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Sufism is the answer?

July 9, 2007

This is an Op-Ed from IHT. Does not reflect my views necessarily.


Only traditional Islam can do it

By Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst

Friday, July 6, 2007



The attempted bombings in London and the attack on Glasgow Airport last week underscore the continued and long-term Islamic terror threat that Britain and the world is facing. To date, all of those detained are highly educated foreign-born medical staff.

Far from being affronted by this incursion, young British Muslims are increasingly likely to support domestic jihad. The radicalization of British Muslim youth proceeds apace. According to a recent poll by Populus, growing numbers of Muslims aged 16-30 subscribe to extreme versions of Islam, and almost 40 percent want to live under Shariah law. Britain faces the prospect of a whole new generation of young people embracing extremism and religious fanaticism.

So far, the government has refrained from introducing more Draconian legislation. Instead, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his ministerial colleagues have promised to reinforce the government’s campaign “to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.”

However, like Tony Blair’s sterile appeal to moderate, mainstream Islam, this strategy is bound to fail because of two fatal assumptions. First, that every culture and every religion wants to become like the secular West. Second, resistance to Western secularization is fueled by false grievances and as such can be legitimately ignored.

In practice, this sort of approach marginalizes traditional Islam in favor of an ersatz “progressive” version that robs it of all its distinctive character and vision. The litmus test for integration is whether Muslims are willing to be like “us.” Unsurprisingly, many young Muslims are increasingly alienated by an aggressively secular culture that enforces liberal transgression of moral norms and taboos.

Crucially, current policies are not working because they fail to address the real cause of radicalization and fanaticism. Contemporary Islamic violence is religious in nature. Its origin lies in Islamic scripture and the destruction of the traditional medieval schools that dictated its interpretation.

The Koran contains clear and lethal injunctions against apostates, idolaters and those who challenge Muslim territorial ascendancy. While the sacred texts do sanctify violence – they also codify it, limiting its range and application.

Thus, there is no legitimation in classical Islam for suicide bombing or the wanton slaughter of innocents. That said, warfare and a consequent defense and extension of Islam was both a religious duty and a scriptural requirement, albeit one framed by chivalry and relative restraint.

Moreover, unlike the claims of contemporary fundamentalists, there never really was a unified political/religious authority in Islam. On the contrary, the role of religious scholars (the ulama) was to limit the power of the caliphs.

And since there were four traditional schools of religious interpretation, which themselves varied according to time and location, what constituted a proper Islamic practice varied according to local norms and customs. As such traditional Islam prohibits the very totalitarian state Al Qaeda seeks to impose.

For example, if Islam recovers the traditional practice of ijtihad, a process of textual reinterpretation that replaces the scriptural literalism of the fundamentalists with a more medieval allegorical reading of the Koran, this would enable the Muslim faithful to distinguish between immutable God-given laws and mutable human interpretations.

It is worth stating all of this because the only force that can challenge Islamic terrorism is not liberal progressivism but Islam itself. Those who have abandoned terrorism did so not as a result of secular injunctions or indeed horror at what they were doing. Rather, it was the realization that the variant of Islam they were killing for was itself Western, modern and secular.

The great innovators of Islamic fundamentalism – Sayyid Qutb and Maulana Maududi – were deeply influenced by pagan Nazi literature and its supremacist critiques of modern life and culture. Demonstration of the essentially blasphemous nature of contemporary fundamentalism is crucial for the deprogramming of its adherents.

However, the mere rebirth of classical Islam is not enough. Islam in both its Sunni and Shiite derivations suffers from an absolutist unmediated relation to God. Since faith is separated from reason and nature it becomes a self-authenticating phenomenon that invalidates all other perspectives.

What is really required is the revival of Sufism – a practice previously common to all forms of the faith and one that stresses the mystical unknowable nature of God and His transcendence of all forms of human knowledge.

Such a recognition deprives Islamic fundamentalism of its primary motivating principle – that it knows the will of God and is therefore justified in enforcing it upon the earth.

A renewal of Sufism could help Islam to broaden its understanding of authority beyond rulers and the ulama to include civil society. This would also restore the consensus of the community (ijma). And thereby empower Muslim society to challenge the fundamentalist assertions of its heretical preachers with reasoned belief.

Given that we are losing the battle of hearts and minds, we would be well advised to chart a different path. By encouraging an Islamic renaissance and reviving traditions that the fundamentalists have so violently suppressed, Muslim youth might be diverted from their present course.

Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in philosophy and religion at the University of Cumbria, Adrian Pabst is a lecturer in theology at the University of Nottingham.

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Hussain permalink
    July 9, 2007 4:44 pm

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other. He made such good points, up until the last 3 paragraphs, which sounded like a Rand Policy paper on how to control a community too “stringent” in their ways.

    If I were writing as an orientalist, with the actual intention of causing change to enhance better assimilation into a western secularized state, and I did actually feel Sufism was the way to do it, I’d have atleast made Sufism not sound threatening to the Muslims and their attachment to the Shariah…. dunce.

    This dichotomy, and how he just propagated it further would require a long post to elucidate, I could however say, that every british Muslim who reads this has just drawn a line in the sand and decided the side he stands on. And so the divisions continue….

  2. Sajia Kabir permalink
    July 9, 2007 10:30 pm

    How influential has Sufism been in Bangladesh? Considering Bangladesh’s relative liberalism without an overt Sufist movement (to the best of my knowledge, forgive me if I am mistaken) one might use that as a counterexample against the authors’ arguments.

  3. July 10, 2007 4:28 am

    How influential has Sufism been in Bangladesh? Hussain, this is your cue, haha. Btw, feel free to do a long post.

  4. July 10, 2007 5:04 am


    Before everything else, let me just say that I’m loving the avatars. I hope to see a few more in the coming days. My first reading of the article was about the same as Hussain’s above with about twice the outrage.

