The notion of prioritizing reports about the Prophet was inherently objectionable in their eyes, and a scheme to incorporate hadiths into a legal structure raised an even more fundamental objection. They thought it was wrong to write down hadiths at all. Books in their view could only befuddle belief. The assumptions that underlay that opinion are hard to know for sure – not least, because no one holding them put them in writing – but countless chroniclers attest to its existence. Abu Bakr had reportedly doubted the wisdom of writing down even the Qur’an. Human literature of a lesser sort seemed pure folly.
Such ideas feel atavistic today, and it is easy to characterize them as superstitions or to reduce them to a fear of change. The invention of the printing press once produced similarly dire predictions television sets were more recently expected to destroy the moral fibre of baby boomers; and some commentators tut-tut today about the brain-rotting potential of the internet. But though complaints are always tiresome when they turn into moral panics, the move away from an oral culture carries genuinely far-reaching consequences.
That truth was well reflected a thousand years before the advent of Islam in a fable that Plato put into the mouth of Socrates. It told how Thoth, the ibis-headed god of ancient Egypt, had invented writing and offered it up to the king of Thebes (Alexandria) as an elixir of memory and wisdom – only for the monarch to complain that it was actually a recipe for forgetfulness and stupidity. Thoth’s innovation would encourage people to remember words rather than what they signified, warned the king, and promote the delusion that knowledge could be acquired without a teacher. Socrates, who famously wrote nothing himself, knew the limits of literature. Once a story has to be structured to convey a lesson, it loses buoyancy. A text read alone is no substitute for social interaction. And attempts to describe a truth can sap energies that would otherwise be used searching for it.
Influenced by Greek philosophers whose work had been studied for centuries in Persia, Hanafites assumed God’s rationality. They proposed that Muslims should therefore seek to discern the purpose underpinning His laws, reasoning by analogy (qiyas) where necessary, and departing from earlier understandings of the shari‘a whenever that seemed just.
The Hanafites were logical, in other words – and though the flaws of logic are familiar enough today, that gave them immense confidence in an age unfamiliar with its shortcomings. One of the earliest fruits of their research was development of the hila (pl. hiyal) – a word that literally translates as ‘escape’ or ‘loophole’ – which was as inventive as it sounds. It allowed philanthropists to create charitable trusts in violation of the literal terms of the Qur’an’s inheritance rules, and it gave would-be tax-evaders ways of dodging the zakat.
Before long, the Hanafites would be redefining the Qur’an’s prohibitions on financial speculation in order to lubricate a money economy, complete with paper cash, cheques and letters of credit, half a millennium before canonical lawyers found ways of doing the same in Europe. And their mastery of syllogistic reasoning was capable of accommodating human frailties with equal ease, as early Hanafite arguments about alcohol show.
Noting that the Qur’an disapproved specifically of ‘wine’ (khamr), jurists proposed that God clearly had no objection to fermented date juice (nabidh). Because the holy book warned Muslims against being too drunk to understand their prayers, they reasoned further that the evil of alcohol arose out of the senselessness produced by overindulgence. Intoxication could therefore be defined, they said, as an inability to differentiate between a man and woman. The route was baffling, but the destination was easily defined. If Hanafites were to be believed, Muslims could down alcohol by the jug until they became incapable of telling a slave girl from a beardless boy.
The malleability impressed many people. As Abbasid officials fumbled to balance piety and convenience, they repeatedly turned to Hanafites for help, and though Abu Hanifa himself was supposedly too God-fearing to serve as a judge, students were soon wiping away their dutiful tears and settling down to work on divans across the caliphate. There were others who were considerably more critical, however. Conservatives complained that Hanafites were more interested in expressing their opinions than clarifying God’s law.
The reference to Hila or Hiyal (legal tricks) require further research from my side. Currently it stands in a negative light the way author talked about it. Please share any references or readings that you can recommend on the topic.
The man who is truly what he should be is described in the Quran as ‘AlKhalifatullah fil Ard’ i.e., the viceregent or representative of God on earth; he is not ‘rasul’ since he does not receive the divine message directly from heaven, but he receives it none the less — mediated through Muhammad — and is required to convey it with equal accuracy and with a comparable purity of intention, allowing no personal opinions or feelings to intervene. In this sense, the pious Muslim performs — in a minor key — the task which the Prophet fulfilled on a universal scale.
But there is one of Muhammad’s ‘titles of Glory’ in which every believer shares, the title of ‘abd’. Muhammad was the perfect ‘slave’. The believer must strive towards this perfection. Just as the Messenger could not have fulfilled his function had he not been the ‘slave of God’, so the viceregent is effective and true to his vocation only according to the depth and purity of his ‘slavehood’.
With the assertion of man’s viceregal status we step into dangerous territory. People need little enough encouragement to attribute grandeur to themselves. To tell them that they represent God on earth might seem like an invitation to megalomania. The modern age, sentimental and idealistic despite its superficial cynicism, is even more deeply shocked than were earlier ages by the human capacity for wickedness. This wickedness is indeed the measure of the grandeur of our vocation (no animal is wicked), and like a deep shadow it bears witness to a great light.
