Syed Ameer Ali.

The spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm online

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at Surra-man-Raa in the fifth year of his age. 2 He is believed
to be still alive, and they look forward with earnest anticipation
to his reappearance to re-establish the universal Caliphate, and
to restore the purity of the human race. He is styled the Imam
Ghdib (the absent Imam), the Muntazar, "the Expected,"
and the Kdim, " the Living." 3

The Isna-'Asharias, now called Shiahs or Imamias par
excellence, are divided into two sub-sects — Usulis and Akhbdris
(i.e. the followers of principles and the followers of traditions).
There is no difference between them on the question of the
Imamate or its descent to the last Imam. But they differ on
the amount of authority to be attached to the exposition of the
Mujtahids, who call themselves the representatives of the Imam.
The Usuli repudiates entirely the authority of the expounders
of the law to fetter his judgment. He contends that the law
is clear, and that it is his duty to construe it for himself with the
light of reason and progress of human thought, and not to be

1 A place several days' journey to the north-west of Bagdad.

2 For an account of this pathetic incident, see ante, p. 123, and Short
History of the Saracens (Macmillan), p. 295.

3 Compare especially the belief of the Christadelphians, according to whom
Christ will reappear to bring about an earthly kingdom.


guided in his judgment by the dictates of men as fallible as him-
self, and interested in maintaining the world in ignorance . He
holds that God's revelations had not the object of hiding the
Divine meaning in words difficult to apprehend. They were
addressed through his Prophet to humanity to apprehend and
to obey. Thus God's teachings delivered through His Messenger
do not require the interpretation of priest or lawyer. The
Akhbari, on the other hand, obeys slavishly the expositions of
the Mujtahids.

According to the Usuli doctrines, the oral precepts of the
Prophet are in their nature supplementary to the Koranic
ordinances, and their binding effect depends on the degree of
harmony existing between them and the teachings of the Koran.
Thus, those traditions which seem to be in conflict with the
spirit of the Koranic precepts are considered apocryphal. The
process of elimination is conducted upon recognised principles,
founded upon logical rules and definite data. These rules have
acquired a distinctive type among the Mu'tazilas, who have
eliminated from the Hadls Kudsi (the holy traditions) such
alleged sayings of the Prophet as appeared incompatible and
out of harmony with his developed teachings as explained and
illustrated by the philosophers and jurists of his family.

The Usiilis divide the traditions under four heads, viz. : —
(a) Sahih, "authentic"; (b) Hasan, "good"; (c) Musak,
" strong " ; and (d) Za'if, " weak." A hadis sahih, or an
authentic tradition, is one the authority of which can be con-
clusively traced to the Aimma-i-Ma'sum (the sinless Imams),
according to the narration of an Imam 'ddil, " a just or trust-
worthy Imam," about whose integrity there is a consensus
among the " masters of traditions " (arbdb-i-hadis) . The narra-
tion must be through a succession of such 'ddils. A hadis-hasan,
or a good tradition, is one the authority of which goes back,
like that of the hadis sahih, to the Ma' sum ; but, according to
the narrative of a venerable Imam, in this way, that although,
in regard to the narrator of it, the words sikah 'ddil, " trust-
worthy and just," have not been used by the historians, yet
they have praised him in other words. A hadis-niusak, or a
strong tradition, is one handed down by people who are acknow-
ledged to be sikah and 'ddil, " virtuous and just," by the


historians, though some or all of the narrators might not be
Imdmias, " followers of Ali." A hadis-za'if, or a weak tradition,
is one which complies with neither of these conditions. It is
only the first three kinds of hadis that are accepted or relied
upon by the U suits.

Again, a tradition before it can be accepted must have been
handed down in regular succession. A tradition is in regular
succession when a large number of people in the regular course
of time make the same narration until it is traced to the Ma' sum,
subject to the condition that the number of narrators, in each
particular age, is so great as to exclude the idea of their having
combined in telling a falsehood. A tradition is without a
regular succession, when the number of narrators does not, in
all or several stages, reach to such a body of witnesses ; and
this kind of tradition is called, " in the peculiar idiom of the
masters of traditions, the information of one."

