Monday, August 18, 2008

Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence - Part 1


In order to pre-empt, to some extent, some of the concerns which might arise in conjunction with the main focus of this essay concerning Sacred Law and shari‘ah, a few things need to be said in order to try to place things in an appropriate perspective before proceeding with the commentary proper. I am a Muslim, I love Islam, and I strive -- although God knows best with what degree of success -- to wholly submit myself to God because I accept as true that God: "created humankind and jinn only to worship" [Qur'an, 51:56] God.

I bear witness that God is one and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. I make efforts to observe my prayers on a daily basis. I participate in the fast of Ramazan. I give zakat in accordance with my circumstances. I have, by the Grace of Allah, performed the rites of Hajj. In addition, I have faith that God is one and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God. I also have faith in the reality of angels, and I have faith in all the Books of revelation which have been sent to various messengers of Allah, and I have faith in the lineage of prophets who came prior to the appearance of the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad (peace be upon him). I also have faith that there is a Day of Judgment during which most of us will be held accountable for our deeds and misdeeds, and, as well, I have faith that God is the sole determiner of good and evil.

I believe in Sacred Law and shari‘ah, but I do not approach these issues in a manner that is consonant with many traditional modes of engaging such matters. The fact that I do not share the belief of certain others concerning the nature of Sacred Law and shari‘ah does not make me – or those with whom I have differences on this subject -- an unbeliever, but rather this merely means that I have an alternative method for engaging the themes which are entailed by Sacred Law and shari‘ah.

For approximately 35 years, by the Grace of God, I have sought to serve the Muslim community in my own way and according to whatever abilities and opportunities God has given me. What I am seeking to do in the present essay, God willing, is to continue to serve the Muslim community, although I am sure that there will be those who will choose not to see things in this light.

I am not asking others to necessarily accept the perspective which is about to be put forth. Rather, I only ask people to reflect on what is being said and to strive for the truth of whatever issues may be raised through the following considerations.


A Brief Overview

I will begin by providing a set of brief overview statements concerning the themes that are to be explored in this essay. These are summary statements of the perspective which will be delineated, God willing, during the course of the essay which follows, but the order of appearance of these statements does not necessarily reflect the sequence in which issues will be engaged through the main body of the essay.

(1) The ways in which Sacred Law and shari‘ah are understood by many Muslims, in general, as well as by a variety of Muslim religious scholars, in particular, are often problematic, if not incorrect, in a number of respects;

(2) Sacred Law gives expression to the principles, realities, and truths [physical, spiritual, psychological, etc.] through which the Created Universe operates;

(3) Shari‘ah refers to the individual’s realization of that portion of Sacred Law which enables an individual to grasp truths, as God wishes, concerning one’s essential identity and spiritual capacity that, God willing, lead to the fulfillment of an array of rights concerning all manner of being – including those rights which are inherent in the individual himself or herself … and this is what is meant by the idea of being God’s vicegerent or khalifa on Earth;

(4) To the degree that shari‘ah is correctly understood and applied, it becomes a manifestation of Sacred Law;

(5) The journey toward shari‘ah is an individual pursuit, not a collective one – although the degree to which shari‘ah is properly realized may have ramifications for the social collective, and, as well, the manner in which the social collective is organized may have ramifications for the way in which shari‘ah is understood and/or pursued;

(6) While the Qur’an and the sunna of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) constitute the two most essential primary resources through which to engage and understand the nature of Islam, many of the customary ways of describing just what is entailed by this process are problematic, if not incorrect;

(7) Qiyas [analogical and rationalistic reasoning processes] tends to have a distorting and therefore, misleading way of construing the teachings of the Qur’an;

(8) The issue of ijma – consensus – is generally misunderstood and misapplied with respect to the issue of shari‘ah;

(9) Using naksh or abrogation as a methodology for engaging the meaning of the Qur’an is – in relation to the manner in which this concept is generally understood by many Muslim religious scholars – untenable;

(10) The idea of ijtihad – that is, striving to secure a spiritual determination or judgment in a given set of circumstances – is improperly understood as well as improperly used by many Muslim religious scholars;