    “A renewal of Sufism could help Islam to broaden its understanding of authority beyond rulers and the ulama to include civil society” but the biggest problem with Western policy-makers is that it assumes that all societies want to follow the western model. How do two PhDs manage to put contradictory sentiments at two ends of a one-page article?

  5. July 10, 2007 7:40 am

    Sajid, what’s your view? I ask not to debate but to learn.

  6. Syed permalink
    July 10, 2007 7:58 am

    Solutions to Islam’s problems are certainly not in sufism as they’re not in wahabism. Both have centuries long history of failure and degeneration. The ijtihad they talks about meant something during the Abbasid khalifat..which I believe was the golden age of Islam. ask? Because then muslim developed LOGICAL interpretation of their faith. Faith was then dominated by a group now called by fundamentalists “Muatazillah”..the “Rationalists”. They interpreted every tenet of the religion rationally. Remember the hadith complilations that burden us today was not born yet. It was after the mongol invasion in 13th century when the scholars and the libraries of this rationalist movement were summarily slaughtered that our journey as a civilization into the abyss of “magical” interpretation of faith started in earnest. If there is to be an Islamic version of the “enlightenment”…it is the spirit of the muatazillah or the rationalists that has to be revived…not the whirling dervishes. I admire Rumi and other cultural contributions of the Sufis. Bangladeshi traditional islam was and is largely dominated by them. But modernity and its understanding of reality is dependent on rational understanding. So unless that becomes the cornerstone of our interpretation of the universe…we’re in dire straights. I recommend close reading of Allama Muhammad Iqbal’s “Reconstruction of religious thoughts in Islam”. No one has said more in less words.

  7. July 10, 2007 8:01 am

    Jyoti bhai, why must you force me on a soapbox? :]

    Do you want my views on how influential Sufism has been in Bangladesh? Or whether Sufism is the solution for Western Muslims?

    Regarding the former, I don’t know if Sufism and other forms of Islam form such water-tight categories in most people’s religious lives in Bangladesh. But I’d agree that, certainly, Bengali Islam has a come a long way from Eaton’s depiction of 13th-18th century situations when Sufism spread Islam to far corners of East Bengal’s hinterlands.

    Lots of things have happened since then. The rise of the Saudi state, the anti-landlord (often anti-colonial) Wahhabi-Fara’idi uprisings in peasant Bengal, the Pakistan movement, Return of Jama’at during the Cold War, and so on.

    I think something interesting happens during the Cold War, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or rather the response to it, has had lasting impacts on Central and South Asian Islam.

    As for British Muslims, apparently close to 40% of some recently surveyed population want to live under the Shariah. I have met all kinds of British Muslims when I was in London. Those who club like crazy, are westernized to the bone, but are anti-imperialists. I’ve met religious types who are very much in line with traditionalist-Sufic thinkers of American Islam, ones who are into all the liberal, perennialist, Seyyed Hossein Nasr stuff. It’s a mixed bag, and I am not sure whether reforming everybody’s Islam into some vague Sufic variant is a solution.

    There are other reasons why these guys feel alienated. This goes at the heart of British multi-culturalism – its particular brand of secularism. I have posted earlier about British multiculturalism and its limits. Aijaz Ahmad, the guy who blasted Edward Said’s famous book, calls it the cultivation of “mutually exclusive orthodoxies.” This coupled with the history of racial differentiation in Britain, and older histories of colonialism, etc – create problems.

  8. Hussain permalink
    July 10, 2007 11:33 am

    I really wasn’t going to do this, but I couldnt’ really just sit idly by either. Sajid, I’ll do that post later, now I just want to respond to Syed.

    Let me begin by saying, that no one, and I literally mean no one, will EVER even CONTEMPLATE a return to mu’tazilite thought. By sheer mercy of God Himself I am sure, not a single thinking, or “logical” society has since Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s time even thought of giving any sort of credence to mu’tazilite thought. I am actually only responding because of the novelty of your stance. In all my years, I have never met anyone with something positive to say about the mu’tazilites.

    I mean, here we have a group of inviduals almost down to Mu’tasim Billah (He didn’t count, because he just went along with the mu’tazilites for political reasons), all of whom were considered apostates. Their belief system, which by any touchstone of the shariah, can be considered blasphemous at BEST, what you ironically seem to call logical, apparantly the rest of the Islamic thinking world seems to disagree with you.

    What I don’t think the handful of mu’tazilah cheerleaders realize, is that the only other people who even come close to subscribing to Mu’tazilah creed, are actually the fundamentalists (read: OBL, salafis,the entourage). And the only reason they don’t, is because they know a) they’re dangerously close to heresy, b) no one wants to be associated with them. Afterall, we did spend decades trying to get rid of them. This occurs on the question of the Qur’an, being two attributes of God, as opposed to one. The first being the dhat and the second being the fi’il. Their severely flawed understanding of Islamic creed with regards to qadim- hadith of course stem from none other than Shaykhul Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, May Allah have Mercy on Him. I mean no disrespect to the man, he is afterall one of the greatest jurists in Islamic history. But Islamic creed of aqueedah, is a matter in which history has noted him as being weak on. To say that he was wrong, would be a compliment. This of course explains, why he spent much of his life in prison. Please don’t come back to me with any quotations of Imam Abu Hanifa or the Jahmiyyah supporting the mu’tazilahs, or for that matter Imam Ash’ari himself, who of course took on the mantle after Imam Hanbal to rid the world of mu’tazilah thought.

    So much so, that heck, we even gave Imam Ahmad the title of a Mujaddid, purely because he got rid of the mu’tazilites for us.

