; for the nature of taqlid in such non-conclusive matters is that one is not seeing a matter with the eye of certainty, but is rather taking something on trust from one whom one considers to be able to see, because one’s self is blind.

This pledge is a document that is to be signed by muqallidin in the West, in the spirit of recognising that Islamic scholarship is vast; and matters are not always decisive, even when they appear quite, but not completely, clear. It doesn’t make strategic sense, from an ummatic perspective, for Western muqallidin to refrain from working together on common matters, or even holding the orthodoxy of fellow believers with contrary stances, if the disputes are seemingly valid or far from decisive resolution – and the latter is only possible by rearing the dead from their graves for interrogation.

I hope that it is clear that this debate is far from simple, and far from conclusion. Indeed, the more one studies the controversy, the more complex it gets for a muqallid. All of which exemplifies the wisdom in the pledge’s seeming call for the end of unlearned and ill-mannered debate, especially on internet forums.

The Monumental Reading

This pledge, signed by such prestigious Western luminaries, provoked both joy and dismay – in almost equal quantities – on the internet, and this was because many people of both sentiments perceived a monumental reading: one that categorically declared each grouping to be ‘Sunni’, despite the apparent differences, and rejected the heresy of the other. This reading is certainly fuelled by the pledge’s talk of ‘the historical nature of Sunni Islam is a broad one’, ‘broad scholarly tradition of the Sunni Muslims’, and ‘we feel, as Sunni Muslims…’ Furthermore, the fact that representatives of competing and conflicting methods were upon the list of signatories made such a monumental reading all the more obvious for many.

Those who welcomed it with joy saw it as the first major breakthrough in the West between these warring factions, and a way to end the heated condemnation and arguments between the two camps – a debate that is too advanced for over ninety percent of people. Moreover, it was perceived as a means towards profound brotherhood based on an almost identical foundation, with accepted and minimal differences on non-essential and non-decisive theological matters. Such an understanding of brotherhood is radically different to saying: ‘You are a heretic, but we can work on societal matters of common good.’ Instead, such a monumental reading says: ‘We are both orthodox, or Sunni, but we differ on these disputed fine details of theology; yet we both have our respective basis.’ It is this latter reading that has caused both joy and dismay.

Dismay has come from those who do not accept such a reading of their tradition, and they desire to stand by their accusations of heresy against the other, whilst accepting that they can work together for the common good. The issue with such an entrenched position – what we can call ‘hard-line’ or ‘super-[fill-in the blank with ‘salafi’ or ‘Ash’ari’]’ – is that it can necessarily entail the disbelief [kufr] of one’s opponent according to the classical juridical method, if one is willing to still adhere to this classical understanding. Thus the latter position does not accommodate the pledge’s call for a ‘cessation of all implicit or explicit charges of disbelief’.

Moreover, the reason why the pledge can call for a ‘cessation’ of the type under discussion is because the monumental reading necessarily entails the acceptance of the other as having not committed disbelief on the well-known controversies; but that the other is in fact ‘Sunni’, despite some minor differences. It is maybe because some of the pledge’s authors and signatories envisaged such a monumental reading that they omitted being as comprehensive as the Amman Message of November 2004 (under point one of the ‘three points’ of the message), which explicitly qualified the signatories understanding of the other as ‘Muslim’ with the dictum agreed-upon by Sunni theologians that someone is a Muslim as long as one ‘does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of the religion’ – what Imam Nawawi is recorded in the Reliance as calling ‘ma ya’lam min din al-islam daruratan’ (translated by Keller as ‘something that is necessarily known to be of the religion of Islam’). Of course, should any signatory believe, now or in the future, that another group or individual has opposed any necessarily known tenet, then this part of the pledge that calls for a cessation of such action is nullified for them, despite the clause not being written (for it is simply implicit). Therefore only a monumental reading justifies such an outright commitment to the cessation of ‘all’ charges of this nature.

