Mission of Muslims in America:  A Grand Strategy to Marginalize Extremists - Part II

Mission of Muslims in America:  A Grand Strategy to Marginalize Extremists - Part II

by Dr. Robert Dickson Crane


I.  Grand Strategy

Two thousand years ago the two most influential persons of that time for the future of humanity were Jesus Christ and Sun Tzu.  Jesus, ‘alayhi as-salam, taught how to wage peace.  Sun Tzu of China taught how to wage war.  They both introduced the concept known as “grand strategy.” 

Grand strategy is morally neutral because it can serve any policy goals.  It is a tool, just as useful for Mother Theresa as for Osama bin Laden.  Grand strategy calls for a process of forecasting and planning to incorporate all the relevant variables, both threats and opportunities, into a holistic strategic design for the pursuit of policy goals.  Grand strategy may utilize vision-expanding exercises, such as the construction of alternative scenarios, based on hypothetical assumptions about factual reality and on probability assessments about the success of alternative strategies to pursue these goals within the given scenario.  Ideally, grand strategy may require reassessment of the goals themselves and even of the larger policy paradigms that originally gave rise to the goals. 

Grand strategy is both ontologically and epistemologically revolutionary.  The prophets of God were always the greatest revolutionaries of their time.  The prophets of monist materialism, such as Lenin, Mao Tse Dung, Hitler, and Herzl, are here today and gone tomorrow.  They belong to the dregs of history, because they excluded the spiritual dimension of human nature, which is eternal, even though they hypocritically tried on occasion to enlist its spiritual terminology to advance their utopian dreams.  They were not grand strategists.

The purpose of grand strategy is to shape the global future.  This was the topic of my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, which was published by the Center for Civilizational Renewal in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a decade ago in 1997.  The first chapter, “The Strategic Value of Vision,” was divided into three parts, “Creating New Opinion Elites,” “Translating Vision into Action,” and “The Subliminal Vision of Spiritual Renewal.”  In terms of cause and effect, the subjects of these three sub-chapters operate in reverse order.


II.  Changing Enemies into Friends

The greatest challenge to civilization today is how to address the cycle of demonization and counter-demonization gaining ascendancy among extremists in all religions, with spill-over effects, both constructive and destructive, in official government policies.

The key issue is how to deal with demonizers.  One policy option, indeed a great challenge, may be to turn them into friends.  In the Qur’an, the two poles of guidance, both of them equally valid and important, as described in Part One of this series on “The Mission of Imams in America,” are highlighted in the Qur’an: 1) “But it may well be that Allah will bring about mutual affection between you and some of those whom you now face as enemies, for Allah is infinite in His power – and Allah is much forgiving and a dispenser of grace” (Surah al Mumtahana, 60:7); and 2) “But if they do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them, for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war]” (Surah al Nisa’a, 4:91).

A preliminary issue in grand strategy is always to identify the enemy, and, if there are many such, to prioritize one’s efforts against them.  Immediately after 9/11, the thrust of the general Muslim response was to target extremist Muslims, epitomized by Osama bin Laden, as a threat not only to other Muslims but to America.  Unfortunately, the general non-Muslim populace, egged on by professional Muslim bashers, gradually shifted away from reaching out in sympathy to Muslims and instead came to view all Muslims as inherently extremist. 

The strategic choice then had to be made, who is the real enemy, and who are the Muslims’ potentially best friends in countering this enemy.  Should the imams and other Muslim leaders in America marshal Muslims primarily against extremist Muslims or against extremist Muslim bashers?  And, furthermore, might these Muslim bashers, who are leading the battle against extremist Muslims, potentially be Muslims’ best friends. 

In the global war against terrorism, whose side are the Muslim bashers on?  Certainly they are against extremist Muslims, even if some of them are equally extremist themselves.  Based on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, are not the Muslim bashers functionally friends of Muslims.  The common enemy is the diverse movement of extremist Muslims who resort to terrorism for whatever purpose and thereby, in an unending cycle of cause and effect, precipitate the logical, but equally immoral, response of terroristic counter-terrorism.

