Leadership - Sunni/Shi'i ideas

Developing Just Leadership

Muhammad H. al-'Asi

Jumada' al-Akhirah 22, 1434 2013-05-03

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

As you are aware, this khutbah comes to you from reality and from reality. This is no hypothetical presentation and it is not a reaction to the events that are taking shape around us. In this frame of reference you are aware that? Muslims are in the grip of a type of revival and in this context there is the issue of leadership. It’s a legitimate issue, it’s a nagging issue and as much as it’s an important and central issue, it seems to have been approached from the extremes- either extreme negligence or extreme hyperbole. Our attempt here, in this set of circumstances- the people in Egypt as an example are trying to define or mould a leadership and they’re going through ups and downs and forwards and backwards as they are doing that; the people in Tunisia have an Islamic leadership that makes frequent visits to the United States and other places in Europe (and) we don’t know if they’re looking for solutions in democracy or they are looking for crutches in what is supposed to be their reliance in Allah in these particular matters; (and we can’t go through all of the instances that we have), but we have also now the Islamic leadership in the Islamic state in Islamic Iran that has withstood the test of time, the internal intrigue and the ferocious foreign intrusion into its internal affairs via wars, via hypocrites, via fifth columnists- you name it- in this arena there is an issue of leadership as we said. Leadership simply transferred into the Qur’anic Arabic language is Imamah and it is mentioned about twelve times in the Qur’an. The Imamah or Imam or A’immah is mentioned about twelve times in the Qur’an. At least one of these times the word has a negative connotation and because this concept has been sidelined to the extreme by those who fashion themselves as Sunnis and because it has been centralised to the extreme by those who fashion themselves as Shi’is. We think we should visit this issue in a thoughtful manner so we’re going to have to quote these twelve ayaat in the Qur’an some what briefly where this concept is evoked.

The first one is in Surah Al Hijr ayah seventy nine- Allah says in reference to two societies, the society of Prophet Shuayb (alayhi as salaam) and the society of Prophet Lut (alayhi as salaam)

فَانتَقَمْنَا مِنْهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمَا لَبِإِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

We, (meaning divinity or Allah), took revenge upon them- these two societies are of a certainty in a position of illustrious or instructive leadership. (Surah Al Hijr verse 79)

As we said in one of the khutbahs before, when it comes to this word the aspect of ta’wil which is the primary meaning of the particular word Imam in this context (and) in those societies in the circumstances of those times- so Imam here according to some Muslims, (and we’re trying to be open minded about this and looking at the broad range of explanations), means a record in the form of a book or a ledger so the meaning of the ayah becomes .

فَانتَقَمْنَا مِنْهُمْ وَإِنَّهُمَا لَبِإِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

These two societies occupy a leading position that illustrate a lesson of guidance to those who follow. (Surah Al Hijr verse 79)

Remember, these are societies that are at the front pages of Prophetic history so they are at a teaching (or) leadership position to societies that shall follow.

Then another ayah, number twelve in Surah Yasin- a surah that most Muslims read, especially at times when someone passes away. Allah is speaking of His ability and His power.

وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ

… and everything we have taken count of… (Surah Yasin verse 12)

Once again, the word Imam to some Muslims means a register or a ledger or a book of accountability.

وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ فِي إِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

… and everything we have taken count of in a register or book or ledger. (Surah Yasin verse 12)

But then, another meaning of this word in this ayah, (and the previous ayah), is

وَكُلَّ شَيْءٍ أَحْصَيْنَاهُ فِي إِمَامٍ مُّبِينٍ

… and everything pertaining to individuals and societies we have taken count of in reference to their leadership preference. (Surah Yasin verse 12)

As you may follow, in the explanation of these ayaat there’s no contradiction. Its contradiction that begin to generate distances between Muslims but when there’s no contradiction why should there be any distances among Muslims?

