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The Principles of Consultation and Liberty in Islam and Reform and Review of Religious Writings

By:
Musa Kazîm
Document type:
Political Statement

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The Principles of Consultation and Liberty in Islam and Reform and Review of Religious Writings

Musa Kazîm

Commentary

Musa Kazîm (Turkey, 1858–1920) was a leading member of the ‘ulama’ (religious scholar) branch of the Committee of Union and Progress, an Ottoman senator, and Shaykh al- Islam (chief religious official) of the Ottoman Empire. Educated in a traditional manner, Musa Kazîm taught religious studies at seminaries and modern schools in Istanbul until the Constitutional Revolution of 1908, defending Islam against its Christian critics and defending constitutionalism against its Muslim critics. On the day of the revolution's triumph, he authored a thirteen-page manifesto on Islam and constitutionalism, translated in the first part of this chapter. Under the new regime, he became a member of the Ottoman Senate and an organizer of clerical support for the regime. In 1910, he was appointed Shaykh al-Islam; after a series of resignations and removals, he was reappointed in 1911, 1916, and 1917. His opponents frequently accused him of being a freemason; he denied the charges in a pamphlet in 1911, maintaining that he was a devotee of the Naqshibandiyya Sufi order. During World War I, Musa Kazîm published a pamphlet defending the Ottoman government's declaration of jihad (holy struggle), extending the duty of jihad to all Muslims, not just Ottomans. Following the Ottoman defeat, he was tried in a military court along with other leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress. Due to illness, the British exempted him from imprisonment on Malta and banished him instead, first to Bursa and then to Edirne, where he died in 1920.1 Sadîk Albayrak, Son Devrin Osmanlî Ulemasî İlmiye Ricalinin Teracim-i Ahvali (Biographies of Notable Religious Scholars of the Late Ottoman Era) (Istanbul, Turkey: Millî Gazete Yayînlarî, 1981), volumes 4–5, pp. 157–158; Abdülkadir Altînsu, Osmanlî Şeyhülislamlarî (Ottoman Chief Religious Officials) (Ankara, Turkey: Ayyîldîz Matbaasî, 1972), pp. 233–237; Osmanlî İlmiye Salnâmesi (Yearbook of Ottoman Religious Scholars) (Istanbul, Ottoman Empire: Matbaa-i âmire, 1916), pp. 626–628; David Kushner, “Şeyh-ül-Islam Musa Kazîm Efendi's Ideas on State and Society,” pp. 603– 610 in V. Milletlerarasî Türkiye Sosyal ve İktisat Tarihi Kongresi, Tebliğler (Fifth International Congress on the Social and Economic History of Turkey: Communications) (Ankara, Turkey: Türk Tarihi Kurumu Basîmevi, 1990).

The Principles of Consultation and Liberty in Islam

The divine ordinances that our lord Muhammad, Prophet of the end of times and apostle sent to men and genies, whose exalted mission happily coincided with the period of the human mind's highest development, was enjoined to communicate from God to all mankind can be divided into two groups: those concerned with the other world, and those concerned with this world. Each of these can then be subdivided into two groups: matters of fundamental principles, and matters of detail.

The fundamental ordinances pertaining to the next world are concerned with matters of doctrine, while ordinances on details pertaining to the next world are concerned with acts of worship. In addition, the fundamental ordinances pertaining to this world relate to the administration of the affairs of the country, while ordinances on details pertaining to this world are about transactions and punishments.

Without having fundamental ordinances pertaining to the next world, executing ordinances on details pertaining to the next world would be absolutely useless. For example, it is self-evident that worship and acts of piety would not be of the slightest benefit to someone who does not believe in the existence of God and His uniqueness. Similarly, it cannot be imagined that anything will be gained from implementing ordinances on details pertaining to this world unless the corresponding fundamental ordinances are executed. For example, unless justice and equity are respected, no benefit can be expected from the punishment of criminals.

The basic principles of the fundamental ordinances pertaining to this world are:

Consulting the umma [Islamic community] in every matter. Respecting justice and equity in every matter. Entrusting the affairs of the country and the interests of the umma, which are a divine charge, to qualified persons.

