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The Legacy of Islamic Intellectual History

The Legacy of Islamic Intellectual History
Part 1.

Muhammad Sameel ‘Abd al-Haqq

Introduction

Praise be to Allah.

Early Muslims regarded Islam as the completion of Allah’s Message to humanity, as well as somewhat a continuation of the two other faiths regarded as Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Christianity; and contemporary Muslims have carried this religious conviction to modern times. However, Muslims regard these previous historically manifested religions as corrupted, based on deliberately corrupted texts, hence the need for the revival of Islam. The Qur’an as a Holy Book was regarded as the criterion for judging what is true and false among the previous religions encompassing the Middle-Eastern spiritual and intellectual universe of tradition some would call Judaeo-Christian-Islamic Civilization. Early attempts to show similarities among the three religions were initiated by Muhammad(saws), attempts which should not really be accepted as such if we accept that it was Allah, subhanu wa ta’ala, himself who revealed to the Prophet(as) these similarities. Yet what we can say is that part of the message of the Prophet(as), his proselytizing, his daw’ah and methodology, was to show the Jews and Christians of his time these similarities, also showing future generations as well, through the vehicle of the preservation of Revelation and Sunnah.

After Muhammad(saws), the early Muslim scholars, by reference to the Qur’an and Prophetic Traditions circulating at the time, and an appeal to the knowledge of the Prophets Muslims, Jews, And Christians have in common, were not attempting to reconcile these differences per se so much as they were attempting to show how and why Islam is the correct belief and how the Jews and Christians deviated from that original belief system. For it is believed by the majority of Muslims that Allah always sent his Prophets with Islam, an idea that many Modernist Muslims will have to contend with as they postulate the validity of other religious traditions besides Islam. With the belief that the Prophets always came with Islam comes the belief in the deviation of the People of the Book.

There was a large flow of Jewish and Christian converts into Islam, implications of which have not yet been thoroughly studied[1]. These converts related quite a few traditions that linked the three religions. Traditions of the Jews, the Isra’iliyyat [2], not found in the Hebrew canon, but in many Talmudic traditions and Jewish “legends”, were related and found their way into Muslim Prophetic Traditions.

Christian traditions, many relating to eschatology[3], not found in the Protestant and Catholic Canon(usually), yet found in Christian Apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi Library, Dead Sea Scrolls, and various Gnostic Christian writings were related. Ideas judged to be heretical by many Christians are also found among Muslim Prophetic Traditions. For some this suggests “religious borrowing”, sometimes used to mean “religious plagiarism” or theft/copying. For others, mostly Muslims, this is merely Islam affirming what is true in other traditions, rejecting what is false in them.

Many of these traditions describe Creation, Adam and Eve, Satan, Noah and Flood, Abraham, Hagar, and Isma’il; all concepts and personages found in Judaeo-Christian tradition. Though the traditions in Islam were sometimes related differently from their Jewish and Christian counterparts, they did serve to show how the three faiths were related, how they belonged to the same universe of tradition. The early Muslim scholars also inherited the legacy of rejection of core articles of faith among the Jews and Christians. While Muslims retained the the idea of One God, the Muslim idea of tawhid is quite different from the Christian conception of monotheism, and is even different from the Jewish conception. Muslims retained a similar view of Creation, belief in Angels, but were distinguished by the belief in all of the previous Prophets sent by Allah, many not even mentioned by name. I will not list the ideas rejected by Islam and held by the Jews and Christians here, but the legacy of the environment of interfaith relations, whether that environment was political and polemical, friendly, marked by daw’ah efforts, exchanges of ideas, or marked by war, this legacy impacted the Islamic intellectual tradition in ways palatable today.

The Islamic Intellectual Tradition

This series of articles will attempt to describe and analyze the impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition on contemporary Muslim thought. We will do this by giving a brief history of Islamic historiography and its implications for preserving orthodoxy. We will ask ourselves how Muslims transformed a primarily oral tradition to a written one. We will discuss how this tradition was marshaled to deal with the impact of Western colonialism. The 19th and 20th centuries saw unprecedented change in the Muslim world with respect to how it was the first time the Muslim world was largely inundated with foreign ideologies. We will examine how the Islamic intellectual Tradition was utilized to deal with these challenges.

