Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Legality of Celebrating the Birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.) II

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from “The Legality of Celebrating the Birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.)” from Shaykh ‘Ali Juma’ah.

Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.) related from Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.), “Innovated matters are of two kinds: the first is that which is innovated and contradicts the Book and the sunnah, or a narration and consensus.  This is an innovation of misguidance.  The second is that which is innovated of good which does not contradict anything; this is not blameworthy.  In fact, ‘Umar ibn al-Khaththab (r.a.), after establishing the prayer in congregation in the month of Ramadhan, said, ‘How good is this innovation.’  Meaning that it has been introduced after not being there and if this is the case, then there is no contradiction with that which has passed.”  This is the last of what Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) mentioned.

Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.) continued, “Observing the mawlid is not a contradiction against the Book, the sunnah, a narration or scholarly consensus and so it is not blameworthy as stated by ash-Shafi’i.  It is from the excellent matters which was not begun during the first era.  Feeding food which is free from the committal of sins is excellent.  Therefore, this is allowed and is from the recommended innovated matters just as the sulthan of scholars, al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam has also mentioned.  The original purpose behind gathering together is to manifest the blessing of the mawlid.  This is something which is recommended and is a means of proximity because the birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.) is the Greatest Blessing upon us and the shari’ah encourages the expression of gratitude for blessings.  This is what ibn al-Hajj has argued in al-Madkhal, saying, ‘For in this month, Allah has Favoured us with the Master of the first and the last.  So it is incumbent upon us to increase in worship, good and gratefulness to al-Mawla for the sanctuary; He has Led us into in this Great Blessing.’”

The proof which Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) has derived for the observance of the Prophetic Mawlid is that which is recorded in the Shaykhayn.  When the Prophet (s.a.w.) entered into Madinah, he found the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashurah.  He asked them regarding this and they said, “This is the day Allah Drowned Fir’awn and Saved Musa.  Hence, we fast out of gratitude to Allah the Exalted.”

Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) mentioned, “It can be derived from this that the action of thankfulness to Allah the Exalted for that which He has Blessed us with upon a particular day, in the Bestowal of a Blessing or Removal of a calamity and to observe this upon the same day every year is allowed.  This can be achieved through a number of varied ways of worshipping such as prayer, fasting, charity, and recitation.  Which blessing can be greater than the appearance of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the Prophet of Mercy, upon that day?”

Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) reinforced that which is necessary to do when gathering for the mawlid: It is necessary to understand that being grateful to Allah (s.w.t.) such as that which has already been mentioned in recitation, feeding others, poetry in praise of the Prophet (s.a.w.) which moves the hearts to perform good and to work for the hereafter.  There is no harm in doing all of this as well as that which is allowed and brings happiness upon that day.

Imam as-Suyuthi (q.s.) related from Imam Shams ad-Din ibn al-Jazari (r.a.) from his book, ‘Urf at-Ta’rif bi al-Mawlid ash-Sharif, “It has been authentically reported that the punishment of Abu Lahab is Lightened every Monday night because he freed Tsuwaybah when she gave her the glad news of the birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.).  Therefore, if Abu Lahab, the disbeliever, regarding whom a chapter of the Qur’an Censuring him was Revealed, is Rewarded in the Fire because of his joy in the night upon the birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.), then what is the state of a Muslim, a monotheist from the ummah of the Prophet (s.a.w.), who is happy at his birth and expends that which he can towards the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) honour in love for him?  By my life, his Reward will be from Allah the Generous, Who will Enter him into His Bounty, into the Blessed Garden.”

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim: the Key to Paradise

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is adapted from a swuhbah from Shaykh Muhammad Nazhim Adil al-Haqqani (q.s.) on the 18th February 2002.

Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” is the key to Paradise.  “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” is the crown of Islam on the heads of Muslims.  We must try to keep it.  Every closed door is opening through “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”; every treasure from Earth and through the Heavens is Opened through “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”.  And that is the sign of sincerity or of obedience.  The sign of an obedient person is to say, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”.

Shaythan is constantly trying to make Muslims forget it.  He wants them to be heedless.  The most heedless people in the world today are Muslims.  Why they are heedless?  Muslims, through their heedlessness, accuse Islam and its principles of being outdated, and try to change Islamic principles into secular ones.  The whole gets by on imitation principles instead of the principles of Revelation.  But they claim that what they have is better than what Islam brings.  And the heedless among the Muslims follow them.  Muslims have been seduced, thinking that the West reached its ‘advanced’ civilisation through its technology and scientific advances.  But they have left their values behind.

For example, the Muslim leaders of some nations think that since the West has nuclear weapons, they must have nuclear weapons.  Nuclear weapons are haram in Islam.  But these heedless Muslims change their religion to make it permissible.  Is this their understanding of civilisation and advancement?  To kill each other, the animals, and the plants; and destroy the land?  If to kill and destroy is the measure of civilisation, may Allah (s.w.t.) Curse them.  If their measure of civilisation is to cause people to suffer and die and to destroy their cities, villages and farms, may Allah (s.w.t.) Curse them and their technology.  People have been deluded into believing that the measure of civilisation is the pinnacle of technological advancement.  To be occupied with the sole pursuit of technological advancement is to be occupied with materialism.  By itself, it has no good characteristics since it belongs to the material world.  The heedless leaders of Muslim nations believe some form of technocracy is a means of civilizational advancement.  They have lied to the people and cheated them of their true birthright of Islam, taqwa.

The entire world is in a technology race, and yet it will not help anyone since the focus is on destruction.  When animals are aggressive, that is because they are animals.  Humanity is supposed to better than that, instead of behaving like animals.  In fact, they are worse animals.  Our violence is borne of heedlessness, not nature.  And now, technology has become the means to increase that violence on an exponential scale.  People have ceased their education in spirituality, and worshipped materialism.  It has become a reality that the vast majority of the news we receive is about violence.  It is about violence between nations, tribes, ethnic groups, religious groups, political groups, families and even against our selves.  As long as people neglect spirituality, there will be violence.  And the more they leave their spirituality, the more there will be violence.  People do not even know how to give peace to their souls.  How are they going to give peace to others?  If they cannot have peace at home, how is there going to be peace in the community?

