Monday, November 27, 2017

When even the devil is ashamed: the ‘mufti-universe’ of sectarianism and the admonitions of Sinai


THERE is a story that the devil sits on a throne, and that each day all the demons report back to him. The reward for the one who has perpetrated the worst possible deeds on earth, gets a chance to sit on the devil’s throne and to boast. And because the devil’s court is a house of naked envy, all the other demons get jealous, and want to destroy the one on the throne.

So when the devil takes back his seat, the ‘victorious’ evil spirit finds itself thrown to the dogs of malice. The braggart that had previously enjoyed a few moments of notoriety – which he sees as fame – is soon set upon like a pack of hyenas, and forgotten.

A Sufi Shaykh, who passed on a few years ago, once said times had got so bad that even the devil himself was beginning to feel ashamed. A man of wit, even until the end, there is a definite barb in what the Shaykh said, as atrocity follows atrocity.

In our community, I have begun to wonder recently whether our own devil wears not Prada, but the self-imposed title of a ‘mufti’. Harsh, yes. But in a world of isms, especially sectarianism, anonymous local cyber gangsters – supporting a swarm of these ‘muftis’ – have been pouring hate, vitriol, and specifically polytheism and kufr, on a recently built Shi’ah mosque in Cape Town.  

Poor people are rooting in the dustbins outside their palatial homes, their brothers and sisters are crying for help in the townships, the youth are asking questions – and yet, these ‘muftis’ (there seem to be no women in their ranks) – blithely condemn others on  a manner of issues, and even regard them as a threat to their faith.

There are some serious questions here: firstly, if someone else’s beliefs are threat to yours, have you not considered that they might not be threat to mine?

Secondly, in traditional Islam, classical Ahlus Sunni Islam a mufti is an honoured position bestowed upon a learned elder by other learned elders, usually in the area of Usul ul-Fiqh, the understanding and application of Shari’ah. In classical Ahlus Sunni Islam, a mufti is a solitary title given to the most senior, experienced jurist in a city, or a country. It is, therefore, surreal that we should have so many ‘muftis’ in South Africa.

Thirdly, there is the irresponsible abandon with which things are declared forbidden in this ‘mufti universe’, this done without adequate legal argument, maslahah (the concept of social benefit) or consideration of valid opposing views – all pre-requisites of fiqh.

In addition. the willingness to indulge in takfir – in our case a blanket declaration of unbelief on others one disagrees with creedally, or even politically –  is another symptom of the ‘mufti’ disease, and contrary to the tolerant spirit of the Ahlus Sunnah. And in case ‘tolerance’ is seen as a weakness, Sayyidina ‘Ali – the fourth Caliph – once threw an orator out of the mosque when he failed the tests of a scholar.  

On the question of takfir, all the Righteous Caliphs, Sayyidina Abu Bakr, Sayyidina ‘Umar, Sayyidina ‘Uthman and Sayyidina ‘Ali were always very reluctant to declare unbelief. This tradition was carried on by the famous legal imams, Imam Malik, Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbal, as well as Ja’fr al-Sadiq.

Consequently, the obsession by some to declare a newly constructed Shi’ah mosque a ‘temple’ and a ‘house of kufr’ is a case of blind intolerance. It is, tragically, symptomatic of the sectarian culture of takfir, which has so bedevilled the Muslim community in recent decades – and in no small measure, is thanks to the house of Sa’ud and the dangerously reductionist notions of Ibn ‘Abd ul-Wahhab.

Yes, Sunni and Shi’ah do enjoy differences; some present testing academic questions. Unfortunately, space does not allow for anything more than an acknowledgment of this, but we are not trivialising things. What is more important here is to consider the adab ul-ikhtilaf, the honourable manner of dealing with difference – recommended by all scholars, via the example of the Prophet.

The point is that traditional Ahlus Sunnah scholars, whilst expressing their academic concerns about Shi’ism, have never declared the Shi’ah as polytheists or kafirs, and for over 1,400 years have allowed them to perform the Hajj cheek-by-jowl with Sunnis.

Historically, scholars of the Al-Azhar – such as Shaykh Shaltut of the pre Sisi era – have regarded Shi’ism as another ‘madh-hab’, or school of thought. Anyone who is uncomfortable with this, is free to contest it with the tools of Islamic discourse.

In countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Yemen, Shi’ah lived peacefully with Sunnis for centuries until the dark clouds of 20th century sectarianism – introduced by the takfiri psychosis of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Da’esh – gathered on our horizon. And dwelling on, or bemoaning, Zionist-western backed conspiracies serves no purpose, because we are the people who have to deal with the curse of takfiri sectarianism.

As we know, its worst excesses have manifested themselves in Syria, Iraq and various eastern and western capitals at the hands of Da’esh. The recent Sinai massacre, shocking in its execution and brutally inhumane in its bilious justification, is but the most recent example of the bloodthirsty spleen of preaching hate and takfir in the name of God.

Our local ‘muftis’ and their anonymous acolytes – pouring petrol on the local Shi’ah community whilst waving a match – need to understand the consequences of their inflammatory and thoroughly seditious behaviour. The Sinai massacre, after all, is the tragic end-game of takfir – and if we don’t heed the warning now, we are all doomed.