Monday, 22 February 2016

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Authority in Islam

Al-Hajj Abu Ja'far al-Hanbali's foreword to the soon-to-be-published translation of Imam an-Nawawi's 'The Etiquettes of the Scholars and the Learner'


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Compassionate
Praise be to Allah as He is the Sufficer and Peace and Blessings
be upon the one whom there is to be no Prophet after him.

The city of Damascus with Mount Qasioun in the background

Anyone taking a look at the Qur’an would find that there were indeed authorities in Islam, people that have been left in charge; but we must not speak without citing evidences. Allah has mentioned a clerical class of people who are to be given authority and possess the same temporal and spiritual authority as Allah and His Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

Indeed their power derives from the command of Allah and His Messenger,

You who believe! Obey Allah, obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.[1]

This ayah is using the Arabic expression, Uwl ul-Amr, which literally translated would be the People of Command. These people have the authority and the right to command the people. Obedience to them has been commanded.

After the prophets, peace be upon all of them, these are the best of people and they have inherited the prophetic mantle of authority. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said,

“Whoever travels a path seeking knowledge, Allah makes him travel a path to Paradise. The angels spread out their wings in pleasure for the one seeking knowledge. Every creature in the skies and the earth seeks forgiveness for the scholar, even the fish in the sea. The virtue of the scholar over the worshipper is like the virtue of the moon over the rest of the stars in the sky. Indeed the scholars are the inheritors of the prophets. They do not leave behind any coin or measure of wealth, but it is the knowledge that they leave behind. Whoever should take hold of it takes hold of much good indeed.”[2]

These people also have the right to derive rulings and make judgements in the absence of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and have their word obeyed,

When news of any matter reaches them they spread it about, whether it is of a reassuring or disquieting nature. If only they had referred it to the Messenger and those in authority among them, those among them able to derive the truth about it would have had proper knowledge of it.[3]

Allah commands us to ask them when we do not know the answer to a question,

Ask the People of Knowledge if you do not know.[4]

This same clerical class of people are to delve into the faith and teach it to the Slaves of Allah returning from warfare so that they might understand the religion. They are to teach those in the city so that they might also understand the religion. Allah has revealed,

It is not for the believers to march out altogether. Let there be a group from every party that shall delve into studying the religion so that they might warn their people when they return to them in order for those returning to take heed.[5]

The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, “When the judge makes ijtihad and is correct, he has two rewards. When he is mistaken he has one reward.”[6]

The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, sent out authorities (maraji`) who were scholars to explain the religion to people and this was not the providence of laymen.

The word “authorities” is used frequently but this is a translation of the Arabic expression, Maraji` ut-Taqlid wal-Ittiba`, which means, “Authorities and Sources Worthy of Imitation and being Followed”.

Another title for them is Ahl ul-Halli wal-`Aqd, which in translation literally means, “The People who Loose and Bind”. This binding and loosing refers to temporal authority. Imam Mansur Al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH) describes this for us when he says,

We have the statement of Allah,

If two parties of believers take up arms one against the other, make peace between them. If either of them unjustly attacks the other, then fight the aggressors until they submit to the judgement of Allah.

When they have submitted themselves, then make peace between them in justice; indeed Allah loves those who are just. Only the believers are brothers. Make peace among your brothers and fear Allah so that you might be shown mercy.[7]

A number of benefits can be taken from the statement above. One such benefit is that a group that is wrong doing or in rebellion that exits from authority does not leave the faith even though it is compulsory to fight them.

When a group rebels in the manner mentioned, there is lifted from them the normal rulings in order for them to be fought and brought to heel. Permission has been granted to fight anyone who might hinder a right or ruling due from him or against him and the Ahadith on this subject are many in number.

The second benefit derived is what was narrated from `Ubadah ibn As-Samit in which he said, ‘The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, accepted our oath of allegiance to hear and obey when it was enjoyed and when it was disliked and that we do not dispute in the affairs of those who are qualified to speak.’ This is agreed upon by Imams Al-Bukhari and Muslim.

The Companions made Consensus on fighting those who rebel against authority as is evidenced by Abu Bakr As-Siddiq having fought against those who refused to pay the zakah. There is also the case of `Ali ibn Abi Talib when he fought against rebellions in both the incidents of the Camel and the Battle of Siffin.

The Grand Imam discharging affairs for the Muslims is a collective obligation as the people have need of that for the protection of the weak, driving away oppression, establishing judicial punishments, discharging the rights of the people and enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.

Two groups of people that have the authority in bringing this about are the following:

1. The people of ijtihad so that they might make the choice of who is to go forward in the post.

2. Those who have present in them the conditions of holding the post of Grand Imam and the People who Loose and Bind attribute the authority them.

The People who Loose and Bind that will make the choice on who should be the Grand Imam should be outwardly upright, have knowledge connected to who has the right to hold the post of Imam, sound opinion of  worldly affairs and the ability to discharge the most sound judgement and bring into effect the one who shall have the post of Imam.

The conditions for establishing the post of the Grand Imam have been discussed by the people of authority, including Imam Musa Al-Hajjawi, who in his words explained that the post can be brought about by the Consensus of the Muslims upon the individual.

An example of this is Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, the successor to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. His authority was established by the Consensus of the Muslims, meaning the oath of allegiance given by the People who Loose and Bind from the scholars and the high ranking people who stand as witnesses and are outwardly upright. There is no room for the consideration of anyone else's besides these mentioned as they are considered like drowsy people.[8]

The post can also be filled by the agreement of a specified panel of the People who Loose and Bind on an individual from their ranks. This occurred when `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, commanded a panel of six Companions to decide upon the Imam after him and the decision settled upon `Uthman ibn `Affan.

If an Imam in the post leaves an explicit statement on someone to succeed him or an Imam has been named to fill his post after him, then in this case the People who Loose and Bind do not have to agree on the matter. This occurred when Abu Bakr As-Siddiq explicitly left the post of Imam to `Umar ibn Al-Khattab after him.

In the case that the People who Loose and Bind make ijtihad on bringing about the office and selecting the one who is most fit for it and deserving of obedience, then this is also valid.[9] 

This should tell you that the People who Loose and Bind enact and demolish government, choose people for posts and so forth. There are a myriad of historical references for the authorities bearing spiritual and temporal authority. Let us look at history.