Therefore, we should be constantly reciting, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”.  The Basmallah is a reminder of the honour Bestowed upon us, the honour of servanthood.  The heedless and the dishonoured do not use the Name of Allah (s.w.t.) in anything.  They seek the names of people, name dropping, and basking in their borrowed honour.  They have put these people ahead of Allah (s.w.t.).  And they oppose those who say, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”.  They want to confine His Names to the mosques.  They dispute the Divine Commands and confine Revelation to the past.  Such people are the friends of Shaythan.  When we say, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim,” Allah (s.w.t.) Sends an angel to keep is on the Straight Path to His Pleasure.  There is no way to His Divine Blessings without saying, “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim”.  There is no way to Paradise without it.  The scent of Paradise can be smelt by the believers from a distance of 500 years.  Those who reject “Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim” do not smell it at all.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

The Covenant of Swalah between Allah (s.w.t.) & the Believers

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from “Islam, Spirit & Form” by Shaykh Osman Nuri Topbas.

Basic duties have been Declared to the Prophet (s.a.w.) through the archangel, Gabriel (a.s.).  However, the five compulsory daily prayers were Directly Presented to the Prophet (s.a.w.) on the night of Mi’raj, the miraculous journey of the Prophet (s.a.w.) to the heavens.

At first, it was fifty daily prayers, but when Moses (a.s.) told Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), “O Messenger of Allah!  I unsuccessfully tried this on the Children of Israel before you.  Your people cannot bear that responsibility either!”  The Prophet (s.a.w.), that night, appealed to Allah (s.w.t.) five times to reduce it to five daily prayers. Prophet Moses (a.s.), again, told Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), “They cannot bear the five daily ones either!”

The Prophet (s.a.w.) answered, “I have no face to appeal to Allah any longer!”  And it was, then, determined to be five times a day.

However, Allah (s.w.t.) showed Mercy due to the appeal of the Prophet (s.a.w.), and also announced good news to the Prophet (s.a.w.) as well as reducing it to five daily ones, “O the Prophet (s.a.w.)!  Allah Abides by His Word.  You will get the Reward of fifty for the five.”  This was recorded by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).

The Prophet (s.a.w.) told his people about the five daily prayers: “Allah said, ‘I Enjoined the five daily prayers on your people.  There is a Pledge by Me.  I will Surely Place those who perform the five daily prayers in time into Paradise.  And there is no Pledge by Me to those who do not keep these prayers.’”  This was also recorded by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).

It is stated in another saying of the Prophet (s.a.w.): “Allah Enjoined the five daily prayers on His servants.  Allah Assures those who faithfully do these prayers of Paradise on the Day of Judgment.  Yet, Allah does not assure those who do these prayers lightly, without care and have defects in the manner of its performance; Allah Deals with them as He Wills, either Punishes them, or Forgives them.”  This was also recorded by Imam ibn Majah (r.a.).

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Why the Jews of Madina Rejected the Prophet (s.a.w.)

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is extracted from ‘The Prophet Muhammad Musthafa the Elect (s.a.w.)’ by Shaykh Osman Nuri Topbas.

Shaykh ibn Atsir (r.a.) said, “Aware of all the characteristics of the Prophet (s.a.w.), the Jews were in anxious anticipation of his advent.  So much so that whenever the Jews had a quarrel with the Madinan tribes, Aws and Khazraj, they would threaten them, telling that their days were numbered, since the with the expected prophet, whose arrival was now looming and whom the Jews would follow, would signal the end of the two tribes who would be eradicated just like the tribes of ‘Aad and Iram.”

Imam Abu Nu’aym (r.a.) said, “But as the Blessed Prophet (s.a.w.) was not of Jewish blood, the Jews never came around to accepting him in their entirety.  Striking is the following story narrated by Swafiyyah bint Huyay, the wife of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and a Jew before Islam.  ‘When the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) reached the village of Quba during the migration to Madinah, my father and my uncle rushed to see him.  They returned only around sunset, sad and dejected, however.  I heard them say the following to one another. ‘So you think he is the expected Prophet?’ asked Huyayy, my father.

‘By God he is!’ said my uncle, Abu Yasir.

‘But are you sure?  Did you confirm it with other proofs?’ asked my father once more.

‘Yes!’ was the reply.  ‘So how do feel towards him now?’ asked Abu Yasir in turn after a momentary pause.

‘By Allah, as long as I am alive I will foster only enmity towards him in my heart,’ replied my father.’’”

The Jews were envious of the Arabs because the last Prophet (s.a.w.) had emerged from among them, and not from Jewish stock.  All along, they had anxiously expected him to be raised from among them.  On these grounds they rejected his prophethood.

Refuting the Augustinian Hypothesis

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Augustinian hypothesis, named after Augustine of Hippo, is an old solution to the synoptic problem.  It contends that the Gospel according to Matthew was written first, by Matthew the Apostle (r.a.); the Gospel according to Mark was written second, by Mark the Evangelist, who used the Gospel according to Matthew and the sermons of Peter (a.s.) as sources.  It then contends that Luke the Evangelist wrote the Gospel according to Luke, and was aware of the two Gospels that preceded him.  Unlike the Two Gospel hypothesis, the Four Document hypothesis and the Farrer hypothesis, the Augustinian hypothesis does not rely on, or argue for, the existence of any further document not explicitly mentioned historically.  Instead, it draws upon textual criticism and the writings of the Church Fathers dating to the first half of the 2nd century.