    As far as Allamah Iqbal is concerned, with his understanding of social constructs in Islam, well… there’s a reason him and jinnah gelled so well…. two peas in a pot.. he shoulda stuck to poetry, and perhaps politics…

  9. July 10, 2007 7:21 pm


    Needless to say I’m not an expert and we’ve had our own knock-abouts on this blog, but I really have to ask: “In all my years, I have never met anyone with something positive to say about the mu’tazilites”…. Really?

    Look, I don’t know enough about them to agree or disagree with Syed. But I think calling them “heretics” is putting too strict a criterion on who the believers are. Is that heresy too?:) My two cents for whatever they are worth to you.

    And Syed, I hope this shows that the Mongols did not kill of the Mutazilites. Why is it that everyone (myself included) thinks that every development that they perceive to have been bad for Islam was imposed from the outside?

  10. Hussain permalink
    July 10, 2007 10:49 pm


    I am actually waiting to get enough time to write on it elucidating all the ways Mu’tazilites were wrong.

    Yes, really. I have spent years studying the sciences so far, and met every scholar of every stripe from the United States to the hinterlands of Syria, and I can confidently say I have never met anyone remotely proposing a return to mu’tazilite thought. In fact, the only time mu’tazilas are raised in discussion amongst the scholars, is when they discuss opression and how Allah resolved it.

    As far as the Mongols killing off the Mu’tazilites… loll honestly, if we’re getting into that… then we should also bring in the mu’tazilah inquisitions…. requiring every alim to subscribe to the school of thought, or charge them with heresy, and the proceed to the guillotines…. now that’s “too strict a criterion on who the believers are”.

    One must remeber, that this was one of the greatest reactionary movements in Islamic History, and it’s champion, Imam Al Ash’ari, himself was a Mu’tazili, until he repented and decided to fight the state on it. Then again, all movements, in fact the very topic of creed in the Islamic sciences is reactionary. The entire science of aqueedah didnt actually exist, until our first encounters with the greeks, khwarijis, and of course the mu’tazilites.

    Is it too strict to call them heretics? Well that depends on how much of a “mutazilite” an individual is. I say this now, because nowadays apparantly being in organized religion has lost it’s appeal, and just loving God in your “own individual way” is the latest fad. So while it was easier to make blanket statements before, because when an individual laid claim to an identity, he subscribed to everything in that school of thought, today, even the ignorant believe they have a right to go cherry picking.

    That said, yes, almost all the 5 or 6 tenets of faith that the founders of Mu’tazilis, Amr Ibn Umayd, Wasim Ata, and so forth had penned down, a whopping majority of the scholars, all across the board (notwithstanding a few Professors here and there), certainly all the major institutes of Islamic learning, this as they say, has reached a rank of “ijm’a”, where it is no longer debated, and certainly not debated in even the circles of students of knowledge; all agree, that it is heresy. And if I start listing all the fatawa texts, we may be here a while.

    Interestingly enough, the subject of creed, or aqeedah is actually not even discussed often. When you do study it formally, it is just a text that is summarily memorized, and so are the nuances. An individual is expected to master the other sciences of hadith and tafsir, (takes about 8-9 years), before he is allowed to read the research papers written by aqeedah experts. Past that he is expected to stay in the company of an aqeedah expert, bouncing questions back and forth, and extensive arguing before he is allowed to give credible opinions on the subject. The reason the criterion are so stringent, is because we seem to give more formality to rocket science in this world, than we do the sacred sciences. And this is further underscored by the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) strong words in prophetic traditions regarding the subject of creed.

  11. Syed permalink
    July 10, 2007 10:54 pm


    Well by not even contemplating a return to muatazillite thought has brought us the intellectual wasteland that is called the Islamic civilization today. Can you name a single significant contribution to common human knowledge and progress the muslims have made since 13th century? WHy is that…what changed? wahabis came only about 100 years or so ago…and even before that their types became popular with Ibn Taymiyyah and his followers. But the overwhelming majority was your type…the so called “traditional” muslims. What have you wrought…do you ever “contemplate” on that? Every single muslim scientist that you read in history book about..from ibn sina to ibn rushd were muatazillah…do you think that’s an accident? Anyway..I am not asking for some blind emulation of ancient muatazillah thought. They themselves were free thinkers and as such wouldn’t approve of that. I am asking for the revival of free thinking, of critical thought…of rational understanding of reality as opposed to the phenomenalist interpretation that is in practice now amongst muslims. You dare berate Allama Iqbal and a very learned khalif. I say create a liberating vision like Iqbal’s before you condemn him to heresy.


    Muatazillah were in 13th century part of the establishment. Although the hadith supporters were there in an intellectual tussle with them…the majority of the intellegentsia sided with the muatazillah. Which is why people like Hussain call noble sage khalifs like mutassim billah a “heretic’. So naturally mongol invasion and the subsequent decapitation disproportionately affected them. Their indeological rivals…the “traditionalists’ and “proto-wahabites” were at the they led the resistance and later rose to prominence..The rest is history that you see today. So yeah the question is…what have we wrought.

  12. July 11, 2007 4:08 am


    I wanted to know what you thought of the article other than it doesn’t necessarily contain your views.


    Can you elaborate on this:

    ‘What I don’t think the handful of mu’tazilah cheerleaders realize, is that the only other people who even come close to subscribing to Mu’tazilah creed, are actually the fundamentalists (read: OBL, salafis,the entourage). ‘

  13. Anonymous permalink
    July 11, 2007 7:49 am


    I’m kindof surprised that you’re so shocked to hear Syed’s suggestion that we return to Mu’tazilite doctrine and ‘rational Islam’ – I’ve heard this claim a few times (not by any scholar, as you said), i feel like it’s an idealization of the past and the word ‘rational.’ I don’t subscribe to Mu’tazila thought myself, but I can’t understand why it is important to establish that they were so profoundly heretical?


