In response to my article on the failure of Islamic Gradualism, a reader sent me a lengthy critique of my article. I thought that the critique contained many common arguments for Gradualism, and provided a great opportunity for all to benefit from further discussion on this topic. I have reposted the critique, together with my response below.
[Facebook Comment on Article post 12th July 2013]
Salman Butt wrote:
I’m only writing these comments because (A) I know brother Abdullah to be a man who likes discussion and debate, and would easily accept truth even if it went against his own opinions, and (B) I have a particular interest in this topic of banter. So no hard feelings insha Allah.I read the article a few times, and took a lot of notes, because every time I read it it seems to be self annihilating to me. While there is a beneficial insight into how societies work, etc., I can’t help get the impression that you are refuting an unknown, non-existing entity, which you haven’t defined sufficiently different to yourself.Normally the rhetoric and discussions surrounding ‘gradualism’ emanate from the some of our brothers in some organisations that have been founded on a mixture of different philosophies and ideologies (ironically resulting in those brothers desiring a purge of anything ‘un-islamic’ or ‘foreign’ in our politics), but unfortunately with few contemporary orthodox Muslim scholars, if any, supporting those views. The qualms they have with this so-called ‘gradualism’ are as a result, in my opinion, based on a shallow understanding of aspects of shari’ah, and I’m afraid that you might have accepted some of those contentions without sufficient critique. I think if you look into the writings of scholars on maslaha and mafsada, sayaasa, etc. you will agree.I think the most economical way to structure my two pence would be to mention the main few problems I had and leave the other details for further discussions if anyone’s interested.I suppose my main concern is that you are looking at the whole discussion through a sort of ultra-reductionist lens, defining parts of a larger entity as so different that you are unable to see the whole picture, from different angles. This leads to this mythological ‘gradualist’ creature that you are accusing of having a shallow understanding of things. If we take your definition of gradualism, the re-establishing khilafah by gradually re-implementing islam in a Muslim country, then I see two concerns:
(i) You are criticising people for what is, in effect, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. There is more to Islam than establishing khilafah – if you see ANY evil being commi[tted] in your sphere of influence, then you must stop that evil. Even if you don’t have khilafah yet. So if a person is able to enter politics and close down brothels, reduce the amount of drugs on the street, etc. etc. then they may be obligated to do that. This false dichotomy that assumes every political process to be split into two homogenous factions, ‘khilafa’ and ‘kufr system’, is too weak to use as an excuse to prevent one from doing the above. Allah obliges the mukallif to take acts necessary based on his or her individual circumstances and context. I think your contention here is based on a flawed understanding of maslaha, as seeing it simply as ‘doing something haram to get something good’. This is flawed not only in there being little evidence for general political participation being haram/wrong in the first place (even if SOME of that process or underlying philosophy/ideology is kufr), but it is a confirmed principle in the application of rulings, within every school of fiqh, and has its own rigorous, sound methodology of use. To simplify it to the ‘ends justifying the means’, and saying ‘you don’t know the future’, is too shallow an argument against it. There are so many subtleties such as the difference between a harm and a benefit, the different levels of threat and immanence of a harm, going against the core of a ruling (‘ayn) or its periphery, etc. that we can’t paint the whole institution of maslaha with one brush.
(ii) Your description of the opposite of a gradualist, is still a gradualist. One thing never properly mentioned in these discussions, is what is the opposite of a gradualist? If we are to expect that ‘gradually re-implementing islam’ is gradualism, and wrong, then what alternative is there? There isn’t one. Even if we were to assume that magically all the laws etc. would change in a country overnight (nay, too gradual, say within one picosecond!), then naturally their implementation would take time. From writing decrees to sending emails to judges and courts and the police, informing them of the new laws… nothing in real life is truly immediate. Quite absurd, but I’m making the point that there is no such thing as a gradualist since everything by its nature is gradual, as are aspects of Islam since it was sent to be applied in THIS gradualistic world. What you should argue, I normally ask brothers bashing ‘gradualism’, is the EXTENT and subject of that which is to be gradually implemented. More importantly, what defines how quickly you implement something? If you ponder over it you would concede to a conclusion of something like: ‘Islam should be implemented as immediately/quickly as possible’. Now if one is following me until now, it all boils down to what you opine is ‘possible’, and why. If you disagree with a ‘gradualist’, contrary to what you might feel, you are not disagreeing on any fundamental Islamic principle, or pillar of ideology, but rather a simple difference in analysing the different factors which define that ‘possible’.Normally this is how far it gets with discussions with the usual ‘gradualism’ bashing, however you have done the next step already, by offering your very own GRADUAL plan for implementing khilafah! This is why I believe that you will actually realise the flaws of the average ‘gradualism: bad’ argument, since you yourself are a ‘gradualist’, like any other reasonable person. Not only do you mention in a few places in the article, various things that need implementing in order to ‘change society’, but you even give a bullet point list!