Our proofs of these are noble Qur'anic verses (and some hadiths [narratives] of the Prophet), like the following:

And seek their counsel in the matter. [Sura 3, Verse 159] And their affairs [are decided in] consultation among them. [Sura 42, Verse 38] When you judge between men, you should judge justly. [Sura 4, Verse 58] Be just; it is closer to piety. [Sura 5, Verse 8] If you speak, be just even if the matter concerns a relative. [Sura 6, Verse 152] God commands you to deliver to the owners that which is held in trust with you. [Sura 4, Verse 58]

In the first of these verses, God orders His Messenger to consult with the umma in every matter. Since, as explained in the science of jurisprudence, an order to do something entails that its contrary is forbidden, it is established that according to the exalted tenor of this noble verse, failure to consult with the umma was absolutely forbidden, even to that great Messenger to men and genies who was the recipient of God's revelation. If such a holy person, who had received God's revelation, was commanded to consult with his umma in every matter, then all Muslims, especially the exalted caliphs, are all the more obligated to consult with the umma.

In the second verse, God shows that the affairs of Muslims consist in consultation among themselves. With this, He confirms in a categorical fashion that the order for consultation is the greatest pillar of Islam. Thus all those who bear the exalted title of “Muslim” are under the obligation to obey this heavenly order and divine command.

In the third verse, God orders us to make judgments between people with justice and equity, and this reveals that rendering justice in all cases is a religious duty.

In the fourth verse, it is enjoined: “Be just, for this is the closest thing to piety.”

Likewise, in the fifth verse, it is enjoined: “You should not deviate from justice whenever you speak, even if the matter concerns your closest relative.”

The sixth verse tells us that “God commands you to deliver to the owners that which is held in trust with you.” Since the content of an order stems from something that is incumbent, it is absolutely clear, according to the tenor of this verse, that entrusting the affairs of the nation and matters of the state—the greatest and most important of all trusts—to those who are qualified is one of the duties incumbent on their authority.

God specifies those who are qualified for this sacred trust in the noble verse: “The noblest among you in the eyes of God is the most pious.” [Sura 49, Verse 13] It is clear from this exalted verse that the foremost quality that persons undertaking the duties of the religious community must possess is piety. Aristocratic birth and nobility play no part whatsoever in this matter. Piety means avoiding the violation of the rights of God and humans, and it is thus dependent without any doubt upon knowing those rights. Therefore, a person who would undertake one of the duties of the religious community must be well-informed about that duty, and be one of those powerful and capable people who are distinguished by their integrity and ability.

Accordingly our Prophet, the teacher of all beings, the most perfect of salutations be upon Him, personally always favored consulting his umma in every matter of public import. During his lifetime, he entrusted the administration to those who were qualified for it. In this regard, he paid no attention to such considerations as kinship or friendship. All the appointments made by the Prophet were based upon competence. He never deviated from justice and equity in the slightest degree in any matter.

Integrity, competence, justice—these were the qualities that the Messenger of God wanted! These are the virtues that the Prophet sought! While he was alive, while he was leaving this world, his hopes were always, always directed to these: Integrity, competence, and justice!

It is well known that three days prior to his departure to the next world, he ascended to the blessed pulpit and demonstrated to his umma and all his Companions with his last breath that he was justice incarnate in these lofty words:

O my umma and companions! If I have taken anybody's property, here is my property, let him come forward and take it. If I struck anybody in the back, here is my back, let him come forward and strike me in the back.

Thanks to such superior virtues of his, he left forever in the hearts of the umma an inextinguishable affection for himself, an affection that is genuine, sincere, and free from hypocrisy of all kinds. The rightly guided caliphs [that is, the first four successors of the Prophet], who were honored with that sacred post after him, literally followed in the sublime footsteps of the august Messenger. In this way they showed to all peoples who were lost in the darkness of ignorance, and groaning under the yoke of slavery, the meaning of humanity, civilization, freedom, equality, justice, prosperity, and happiness.

Thus on these firm foundations laid down by our Prophet, a virtuous government, the like of which has never been seen on the face of the earth, was established and this bright sun of truth spread the glitter of justice to all regions of the world, thanks to the assiduous and unremitting efforts of the rightly guided caliphs. Within a short time, [this government] shone the light of happiness on more than a hundred million wretched people who were longing for freedom, yearning for justice, and craving for equality. It was such a virtuous government that all peoples who took refuge in its protection, be they Muslims, non-Muslims, Christians, or Jews, one and all enjoyed equal rights. In the eyes of the law, the right of a Christian or a Jew was owed the same respect as the rights of the caliph.

What justice this was, what freedom, what equality! A Jew comes and is tried along with a caliph. If one of them sits, the other cannot be left to stand. If one of them is called by his name, the other cannot be called by his honorific or title.

