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Islamic History ( 30 Nov 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Shackles of Organised Clergy Put Islam A Hostage: Early History of Muslims Needs Fresh Appraisal — VII



By M Aamer Sarfraz

November 28, 2018

Christianity as practiced today is not what Jesus of Nazareth had laid down his life for. It was an uprising against the status-co when it started. The poor peasants had stood up against the crooked clergy who were using religion (Judaism), with support from the Roman governor, to subjugate them. Jesus was crucified as a rebel when he attacked the stalls of the money-lenders and publically challenged the High Priest at the Temple. Following his sacrifice, Jesus’s movement spread and undid the religious establishment under the leadership of his brother James. Fearing the growing influence of this reformist movement, the religious establishment used the ultimate trick in their arsenal.

Paul (real name, Saul of Tarsus) was a committed enemy of the movement and made life difficult for its followers whenever he could. Sensing its triumph, he had a ‘vision on the Road to Damacus’ and became a fervent follower of Jesus. Being a charismatic individual, he rose through the leadership ranks quickly despite being reprimanded on several occasions for his extreme views and violent tactics. It did not take him long, as Saint Paul, to hijack the ‘Christian’ leadership while working closely with the Roman authorities. Reza Aslan, in his best-seller ‘The Zealot’, narrates how a reformist movement malformed its revolutionary character to becoming just another organised religion, and was titled Christianity.

Islam was also revolutionary as it spread quickly in the Arabian Peninsula and beyond. However, around 700 CE, the closet Magians (Zoroastrians) and their collaborators, were busy setting up old (Arab) and new (Ajami) Muslims against each other. Towards the end of Banu Umayyad rule, a major spilt was instigated among Muslims where they supported the right to rule by the descendants of Hazrat Ali or otherwise.

A new ascetic dimension in Islam was also being introduced, knowingly and unknowingly, by some who sought salvation but wanted to stay neutral. Wasil bin Ata was the first intellectual to see through this trap — he broke away from ibn al-Hanafiyyiah (grandson of Hazrat Ali) over the issue of Imamate and then from Hasan al-Basri, a mystic, over the nature of the faith. He went on to promulgate Free Will and Rationality as the way forward to break this quagmire of traditions (Ahadith), mysticism, and politics (Shia-Sunni).

Bin Ata’s doctrine spread in subsequent years where his successors not only defeated their adversaries scholastically but also protected Islam from the onslaught through Greek Philosophy. Islam was on the march when the Barmakids sensitised their friend and Caliph Harun al-Rashid about the growing influence of the Rationalists and its political repercussions.

He asked the Barmakids to use their proverbial skills to neutralised the movement. Not long after, a Shia-Sunni split was caused among the Rationalists and those inclined towards the Shiite left Basra to set up base in Baghdad under Bishar ibn al-Mu’tamir. The Baghdad (Imami) Rational School grew closer to the Abbasids including al-Ma’mun, and their creed prevailed, sometime under duress, throughout the Kingdom. But the ultimate scheme had not unfolded yet.

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari studied at Basra Rationalist School. He was a senior and eminent pupil. He suddenly clashed with his teacher over the doctrine of free will and left the school. Soon afterwards he received ‘divine support’ to set up his Ash’ari School where rationalist methods were exploited to defend orthodox notions like eternal Quran.

The Ash’ari belief in predestination, that everything happens as a result of ‘God’s will’, was music to the ears of the politically manipulative Caliph al-Mutawakkil. He used this doctrine to coerce the people to accept their ruler — whether just or unjust, kind or oppressive. After all, his rule was part of the “God’s will” and beyond contention. He adopted the Ash’ari creed in the Kingdom and hunted down the Rationalists relentlessly.

Al-Ash’ari and his successors did to Islam what Paul had done to Christianity. The Ash’ari creed took over all aspects of social, political and religious life in Islam and continues to dominate till today. Along the way, al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyya appeared but only to annihilate rationality.

The Rationalists were exterminated and their academic achievements were systematically twisted and destroyed. They were made to appear as heretic philosophers who believed reason was more fundamental than revelation. Shiites, meanwhile, developed their own persecutory narratives that matured over centuries, sometimes splitting into dissident off-shoots, with their peculiar theologies which can only be understood in the paradigm of persecution, isolation and survival. As a result, Islam also become just another organised religion.

Some had fought back over time to reorientate the Muslims; but only received admonition and persecution. The shackles of organised clergy are so strong that Islam remained but only a hostage. Allama Iqbal was the most prominent proponent of ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ in the subcontinent. He started with much zeal around 1908 but soon got busy with national politics and nearly gave up after being declared an infidel following the publication of ‘Asrar-i-Khudi’. He did point the way forward for those who want to pursue this work. He guided how we could relive the original Islam only through the Quran, which itself is lost due to Magian-inspired translations and exegesis based on Ahadith and Shan-e-Nazool.

Allama Iqbal’s guide to reviving Islam is ingenious. He believed that the Quran is the only reality in Islam. And to understand true Islam one does not need anything except the Quran; and to understand Quran, one does not need anything except the Quran because, according to God, it explains itself. Since, similar to a great poetry, the Quran is untranslatable, its real meaning can only be established by ascertaining the meaning of the ‘key words’ in the Quran which carry invariable concepts within them….

Related Articles:

Read the Part One Here

Read the Part Two Here

Read Part Three Here

Read Part Four Here

Read Part Five Here

Read Part Six Here

Read Part Seven Here

Read Part Eight Here

Read Part Nine Here

Read Part Ten Here

Read Part Eleven Here

Read Part Twelve Here

 (To Be Continued)

M Aamer Sarfraz is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Visiting Professor.