Such monumental readings of theology and efforts to bring together the ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’ are certainly not new to the Muslim world or the West. In the Muslim world, one sees the efforts of Hasan al-Banna (1906-1949) in Egypt to bring these two groups together. His short, yet suitably comprehensive, theological treatise entitled al-‘Aqa’id (available in English translation from www.youngmuslims.ca/) is the relevant evidence for my claim – although he doesn’t talk about ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’, but instead talks of the ways of the ‘salaf’ and the ‘khalaf’ [the later generations of Muslims]; but his arguments are directly relevant to our discussion. In this aforementioned work, al-Banna argued that both groups – as customarily and essentially defined and understood – were Sunnis, both have their precedents from the early Muslims, and neither of them can be associated with anthropomorphism nor the Jahmiyyah, according to some fair and common principles from the scholars of the field. Hasan al-Banna’s stance has been carried over into the West by his followers, but it has not yet found here a comprehensive scholarly articulation (which is not the case with his treatise); and it has largely been a seemingly ill-informed call – apparently emotional, and not intellectual, to a large extent – for ‘unity’, without categorically proving the validity of such a position according to the high standards of scholarship.

This pledge – certainly from the perspective of a monumental reading – supports the growing vitality and influence in the West of al-Banna’s position: a fact that prevents any surprise at the inclusion of certain ‘Movement’ signatories from the West on this pledge. Yet, the ‘Movement’ people are now required to actually cogently convey the why behind their stance from an orthodox scholarly perspective, as opposed to simply relying on some nebulous how and what of ‘unity’. It thus requires the ‘Movement’ to at last see the importance of producing a Western scholarly tradition in Sunni theology, in order to be better placed to textually convince people from the ranks of the ‘salafis’ and ‘Ash’aris’ of where a common ground can be validly found – a condition that I have not yet seen too much evidence of emerging with the ‘Movement’ in the West. Without such a development, the ‘Movement’ will just remain passively waiting for some ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’ to provide the leadership for them, so they can jump on board; and I don’t think that this is what al-Banna had in mind.

The potential for such a ‘balanced’ stance – as outlined by al-Banna – to acquire a large following seems substantial for a number of reasons, by the will of God: 1) the differences are so detailed that most people are bemused by the debate – and this is highly unlikely to change (and God knows best); 2) as a consequence of (1), rightly or wrongly, such bemused people will be content with a position that allows them to maintain a good opinion of both camps, even if they don’t know the fine details; 3) due to the lack of general expertise in the controversy, a scholarly argument that validates both schools for the understanding of the laity and learned muqallidin is quite possible: the ‘salafis’ can be exonerated of anthropomorphism through the defence of Ibn Taymiyyah by certain famous ‘Ash’aris’; and the sheer weight of intellectual brilliance behind the ‘Ash’ari’ method makes it highly difficult for people to believe that such scholars like Juwayni, Ghazali, Bayhaqi, Razi, Qurtubi, ‘Iyad, Nawawi, ‘Asqalani, Ibn al-Jawzi (who can be deemed by others to be ‘Ash’ari’ on the attributes, but he would not have considered himself to be an ‘Ash’ari’ in general), Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id and al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abdas-Salam, as well as scores of others, had been unable to understand the minhaj as-salaf, or the method of the early Muslims, and orthodoxy. And God knows best.

On a Non-Monumental Reading of the Pledge, and Conclusion

If this pledge is not a general endorsement – for one cannot have an absolute endorsement due to the complexity of the issue and the schools themselves, and the aspect of individuality that is inherent in scholarship – of the Sunni nature of ‘Ash’aris’ by ‘salafis’ and ‘salafis’ by ‘Ash’aris’, then we cannot say that the document holds a monumental reading, as defined by me earlier. Indeed, if this is the case, and people support it only as a means of working together on societal issues, whilst not being – as the English might say – so ‘rotten’ to one another in the process of declaring the other of theological heresy, then the document has caused a false dawn of high hope for many of those that welcomed it at face-value; and has justified the opponents of it, because of the pledge itself or the signatories themselves giving the impression to the wider public that they were saying something that they were in fact never intending to communicate. The consequence of this is that one can imagine many current supporters of the pledge being seen to break the pledge in the opinion of those who support it on the basis of a monumental reading – whether the latter group consists of fellow signatories or more lay supporters. If this is the case, then the pledge will only stand through the support of all of those who support a monumental reading.

