By Bilal A. Malik
History does not mean chronological reporting of historical events. Historiography has no implication, and must not be considered as a ‘methodological principle’, if the ‘written words’ of history don’t connect with the process of restructuring the ‘meaning’ of present and planning the nature of events in future. As argued by Ibn Khaldun, influent Muslim sociologist, in the Prolegomenon (Muqaddimah) of his voluminous universal history Kitab al-‘Ibr, “the inner meaning of history, on the other hand, involves… an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events.” In Khaldunian philosophy of history, a qualified historian is the one who has the ability to distinguish between narrating the ‘surface phenomenon’ and decoding the ‘inner meaning’ of events. According to Ibn Khaldun, “It (history) takes critical insights to sort out hidden truth; it takes knowledge to lay truth bare and polish it so that critical insight may be applied to it.” The scientificity of historical method has offered and will continue to offer alternative perspectives; enabling the historian to ascertain authenticity and truthfulness of events from false and fabricated narratives. Thus, historical assessment is essential to analyse the changes that a society underwent in different historical epochs; critically tracing the movement of deviation and coherence.
In the context of these introductory remarks, I don’t feel hesitant about accepting the reality that some ulama (religious authorities) and their “camps of influence” adopt selective approach, polished with ‘blind’ emotionality, while dealing with certain historical positions. Such sort of approach is rationally as well as morally problematic since it adds ‘confusion’ to the problem instead of solving it. On the pretext of “sensitivity” and “reverence”, fragile attempts are made to undermine and debilitate certain ‘historical truths’ of Muslim ‘civilization’. To put my argument in perspective, I am deliberately using the term ‘civilization’ instead of ‘history’ since the core structure of Muslim history is embedded in its deep civilizational tradition which is fundamentally driven by, translating Malik Bennabi’s civilizational idea, the religious factor. And religion, borrowing from Syed Maududi, “[is] total scheme of life”. Ordering this organic connection is proposed to frame the argument that ‘Muslim history’, alike ‘Muslim civilization’, despite vast heterogeneity, has one common character; that is ‘worldview’. Thus, neglecting certain established ‘historical truths’ do entail casting doubt on the ‘Muslim worldview’ that has come down to us through the chain of ‘successive narrations’ (riwayat al-mutawatirah).
Now the question is; what are those ‘historical truths’? This question is as significant as to know; what is Islam’s standpoint on justice and truth? I propose, without having a nuanced and contextualized understanding of those ‘historical truths’ and then associating with the ‘justified side’, it would be basically wrong to claim that “Islam offers a model of justice and truth”. Those ‘historical truths’ determine the courage to challenge and criticise authority, both moral as well as political- a claim that Muslims are always proud of. Seeking guidance from the divine reflection; that is having courage to present “truth as truth and falsehood as falsehood”, Maududi penned down “Khilafat-o Mulukiyat” (Eng. Tr. “Islam’s Political Order: The Model, Deviations and Muslim Response” by Tarik Jan)- an organized and insightful refutation of all those ‘prettified lies” attempted to manipulate certain historical positions. The book provides a perceptible line of demarcation between “right and wrong” and strongly refutes the protagonists of theory of “silent neutrality”. Applying critical analytic to study a specific period of ‘Muslim history’, Maududi deep-dives into the epistemological and ontological dimensions of reading and translating historical events. The book challenges the prejudged mentalities believing that ‘silent neutrality’ can solve conflict of any sort. Instead, Maududi persuades with all rational, moral and legal conviction, that in situation of ‘injustice’, silence means standing on the side of the oppressor.
Problematic Dealing with ‘Historical Truths’
The critique, mostly laden with abuse and excommunication, levelled against Maududi for writing this book, arguably, revolves around four ‘common’ arguments. First, the “historical” narrations cited in the book are weak and unreliable with reference to both sanad (chain of narrators) as well as matan (text of the report). Second, using those historical narrations that have potential to “characterize” life of a sahabi (companion of Prophet) negatively has never been an approved method. Third, the organized mention, let alone criticism, of the mistakes of the companions consequentially infer insult, abuse and distrust, which is unanimously verboten among all acclaimed sections of ahal al-sunnah (adherents to the Sunnah of the Prophet). Fourth, it is wrong to take sides when it comes to political disagreements among companions and ahal al-sunnah recommends “silence” on this matter. The first two arguments are nothing but simplistic assumptions that arise due to ignorance about application of criticism in the Islamic perspective; its nature, principles and methods. Such arguments aren’t pertinent to the ‘core’ discourse of the book. If critics would have objectively approached the “Title” of the book, then it was quite perceptible that the book is technically neither a history nor a biography. Rather, it provides a comparative thematic analysis of the two antagonistic political settings: Caliphate (khilafat) and Kingship (mulukiyat). The third and fourth arguments are based on either what I call as “emotional arrogance” (denying every possibility of error) or “corruption” (justifying quietism). The former is religious in nature while as later is political. Such a way of arguing terribly changes the nature of reality- transforming ‘human’ into ‘transcendental’ and ‘activity’ into ‘passivity’. This makes the whole religious structure insubstantial and impracticable.