When the imams in New Jersey rose up against the “silent majority” of Muslim lay leaders, their concern was the defensive lay response of “don’t blame us.”  In the minds of most Americans this constitutes tacit support of Muslim terrorists, because in America, unlike in most of the rest of the world, silence implies support.  The imams wanted a more activist stance to condemn and counter religious extremism of every kind, but especially the extremism of Muslims, including increasingly the youth, who have been perverting the meaning of the Qur’an.

Muslims generally are much more concerned about perversions of the Qur’an and sunnah by non-Muslims, because many have imported the tribalistic culture of their homelands which requires “circling the wagons.”  Cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, enraged Muslims more than did Al Qa’ida’s beheading of innocent captives in Iraq. 

Certainly, attacking non-Muslims is much more effective for fund-raising than attacking Muslims.  The same is true, of course, for Christians and Jews, who have developed a burgeoning industry of professional “experts” on Islam, just as the entire think-tank industry in Washington started during the 1960s to support new-found experts on Communism.

The difference between then and now, is that Islam as the new-found enemy today is not an enemy according to its classical interpreters, whereas the classics of Communism were totally devoted to annihilating the capitalist world.  Those who deny or pervert the classical teachings of Islam today are a small (but growing) minority, just as was the dissident minority among the Communists of yesteryear.  The challenge used to be how to support the growth of heterodox Communists, whereas now it is to marginalize the heterodox Muslims who claim to represent Islam but do not.

If we can recognize that the Muslim bashers, like Robert Spencer and Jihad Watch, really are on our side in the global war against terrorism, how can we convince them that their strategy is counter-productive?  It should seem obvious by now that demonizing Islam merely breeds more Muslim extremists by evoking extremist reactions.  Most ironically, the Muslim bashers support the Muslim terrorists by agreeing with their perversions of the Qur’an and sunnah.

We can turn today’s Muslim bashers into friends, however, only if they can bring themselves to adopt a paradigm of grand strategy, whereby tactics support strategy rather than undermine it.  It takes two to tango.


III.  Walk the Talk

The practical task of Muslims should be to provide ecumenical leadership in bringing a new paradigm of justice to bear in America.  Muslims seem to concentrate on bemoaning injustices rather than promoting justice as the source of innovative solutions to the challenges of injustice.  Most of the Muslims who have any interest in funding think-tanks want only to attack the injustices of current policy.  Such a negative approach would have little impact on developing future policies to promote justice. 

For example, Muslims attack the occupation of Iraq, which indeed was a foreordained monstrosity of policymaking, but they uniformly shy away from suggesting any positive solutions to eliminate the justification for continued occupation.  Where are the Muslims who advocate a federal or confederal political system in Iraq adequate to meet the dignity of the persons and communities there?  And where are the Muslims who advocate demonopolizing the state ownership of the oil in Iraq through individual non-alienable voting shares of stock to be owned equally by every person living there, which would make possible the demonopolization of political power.  At present the various nations in the artificial country of Iraq have no choice but to try to destroy each other in order to get control of the central government, or else to try to destroy it.  In fact, they are trying to do both at once as the only alternatives to continued foreign occupation.  What constructive proposals have ever come from Muslims, especially in America?  Our Muslim leaders are not helping to lead America so that it can again become a moral model for the world.


IV.  Paying the Price

The latest trend among the leading think-tanks is to define a good Muslim as a “moderate” who is basically disassociated from both Islam and the political process.  A moderate Muslim, nowadays, is not one who is committed to Islam as a religion against those who would pervert it for un-Islamic agendas, but rather one who perverts it by claiming that Islam as a religion is itself perverted. 