There are two main two areas of contention concerning the Augustinian hypothesis.  The first is the theory of Aramaic primacy, whether the Gospel according to Matthew was originally written in Aramaic, using Hebrew script.  Or if the Greek text is the original, and whether it was the authors of the Gospel according to Mark or to Luke who wrote second.  The Griesbach hypothesis, a modified version of the Augustinian hypothesis, agrees that the Gospel according to Matthew was written first and that the authors of the Gospel according to Mark depended on the Gospel according to Matthew.  The Griesbach hypothesis does not dispute that the original text was in Hebrew, and thereafter translated into Greek.  But it argues that the Gospel according to Mark also depended on the Gospel according to Luke, and therefore, the Gospel according to Luke precedes the Gospel according to Mark.  The Griesbach hypothesis is treated as a variant amendment to the Augustinian hypothesis.

Augustine of Hippo wrote, in De Consensu Evangeliorum, that the four canonical gospels “are believed to have written in the order which follows: first Matthew, then Mark, thirdly Luke, lastly John.”  He continued, “Of these four, it is true, only Matthew is reckoned to have written in the Hebrew language; the others in Greek.  And however they may appear to have kept each of them a certain order of narration proper to himself, this certainly is not to be taken as if each individual writer chose to write in ignorance of what his predecessor had done.”  Augustine dismissed the Gospel according to Mark as “pedissequus et breviator Matthaei”, “the attendant and abridger of Matthew.”  This is in contrast to the common academic view that the Gospel according to Mark is the earliest.

The Augustinian hypothesis was articulate by others before Augustine, including Irenaeus, Eusebius and Origen.  However, Augustine was the first to provide a detailed scholarly textual analysis of the three texts’ interdependence, and articulate a theory explaining his analysis.  In this textual analysis, Augustine discussed the commonalities between the Synoptic Gospels, the identical language, the omissions and the style of presentation.

It is important to note than an original Aramaic text of the Gospel according to Matthew does not exist; no copy in the original language has survived.  Proponents of the Augustinian hypothesis hold that the current Greek text is a complete translation of the original Aramaic.  But still, it is only a translation.

The Augustinian hypothesis was strongly supported by a good number of the Church Fathers, including Papias, Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Pantaenus, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, Epiphanius and Jerome; they all agree that the original Gospel according to Matthew was written in Hebrew.  Jerome even claimed to have seen the original Aramaic text of the Gospel according to Matthew in the library of Pamphilus the Martyr, but there is no independent verification.  Eusebius wrote, in his Historia Ecclesiastica, that Pantaerus found a copy of the Gospel according to Matthew written in Hebrew in India, and said that it had been left there by Bartholomew.  50 years later, in 376 CE, Epiphanius wrote, in his Panarion, that there was “no doubt” that a sect in Palestine still used the original Hebrew text, “just as it was originally written.”

In more recent times, there has been a revival of the Augustinian hypothesis by scholars such as Auxiliary Bishop Basil Butler, a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism, and Dr. John Wenham, an Anglican theologian.  Dr. John Wenham published ‘Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke’ in 1992.  It is one of the most strident defenses of the Augustinian hypothesis.  Wenham, a traditionalist, accepted the Church Fathers’ evidence of authorship, inferring a very early date for each of the synoptic gospels.  These two are the strongest defenders of the Augustinian hypothesis of the twentieth century.

The Augustinian and Griesbach hypotheses have drawn recent interest as an alternative solution to the synoptic problem.  They are considered viable refutations of Marcan priority, the Q hypothesis, and the two-source hypothesis.  Bishop Butler argued that accepting the priority of the Gospel according to Matthew rendered it possible to dispense with the hypothetical Q document as a solution to the synoptic problem.  It was pointed out that differences between the Synoptic Gospels were due more to the differing purposes of the authors than to redactions, and omissions due to ignorance.

Despite all this, there are reasons to think that it is incorrect.  As mentioned above, Augustine dismissed the Gospel according to Mark as “pedissequus et breviator Matthaei”, “the attendant and abridger of Matthew.”  Augustine wrote, in De Consensu Evangeliorum, “Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and abridger.  For in his narrative, he gives nothing in concert with John apart from the others: by himself separately, he has little to record; in conjunction with Luke, as distinguished from the rest, he has still less; but in concord with Matthew, he has a very large number of passages.  Much, too, he narrates in words almost numerically and identically the same as those used by Matthew, where the agreement is either with that evangelist alone, or with him in connection with the rest”

It is without doubt that that the Gospel according to Mark has many passages in common with the Gospel according to Matthew, sometimes almost word for word.  Perhaps 90% of the material found in the Gospel according to Mark is also found in the Gospel according to Matthew.  There are more parallels between the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew than in any two other pairings of Gospels.

While Augustine could be correct that the authors of the Gospel according to Mark took from the Gospel according to Matthew and then abridged it, it could also be that the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew could have taken from the Gospel according to Mark, used nine tenths of it, and then expanded it with traditions from other sources.  This also applies to Augustine’s argument about the language.

If we accept, as some Christian theologians traditionally believe, that the Apostle Matthew (r.a.) himself was the author of the gospel that bears his name, then he was a witness to the ministry of Jesus (a.s.).  According to Papias, it is traditionally held that the author of the Gospel according to Mark was Mark the Evangelist, the companion of Peter (r.a.).  Mark was not a witness to the ministry of Jesus (a.s.).  Why would a witness of the actual event copy from someone who did not?  And that was Augustine’s point.

The problem with this argument is that it is doubtful that Matthew (r.a.) wrote his Gospel, or that any of the authors traditionally held to have written their respective Gospels actually wrote them.  None of the earliest manuscripts that we have are actually dated early enough to make it plausible.  The earliest confirmed dates are about 90 years after Jesus (a.s.).  These people would have long since perished.

