Imam Ghazali’s Obligation of Caliphate: A Response to ‘Mufti Abu Layth’

It was drawn to my attention that a critic has made some contentious remarks about a previous post of mine, where I copied out a large tract of text by the eminent Imam Ghazali from the section ‘On Showing that appointing an Imam is obligatory’ in his book Iqtisad ul I’tiqad (moderation of belief).

The purpose behind that posting was, well I can’t put it better than Ghazali: ‘Showing that appointing an Imam is obligatory’ [1].

However, this was met with criticism from an individual who seems to publicly contest the idea of a Caliphate [Imamah] as an obligation upon Muslims – a Caliphate where Muslims in the Muslim world unite to protect themselves from outside invasions, are ruled by Islamic law that administers mercy and justice, and that unites the Muslims and stops the constant internecine warfare we have seen in the last 80 years (of which the Saudi bombing of Yemen and their blockade of Qatar, and the blockade of Gaza by Egypt are two recent examples). As Imam Ghazali said of the Imamate (Caliphate):

‘…the purpose is to unify the diverse opinions under one person who is obeyed…the goal is to have someone whose decree is obeyed and who unifies diverse opinions, prevents people from warring and fighting, motivates them to seek what is good for them in this worldly life and the hereafter…’ [2]

So that I am not accused of misrepresenting the critic, I am going to post the critic’s two comments in full here below, then my response underneath:

[1st Comment]:

Love it when non-scholars like Abdullah alAndalusi act scholarly.

Quoting Imam Ghazali… i’d advise such people to read Ghazali’s Naseeha tul Mulook, whereby he declares any Caliphate to have been long dead.

He calls to no revival… rather discusses the instrumental nature of leadership and as long as there is law and order, all is well

[2nd Comment]:

Tried posting this comment there but it wont allow me;

Quoting Ghazali is interesting since his book نصيحة الملوك [naseehatul muluk] he addresses how the Caliphate has been long dead, since he himself lived in the Buyid era بني بويه a Shia Dynastic rule which had very little interest in Islamic matters.

Imam Ghazali doesn’t call to any revival or obligation to set up a global Caliphate (which never existed ever regardless) rather Imam Ghazali addresses what the function of rule is and its instrumental nature. He highlights how the important thing really is law and order and as long as thar has some reasonable manifestation all is well.

Once again this is why its important to actually study the Islamic Sciences.

#ReclaimIslam

#CallEmOut

The critic claimed that he: ‘Tried posting this comment there but it wont allow me’. Since he wrote his comment on his own facebook profile without tagging me, it was fortuitous that someone drew my attention to it.

1st Claim: In Ghazali’s Naseehat ul Muluk [Advice to Rulers], the critic claims that Imam Ghazali ‘declares any Caliphate to have been long dead’.

This seems to be misinformed, as I have have found no instance in either the Arabic or Persian versions of the text where Imam Ghazali actually claims that the Caliphate/Imamate is even ‘dead‘, let alone ‘long dead’ . No where at all. So it remains a complete mystery as to what the critic is referring to. Perhaps he would like to enlighten us as to where in the book it is so as to establish his claim, or perhaps he was simply honestly mistaken.

Secondly, it’s also inexplicable that the critic claims that Imam Ghazali believes the Caliphate to be long dead when Imam Ghazali personally gave Bayah (pledge of allegiance) to the Abbasid Caliph Mustazhir upon his ascension to the Caliphate in 1094(!). I can only presume that Imam Ghazali was conscious at the time.

The problem in the critic’s claims becomes more egregious in light of the fact that Imam Ghazali wrote an entire book, Mustazhiri actually defending and proclaiming the Caliphate of the Abbasi Caliph Mustazhir against the Fatimid Amirate (who were Ismailis who claimed their leader was the rightful Caliph).

And just in case anyone could misunderstand the purpose of the book, Imam Ghazali titled a prominent chapter in it called: ‘The Legal Demonstrations That the Imam Charged with the Truth Whom All Men Are Bound to Obey in This Age of Ours Is the Imam al Mustazhir Billah – God Guard His Authority!’ [2]

For the sake of added emphasis, and to remove all further ambiguity and bring illumination, I’d like to quote from that Chapter briefly. Imam Ghazali said:

the aim of this chapter is to prove his [Caliph Mustazhir’s] Imamate in accordance with the law [of Islam] and to show that all the ulema of the time must give the legal decision that men are definitely and positively bound to obey him…and that he is God’s viceregent [Khalifatullah] over men, and that obedience to his is a duty incumbent on all men [2]

At the risk of labouring the point, Ghazali even rebutted those people who pedantically argued that the Abbasid Caliphs and those ‘in bygone ages’ didn’t meet all the character requirements to be the Imam and so their Imamate was invalid, to which Imam Ghazali responded:

This is a serious attack on the ahkam (legal judgements of Islam) and an explicit declaration of their inoperativeness and neglect, and it would call for the clear declaration of the invalidity of all administrative posts and the unsoundness of the judging of Qadis and the ruin of God’s rights [hudood] and prescriptions and the invalidation of [retaliation (qassas) for] blood and wombs [offspring] and property and the pronouncement of the invalidity of marriages issuing from the Qadis in [all] the regions of the earth and the remaining of the rights of God Most High in the custody [care] of creatures. For all such things would be legal only if their fulfilment issued from Qadis duly appointed by the Imam -which would be impossible if there were no Imamate. So the exposure of the corruption of a doctrine calling for that is an important task and duty of religion…with God’s help we shall attempt it. We claim that the Imam al-Mustazhir Billah is the true Imam who must be obeyed. [2]

Imam Ghazali’s life never extended beyond the Caliphate of Mustazhir, so there is no chance that Imam Ghazali wrote about any change of regime in other later books. In his book ‘Deliverance from error’, written in the last five years of his life, he still referred to Mustazhir as ‘his highness the Caliph’.

I think I’ll leave that there.

[2nd Claim]: ‘[Imam Ghazali] addresses how the Caliphate has been long dead, since he himself lived in the Buyid era بني بويه a Shia Dynastic rule which had very little interest in Islamic matters’

Small correction, Imam Ghazali lived under the Abbasid Caliphate, supported by the Seljuk dynasty. The Buyids were deposed from their position of power at the seat of the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad in 1055 by the Seljuks, three years before Imam Ghazali was even born. So the claim that he lived in the Buyid era of rule is historically wrong, but this is a small point.

Even if we were to humour the critic’s claim about the Buyid era – a period before Ghazali – it is noteworthy that the Buyids never destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate, nor was it ‘long dead’ by their time either. They gave public allegiance [bayah] to the Abbasid Caliphate and its Caliphs, and affirmed them as Imams (despite the Buyids being twelver Shias). While the Abbasid Caliphate had weakened to the point that it relied on rising new military groups to prop up their power, the leaders of these groups needed the Caliphs to legitimise them as ‘governors’ in order for the Muslim people to see them as legitimate.

The eminent Professor of Middle East history, the German scholar, Tilman Nagel wrote this for IranicaOnline:

[the Buyid commander, Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Būya] though professing Shiʿism, had approached the caliph in 934…in order to become officially recognized as governor…The army was by far the most important social group within the Buyid amirate. Within the social fabric of the empire of the caliphs the amirs could not develop a procedure of their own to legitimate their rule with respect to the generally accepted religious foundations of the society, but remained dependent upon the caliphs’ agreement. The caliphs on their side would grant them the honorific titles they were craving for only in consideration of their actual military power. Therefore, the amirs would strive to increase their forces at any cost in order to assert themselves against their rivals and to achieve legitimation…Generally speaking the Buyids were convinced that in the society of those days, which even in Iran had been permeated by Islamic ideals and values, they had to act in accordance with these ideals and values. It was due to this conviction that they [the Buyids] asked the caliph to legitimate their reign when it had grown into a political factor of supra-regional importance…’[3]

Professor Tilman Nagel continues:

The urban as well as the rural society was at the mercy of the amirs and their troops during the Buyid rule…Nevertheless the ʿAbbasid caliphate did not disappear but retained its prestige not only with the amirs but also with the common people, though this prestige could not be translated into actual political power. It was the caliphs who nominated the qadhis and who were responsible for the religious duties. If they [the Caliphs] did not appoint the judges and the preachers of the congregational mosques, the faithful would not be granted the opportunity of fulfilling the commandments of the Sharia and would be damned to hell in the hereafter [3].

So even during the Buyid era, the Caliphate not only existed but was actively maintained by the Buyids as the institution vital for their political legitimacy and the legitimacy of the Islamic judicial system.

[3rd Claim]: ‘ Imam Ghazali addresses what the function of rule is and its instrumental nature. He highlights how the important thing really is law and order and as long as thar has some reasonable manifestation all is well.’

Before going into Imam Ghazali’s book, Naseehat ul Muluk [Advice to rulers], we cannot neglect the vast plethora of writings Imam Ghazali wrote specifically about the Imamate/Caliphate in other books. Imam Ghazali expounded its obligation, and the fact that without it all legal judgements by Qadis (and Muftis) are non-binding and all political ‘governors’ and amirs become illegitimate (whether or not these local Amirs may have military power they use to control a region independently).