In his article, “Myopic Builders and Elusive Moderates,” in the July/August Islamic Horizons, Dr. Louay Safi analyzes the latest production of the RAND Corporation, entitled Building Moderate Muslim Networks, which updates its earlier book-length report entitled Civil Democratic Islam. Whereas the earlier study suggested that some local Islamist movements might qualify as institutions of civil society necessary for the spread of democracy, the latest one takes the opposite approach by warning against cooperation with any Muslim activists.  The reason is that any support of those who promote Islam as a religion and Islamic values for sociopolitical reform would tend to marginalize the moderates, defined as secularist and liberal Muslims, who do not.  These Muslim moderates now include Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Basam Tibi, and Taslima Nasreen.  The only significant Muslim organization that deserves to be supported is said to be the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), which relied on U.S. governmental and semi-governmental agencies for funding during the era before funding for such Muslim initiatives was cut off as useless. 

In order to counter unacceptable funding from Muslim sources, the task of counter-terrorists in the U.S. government and private foundations now is to “level the playing field for moderates” by providing alternative funding, just as was done during the Cold War against Communism, to “build moderate Muslim networks.”


V.  The Paradigmatic Frontier

What would an Islamic grand strategy have to say about such counter-productive trends?  Instead of focusing on the tactics of trench warfare and losing sight of the big picture, grand strategy would suggest that the real issue is paradigmatic.  Instead of exhausting one’s energies in fighting Muslim bashers, it would be more productive to develop and promote the enlightened Islamic paradigm that gave rise to the Islamic civilization a thousand years ago.  This civilization imploded when its guiding jurisprudential paradigm was abandoned and was replaced by an obsession merely to preserve the externals, which without the holistic paradigm of classical Islamic thought no longer had much meaning.

This process of revival is already underway, as shown ithe most unlikely places.  One of the old stalwarts of Islam in America is Mumina Kowalski, who is a “pre-trinitarian” Christian, like most of the other Americans who have embraced Islam.  Unlike myself, who was judged to be incompetent to teach Islam in Maryland’s state prison system, she has become a Muslim chaplain in the State Correctional Institution at Muncy, Pennsylvania.  She is working together with Umar Abd Allah of the Nawawi Foundation and Abdul Hakim Jackson in an initiative entitled “Essential Elements of Islamic Literacy” to overcome inter-ummah conflicts over both the essence and practice of Islam. 

In Sister Mumina’s article, “Standard Shift,” published in the July/August 2007 issue of Islamic Horizons, she recommends that to reconnect with God and understand Islam one must use as a framework the maqasid al shari’ah as a universal code of human rights.  The percolation of this classical Islamic paradigm down to the bowels of America’s prison system says something about the maturation of Islam in America, a happening that was absolutely inconceivable only a decade ago.  She is now one of those worldwide who are pushing at the frontiers of Islamic thought in a growing commitment to marginalize extremist Muslims by reviving the universal code of human rights developed over a period of centuries by some of the best human minds in classical Islam.


VI. Developing Fiqh al Tahayyuz

An important first step in the revival of classical Islam, as well as of the traditionalist wisdom at the heart of every religion, is to recognize that bias exists and that it must be understood and countered in order to preserve the purity of Islam or any other world religion.  This is especially important for Muslims who have been abandoning the potential of Islam in the development of a global civilization based on cooperation of all religions in pursuing peace through justice.

Muslims and others would do well to absorb the findings of a new book, translated from Arabic into English by the International Institute of Islamic Thought, entitled Epistemological Bias in the Physical and Social Sciences, edited by Abdelwahab M. Elmessiri. 

This book collects the best eleven of more than eighty studies in seven volumes developing the new discipline of fiqh al-tahayyuz, or the “scholarship of bias,” as a methodology for recognizing, understanding, and transcending the covert transmission of one culture in a deconstructive way to another.  The methodology is equally applicable to all one-way intrusions that disrupt and overcome another culture. 

This book focuses on the “materialist monism” of Western secular thought in its process of memetic warfare against the Islamic worldview through the subliminal or subconscious imposition of Western epistemological biases in the form of premises, categorizations and prioritization of knowledge, and policy prescriptions as universal truths. 