(11) The five major madhhabs or schools of jurisprudence do not exhaust the ways through which one may legitimately engage Islam, and, moreover, none of these schools – or any other such school – may be used to compel people to behave in particular ways when it comes to matters of shari‘ah; moreover, no one is under any obligation to align herself or himself with any given school of jurisprudence, or, stated in another way, the various schools of Muslim jurisprudence do not necessarily have the requisite spiritual authority to impose judgments on others that are binding;

(12) One of the primary purposes underlying governance is not to enforce shari‘ah but, rather, one of the essential purposes of governance is to ensure that a community – or, more specifically, the public space or commons of that community -- is free from oppression of any kind [including religious] so that people will have an unhindered opportunity to engage the gift of choice which God has bequeathed to them -- providing such an exercise of free will does not interfere with a like gift which also has been bequeathed to others;

(13) Two of the other primary tasks of government are to establish principles of equitability and justice to help prevent the injury, exploitation, and abuse of the members of a community by forces from within or from without that community – and this includes a responsibility to ensure that spiritual abuse will not be permitted to be perpetrated through the political imposition of religious theories of jurisprudence;

(14) The specific guidance given expression in the Qur’an concerning issues like punishment, fighting, and even such matters as inheritance, are subsumable under, and capable of being modulated by, other principles of general guidance given in the Qur’an, and, in addition, such specific injunctions may not have been intended as a form of universal guidance – that is, for all peoples, all times, and all circumstances – but, instead may have been intended to guide a specific group of people during, and shortly after, the period during which the Prophet lived;

(15) None of the foregoing fourteen statements undermines, removes, or alters the basic duties of care one has to oneself, others, creation, or God that are being taught through the Qur’an and for which sharia‘ah is intended as a spiritual journey of striving to understand and apply the truth of such issues during the course of one’s life.



kevin said...

asallam alaykum!

excellent. As usual... Your overview would be, or should be, a good primer for those considering becoming a muslim.

(12) such specific injunctions may not have been intended as a form of universal guidance

I struggle with the digestion of those ayat that fall under this category. Sometimes it is almost a emotional condition, in that it depends on what state my heart and brain are currently operating under. At times all I see in the Qur'an are the warnings to unbelievers, and it seems so foreign. Then, other times, my heart really knows that the unbeliever Allah is addressing is the one that is within me.

Yet, truly, the arabs of those days lived a life far different then we do today, so outwardly there must be injunctions that appeal to those scenarios. The sticky part! Because you and I today say black, grey, or red over here on this side of the ocean: and yet, another believer says green, blue and yellow, there in Baghdad. You and I know, but .. dealing with those who have the insistence that we all must physically act in the same manner is, for me, the challenge.

one of the essential purposes of governance is to ensure that a community – or, more specifically, the public space or commons of that community -- is free from oppression of any kind [including religious] so that people will have an unhindered opportunity to engage the gift of choice which God has bequeathed to them

Brilliantly said! I owe you a debt for your articulation of this, it speaks exactly to my understanding of what Allah speaks with His Quran, and how we must be free to choose Him. Or not! as the case may be. May we all be in a place free from compulsion so that His Love may be openly felt and reciprocated.

love to you & Bilquees
selam alaykum Huuu

Anab Whitehouse said...

Dear Kevin,

Wa 'alaykum as-Salaam!

When people in the American colonies back in the 1760s, 1770s, and 1780s began to resist the tyranny of their English overlords, it was a difficult struggle for many of them because it brought them face to face with the challenge of having to look away from the filtered spectacles through which the flow of society had always been understood and, then, to struggle toward becoming engaged with life through a different set of understandings concerning human possibilities. However, increasingly, people who reflected on the matter came to see that there was something inherent in human beings ... something God-given ... which constituted inalienable rights of human dignity.

Why does the cry of freedom or liberty resonate so deeply with human beings? It is not because of what took place in Scotland, France or America during their respective revolutions, but, rather, the ring of freedom tolls loudly in our souls because of the recognition that there is a presence within human nature which preceded those revolutions and gave them their raison d'etre. Muslims refer to this 'something' as fitra.