All these are uncontested facts. Here is history, the history of humanity! Here are deeds, the deeds of Islam. Study them, examine them! Is it possible to see a sign of the smallest degree of inequality, the smallest degree of injustice, the smallest degree of arbitrariness? Do you need proofs for the fact that Islam treated everyone equally, without distinction of race, creed, religion, and nationality, and that it granted everyone his personal liberty and all his legitimate rights?

Here is a famous trial for you! This is a trial in which ‘Ali [ibn Abi Talib, fourth successor of the Prophet, 656–661] is defendant and a Jew is plaintiff. The two are at law in the court of Qadi [Shurayh ibn al-Harith al-Kindi, judge in Kufa, 7th century]. Hasan [‘Ali's son, 624–669] comes to give evidence in favor of his father. The judge refuses this. ‘Ali accepts this, and shows no sign of resentment. The judge calls the Jew by his name but mentions ‘Ali by his honorific as “O Father of Hasan!” This angers ‘Ali. He senses a hint of inequality in this. That is what that virtuous government was like, that is what the leaders of that state were like, that is what the justice, equality, and freedom dispensed to the subjects of that government were like.

This is such a firmly established truth that today all civilized peoples around the world are obliged to admit and acknowledge it.

Thus it is clear that the fundamental principles that form the bases for humanity and civilization— principles such as consultation, equality, freedom, and justice—are a legal right granted by God 1300 years ago to Muslims and all human beings. This right was quite simply given to us by God. Nobody else is entitled to claim to have conferred it. But, alas, after the time of the rightly guided caliphs, the political ordinances of religion were cast in a different mold, persons acceding to the caliphate thought of their own personal interests. They yielded to their hedonistic desires, and in order to realize their aims, they usurped these rights, this freedom, this equality, this justice granted to the Muslim umma and to all human beings by God as a favor for which gratitude is due. Affirming that “obeying those in authority is a binding duty” [paraphrase of Qur'an, Sura 4, Verse 59], they failed entirely to take into consideration the conditions that limit this obedience. They wholly uprooted the firm pillar of Islam from its foundations. They set a bad example for those who came after them. They spoiled the faith of ignorant people, who were ignorant of the conditions that prevailed at the beginning of Islam and of the ordinances of the holy law, telling them that “Islam prevents progress.” The result was that this false idea prevailed in all regions of the world until the fortunate day of the accession to the throne His Royal Highness [Abdülhamid II, Ottoman sultan, reigned 1876–1909].

Since God is the true protector of this religion of Islam and has promised to preserve and forever protect the freedom-granting ordinances of the illustrious shari‘a [religious law] of Muhammad, our sultan immediately upon his accession to the caliphate put the principle of consultation into effect and promulgated the constitution [in 1876], with the exalted intention of carrying out the duties of the caliphate with which he had been charged by God.

However, he was unable to put the ordinances comprehended in this exalted law [the constitution] into effect, owing to the incitations and instigations of certain traitors to the religion and nation. Thank God, today such false obstacles have been entirely removed, and thus His Royal Majesty feels that the time to put this exalted law into effect has come, and he has set about carrying out this sacred duty made incumbent upon him by God. And because of this, he has placed all the Islamic world and humanity at large in his debt. May God bless His Royal Majesty and make him successful with His divine guidance, and make the Islamic community and Ottoman nation always happy and cheerful with the gift of such freedom. Amen.

Reform and Review of Religious Writings According to the Requirements of the Age

During the first years of Islam, the obvious meanings of the verses [of the Qur'an] and hadith [narratives of the Prophet] were deemed sufficient. Especially during the time of our Prophet, everyone would settle issues they were confused about by asking the Prophet directly. There was no need to write or read books—any issue related to either the religious or temporal realms was settled in this way. It was not deemed necessary to write books.

Then in the time of Successors [to the Companions of the Prophet], differences emerged. As a result, to maintain the unity of Islam, books began to be written. Because, if there are differences of opinion, this could lead to conflict, and divisions might arise among the Muslims. God forbid that the emergence of divisions would, by weakening the power of the umma, lead to its destruction. For that reason, they began at that time to prepare books in an attempt to eliminate conflicts and distinguish truth from error.

In particular, books on the science of theology were written. It was said that the possessors of understanding would recognize the truth. And this worked. However, in these books there was no mention of philosophy, as the philosophical sciences had not yet been introduced to Islam. Each issue was interpreted by reference to a verse or a hadith. This was the mode of thinking of the ancient ‘ulama’ [religious scholars], because that was the need at the time.

