Ulema-State Alliance Came Into Existence To Curb The Political Rise Of Shias
1. Secular Rulers used the Ulema- State alliance to curb the political opposition.
2. Ghazali's takfiri ideology led to religious degradation in Muslim society.
3. Execution of thinkers and philosopher led to intellectual vaccum in Islamic countries.
By New Age Islam Staff Writer
22 February 2022
A recent study has found out the growing degradation of democratic values in the world, particularly in the US and India. This degradation has resulted from a number of political, religious and social factors like partisan pressure in electoral process, criminal justice system, harassment of journalists and critics of the government and growing economic disparity.
However, this democratic recess is not witnessed in only non-Muslim societies but also in Islamic countries. In fact, it has a long history in the Muslim world. In Islamic world this trend of suppressing democracy can be seen in the Ulema-State Alliance forged in the 11th century in Baghdad and was only strengthened in later periods. In fact this nexus proved useful for rulers of both religious and secular governments. Mr Faizur Rahman quotes Mr T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science in San Diego State University from his book "Islam, Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison to show how Al Ghazali's extremist and Takfiri ideology contributed to the recession of democratic values in Muslim majority countries. The Seljuk empire in fact gave way to the Takfiri ideology by appointing extremist Islamic ideologue Al Ghazali as a teacher in Nizamia Madrasa of Baghdad. Ghazali declared thinkers and philosophers having liberal and unorthodox views on God and religion as apostates and declared their views as blasphemy and was of the opinion that they should be executed.
This domination of Ulema later grew with both Shia and Sunni rulers patronising Ulema to have a greater control over free thinking intellectuals so that they could not influence the people against them. Therefore the Sunni Ottomans, Shia Safvids and Sunni Mughals established their own version of state-ulema allaince.
Surprisingly even secular countries found this alliance conducive to their rule. Therefore, secular countries like Turkey and Pakistan also used Islam and clergy to suppress criticism. Pakistan's dictator Ziaul Haque and democratically elected PM Imran Khan both used this alliance to protect their political interests. This resulted in the democratic recession.
Another reason for the backwardness of Muslim countries is their aversion to new technology and scientific development. When printing press was invented, the Western countries used this technology to spread knowledge and wisdom but the Ottoman caliphate issued a fatwa against the printing press. This prevented Islamic society from dissemination of scientific knowledge their scientists had acquired.
As a whole, the Ulema-State nexus in Islamic countries is the root cause of the political and scientific backwardness among the Muslims and of undemocratic policies of Islamic governments
By A. Faizur Rahman
21 Feb 2022
Democracy is rapidly declining across the globe. This is the finding of reports published in 2021 by some influential non-governmental research and advocacy organisations such as Freedom House, V-Dem, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, and Cato Institute. Consequently, large democracies including the U.S. and India found themselves downgraded, among other things, on grounds of partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias in the criminal justice system, discriminatory policies, violence against Muslims, harassment of journalists and other government critics, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence.
The Ulema-State Alliance
If for most non-Muslim countries this sort of democratic recession is a recent phenomenon, Muslim nations have been scourged by it for a long time. In fact, the election of the first post-Prophetic Caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakr, was mired in controversy. According to a supposedly sahih (authentic) hadith in Bukhari, after the Prophet’s death, the Ansar community in Medina wanted the Caliphate to be jointly headed by two ameers (leaders), one each from the Ansar and the Meccan tribe, Quraish. But Abu Bakr, a Quraishite, allegedly refused saying, “No, we will be the rulers and you will be the ministers, for they [the Quarish] are the best family amongst the Arabs and of best origin.” He wanted the Ansar to elect Quraishites Hazrat Umar or Abu Ubaida bin Al-Jarrah. But Umar’s refusal resulted in Abu Bakr himself being finally chosen as the first Caliph.
What is unbelievable about this whole episode is Abu Bakr’s alleged tribal insularity. The Prophet in his famous farewell sermon had upheld human equality and categorically stated that every evil pre-Islamic practice including racism, ethnic superiority, and all forms of hereditary excellence stood abolished and lay trampled beneath his feet.