The end result is the education of Muslim elites who seek their identities through what Professor Abdul Hakim Jackson terms “false universals” by denying the transcendence of reality and absorbing such purportedly universal goals as the pursuit of materialist progress without human values as their purpose in life.  Thus alienated from the sources of hope, commitment, self-confidence, and creativity in their own culture, the victims of such cultural demolition become like welfare dependents who live off of intellectual food stamps and lapse into the civilizational backwaters of the world with nothing to offer to humanity other than natural resources in the ground to fuel the technology of the dominant civilization.

This poses a challenge not merely to the “minority cultures” in the world, who lose the power to change their present reality, but to the very possibility of a global civilization embodying the wisdom of all cultures.
 
The editor of this effort to develop a systematic methodology for identifying and overcoming epistemological bias provides a book-length introductory chapter, “The Gate of Ijtihad: An Introduction to the Study of Epistemological Bias.”  This is followed and explicated in ten studies by Arab scholars, each charged with identifying the latent biases encountered in his or her own discipline, and each tasked to identify the elements or features that have been excluded as exogenous variables in the dominant Western epistemological model and which can be observed and incorporated only by means of a new methodology expressing a new paradigm.

This initiative to develop a new discipline of knowledge on the phenomenon of cultural invasion and on how to gain and maintain objectivity independent of any single culture may be considered to be part of the “Islamization of thought” as an inter-cultural and inter-faith effort, with Islam understood in the Qur’anic sense as incorporating all persons and people who recognize the existence of the transcendent and of justice and who do good works.  Indeed, every paradigm of human thought in its process of inclusion, exclusion, and reconstruction addresses in one way or another the ultimate questions, which this book on epistemological bias lists as “the purpose of creation, the nature of humankind (material, spiritual, or both), and the center of the universe (immanent or transcendent).”

The approach of this new discipline necessarily brings out the extent to which the various Islamist movements accept, consciously or unconsciously, the Western cultural paradigm or many of its aspects as a silent point of reference.  The editor, Elmessiri, writes, “Some of them even go so far as to claim that the Islamic project is the best and most effective way to adopt and apply the Western cultural paradigm to the Islamic world. … Islam is rediscovered … to make it conform to the Western cultural paradigm.  In other words, the Islamic paradigm is being subtly Westernized from within, with no cultural invasion from without.”

This book distinguishes between classical Islamic ijitihad, guarded by all the careful guidelines of the maqasid al shari’ah in the ‘usul al fiqh, and modernist parodies of it.

The sophistication of this book on countering bias at the fundamental levels of human thought, which control all other levels, is evidenced in its treatment of paradigmatic bias as potentially good as well as bad, and in any case as inevitable. 

A paradigm is defined as “a mental abstract picture, an imaginary construct, and a symbolic representation of reality that results from a process of deconstruction and reconstruction.  The mind assembles some features from reality, rejecting some and keeping others. … A materialist economistic paradigm, for example excludes non-economic, non-materialistic factors, whereas a humanist paradigm would include other elements and factors.” 

Bias is defined in English as “advocacy of a particular point of view.”  In this book, bias is defined as “the totality of latent values underlying the paradigm, and the procedures and methodologies which guide researchers without their being necessarily aware of them.”  In the world of academia “this system of values defines the field of investigation and the direction of research, and very often determines results in advance.”

Bias at the highest level disentangled from its negative sense is not at all a defect and, in fact, can be considered to be a gift of God.  “Bias is a basic component of the human donnee [fitrah] and is associated with the humanness of man and woman, i.e., with the very existence of the human being as a non-natural creature that cannot be reduced to the general laws of nature.  Whatever is human includes within it a degree of individuality and uniqueness and, therefore, bias.”

The “one humanity” to be imposed by the secular and innately totalitarian “European Enlightenment” differs profoundly from the “common humanity” created by God with a common human nature.  “The Creator wished that they not be one nation, but rather a variety of peoples and tribes, each with its particular set of choices. … ‘Had God so willed, He surely could have made them one single community’ (Surah al Shura, 42:8).” 

Each of the ten contributors was asked to state his or her own biases, because the purpose is not to substitute one bias for another but rather to expand the relevant paradigms in order to develop more complex means to understand both reality and any given culture.  Specifically, “the aim is to transform closed paradigms based upon modern Western assumptions into open-ended universal human paradigms based on knowledge of all cultural formations … in order to arrive at a higher level of abstraction and, therefore, of universality.” 