The plethora of such fragile arguments, otherwise intended to outdo Maududi, blurs the true image of history. Just because some odd ‘historical truths’ are unacceptable, for whatever reasons, the entire Muslim history is put under the impression of uncertainty. Here, my simple problem is, if, for the sake of argument, it comes out that everything “allegedly cited” by Maududi is pathetically wrong, fabricated and unreliable, will it change the basic nature of the issue? Will it undo the battles of Jamal and Siffin? Will it undo the killing of thousands of companions and t’abiyun (those who lived with the companions)? Will it undo Karbala and battle of Harrah? Will it mean that Prophet’s prediction; “caliphate on prophetic methodology will remain for thirty years and then would be followed by biting kingship” has got no practical implication? Will it mean that Amir Mua’wiyah’s mulukiyat was characteristically same as the rightly guided Khilafat of Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali? If yes, then why Prophet felt the need to change the terminology? And, if no, then what was the change, how it started, and what was its impact? Will it mean that Prophet’s prediction; “The first man to change my sunnah is from Bani Umayyah” was a lie? Will it mean that Prophet’s prediction; “Ammar will be killed by a rebellious (not an apostate) group” didn’t come true? Will it mean that Amir Mua’wiyah’s decision for appointing Yazid as his hereditary successor was similar to Abu Bakr’s decision to nominate Umar? Will it mean that Yazid was as good ruler as Umar, Abu Bakr, Usman and Ali and nothing went wrong in the principles, methods and laws of governance during his rule?
Manipulating or Running Away from History: Adding “Confusion” to Problem
Avoiding historical facts and running away from critical questions on the silly pretext of “protecting aqeedah (belief) from dilution” will surely not change the ‘inner core’ of history. Instead, it will normalize collective Muslim mind to live in the darkest layers of deception, idiocy, and absurdity. It will persuade Muslims of this generation, who are already exposed to “information explosion” and are equally encountered with the challenges of scientific atheism, to live in a constant state of “hiding something fragile” and fear of losing an intrinsically “slippery belief”. Maududi challenged this ‘shameful fear’ and broke that ‘emotional shell’; the pseudo-guard of belief. He wrote, convincingly and coherently, about what happened in the history and how does it impact the present and future of Muslim Ummah. He accentuated, in his words, the “imminent change” of shifting caliphate into kingdom and argued when and how this process started. Maududi, painstakingly, while dealing with the political conflicts among companions, has set a methodologically balanced reference for applying the tools of constructive criticism. A highly technical reference, which, on one hand, accepts manaqib (virtues) of companions but not in the context of “virtues imply absolute protection against mistake” and, on the other hand, it condemns, in strongest words, the approach that advocates “committing mistake implies losing everything good”. To justify this reference, Maududi, in the “Appendix” of the book, cites numerous examples from the ‘glorious’ life of companions that have been either referred in Qur’an or mentioned in the authentic hadith books.
Unfortunately, none among the critics of Maududi have methodically dealt with the problem of “imminent change” – the central argument of the book. Probably, they haven’t even read the opening lines of the “Foreword” of the book in which Maududi has evidently expressed the purpose of writing this book. In Maududi’s words, “The central discussion of the book relates to (real) concept of caliphate in Islam? On what principles it actualized itself in the first century and what were the causes that led to its shift to monarchy? And finally when the change did take place, what was the Ummah’s reaction to this change?” Maududi, retorting to his critics, has explained and clarified his position in the “Appendix” of the book. He concludes the debate with these appealing words, “I request to my critics that if you believe that my inference, the sources laying base of my inference and the results that I have drawn from it are wrong, you are free to refute it. But, mere refutation doesn’t provide solution to the problem. They should positively, in clear words, answer the following questions….” The book ends with a list of eight well-structured questions.
It would be right to claim that since the time of Khilafat-o-Mulukiyat’s first edition (October 1966), Maududi’s questions are still unanswered and an objective and insightful rejoinder has yet not come. Even the so called “scholarly” refutations of Maududi’s book such as Khilafat-o-Malukiat Ki Tareekhi Wa Shar’i Haysiat (Khilafat and Mulukiyat in the Light of History and Shar’iah) by Hafiz Salahuddin Yousaf, Shahwahid-e-Taqaddus (Proofs of Sacredness) by Syed Muhammad Miyan Deobandi and Hazrat Muawiyah aur Tareekhi Haqa’iq (Hazrat Mua’wiyyah in the light of Historical Facts) by Muhammad Taqi Usmani have intentionally or unintentionally missed the central argument of Maududi’s discourse. It is hard to believe that these “scholarly’ works are filled with subjective and selective conclusions. Although the titles suggest something “big”; but in reality they have failed to provide a logical sense, a definitive ruling (hukm qati) or a “consensus” to substantiate their arguments. They have borrowed from the same historical sources that Maududi has referred. But, quite deceptively, when Maududi quotes from the same sources, these sources become weak and unreliable.