Each of the Gospels uses material that the author was not an eyewitness of.  Either the traditionally held authors were not averse to describing events that they did not witness or they were written by a succession of people over a period of time, and taken from various narrations and sources.  Secondly, Matthew (r.a.) was one of the later disciples of Jesus (a.s.).  Even in his own Gospel, he only appeared from the ninth chapter.  The first disciples were recruited in the fourth.  So there are a lot of things in his own Gospel he was not witness to.

The contention here, however, is not whether the text was written by an eye witness since too many factors preclude that, and I certainly do not believe it, but whether the text is accurate, or in the case of the Gospels, which one is the least inaccurate.  In essence, the authors of the various Gospels used any and all sources that they thought accurate, whether another canonical Gospel or a source lost to us, since citations were not a big thing amongst them.

Furthermore, John the Presbyter, first century personality, said that the Gospel according to Mark was based on the preaching of Peter (r.a.) as an eyewitness.  And Peter (r.a.), as one of Jesus’ (a.s.) first disciples, was even more authoritative than Matthew (r.a.):

Matthew 16:18
18 “And I tell thee this in my turn, that thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…”

The traditional belief that the Gospel according to Mark was based on the preaching of Peter (r.a.) preaching was present from the first century itself, and for precisely this reason Matthew might have chosen to use it as one of his sources.

Furthermore, according to Acts of the Apostles, Matthew (r.a.) and Peter (r.a.) spent more than a decade living and preaching in Jerusalem after the time of Jesus (a.s.).  This close proximity would have ensured that Matthew (r.a.) would have heard Peter (r.a.) preaching.  In such a case, it would have been plausible that he would recognise the Gospel according to Mark as a credible account.

Now, Augustine called the Gospel according to Mark the epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  Augustine said that, “Marcus eum subsecutus, tanquam pedissequus et breviator ejus videtur,” “Mark follows him closely, and looks like his attendant and epitomiser.”  I have translated it above as “abridger”, and others as “abbreviator”, to better convey the feel of the wording.  However, the actual word is “epitomizer”.  In modern English, the term “epitome” is usually understood to mean an embodiment of something, but in Old English, as inherited from the Latin, an epitome is the abridged version of an existing literary work.  So Augustine was essentially saying that the Gospel according to Mark is a condensed version of the Gospel according to Matthew.

There is a problem with this contention.  The Gospel according to Mark is only an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew in that it is shorter and that parallels much of the substance of the original.  But that is it.

Rev. Robert Derrenbacker’s thesis, “Ancient Compositional Practices and the Synoptic Problem” is an excellent read on epitomes.  And he explains that ancient epitomes were abridgements of much longer works.  He gave the example of 2 Maccabees, which is an abridgement, an epitome, of a five-volume history by Jason of Cyrene.  Rev. Derrenbacker also pointed out is that ancient epitomies did not merely shorten longer works by simply deleting sections of the original; they also tightened up periscopae, sections, of the works.  They did not leave out significant details.  They just told it in a less formal, less bombastic manner.

In that light, the Gospel according to Mark is not an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In Koine Greek, the Gospel according to Mark, at 11,304 word, is only 62% the length of the Gospel according to Matthew, at 18,345 words.  That is not much of an abridgement.  The Gospel according to Matthew was not long enough, being itself only enough for a single scroll, to require an epitome.

Considering the individual sections, the periscopae, of the respective Gospels, the periscopae of the Gospel according to Mark are not significantly shorter than the respective periscopae of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In fact, it is the opposite.  The periscopae of the Gospel according to Mark are typically longer than the respective periscopae of the Gospel according to Matthew.  This is conclusive proof that the Gospel according to Mark is not an epitome of the Gospel according to Matthew.  This is actually proof that the authors of the Gospel according to Matthew used material from the Gospel according to Mark, whilst tightening up the style in the manner of a periscope, and then added additional material from another source.

Some of the important material not found in the Gospel according to Mark, but found in the Gospel according to Matthew include the genealogy of Jesus (a.s.); the Virgin Birth of Jesus (a.s.); the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod; the Beatitudes and many important sermons and famous events, including incidents at the Resurrection.  A real periscope would not leave them out.  On the other hand, the Gospel according to Mark also includes minor incidents such as the exorcism in the Temple and lesser events not mentioned in the Gospel according to Matthew.

Another point that I take from Rev. Derrenbacker’s thesis is that epitomes tended to be more popular than the original.  More copies were then made of the epitomes, and as a result, the epitomes tended to survive while the originals were lost to the ages.  For example, we still have 2 Maccabees, but Jason of Cyrene’s original five-volume history is lost.  Epitomes were more accessible and cheaper than the original works.  But that is not the case with the Gospel according to Mark.  The Gospel according to Mark was the least popular of the four Gospels in the early Church.  By counting the number of early manuscripts of the Gospels that have survived, dating to the second and third centuries, there are 12 of the Gospel according to Matthew, 7 of the Gospel according to Luke, 16 of the Gospel according to John, and only 1 of the Gospel according to Mark.  We can infer that fewer manuscripts of the Gospel according to Mark survived from this period because there were fewer copies of them in circulation.

As such, the case for the Augustinian hypothesis is very weak upon closer examination.  In fact, all evidence points to the fact that Marcan Priority is more correct.  And I believe that it is more than likely that the Synoptic Gospels took from earlier manuscripts.  That is the only way to explain the presence of material that cannot be accounted in Marcan Priority as well as discrepancies in certain areas such as the identity of the Apostles.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Arianism: When Jesus (a.s.) was Not God

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Arianism is a Christian heresy which arose in the fourth century.  Arians denied the Divinity of Jesus Christ (a.s.).  Arianism bears the distinction of being one of the earliest, and most enduring doctrinal dispute in ecclesiastical history.  Arianism’s main contention is that Jesus (a.s.) is not the Second Person in the Trinity and denies the Divine Mystery.  Mainstream Christianity, which is Pauline by creed, bases its theology on select verses of the canonical gospels – gospels that the Pauline faction made canonical.