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  1. I do not advocate copying the Mutazila in every detail. I am all for eradicating the irrational aspects of our beliefs and actions. Man is a rational being and should put his powers of thinking and reasoning at the center of his belief system.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin 03/12/2018 12:12:06
  2. GM sb has no knowledge of history. Religious persecution of dissidents was practiced when the Mu"tazila were in power. They lost popular support and sympathy precisely because of their coercive methods and persecution of the dissident scholars. Nobody persecuted the Mut'azil leave alone kill them. They just faded away once they lost political support of the Caliph since they had no popular support to begin with. That is a pity because there was no counterbalancing force to the lack of rationalism among the other groups.


    The tragedy is that one group had no need for rationalism and the other had no idea of the limits to rationalism and the precise role of revelation in the affairs of the people. This is not surprising because even rationalism needs to evolve and learn from its mistakes. Why did rationalism then fade away? Because of its excesses and lack of popular support and the fact that their arguments were comprehensively defeated by Imam Ghazali. They never recovered from the fatal blow delivered to them by Imam Ghazali because of the intellectual weakness of their main argument. The fact however is that both Imam Ghazali and the Mut’azila are in error on some points and right on other points.


    The Mut’azila are right on the following questions:

    1.     1. Createdness of the Quran

    2.     2. The role of free will and their rejection of unqualified predestination

    3.     3. The fact that the Omnipotence attribute of Allah does not imply a whimsical God and that what God chooses to do is not beyond human reason to comprehend as just and what is reasonable.

    4.     4. Their rejection of anthropomorphism


    The problem with them is in the relative emphasis that some of them gave to reason above revelation. The fact is that human reason is not a substitute for revelation and revelation makes sense only after it is practiced over a period. This can happen only when mankind accepts revelation trusting God and practices the religion. Faith or trust in God is therefore essential. For a religion to survive, it is also necessary that practice of the religion should make good practical sense over a period or that it should appear reasonable in hind-sight.


    They are in error when they maintain the following:

    “Muʿtazilites believed that good and evil were not determined by revealed scripture or interpretation of scripture, but they were rational categories that could be "established through unaided reason"; because knowledge was derived from reason, reason was the "final arbiter" in distinguishing right from wrong.”


    They are closer to the truth when they say the following:


    “That is, there are three classes of acts. The first is what the intellect is competent on its own to discover its morality. For instance, the intellect, according to Muʿtazilis, can know, independently of revelation, that justice and telling the truth (sidq) are morally good. God is under an ethical obligation to order humanity to abide by these. The second class of deeds is what the intellect can discover their inherent evil and ugliness (qubh), such as injustice, mendacity, or, according to al-Nazzam as reported in the above quote, being in a state of ignorance of the Creator. God cannot but prohibit these. The third class comprises the acts that the human intellect is incapable of assigning moral values to them. These are only known through revelation and they become known to be morally good if God orders them, or morally wrong if God forbids them. In short, the human intellect is capable of knowing what is right and what is wrong in a very general sense. Revelation comes from God to detail what the intellect summarizes, and to elaborate on the broad essentials. Revelation and reason complement each other and cannot dispense with one another.


    What they failed to realize is that to begin with, everything belonged to the third class and only through progressive revelations and practice did mankind learn the meaning of truth, justice, right etc. Human intellect is capable of understanding and making sense of revelations only in hind-sight. Reason is therefore not a substitute for revelation but necessary to make sense of the revelation in hind-sight based on the empirical evidence gathered from the practice.  Any revelation from God should and does make sense in hind-sight.

    By Naseer Ahmed 02/12/2018 23:48:17
  3. Those who killed rationalists are still around. Fire-breathing mullahs are still blowing hot air.  Takfirism is alive and well. 

    Those who see Islam as a religion of righteousness, rationality and universal brotherhood have a hard path ahead.

    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin 02/12/2018 12:37:39
  4. The rationalists lost out because of their own weakness or arrogance in not recognizing the limits to rationality. How can revelation ever be irrational? The very idea is the height of irrationality. If it is irrational, then it is not revelation and must be discarded. When it comes to revelations the question is very simple.  Either it is revelation, or it isn't, and if any part of it is irrational, discard the whole. 


    Are humans capable of perfect rationality? Humans can be as rational as their state of knowledge will permit and since their state of knowledge is always imperfect, they can never be perfectly rational. A believer and a person of integrity, when in doubt, will trust the revelation and if not in doubt, choose what is rational and discard the other. There is no point believing a little and disbelieving a little. The Quran does not deny that reason is fundamental or ask us to act against our reason. However, we must learn to distinguish between fact and opinion, between reason and conjecture. The problem with people is that they are unable to make this distinction and they treat their opinion as fact and conjectures as reason.


    The believers are not rational either while the Book of revelations is perfectly rational. Opposing false beliefs is one thing and opposing the Book quite another. Those who oppose the Book are by definition heretics if they leave their religion and hypocrites if they remain.  If they leave the religion quietly without opposing, then they are neither heretic nor hypocrite. They could still be entitled to Heaven if this act of leaving the religion is the act of a person of perfect integrity. However, what I have found is that those who oppose the Book have no understanding of the Book themselves nor any interest in reading the Book or trying to understand but do so based on the misunderstandings of others. They are  lacking in integrity.

    By Naseer Ahmed 01/12/2018 23:21:21
  5. He – Iqbal,did point the way forward for those who want to pursue this work:

    Ehal-e-haram say in kee riwayaat cheen lo,

    wrench away their traditions from the people of the Haram,

    Ahu ko marghzaar-e-khatan say nikal do.

    drive away the deer out of the musk pastures.

    By Skepticle 01/12/2018 17:35:01