• [teach people] what the Islamic laws are – in detail, with their subtleties
• how they are derived from the Islamic Creed (Aqeeda),
• how they work and compliment each other,
• how they alone can effectively solve human problems,especially ‘modern’ ones
• How they are superior to Communism, Socialism, Nationalism, Liberalism and Secularism
• and why they are are urgently required for immediate re-implementation.
Do you get my point? You yourself are offering a ‘gradualist’ method of establishing khilafah (each bullet point one can argue is just as easily an aspect of Islam to be implemented). Now as I said above, you may say that those you differ with are wrong in THEIR method, but that’s all it is at the end of the day: they in their experience and knowledge of the affairs on the ground seek to do X, Y then Z, whilst you in your experience and knowledge of affairs on the ground, seek to do X, Z then Y. They’re BOTH so-called ‘gradualist’ methods. In fact, even your analogy at the end applies equally to either. After all, what’s wrong with taking a slow and sturdy boat that will (gradually) take you to your destination?
The scholars say that implementing Islamic rulings gradually must NOT be mistaken as being the same as not implementing them out of choice. An analogy for implementing Islam on a people is that of implementing Islam on a person. When a new Muslim comes to you, it is well known not to try and forbid all of the sins he is used to at once. This is completely different to a Muslim that is practising and has fallen into the same sin(s). We live this life between maslaha and mafsada, between benefit and harm, good and bad; sometimes as a priority we are required to reduce the evil, and sometimes to increase the good. These are deep issues which scholars have distilled for us, from the wisdom taught by Allah and His Messenger, and as a result it is not proper for us to liken people who follow their guidance with the likes of the munafiqeen of Madinah. Even if you might disagree with someone on the basis of their plan for implementation vs your plan for implementation, remember these are matters of ijtihad and subject to human error, and I remind you and myself of the principle that la inkaar fee masa’il al-ijtihad, that there is no condemnation/denunciation in matters of ijthihad, and Allah knows best.
Thank you brother for your comments and healthy criticisms of my article. I welcome such opportunities to clarify further my article’s argument.
Your comment that Muslim organisations have adopted a mixture of ideologies are a little vague, and could benefit from some examples – unless you were merely agreeing with my point that gradualists are the ones afflicted by this (e.g. their use of the western criteria of utilitarianism).
As for your comment alleging that my agreement with gradualism would come about if I were to look into what the scholars say on politics, I find that somewhat presumptive of both my research, and what the scholars say. Your comment is strange considering Imam Nawawi famously said in his commentary of Sahih Muslim:
“No scholar has ever said that Islam can be implemented gradually”
Imam Nawawi, Sharh al sahih Muslim, Vol 1 pg 139
The only discussion that comes anywhere near ‘gradualism’, is how a (100%) Islamic state enforces the law. In essence, whether rulers and their police forces should show discretion with dealing with law breakers (e.g. advising them instead of arresting them). This is also done in states today, with police forces issuing ‘warnings’, first, before an arrest is imminent.
But an Islamic State exercising discretion is different from a state that only rules partially with Islamic law (and the other part, unIslamic law). In fact, the scholars bascially agree that if a Muslim ruler, rules with clear kufr/unIslamic laws, he is to be deposed (The only disagreement that occurs between scholars is how the ruler is deposed):
“whoever does this is a disbeliever and it is an obligation to fight him until he returns to the laws of Allah and his prophet (SAW), it is irrelevant if that part of the shari’ah which he has left is large or small.”
Tafsir Ibn Kathir [Al Quran Al Atheem 2.67]
Now a gradualist Muslim ruler would have to rule and enforce unIslamic laws during the period of ‘gradual transformation’ towards a full Islamic state. This brings us to a point of absurdity, since a gradualist would lose all legitimacy during their implementation of the gradualist approach. The Classical Scholars never caveated their condemnation of a Muslim ruler implementing unIslamic law, by saying ‘he should be deposed unless he intends to implement all of the Islamic law at some point in the future’, but rather they say ‘fight him until he returns to the laws of Allah and his prophet (SAW)’. Now for someone to say that there is a caveat for it, or that unIslamic law can be implemented if one intends to, at some point, change it, is making up something that exists no where in the classical Islamic discourse to my knowledge. Of course, if you know of even a minority opinion, then I’d welcome the reference.