Later, the philosophical sciences were introduced to Arabic through translation. As a result, many other disciplines and madhhabs [schools of thought] emerged. For instance, up to that time nobody knew about the “Aristotelian” school, because there was no mention of it. This was the first [new philosophy] to appear. Similarly, nobody knew what “naturalism” meant; there was no such notion. These ideas, appearing along with all those [new] disciplines, also had their adherents, but they were few. Later, the Aristotelians turned out to be the most popular, and the number of its followers increased significantly. Consequently there emerged a need to defend religion against these people. As the need to defend religion against both polytheists and Aristotelians was perceived, books began to be written for this purpose: that is, philosophy was added into the science of theology, because this was necessary. This is the science of theology practiced by contemporary ‘ulama’.

But how did this happen? First, the ‘ulama’ studied these sciences, then they defended the beliefs of Islam against philosophy, writing books for this purpose. This went on for a very long time. Later, the polytheist school failed to attract much support, [so] the major struggle was against the Aristotelians. Eventually, the Aristotelians also disappeared. That is, science changed, and the Aristotelians’ principles were overturned. Hence there was no longer a need to defend against them. Since there were no adherents of these sciences and no one to support and advocate these disciplines, why should we protect religious rulings by articulating defenses against them?

After the disappearance of these philosophies, the “materialists” took their place. Inevitably, naturalists also gained in popularity. Now a need arose to defense against these [philosophies]. Just as the prominent ‘ulama’, especially the recent generation, struggled against the naturalists, Aristotelians, and polytheists, and succeeded [in this struggle], now a need arises for us, too, to struggle against our contemporary opponents.

“Is it appropriate for us to alter [the earlier struggles]? Let us continue with the model of their [earlier] struggles. . . .”

If someone makes this argument, we would reply:

“Very well, but against whom?” Since there is no faction of scholars—or as they are recently called, philosophers—pursuing this mode of thinking, why should we put forth these defenses?

[Aristotelians used to say:] “This universe is composed of 13 spheres. The first is earth, the second is water, the third is air, the fourth is light, and there are nine celestial spheres, all of which are concentric. These celestial spheres are eternal, and the type and kind of the remaining spheres are also eternal. Thus, the universe is eternal.”

Now nobody says such things. Therefore even if we say we are defending Islam by shouting, “No, you are wrong to call [the world] eternal, it may be created,” what would be the use? Today's philosophy agrees with us: “Yes, the earth is finite.” And the creatures on it are also finite.2 [Musa Kazîm is playing with two meanings of the term hadith, translated here as “created”: in the Islamic argument, it means “created by God”; in the modern scientific argument, it means cosmologically “finite.”—Ed.] Then [they say]: “What we call the heavens are not nine concentric spheres, as Ptolemy [ancient astronomer, 2nd century] argued. Such a heaven does not exist.” Even if we say it does, who would listen [to us]? Since the adversary does not even accept the existence of the heavens, how can we convince them by saying that it is created? Philosophy currently believes that space is infinite, and that the bodies in it are similarly infinite. With regard to form, these bodies are finite; only the fundamental atomic particles are eternal. There is no form in this universe that is eternal—all are finite, only atomic particles are eternal.

This is the argument of today's philosophy. So if we argue against them that the heavens are not eternal, but created—they will laugh at us. “What are you talking about?” they will say.

[We might respond:] “Then humans are not eternal, but created.”

“Of course they are created. The earth is divided into many layers, and humans only recently appeared on the upper layer. Do you know nothing about geology? This is obvious. Who says that humans are eternal?”

“I do not know, someone said it once upon a time. I am arguing against that.”

Then they will say, “Find those people and argue against them.” So it is obvious that our current teaching must be reformed accordingly. There is an urgent need for the writing of books that will refute the philosophy of our era.

But if it is said, “We will repeat the old arguments anyway”—then that is a different matter. But religion cannot be defended in this way. The Aristotelians also accept the existence of God, saying: “God exists. There must be a cause of the existence of this universe, and this is the prime mover (wajib alwujud). But this prime mover is necessary [that is, the philosophical system must assume God's existence], not autonomous [as in Islam]. For this reason, the universe is eternal, since that which emanates from a necessary agent is eternal. Since God is necessary, the universe is eternal, because the universe emanated from Him, and emanated without any cause.” We used to argue against this: “No, God is not necessary, but rather autonomous.”