That Hazrat Abu Bakr being the Prophet’s closest companion did not go against any of his teachings is proved by the fact that his caliphate was not marred by any kind of discrimination or partisanship. Therefore, the only other possibility is, such hadiths were fabricated as part of a collaborative venture between later rulers and pliable Muslim theologians to contain statements the Prophet or his companions did not make, with a view to justifying dynastic caliphates.
Ahmet T. Kuru, Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, calls this caliph-cleric symbiosis the “ulema-state alliance”. In his iconoclastic book Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison, he explains how this dodgy association began in 11th-century Baghdad and continued for centuries to leave behind a legacy of authoritarianism and underdevelopment in the 20thcentury Muslim world.
The alliance was the egregious outcome of some Sunni caliphs’ eagerness to unify Sunnis in the hope of creating an ideological bulwark against the rising Shii states in North Africa, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. It resulted in the establishment of a “Sunni Creed” that branded Shiis, rationalist theologians, and philosophers as apostates liable to be executed.
However, as this unholy nexus did not exist in early Islamic history, Prof. Kuru argues, contemporary political and socioeconomic problems of Muslim countries cannot be simplistically attributed to Islam or Western colonialism.
The institutions that fostered the ulema-state alliance were the Nizamiya madrasas founded by Nizamul Mulk (d. 1092 CE), the vizier of the Seljuq Empire who served as its de facto ruler for two decades after the assassination of Sultan Alp Arslan in 1072. It was Nizamul Mulk who made the fateful decision of appointing the polymathic theologian Al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE) as a teacher in Baghdad's Nizamiya madrasa in 1091.
And it was Ghazali, writes Prof. Kuru, who helped legitimise the idea of declaring even self-avowed Muslims as apostates. He pronounced free-thinking philosophers who held unorthodox views on God and the nature of afterlife infidels whose life and property the Islamic state had the right to take. In short, Ghazali's influential theology, which considered religion and state to be interdependent twins, rendered extraQuranic legalism almost unquestionable and ultimately paved the way for laws that created the capital offenses of blasphemy and apostasy.
This would not have been possible had the earlier bourgeoisie-ulema alliance not been wrecked by the ulema-state alliance. For before the latter dramatically emerged in the 11th-century it was the merchant class that was funding the ulema and philosophers, thus ensuring their independence. But the Seljuq policy of bringing the economy, especially agricultural revenues, under military control weakened the economic capacity and social position of merchants forcing the ulema to depend on the state for support which came at a huge cost.
The Seljuq model not only endured but spread to other Sunni states in the vicinity. Prof. Kuru points out that the Crusader and Mongol invasions accelerated the expansion because Muslim communities sought refuge from these onslaughts in military and religious authorities.
Later, around the 16th-century, three powerful Muslim states — the Sunni Ottoman, the Shii Safavid, and the Sunni Mughal Empire — established versions of the ulema–state alliance in territories extending from the Balkans to Bengal resulting in the socio-cognitive backwardness of the regions they ruled. In contrast, during this period the printing revolution had led the West out of the Dark Ages to the Age of Enlightenment.
Put differently, the Muslim world was in a state of intellectual stagnation long before Western colonisation economically impoverished it, a fact symbolised by the 16th-century Ottoman fatwa against the printing press.
Secularisation Of Muslims States
Surprisingly, even the secularisation of some of the Muslim states established in the early 1900s (such as Turkey) did not free them from authoritarianism. Prof. Kuru gives three reasons for this. First, most 20thcentury secularist leaders were former military officers and could not appreciate the importance of intellectuals and the bourgeoisie. Second, their authoritarian modernist ideas led them to impose state control over the economy by restricting the intellectual and bourgeois classes. Third, secularist rulers used Islam to legitimise their regimes by co-opting established ulema at the expense of independent Islamic scholars. Besides, secular Muslim states experienced Islamisation of public life as a result of policy failures and people harbouring an anti-intellectual attitude under the influence of the ulema. The ongoing hijab controversy in India shows that this can happen even in non-Muslim democratic states.
So, how does one undo the doctrinaire statism that prevails in most Muslim countries today, especially in Turkey and Pakistan? Prof. Kuru's advice is: the relationship between Islam and the state must be redesigned in a way that would promote intellectual and economic creativity.
The ulema and authoritarians must pay heed.
A. Faizur Rahman is Secretary-General of the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought.
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