The objective therefore is not to deny the value of Western culture, but to recognize the limited universality of the dominant Western paradigm and its contingent basis as part of a phase of Western history.  In fact, a major objective of fiqh al-tahayyuz can include the discovery of the permanent things that underlie every civilization but may have been eclipsed in a particular culture by the perversion of its original wisdom.


VII. The Normative Law of the Maqasid al Shari’ah

The concept of justice as the fullest expression of transcendent truth and the study of its generic nature in jurisprudential systems of normative law have always been my principal interest in life.  From 1956 to 1959, I spent three years at Harvard Law School only to find that in its positivist system of jurisprudence even the concepts of truth, justice, and normative law were actively banned from discussion or even mention except in post-graduate seminars on comparative law. 

Twenty years later, I was asked as a non-Muslim to write a manual on Islam for the employees of the Fluor Corporation in Saudi Arabia, because Fluor could not find any Muslim capable of explaining it to Americans.  This was when, thirty years ago, I first encountered the only code of human rights in existence based on a coherent set of universal principles, known in classical Islamic jurisprudence as the maqasid or purposes, kulliyat or universals, and dururiyat or essentials of universal justice.  These were briefly treated, but not developed, in a little known book in English, Islamic Law, by Sa’id Ramadhan, who was the imam at the big Islamic Center in Geneva, Switzerland.  He had married the daughter of Hassan al Banna, imbibed Al Banna’s Sufi-inspired teachings on justice sufficiently to be banned from Egypt, and fathered one of the greatest Islamic scholars of the twenty-first century, Tariq Ramadhan. 

These principled purposes of Islamic jurisprudence are discussed in chapters 6 through 11 of Part Two, entitled “Human Rights in Traditionalist Islam: Legal, Economic, and Political Perspectives,” in my latest book, Compassionate Justice: Source of Convergence Between Science and Religion, and are compared with traditionalist Western thought within the ecumenical framework of metalaw in chapters 17 through 31 of Parts Four through Seven.  These maqasid al shari’ah are to be discussed, in sha’a Allah, in more conventional detail in a sequel now under preparation.

One of the modern pioneers in this Islamic discipline, Dr. Mejdulawi, was completing his doctoral dissertation on the maqasid at Abu Nur University in Damascus, Syria, when I was studying there in 1995 under the direction of the Grand Mufti Samahatu Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro.  Dr. Mejdulawi lamented the fact that this classical core of Islamic jurisprudence was unknown as a system of thought in the modern world and was covered, if at all, in Muslim law faculties only as part of history.  We were to spend ten years together recovering this lost art, but unfortunately Dr. Mejdulawi seems to have disappeared into the black hole of missing Muslim scholars, as has also my copy of his writings.

The literature on classical Islamic thought was immeasurably enriched by the recent publication of the first book in English that provides a comprehensive history of the maqasid al shari’ah and explains the ‘usul al fiqh of the shari’ah as the premiere example of normative law unmatched and even unrivaled in any other civilization.  This book by Ahmad al Raysuni, entitled Imam al Shatibi’s Theory of Higher Objectives and Intents of Islamic Law, was published in 2005 by the International Institute of Islamic Thought.

The almost universal ignorance of the maqasid in recent centuries is a major reason why those hostile to Islam, including both Orientalist scholars and popular muckrakers, have succeeded in portraying both the Qur’an and Islamic jurisprudence as primitive in concept, irrelevant to any framework of justice, and focused entirely on superficial do’s and don’ts without any higher purpose or coherent meaning. 

This lack of any literature in English on the substantive purposes of Islamic law no doubt has also influenced those Muslim writers educated in the West who parrot the bias of the Orientalists by using a biased view of Western positivist law as the base case for comparing it with Islamic law, rather than using Islamic law as the base case for comparative evaluation of Western law.  Ignorance of the maqasid among modernist Muslims explains why even otherwise knowledgeable Muslims have accepted the biased approach of the Orientalists and therefore have had basically nothing to say about human rights in Islamic thought other than an embarrassed “me too.” 