The monstrous evils of arrogance and oppression are due to men assuming the robes of viceregency without first submitting as ‘slaves’ (and knowing themselves to be ‘slaves’). Man alone is capable of monstrosity on this scale, because man alone stands above — or is capable of standing above — the tide of time and contingency. It might even be said that if there were no viceregency there could be no hell, for none would merit hell. It is for the betrayal of our vocation — therefore self-betrayal — that we are punished, and it is for living beneath ourselves that we run the risk of being trodden underfoot.
Every year there is a controversy right around beginning and end of Ramadan (“Ramzan” if you are a Pakistani) wherein people fight over the need to see the moon when the computer models have predicted to the second whether it will be visible on that night or not. People wonder why there is a need to see the moon when we have so much technology at our disposal.
I was reading Gai F. Eaton’s “Islam and Destiny of Man” and I came across the following passages that put the case for it so lucidly.
The Quran and the great phenomena of nature are twin manifestations of the divine act of Self-revelation. For Islam, the natural world in its totality is a vast fabric into which the ‘signs’ of the Creator are woven. It is significant that the word meaning ‘signs’ or ‘symbols’, ayat, is the same word that is used for the ‘verses’ of the Quran. Earth and sky, mountains and stars, oceans and forests and the creatures they contain are, as it were, ‘verses’ of a sacred book. ‘Indeed Allah disdaineth not to coin the similitude of a gnat or of something even smaller than that’ (Q.2.26). Creation is one, and He who created the Quran is also He who created all the visible phenomena of nature. Both are a communication from God to man.
‘In your creation and in all the beasts scattered on the earth there are signs for people of sure faith. In the alternation of night and day and in the provision Allah sendeth down from the heavens whereby He quickeneth the earth after its death, and in the distribution of the winds, are signs for people who are intelligent’ (Q.45.4—6). And: ‘Truly in the creation of the heavens and of the earth, and the succession of night and day, and in the ships which speed through the sea with what is useful to man, and in the waters which Allah sendeth down from the heavens … and in the order of the winds, and the clouds that run their appointed courses between heaven and earth, are signs indeed for people who are intelligent’ (Q.2.164). Because: ‘He it is who hath spread the earth wide and placed in it firm mountains and running waters, and created therein two sexes of [many kinds of] plant, and causeth the night to cover the day. Truly in all this are signs for people who reflect.’ Whether we scan great distances or look within ourselves, the message is the same: ‘We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and within themselves until they are assured that this is the truth. Doth not thy Lord suffice thee, since He is over all things the Witness?’ (Q.41.53).
Although signs may be found in everything that comes to us, as though a river at our doorstep carried these messages on its surface, the Quran (like other sacred books) speaks in terms of empirical experience, since it is intended to endure through the ages and cannot bind itself to the ‘scientific’ theories of any particular time. Its images are the phenomena of nature as they appear to us in our experience — the rising and setting of the sun, the domed sky above and the mountains, which are like weights set upon the earth. Scientific observations change according to the preconceptions of the observer and the instruments at his disposal, and the speculations which blinkered human minds construct on the basis of these observations change no less swiftly. But man’s experience of the visual universe does not change. The sun ‘rises’ for me today as it ‘rose’ for the man of ten thousand years ago.
Symbolism resides also in the incidents and patterns of our experience, but it is less easily found in the underside of things — the mechanism by which they are brought about. A clock is a clock. The hands moving on its face convey information. Its inner works do not tell us the time.
To be fully aware of this flood of messages requires a closeness to the natural world that is uncommon in our time, and the man who is wholly indifferent to nature is much like the man who is deaf to the Quran; not only is he separated from the world about him, but he is inevitably divided within himself. The French writer Jacques Ellul, whose book La Technique is among the most profound and perceptive critiques of the modern world published in this century, has remarked (as have many others) that the sacred has always been an experience related to nature, to the phenomena of birth, death, generation, the lunar cycles and so on. ‘Man who leaves that milieu is still imbued with the feeling and imagery derived from the sacred, but these are no longer revived and rejuvenated by experience. The city person is separated from the natural environment and, as a consequence, the sacred significations no longer have any point of contact with experience. They soon dry up for lack of support in man’s new experience with the artificial world of urban technology. The artificial, the systematized, and the rational seem incapable of giving birth to an experience of the same order.. .’
He adds that it was ‘in relation to the forest, the moon, the ocean the desert, the storm, the sun, the rain, the tree… that the sacred was ordered’, and elsewhere he defines the sacred (in relation to man) as ‘the guarantee that he is not thrust out into an illogical space and a limitless time’. The novelty of our era, he says, ‘is that man’s deepest experience is no longer with nature… Man in the presence and at the heart of the technical milieu feels the urgent need to get his bearings, to discover meaning and an origin, an authenticity in this inauthentic world.’ The outcome, he says, is ‘a sacralization of society’, as also of the ‘masters of desacralization in our modern era (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud)’, while political manifestos replaced sacred scriptures. Then blood begins to flow and the broken bodies pile up, and a new idolatry, more deadly than the old, demands human sacrifice. To save him from falling into this trap the Muslim needs the Quran, but he also needs its complement, the revelation written in natural phenomena; without this, much of the Quran is incomprehensible.