Alternatively, such a crisis might be a way of cleansing, so to speak, the current wording of the pledge from ambiguities. Leading, in the process, to perhaps a revised pledge that doesn’t support the monumental reading, but is clear that this is a working together on social and common issues between those who are considered, in general, to be Sunni Muslims – even if, in practice, certain signatories do not see co-signatories as true, or specific, Sunnis. [Of course, we cannot dispute that some signatories might have already signed the pledge on this basis; but the pledge itself gives the impression of the monumental reading.] A revised wording might attract some of those who can be considered to be ‘super salafis’ or ‘super Ash’aris’, who are conspicuous by their present absence – for whatever reason – from the pledge as it stands. This clarification might be more realistic, and enable us to achieve better long-term objectives, without attempting something that is too weak to stand as it is. A person is entitled to a ‘super’ stance on the issue, whether through personal expert reasoning [ijtihad] or valid taqlid, and it is not proper to expect them to sign a pledge that openly opposes or misleadingly misrepresents (in their opinion, and others) their beliefs. Yet a clearer and more general document, as I’ve suggested, might be one way of getting such people to sign up to a pledge that calls for better social relations; and this can, in turn, be the basis for a more unified collective endeavour on the ninety-five percent-plus issues that both sides, with all Muslims, agree upon.

Perhaps such meticulousness will be seen as either uncalled for or even harmful to the aims of the pledge that the current signatories believe are productively achievable through the current document. I remember Andrew Heywood, my old politics teacher, telling us how the Soviet Union, despite the cracks in the system’s edifice, seemed to be still staying afloat until Gorbachev’s reforms after 1985 “merely hastened the demise of orthodox communism by exposing its structural flaws and generating an appetite for greater political change. As Alexis de Tocqueville remarked in relation to France in 1789: ‘the most perilous moment for a bad government is when it seeks to mend its ways’” (quoted from Heywood’s Political Ideologies). Maybe this pledge is a vaguely-defined document that has the potential for an improved ‘government’ of Muslim affairs in the West as it stands; for it is not inconceivable that the authors of the document, and even some or many of the signatories, are aware that such an endeavour can only proceed on the basis of such vagueness, and were these matters to be so openly and methodically defined, then the pledge would essentially fall; hence bestowing the feeling that it is better to proceed in the current way, with the substantial support already mustered, and leave alone such fine details and their apparent risks. To use an analogy, I guess that such people would prefer the pledge to walk fairly tall as the united Soviet Union of the early 1980’s – intellectual warts and all, and rather unsteady on its feet – as opposed to merely meddling along like the numerous present-day states of the former-Soviet Union: weakened in such a comprehensive sense, in comparison.

I certainly believe that the current pledge has, and will, God willing, receive wide support, even if it is not intended to have a monumental reading by many or some presently involved with it, which general supporters might currently misunderstand. Due to the low levels of religious observance of Islam amongst the Muslims of the English-speaking world, ‘wide support’ would still be a minority affair; but it would still be a worthy effort, and a foundation for future strength, by the will of God. Nevertheless, the Muslims are warned against the tyranny of the majority when dealing with theology and law. The following quotation from Shaykh ‘Abdal-Fattah Abu Ghudda’s notes to Muhasibi’s Risala al-mustarshidin (which has now been translated into English under the title of The Sunnah Way of the Sufis) – in commentary on Muhasibi’s statement: ‘The basis of steadfastness is in three things: following the Book [of Allah], the Sunnah, and holding on to the jama’ah’ – is sufficient proof against being tyrannised by the majority:

‘The meaning of “holding on to the jama’ah” is to remain attached to the truth and the upholders of truth even though they may be small in number. It does not mean that you have to join or remain attached to the majority [akthar an-nas]. Many people err in understanding this. I have therefore brought your attention to this. Imam Ibn Hazm rahimahullah says: “The jama’ah and the group refers to the people of truth. Even if there may be only one of them in this entire world…There is no difference whatsoever among the ‘ulama regarding what we said in this regard”…