The Usuli exercises his own judgment in the construction of
the law, and the reception, application, and interpretation of the
traditions. He does not consider himself bound to follow the
exposition of a Mujtahid, if his judgment and conscience tell
him that that exposition is against the revealed or natural law,
or justice, or reason. They protest against the immoderate
number of traditions accepted by the Akhbdris without any
criticism, or any application of the rules of exegesis. The
Usitlis represent the Broad Church, if not of Islam, at least of

According to the Dabistdn, the Akhbdris derive their title
from the fact that they rely entirely upon akhbdr, or traditions,
and repudiate ijtihdd (the exercise of private judgment), as they
consider it contrary to the practice of the Imams. They
accept as authentic whatever tradition happens to be current,
if only it is labelled with the name of an Imam or of the Prophet.
It is enough that it is called a hadis ; it becomes ipso facto
authentic in their eyes, 1 and further inquiry is not required to
test the source from which it emanates. It need not be said
that under colour of this easy principle a vast number of tradi-
tions and maxims have become incorporated with the Islamic

1 Adilla-i-Kati', conclusive evidence, which admits of no questioning, and
requires no exercise of judgment.


teachings which have little in common with them. The ancient
faith had never completely died out of the hearts of the masses,
and it was impossible that with the growth of a national Church
many of the old thoughts should not find expression in new and
more approved garbs. Gobineau has, somewhat harshly, but
not quite without reason, charged ultra-Akhbariism with having
converted the great hero of Islam into an Ormuzd, and his
descendants into Amshaspands.

Akhbarism is the favourite creed of the uneducated, who
require a leading string for their guidance, or of the half-
educated Mullas. Usulism finds acceptance among the
most intellectual classes of the people and the most
learned of the clergy. One of the most notable advocates of
the Usuli doctrines within recent times was Mulla Sadra *
(Mohammed bin Ibrahim), a native of Shiraz, and probably the
ablest scholar and dialectician of his time. He was the reviver
of philosophy and humanitarian science among the Persians.
From the fall of the Buwaihs to the rise of the Safawis, Iran
had remained under a cloud. Patristic orthodoxy had pro-
scribed philosophy and science ; the very name of Avicenna
had become hateful, and his works were publicly burnt. During
these centuries many Mazdeistic traditions dressed in Islamic
garb naturally had found acceptance among the uneducated
classes. The true Fatimide scholars had retired into seclusion,
and a body of ecclesiastics strongly imbued with national pre-
dilections and prejudices had sprung up to maintain the people
in ignorance. Mulla Sadra had thus to contend against a clergy
as tenacious of their rights as those of Christendom, and as
ready to take offence at the slightest approach to an attack on
their preserve of orthodoxy. But Mulla Sadra was gifted with
great perseverance and tact, and succeeded after considerable
difficulty in reviving the study of philosophy and science.
Usulism came to the front once more. Its philosophical counter-
part, Mu'tazilaism, is unquestionably the most rationalistic and
liberal phase of Islam. In its liberalism, in its sympathy with
all phases of human thought, its grand hopefulness and ex-
pansiveness, it represents the ideas of the philosophers of the
House of Mohammed who reflected the thoughts of the Master.

1 Mulla Sadra nourished in the reign of Shah Abbas II.


The political factions which have hitherto kept the Shiahs
divided among themselves are disappearing, and the rest of the
sects are fast merging into the Isna-'Asharias. The Shiahs
of Persia, Arabia, West Africa, and India belong for the most
part to this sect. Isnd-'Ashariaism has thus become synony-
mous with Shiahism.

Like the Akhbaris, the Sunnis base their doctrines on the
entirety of the traditions. But they differ from them in accept-
ing such only of the traditions as can stand the test of certain
rules of criticism peculiar to their school. In this they approach
the Usulis. They regard the concordant decisions of the
successive Caliphs and of the general assemblies (Ijmd'-ul-
U ni mat) as supplementing the Koranic rules and regulations,
and as almost equal in authority to them.