When fitra is oppressed, human potential is truncated and develops in distorted ways, and we see the evidence for this everywhere we look -- even within. When fitra is free to pursue its inherent, primordial spiritual possibilities, then, God willing, human beings become involved in constructive activities in relation to that human nature.

We stand more than 1400 years removed from the times of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). What attracts me to him is not the theology or history or hagiographies or commentaries or the hadiths which swirl about his life. What attracts me is the spirit of his struggle to give expression to God-given human potential and to help other people set out on this same journey of exploration and discovery concerning truth, justice, reality, and knowledge/wisdom.

Every time I look to his example, I fall in love again. Every time I look to the example of my authentic shaykh, I fall in love again. Every time I follow the direction to which they are pointing, I fall in love again.

I have been engaged in this struggle of love for some thirty-five years, or so -- although, obviously, not with anything remotely approaching the success of the Prophet [or my shaykh] ... but in my own limited way and with my own limited spiritual capacity. For quite a few years now, there has been within me a dynamic which has been inching me along toward giving expression to something like what appears as the twelve-part 'Shari'ah: A Muslim's Declaration of Independence', and, yet, whenever, I thought about sitting down and writing something on the subject, there were a variety of residual elements from the usual, 'traditional' way at looking at things involving shari'ah and Sacred Law that kept stopping me ... as if I were doing something wrong. As someone once famously said: "The most effective kind of shackles are the ones which are invisible."

My own experiences with having been spiritually abused by a fraudulent shaykh has sensitized me to the often complex nature of spiritual oppression. My experiences with a legitimate shaykh have sensitized me to what I believe are some of the essential teachings about spiritual freedom and its responsibilities -- both with respect to myself as well as toward others.

These latter teachings are echoed in the writings and lives of Rumi, ibn al'Arabi, Junayd, Hallaj, Jilani, Muin-ud-Deen Chishti, Hafiz, Jili, and so many other spiritual giants. We are drawn to such luminaries because of the manner in which their lives give expression to issues of freedom, transformation, character, truth, justice, knowledge, and wisdom ... all of which resonate with our fitra in the way that beautiful music resonates with our fitra and reminds us of our Origin.

Shari'ah, properly understood, is not just a statement about this Muslim's declaration of independence, but, in truth, it constitutes a declaration of independence of any Muslim who cares to pursue the matter rigorously ... a declaration of independence from taqlid and from theologies and from philosophies and from political systems and from mullahs and from religious scholars and from schools of jurisprudence.

What every system of oppression detests is the idea that someone seeks to become independent of the system. While I don't believe that just any sort of independence serves human interests, I do believe that the authentic Sufi teachers have repeatedly sought to help sincere seekers to discover truth, justice and wisdom so that these qualities could be applied to our lives and assist us to live freely in the way which God intended.

I do not believe that God is a war-monger or an oppressor or abusive, or punitive and, yet, this appears to be what many religious scholars and theologians would have us believe. Guidance is just that ... 'guidance' ... it is not a rule book or a law book. Sometimes oppression can only be stopped through a counter force and sometimes punishment [although not necessarily corporal] is necessary to stop abuses of one kind or another.

The Qur'an is filled with guidance of infinite subtlety, and, yet, there are those who wish to reduce that guidance down to an exceedingly narrow range of ayats that was intended as guidance for a specific people, time, place, and set of circumstances -- seemingly forgetting that the Qur'an also contains some 6000 other verses which address human problems in alternative ways and which are fully adaptable to precisely fit the needs of changing peoples, times, places, and circumstances.

Kevin, I do identify with your concerns, and I have experienced many of the same sort of volleyball games going on within me. However, I believe that each of us -- both individually and collectively -- must try to take back ... in a peaceful manner -- our spiritual birthright ... a birthright that all too many religious scholars, mullahs, and theologians [not to mention the many millions of people whom those individuals have sway over] would seek to deny us by insisting that we do things their way and understand things their way and feel about things in the way which they do and approach the Qur'an according to their theologies and interpretations ... all of which are forms of spiritual abuse ... as spiritually abusive as what any inauthentic shaykh does to those whom they spiritually betray.

No more!!!

Anonymous said...

