Asabiyah's Complexities

Developing Just Leadership

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Ramadan 17, 1434 2013-07-26

Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi ws sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,

The ayaat that have been quoted in the previous khutbahs as a shelter for the Muslims who were listening to them for the first time when they were revealed were not just words on a piece of paper or a piece of parchment or a piece of leather, (whatever it may have been). These words penetrated into their depths.

It settled in their hearts and in their minds. The Prophet of Allah passed away and like we said when he passed away there were multitudes of people who jumped on the Islamic bandwagon. This was in the final couple of years of the Prophet’s lifetime. Here we had over a hundred thousand who were not from the Muhajirin (radi Allahu anhum) who were not from the Ansar (radi Allahu anhum) who were not from amongst those who struggled for the past twenty years with Allah’s Prophet. So now we had new dynamics that are at work and because we have what is beginning to look like a civil war among Muslims we have to go to these issues to deal with them at the source because the ignorance of these source issues is the material of today’s war making among the Muslims. The ignorance of what you are about to hear is what feeds the attitudes of Muslim people who want to kill other Muslim people. So it’s very important to zero in, in context, on what is being said. We spoke about hurub ar ridda, the wars of regression and breakaway tendencies among the Muslims. In the first couple of years of the first successor to Allah’s Prophet there was a civil war among Muslims. No one tells you this was a civil war. They cloak it with words that are not easy to figure out. They tell you “the wars of apostasy” and all of a sudden your mind goes in a non thinking direction because there is nothing that equates to wars of apostasy. So we had a virtual civil war among the Muslims. Let us understand how this type of civil wars- just like today they want to get a civil war going- begin.

We go back to that initial Islamic chapter in history (and) we find that when you have a war like that some Muslims want to breakaway from the government in Al Madinah and those who are with the government in Al Madinah wanting to maintain an integral, a unified or a solidified base. Of course those who wanted to breakaway lost these wars. We are talking about ten (or) twenty (or) thirty different types of flare ups that needed military force to put an end to them. The result of all of this was these murtaddun, these breakaway types who were Muslims just like everyone else, lost but when they lost what happened after that? When something like that happens you have people in society who are going to have inside of them reactionary feelings towards the government. They know they lost and they know now that they took a public position and they are known. Let us tell you something- the people at that time knew who they were and we today don’t know who they were?! This is a problem we have. Our history books did not come to us telling us these certain people or these certain individuals were on the side of ridda against the central Islamic government in Al Madinah. It doesn’t exist. If these names were known to us we would begin to sort things out but because the way we inherited our history books we know what happened but we don’t know the individuals who participated in what happened. We know a few of them but we don’t know them categorically. This is and area where the word As sahaba becomes a word that people stretch in their own direction. As we said these history books are silent about these breakaway elements. We want you to remember when you hear this chapter in history always- always- put inside your mind that these people are living with asabiyah. Islam and the Prophet were not magicians (i.e.) all of a sudden they can wave a wand and then the asabiyah goes away. It’s a struggle of a lifetime, it’s a struggle of generations, it’s a struggle of the ages to get rid of this asabiyah. So during this time, (we’re speaking about the Khilafah of Abi Bakr (radi Allahu anhu), when these wars were in progress and then after these wars were settled the Khalifah said he doesn’t want any of these murtaddin involved in anything that has to do with Islamic decision making because they proved themselves; they were “enemies of the state.” That’s exactly who they were- they were enemies so they had nothing to do with deciding the policies of the state- you’re out. You committed a type of treason so you don’t qualify to be a responsible public servant- that was official policy. So now we have a new type of asabiyah coming into existence. Remember the Islamic state, (maybe this is something you and I are going to have to think about for a long time), was an open one. It wasn’t closed saying if you want to become a Muslim you are excluded or you don’t qualify because you’re not from that tribe or you’re not an Arab. No! Islam was open at this time. So now we had this asabiyah almost breaking out into partisan politics or to put it another way the asabiyah now had the potential of becoming party politics. It didn’t become but you can sense that this is where it is going because the murtaddun were excluded right now. What do you think- they lost these wars, they harbour inside of themselves a very recent jahiliyyah- they’re going to sit under the shade of a tree and say “everything is fine” or they’re going to think about how to get involved now or how to gain favour now of authority or of the government? Abu Bakr said don’t accept the assistance of a murtad in fighting the enemy. Abu Bakr passes away.