Matthew 11:27
27 “My Father has entrusted everything into my hands; none knows the Son truly except the Father, and none knows the Father truly except the Son, and those to whom it is the Son’s good pleasure to reveal him.”

John 10:36
36 “Why then, what of him whom God has Sanctified and Sent into the world?  Will you call me a blasphemer, because I have told you I am the Son of God?”

The beginning of the Gospel according to John declared Jesus (a.s.) to be the Word, Logos.

John 1:1
1 At the beginning of time the Word already was; and God had the Word abiding with him, and the Word was God.

Paul, and what became his faction, promoted this doctrine in his Epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and the Philippians. It is also reiterated in the Letters of Ignatius.

Whilst the Father was acknowledged by all factions a the Supreme Omnipotent, Omniscient God, the Sonship was a controversy in which Paul’s doctrine was far from the majority in the beginning.  The theological conundrum of how the Son related to the Father led to the proliferation of various theosophic doctrines, collectively known as Gnosticism.  Between 60 and 200 CE, Greek thinkers such as Tatian, Basilides, Valentinus, Philo and Simon Magus - the proto-Gnostics.  The intellectual centres of these doctrines were Alexandria and Antioch, far away from the orthodoxy of Rome.  Whilst Catholics had always maintained that Christ (a.s.) was truly the Son, and truly God, and worshipped Him with divine honours, they could never consent to separate Him, in essence or reality, from the Father.  In the early days of the Church, the technical terms of doctrine were not fully defined; Greek terms such as the essence, ousia; the substance, hypostasis; the nature, physis; the person, hyposopon; and others, which are now familiar to Christian theologians; were not fully defined and bore a variety of meanings dependent upon the philosophical traditions they were based upon.

Essentially, Christian though adopted wholesale the vocabulary Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus and Classical Greek philosophers.  And with it, their doctrinal baggage.  The Pauline Christians pushed their version of a Triune God, the rationalists resisted it, and all manner of groups arose between the two positions.  In all this, the position of Arius was simple: God does not have a Son.  He predated the Final Prophet (s.a.w.) by several centuries, but Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) vindicated him with the Revelation of the Qur’an:

He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him. (Surah al-Ikhlasw:3-4)

Pauline Christians class Arianism and all similar heresies Unitarianism.  We do not have the actual doctrines of Arius in his own words.  The closest we do have is Athanasius’ Four Discourses against the Arians.  Athanasius’ Contra Gentes, Against the Heathens and De Incarnatione, On the Incarnation, did not address it itself since they were written before the Arian heresy rocked the foundations of the Church.

Arianism itself did not evolve directly from Gnosticism, although Irenaeus labelled every heresy a form a Gnosticism.  Arianism did take the middle position between Pauline Christianity and Gnosticism, denying the Sonship, and by extension, the Trinity; but Arianism also did not accept any concept of a demiurge.  Jesus (a.s.) was considered an Intercessor for the First Cause.  Arius believed that God is Eternal, but Jesus (a.s.) was not.  Arius contended that God Alone was without beginning, Unoriginate; the Son was originated, and once had not existed, for all that has origin must begin to be.  In essence, it was islam before Islam.  The genuine doctrine of Arius denies that the Son is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; Jesus (a.s.) is not consubstantial, homoousios, with the Father, and therefore unlike Him, or not equal in dignity, or co-eternal, or within the sphere of deityship.  The Logos an Attribute, Reason, belonging to the Divine, and is not a person distinct from another, and therefore is a ‘Son’ metaphorically, not in reality.  

In summary, Arian belief asserts that Jesus Christ (a.s.) is the Son of God, Created by God the Father, distinct from the Father and therefore subordinate to the Father.  The Arian belief that the Son of God did not always exist, but was Created by God the Father is based on an interpretation of a verse in the Gospel according to John:

John 14:28
28 “You have heard me say that I am going away and coming back to you.  If you really loved me, you would be glad to hear that I am on my way to my Father; my Father has greater power than I.

Arius believed that God the Father and the Son of God did not always exist together eternally.  Arians believed that the Logos was a divine being Created by God the Father before the world and that the Son of God is subordinate to God the Father.  They refer to verses such this on the creation of the Son:

Proverbs 8:22
22 The Lord Made me His when First He went about His Work, at the birth of time, before His Creation began.

In a letter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, Arius wrote that “the Son is no part of the Ingenerate.”  Thereafter, Arians sometimes called ‘Anomoeans’, the ones who maintain that the Son was ‘unlike’ the Father, defined God as simply ‘Unoriginate’.  They were also called Exucontians, from ‘ex ouk onton’, because they held that the Creation of the Son was out of nothing, kun faya kun.

But there were also Semi-Arians who affirmed the Trinity but denied the Son co-equal dignity and co-eternal existence.  This via media is even more untenable logically ad theologically.  As such, because of the extreme differences between Arianism and Catholicism, the via media had no real creed or theology, varying wildly between one or the other position, and alternatively agreeing and contradicting each other.  While they affirmed the Word of God to be everlasting, they imagined him to have become the Son to create and redeem mankind.  This actually segued into outright polytheism.

Quite a few of the early Church Fathers of the Ante-Nicene period held either Arian or Semi-Arian views.  Arianism was not the far out heresy that is has since been depicted by Christianity.  It was the most widely accepted doctrine in large sections of the Church.  If history had played out differently, Pauline Christianity would be considered the heresy.  Aside from Athenagoras, Tatian, Theophilus of Antioch, Hippolytus, and Novatian, others who held pro-Arian views on the Sonship include Tertullian, and Origen – giants of early Christian theology.