Assalamualaikum Br. Anab For 30 years I have been carrying the desire to travel the inner path within my heart.

I have raised 7 children and am now a grandmother, and still I long for a shaykh who can guide to the correct path. You see I also came into Islam through the teachings of Dr. Baig. I became a Muslim soon after that and married. I was always on the fringes. I saw you many times and heard dr. Baig mention your name often. I recommenced my journey in ernest about a year ago, once four of my children were married. Icame in contact with a lot of sufi writings through a little book by Neil Douglas Klotz which I picked up at the CNE in 05 for $3.00. That book was very thought provoking and gave me a lot of leads reaquainting with my first authors Titus Buckhardt and Seyyed Hussein Nasr. I also had the pleasure of reading Ali's (RA) Peak of Eloguence one year when I had to look after my grandchildren. I also delved into Hazrat Inyat Khan whom I had read in many, many years since before my encounter with Dr. Baig. It was at this point, I began again searching for what I am not sure, I know I would like a sheykh, so I googled dr. baig, and your name comes up all around his, and then I began to google you. It sounds like you do not have another shaykh, and you have made it very clear that you are not a shaykh. I cannot get a clear picture of what is happening here in Toronto. I have inferred from your writings that probably what I am seeking is not where it should be here.

Now I have ordered your book about Illuminating Religious Abuse, because I do not wish to be put into an abusive situation, and take a wrong turn on the path.

I have read all of Bukhari's hadiths that are available in translation, and have found myself more confused than ever, probably because I was reading what was never meant to be written. Ali's Peak of Eloquence was much clearer, although there were a couple of things there that I don't think belonged to him. But like you, my constant companion has been the Qu'ran, and remains my favourite book.

I think I am meandering now. Salaamualaikum and jazzakallah heir for your extensive writings.

Janet (Mariam) Patel

Anab Whitehouse said...

Dear Mariam,

Wa 'alaykum as-Salaam! Eid Mubarak!!

The book went out to you last Tuesday (Monday was the holiday here). I'm not exactly sure how long the book will take to reach you, but, insha' Allah, maybe sometime this coming week.

There is a great deal of information in The Sufi Lighthouse. You show a good amount of
wisdom in wanting to find out some of the problems ahead of time rather than after the fact, and, quite frankly, I wish there had been a book like the aforementioned book around after Dr. Baig passed away ... it might have helped me given that I was not as wise as you and believed that because God had shown great kindness to me in the form of Dr. Baig that everything, spiritually speaking, would follow easily after he left the Earthly realm, and this just did not turn out to be the case.

I have found out the hard way that there are many spiritual charlatans who are seeking to exploit people's spiritual longing. And having learned this lesson -- fully and finally I pray -- I am very thankful that I met Dr. Baig first rather than the spiritual counterfeits whom I later encountered ... this order of learning has made all the difference I believe.

Of course, everything -- both the good and the difficult and problematic -- is a learning experience, and I have learned a great deal both from the real people of spirituality as well as those who pose as people of spiritual understanding but who are, in reality, something else entirely. The Sufi Lighthouse tries to put into writing some of what I have learned in both respects.

I understand why you might find the situation in Toronto rather confusing -- spiritually speaking. Toronto, like most places, offers many people who claim spiritual wisdom, but few who, by the help and support of God, actually have attained it, and the latter often keep themselves quite well hidden. Unfortunately, there is much delusion about many things in the Muslim community.

As you have surmised, I do not have a spiritual guide who is physically present, and I often miss this. But, in the missing is also a great appreciation of just how fortunate and blessed I was to have been able to spend so much time in the presence of Dr. Baig ... and, I believe that you too -- based on what you have said -- found many spiritual blessings through, and in the presence of, Dr. Baig.

To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Baig did not appoint anyone as his spiritual successor. And, this discontinuation of a branch of a silsilah often occurs for reasons best known to Allah.

I have investigated -- to a degree -- some of the alleged spiritual possibilities who are somewhat known commodities ... at least in a public sense. Unfortunately, and without naming names, many of these "leads" turned in to dead ends spiritually speaking.