    Don’t you think that it’s somewhat absurd to suggest that it was only during the mid 8th-13th centuries that Muslims were rational or free-thinking in their faith? Mu’tazilism, even when patronized by some of the Abbasid caliphs and propogated under the mihna, would never have formed the beliefs of all Muslims. Also from what I remember, Mu’tazila creed was ‘on its way out’ well before the Mongols came in the 13th cent. Taking both of these points into consideration, your number of rational/thinking Muslims becomes even smaller…

  14. Nabilah permalink
    July 11, 2007 7:49 am

    sorry, that was me.

  15. Syed permalink
    July 11, 2007 10:05 am

    what matters is not the absolute number of muslims but who were the decision makers and shapers of that society. IT WAS NOT on its way out. Dunno where you got this starnge info from. The movers or shakers of that society by and large stayed with this doctrine. As you can see in modern society a small group of people control most resources and power. SO what they think shapes reality much more so than the crowd. Never think that was any different ever or will be any different. Such are things.

    My preference for the revival of rationalist thought is by no means a paea to an idealized past, but simply the result of a search within to find a rationalist school. I do understand the meaning of the word rational quite well…so before you make puerile comments like “misunderstanding of the word rational”…think long and hard. Nothing the traditionalists muslims have done have given birth to a culture of scientific inquiry and progress. So one must look further. Don’t tell me about muslims who have earned Phd from this or that college…cause they’re studying under and ultimately contributing to a post enlightenment western civilization to which they have limited contribution (thanks to the ‘heretic’ muatazillah scientists). Explain to me why…the ottoman khalifat and the Mughal empire being two of the most powerful states in the world before the industrial revolution…failed to create an industrial revolution? Resource wasn;t an issue then, nor was colonialism or lack of muslim ‘unity’ for that matter. I am waiting for someone to say “oh they didn’t follow the quran and sunnah and were not good muslims”…see our problem…we reduce every problem to a phenomenal interpretation that we call faith, as if a faith can’t be rationally constructed. The whole “science” of “aqueedah” is aimed at teaching this phenomenology…it’ll soon find the place in history along with its fellow “sciences” like alchemy.

  16. July 11, 2007 2:09 pm

    An interesting debate so far.

    Syed, I am not sure that you can connect the mu’tazila debate to the Ottoman/Mughal empires not coming up with the industrial revolution. I doubt that debate really had that much of an impact on the ground level – directing people in how to organize their means of production, for example, or their institutional setups. If we’re asking about the Ottomans and the Mughals, why not ask about the Chinese?

    Hussein, the traditionalist attempt to make it seem like the whole mu’tazila debate was taking place purely at the intellectual level (except for unseemly coercion on the part of the mu’tazila) is pure nonsense. There was political coercion on both sides of the aisle – and one wonders how much of the disappearance of the mu’tazila (like the disappearance of certain madhabs, or of certain juristic positions that we discount today because of ‘ijma) had to do with political events…

    Like anonymous/Nabilah, I have never quite understood why it was so important to establish that the mu’tazilites were heretics. It might be that I lack the depth of knowledge about these things. But my suspicion is that heresy prosecution was highly correlated to tussles over political and social orderings.

  17. Syed permalink
    July 11, 2007 4:07 pm


    You make an interesting question about China. They were on the path to full fledged development. Until at 1520 the emperor decided interaction with the outside world – ‘barbarians’ as they called it- was harming china and therefore must be stopped. The rest is history. World’s largest maritime and naval fleet at the time rot at the port. Lot of the european “innovations” like gun powder, steam engine, paper, and mechanized looms existed in china in proto-versions but they never understoof the need to develop these labor saving devices as they felt they have enough labor. But the question of the ottomans and mughals rise cause they didnot produce any scientific innovation besides a few things here and there in military construction. Question is they were equally rich as the chinese state and at that time richer than european states…why did they not be able to harness these new technology…. I believe the answer is in lack of search for rational explanation for phenomenon.

    Furthermore, Mutazillah was never ‘established’ as heretics on their hay day before the mongol invasion because they were the establishment. After the invasion and the subsequent defeat of the mongols by the mumluks/ibn taymiyyah followers at syria…stage was set for a revenge in the form of persecution at the rememnants of the muatazilah. So why did the muatazilah following islamic state ‘persecute’ “great scholars” of ‘traditional ISlam”…..why do modern post enlightenment states go after suicide cults and such…or terrorists for that matter. Cause they’re a subversion to the established order that is deemed retrogressive and deleterious.

  18. Anonymous permalink
    July 11, 2007 8:01 pm

    Just realized how many grammar mistakes I made in the previous post. Please overlook those in your kindness:-) I typed in a frenzy it seems:-P

  19. Hussain permalink
    July 11, 2007 9:36 pm

    I suppose it’s rather easy to lay claim on Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and all the “movers and shakers” of society as Mu’tazilis, of course it is. Who wouldnt be if you risk losing your heading on a chopping block the next morning. If I have to prove Mu’tazili inquisitions to you Syed, then you really need to hit the books. And as to whether the specific people you mentioned, and all the other “movers and shakers”, and their conviction to the Mu’tizilis is concerned, read Imam Dhahabi’s and Ibn Asakir’s works. Heck, read Amr Ibn Hudhayl himself a mu’tazili as he discusses the fear and loathe these people had for the mu’tazilis, and their connivance just to protect the work of the Deen in some form, and of course the issue of their lives. Which is permissible within the shariah.

    Reading Syed write about Islamic doctrine, and the sanctity of the development of it’s sciencies, is like reading someone who’s only knowledge on the subject is, well the book of a drunk poet who penned down a few exclusionary notes on his own insecurities. While we’re on it, I did not berate Allamah Iqbal, and I apologize if I did. I have no intention of speaking ill of a man who has veiled himself from this world. I could however state facts, he did drink, was not an alim, but was a poet- and a damn good one at that. And I actually happen to be very fond of his poetry. How he became a “caliph” to you Syed, well, you probably understand the term caliph as well as you understand the term “Islam”.