Remember these events feed into the big argument later on that is going to become what we have inherited as the Sunni-Shi’i polarisation. Remember when you listen to speakers who recall the history of Sunnis and Shi’is you rarely, if ever, hear about, (number one), this element of the jahiliyyah of asabiyah prior to Islam and the asabiyah of irtidad right now that’s in the making after the Prophet passed away.

Then came Umar (radi Allahu anhu), the second successor to Allah’s Prophet. He had another approach. He permitted some of these murtaddin to reintegrate into, (what we call today), civic life. It’s like a person has a felony or felonies in their record- they are excluded from obtaining civic positions in the government. Well that’s the way it was then. These were considered people who were almost guilty of high treason during Abi Bakr’s time and so they had no access to the government. As we said this fed into their own asabiyah- a asabiyah that is complicated by coming from the asabiyah of jahiliyyah. So now Umar has another policy with them. He says no, they can participate now. If they want to go and join the Islamic armed forces let them go. If they want to give their lives for the cause of Islam why should we be telling them no don’t do that? So he opened the door for them to enter into a military position but a very minor one; no generals here, no high brass. None of that- just foot soldiers. If you want to serve (or) give your life for Allah and His Prophet- OK, fine you can go. The highest position that they acquired according to this new policy was if they were in charge of other Muslims they were not permitted to be in charge of more than one hundred other Muslims. That’s the highest they could get. We’re still trailing this phenomena of irtidad, (i.e.) these people who were in the tens of thousands who were Murtaddin who met the personal criteria of being an individual Muslim- they were praying, they were paying their zakah, they were fasting Ramadhan like we are fasting; they were doing all of these things. So we’re following them. What is going on with them?