The sacred rites of Islam, in particular the five daily prayers and the month of fasting, are intimately related to the natural cycles rather than to mechanical time. The times of prayer are determined by the breaking of dawn, the rising of the sun, its coming to the zenith, its mid-decline, sunset and the close of day. And although the calendar tells us when the month of Ramadan begins and ends, it is considered essential that the dates should be established by the physical sighting of the new moon, so that the lived experience takes precedence over all scientific calculations. A computer can establish not only the minute but the exact second at which the new moon will become visible in a given locality; this counts for nothing beside the actual sighting of that slim luminous crescent on the horizon. By clinging stubbornly to the principle of ‘sighting’, the Muslims — not least those living in the West — demonstrate their awareness that the ‘signs’ of God are to be found in our experience of nature rather than in our thought processes.
The below excerpts are from C. Christine Fair’s working paper “Has the Pakistan Army Islamized? What the Data Suggest” which can be downloaded here. The paper is short and readable. I am just excerpting some of the parts that stood out for me.
U.S. analysts talk about “beard counts” at the graduation ceremonies at the National Defense University and they keep track of officers who are presumed to have “Islamist” credentials, fearing that they may be the mastermind of the next insidious terror attack against India, or a purveyor of nuclear technology to terrorists, among other nightmare scenarios.
Islam also bolsters the army‘s will to fight by debasing and demeaning the enemy. During the civil war of 1971, the Commander-in-Chief and President of Pakistan, Yahya Khan, motivated his soldiers by declaring the Mukti Bahini (the Bengali guerillas) to be a ―kafir army against which the Pakistan army was waging a legitimate jihad. Brigadier Javed Hassan (who retired a Major General), while at the Faculty of Research and Doctrinal Studies (FORAD) at the Command and Staff College in Quetta, conducted and published a study titled India: A Study in Profile. It is now required reading at the National Defense University as well. In this volume, the author derides India by arguing that India is not a nation, characterizing India‘s past as having a ―total absence of any popular resistance against foreign domination and rule, denounces the Indians as “less warlike” attributes India‘s military failures to “racial” shortcomings,among other derogatory characteristics of Hindus and Hinduism. Of course, it needs to be stated that India has never lost a war with Pakistan.
Recent reporting suggests that Pakistan has a battalion of the Azad Kashmir Regiment in Bahrain, which was deployed in 2010 to train local troops. Pakistan also sends retired officers to augment Bahrain‘s military capabilities. Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani, in March of 2011, assured Bahrain‘s foreign minister that Pakistan would dispatch more retired manpower to quell the unrest by Bahrain‘s Shia majority against the Sunni rulers. This same report estimates that there are about 10,000 serving and retired Pakistani military personnel currently in Bahrain.
The issue of facebook has displayed the schisms in the Pakistani nation. Honestly speaking, I am proud of the court’s decision. When facebook which has ignored complaints over its privacy issues despite the fact that the global media and blogosphere is incessantly complaining about it, a decision by a Pakistani court to solicit such as reaction from the company is an achievement:
“We are very disappointed with the Pakistani courts’ decision to block Facebook without warning, and suspect our users there feel the same way,” Facebook said in a statement to AFP.
“We are analyzing the situation and the legal considerations, and will take appropriate action, which may include making this content inaccessible to users in Pakistan,” it said.
This is a company which is known for it arrogance when it comes to user issues.
However, our media is also stoking the fire. This is from yesterday’s DAWN
“What if they will ban it permanent? I will move out somewhere else,” one user wrote on his Facebook status update. Was this even a newsworthy item. I want to see this guy leave the country over facebook.
He could have said that banning facebook does not solve our energy issues, terrorism problems, education system, governance and institutional structures (the usual excuse by the media persons be it the 18th amendment, renaming NWFP to pukhtoonkhwa, banning facebook etc). No he is going to leave the country and DAWN finds the bravado worth reporting.
In blogosphere, a blogger was praising shias saying that in progressive shia sect, one is allowed to depict the Prophet. Its the sunni Islam that is against it. Nothing against the shias but I think he should get his facts straight. It wasn’t the sunnis (they might as well have) but Ayatollah Khomeini who came with a fatwa for death of Salman Rushdie. Certain people use every opportunity to propagate differences amongst people.
Civil right organizations losing their heads over the situation is the best part claiming that there is no censorship in developed countries. I suggest that they go and try denying holocaust in Continental Europe. They will end up behind bars the very day. Thats freedom of speech for you.
I would suggest that civil right organizations hold a comedy show in Karachi in which people try to make fun of Altaf Hussein. Lets see how many even make it to the event.
Facebook has been banned in lot of companies where my friends work for quite sometime because people waste a lot of time on it. Initially they felt withdrawal syndromes but within a week everyone adjusted. Its not like world stops turning forcing one to change employers or leave the country. Human beings are resilient and adaptive. They adjust.