    If Syed hadn’t decided to compare oranges to apples (or perhaps this is his idea of a red herring) I wouldn’t have written any of that. If we are highlighting the constributions Muslim society made to the global community becauase of rational thinking, I am all for that. And I think there is much reason for hope. I know of several women who are both academians and have spent the time and energy to study the shariah in a formal manner, who are working on child psychology, and a myriad of other related topics. I have a few friends, who have finished their studies in economics and fiance as well as the shariah, and are currently working on financial instrument modeling. I do believe that there is hope, and as long as there are people trying, we have reason to hope that we return to the age of intellectual renaissance. So if Mu’tazili thought, all that represents, is this? The growth of rational within the framework of the shariah and the sunnah, then abosolutely!

    But if it refers to their 5 tenets, then there is reason for grave concern. In it’s hey day, it prompted clear rational thinking in all it’s sciences, except the sacred ones. Public executions of scholars were routine, and dissenters had very little course of action. You see, they didn’t just interfere with the very essence of God, they screwed up all of law along with it. Do you know, that from that entire age, we still take opinions derived in almost all matters of law relating to context, but absolutely none of the legal matters derived as principles of the shariah? Why? Because it was fundamentally flawed. Even the scholars, who were given independence after the kindness of the Mongols, when they could have freely returned to Mu’tazili doctrine (Syed, please don’t even try and suggest Ibn Taymiyyah and his boys trying to resist a return to Mu’tazili thought, Ibn Taymiyyah had his own problems), they didnt’. Because it was, and is still heresy. Ironic, for all the time they spent calling everyone that even minutely strayed as heretics, all the while guilty themselves. Since then, even remnant scholars of the Mu’tazili era, were so careful of Ibn Taymiyyah himself, although his mission was to end Mu’tazili thought, that when he decided to craft his creed opinions, when they saw overlap, albeit subconsciously, they discarded his opinions. And throughout history, although his legal opinions you find, you will never see his opinions referenced anywhere in matters of creed. And this, is a guy who hated the mu’tazilis. Such is the care the people have taken, that we not return to that level of ignorance. They had intellectual curiosity in everything, except the sacred sciences, which was probably good. Looking at what they were capable of, it’s probably a good thing they never got involved.

    What Syed refers to “phenemenology”, and essentializes all of Islam by doing so, is what they sought to protect. No one takes issue with all their contributions to the world, but it cannot be at the expense of salvation, can it? The reason Mu’tazilism is so dangerous is because as Syed suggests above, it’s not a return to mu’tazili thought per se, but the independence it allows lay individuals to access authenticity in the eyes of the shariah with their ignorant interpretations of it. Many with heretical opinions found Mu’tazilism to be a nest in which to incubate their ideas. This is purely becasue of the flexibility of Mu’tazilism’s devices, something that extremists today do. In many instances, the positions adopted by contemporary extremists on questions of jihad, women and non-Muslims repudiate that of traditional scholarship. Extremists typically abandon established and rigorously-transmitted solutions in favor of solutions that are creative and radical enough to bolster their agenda. Not surprisingly, some of the ulema (scholars) they quote from are highly-controversial figures who lived in near-contemporary times.

    Anthony: Thanks for picking that one up. Therein lies my entire problem with Mu’tazili thought. Ultimately, this issue became the straw that broke the camel’s back, when all the ulama decided, that enough was enough. And this was the issue of the Qur’an being created, or an attribute. Mu’tazilis believed, that it was two acts, and not one. They believed, that it involved two attributes of God. Whereas the sunni belief in this regard, is that it is one attribute of God, and as such, it is eternal, and absolute. This mu’tazili thought, although they do not believe the Qur’an to be creation per se, (because that would be heresy- and they know that), the salafis, OBL, and his other extremist friends, do believe that it is still 2 attributes. And their arguments for it are grieviously weak. As were the Mu’tazili arguments for their 5 tenets, this being a corollary to one of them. Which is why they needed mass executions, to keep everyone in check.

    Saif, I don’t disagree with you, that development of application of law in contexts (mind you, not legal principles and maqasid themselves) is not insular, and very much takes into account political strife. But what I am saying, is that you can seperate this debate from mu’tazili thought. Why? Because political conditions were only accounted for on the mu’tazili side. For example, were it not for a particular wazir in Mu’tasim Billah’s court, Mu’tasim would not have had Imam Ahmad incessantly lashed for not connived with the Mu’tazilis. Mu’tasim himself, a very close friend to Imam Ahmad and his sons, himself is recorded as being very regretful of the issue. On the opposing side, yes, dissidents were there, but the scholarly debate could have cared less. People did get onto the bandwagon for all sorts of reasons, and we cannot neatly divide them up. But we can certainly trace how the scholarly debate went. And I would welcome any records of matters otherwise.


    My man, if your only point in saying that, and looking for a school of thought was to sincerely find one that encourages us to push the envelope, then I’m with you 100%. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn’t quite remmeber the Mu’tazilis for that. The Muslim community remembers them for their forced opinions in matters of creed. Things that go against the very dhat of Allah Himself.

    But if you’re here justifying their 5 tenets, or even the ways in which they came to those opinions, or the way they were administered, or the independence it gave ignorant people to derive law (not science, medicincem yada yada yada )then you are more than welcome to go through those 5 with me, point by point. And I assure you, there is no good in those 5 points, were there any, then since their time, through the ages of muslim unity and disunity, someone would have thought they could have rekindled the flames of mu’tazili thought. But they can’t, because as I said earlier, those 5, it’s founders, propagators, so forth, committed a grave travesty against the shariah itself.