The most quoted ayah when it comes to Imam that many Muslims are some what familiar with is ayah one hundred and twenty four in Surah Al Baqarah. Allah says to Ibrahim (alayhi as salaam)

قَالَ إِنِّي جَاعِلُكَ لِلنَّاسِ إِمَامًا ۖ قَالَ وَمِن ذُرِّيَّتِي

I am for sure developing you into an Imam or a leader for people; Ibrahim replies- and of my descendants, (meaning), will you have my descendants also be leaders? (Surah Al Baqarah verse 124)

Allah’s answer to Ibrahim was

قَالَ لَا يَنَالُ عَهْدِي الظَّالِمِينَ

… My promise to you or My trust pertaining to this leadership shall not be acquired by Adh Dhalimeen. (Surah Al Baqarah verse 124)

Here, the word Imam has a consensual meaning. All Muslims whatever their school of thought, agree that Imam here means leader- positive leader, guiding leader, legitimate leader. (We think that if we go on like this it’s going to consume a lot of time. We took three out of twelve ayaat therefore for the sake of time we’re going to have to be picky and choosy about some of these ayaat).

In Surah Al Isra’, ayah number seventy one Allah says

يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ

On that day of accountability and judgement We, (meaning Allah), will call forth every community of people in accordance to their Imam… (Surah Al Isra’ verse 71)

Here the Muslim mind goes two ways in understanding Imam here. Either it’s the Imam or the leader of their reference book, meaning their scripture, i.e. those who consider the Qur’an to be their guidance and their leadership We will call them forth and those who consider the Injeel or the Gospel to be their leader we will call them together etc. and so forth; but then the other more particular meaning is

يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ

We will call forth for judgement every community of people in accordance to the leadership that they designated for themselves… (Surah Al Isra’ verse 71)

Once again, we don’t have conflicting meanings (but) because in some of the people’s minds today the issue of Imamah becomes almost an exclusionary issue, (i.e.) “I have my understanding of Imamah or Imam therefore if another Muslim doesn’t have my understanding of it there’s supposed to be some distance.” We don’t know where this distance comes from but they place a distance between them and the other Muslim where in their understanding of the same ayaat there is no distance. There’s a difference of ta’wil or there’s a difference of prioritizing the meaning but that doesn’t mean there’s a distance.

Then, in Surah At Tawbah, ayah number twelve we encounter an ayah that takes away from the over worked exaggeration of the word Imam or A’immah. In some people’s minds this word has the connotation of the inference of ismah to it. If someone says Imam then a particular group of people think Imams then Ma’sums. Listen to this ayah. For those who have that type of thinking, we invite you to listen to read this ayah in which Allah- who’s words are infallible and who’s words are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth- Allah says to you and to me and to all committed Muslims

فَقَاتِلُوا أَئِمَّةَ الْكُفْر

… wage war against the Imams of kufr... (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)

A’immah is the plural of Imam. So Allah is telling us that kufr has its Imams. So for those who are locked into a certain definition of Imams we invite you to take a closer look at the wording of the wahy, at Allah’s very ayaat.

إِنَّهُمْ لَا أَيْمَانَ لَهُمْ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَنتَهُونَ

… for they certainly cannot be trusted or they have no trust to them; it may be that in this method of dealing with them they may cease doing what they do. (Surah At Tawbah verse 12)

Just in case someone says “that’s just one ayah in the Qur’an…” OK- there’s another ayah in Surah Al Qasas, ayah number forty one. Surah Al Qasas is basically concentrating on the clash of wills between Musa (alayhi as salaam) and the Pharoah (or) between Bani Isra’eel and the Pharoany system. Allah says

وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَدْعُونَ إِلَى النَّارِ

And We have rendered them A’immah who invite to the fire or Jahannum … (Surah Al Qasas verse 41)

Imams, leaders to Jahannum?! This doesn’t sit well with some people who have not developed the Qur’anic understanding of life issues.

وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ لَا يُنصَرُونَ

… and on the day of resurrection they have no help and no victory … (Surah Al Qasas verse 41)

So these are some of the ayaat that deal with the concept of Imamah. (As we said we had to exclude some ayaat simply because the time doesn’t permit). So after you go through these ayaat, (you can go to any concordance and look at the ayaat in the Qur’an), one thing whatever ta’wil you may have in mind, you get the unmistakable impression and understanding that leadership is an important aspect of living a wholesome and fulfilling Islamic life. Now we come to the more particular issue that grinds down into a clash of concepts between those who think of themselves as Shi’i Muslims and those who think of themselves as Sunni Muslims.