‘Imam Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah says…[‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may God be well pleased with him)] said: “The jama’ah is what conforms to the truth even if you are all alone.” In another narration, the words are: “He then struck me on my thigh and said: ‘I am disappointed with you. The majority of the people have left the jama’ah. Surely the jama’ah is that which concurs with the obedience of Allah (the Exalted)’”…

‘[Imam Bayhaqi narrates:] Nu’aym ibn Hammad said: “If the jama’ah degenerates, you should hold on to what the jama’ah was on before it degenerated, even if you are all alone. For you are the jama’ah at such a time”…

‘Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi [in al-Faqih wa al-Mutafaqqih] narrates from Ibn Mas’ud (may God be well pleased with him): “The jama’ah is the Qur’an and the Sunnah even if you are all alone.” In another narration: “The jama’ah refers to those who hold on to the truth even if you are all alone.”’

Now I do not believe that Muslims in the West are in such a dire situation of having the jama’ah defined by one person or a few people; therefore I’d advise anyone who thinks that they are the solitary jama’ah in the West – or that it is his self, his Shaykh and his three friends, who follow the ‘Shaykh’ – to perhaps think again. Nevertheless, it is a point worth reiterating from classical literature, because it is a neglected one, especially in our age of ‘democracy’. Moreover, the importance of the point is to be emphasised if we consider the real threat that a minority faces by being distanced – geographically, linguistically and intellectually – from the centres of Islamic learning in the Muslim world (which can, also, of course, suffer from their own tyranny of the majority, or tyranny of the powerful). Indeed, Martin Lings reminds us, in his Eleventh Hour, that Plato considered ‘democracy’ to be, in Lings’ words, ‘the harbinger of demagogy or dictatorship…[and] recent history has not proved that Plato is wrong, to say the least’ – despite the objections, we could add, from Karl Popper. If we understand the reality of ‘dictatorship’ in the Arabic zulm (tyranny, injustice, oppression – in particular against the laws of God), then its ramifications are all too apparent.

In conclusion, whilst this pledge is a welcome attempt to bring about good relations between those generally seen as Sunni Muslims dedicated to fine theological debate, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of people identified as Sunni Muslims have little interest or awareness of these complexities; and, indeed, they are often disgusted by the severity of the discourse. Therefore we must realise that even a monumental reading only touches the lives of a meagre minority of Muslims. Nevertheless, a monumental reading poses monumental potentiality for this religiously sophisticated minority, consisting of both ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’, to work together on the plus ninety-five percent of topics and issues, both intellectual and social, on which they completely concur. At the end of the day, these two camps are the foremost proponents of finely detailed Islamic knowledge in the West, and a bringing together of their methods – despite them not being one, and the pledge allowing and recognising their respective differences – erects high hopes in an exemplarily profound brotherly endeavour, which is more than just informed by necessity (whilst still believing one’s brother to be upon heresy): good conduct goes a long way to convincing others without the need for words. However, should the charge of heterodoxy be called for by the law, in any given instance, we – as individuals or groups – are obliged to conform to the rules, regardless of the weight of numbers saying that we shouldn’t; thus we can be ‘super’ men and women if we feel compelled – although I think that the pledge is superior to the normative ‘super’ behaviour in this instance, and should be supported. Yet in such cases necessitating ‘hard-line’ behaviour we are still required to work justly and for the betterment of all people, as might be the case exemplified with some current signatories to the pledge, who have signed on this basis and not on the basis of a monumental reading. Finally, the pledge is primarily welcomed as only a first step on a longer path and in the spirit of a monumental reading, which can be established according to high scholarship for the muqallidin, and we look to the future in good spirits, with our trust in God, and we ask Him, the Almighty, for success.

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12 Comments

  1. Baba says:

    May Allah help guide newly converted Muslims as well as those Muslims who really wish to taste something of the Divine Realities far away from these kinds of meaningless doctrinal disputes.