This defensive mindset reflects the lack of ijtihad as a primary goal of competency in Islamic education and relegates Muslims to irrelevance in world affairs.  The “me too” mentality implies that Islamic scholarship has nothing to offer in addressing the issues of conscience in the world.  In effect, it leaves Muslims no choice but to agree with the secular fundamentalist legal systems that have come to dominate in Western culture, in which justice has been crowded out as the real meaning of “the rule of law” and been replaced by the imposition of “peace, freedom, and democracy” without any moral content. 

This “me too-ism” explains why Muslims have failed to provide leadership in developing the paradigm of human rights as the core of law and philosophy in the modern world.  It also explains why Muslims usually are only “add-ons” to interfaith initiatives and therefore must accept the agendas advanced by those who accept Muslim participation only to fake an image of inclusion.  This, in turn, is one reason why so many Muslims, faced with existential threats to their own identity, react by resorting blindly to hatred and violence rather than with deeper understanding of the classical Islamic search for divine wisdom.

In addition to its 39-page Author’s Preface, the Raysuni book introduces the systematic analysis of the maqasid al shari’ah with a 72-page history of this normative paradigm.  Such a history of its development from one generation to the next over a period of hundreds of years, beginning with the era of the sahaba, had never before been written in any language.  It provides an essential backdrop to any genuine understanding of Islamic law, both in theory and in addressing the specific issues that have arisen over the centuries among the classical scholars.

The excellent bibliography in the Raysuni book on the maqasid glaringly and accurately exposes the black hole of normative law in Islamic culture, which appeared after Al Shatibi’s death and endured until recently for six hundred years.  Raysuni’s bibliography lists 139 books and four journals that treat the maqasid with more than a throwaway reference.  All are in Arabic, except three.  The first is a Russian translation by Samir Karam in 1974 of a compilation of writings by a committee of Soviet academics under the supervision of the Jewish scholar, Rosenthal Yudinmore.  The second is a PhD thesis by Abd al-Aziz Rabiah at Al Azhar, translated into Arabic in 1980 in Riyadh.  The third is Shaykh Taha Jabir al-Alwani’s monograph, Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence: Usul al Fiqh al Islam. 

This monograph was translated into English in 1992 from the Arabic, Usul al-Fiqh al-Islami: Manhaj, Bahth wa Ma’rifah, by the International Institute of Islamic Thought as the second publication in its major program to make the best of the literature on the maqasid available in English to the reading public.  The first publication by the IIIT on the maqasid was the Arabic publication of the Raysuni book, under its title Nazariyat al-Maqasid, in 1991.

The major purpose and effort during untold centuries of some of the best minds in the world was to understand the divine wisdom underlying Islamic rulings by identifying a Qur’anic methodology and orthodox process to develop the Islamic vision, values, and principles required to preserve the purity of Islamic guidance in applying these rulings.  In his introduction to this volume, Shaykh Al-Alwani writes, “They made it clear that every legal ruling in Islam has a function which it performs, an aim which it realized, a cause, be it explicit or implicit, and an intention which it seeks to fulfill, and all of this in order to realize benefit to human beings or to ward off harm and corruption.”  This is the basis of all inductive reasoning in Islamic thought and, in turn, of its major contribution to human civilization.

The efforts of the greatest Islamic scholars during the early Islamic centuries focused on the practice of ta’lil, which is the identification of the causes and purposes (the ‘illah) of texts, especially of divine revelation, in order better to understand through ta’wil the underlying meanings, while fully aware that no person or group of persons can ever grasp the full extent of divine wisdom.

