Reclaiming Reason (part 2)

Art Harun

I have stated in part 1 of this article that the theological differences in Islam only served to enrich the vibrancy of Islam as a faith and a way of life. Indeed, at the peak of Islamic intellectualism, Islam was at the forefront of everything, from medicine to science, astronomy to algebra, philosophy to music and architecture to engineering.

While Auguste Comte was labelled the “father of sociology” by the West, having first coined the term “sociology” in 1838, Ibn Khaldun was already delving into the rise, development, organisation and fall of societies as well as characteristics and institutions of the State 400 hundred years earlier. Muslims’ thinkers and their works were well respected and their thoughts largely contributed to modern Western thoughts so much so that some of them were ascribed Latinised names. Thus al-Faribi, al-Kindi, Ibn Sina and Ibn Rashid, for instance, were also known as Alpharibus, Alkindus, Avicenna and Averroes respectively.

There is no denying that freedom of thoughts and expressions as well as rationalism were at the forefront of Islamic intellectualism and achievements.

Islamic intellectualism and its attendant polemics did not divide the Muslims. They did not create schisms and drive deep wedges into Islam as we now see. Quite to the contrary, they served to enhance Islam with a vibrancy of thoughts that we, in 2013, could only dream of seeing.

Politics however tended to be harmful to religion, especially when the seat of power sought to utilise religion and its jurisprudence to legitimise its existence and continuity.

As soon as the Prophet (peace be upon him) passed away, the seeds of discontent were sowed over the choice of the person who was to be the 1st Caliph. The Prophet, in his last sermon before he died, said:

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black has any superiority over white except by piety (taqwa) and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.”

This however did not stop the Muslims from invoking tribal precedence in matters relating to the election of the first Caliph. The Ansars said the first Caliph should be from their tribe because they were the ones who welcome the Prophet and the Meccans to Madinah. The Quraish said the first Caliph should be from their tribe because the Prophet was a Quraish. Soon the Shiites would say the Caliph should only be from the Prophet’s family members only. These disputes were by no means theological in nature as much as they were political.

Twenty-four years after the Prophet’s passing, the 3rd caliph, Uthman was murdered. Ali, his successor was blamed by Muawiyah for failing to punish Uthman’s killers. Muawiyah soon declared his own Caliphate. A civil war, known as the Battle of Siffin, would ensue. Facing defeat, Muawiyah ordered his army to put pages of the Quran on the tip of their lances. This ploy led to arbitration. That arbitration resulted in an uneasy truce, namely, Muamiyah was to rule Syria whereas Ali was to rule Arabia, Iraq and Persia.

Over time, Ali’s supporters would be known as Shi’atu Ali (supporters of Ali) or Shiites in short. Muamiyah outlived Ali and founded the Umayyad Dynasty. A third group, the Kharijites (the “dissenters”) promptly declared both Ali and Muamiyah infidels. The Kharijites became arguably the first ever terrorist group in Islam. Four years after the Battle of Siffin, one of the Kharijites killed Ali. Ali was the 4th Caliph, the last of what the Sunii called the Rightly Guided Caliph. Islam thereafter morphed from a way of life to an empire ruled by a dynasty,

After Muamiyah died, he was replaced by his son, Yazid. His despotic characteristic made him hated by both the Sunnis and the Shiites. He later killed Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet at Karbala, marking a tragic black dot in the history of Islam.

It also marked the first full-fledged incursion by politics into theological intellectualism.