As for citing maslaha and mafsada, these only apply for what benefits and harms the deen – by looking at what are the certain consequences of an action. If we use those tools, I could still criticise Gradualism as being not successful, and in fact counter-productive to the aim of implementing Islam. Of course, maslaha and mafsada has been greatly abused by pragmatists and utilitarians who evaluate any action based purely on ‘harm’ and ‘benefit’ – which is the problem I identified originally.
Your concerns that my approach is ultra-reductionist are misplaced. Providing an explanation of how society works based upon rational observation, and the reductionist analysis of society are two different things. My article did not ‘reduce’ society down to its constituent parts as merely a collection of individuals, engaged in one-one interactions. If you re-read my article, I focused specifically on the epiphenomena of societies, called ‘culture’ (i.e. something that informs the bigger picture). Culture cannot be explained as simply arising from the one-one interactions of the ‘individuals’ of a society – so is not something a reductionist would be able to explain easily. Rather, it can only be explained by the requirement that a culture be supplied to a collection of individuals in order for them to form a society underneath it. Hence my argument cannot be reductionalist. In fact, the gradualist approach is actually based upon a reductionalist understanding of society – where society is viewed as a collection of individuals and therefore gradualism advocates a limited method of getting each individual to do good, and forbid evil in their individual (and thus limited) capacity. This ignores the aspects to society that are greater than the sum of its parts – i.e. culture (the real determinant of power). To get an individual who wants to do good, into a office upheld by a corrupt or unIslamic culture, limits any good the individual can do – and even prevents him from doing the good, or leads to his corruption as well (as he makes compromises to get work done). Unfortunately, it appears the gradualist approach is based upon a reductionist view.
Where you say:
‘There is more to Islam than establishing khilafah – if you see ANY evil being commit in your sphere of influence, then you must stop that evil. Even if you don’t have khilafah yet’
I agree – but this is an argument against gradualism, not against my article. For the problem with gradualism is, it doesn’t forbid all evil, nor does it enjoin all good. But rather, what makes gradualism, gradual, is the fact that its advocates only enjoining a little good, and forbidding a little evil (if that), and it continues implementing and enforcing a corrupt system. If gradualists get into power, and forbid all evil, and enjoin all good, then they wouldn’t be gradualists would they?
As for the issue of Khilafah, when speaking of commanding the good and forbidding the evil, Imam Qurtabi said it best, when he said:
“everyone is not capable to command the right and to forbid the wrong, it can be effectively performed by the ruler (khalifah), for he holds the authority to frame such laws that may be in accord with shariah. His is the final word in all matters of consequence such as the legislation of laws and treatment of prisoners. The head of state should entrust an honest, strict and righteous person the responsibility of enforcing the dictates of shariah in all matters. For Allah says, ‘If we establish them in the land, (they are those who) establish regular prayer.”
Al Ahkam al Quran
‘You are criticising people for what is, in effect, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil’
No, my article was criticising people specifically for not enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. They are deserving of criticism, who choose to defer some of it to some later time in the future, and stay silent on it, or without action in the present.
‘So if a person is able to enter politics and close down brothels, reduce the amount of drugs on the street, etc. etc. then they may be obligated to do that. This false dichotomy that assumes every political process to be split into two homogenous factions, ‘khilafa’ and ‘kufr system’, is too weak to use as an excuse to prevent one from doing the above’
No one is arguing that a person cannot enter politics to forbid evil and enjoin the good. However, as I have already said, it is the self-imposed limitations of the gradualists, who defer enjoining some (or most) of the good, and defer forbidding some (or most) of the evil – until some time in the future. My article argued that people need to enjoin 100% of the good and forbid 100% of the evil from the moment they attained power – using a variety of methods. But you see the problem with a gradualist who attains power and tries to close down brothels (and nothing else), is that the people will demand a reason as to why they should be closed down. If he explains that Islam requires it, and they accept that, then why can’t he do the same with bars, interest banking, casinos etc upto, and fully implementing, Islam? Why do gradualists stop short of making laws banning those things, and preside over laws that permit people to engage in such activity?