The Islamic Intellectual Tradition, next to the period of Revelation itself, also was the chief element responsible for how non-Muslims were viewed and should be viewed by Muslims. We describe how the Ahl al-Kitab[4] and other non-Muslim groups were regarded and treated by the tradition. In addition, we will be discussing how certain seminal events, trends, and periods in Islamic history informed and shaped the emerging worldviews arising out the Islamic Intellectual tradition; we say worldviews because although the tradition has relative uniformity enabling it to be identified through its distinguishing characteristics, unifying underlying principles and coherence, it is not a monolithic tradition. These seminal events, trends, and periods include, but are not limited to, the Aftermath of the death of the Prophet(as) and the Ridda Wars[5] ; The Muslim Conquests; The Umayyad dynasty; The Abbasid Revolution and Dynasty; The Medieval Period; Islamic Philosophy; The Crusades; The Mongol Invasions and Conversion[6]; and the perceived Ottoman Decline. And finally we describe and analyze the impact of these events on the Islamic tradition as well as the implications of the responses of those working within the broad tradition for contemporary Muslims.

The term Islamic Intellectual History encompasses many disciplines, so it is proper to conceptualize the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as the sum of the intellectual discursive traditions found among the Muslim community; and we will discuss the relevant disciplines in some detail. Islamic Historiography, Fiqh and other major Islamic Sciences, the Islamic philosophical tradition, Islamic Heresiology, and the institutionalized Sufi tradition are all distinctive traditional strands in the broad intellectual tradition which have all contributed to the combined legacy of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as a whole. Throughout this series we will see how Islamic education and the ‘ulama also played a key role in the development and impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition as well. We will be asking and attempting to answer a number of key questions in this series: What exactly is the Islamic Intellectual Tradition and what is its paradigmatic frame of reference?; How was it utilized to deal with the challenges Muslims faced and how was it marshaled and relied upon to respond to specific crises?; Who were some of its major luminaries, what were their ideas and what was their influence?;  What are some of the implications of its legacy for interfaith dialogue and relations?; What was the impact of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition on contemporary Muslim thought?; And how did the Islamic Intellectual tradition affect the broader world? Other important questions will also arise during the course of this series.

Conclusion

The legacy of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition is to be found in how contemporary Muslims view themselves, other Muslims, and people of other faiths, particularly the People of the Book- Jews and Christians. It also leaves behind a legacy of two key issues: just what constitutes authority in Islam and what is meant by tradition in Islam? Clearly its legacy informs and shapes the Muslim worldview in the contemporary period. While it is clear that Muslim scholars disagreed with many core articles of faith found in other religious traditions, there was also a  need to reconcile this rejection with the belief that Islam was a continuation of the religion of Abraham. Early Muslim scholars did this by utilizing a method that can only be regarded as what passed for comparative religion at the time. The scholars tried to show that Islam was the perfection of Allah’s Message to humanity and any divergence among other faith groups were viewed as indications of historical, deliberate corruption or misunderstanding. The intellectual environment surrounding the elucidation, propagation, and preservation of the ideas found in the texts of Qur’an and Sunnah determined the intellectual trajectory of the subsequent and consequent Islamic Intellectual Tradition. It cannot be denied that this and the resultant daw’ah of the early Muslims also played a key role in shaping the tradition. However we cannot conclude that the Islamic Intellectual tradition was largely reactionary, as internal dynamics and the belief that the tradition was to be put in the service of the perceived mission to spread Islam to the world at large also determined the character of the tradition. And one must never forget the over-arching theme and impetus of this tradition: worship of Allah alone and seeking nearness to Him. Allahu A’lam.

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Notes

1. Many are unaware that it is these types of reports that are largely responsible for beliefs surrounding the Banu Qurayza “massacre”, for instance.

2. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has already cautioned us against this source of knowledge (Israilliyyat):

Narrated Abu Huraira (RadhiyAllahu Anhu): The people of the scripture used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah’s apostle said: ‘Do not believe the people of the scripture or disbelieve them, but say: “We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us”‘ . [Bukhari]

Similarly Ibn Mas’ud (RadhiyAllahu Anhu), the well-known Companion, is reported to have said: ‘Do not ask the Ahl al-Kitab about anything (in Tafsir), for they cannot guide you and are themselves in error….’

The rules relating to Israelite reports:

According to Usul Al Tafseer, Isra’iliyyat are narratives which have reached us through Jews and Christians. It may be noted that early commentators used to write down all sorts of narrations which reached them from an identified or unidentified source. Many of these narrations were straight Judaica. Therefore, it is equally necessary to know what they really are.

The reality is that some noble Companions and their Successors,ra, first belonged to the religion of the people of the Book, later on when they became Muslims and learned the Qur’an, they came across several events relating to past communities in the Qur’an and which they had also read in the books of their previous religion. Therefore, while referring to the events mentioned in the Qur’an they would describe other details before Muslims which they had seen in the books of their old religion.

These very details have entered into the books of Tafseer,[also Sira, and Hadith], under the name of ‘Isra’iliyyat’. Hafiz ibn Kathir,ra, who is one of the authentic research scholars, has categorized them into three different kinds:

1) Narrations, the truth of which is proved from other evidences of ‘the Qur’an and Sunnah, for instance, the drowning of Pharoah and the ascent of Sayyidna Musa (Alaihis Salam) onto Mount Tur (Sinai).