By reviving the queen of Islamic sciences, the maqasid al shari’ah, through such crown jewels as this English publication of the Raysuni book, the Muslim umma has passed a major milestone in pursuing the task of promoting Islamic knowledge by reforming and Islamizing Muslim thought.  As Shaykh Taha puts it in the introduction, the reason for translating the Raysuni book on the maqasid is “to help Muslims make the mental transition from a preoccupation with particulars to a concern with universals, from stopping at outward structures to attention to truths and meanings, from imitation and subordination to creativity and authenticity, and from a focus on means and methods to activity for the purpose of achieving intentions and objectives.”  Only in this way can Muslims provide both intellectual and spiritual leadership so that all peoples in all cultures can better cooperate in serving their purpose of existence as stewards of creation.


VIII.   Direct from the Horse’s Mouth

The seminal thinker and even founder of the current revival of Islam as a leader in the global pursuit of peace through justice is Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur, who advanced to become the Chief Mufti of Tunisia during the 1930s when the world was in profound economic depression and the militant atheism of Communism was already threatening to engulf the world.  His Treatise on Maqasid al Shari’ah, first published in Arabic in 1946, is the first analysis of the maqasid al shari’ah or purposes of Islamic law as a system of thought since the death of the master of the subject, Ibn Shatibi, and of ijtihad generally in the Arabic speaking world, six hundred years ago. 

Al Shatibi’s manuscript, Al Muwafakat, was first published in printed form when Ibn Ashur was a boy.  Born in 1879, Ibn Ashur’s rediscovery of Al Shatibi led him to counter the inroads of secular modernism worldwide by pursuing his lifelong commitment to independent study of the shari’ah as a jurisprudential paradigm or framework of Islamic thought superior to all the European ideologies that were leading the world into chaos.

As a Maliki jurist, Al-Shatibi built on the intellectual efforts of his Hanbali predecessor, Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah, who died a half century earlier, because both of these madhdhabib emphasized the inner purpose of acts rather than merely their form.  Ibn Ashur emphasized that higher purpose is paramount in all human life.  He began the preface of his master work, al Muwafakat, with the statement, “Nobody would contest that the provisions and ordinances of any divine law (shari’ah) instituted for humankind aim at certain objectives intended by God, the Lawgiver.”

The entire purpose of classical Islamic jurisprudence, according to Ibn Ashur’s maqsudi paradigm, is to raise awareness and respect for tawhid, which is the coherent order in diversity that points to the Oneness of its Creator, and to strengthen one’s taqwa and love of God.  He contrasted this with the modernist or positivist concept of order embodied in the jahiliyyah, which refers exclusively to stability through material dominance, superficial security, and short-term expediency without any reference to higher moral norms or principles.

The translation by Mohamed el-Tahir al-Mesawi of Muhammad al-Tahir Ibn Ashur’s major work on the maqasid has led the way to the restoration of justice as the substance of the Divine Will and as the basic Islamic paradigm for distinguishing right from wrong in human affairs.  Grand Mufti Ibn Ashur developed Islamic jurisprudence even beyond that of the classical scholars by showing more systematically how to use inductive reasoning from the wisdom of the Qur’an to identify the higher principles of justice.  This makes it possible systematically to use deductive reasoning from these higher principles to address specific cases, so that the application of rules and regulations will not lead to injustice.  This methodology was used by the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alayhi was salam, when he would pose both actual and hypothetical cases to his followers as means of instruction in addressing legal problems. 

This methodology of classical Islamic jurisprudence also made it possible to avoid the so-called “law of necessity,” which implies that the shari’ah is not universally applicable as a complete code of justice for all times and places.  Such a limited conception of Islamic law has often led to the substitution of positivist law for the normative law of classical Islamic jurisprudence.

Ibn Ashur’s revival of classical Islamic law also broadened the concept of justice to inform all public policy on issues of conscience.  Although the standards of application, using the guidelines of istislah, were stricter for enforceable law, the same principles were applicable through the looser standards of istihsan for public policy guidance, as well as in applying the spectrum of juristic categories, unknown in Western positivist law, ranging from required (wajib), recommended (mandub), and morally neutral (muba), to makruh (to be discouraged) and haram (forbidden).  This provided a framework of ethics based on Qur’anic revelation (the haqq al yaqin of wahy) as well as on natural law (the haqq al ‘ain or sunnat Allah) through the ijtihad of human reason (haqq al ‘ilm).