  2. Abu Hamza says:

    Asalamualaikum wa rahmatallah,

    Jazakumallah khairan ustadh Andrew for the well-researched article. May I ask why can’t we all agree to follow Imam Malik’s recommendation, when asked about the word “Istawaa” ie. how Allah Rose over His Throne, when he said:

    His ‘Rising’ is not something unknown.
    How is beyond human logic.
    Belief in it is mandatory.
    Asking about it is a bid’aah.

    I mean isn’t it a bid’aah to argue and discuss and philosiphize about these attributes? Isn’t there a third position, I think they called it madhab al-tawaquf, where we read the ayats, believe in the attributes as revealed, and not expound on the issue? Maybe this can be the middle ground…since the Sahabah never engaged in such philisophical discourses.

    • Gibran says:

      Assalamaualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      Yes. These disputes seem to me a way of following the Jews and Christians into the lizard hole-we just take the approach of the Prophet salalahualayhiwasalam and the sahabah and we are 100% correct and 100% free of criticism.

      Now that’s a position of guidance.

  3. Aboo Uthmaan says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum

    The greatness of a subject is measured by the subject you are studying, so if in this case one is studying Tawheed al-Asma was-Sifaat, can there be any subject greater than this? Far from meaningless doctrinal disputes I would say; rather, it is from the fundamentals of belief about our Creator.

    Was-salaamu ‘alaikum

    Aboo Uthmaan

  4. Andrew Booso says:

    Wa alaykum as-salam wa rahmatullah

    Dear Abu Hamza, may Allah bless you with good. Thank you for your comment. Firstly, the best approach is what Imam Nawawi called the ‘safest’ [aslam], and it is the way of many of the salaf [Nawawi said: hadhihi tariqa as-salaf aw jamahiruhum]; and it is: to refrain from interpretation, but know that God is above the attributes of creation. [See Reliance of the Traveller for Nawawi's words from his al-Majmu'. Interestingly, Nawawi didn't describe this approach as 'ijma as-salaf [the unified consensus of the early Muslims]‘; and his Sharh Sahih Muslim indicates why he didn’t use such a phrase].

    Nevertheless, the legacy of the salaf has been differently interpreted; hence we have this discussion, and terms like ‘Ash’ari’ and ‘salafi’, which refer to schools and are thus complex. People have to decide for themselves about whose narrative of the legacy they find most true.

    Aboo Uthmaan is right to point out that the subject of theology is not ‘meaningless’: it is necessary for every Muslim. Yet every Muslim should tread with caution on such a challenging road: it is easy to make hasty conclusions, which is the characteristic of the unlearned. Moreover, when studying any discipline, one must know one’s place at each juncture: between over optimism and over pessimism.

    May Allah guide us.

    Your brother Andrew, fi amanillah.

  5. Umm M says:

    For a Muslim Allah swt is one, eternal and universal, he is the creator and the provider of all mankind. He is the only judge before him we are all equal and brother of one another. The oneness of Allah is a reflection of oneness of humanity.(UNITY)The prophet SAW in his last sermon declared that no one has superiority over the other EXCEPT by piety and good action. Know every Muslim is the brother of another Muslim and that Muslims constitutes the brotherhood.
    Q3:102-105 O ye who believe! Observe your duty to Allah with right observance, and die not save as those who have surrendered (unto him) and hold fast, all of you together, to the cable of Allah. And do not separate. And remember Allah’s favour unto you: How ye were enemies and He made friendship between your hearts so that ye become as brothers by His grace; and how ye were upon the brink of an abyss of fire, and He did save your from it. Thus, Allah maketh clear His revelations unto you, that happy ye may be guided, and there may spring from you a nation who invites to goodness. And enjoins right conduct and forbid indecency. Such are they who are successful and be ye not as those who separated and disputed after the clear proofs had come unto them. For such there is an awful doom.
    Q 21:92“Lo! This, your religion, is one religion, and I am your lord, so worship me.
    Q 23:52-54 And lo! This your religion is one religion and I am your lord, so keep your duty unto me. But they mankind have broken their religion among them into sects, each group and rejoicing in its tenets. so live them in their error till a time.