  20. Syed permalink
    July 11, 2007 10:53 pm


    I did not call Iqbal a khalifah…I was refering to him and Khalif Mutassim Billah in the same line. I think you got confused on that. Plus Iqbal was not a drunken poet only…he was also a great philosopher…the only muslim one in the past century…who studied german transcendental thought and ghazzali real well. I don’t think you have read the book…you’re ignorantly trying to criticize and I am pretty sure even if you did you won’t understand it cause its not written in the language of the “shariah”.

    Yes Mutazillah thought haven’t been revived just as greek and early roman thought was neglected in western dark ages (middle ages) for centuries…yet they came back in the form of the ‘enlightenment’. So before you write us off be careful…cause we’re here to stay. Just because rationalist thought has taken a back seat before doesn’t mean it’ll take a back seat in the future in the muslim world.

    The shariah compliant financial modelling that you talk about ( that being my field I know it intimately) is the biggest joke I have ever seen. Ask your Phd/Shariah expert friend how does he create a truely credit/interest free instrument in a credit based monetary system. Just giving interest an arabic name and “structuring” the contract in a different way will not change the essence of it. Some people have wrote and thought about alternative monetary system etc…but the thinking is still primitive. In no way have they provided a viable alternative to the current status quo that will be better for everyone. Less said on these the better.

    The “lay” people who so arrogantly try to keep away from the high temples of deen and aqeedah doctrine so that bearded, fat, people who’s net economic contribution to society is negative can make the laws by which it runs….are the people who need to be empowered. Not to make changes to the religion…but to chose from a variety of religious opinions of different shades what they want to follow. But “what if they stray from the straight path?” you say…well there in lies freedom without which God cannot hold us accountable. Quran is a liberating document…but unfortunately it is being used to chain our thoughts and actions. It was not and is not meant to give us a do-dont list beyond the minimum necessary. It came as a blessing…sort of like a user manual for earth…from its creator…”there you go creation…this is how you can live in harmony” But look at how we’re using it today:-(

    Donot give me these pompous boasts about your esteemed madrassah education. That can do no good for anyone but you in this world …let alone the next. If your knowledge do not contribute in some tangible way to common good…then my friend…think what is the worth of it..ask yourself.

    Everyone else:

    Phenomenology is the remnants of ancient ignorance from which the Quran came to liberate as the ultimate transcendental philosophy. To believe that things happen for no rational reason …kindda randomly…cause God wills it …is a jahil concept. Something may appear random to you cause YOU don’t know the reason for it yet. But it cannot be random. There must be a cause and effect to everything. If you try to live life by this simple principle you will see you can actually understand human issues and problems and make a sincere effort to solve them. From this effort will spawn innovation ( not to be confused with bidah). I don’t think this is really unclear to anyone here except Hussien…but I can’t say this enough. If you truely understand science…and mathematics…you understand the need for categoral imperatives and then you know there must be God/creator/ultimate power/source and destination of all energy/the beginning and the end.. As the Quran says many times..reflect on creation…cause if you do you’ll find the creator. No one can look at any creation and not think…who created this and how. That is the rational way to look at religion. Not just by memorizing a list of things you’re supposed to believe in but do not know why you do. Look to the future…you will create tomorrow’s shariah…which may have some elements of what people like Hussien have handed down to them 500 years ago…but it may have new things born of new thinking. If God wanted us to follow one immutable shariah…we would have sent the whole thing to us and spared us the trouble of disagreement and misinterpretation. The fact that he wants us to think, reflect, argue, reason to reach decisions and social consensus is reflected by His choice. So please donot be misled by the hidebound calls of Ahle hadith…or be scared of them calling you heretic. Let them. So long as you find solace and are clear in your conscience, know you’re believing the one true God…little that they say or do matters.

  21. Hussain permalink
    July 11, 2007 11:41 pm

    I am not against the return of rationalist thought as I urged earlier, it just has to come within the framework of the shariah and the sunnah (yes, a language I wish you’d learn). And I am all for empowering the lay people, and making them a part of the discussion, but a part of the sincerity from that lay individual, has to be that he/she spends the time to gain comprehensive knowledge of the fundamentals of the religion and divine edicts before they feel the need, or are given the authority to voice opinions (voicing and asking questions, is a seperate issue, and welcomed)

    I have read Iqbal’s book… he is a philosopher… but it doesn’t negate the fact that he had little conviction to the religion … in other words… if ur a disorganized religion kinda guy.. and u would like to do as you please, and expect the rest of the world to actually sit here and respect you as a pious , thinking, “logical” muslim, then you should look for other sources to fulfill the voids left by a lonely childhood, and the classroom where your hand was always up, and never called on.

    As far as your writing has proven, you are yet to make one credible academic statement as to the legal permissiblity of Mu’tazili thought, then again, you probably know very little of it. Odds are, you thought this novel a stance would make you a promiment player in a discussion. Problem is, people like you never become a part of the discussion, because of your jihalath, and adamancy and arrogance on it. You don’t spend the time to study it, but still expect all the authenticity that those who do, have. And that is primarily why, mu’tazili thought will never return. Because you and the other 5 of the mu’tazili special ed group, can sit here, and try and go point by point, through mu’tazili agenda in matters of doctrine, and I’ll school you enough to have you lick each other’s wounds all the way back to the 13th century.

    As to the financial services sector, I made a point as to suggest that attempts by sincere individuals were being, I didn’t suggest that we’d reached the goal. As far as Allah allows a few of His servants to keep trying, success is ultimately with Him. I suggest you read before you come forth with your knee jerk reactions.

    Try and make an academic statement regarding the permissibility of Mu’tazili thought, just one, so that at least I can feel like this has been time well spent. Just give me one name who thought mu’tazili thought was worth it. Short of that, keep your ill conceived opinions to yourself. Your on a pit stop to joining the ranks of Irshad Manji, Ayan Hirsi Ali & Co; except I feel for them as they did suffer some extremely unfortunate circumstances that drove them to this point, well, that may just also be the case with you.