If you say this now to contemporary philosophers, they will laugh at us. “What are you talking about?” they will say. There is no God, according to their theory, much less “necessary” and “autonomous.” Thus, there is no use in mentioning the issues of necessity and autonomy.

The ancient authorities concluded that “God has no attributes. He is the True One. Therefore it is absurd to represent Him with certain attributes. Since God is the prime mover, He is free of necessity. If He had attributes, how could He be the True One? Then there would be a need for attributes, but such a need is incompatible with his being the prime mover. He is self-existent, omniscient, almighty, all-desirous, and so on. Knowledge is identical with Him, power is identical with Him, anything that we call an attribute is identical with Him.”

The Mu’tazilites [early Muslim rationalists] also adhered to this [line of thinking], as they acknowledged. Perhaps one could now make a similar defense: “No, God has attributes, God is omniscient in knowledge, almighty in power, immortal in life. He is all-desirous in His will, and all-speaking in His word.” If you said this against our opponents, they would tell us, “We do not accept the basis [of your argument], much less the matter of the attributes.” In brief, our opponents today, that is, the philosophers, do not accept the divine and the prophetic. Actually, some naturalists have accepted the existence of God. However, if you investigate the matter further, what they call God is Nature.

Therefore, our most pressing task is to review the theological books in accordance with present needs. And how are we to do this? First of all, we have to know the sciences of our opponents. Otherwise, it is impossible to argue against them. Indeed, earlier ‘ulama’ did just this. First they were educated in the sciences of contemporaneous philosophers, then they convinced them with their words. Now if we try to defend ourselves with our present level of knowledge, we will be ridiculous. Because we do not know. First of all, let us be educated in those sciences. Then let us defend Islam on the basis of these sciences. Now it is time to recognize this need. There is no use in displaying fanaticism in this respect. In fact, it would be harmful. The literature shows that all of the ‘ulama’ in every era wrote books in accordance with the needs of the day. As a result, later ‘ulama’, in translating philosophy into Arabic, deemed it necessary to reform the science of theology, and added many new topics from naturalists and theologians. We have the same need. We must also reform the theological books in accordance with the needs of our era.

Bibliography references:

Musa Kazîm, “lamda Usul-i Meşveret ve Hürriyet” (The Principles of Consultation and Liberty in Islam) and “Kütüb-i Kelamiyye’nin İhtiyacat-î Asra Göre Islah ve Te’lifi” (Reform and Review of Religious Writings According to the Requirements of the Age), in Musa Kazîm, Külliyat-î Şeyh’ül-İslam Musa Kazîm: Dini, İçtima‘i Makaleler (Collected Works of Shaykh al-Islam Musa Kazîm: Religious and Social Essays) (Istanbul, Ottoman Empire: Evkaf-î İslamiye Matbaasî, 1919), pp. 243–247, 289–293. The first selection was published as a manifesto on July 24, 1908; the second piece was a speech delivered at the Şehzade Club in Istanbul on August 20, 1909. Translations from Turkish by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu and Yektan Türkyîlmaz, respectively. Introduction by M. Şükrü Hanioğlu.

Notes:

1. Sadîk Albayrak, Son Devrin Osmanlî Ulemasî İlmiye Ricalinin Teracim-i Ahvali (Biographies of Notable Religious Scholars of the Late Ottoman Era) (Istanbul, Turkey: Millî Gazete Yayînlarî, 1981), volumes 4–5, pp. 157–158; Abdülkadir Altînsu, Osmanlî Şeyhülislamlarî (Ottoman Chief Religious Officials) (Ankara, Turkey: Ayyîldîz Matbaasî, 1972), pp. 233–237; Osmanlî İlmiye Salnâmesi (Yearbook of Ottoman Religious Scholars) (Istanbul, Ottoman Empire: Matbaa-i âmire, 1916), pp. 626–628; David Kushner, “Şeyh-ül-Islam Musa Kazîm Efendi's Ideas on State and Society,” pp. 603– 610 in V. Milletlerarasî Türkiye Sosyal ve İktisat Tarihi Kongresi, Tebliğler (Fifth International Congress on the Social and Economic History of Turkey: Communications) (Ankara, Turkey: Türk Tarihi Kurumu Basîmevi, 1990).

2. [Musa Kazîm is playing with two meanings of the term hadith, translated here as “created”: in the Islamic argument, it means “created by God”; in the modern scientific argument, it means cosmologically “finite.”—Ed.]

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