If gradualists argue that the people would reject Islam as the reason for why brothels/bars etc should be closed, then this begs the question as to how those individuals got into power in the first place, what promises did they make, and under what expectations are they under? And what is the individual expected to do to retain this power? If the reasons for him getting into power, is anything other than the implementation of Islam, then he is limited from enjoining the good and forbidding the evil – and to retain power, the individual in question is going to have to go against his conscience, and enjoin evil and maintain the forbidding of good (e.g. Erdogan presiding over a regime that permits alcohol, and bans criticising Kemalism). Of course, the gradualists justify this, by citing the righteousness of their eventual goals, which of course, is what I was referring to when I criticised those who judge haram actions as halal, if the eventual goal is righteous. This is no different to utilitarianism – and is a morality of materialism. Material results justify compromising spiritual principles.
You say that people should participate in politics – I agree, but what does it mean to participate in politics? If you mean, campaigning, lobbying, networking, protesting, demonstrating, and mass leafleting etc, then of course we should do those things as methods to change the culture of the society, and attain power. However, if you advocate participation in Secular democracy, then this is where the problems lies. Secular Democracy is a system based upon sovereignty of the people, if you participate in such a system, then you tacitly accept this premise. How will it let you then implement a different system based upon sovereignty to God, after you win the elections? As soon as you do so, the media and power brokers will claim you have breached the legitimacy conveyed to you from the people, and they will depose you. Hence, you’ve not only compromised your principles in getting to power, but also will be doomed to lose it, as soon as you step outside the limits of the very system you initially gave tacit support for. It’s like walking into a casino to try and win enough money to buy the casino, then shut it down in the name of being against gambling. Not only have you contradicted yourself by gambling, but you’ll probably lose all your money, and made the casino a little richer in the process.
‘Allah obliges the mukallif to take acts necessary based on his or her individual circumstances and context’
Of course, but the problem with gradualism, is that it wants to change the circumstances and context by joining in with those circumstances and contexts (and thereby reinforcing their legitimacy), and using the current channels and structures of power (which are under the rules of the current system e.g. Secular democracy or military promotion through the ranks) in the hope that those circumstances and contexts will be changed. Whereas the real route to change of their circumstances and context, is by publicly rejecting those structures and channels in the first place, and creating new channels that are not under the rules of the current system (e.g. engaging directly with the people and the influentials), in order to bring a new circumstance and context, redefining the circumstances and context of the Muslims Ummah. There is a big difference between them.
You claim that the article does not understand the scholarly discussions on maslaha. However, I contend that it is the gradualists that do not understand the Islamic use of maslaha. Maslaha has never been a tool to justify doing haram actions, but it has been used as an additional tool to determine the wisest course of action (within the halal) based upon a consideration of its consequences.
Aisha (ra) said;
“Whenever the Prophet, (saw) has a choice between two matters, he would choose the easiest, unless it is sinful (act)”
However, since the purpose of life for Muslims, is adherence to the Islamic law of God – irrespective of the negative consequences, there can be no compromise, even if the intended benefit is materially very good. For example, Pagans were forbidden to do pilgrimage to Makkah. One could argue that the ‘maslaha’ would be to permit them to do pilgrimage, so that they may hear the Quran, and supply money to the coffers of the Islamic state, which could be used for defence and charity to spread Islam. However, the Quran told the Muslims to have faith in Allah (swt), that by following His laws, he would provide for them.
Imam Ghazali says:
“Maslahah does not mean acquiring benefit or repelling harm; it means protecting the purposes of the law.”
Likewise, Imam Ghazali famously used the example of 10 men on an overcrowded boat in a storm – which was in real danger of sinking due to the weight of passengers. He was asked whether it was permitted to throw a man overboard so that the greater number could live, to which he vehemently rejected the notion. Imam Ghazali stated that the method of saving the people could not be the doing of a haram action. Furthermore, he also stated that since the people on the boat could not be certain of the future, they could not know whether the action of throwing a man of the boat would guarantee success anyways. I’m sure Imam Ghazali wasn’t making a superficial point by use of that argument.
In short, I believe you may have misunderstood the concept of maslaha. I think maslaha is a very abused concept in the modern world, and has been easily corrupted into western utilitarianism – as used by gradualists, and terrorists (to justify their actions for a ‘greater good’).