In the reference Shi’i literature, the book that has the most compilation of ahadith is Al Kafi. It’s not on par with the Sunni reference book of Al Bukhari or Muslim but it’s similar to that. We try as much as possible on this day of taqwa to raise the consciousness of Islamic compatibility and not to dwell on issues that may place a distance between one Muslim and the other or one Muslim community and the other. In the last two centuries within the general Shi’i persuasion there’s what is called Al Madrassah Al Usuliyyah Al Ijtihadiyyah which is something like a Trend of Intellectual, Fundamental Ijtihadi Shi’i Thought. Sunnis have not done this yet (but) hopefully the time will come when Muslim Sunnis can mature and have enough confidence to point out the ahadith in Al Bukhari and in Muslim that don’t stand the test of the Qur’an. There are hadiths! Maybe this will make for another khutbah. So this Usuli Ijtihadi trend of thought within Tashayyu’ looked at Al Kafi with the Qur’anic reference and with the God-given mind that we have and they found in this book some ahadith that are called da’eef ahadith which means they are not acceptable. There are mursal ahadith (that) we explained previously. A mursal hadith is something that, (in this context), those who are considered Ahl Al Bayt- themselves, not the Prophet- narrated a meaning and attributed that meaning to the Prophet. This ijtihadi trend said “there are ahadith in Al Kafi that do not coincide with the meanings of the Qur’an.” How did they break that down? The number of ahadith in Al Kafi by their count is sixteen thousand one hundred and ninety nine hadiths. They tell us- we’re not bringing this information from outside so we don’t create this distance among Muslims- “from this body of over sixteen thousand hadiths five thousand and seventy two is what they considered in the Sunni vocabulary a hadith sahih.” Out of sixteen thousand one hundred and ninety nine hadiths in Al Kafi by Al Kulayni only five thousand and seventy two are authentic (and) verifiable hadiths of the Prophet. In the Sunni terminology “the hadith hasan, (which is less than sahih), is one hundred and forty four. There’s one thousand one hundred and twenty eight hadiths that are called muwaffaq, (which means creditable or verified hadiths). The strongest hadiths in the whole book are three hundred and two.” This leaves us with out of sixteen thousand one hundred and ninety nine hadiths nine thousand four hundred and eighty hadiths that are called da’eef. That is more than two thirds of the book and obviously some of these hadiths have to do with the concept of Imamah or leadership that we are talking about. So when we are looking at these two communities of Muslims in the world, (i.e.) the Sunnis and the Shi’is, there are some difficulties in surmounting some particular concepts pertaining to Imamah or leadership. There’s no time to go into detailing these ideas or these conceptualizations but one of them is the concept of ismah, i.e. the leader is ma’sum or infallible. This has a historical portion to it when you speak about twelve Imams and it has a contemporary to it. There are none of these twelve Imams now who have political practical authority so why should there be an argument among Muslims when right now you and I, whatever our Islamic background information is cannot point to a particular person in that traditional explanation of the word Imam. This is not a Qur’anic explanation but in this traditional or historical explanation and say “look this is the Imam. He’s on this city. He’s that person. I can see him. I can hear him.” It doesn’t exist!

There’s an issue of an nass, i.e. “that the Imam’s are appointed by a divine statement either coming from the Prophet to begin with or coming from the Imams that followed him.” OK- if there is a nass that is applicable in our time- present it. Other Muslims want to know. Come forth (and) tell us where is this nass in our day and in our time. For those who don’t have a nass, (we’re saying this because there’s no time to explain it but we’re dropping it for reference purposes), there’s what is called walayat al faqih. We don’t want to get into the internal sensitivities of this issue between those who affirm walayat al faqih and they have their own references and they have their own reasons for it and those in the Shi’i context, (we’re not speaking about Sunnis here), who take issue with it and they quote certain of these historical references and they go on and on.