In this way Ibn Ashur introduced Islamic law as a universal framework of reference for both private morality and public policy, as well as for philosophy and for the convergence and mutual support of faith and reason.  The abandonment of this major intellectual contribution of Islamic civilization to the world was the major cause of the Islamic civilization’s decline.  Grand Mufti Ibn Ashur envisioned the revival of the maqasid as the most important means to reform Muslim thought in order to restore Islam as a global leader in restoring the wisdom of traditionalist thought in all the world religions.

Ibn Ashur’s development of the maqasid of the ‘usul al fiqh served to restore the nature of the shari’ah as a system of education designed primarily as guidance for persons and communities in following the will of God, rather than as merely a set of enforceable requirements and prohibitions.  This contrasted starkly with the positivist concept of law in the West, where law is created by humans, not by God, and exists only to the extent that it can be and is enforced by the monopoly of coercion in the state.

The most significant and profound contribution of Ibn Ashur’s scholarship for Islamic leadership in the modern world is his articulation of the maqasid as a code of human rights superior to any others developed by other civilizations.  Following the teachings of Al Shatibi and most of the other classical scholars on normative Islamic law, Ibn Ashur taught that the number and even the substance of the maqasid are flexible, as is also their prioritization.

His three boldest contributions to the development of the maqasid in the contemporary world was to 1) introduce “respect for freedom of religion” as a maqsud under the old rubric haqq al din; 2) define the maqsud, haqq al mal, as respect for private ownership of capital as the major source of wealth in a capital intensive economy, contrary to Karl Marx’s labor theory of value; and 3) introduce a new maqsud of equality specifying that “all human beings in the shari’ah are equal with regard to what is indispensable (dururi) and necessary (haji).  This third contribution to the field of human rights states that the wealth of those who presently own it may never be taken away, but opportunities should be expanded for people who do not own the means of production to gain ownership in future wealth by redesigning financial institutions so that they will broaden capital ownership and thereby reduce the wealth gap as a source of extremism and revolution.

Ibn Ashur states that he had three objectives in writing this book, which are: 1) to present the maqsudi paradigm as a frame of reference for both Muslim and non-Muslim students of Islam; 2) marginalize extremism (ghuluw) and counter hate-filled fanaticism (hirabah) by developing enlightened ijma’ among Muslim jurisprudents based on the underlying universal wisdom (hikmah) of the shari’ah; and 3) institute a process of global reform (islah ‘amm) based on the highest good of the human community (masalih) in order to marginalize the utilitarian, individualistic, and “democratic” concept of peace through power and instead to replace it with peace through justice.

The Muslim umma has been blessed with many grand strategists throughout its history.  Most of them have been imprisoned for their efforts.  They have paid the price for pushing the paradigmatic frontiers of human thought and for walking the talk.  They focused on exposing and countering un-Islamic deviations both in the Muslim political leadership and in the extremist movements that always provoke political oppression. 

Today this dual task may be even more important than it ever has been in the past because the world is now a “global village” and is full of misfits and bullies with either actual or potential access to nuclear weapons.  The task of grand strategy is to make alliances with those who are concerned about the Muslim terrorists but do not yet understand the power of Islam as a religion to expose them as muharibun. 

The Islamic civilization has always had its own means to inoculate itself against the virus of extremism.  As the resurgent civilization of Islam revives to play a major role in world affairs, one of its major tasks must be to combat extremist threats from within.  This effort, however, can succeed only if both Muslims and others learn to differentiate between Islam the religion and Muslims as adherents who may or may not understand and practice their own faith.  Only in this way can those who now profess to be enemies of Islam understand and embrace the grand strategy of cooperation with committed Muslims who share their concerns and are better situated both to plan and take effective action. 

  This article is Part II of a series that commenced with Part I, entitled “The Mission of Imams in America: Marginalizing Extremists by Revealing the Real Truth About Muhammad,” which went on-line on June 25, 2007.


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