  22. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 12:21 am

    Well…thinking about “my supposedly lonely childhood” and calling me a “pit stop away from irshad manji”…if that’s what floats you boat, so be it. As I told you your puerile insults are not going to scare me.

    I don’t need to present or defend mutazillah thought or engage with you on an academic debate here cause this is not a classroom or a seminar. I support a rationalist approach to religion. You support you madhabi traditional version. I have stated my reasons why I support my position. I have mentioned a book…not because that is the only book I read…it is because it is the one that distills what I am propogating in a lucid yet succint way. All you’re doing is making ad hominem attacks at the writer of the book. I guess that is enough to slarify your ‘academic’ credentials. Now let the readers pick whatever positions they may pick.

    If you go above and read….you’ll see the scale is not tipping on your side my friend:-) That is what scares your type. I’ll let your types, sufis and wahabis/salafis duke it out in their mutual recrimination and takfir fest while we quietly do our work. Time will tell who will come out as the winner. Nothing can stop an idea who’s time has come. Remember the “drunk poet” you make fun of gave birth to the idea of a nation and realised it within his lifetime. Today it is one of the strongest muslim states. What have your traditional types done lately? Ever wonder? with all your mass support and majority that you claim to be?

    You hang on to an anachronistic interpretation of shariah that has failed to win the hearts and minds of significant amount of muslims…it has also failed to improve the lives of muslims in any limited capacity wherever it was implemented in some limited way. It has become largely irrelevant to the lives of muslims living today. In that sense the only way you can revive your shariah is by force like the OBL clan and other assorted rubbish. While your methods are not the same…the intention is the same…to impose a code of law on a polity who have no desire to adopt it. I say…. realize something…life will find a way…you all with either adapt to it or perish. Allah knows best.

  23. Hussain permalink
    July 12, 2007 12:47 am


    ” quietly do our work”… lollll why not.. sure thing…

    Iqbal’s vision of a state didn’t materialize because of him championing it, but becasue of overlapping agendas, and without that force, it would not have happened.

    actually one thing that is true, is that you do scare me (all 6 of you).. because in 10 years time, your going to hit one of two ends of the extremes, ignorance can be a slippery slope

    a) your either going to decide it’s okay to kill innocent children, and women, opress them while ur at it… Like OBL and clan, and come up with your own “original” and “innovative” evidences for it.

    b) or , and this is probably you, you will probably be the guy toting for progressive revelation, contemplate praying 3 times a day instead of 5 , and suggest that people like you be allowed to not only chose from various shades of legal opinions derived by authentic scholars, but haphazard people like yourself, but in fact that you be allowed to reinvent law yourself.

    It is true that perhaps the wahhabis, sufis, traditionals, salafis, and even some of the more normal progressives (you fall on the extreme left of that spectrum) may engage each other regularly, but I imagine, the way these groups came together to rid the world of Mu’tazili opression and indiscrimate murder, they will do the same if the context ever reappeared. That is of course, if , and that is a HUUGEE IFFF, if any credible, sane, authentic scholar, came forward with the proposition of returning to mu’tazili thought. But then again, given the fact that it hasn’t happened to date, well, it is sunnah to be optimistic, and afterall you are engaged in “

  24. Hussain permalink
    July 12, 2007 12:50 am


    ” quietly do our work”… lollll why not.. sure thing…

    Iqbal’s vision of a state didn’t materialize because of him championing it, but becasue of overlapping agendas, and without that force, it would not have happened.

    actually one thing that is true, is that you do scare me (all 6 of you).. because in 10 years time, your going to hit one of two ends of the extremes, ignorance can be a slippery slope

    a) your either going to decide it’s okay to kill innocent children, and women, opress them while ur at it… Like OBL and clan, and come up with your own “original” and “innovative” evidences for it.

    b) or , and this is probably you, you will probably be the guy toting for progressive revelation, contemplate praying 3 times a day instead of 5 , and suggest that people like you be allowed to not only chose from various shades of legal opinions derived by authentic scholars, but haphazard people like yourself, but in fact that you be allowed to reinvent law yourself, of course using the same “innovative” and “original” evidences for it…

    It is true that perhaps the wahhabis, sufis, traditionals, salafis, and even some of the more normal progressives (you fall on the extreme left of that spectrum) may engage each other regularly, but I imagine, the way these groups came together to rid the world of Mu’tazili opression and indiscrimate murder, they will do the same if the context ever reappeared. That is of course, if , and that is a HUUGEE IFFF, if any credible, sane, authentic scholar, came forward with the proposition of returning to mu’tazili thought ( and that hasn’t happened because there aren’t any credible reasons for it, of course the scale is tipping in ur side, because as you so diligently pointed out, this isn’t a class room, or a seminar, nothing gets past you masha’Allah :):. But then again, given the fact that it hasn’t happened to date, well, it is sunnah to be optimistic, and afterall you are engaged in “quiet work” …..

    LOLL…. “quiet work”
    over and out…

  25. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 12:55 am

    whatever dude…get a crystal ball and sit in the corner shop and start fortune telling…you may earn better than whatever you’re now earning:-) Since you can predict ten years ahead…hahahaha

    You underestimate the power of flexibility. Remember the magino line during WWII? I know its unrelated…but it gives you some food for thought…that is of course a BIG IF…that you think and don’t perform taqlid on that too…hahaha.

  26. July 12, 2007 2:25 am

    Easy guys, easy…

  27. July 12, 2007 3:13 am

    I don’t know enough to partake in the theological discussion, but I do know that Iqbal died in 1938, well before Pakistan was created. Crediting Iqbal for Pakistan being ‘one of the strongest Muslim states’ (never mind the accuracy of the claim) is quite silly.