The Sunnis are divided into several sub-sects, each differing
from the other on various points of dogma and doctrine. These
minor sectarian differences have often given rise to great
bitterness and persecutions. In the main, however, they are
agreed on the fundamental bases of their doctrines and laws,
deriving them from four unvarying sources, viz. : — (i) The
Koran ; (2) The Hadis or Sunnat (traditions handed down from
the Prophet) ; (3) The Ijmd'-ul-Ummat (concordance among
the followers) ; and (4) The Kiyds (private judgment). The
Hadis (pi. A had is) embraces (a) all the words, counsels, and
oral precepts of the Prophet (Kawl) ; (b) his actions, his works,
and daily practice (Fi'l) ; (c) and his silence (Takrir), implying
a tacit approbation on his part of any individual act committed
by his disciples. The rules deduced from these subsidiary
sources vary considerably in respect of the degree of authority
which is attached to them. If the rules, or traditional precepts,
are of public and universal notoriety (Ahddls-i-Midawdtireh),
they are regarded as absolutely authentic and decisive. If the
traditions, though known publicly by a great majority of
people, do not possess the character of universal notoriety, they
are designated Ahddis-i-M ashhur a, and stand next in rank to
the Ahddis-i-M utawdtir eh ; whilst the Akhbdr-i-wdhid , which
depend for their authenticity upon the authority of isolated
individuals, have little or no value attached to them. Thus
every tradition purporting to be handed down by the con-


temporaries and companions of the Prophet, regardless of their
actual relationship to him, is considered to be authentic and
genuine, provided certain arbitrary conditions framed with the
view of testing the value of personal testimony are complied
with. The expression Ijmd'-ul-Ummat implies general con-
cordance. Under this collective name are included all the
apostolic laws, the explanations, glosses, and decisions of the
leading disciples of the Prophet, especially of the first four
Caliphs (the Khulafdi Rdshidin), on theological, civil, and
criminal matters.

Since the eighth century of the Christian era, however, all
these sources of law and doctrine have been relegated to the
domain of oblivion. And each sect has followed blindly its
own doctors in the interpretation of the law and the exposition
of doctrines. This is called Taklid. No man is considered
" orthodox " unless he conforms to the doctrines of one or
the other of the principal doctors.

The four most important persuasions or sects 1 among the
Sunnis are designated Hanafi, Shafe'i, Maliki, and Hanbali,
after their respective founders.

Abu Hanifa, 2 who gave his name to the first school, was born
in the year 80 of the Hegira, during the reign of Abdul Malik
ibn Merwan. He was educated in the Shiah school of law, and
received his first instructions in jurisprudence from Imam
Ja'far as-Sadik, and heard traditions from Abu Abdullah ibn
al-Mubarak and Hamid ibn Sulaiman. Abu Hanifa often
quotes the great Shiah Imam as his authority. On his return
to his native city of Kufa, though he continued to remain a
zealous and consistent partisan of the house of Ali, he seceded
from the Shiah school of law and founded a system of his own,
diverging completely in many important points from the
doctrines of the Shiahs ; and yet, so close is the resemblance
between his exposition of the law and their views, that there is
no reason for doubt as to the source from which he derived his
original inspiration. The latitude which he allows to private
judgment in the interpretation of the law seems to be unques-
tionably a reflex of the opinions of the Fatimide doctors. He

1 Called the Mazdhib-arba'a.

2 Abu Hanifa an-No'man ibn Thabit (a.c. 699-769).


is called by his followers the Imdm-ul-Na'zam (the great Imam).
He died in the year a.h. 150. The doctrines taught by him are
in force among the major portion of the Indian Musulmans,
among the Afghans, Turkomans, almost all Central Asian
Moslems, the Turks, and the Egyptians. His school owns by
far the largest number of followers.

The founder of the second school was (Abu Abdullah) Malik
ibn Anas, who died in the year a.h. 179, in the Caliphate of
Harun ar-Rashid.

Shafe'i was the originator of the third school. He was born
at Ghazza in Syria, in the same year in which Abu Hanifa died.
He died in Egypt in the year a.h. 204 (a.c. 819), during the
Caliphate of Mamun. He was a contemporary of the Fatimide
Imam Ali ibn Musa ar-Riza. Shafe'i's doctrines are generally
followed in Northern Africa, partially in Egypt, in Southern
Arabia, and the Malayan Peninsula, and among the Musulmans
of Ceylon. His followers are also to be found among the
Borahs 1 of the Bombay Presidency.

The fourth school was originated by Ibn-Hanbal. He
nourished during the reigns of Mamun and his successor Mu'ta-
sim b'illah. These two Caliphs were Mu'tazilas. Ibn-Hanbal's
extreme fanaticism, and the persistency with which he tried to
inflame the bigotry of the masses against the sovereigns, brought
him into trouble with the rulers. He died in the odour of great
sanctity in the year A.H. 241. Ibn-Hanbal and his patristicism
are responsible for the ill-success of Mamun in introducing the
Mu'tazila doctrines throughout the empire, and for the frequent
outbursts of persecution which deluged the Mohammedan world
with the blood of Moslems.