When the time of Uthman (radi Allahu anhu) came, all of the previous policies of Abi Bakr and Umar were annulled- as if none of that had happened. Uthman’s argument was this is a way of getting rid of their previous hard feelings. Let’s integrate them just like other normal citizens of the state. Of course, as we will see later on this turned out to be contributing to the disasters that were going to follow but that’s how we read these developments. Many of these murtaddin resettled in Iraq. We’re speaking before the time of fitnah, these are pre-fitnah times. Right now these are the psychological and the social elements that went into this fitnah. So most of them relocated to Iraq to play a role in future developments there. We’re going to skip momentarily to the future. In the future, we’re speaking about the Umawi reign (or) the Umawi government, the Umawi government was based on asabiyah that finally broke out of management. So these people who travelled from the Arabian peninsula to live in Iraq would find that during the time of asabiyah in the Umawi nation state they can express themselves now because asabiyah reinforces asabiyah. Also, what this phenomenon of asabiyah did was it created a class of people to make up for their criminal history- they fought against the state, they fought against the Muhajirin and the Al Ansar in Al Madinah after the Prophet passed away- so now when they were known- we know who you are- to try to make up for that they began to brown nose the state (and) they began to appear that they are more loyal to the state than the rest are; in other words they tried to put on a show that they are more committed Muslims than the committed Muslims who have a history of commitment- not just appearances and surface images and these things, no; but this is what happens when you have a group who were against this Islamic leadership in war (and) now they want to make up for that by words. In the Arabic language you had the murtaddin become mutazallifeen the type opportunists (or) the type who want to show you and who want you to listen to what suits you. This phenomenon that we had created this type of people who still inside of them carry the asabiyah of jahiliyyah now combined with the civic asabiyah that was generated when they lost hurub ar ridda. Remember these details because you’re not going to come across them when you listen to people who should be in a position to have the confidence to speak the truth about what happened instead of making Sunnis muta’assibin and instead of making Shi’is muta’asibin to liberate themselves. Go back to the raw material of all of this and take a look what happened here! And because we haven’t done that in our public mind, (there may be some individuals who did this and they liberated themselves from traditions and cultures but as a society as a whole we haven’t done that), after Umar’s time, (as we said), right now we have a person with new policies. He tried to channel this internal disquiet in society by concentrating on what we call today foreign policy. So the Islamic forces took a very long stretch into the areas previously belonging to the Byzantines and the Persian empires and as this was happening this created another difficulty for the Muslims. Before we get into the difficulty that developed from all of this, remember Islam was not a limited force. Islam was a growing force because the objective was to dislodge injustice in the world but what happened to implement this policy, (Umar, rightly or wrongly Allah knows best- we wish we had all of the information so that we can say with a good degree of confidence whether it was right or wrong; we simply don’t but from the information that is available to us), what Umar did in emphasizing foreign policy was he told the major personalities of Quraysh you are not permitted to go outside of Al Madinah. What he meant by that was it is unlawful for you to accompany the Muslims into these new territories that they are going to. He had them under “city arrest.” You can’t! His fear was that they will take their own asabiyaat with them and then instead of having a problem that is nearby that you can control they are going to go to far away territories and then begin what will become trouble making in far away territories so in order for that not to happen he said to them stay here. You’re not going anywhere. This is his quote (or) these are the words he used to express himself, what fears me most about you pertaining to this Ummah is that you spread away from here. Remember these are Sahabis (radi Allahu anhum) and they have a history of sacrificing; some of them are Muhajirin, actually all of them are Muhajirin because they’re all from Quraysh. Remember, (we’re sorry to say- we Muslims just don’t think), the heads of Quraysh now were no longer in Makkah. They were in Al Madinah. They came to where the power is and that was seen by some as a way to dilute this trouble making asabiyah because if they were to go back to Makkah they can stir trouble because Makkah was just liberated a few years ago and if they went back there carrying with them over twenty years of wars and bloodshed against Al Madinah then something is going to happen. So there was an advantage to that policy to have these high ranking Qurayshis confined to Al Madinah. So when they came to Umar and said you know we want to go with this expedition or this force or that contingent that is going to Africa or to Asia or Northwards towards Anatolia this is the way he would respond, these are his words. If a person with such desire came he’d say you’ve had in your participation in the ghazawaat of Rasulillah enough rewards and the following sentence was and it’s better for you today not to participate in going out in this military obligation so that the world doesn’t see you and you don’t see the world. The world here- the wording here in Arabic is duniya- and (even though) literally it’s the world but what it means is the attractions of this world (i.e.) you’re going to get involved in the wealth, in the leisure (and) in the comfort of the world outside of Al Madinah. There’s a lot of enticement (and) there’s a lot of traps out there so it’s better for you that you don’t go. Stay here and make with all of the compensation you got with all of the participation in the ghazawaat that you partook in the past.