Arianism, although named after Arius, did not originate with him.  Arius was its most successful proponent.  It had many beginnings and initially coalesced with Paul of Samosata, contemporary with Dionysius, and Bishop of Antioch.  Paul said that the man Jesus (a.s.) was distinct from the logos and was ‘made’ God by merit.  But there was still only one essence.  It took three councils, all held at Antioch, from 264 to 268 CE to condemn the heresy and excommunicate the Samosatene.  However, the councils declined to accept the homoousian formula, since they were not in a position to properly define it.  They feared that this would result in a Christology that would be uncomfortably close to several pagan traditions.

Arius was a Libyan by descent, brought up at Antioch and a went to school with Eusebius, later Bishop of Nicomedia.  Arius had been a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, at Lucian’s private academy.  He inherited from him, a modified form of the doctrine of Paul of Samosata.  He first came to into prominence for opposing the Sabellians.  The Sabellians are named after Sabellius, who taught that God was single and indivisible.  He held that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were three manifestations of one divine Person.

Epiphanius described Arius as tall, grave, and winning.  Even his enemies in the Church can find no aspersion on his moral character to this day.  He has some personal doctrinal differences with his patriarch, Alexander.  They quarreled, and in public synod, he accused Alexander of teaching that the Son was identical with the Father.  Alexander condemned Arius in a great assembly.  Arius found a refuge with Eusebius, now the Church historian, at Caesarea, and his former school mate.  It became political and different parties within the Church took sides.  The bishops of Syria and Asia Minor sided with their fellow Lucianist, as Arius was known.

The Roman emperor Constantine, was not interested in what he thought a minor dispute and sought only to restore ecclesiastical order.  He has supported the Church out of political convenience, to strip the pagan temples of their political clout, and later their wealth.  Arius had written to the Nicomedian prelate, and boldly rejected the Catholic position on the Trinity.  Constantine sent a letter from Nicomedia to Alexander, seeking peace.  Alexander could not give way in a matter fundamental doctrine.  Neither would Arius and his supporters yield.  An ecumenical council was assembled in Nicaea, in Bithynia, the first ecumenical.

It is commonly held that Hosius of Cordova presided.  Pope Silvester was represented by his legates, and 318 Church Fathers attended, almost all from the East.  The acts of the Council are not preserved, so much of its theological debates can only be discerned from Athanasius.  He was a deacon, still in his youth, and had accompanied Alexander.  It is here that Athanasius made his name and became the leading theologian of the Church until his death.

Eusebius of Nicomedia wrote in, declaring openly that he did not believe Christ (a.s.) to be of one substance with God.  And this became the contention between the Arians and the Pauline Christians, the Catholics.  Eusebius drew up the Arian creed, an attempted compromise which accorded every term of honour and dignity to Jesus (a.s.), except the oneness of substance, one in being, with God.

The Church rejected this and reiterated what the Gospel according to John said:

John 10:30
30 “My Father and I are one.”

The ‘consubstantial’, ‘homoousios’ nature of the Sonship was accepted by all except thirteen bishops.  These dissenters became seven.  An anathema was proposed for those who affirmed that the Son once did not exist; that before he was begotten, He was not existent; that he was creatio ex nihilo; that he was of a different substance or essence from the Father; or was created or changeable.  Every bishop made this declaration except six, which became four.  Eusebius of Nicomedia withdrew his opposition to the Nicene terms, but refused to sign the condemnation of Arius.  Although Arius had as many supporters as Alexander and Athanasius, most of the bishops signed thee condemnation of Arius upon pain of death or exile by the Emperor.  Constantine did not care for either positon.  He cared for a united church behind him as he fought foreign adversaries.  It was politics and not faith that determined the direction of the Church from this juncture.

By the decree of the emperor, heresy was considered rebellion.  That would have meant a painful death.  The proposed alternative was subscription or banishment.  On political grounds, the Bishop of Nicomedia was exiled not long after the council.  Arius and his followers were exiled to Illyria.  And this was the beginning of Church precedent in dealing with major challenges to its doctrine.  And this was the beginning of its long dispute with Arianism in its various incarnations.  Athanasius succeeded Alexander in the Egyptian patriarchate in 326 CE.  He was not even thirty years of age.  And thus, the players were in position.

In 328 CE, Eusebius recovered Constantine's favour.  He went through his mother or sister, depending on the source.  A period of Arian reaction to the Paulines set in.  Eustathius of Antioch was deposed on a charge of Sabellianism in 331 CE.  The Emperor command that Athanasius receive Arius back into communion.  Athanasius firmly declined.  In 335 CE, Arius was absolved by two councils, at Tyre and Jerusalem.  The Council of Tyre also deposed Athanasius on the charge of threatening to cut off the grain supply from Egypt to Constantinople in a fit of petulance against the Emperor.  He was exiled to Trier and stayed there until Constantine’s death in 337 CE.

In 336 CE, Constantia, the sister of the Emperor, recommended Arius to Constantine’s leniency as her dying wish.  The emperor recalled the Lybian, extracted an adhesion to the Nicene creed, and then ordered Alexander, Bishop of the Imperial City, to give him communion in his own church.  Arius had openly triumphed against the Pauline faction, and was granted a parade, thoroughly vindicated.  On the eve of communion, Arius died.  The Catholic Church called it a miracle.  I call it a convenient death.  Arius was undoubtedly poisoned by agents of the Catholic Church.  And that is the extent of the history of Arius and Athanasius.

Athanasius was a consummate politician, and involved himself in the intrigues, the deadly infighting and the factionalism of the Church, whilst at the same time, shaping the Catholic response to Arianism and its Christology.  After the passing of Arius, due to many factors, Arianism became a spent force within the Church.  Its advocates sought rapprochement with the powerful Athanasius, or were exiled, or they passed on.  Athanasius himself died in 373 CE, but his cause triumphed at and shaped Western Christianity to this day.