2) Narrations the falsity of which is proved from other evidences of the Qur’an and Sunnah, for instance, it appears in Judaic narrations that Sayyidna Sulayman (Alaihis Salam) had become (God forbid) an apostate in his later years. Its refutation is proved from the Qur’an. It is said there:

‘It was not Sulayman who became an infidel, but the devils did become infidels’ [2:102].

To cite yet another example, it finds mention in Judaic narration’s that (God forbid) Sayyidna Dawud (Alaihis Salam) (David) committed adultery with the wife of his general (Uriah), or, having him killed through all sorts of contrivances, ended up marrying his wife. This too is a blatant lie, and taking such narrations to be false is imperative.

3) Narrations regarding which the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the Shariah are “silent”, such as the injunctions of Torah etc., are subjects about which silence is to be observed as taught by the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) neither confirm, nor falsify. There is, however, a difference of opinion among scholars whether or not reporting such narrations is permissible. Hafiz ibn Kathir,ra, has given the decisive word by saying that reporting these is permissible all right but doing so is useless because they cannot be taken as authentic.[Muqaddamah Tafseer ibn Kathir]

[See: Ma’ariful Quran]

These set of rules are applied by Hadith scholars when dealing with Isra’iliyyat material. These rules are based on the Hadith of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) which I have mentioned above.

About the transmitter Wahb Ibn Munabbih (Rahmatullahi Alaih):

Wahb Ibn Munabbih transmitted both Isra’iliyyat and Islamic traditions. It does not make him or any other transmitter untrustworthy or a fabricator.

Hafiz Ibn Hajar (Rahamtullahi Alaih) says, ” Wahb Ibn Munabbih Ibn Kamil al-Yamani, the father of `Abdullah Al Abnawi. He is trustworthy.” [Taqrib al-Tahdhib]

Imam al-Suyuti (Rahamtullahi Alaih) includes him in his book of Hadith memorisers. [Tabaqat al-Huffadh)]

Many of the Hadith scholars have recorded his Hadith, including al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi (Rahamtullahi Alaih).

So the conclusion here is that Wahb Ibn Munabbih and others like Ka’ab Ahbar, Hammam Ibn Munabbih (Rahmatullahi Alaihim) are considered to be trustworthy even though they transmitted Isra’iliyyat traditions along with the Islamic ones because they did not attribute these Isra’iliyyat traditions to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam).

So, the narration above will be rejected totally as this contradicts the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

And Only Allah Ta’ala Knows Best.

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Moulana Qamruz Zaman
London, UK

3. Eschatology (pronounced /ˌɛskəˈtɒlədʒi/ ( listen); from the Greek ἔσχατος/ἐσχάτη/ἔσχατον, eschatos/eschatē/eschaton meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”, first used in English around 1550) is a part of theology, philosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events in history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity, commonly referred to as the end of the world or the World to Come. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “concerned with ‘the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell’”.Regarding mysticism, the phrase refers metaphorically to the end of ordinary reality and reunion with the Divine. In many religions it is taught as an existing future event prophesied in sacred texts or folklore. More broadly, eschatology may encompass related concepts such as the Messiah or Messianic Age, the end time, and the end of days.

4. (Arabic: “People of the Book”), in Islāmic thought, those religionists such as Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians who are possessors of divine books (i.e., the Torah, the Gospel, and the Avesta), as distinguished from those whose religions are not based on divine revelations. The latter are an imprecisely identified group referred to as Sabaeans but also considered “People of the Book.”

5. The Ridda wars (Arabic: حروب الردة), also known as the Wars of Apostasy, were a set of military campaigns against the rebellion of several Arabian tribes against the Caliph Abu Bakr(ra) during 632 and 633 AD, after Prophet Muhammad(saws) died. The revolts, in Islamic historiography later interpreted as religious, were in reality mainly political. However, these revolts also had a religious aspect: Medina had become the center of a social and political system, of which religion was an integral part; consequently it was inevitable that any reaction against this system would have a religious aspect

The Encyclopedia of Islam. New Edition. Vol. 1, p. 110.

6. For a time the Il-Khans tolerated and patronized all religious persuasions—Sunni, Shīʿite, Buddhist, Nestorian Christian, Jewish, and pagan. But in 1295 a Buddhist named Maḥmūd Ghāzān became khan and declared himself Muslim, compelling other Mongol notables to follow suit. His patronage of Islamicate learning fostered such brilliant writers as Rashīd al-Dīn, the physician and scholar who authored one of the most famous Persian universal histories of all time. The Mongols, like other Islamicate dynasties swept into power by a tribal confederation, were able to unify their domains for only a few generations.