Imam Ghazali argued that if the ‘Imamate in our time is invalid’ and people are ‘unable to replace the imam with someone who seeks it’ then ‘the judges are dismissed, appointments are invalid, marriages are annulled, all the decrees of the governors everywhere in the world are unenforceable, and all of mankind are engaged in what is unlawful’ [1]

Tilman Nagel’s superior understanding of Middle-eastern regional history and the religious understanding of Islamic scholars in history, again highlights this understanding:

It was the caliphs who nominated the qadhis and who were responsible for the religious duties. If they [the Caliphs] did not appoint the judges and the preachers of the congregational mosques, the faithful would not be granted the opportunity of fulfilling the commandments of the Sharia and would be damned to hell in the hereafter. [3]

As even non-Muslim academics of Islam note, the Imamate/Caliphate’s role was to be the lynchpin of Islamic civilisation and rule by Islamic law, which through him, legitimise all officers of authority, which in turn authorises all civil matters, including marriages, judgements and the like.

The context of Naseehat ul Muluk was a composition typical of the ‘mirror to a ruler’ genre at the time, and was about advising an individual with power and authority on how best to govern an administration and govern himself (i.e. desires), and how to discharge their duties as just administrators and establish best practices in dealing with the people.

The book clearly does not talk about rulership from a secularist view. Imam Ghazali says in the book concerning people seeking claims against the ruler, that ‘the ruler should withdraw from the seat of sovereignty and submit the case to God’s jurisdiction [4]’ [i.e. Islamic law], and regarding the need of people for government to help them to maintain righteousness in society: ‘As long as they are not intimidated and disciplined by the Sultan, they do not obey God and do not practice virtue’ [4].
Imam Ghazali wrote quite explicitly in his Naseehat ul muluk:

The quality which rulers [muluk] most need is correct religion, because al-din wa’l dawlah are like brothers. (The ruler) needs it equally whether he be healthy or sick. He must be diligent in matters of religion, performing the duties at the proper times, avoiding eccentricity and innovations (in religion), and shunning unjust and immoral actions. If he hears that any person in his territory is suspect as regards religion, he must summon him and interrogate him until he repents, or else punish him or exile him from the territory; in this way the dominion will be purged of eccentrics and innovators, and Islam will be strong. He must keep the borderlands populated by sending garrisons, strive to increase the power of Islam, and keep the Prophet’s Sunnah fresh (and vigourous) [4]

Hardly secular, is it?

[4th Claim]: ‘Quoting Ghazali is interesting since his book [Naseehat u muluk]…Imam Ghazali doesn’t call to any revival or obligation to set up a global Caliphate (which never existed ever regardless)’

Of all the critic’s claims – this one is actually correct. Imam Ghazali does not call to revive the obligation to set up a Caliphate in his books, for the simple (and perhaps obvious) reason that there already was a Caliphate in Imam Ghazali’s time, a caliph to whom Imam Ghazali personally gave bayah to and in his book described the caliph as the ‘Imam of our time’.

Simply put, Imam Ghazali believes in the obligation of a Caliphate and the need for an ‘Imam of our time’. If Muslims lack one, as Muslims do today, he describes the religious and political consequences of this both upon the hereafter of all the Muslims, as well as their worldly affairs, as being quite catastrophic. Seeing the Muslim world today, bickering, backward, individually divided and therefore too weak to resist foreign exploitation, invasion and terrorism – it’s hard to disagree with Imam Ghazali.

(I don’t know where the critic’s need to add ‘global’ to the word Caliphate comes from).

The Critic’s final words were: ‘Once again this is why its important to actually study the Islamic Sciences’.

I agree.

To those who deny the obligation of Caliphate [Imamate], I think Imam Ghazali said it best:

This is a serious attack on the akham (legal judgements of Islam) and an explicit declaration of their inoperativeness and neglect, and it would call for the clear declaration of the invalidity of all administrative posts and the unsoundness of the judging of Qadis and the ruin of God’s rights [hudood] and prescriptions and the invalidation of [retaliation (qassas) for] blood and wombs [offspring] and property and the pronouncement of the invalidity of marriages issuing from the Qadis in [all] the regions of the earth and the remaining of the rights of God Most High in the custody [care] of creatures. For all such things would be legal only if their fulfillment issued from Qadis duly appointed by the Imam -which would be impossible if there were no Imamate. [2]

It’s high time Muslims #ReclaimIslam on behalf of the Prophet’s [saaw] teachings, the Sahabah’s understanding, and the teachings of classical scholars, against modern-day revisionist ideas that are merely prejudices arising from – and designed to justify – the current-day secular dominated status-quo. If we witness individuals denying basic aspects of traditional Islamic thought, it is our duty to (politely) #CallEmOut. As Imam Ghazali stated:

So the exposure of the corruption of a doctrine calling for [invalidating the Caliphate/Imamate] is an important task and duty of religion…with God’s help we shall attempt it. [2]

 


[1] Iqtisad ul I’tiqad (moderation of belief), Imam Ghazali

[2] Al Mustazhiri, Imam Ghazali

[3] Tilman Nagel, IranicaOnline

[4] Naseehatul muluk, Imam Ghazali

 



Categories: Queries and Responses, Response to Secular Reformation & Modernism, Revival Thought (Al Nahda), Uncategorized, WRITINGS

1 reply

  1. Excellent work Abdullah

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