This is not to say that there aren't legitimate spiritual guides still in existence, because I believe there are. However, I also believe that such individuals are far fewer than is often believed to be the case.

I wish I could say 'you should try so and so', but of the many names which might come to mind, none of them, in my opinion, seem to be the real deal. For the most part, I do not believe in denouncing people ... although there have been a few occasions in which I have been reflectively critical of claims made by certain individuals. However, this usually was in a context of criticizing their hermeneutical world view about this or that issue and not about whether they were or were not authentic shaykhs.

There is much spiritual striving which can be accomplished if one is dedicated to truth and justice. The long essay on Shari'ah which you have read ... at least in part ... gives expression to much which can be struggled for, both individually and collectively, if we really wish to open up our hearts to God, the spirit of the Prophet, and the many deep currents of the Qur'an rather than allow ourselves to fall under the influence of the cult of leadership which is being propounded by many both within and without the Muslim community.

Dr. Baig never sought to be a leader. However, because, by the Grace of Allah, he had been granted spiritual understanding in so many areas, there was a natural authoritativeness about him which lent itself to fulfilling the tasks and responsibilities of helping to guide individuals to work toward a greater and greater sense of realizing God's eternal nearness and presence. I know that whatever little has been acquired by me in such respects is because of a great grace from God that put me in touch with such a spiritually catalytic agent for a certain period of time. Whatever may be good in me comes from that, and whatever is not so good in me comes from the elements of my nafs which remain unredeemed.

I'm not really certain what I might have to offer with respect to anything of spiritual value. However, if you wish, you are certainly welcome to e-mail me at as long as you understand that, as you have noted, I am not a shaykh, and I very definitely have my limitations in these matters.


Anonymous said...


Some of what you say makes sense of course, but human beings will always differ amongst themselves. The significance of this is that 'differences' are fine so long as they do not corrupt the community, I do not just mean moral corruption, I mean political and economic as well.

The Quran does say "Do not be friends with the Jews and Christians" 'They are kafirun" and "take Jizya from them until they are under your dominance".

A careful look at recent history will reveal to us that when Muslims 'became friends with the Christians and Jews', they lost their power, they are now dominated by the unbelivers, who starve and oppress the world.

Of course Muslims can also be corrupt and they have to struggle with their nafs too.

Anab Whitehouse said...

Dear Anonymous,

Although the English translation which is often given to the Quranic verse to which you refer -- namely, 5:51 -- is "friends", I don't believe that the idea of friends in the usual sense necessarily captures the sense of what is being said in the ayat in question. This is conveyed better through the ayat which follows the foregoing verse and which states:

"But you will see those in whose hearts is a disease hastening towards them, saying: We fear lest a calamity should befall us; but it may be that Allah will bring the victory or a punishment from Himself, so that they shall be regretting on account of what they hid in their souls."

The sense of friendship which is being alluded to here is that of looking to another individual or individuals to protect one from a calamity or preserve one from difficulty or to be a guardian of one's affairs. In point of fact only Allah can protect one in this fashion, and only Allah is a Friend in this sense.

One should not even look to another Muslim in the sense being indicated in 5:51. To seek the sort of friendship which is purely dunya or worldly-based is to seek the wrong kind of friendship.

At the same time, there are many people among both Jews and Christians who are sincere believers and who are described by the Qur'an as being people of the Book and who sing the praises of God and who remember God much and who busy themselves in this life with doing good deeds and seeking to avoid that which is spiritually problematic and who have taqwa or piety with respect to God. In addition, the Qur'an indicates that one is not to make divisions among the prophets, and that the sincere believers among the Jews and Christians, and Sabeans will, insha' Allah, have nothing to fear on the Day of Judgment.

One can be friendly, civil, caring, compassionate, courteous, just, and given to observing all facets of spiritual etiquette toward others without being "friends" in the sense that is alluded to in 5:51.

In Surah 3, ayat 28, one finds the following:

"Let not the believers take the unbelievers for friends rather than believers; and whoever does this, he shall have nothing of (the guardianship of) Allah, but you should guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully; and Allah makes you cautious of (retribution from) Himself; and to Allah is the eventual coming."