We have to say that during the time of Umar something else appeared. Remember, (we don’t know how many times we’re going to have to repeat it but we have to because it is one of the essentials or one of the basics in our history that people just overlook- as if it doesn’t exist), when all of this was being done the major concern was to confine and to contain and to as much as possible discipline the asabiyah that is still there. In trying to do that we covered some of the territory concerning the murtaddin, now concerning the official policy. The official policy during the time of Umar wasn’t done for the purpose of asabiyah even though it could be recycled for the purpose of asabiyah- there’s two different things here. Remember this area that we’re touching on is the material of today’s civil wars. You have to place in your mind that Islam now was outside of the Arabian Peninsula. There were new people now who were becoming Muslims, who couldn’t read the Qur’an (and) who couldn’t understand what Allah and His Prophet were saying but it wasn’t a state that said “look I’m going to do with what I have. Right now we, in the Arabian Peninsula and some little parts of Syria and Iraq, are the ones who speak the Arabic language therefore what business do we have going to all these other territories?” That could have been an option. They could have done that and saved themselves all of these problems right now that were waiting to happen but they didn’t do that because their thrust was to end this injustice all the way as far as they can go. In their drive to end injustice they were an integrated society. They didn’t tell people “oh you can’t be a Muslim or you don’t qualify to be equal with us.” In theory that was the case. Theory is one thing but when you come to practise it becomes a little different. Here is where we begin to sense during the time of Umar, for the purposes of keeping an eye on this asabiyah and not letting it break out into another form of internal warfare, what he did was he gave more credibility to the Arabs than the non Arabs. Now this would sound like a nationalist policy and if you just say it like that everyone will understand that Umar here is a type of nationalist character but it’s not that simple because as we said, this was a society that was integrating those who were non Arabic speakers into it on the basis of Islam. So if we had the Qur’an and some of the words of the Prophet in front of us who is going to understand this? Will the recently converted Muslim in Byzantium or in Persia understand this? Let’s be down to earth and practical- they didn’t know the language. They didn’t know the Qur’an, they didn’t live with the Prophet- they had none of this so something had to be done here. You have to, (in a way), make people feel responsible. So he did this. He said Ok- this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to give those who speak Arabic a rank above those who don’t. (We don’t know how many times we can say this), remember, this is not meant for the purpose of asabiyah, to the contrary it was meant to defeat that asabiyah that they were dealing with. He did, though, say some things that can be, (in today’s world with your type of mind out there), either be considered “nationalist or sectarian.” Let us quote for you- one of the policies to be enacted during Umar’s (reign and) also to be fair he said before he passed away if I had hindsight, with hindsight I would not have done some of the things that I did earlier on when I was responsible (or) when I was the Khalifah meaning he realised some of the things that he did- even though he did it to avoid this asabiyah- it ricocheted (or) it had a bounce back effect so in this statement he said it’s very ugly for the Arabs that they have some of them in bondage. First of all because of the traditions of jahiliyyah and second of all because of the movement of Islam into other territories that were inhabited by Arab speaking people some of them were in bondage, especially the women. They’re called sabaya. This is one of the realities of war. It has its own discourse and now is not the time to go into that so he made it an official policy to free those who were Arabic speakers of this bondage. Now there were those who were not Arabic speakers who were Muslims who were in bondage but this policy didn’t apply to them. People who understand history just in parts and in partialities will think “you see the problems began with this person! Look what he did!” Yeah- if you’re just looking at part of the picture he comes out looking like that but if you take all the picture with its previous asabiyaat trying to have the Arabic speakers being put in a position to teach and feel responsible towards others then you’re not understanding the whole picture.

Another statement attributed to him, (we’re not going to leave any of these out because trouble makers quote these things to divide Muslims. Our concern is more that Muslims should understand these issues fairly and factually and after that be not divided wherever the ball settles), Umar said another thing. There was an encouragement, a type of official incentive (in today’s language), during his time to have those who are Arabians trace their lineage from such a tribe or from such a clan and they go all the way back. This was something very well known among them. They used to do this without him saying that but now because there were other people (and) newcomers into society this was being diluted. People were losing sight of who they were so he was trying to remind them. Now where is all this leading us? Of course, if you’re reading up to here you’d say “why is he doing this with the Arabians? Why isn’t he doing this with the others?” The reason for this (that) he was leading up to (was that) because the official policies during Umar’s time (was) for the sake of overcoming the combined forces of asabiyah he gave preference to Quraysh over the Muhajirin (this was official policy). He gave preference to the Muhajirin over the Ansar. Even in some books they will tell you he gave preference to Aws amongst the Ansar themselves over the Khazraj and in his ijtihad, (wrong or right), he wanted those who were from Quraysh to understand who they are. So even though he said the Quraysh is above the Muhajirin, (without going into the details- what it comes down to is there’s Banu Hashim and Banu Umayah) Umar gave preference to Bani Hashim over Bani Umayah because he understood the asabiyah that Banu Umayah harboured in them. The Prophet was from Quraysh and the Prophet in particular was specifically from Bani Hashim and because of the history of the Prophet the element of asabiyah in Bani Hashim was lesser than it was in Banu Umayah, So he was out there to slay this asabiyah and in the process he was against what was going to happen in the future even though he doesn’t know the future. No one knows the future but the future was that the asabiyah of Bani Umayah was to trump the asabiyah of Bani Hashim and here its as if Umar was anticipating something like that (and) dealing with it in advance. You can’t call a man like that “someone who is gone off or someone who is selfish or someone who wants to concentrate power” and all these other accusations that come his way. Let’s be fair! There’s some other things we wanted to say and we know time is of essence here. Let us just add one more element.

