Friday, March 28, 2008

Ibn Taymiyyah: Significance for Current-Day Islamism?

Ghazan Kahn (1271-1304) Converts to Islam (1295)
. . . but fails to satisfy Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328)
(Image from Wikipedia)

For my course on Islamism, I've recently read Shmuel Bar's article "Jihad Ideology in Light of Contemporary Fatwas" (Hudson Institute, Monographs Series No. 1, Paper Number 1, August 15, 2006), published by the Center on Islam, Democracy and the Future of the Muslim World, which also offers many other articles on contemporary Islamism.

I've found Bar's article very useful in clarifying the role that fatwas, i.e., Islamic legal rulings, play in justifying the violent actions carried out by Islamist militants. Bar explains a central point that can easily escape our notice if we imagine that we can appeal to ethical arguments to dissuade jihadist violence, for "questions that are commonly deemed 'moral' and 'ethical' are subordinated to legal casuistry" (page 1a).

Bar notes that Islamists interpret jihad primarily in military terms and enjoin it as a duty:
According to this viewpoint, not only is jihad a duty, but at least under the present circumstances it may only take the form of a Military jihad, and cannot be interpreted as a spiritual struggle. Furthermore, military jihad -- and of course martyrdom -- has added both spiritual and temporal value. It "implies all kinds of worship, both in its inner and outer forms. More than any other act it implies love and devotion for Allah, [Who is exalted,] trust in Him, the surrender of one's life and property to Him, patience, asceticism, remembrance of Allah and all kinds of other acts [of worship]. And the individual or community that participates in it finds itself between two blissful outcomes: either victory and triumph or martyrdom and Paradise."
According to Bar's footnote 20 (page 17), this quote comes from Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Siyaasa al-shar'iyya fee Islah al-raa'ee wa al-raa'iyya (Governance According to Allah's Law in reforming both the ruler and his flock).

On a website maintained by Ted Thornton, I have found the same passage, albeit in more complete form (cf. the phrase "Who is exalted" in brackets above), citing pages 47-49 of Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1996). Perhaps Bar is borrowing the quote from Peters and if so ought to give credit, but perhaps some citations were abbreviated when Bar crafted this article to summarize his book, Warrant for Terror: The Fatwas of Radical Islam (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).

Be that as it may, Thornton quotes Ibn Taymiyyah further:
"Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God's entirely and God's word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought." (page 49 of Peters)
These quotes from Ibn Taymiyyah begin to clarify for me the importance that this Muslim scholar has for contemporary Islamist thinking. Another quote supplied by Thornton clarifies Ibn Taymiyyah's significance for the Wahhabi Islam practiced by Saudi Arabia:
"The religion of Islam turns on these two principles: worshipping God alone and worshipping Him by what He prescribed. He is not served by innovation . . . . It is not permissible when guilt has been established by proof or by witness to suspend the legal punishment, whether by remitting it or by substituting a fine or any other thing: the hand of the thief must be cut off, for the application of the punishments is one of the acts of religion like the jihad in the Way of God."
Thornton borrows this quote from John Alden Williams, The Word of Islam (Austin, Texas, 1994), 164f). This fits with Bar's point that in Islamism (or broader Islam itself?), "questions that are commonly deemed 'moral' and 'ethical' are subordinated to legal casuistry" (page 1a). To think beyond what Allah has prescribed, which would require ethical rethinking, constitutes innovation, such that one is no longer worshipping Allah properly. Ibn Taymiyyah's influence on Ibn Wahhab may be at work here, for the Wahhabist form of Islam found in Saudi Arabia is of this strict sort.

One begins to suspect that the individual in Islamist circles is not encouraged to think at all but merely to listen and obey.

I suppose that there's always a reason for everything, and Thornton gives his speculation for the rigidity pervading Ibn Taymiyyah's views:
Possibly behind much of the conservatism, literalism, and fundamentalism in his thought are the following facts. The Islamic Middle East had just passed through one of its severest ordeals: it had for two centuries been menaced from the West by the Crusaders (eight waves of them). Moreover, the Mongol threat from the East had been neutralized only three years before Ibn Taymiyya's birth in Harran (in Mesopotamia).
The threat re-emerged in the 1290s, despite the Kahn's coversion to Islam. Hence my decision to post the above image of Ibn Taymiyyah's archenemy, Ghazan Kahn.

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At 11:54 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

"To think beyond what Allah has prescribed, which would require ethical rethinking, constitutes innovation, such that one is no longer worshipping Allah properly."

Another shining example of the smoothly impenetrable defensive surface that religions so often present to the potential critic. As I've observed elsewhere, this is an enormously effective design feature.