    Everything in our religion demands unity. we are all Muslim we believe in oneness of Allah swt Quran and Sunnah of the prophet Saw is our one and only guide. We all stand together shoulder to shoulder young , old, black ,white ,poor and rich and face one direction in our daily prayers (qiblah )lets hold tight. We are Muslims and lets all remember unity is our religious obligation.

  6. AbuI says:

    It’s an interesting dilemma for the average muslim. As you mention, indeed the finer points of the debate over interpretation of Attributes is beyond most muslims – and yet also rightly mentioned is that at the same time this issue is of relevance to every muslim and the essence of their faith. I see a certain irony in that. And this dilemma for the average muslim is of what position to take.

    To quote our esteemed brother Andrew:
    “Nevertheless, the legacy of the salaf has been differently interpreted; hence we have this discussion, and terms like ‘Ash’ari’ and ’salafi’, which refer to schools and are thus complex. People have to decide for themselves about whose narrative of the legacy they find most true.”

    Well, the last statement there, to me, is the crux of the matter.
    It begs the question of just -how- people are to decide for themselves.

    What tools -are- there for the aspirant between the muqallid and the mujtahid?

    -Is- there a simple tract, neutral and unbiased, delineating the position of the two contending schools with proofs both sufficient yet simple, such that people can decide for themselves?

    If not, surely one is called for.

    wa’l salam

  7. Andrew Booso says:

    Dear AbuI

    I think that the various polemics currently available are adequate for the non-specialist to ‘decide’ to a certain extent if they so wish – even if ‘deciding’ looks like ‘sitting on the fence’. At the end of the day, what kind of ‘deciding’ can a muqallid do anyway? The vigorous ‘salafi’ or ‘Ash’ari’ lines of argument are well developed in English. Maybe the path between the two – one that I mentioned in the article in relation to Hasan al-Banna – could be better developed; but even that is not ‘neutral’, for he’s making a case for accepting both as Ahl as-Sunnah.

    Ultimately, knowing God for most Muslims means simply believing in absolutes, i.e. those matters that are conclusively proven by the primary sources, without doubt or argument amongst those ‘considered Sunni’ (which includes ‘Ash’aris’ and ‘salafis’). Those with a ‘Deobandi’ or ‘Azhari’ education that I’ve been blessed to know have not stressed being ‘Ash’ari’ or ‘salafi’, but just to be ‘Sunni’, without condemning either the Ash’aris or salafis; in fact, they have only stressed a minimalist theology for the non-specialist, which in practice means sticking to the text of Imam Tahawi’s al-‘Aqidah at-Tahawiyya without commentary. Such a position is not so fancy as being a ‘salafi’ or ‘Ash’ari’, but it is probably more realistic. [Of course, one can debate whether such a minimalist position is really ‘Ash’ari’, or is it really ‘salafi’, or is it something else? The debates go on…]

    After settling upon one’s limitations, one is then able to move on in trying to develop their relationship with God before meeting Him and being taken to account for one’s deeds. Shaykh Iqbal Azami always played down these theological debates, and wanted Muslims – scholars, students and laypeople – to move on from this debate. It is not to belittle the debate, but just to acknowledge when one is at a stalemate, which can never be the case with the categorically-proven matters of the religion, for which this debate is not one of them.

    Fi amanillah

    Andrew

  8. Kate Suhaila says:

    Salam alaikum,
    I am wondering if the moderator would like to put this article out on the blog:

    Not Beyond Reprove:
    7 Ways Zaytuna Can Improve

    Through commanding the right and forbidding the wrong, we are taught, as a nation, to be self-critical. For that which is private, we must discuss privately; and for that which is public (like the subject of this paper), we may discuss in the open. Our only guidelines are to be polite in our manner, loving and kind in our intention.
    In the last few years, there has been great advancement in the community in terms of knowledge and da’wa. Gratitude goes to Al-Maghrib, Zaytuna, and Suhaib Webb, especially through his blog http://www.suhaibwebb.com. More recently, these mountains have come together through the Pledge of Unity. I believe we now have a peaceful environment in which ideas, critical ones, can be exchanged without the perception that these are attacks and bashes. As such, I have jotted down a few ways I believe Zaytuna can get better:
    1) More Reasonable Fees: Every time I see an ad for a Minaqra I say, “Great! I’ll get to see the Imams and all the sisters. But then…oh no!…There’s a price tag. How much is it, $45, $60, $80! Forget it.” I ask myself, “Who in the world can afford this stuff?” It’s a no-brainer that I cannot go. I have to ask, “Does it really cost all that to fly over the speakers?” This must be a way to generate money. If so, then shame on Zaytuna, because a lot of people, like those of the inner-city, can’t afford these fees. Please make Minaras more reasonable. Fundraise in another way.

    2) Academizing Seasons: The Seasons journal is great, but is it a magazine or a journal? It’s not an academic journal for sure. If it wants that reputation, then it needs to publish academic articles, which it rarely does. Also, please diversify. I can predict who will be in each issue. I don’t want Zaytuna to be ‘the same old people.’

    3) Regional classes: I recently heard that Al-Maghrib has over 7,000 registered students. And they are a lot younger that Zaytuna, and don’t have a world-renown spokesperson like Imam Hamza. How do they do it? And why isn’t Zaytuna competing?
    Some say, “It’s the Saudi financing” (for Al-Maghrib’s success). I would disagree. It’s the regional classes. 75 students from Atlanta, 100 from New York, 25 from Alabama, 150 from Michigan….and so on. That’s how you get 7,000 registered students over time. It doesn’t mean there are 7K students with their noses in yellow-paged texts at this very moment. It means that over the years, Al-Maghrib has delivered weekend classes to 7K Muslims in America. And that number is growing. In ten years it should be in five digits, maybe six.
    Trust me, Zaytuna will not compete until it adopts regional classes. And I don’t mean weekend classes (no one wants their weekend eaten up like that). I mean night-time community-college style classes that meet once or twice a week for the Fall or Spring terms. Hire two locals, an instructor, and a rent out a class room. This should not be difficult for an organization like Zaytuna.

    4) Community Relations: There have been a lot of complaints against the staff at Zaytuna. The Imams and the old-timers are wonderful, but the worker bees have an air of arrogance and aloofness to them. From where was this derived?? I would say that the number one thing that turns me off from Zaytuna is that their people are not personable. My message to them: “Please be normal. Be real, and don’t forget your origins.” A humble and professional staff would be a great asset for Zaytuna.

    5) Diversity of instructors: I love all the Zaytuna teachers, but after about ten years, we are presented with the same mashayikh. A long time ago, you used to live in a village and had the same imams all your life. That was acceptable because there were no other options! Here in America and in the UK and Canada, there are so many qualified instructors. Also, the people of this age are different. We require more diversity than in previous epochs.

    6) Urban Muslims Get No Love: If you are a brother or sister from the rougher cities in our country, you might not even know what Zaytuna is. Insofar as Zaytuna is dedicated to da’wa (as opposed to training scholars), 50% of that dedication must be focused on Blackamericans, because they have displayed a readiness to listen. Rap and Hip Hop is the only place Islam gets any props. If the inner city gets no attention because they have no money, then shame on Zaytuna. There is no Muslim sub-community in America that has more influence on this country than Blackamericans.

    7) Accreditation: Lastly, and I believe they are working on this, is that Zaytuna needs to get accredited. An added incentive for people to attend Al-Maghrib is that they are officially accredited. That means you can put it above the ‘personal interests’ part of your resume.
    Here they are in sum. I hope these words don’t fall on deaf ears:
    Reasonable Fees
    Academizing Seasons
    Regional Night Classes
    Better community relations
    Diversity in teachers and authors
    Urban-setting programs
    Accreditation
    Sincerely,
    Your Sister Kate Suhaila.

  9. Umm M says:

    For Admin and sis kate.