Basically, there is no other way to answer Maududi’s questions except agreeing with Maududi’s position. Reducing Maududi to a certain position, after failing to comprehend the thematic arrangement of the book, and vilifying his personality is not called a solution. It goes without saying that there are comprehensive refutations of refutations to Khilafat-o-Mulukiyat. Every single allegation, from citing to writing error, has been exposed and answered with concrete evidences. For example, the status of the companionship (maqam-i sahabiyat) has been thoroughly discussed in the light of Qu’ran and hadith (nusus al-qati or definitive texts) and further expounded through the clarifications of learned and established scholars, ranging from classical to contemporary times, of tafsir, hadith and fiqh. It is not a subjective claim, one can compare, with open-mind and desire to seek truth, for example, Shahwahid-e-Taqaddus by Syed Muhammad Miyan Deobandi with Amir Usmani’s Tajaliyat-i Sahaba (Reflections of Companions) and Hazrat Muawiyah aur Tareekhi Haqa’iq by Muhammad Taqi Usmani with Malik Ghulam Ali’s Khilafat-o-Mulukiyat Par I’etirazat Ka Tajzia (Analysis of Critique on Khilafat-o-Mulukiyat) and stand by the side of truth. But, alas, if someone’s mind is infected with shallowness and oblivion of “emotional arrogance”, then logic of 2+2=4 doesn’t work. Similarly, the character of Abdullah bin Saba al-Himyari, a Yemenite Jew who converted to Islam, has been framed under his actual historical role. According to Aamir Usmani’s analysis, it is true that Ibn Saba was a scoundrel and wicked character, who, under the disguise of Islam, did some terrible stuff. Nevertheless, it would be simplistic reductionist assessment of the historical reality to conclude that Ibn Saba and his heretical uprising (al-fitnah al-saba’iyya) was the holistic cause of all conflicts that happened and continued among companions.
This “conclusion” is problematic. It didn’t serve the purpose of defending the ‘self-imagined’ dignity and pseudo-narrative of “sahaba are mahfooz (protected from sins)”. Rather, it proved counterproductive. This conclusion presents companions, including mubashirah bil-jannah (who got glad tidings of heaven in their lives), sabiqun al-awwalun (the first to lead the way of Islam), and al-rashidun al-mahdiyyun (righteous and rightly guided), as a group of foolish, imprudent and irresponsible people who repeatedly fell into the trap of Saba’iyyat. Consequently, it directly raises questions on both; the process and method of their tarbiyah (training) and credibility of murabbi (the trainer). It directly speaks about the failure of murabbi’s impression on the hearts and minds of his disciples. Murabbi is reported to have said, “A believer is not stung twice out of one and the same hole”. Nevertheless, on contrary to his ‘divinely instructed’ saying, his brilliant disciples became innocent victims of Saba’iyyat not just once but multiple times.
Not just this, they even proved God’s proclamation “[they] are merciful among themselves” wrong by fighting each other and killing thousands from each side. Only two possible results can be deduced from such a conclusion. First, the companions knew everything about Ibn Saba and his Saba’iyyat but they couldn’t act against God’s will (qadr). Second, Ibn Saba and his followers were so magical, well-trained and organized that even wisest companions failed to realize that something is going wrong. If the first conclusion is accepted as true that means there is nothing like “Judgement Day” where people will be held accountable for their actions. If the second conclusion is accepted as true that means companions have really done a serious “collective mistake” by not understanding the fact, which others could understand now, that there is a person called Ibn Saba who is hallucinating and controlling our minds. This conundrum has to be solved by those who accept the narrative of ‘ascribing’ every sort of conflict among companions to Ibn Saba.
Maududi was not a prophet. Like all other ordinary humans, he was prone to error and he did, not necessarily in this book. His method of analysis and critical style of writing can be debated. Similarly, Maududi’s criteria to classify which historical narration is weak and which is strong is debatable too. But, outrightly negating Maududi’s work (Khilafat-o-Mulukiyat) is nothing but a deep deception and dishonesty of an unimaginable level. Every year in the month of Muharram al-Haram (first moth of Islamic calendar) the debate around the historical incident of Karbala heats up the atmosphere. Ironically, some “sunni” ulama start advocating Yazid as a true leader of believers and implicitly blaming Imam Hussain for being on the wrong side of the equation. This is condemnable in all possible words. In this situation, it is our responsibility to communicate the factual history to our coming generations without adding colours. We must have this courage to tell them that, companions were “the best” group of people on the face of earth but they were “humans” and humans, except prophets, are prone to make mistakes. We must have this courage to describe “wrong as wrong” so that the light “Truth” can be distinguished from glitters of “Falsehood”. If we are comfortable with playing ‘emotions’, then for invalidating the effect of one single truth, we have to create thousands of emotional tricks. But, we must not forget that tricks, by default, are not and can never be a permanent solution.
Author is Research Scholar,at Centre of Central Asian Studies,University of Kashmir,