At the Second General Council, the Council of Constantinople, in 381 CE, the current form of the Nicene Creed, first formulated in part at the Council of Nicaea, was approved.  It was drawn up by Gregory of Nyssa.  Constantinople was the bastion of Arianism.  This signaled the end of Arianism as a viable doctrine within the Church.  Whilst Arianism did gain a foothold amongst the Germanic tribes, it never developed doctrinally and these developments were more political than theological.

In summary, the Pauline doctrine of Trinitarianism was formally affirmed by the first two ecumenical councils – Nicaea in 325 CE and Constantinople in 381 CE.  Arianism provided the Catholic Church the impetus to formalize much of its doctrines.  The result of the first two councils was the Nicene Creed, and eventually, the Athanasian Creed to address the Arian heresy.  Thereafter, all mainstream branches of Christianity considered Arianism heterodox and heretical.  Nicaea deemed it a heresy.  In between the first two ecumenical councils, there were the regional synods of Tyre and Jerusalem, in 335 CE.  Here, Arius was exonerated.  After his death, he was anathemised and pronounced heretic at the First Council of Constantinople of 381 CE.

Arian books were burned and the doctrine was expunged from Church records.  We only know of his doctrine from polemics, particularly Athanasius.  Even accounts of Arius and Athanasius are highly partisan to the point of caricature.  Arianism did continue to exist for several decades.  By the end of the 4th century, it was virtually extinct as a theological force, and 2,000 years later, most Christians have no idea that it was once, one of the dominant doctrines of the early Church.  As Catholic theologians wrote the last century, had it finally triumphed, it “would have anticipated Islam, reducing the Eternal Son to the rank of a prophet, and thus undoing the Christian revelation.”

In western Europe, Ulfilas, the Arian bishop ordained by Eusebius, converted the Goths and Lombards and, significantly for the late Empire, the Vandals.  Whilst it eventually died out amongst the other Germanic tribes, the Vandals of Iberia clung on to it.  Centuries later, when the Muslims came, they found it easy to adopt Islam, and the Land of the Vandals, became ‘Dar al-Andalus’, since there is no ‘v’ in Arabic.  And that is why al-Andalus, Andalusia, easily became Muslim.  Arianism resurfaced after the Reformation, in the 16th century.  The epithet ‘Arian’ was also applied indiscriminately to every non-trinitarian group that emerged.  But these ‘unitarians’ had varied doctrines, and some were far from being truly Unitarian, being closer to binitarianism.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Are We Serious about Facing Takfirist Ideology?

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following article, originally in Arabic, is adapted from Are We Serious about Facing Takfirist Ideology? from the 19th September 2013, by Habib ‘Ali al-Jifri.

Three years ago in the Southern Turkish city of Mardin, Shaykh ‘Abdullah ibn Bayyah’s (r.a.) Global Center for Renewal and Guidance, in association with Artuklu University, convened a conference.  It had two primary purposes: first, to carefully examine and review the classification of domains, diyar, in Islamic law and how this pertains to the concepts of jihad, loyalty and enmity, al-wala’ wa al-bara’; citizenship and emigration; and second, to discuss the fatwa of Shaykh Taqi ad-Din ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.), commonly known as ‘The Fatwa of Mardin,’ in which he deduced a new ruling for a jurisprudential classification of the world into domains of unbelief, dar al-kufr; Islam, dar al-islam; and covenant, dar al-‘ahd.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) considered Mardin to belong to both a domain of unbelief and domain of Islam – unbelief due to its being ruled by the non-Muslim Tartars, and Islam due to its residents being Muslim.  During the course of the conference Shaykh ibn Bayyah proposed a reevaluation of the traditional jurisprudential classification of domains.  In light of modern political developments governing international relations and a global acceptance for United Nations’ treaties that have helped the world transition to a period of relative peaceful coexistence he suggested that the traditional classification would need to be reviewed.

Shaykh ibn Bayyah expressed his concern over a particular word found in the Arabic printed edition of the fatwa.  The ‘The Fatwa of Mardin,’ is found in Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah’s (r.a.) ‘Compilation of Religious Edicts,’ Majmu’ al-Fatawa, a comprehensive collection of edicts he issued throughout his life.  Shaykh ibn Bayyah requested that it be reviewed for its authenticity as it appeared linguistically to be unsuitably placed in the context of the text.  Dr. Ahmad al-Raysuni, a member of the Islamic Fiqh Council at the Muslim World League in Makkah, objected, on the grounds that this request will open the door for skepticism and doubt in the traditional sources of knowledge.  Shaykh ibn Bayyah’s response was that such a request was sanctioned and reviewing the text to ascertain its accuracy is in fact a service to the Islamic tradition.

Thus, we requested a copy of the only available manuscript of Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah’s (r.a.) ‘Compilation of Religious Edicts,’ that is found in the Zahirriya library in Damascus.  Upon reviewing the text, we found that Shaykh ibn Bayyah’s reservations regarding the word ‘yuqatal’ were correct.  The text in question as found in the printed editions of the fatwa read, “Yu’amal al-Muslimu fiha bima yastahiquhu wa yuqatal al-kharij ‘an shari’at al-Islam bima yastahiquhu,” meaning “(Mardin is of a third category) in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the shari’ah shall be fought as he merits.”  Whereas, the text in the manuscript read, “Yu’amal al-Muslimu fiha bima yastahiquhu wa yu’amal al-khariju ‘an shari’at al-Islam bima yastahiquhu,” meaning, “(Mardin is of a third category) in which the Muslim shall be treated as he merits, and in which the one who departs from the shari’ah shall be treated as he merits.”