At 3:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If it is such "an enormously effective design feature," we may have Islamism with us for a long time.

But with Islamism, perhaps it's more of an 'enormitiously' effective feature . . . and might thereby turn people against it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:00 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Well, we've already had it with us for 1386 years, so don't get your hopes up.

At 4:09 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I was referring to Islamism, but some have considered that a distinction without a difference.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:14 AM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

I think Islamism has been around as long as Islam has; indeed I think it is arguably the case, as has often been pointed out, that anything else is less-than-authentic Islam.

At 4:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well . . . that's one of the things that we're trying to determine this semester.

I'll keep you posted.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:33 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

questions that are commonly deemed 'moral' and 'ethical' are subordinated to legal casuistry"

Our current administration has "legal casuistry" to invade other countries. However, I feel it is morally and ethically wrong.
Is it sometimes a society's definition of mores and ethics?
I know this goes to the eternal argument of war and "thou shalt not kill" but it bothers me, too, that some people in America think that we have a "moral" duty to fight a war- a "religious" support for a crusade as if we are modern-day counterparts of Richard the Lionhearted.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jeanie, I'm not sure that "Crusade" is the best term since the US Military isn't trying to recover the Holy Land or convert Muslims to Christianity.

Moreover, invading other countries is sometimes morally justified. To stop a genocide would be one such justified invasion.

That doesn't mean that I think the 2003 invasion of Iraq to have been justified . . . though I do think that leaving precipitously would invite disaster.

The question on ethics is complex and in this context would require a revisit to the Euthyphro Dilemma, but some other time . . . or search for what I've written on it and on Allah's will in other blog entries. I've written several such entries.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:19 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

"though I do think that leaving precipitously would invite disaster."


At 6:22 AM, Blogger jeanie oliver said...

Maybe "why" is too large of a question for blog comments. But, if I were your student, it is what I would have responded with immediately.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Why? Because until the Iraqi state is strong enough to hold Iraq together, then it would collapse into genocidal violence and invite intervention by surrounding nations in an attempt to stop the killing or grab territory.

That sort of thing.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One only has to recall the blood bath following our pull out of Vietnam. To pull out of Iraq would be a disaster of major proportions, as you seem to think, and I concur.

At 7:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

And Iraq would be a bigger bloodbath than Vietnam -- and a bigger prize for other countries interested in grabbing oil fields.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with Jeffery's opinion that a precipitous pullout would be a calamity which would initiate ripples far beyond the localized region. However I feel obligated to say that invading Iraq in the first place (as my published material indicated in pre-invasion 2003) was likely to be a monumental blunder.

When a superpower steps in dog crap it is very difficult for it to wipe it's feet. Cran's point is well taken. But it is illustrative of just how difficult it is to wipe. A number of people (likely most) think the time the US involvement in Viet Nam began was with LBJ. But if one would read Stanley Karnow's book, "A History..." one would find that the first American to be killed in Nam was in 1947, a CIA officer specifically.

I know some might say "there was no CIA then, but look up "The Defense Reorganization Act of 1947." Most think that it simply created the Air Force, however it was more far-reaching. It prompted Eisenhower some years later to issue his warning.

Counterinsurgency warfare is not something a Cold War military is geared for: and the wheels of change are ungreased.Viet Nam was proof of that. However, Viet Nam was primarily an Independence movement whereas this current situation is global.

I remember wearing love beads and and echoing what every Miss America said her wish was. In an ideal world my wish would be the same. However we find ourselves in the real world, and there a real people who really want me dead. And those I care for.

Sherman was correct, "War is hell" and however he opined, he marched to the sea. His war could accurately be called inevitable whereas ours is not.

But that does not change the reality, however I might wish. If the US were to precipitously disengage and get in the car to go home, the stink of dogshit will accompany the passengers.


At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are problems with having something "published", you can hardly take it back. and I wish I'd typed here "are" instead of "a."

JeaniO, I agree with your "Why." I just wish that more people would have asked the question in 2003.

My published stuff did advocate invading Afghanistan-necessary to add.


At 4:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to clarify: the quote appears in Rudolph Peter's book (as in many others) as it is widely quoted in Jihadi literature. The book in my library
السياسة الشرعية في إصلاح الراعي والرعية

was published in Beirut by Dar al-Fikr al-Hadith (no date). The addition of (may he be exalted) is the Arabic (subhana) which can be dropped if you are not a Muslim.
Shmuel Bar

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank, Professor Bar, for the clarification -- and for honoring this blog with your presence. It's rare that an author actually appears here to comment.

As already note in the blog entry, I very much liked your article, from which I learned a great deal about the role that fatwas play in justifying terrorism and 'martyrdom operations'.

Jeffery Hodges

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