I have in another place 2 described the legal differences
of the various Sunni schools ; their doctrinal divergences
run into the minutiae of the ceremonials of worship, unneces-
sary to detail in a work intended for the general student.
It may be said, however, that the Hanbalites were the most
pronounced anthropomorphists. To them God was a being
in the similitude of man enthroned in heaven. Among
the other sects the conceptions varied considerably according

1 These Borahs are partly Shaie'Is and partly Isma'ilias of the Egyptian type.
* " Mohammedan Law,"


to the age and the people. Anthropomorphism was, how-
ever, the predominating element. There is no doubt that
Hanafi'sm was originally the most liberal of these sects,
whilst Shafe'ism and Malikism were both exclusive and
harsh in their sympathies and ideas. With the advance
of time, and as despotism fixed itself upon the habits and
customs of the people, and the Caliph or sovereign became the
arbiter of their fate without check or hindrance from juris-
consult or legist, patristicism took hold of the mind of all classes
of society. The enunciations of the Fathers of the Church
became law. The Hanafis, who styled themselves, and were
styled by their brethren of the rival schools, ahl-ur-rai w'al
kiyds, " people of judgment and analogy," in contradistinction
to the others, who were called ahl-ul-hadis, traditionists par
excellence, have long ceased to exercise their judgment in
the domains of law or doctrine. What has been laid down
by the Fathers is unchangeable, and beyond the range of
discussion. The Faith may be carried to the land of the
Esquimaux, but it must go with rules framed for the guidance
of Irakians !

Patristicism has thus destroyed all hope of development
in the Sunni fold. But its endeavours to ensure uniformity
of faith and practice have led within the last hundred years to
two notable revolts within the bosom of the Sunni Church.
Wahabism, which made its appearance at the beginning of
the nineteenth century, derived its breath from the Desert.
Ghair-mukallidism springs from the innermost recesses of
the human heart, seeking an escape from the strait-laced
Pharisaism of the established Church. The Ghair-mukallid is
a non-conformist, though he has been wrongly and unjustly
confounded with the Wahabis. He is undoubtedly more
philosophical and rationalistic than the followers of the other
denominations of Sunnism. Narrow, no doubt, admittedly
limited and unsympathetic in its scope, Ghair-Mukallidism is
nevertheless the one movement in the Sunni Church which
contains great promise for the future.

The dispute which ushered in the Reformation in Europe has
already commenced among the Hanafis, and is sure before long
to make itself felt among all sects and schools of Moslems.


Does the translation of the Koran stand on the same footing
as the Arabic Koran ; are prayers offered in the vulgar tongue,
in the tongue of the worshipper ignorant of Arabic, as meri-
torious as those offered in the language of Hijaz — such are the
questions which are now agitating the Moslem world in India.
The controversy has already caused much bitterness and given
rise to a few anathemas on the side of the orthodox, and the
reformers may well be congratulated that the movement which
they have set on foot is conducted under a neutral Government.
To the old plea, which vested interests have always urged
against every innovation, the leaders of the reform answer by
asking, Is Arabic the sole language which God understands ?
If not, what is the purpose of the prayer instituted by the
Prophet ? If it is to bring the worshipper nearer to God, and to
purify and ennoble his heart, then how can he feel the elevating
effect of prayer if he only mumbles what he cannot understand ?
From reason they appeal to the example of the Prophet, who
allowed his Persian converts to offer their prayers in their own
tongue. 1 This movement, still unknown to Europeans, con-
tains the germ of great development. It is the beginning
of the Reformation. Hitherto the theologians of Islam, like
the Christian clergy in the Middle Ages, have exercised, through
the knowledge of a language not known to the masses or the
sovereigns, a dominating influence. Once the principle for
which the reformers are working is accepted, the prescriptions
framed in the ninth and tenth centuries of the Christian era,
for people utterly apart from the culture and civilisation of
the present day, will have to be understood and explained with
the light of a thousand years.