    I have been so into unity in Islam praying for it to happen especially in the west and so for this reason not only do I jump into reading any article on the topic of unity. I have also been following up on the comments that follows (since am just curious about others opinions) I must say things are looking good .I mean a step towards even talking about unity is better than nothing Alhamdullilah

    Anyways I was here following up on comments, when I came across sister kate commets/post. Manshallah it is a nice article.( I cant really say I know much about it other than attending few events here and there outside the institute) But am sure zaytuna might benefit and appreciate getting feedbacks regarding the institute. We all know that it is through feedback that we all improve or keep up our good efforts when it comes services we offer.

    Reading this post which sis Kate is wondering if it can be posted on suhaibwebb.com as one of the articles. I somehow thought how others would take it if they saw this coming from suhaibwebb.com. what are the chances that one might say “here comes suhaibwebb.com attacking zaytuna.

    I guess it very possible and so knowing that Suhaibwebb.com is a site about unity/brotherhood and helping each other out to improve on ourselves and learn something. I think its better not to post it here instead if anything may be sis Kate you can try posting it on zaytuna.com or on one of the leaders/shaikhs blogs (I know brother Hamza or Brother Zaid both have blogs). Or May be suhaibwebb.com can try to get the messange delivered to zaytuna directly if possible inshallah .

    I could be very wrong. (Forgive me if I am)

    Somehow I thought about how others would react reading it from some else web site. Plus may be zaytuna has reason as to why things are the way they are eg why their prize tag are high plus its possible that they might not be aware of some of the things happening out there sometimes and to me I would say the best way is to send this article directly to zaytuna.com

    Allah knows best

    Your sis in Islam

  10. Parvez Khan says:

    The tabiun and the 4 Imams – Abu hanifa, Abdul Malik, Imam Shafi and Ahmad ibn Hanbal followed athari Aqeedah.

    Also Abu Yusuf, Sufyan Thawri, Tabari, Bukhari, Tirmidhi and Imam Al-Tahawi followed Athari theology.

    Infact many Islamic Scholars before abu hassan al ashari and abu mansur matarudi were athari in aqeedah.

    One of the flaws of maturidi theology is that they claim that Imam does not increase or decrease.
    This maturidi tenet is wrong and goes against Quran and hadith.

    Allah (swt) says; “The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely.” [Quran 8:2]

    one of the flaws of ashari creed is that they claim unaided human mind is unable to determine if something is good or evil, lawful or unlawful, moral or immoral, without the direct aid of divine revelation. Unfortunately the ashari undermine the fitra (innate disposition).

    The Ash’ari view as explained by al-Ghazali says that a non-Muslim who was unreached by the message of Islam, or was reached by it in a distorted fashion, is not responsible for this in the afterlife.

    The Athari and Maturidi view states that the existence of God is so evident and rationally discernible and in our fitra, that every human being who has intellect and the ability to think (thus excluding children and the mentally ill and disabled) and was unreached by the message of Islam and does not believe in God will end up in hell, and divine amnesty is only available to those non-Muslims who believed in God, were as a whole morally upright and were unreached by the Islamic message.

    Another flaw of ashari’s theology is that some asharis claim that Allah’s kalam has no sound but is only an internal speech. This is wrong because the Quran states that Musa (as) heared Allah’s kalam.

    “And Allah spoke to Moses with [direct] speech.” [Quran 4:164]

    Also some asharis and maturidis claimed that the Quran is not actual kalaam of Allah!! Astaghfirullah.

    Ghazali (an ashari) claimed that Allah speaks without words and sound. His speech is the speech of mind. [ghazali - ihyaa uloom al Din]

    Obviously ghazali’s view above is wrong since its clear grom hadith literature that Prophet Muhammad (saw)heared Allah’s speech during the mi’raj. Also angels can hear Allah’s Speech. Musa (as) was honoured by listening to Allah’s Speech.

    Also there were many great Scholars of the Khalaf that followed athari thoelogy such as Ibn Jawzi, Ibn Qudama, Bayhaqi, Abu Bakr al Jassas, Ibn Taymiya, Ibn Qayyim, Ibn Kathir, Dhahabi, Ibn Hajr Al Asqalani and Ibn Jazari.

    • Gibran says:

      I think there are a few issues with Ibn Hajr, he was influenced by his surroundings, but he certainly was not an Ashari.

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