Then there’s the issue of the twelfth Imam. This issue of Al Imam Al Mahdi is a common issue between Sunnis and Shi’is. Their understanding of it is different but the general agreement is the same- there is an Imam, he is the Mahdi, he is the guide who will appear or, according to others, re-appear. So why place a distance in this issue. We’re saying this to take away from the trouble makers the instruments that they will use if we don’t speak about these issues. You see- Muslims don’t want to discuss these issues (and) if they do discuss it they discuss it by excluding others; they don’t come and speak about it by including others to make this issue a general and an inclusive matter among all Muslims.

Now, with the time that we have left we’re going to change sides here and when we do this- Allah is the witness (that) this is not done to try to score points here or there and its not done to try to win someone’s favor here or there- it is strictly done as a matter for Allah by understanding Allah and His Prophet and nothing else, without fearing anyone and without catering for favor with anyone. We go to the other side, (i.e.) the Sunni side of this issue pertaining to this issue of leadership. As we said, the Sunnis in today’s world are having a problem. Where’s the leadership? They come and say the concept of leadership is a far’i concept, meaning it is not a central issue. It is something like a fiqhi or marginal issue that has to do with the interest of people (and) their well being and it is a political ijtihad.” There’s no nass here according to what we may call the Sunni point of view on this issue; but then, a more fundamental question is who do you consider the Sunni references here? Who are the scholars who are speaking about this? When you review these books in history, you will them. OK- fine, they are scholars. Names like Al Jurjani or Ash Shahrastani or Al Ghazzali- these types of names are the ones who are supposed to be telling us what the issue of Imamah is in the Sunni context. Then they say, (here we want you to listen very closely), “the Imamah or leadership is determined by Ahl Al Halli wa Al Aqd” which roughly translates to those who legislate, make decisions and then they can unlegislated and unmake some decisions- of course, this is in the political field of things but the question is who are these people? In the Sunni area of thinking, the issue of leadership is contingent upon the endorsement of the Muslim people as juxtaposed to the textual or the divinely ordained leaders. Two different positions here. So in the Sunni context, (once again, this word is used in a very undisciplined way because who defines who a Sunni is? But anyways, we’ll just mainstream it as it has been mainstreamed and say), if this is a matter of a contractual agreement (and) the Ummah itself through the process of shura and bai’ah, (this is how the Sunnis approach the issue- it is determined through shura and bai’ah), we as Muslims hopefully liberated from the history of differences between Sunnis and Shi’is- liberate yourself for a minute from these differences- ask when in history and ask when today has it been possible to have or is it possible to have a free shura and an unrestricted bai’ah. Ask yourself whether it is in agreeing to the Islamic leadership from Mu’awiyah onwards up until this very day when these Muslims in this body of thought, i.e. the Sunnis, are trying to put together a leadership. Take what is happening in the real world today and go to Egypt, go to Tunisia, go to Libya (and) go to these other areas (like) Morocco, Jordan, Al Yemen- go anywhere you want to go- and ask yourself if you belong to this pool of information called the Sunni concept of leadership: where is there a free shura? We ask you: where is there? We’ve come around one thousand four hundred years. This is the time period that we have given ourselves and how can we open up society so that it can express its conscience and it’s depth of convictions on its leadership. Where? Some of these leaders as was mentioned earlier in these countries come and attend seminars and they attend meetings and they have encounters with officials who are pushing a democratic line, “you guys have to have democracy, you have to open up the political process. It has to be a liberal approach.” Where is it? Where do we have that? People are scared of it. These same Muslims who right now are in the seats of power are scared to open up the range of freedom for their own people who are predominantly of their own school of thought to have the freedom of mind and the freedom of political conviction to express their internal thoughts on who their leaders shall be. Then, in this same Sunni frame of reference it says- it’s true, you’ll find it in all the literature- “the people have the right to impeach their leader.” OK- that’s good to say. On paper it sounds good to say that if a leader goes off in the wrong direction then the people can unseat that leader and relieve him of his responsibilities. OK- we ask when has that ever happened? We had many leaders who went off course but we never had the mechanism whereby what you give people in theory is absent in practice. It’s not there so just like putting together a leadership is problematic in this Sunni circumference of thinking, also relieving a leader of his responsibility is problematic. It never happened through shura and bai’ah and it never happened through inqilab and thawrah. Both ways it never happened so wouldn’t this make you or make anyone re-think (and) revisit this issue of leadership whether you are a Sunni or whether you are a Shi’i? This issue cannot be an issue that is left to traditions, to religious rituals and to habits that have calcified into “I’m automatically better than the other person because I was born into some type of tradition and this makes me superior to the other Muslim.” Anyone who understands their Shi’ism or their Sunnism in a way that places a distance between them and the other Muslim is not understanding Allah and is not understanding His Prophet.