Among Christians and Jews there are true believers. And, among some of those who refer to themselves as "Muslims" are unbelievers. One is permitted to seek the friendship -- in the sense of spiritual companionship -- of any who are sincere believers in God, whatever label they may be saddled with by those who like to deal in abstract categories.

If another human being has something to teach me about patience, gratitude, courage, honesty, nobility, integrity, sincerity, kindness, humility, charitableness, love, commitment, piety, magnanimity, and the like, then, I do not believe that God would mind if I befriend such an individual to learn spiritual lessons from those whom God has provided for purposes of offering such a spiritual education for me. One should careful about turning away from Divine manifestations just because they may come with certain labels attached to them.

As far as labeling Christians and Jews as "kafirun" -- as those who hide the truth [which is the root meaning of being 'kafir'] -- there are several things which might be said. First, every human being who is not fully realized in a spiritual sense [and there are very, very few of such individuals] is someone who hides the truth in one manner or another -- and this is true of Muslims as well as Christians, Jews, or whatever other groups one wishes to mention. And, even among those who are realized, they, of necessity, must hide the full truth from the commonality of believers because of the risk that such knowledge will be misunderstood or misapplied by those who are ignorant of the actual nature and character of such knowledge. Even the Prophet, Muhammad [peace be upon him] withheld knowledge from the umma because not everyone would have been able to handle such knowledge with the appropriate spiritual etiquette.

Secondly, given the degree of spiritual ignorance which exists even within the Muslim community [after all, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) indicated that there were 73 sects among Muslims, and only one of them was correct] I don't believe it makes much sense to start charging this person or that person as being kafirun. We each should spend our time trying to clear up our own ignorance concerning the nature of truth, justice, and spirituality rather than being overly concerned about the possible ignorance of others with respect to such matters.

Finally, the Quranic comments concerning jizya were directed toaward the Prophet and were not intended as a universal principle which was to be applied to all times and circumstances. There are no countries on rulers on earth at the present time who are entitled to assume, nor have they been granted incontrovertible spiritual authority with respect to, the role of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and, thereby, have the God-given right to seek to accrue to themselves the responsibility of fulfilling the tasks which were given exclusively to the Prophet and to no one else.

Everything in the Qur'an is guidance, but not everything in the Qur'an constitutes guidance for everyone. One needs to understand whom God is addressing in any given instance, and one needs to understand the Divine intention underlying any given instance of such addressing, and sometimes when God is addressing 'those who believe' the intention is directed toward those who lived during the time of the Prophet, and sometimes the intention is directed beyond those times and circumstances.

The Qur'an is a very nuanced, rich, complex, intricate, subtle form of guidance. Every portion of the Qur'an is modulated by guidance from other portions of the Qur'an. One's heart must be open today to what is being communicated to one through the Qur'an right now, and one needs to understand that the character of Divine guidance means different things in different circumstances and times involving different problems, questions and individuals. One simply cannot take statements out of their full Quranic context [and I am not just alluding to matters of tafsir here in the normally theological sense of this term as applied to the historical circumstances said to surround any given instance of revelation] and argue that the Qur'an can be properly understood when done in such isolated, unconnected, purely historical ways.

I agree with you that there are many unbelievers who are oppressing the world today and doing all manner of injustice in the process. But, among those who are being oppressed and treated with injustice are believing Jews and believing Christians, along with believing Muslims, as well as people from other spiritual traditions which are rooted in a sincere belief in God. And, among the oppressors and those who are perpetuating injustice are those who bear Muslim names.

I agree with you about the importance of resisting corruption -- moral, as well as political, economic, and spiritual. However, I am not convinced that such a challenge will be well-served by adopting an 'us versus them' mentality.

We need to find ways of cooperating with sincere believers of whatever spiritual label in order to try to discover constructive ways of resisting the many currents of corruption which exist in the world today that are being perpetrated by unbelievers who exist among Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and other sincere faith communities. To cooperate with someone, it is not necessary to adopt that individual's spiritual approach to things, and it is not necessary to suppose that anyone but Allah is the true Friend even as we seek to find ways of co-operating with others in the pursuit of justice for everyone.