Khawdrijism has been often regarded as a branch of Sunnism,
though in reality it came into existence long before the founda-
tions of the Sunni Church were laid. The refractory troops,
who had forced the Caliph Ali to abandon the fruits of the
well-earned victory at Siffin, and who afterwards rose in arms
against him at Nahrwan, were the first to receive the name of
Khawdrij (deserters or rebels). Shahristani has given a very
lucid account of this insurrection. These were the men who
were most eager in referring to arbitration the dispute of the

1 See ante. p. 186.


arch-rebel Mu'awiyah with the Caliph. They had forced upon
their chief, against his own judgment, Abu Musa as the repre-
sentative of the House of Mohammed ; but no sooner had the
terms been settled than these soldier-theologians, these
Covenanters of Islam, fell into a hot controversy amongst
themselves about the sinfulness of submitting any cause to
human judgment. In order to prevent the spectacle of Moslems
slaughtering each other in the presence of the enemy, Ali retired
to Kufa with the greater part of his army, leaving a small
detachment at Dumat ul-Jandal to await the result of the
arbitration. The rebels to the number of twelve thousand
deserted the Caliph at Kufa, and, retiring to Nahrwan, took
up a formidable position from which they threatened the
Caliphate. With the repugnance to shed blood which was ever
the distinguishing trait in Ali's character, he besought them
repeatedly to return to their allegiance. In reply they
threatened him with death. Human patience could not bear
this contumacy longer. They were attacked and defeated in
two successive battles. A few of the rebels escaped, says
Shahristani, and betaking themselves to al-Bahrain, that
harbour of refuge for all the free lances of Islam, spread their
noxious doctrines among the wild inhabitants of that tract.
They reappeared in the time of Abdul Malik, who drove them
back into their fastnesses in al-Ahsa and al-Bahrain. They
issued again under Merwan II., and spread themselves in
Yemen, Hijaz, and the Irak. They were attacked and defeated,
and forced to take refuge in Oman, where they have remained
settled ever since. Under the Abbasides they spread their
doctrines among the Berbers of Africa, whom they raised
repeatedly against the Pontiffs of Bagdad. The Khawarij are
the Calvinists of Islam. Their doctrines are gloomy and
morose, hard and fanatical. They are strict predestinarians.
They do not accept the Imamate of any of the Caliphs after
Omar, their own chiefs being, according to them, the lawful
Imams. They differ from the other Sunnis, in maintaining that
it is not requisite for a person to be either a Koreishite or a free
man for election as Imam of the Moslems. Slaves and non-
Koreishites were eligible for the Imamate equally with Kor-
eishites and free men. According to Shahristani, the Khawarij


are divided into six groups, the most important of whom are
the Azdrika (the followers of Abu Rashid Nafe ibn Azrak) ;
the Ibddhia (the followers of Abdullah ibn Ibadh, who appeared
in the reign of Merwan II., the last of the Ommeyyades) ;
the Nejdat Azdria (the followers of Nejdat ibn 'Amir) ; the
Ajdrida (of Abdul Karim bin 'Ajrad) ; and the Sufdruz

Of these, the Azdrika are the most fanatical, exclusive, and
narrow. According to them, every sect besides their own is
doomed to perdition, and ought to be forcibly converted or
ruthlessly destroyed. No mercy ought to be shown to any
infidel or Mushrik (an expansive term, including Moslems,
Christians, and Jews). To them every sin is of the same
degree : murder, fornication, intoxication, smoking, all are
damning offences against religion. Whilst the other Moslems,
Shiah as well as Sunni, hold that every child is born into the
world in the faith of Islam, 1 and remains so until perverted by
education, the Azraki declares that the child of an infidel is
an infidel. The orthodox Christian maintains that every child
who is not baptized is doomed to perdition ; the Khariji, like
the Christian, declares that every child who has not pronounced
the formula of the Faith is beyond the pale of salvation. The
Azdrika were destroyed by Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ; but their
sanguinary, fierce, and merciless doctrines found expression
nine centuries later in Wahabism.

The Ibddhia were decidedly less fanatical. They were, for
the most part, settled in Oman, and are still to be found in the
principality of Muscat. The Azdrika, and afterwards the
Wahabis, were at deadly feud with the Ibddhias.

According to them, the general body of Moslems are un-
believers, but not Mushrik (polytheists) , and that consequently
they can intermarry with them. They differ from the Azdrika
in this and in other respects. They accept the evidence of
Moslems against their people ; hold that the taking of the goods
of the Moslems except in time of war, is unlawful, and " pro-
nounce no opinion," says Shahristani, " on the infidelity of the
children of infidels " ; but they agree with their brethren, the


Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 39 of 55)