When the Muslims left the Arabian Peninsula they went in all directions but a prime example of this is that some of the tribes settled in Al Kufa and some of them in Al Basrah- Yemeni tribes, Hijazi tribes, Hadramawti tribes, a lot of these tribes went and settled (there) because these were, (in today’s type of world), two major metropolitan centres. These were tribal types and now they have settled in an urban society. Its a movement from the rural to the urban and they integrated and they intermarried in that society and here too they developed another type of asabiyah. The same Yemeni tribes or the same Arabian tribes that left and settled in Al Kufa and others in Al Basrah would now be against each other. In other words if we have the tribe of Rabi’ah- some of them settled in Basrah and others settled in Al Kufa- and if there was tension between Al Kufa and Al Basrah Rabi’ah right now lost sense of its jahili asabiyah and now gained its asabiyah for Kufa against Al Basrah or for Al Basrah against Al Kufa. (Its) as if we had no complications in this?! Remember, no one touches on all of these details and all of these complications when they speak about Sunnis and Shi’is right now the way they do. They want everyone to believe that this is a matter of some contention for power between the Khulafa’ on one side and the A’imma on the other side. But what happened? Everyone that existed in that time was just the Khulafa’ and the A’imma?! These were all the people who existed? There was no one else who existed!? The hundreds of thousands of other peoples- no one was around? And if they were how did they think? What was their motivations inside of them? How did they deal with power? Did they want themselves to claim power? And if they did on what basis? And if they did how do you respond to them? That became the responsibility of those who succeeded Allah’s Prophet. If we understand (and) if we incorporate some of this information into the traditionalist information that has come to us in the past twenty, thirty, fifty (or) how many years we have in our intellectual life (and) just begin to deal with some of this information in the body of knowledge that you already have then you will find your way out of this neo-asabiyah that wants Sunnis or Shi’is to interpret their affiliation on the basis of this asabiyah that doesn’t belong. The asabiyah that some Arabs took advantage of created the asabiyah of mawali- those who were non-Arabs. This is something that belongs to our history. Just to make things a little easier to understand let us assume for a moment that we have an Islamic state, (we don’t want to name any country because people become sensitive and their minds go in different directions. We want you to think. We don’t want your emotions to take over). Islam came into existence in a certain country- that certain country speaks one language, it has one history, it has one culture, it has one ethnicity, bla bla bla bla. It has all of these. Do we have this Islam limited to this particular country and therefore not ready to deal with the complications and the complexities of asabiyah? Do we do it that way? Is this what those in the time of Allah’s Prophet and following Allah’s Prophet did? Look- they had an excuse- they could have said “this Qur’an and this Prophet are Arabic. What’s this headache? Relieve us of this headache! Where are we going with this?” They didn’t opt for that. They opted for discharging their responsibilities and dealing with all of the problems and potential problems that were inside of their societies (and) even inside of their own selves and history unfolded the way it did. History will change if we go to the Umawi part of history. Then we will see this is where asabiyah made its comeback. Here is where all precautions previously taken were sidelined and here is where we have to identify those who rode roughshod over the rest of the Muslims. Remember these were people who were conscientiously vocalising and mentalizing Allah’s words

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلَا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلَّا وَأَنتُم مُّسْلِمُونَ

وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

Oh you who are securely committed to Allah guard against Allah as is due to Him in the full measurement of this guard and do not die except in a state of submission to Him. And hold firm to Allah's binding matter all of you- no exceptions- and be not divided; and bare in mind Allah's provision, favour and privilege upon you when you (who are now Committed Muslims), were once enemies of each other and then He reconciled your hearts and familiarized and acquainted you with each other and then, due to this provision, favour and privilege you became brethren of each other; you were on the edge of a pit of fire and Allah saved you from it; it is with this is mind and with understanding these dynamics and factors that Allah is going to guide us. (Surah Aal Imran verse 102-103)

The Prophet of Allah says the equivalent of the Muslims is like one body, they care for themselves, they feel for themselves, they have sympathy to themselves, they show compassion towards themselves, if one part of that body aches, the rest of the body feels the pain.

Dear committed brothers and sisters…

In the few minutes that we have here on a hot day like this- next Friday is Yawm Al Quds, the international day of Jerusalem and if you know others who have it within themselves to express their solidarity with the massive injustice that has been militarised against the Muslims in the world, the least you can do is participate and to have those who can dispense with a couple of hours from the whole year to participate in this occasion and may Allah reward you and yours. Enough said.

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