You claim that there is no other possibility than to be a gradualist – and you argue that even if it took a ‘picosecond’ to implement the Islamic laws, that is still gradual.
I think that your argument is playing on the term ‘gradual’, rather than gradualist. A Muslim who gets into power to establish all of Islam, will establish Islam as the basis from the state immediately – by means of announcements, sending orders, making notifications etc, then his establishment of the Islamic state is not gradual, but merely systematic. Whereas the gradualists, when they get into a position of power, intend to delay and defer the implementation of Islam until a future time. The difference is quite clear.
Your criticism then claims that the alternative method to gradualism that I offer, is also gradualist. But here, again, I think there is some confusion in your argument. The alternative method to gradualism, like any plan, consists of a number of steps and pre-requisites before taking power. The method that focuses on changing the intellectual culture of a society, by bringing a critical proportion of military and the general populations’ allegiance back to a holistic Islam. Once this has been achieved, the Islamic group can take power under a structure that it has created – and the establishment of Islamic law becomes instant from the moment the group takes power, irrespective if they have been able to send a list of their laws to all the police officers yet.
You claim that in the article, the bullet point list of issues to tackle, constitutes a gradualist method. I do not see your reasoning for this. The bullet point list, is not a series of stages to be achieved after a Muslim group takes power, nor are they even a series of stages. But rather, they are a list of intellectual obstacles that must be all tackled simultaneously before the pathway to taking power can open up to the Islamic revivalist group.
You said that my analogy of taking a slow and sturdy boat to one’s destination is an analogy for gradualism. But actually it isn’t. The destination of the boat, is getting into power to establish Islam. For the context of that analogy, was that gradualists take to using secular democracy as the quickest way to achieve an Islamic state. This method is not only flawed, but also counter-productive, as one simply cannot use secular democracy to bring down secular democracy. This is why gradualism matches the analogy of the fast boat with a hole in it. You take the boat to get to your destination quicker, but end up sinking in it. The sturdy boat is one that ends up taking longer for a Muslim revivalist group to get into power (as most of their work is doing dawah, making contacts, and disseminating ideas) but when they reach their destination, they do so with no danger of sinking.
When you say “The scholars say that implementing Islamic rulings gradually must NOT be mistaken as being the same as not implementing them out of choice”, you counter your own position, for the gradualist chooses not to implement all of Islam (usually, even most of it) when they get into power – choosing to defer the Islamic laws until a later time. This is the definition of gradualism.
You claim that implementing Islam on a people, should be done like implementing Islam on a new Muslim. But I think you have confused two things together. When asking a new Muslim to live by Islam, you tell them what the rules are – so they are under no illusions, but you encourage them to start adopting them as soon as they feel they can do so to a sustainable degree. Of course, most new Muslims are already aware of what most of the rules are – so encouragement and support is needed only. Of course a New Muslim finds it easier to give up past practices, than to do new ones that are unfamiliar to them. This would be the equivalent, to an Islamic State, establishing all the rules that Islam requires for a state – but telling it’s police forces to show discretion and tact when policing the people. Of course, the bars, pubs and clubs close instantly (to be replaced by possibly cafes, bookshops, or cafe-bookshops 🙂 ).
This is different to the gradualist method of ruling, which defer establishing Islamic laws to a later date, and permits non-Islamic laws to exist and be implemented during their rule. To use your analogy of the new Muslim, it is like the Muslim adviser not telling the New Muslim that alcohol is prohibited, and even joining the New Muslim for a beer! Hoping that at some later date, the New Muslim will eventually find the strength to stop drinking beer!
Lastly, you say that the opinion of gradualists is an ijtihad (exegesis), and should not be condemned. Even if we should humour that argument, why cannot a faulty ijtihad not be condemned? Surely if you feel an opinion is weak, you should advise those that hold it, and refute the opinion itself with intellectual arguments?
Of course, this should not be confused with condemning the sincere brothers and sisters who are gradualists, and sincerely strive for an Islamic state, albeit through a misguided method. I support their objectives, and I support them and any peaceful Muslim group working to achieve the goal of Khilafah (Caliphate). I am happy if any of them succeed, and sad if any of them fail. However, I would be negligent in my duty as a Muslim, if I fail to advise my brothers and sisters when I see them committing actions in error.
And Allah knows best.
Once again, thank you for your criticism of my article, and I hope that those reading this, will benefit from this discussion.
May Allah (swt) grant victory to the Deen, and see it re-established in the Muslim world. Ameen.