The appearance of this distortion in printed editions of the fatwa over the last 100 years has provided takfirists with one of their most important justifications for the shedding of blood and taking of life.  The former mufti of Egypt, Shaykh ‘Ali Juma’ah, wrote an article on this issue and the Dar al-Ifta of Egypt issued a related fatwa.  Despite the fact that this amendment ensures Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah’s (r.a.) innocence from that which is falsely ascribed to him, the response from takfirists was unsurprisingly vehement.  Amidst a relentless campaign to smear the conference and throw accusations at it in its aftermath, takfirists wrote three works refuting the conference’s proceedings.  Al-Jazeera, expectedly, was at the head of this smear campaign via its reporting.  Its local correspondent used the “low” attendance at the conference to criticise it as not having gained acceptance among the people of Mardin, ignorant of the fact that the conference was specialist in nature and not for public attendance.  Likewise, he was oblivious to the participation of local scholars.  Some of the attendees who contributed to drafting the conference’s final declaration took part in the smear campaign after having been subjected to criticisms by zealous fanatics.

Despite this, institutions that proclaim to fight terrorism are in a deep slumber and obliviousness to the important outcomes of this conference.  Similar is the state of our fiqh councils, faith-based institutions and broadcast and print media.  Thus, the most pressing question today is: are we serious in confronting takfirist thought and ideology?  If we are, I propose the following suggestions.

Firstly, that governing bodies and political entities immediately halt dealings and interaction with takfirist ideology as and when it is employed as a tool in balance-of-power politics.  At times we see some support it and at others they attack it; at times they will cultivate a fertile climate for its growth and spread to later exploit its use in political trade-offs, not minding therein to fight it, if the trade-off requires.  This has been the case in many Arab countries over the last twenty years.

Secondly, that our educational and da’wah faith-based institutions earnestly and publicly oppose this erroneous ideology through the commissioning of shari’ah-based studies that are strong in their argument and firm in their jurisprudential precision.  These studies must tackle those specious issues which takfirists use to mislead our youth and seize their membership and loyalty, turning them into temporal bombs that will eventually explode here and there.

These studies must be widely disseminated, studied and analysed in schools, mosques, and the different media platforms.  They must be discussed through dialectic seminars in which the main exponents of this ideology are invited to discern the right from wrong and for the sincere from them return to the truth.  The heretics among them must be publicly silenced through argument.  Media outlets must not host them alone without also having someone to respond to them.

Thirdly, religious scholars and leaders should openly declare their rejection of this corrupted ideology.  They must fulfill their duty to create awareness without hesitance or fear from threats.  Allah (s.w.t.) Took an oath from us to clarify the truth and Warned those who conceal knowledge; He Said:

Those who conceal the Clear (Signs), We have Sent Down, and the Guidance, after We have Made it clear for the people in the Book ― on them shall be Allah's Curse and the curse of those entitled to curse. (Surah al-Baqarah:159)

When masses of ‘ulama and faith leaders continuously promulgate the truth, followers and exponents of takfirist ideology will be powerless to respond.

Fourthly, we: scholars, intellectuals, governments, organisations and media, must have the courage to acknowledge our own unintended involvement in creating the climate for the spread of takfirist ideology.  By being derelict in our duty to educate the youth of this ummah in the understanding of their religion they became prey to all who falsely claim jihad in Allah’s (s.w.t.) way.  This is especially the case when we consider the anger people feel at the weakness, defeat, retardation and corruption we live and experience on a daily basis.

We must be earnest in working towards the restoration of high regard for time-honoured shari’ah seminaries like Al-Azhar in Egypt, al-Zaytuna in Tunisia, al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco, the Hadramawt and Levant traditions and the seminaries of Mauritania, the Subcontinent and Sudan.  Sufficient support to ensure their financial and administrative independence must be made available.  Any attempts by adherents of conflicting persuasions to tamper with these institutions or their time-tested curriculums must be prevented.  We must withdraw these institutions from the realm of political competition for power.  Their role should be as independent advisors who offer guidance in politics as they currently do with economics, society and other affairs of life.

We must stop confining ourselves to quick fix, superficial solutions.  For example, yielding responsibility for dealing with extremist and takfirist ideology to the security apparatus alone.  Well-developed security solutions are important.  However, we have experienced utter failure due to over-burdening the security apparatus with more than it can be bear in dealing with this matter.  Also, searching for ready-made solutions; and adopting singular, independent options when it comes to decision making regarding the correction of devious thought.  These all serve only to increase the complexity of existing dilemmas and corroborate delusions held by the youth.

We must dispose of the idea held by some, deluded as it is, that they can possibly derive benefit from the failures of the Islamists.  They think they can use these failures to raise a generation of youth who will throw religion behind their backs to enter into the melting pot of a Western-oriented paradigm.  Followers of this paradigm think that it represents the end of history and that they have succeeded in imbuing the world with its hue.  They say that to dispute it only leads to the inevitability of the 'clash of civilisations.”  Continuing to jog behind this mirage will not bring prosperity to any endeavour.  Rather, it will only deepen extremism, religious or non-religious, and add the catastrophe of atheistic extremism to the calamity of takfirist extremism.

Paradigms and cultural perspectives that are native to our identity and embrace the variables of our time must be renewed.  By such we can proceed to construct a spring from which future generations can be watered and inspired to interact with the wider human community with confidence.

his confidence should free them from the dualism of rigidness and solubility towards an eagerness for coexistence that is based on participation and ambition to contribute to the development of human society.  Rigidness here, is to become hardened and insistent on a tradition that was established on the variables of a particular past time.  It leads one to become detached from having effect and impact.  And solubility is to identify with the other to the extent that one loses their own identity and constants, verified or established matters.

In closing, I remind myself and all who read the words of Allah (s.w.t.) of the verse:

Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity. (Surah Ali ‘Imran:104)

And the verse:

And be not like a woman who breaks into untwisted strands the yarn she has spun, after it has become strong.  Nor take your oaths to practise deception between yourselves, lest one party should be more numerous than another: for Allah will Test you by this; and on the Day of Judgment He will Certainly Make Clear to you (the truth of) that wherein ye disagree. (Surah an-Nahl:92)