Brothers and sisters, committed Muslims…

In light of what was said in this preceding khutbah take a look… Brothers and sisters- we consider ourselves average human beings who can think through the issues that we have. (when) you take a look at some Muslims, they’re afraid of this concept of leadership and assuming power responsibilities. First of all, we have the moral character. We don’t speak about power and Imamah and leadership and governments and decision making in the absence of our moral character. This is what happens to some people. Some people suffered from a burnt out effect. They were fatigued. They lived for the past thirty years or more with the concept of leading but when they didn’t have the moral character to withhold and withstand this concept they became veterans or they retired or they disappeared! You don’t see them around! What happened to you? Sometimes time itself (or) the passing of time will evaluate people (and) where they are on the issues. When we speak about leadership in today’s world, some Muslims will quote ahadith. They can’t quote any ayaat- that is for sure (and) if they do, they don’t understand what they are quoting; but when they are quoting some of these books that have some of these hadiths that say “we can’t have a leadership because we have to wait until Allah brings in the true ruler.” Where do they get that from? Where does that come from? Allah has suspended Islam and the Qur’an and our collective responsibilities until sometime in the unknown future?! What are we to do? Just satisfy ourselves with the rituals of Islam? Bury ourselves in the Masajid? Become inactive in the real world? How do you read the Qur’an and how do you read the Prophet? This is some Muslims. Other Muslims who say “the legitimate ruler is the one who comes from the social contract of the Muslim people”- where is this? Ask yourself in today’s world which people contracted in a free and fair manner an Islamic leadership to make decisions for it when there are militaries that can at any time interfere in this process in whichever land you are looking at with the exception of Islamic Iran. In any land that you are looking at militaries can interfere in whatever is going on there and end what is called “The Arab Spring” or what is called “revolts” here and there and all of this. Where’s the people in all this? And you say -it looks good in the books- “you can relieve a ruler or the decision maker and his administration of their duty if they violate the Qur’an and Sunnah. Well- why don’t you do that? They’re violating the Qur’an and the Sunnah night and day systematically from generation to generation. They’ve institutionalised this violation with Islamic jargon and you’ve done nothing about it! Where are you? Where are we today? Then there’s the comparison between the Islamic change in Iran thirty four and some years ago and the changes that are taking place in some other countries, (and we’ll end with this). Why is it that some of this crowd that we were speaking about hold Islamic Iran to one standard but they don’t want to hold the others to the same standard? We’re taking this as an example, only an example- the Islamic leadership in Iran immediately severed its relationship with the Zionist thieves that stole the Holy Land. Finish! No more relationships! Now we have an “Islamic” leadership in Egypt. It hasn’t severed relationships with the Zionists. We had an Islamic leadership in Iran that stood and still stands for the plight of the displaced Palestinian people. Where’s the other Islamic leaderships? Don’t they believe that the Palestinians should return to their homes and to their country? Why don’t Muslims come out and say “wait a minute- you’re an Islamic leadership” especially if you know that the leadership in Ghazzah and the leadership in Al Qahirah in Egypt and in that part of Palestine belong to the same Islamic political family, Al Ikhwan Al Muslimin. You can’t just make movement of people normal between Egypt and Ghazzah? They can’t do that minimum? We just expect them as Muslim brothers with the same ideology, with the same political affinity, with the same political program- they’re the same people and they can’t walk across the borders? These Muslims who are in Egypt can’t offer food to these people in Ghazzah? They don’t have what it takes to annul their relationships with the Zionists thieves in Tel Aviv? They can’t do that? What happened to this sensitivity of Islamic leadership and Islamic responsibilities? There’s a double standard that is being used. We say this to place distance between us and Adh Dhalimeen who are in those high offices but to bring the Muslim peoples of whatever persuasion they may have together. Anyone who understood what was said outside of this context misunderstood what was said.

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