  28. July 12, 2007 3:19 am

    I agree, Anthony bhai…

  29. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 4:54 am

    Anthony…correct me if I am wrong…you’re indian right? So whatever opinion you have about Pakistan should be discounted with that.

    Chaudhury Rahmat Ali gave birth to the vision of Pakistan and also its name. He was a fellow student with Iqbal at Cambridge. I have his original writings and there are pictures to that effect. Later Iqbal came in then british india and promoted it amongst the elite he idea of a seperate homeland. While chaudhury rahmat ali was the ideological architect it was Allama Iqbal and Allama Mashariki who were the loudest proponents of the idea. It was much later that a certain Mr. Jinnah got disillusioned with congress and got in the game. He did finally sealed the deal with the british which was not easy. The Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Aga Khan primarily paid for this movement. Other muslim elites at the time also contributed significantly financially. Later other leaders like Suhrawardy, A.K. fazlul haq also got involved. So Pakistan actually has three to five founding fathers. Allama Iqbal is the senior most amongst them. He also made the famous Lahore proposal which made a seperate statehood kindda inevitable. There is a paper written by Chaudhuri Rahmat Ali named “Now or never”…that is where why a seperate state for muslims was necessary in south asia was explained first. It is not knowing that what causes Indians to say comical things like “why’re we not the same country…jinnah made the country so that he could lead it etc. etc.”

  30. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 5:14 am

    Must be a disgruntled Indian…what happened to you mate..eate too much daal…muhahahaha

  31. Hussain permalink
    July 12, 2007 5:42 am

    wow.. folks… i admit things got a lil rough between me and syed up there…and i’ll stop.. but dude.. u can’t be cursing here… this ain’t that kinda blog i hope…

    but mod’s .. saif and sajid? can u guys delete this?

  32. Addafication permalink
    July 12, 2007 5:45 am

    No swearing here, anonymous.

    If you have something to contribute to this debate, please do so sans the French.

  33. Addafication permalink
    July 12, 2007 5:47 am

    Just deleted them.

  34. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 5:49 am

    Thanks much appreciated!

  35. July 12, 2007 7:31 am

    Damn, I missed out on some really good “jousting” here I see. Oh well.

    Hussain, I hope you and I can carry our conversation separately some other time on another post.

    And just to clear his “good” name, Anthony is not Indian. Even if he was that does not give anyone the right to say that his opinion on anything should be discounted. You won’t find me saying that just because I suspect Syed to be Pakistani, all his opinions on India should be discounted immediately. 🙂 Moderators, you have established a great forum here so please ensure that everyone’s voice is welcome regardless of class, creed, colour, gender AND nationality.

  36. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 8:11 am


    Spare me the “anti-discrimination” mantra. If he is not Indian..really…and I’ll await a confirmation from the man himself….I apologize for calling him one. Asif DONOT tell me what I have the right to say or don’t. This is free cyberspace not your private chatroom. I am aware of my rights and will exercise them accordingly. You can imagine that I am pakistani or Orc or Nazgul if you must…and immediately discount anything I say… that is your prerogative. I or the moderators have no right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t discount. Hope this message gets through. This guy Anthony can have his “voice ” heard as he has his own comical blog…and i guess listen to his own voice. I have been told it is therapeutic to some people. Its not like I am choking him or not allowing him to type whatever he wants to type.

    Now go carry on your discussion with our beloved Br. Hussien somewhere. He badly needs students to preach to:-)

  37. July 12, 2007 8:54 am


    Since you know so much about me, I don’t think I need to say anymore. I gave up shouting matches years ago.


  38. Syed permalink
    July 12, 2007 9:00 am


    You mean there will be no disclaimer on you being an Indian…I see:-)

    No worries mate…its good that you gave up shouting matches. Why start something you can’t win?:-)


  39. July 12, 2007 4:37 pm

    Anthony is firmly Desi. guys, you know it’s harder to be comical and humorous than to have shouting matches. but if it descends to that, Anthony can chutnify anyone you know.

  40. July 12, 2007 4:46 pm

    Dear Moderators,

    Please note that the last part of my last comment was aimed at you and not at the user named “Syed” with whom I wish to have no further dialogue and whose right to shout in my face I recognise. It was not aimed at censorship which I do not believe in. In this continent, even the KKK have free speech rights, rights I don’t argue against. What mitigates that are the numerous counter-voices assuring us that the KKK is wrong. As moderattors, I felt you must be at the forefront of that counter-voice. Let me point out that Nehru did something similar vis a vis Hindutva fundamentalists, and Congress’ failure to do so since that time has led to the greater legitimization of their intolerance. In the end, this is an internet forum and not greater society, but you must try to bring about the change you wish to see in the world in every possible way.

    Does quoting Gandhi give my Indian roots away? Oh the horrors!

  41. July 12, 2007 6:10 pm

    Asif bhai/other readers who’ve been offended with the recent exchanges: I apologize for our negligence. We’ll try to do a better job in the future.

    In the mean time, I would urge regular comment-ers to refrain from ad hominem attacks and abusive language and direct their efforts toward constructive debate. It doesn’t help when you’re speaking past or at rather than to each other. We welcome engagement – even fundamental disagreement – at the level of ideas. But disagreement does not have to be packaged with abuse. We’ve been lucky enough to have great commenters who’ve been able to do that till now.

    In particular, Syed –
    Let’s recognize when we’ve gotten out of line. You are right that you can post whatever you want to in what we have allowed to be public forum. Addafication is our website. We reserve the right, always, to remove or block comments whenever we see fit. Either respect the norms of constructive debate, or don’t post comments on Addafication at all. There are enough forums out there for flame wars. This is not one of them.

  42. July 14, 2007 1:24 am

    And now for Hussain to answer Sajia’s question on ‘How influential has Sufism been in Bangladesh?’

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