By M.Hanif Lakdawala
Islamic thought, shariah and Fiqh as it exist today has metamorphosed through various processes and stages before reaching us. It is inevitable to know and understand the evolution of Islamic thought and Fiqh through different stages so that the issues and needs of the new millennium could be successfully dealt with.
Basically all the religions have two stages. Initial phase is the foundation phase, that is the period of the founder of the religion. The founder conveys his message and passes away. The second phase is the interpretative phase. In this phase the companions interpret the message and put forward explanations and reasoning. As the time, circumstances and needs of the society change, the interpretation , explanation and reasoning also change, culminating in various groups, sects and sub sects, in the religion.
The history of the evolution of Islamic thought and various schools, for the purpose of convenience can be divided into six phases;
First Phase: Period of Inception
Revolution and faith in action were the hallmark of this phase. The revelation starts in the year 610 and ends in 632/11. The moral, social and religious revolution was brought about by the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) and his companions. The old and decayed system of exploitation and anarchy was uprooted and a just and democratic social order based on the teachings of Qur’an was established. Why, and how were not asked. Revolution under the guidance of holy Prophet was the sole aim of the companions.
Second Phase: Period of Collection and Application
This is the period of the first four Caliphs [632-661/61] - Iran, Sham, Palestine etc. came under Islamic rule. The message of Islam reached the far flung nations. As newer areas with different traditions, customs and cultures came under Islamic rule, administrative issues and problems cropped up. In most of the cases the customs and traditions, if they were not against the Islamic teachings were accepted.
Another pre-occupation of this phase was the religious and educational training of the new entrants to the Islamic fold.
Third Phase : The End of first four Caliph’s
Started with the end of the first four Caliphs and the beginning of the Ummayad rule [661-61] and ended after a 400 year rule, [1055/447]. This is the period of challenges and responses. Islamic society after passing through the initial stages of practical religiosity and the period of collection and application entered the third phase of interpretations and their detailed explanations. Translation and commentary of Qur’an, collection of Hadith, principles of Fiqh, logic, Tasawuf, Islamic philosophy, literature, and history etc. are the products of this phase.
The challenge, changes and the needs of the society led to the development in the various aspects of the Islamic ideology and literature. Ijtehad acted as a catalyst to meet and fulfil the demands of the developing Islamic society.
The challenges of this period were from the two fronts, Internal and external.
The internal challenge began in the Caliphate of Uthman and the Caliphate of Ali’. The first extremist group emerged during the Battle of Shiffin fought between the supporters of Hazrat Ali and Mauviya in 657/37. This extremist group came to be known as Khariji. They first fought the battle in support of Hazrat Ali. When Hazrat Ali’s group was on the verge of victory they shifted their loyalty. On the issue of arbitration Kharijiis declared both Hazrat Ali and Mauviya as Kafirs and expelled them from the fold of Islam.
They believed that if a Muslim commit any major sin he becomes Kafir and gets himself expelled (Kharij) from the fold of Islam. Kharijiis were the first to seek the definition of Iman, Kufr, good-deeds, sins etc.
Kharijiis emergence was like a tornado which forced the central Islamic leadership to define in detail the Islamic principles.
To face the challenges posed by the hard line attitude of the Khariji’s the first school of thought Irjaa [Postponement or hope] came into existence. The aim of the Irjaa was to protect Muslims from the Khariji’s terror and fatwa of Kufr.
They argued that life of each and every Muslim is sacred and haram for other Muslims. According to Irjaa, if any Muslim commits any major sin the decision of punishment should be postponed until the day of judgment in the hereafter and hope that Almighty Allah would pardon the sin.
Under the patronage of Ummayaid rulers, Zabariya (predestination or predetermined), Islam’s second school of thought came into existence. Zabariya credo was that humans were helpless. Every act that man does, is his destiny. Whatever happens is due to Almighty Allah’s will. If one becomes king it is Allah’s will. If another one becomes slave it is also Allah’s will. Humans have no power or rights to determine their own fate.
Zabariya in support of their arguments highlighted those verses of Qur’an which described Allah’s authority and powers, neglecting the verses espousing human power of thinking, observation, rights and responsibilities.
The repercussions of the Irjaa and Zabariya ideologies were that they led to moral degradation in the Muslim society. Muslim masses went astray hoping that their sins would be pardon, by Allah. Ummayaids, citing Zabariya’s argument, separated state from the religion. Ulema were asked to look after the religious affairs whereas administrative powers rested with the rulers. Those developments provided exclusive rights to the Ummayaids to rule according to their whims and fancies.
Instead of acquiescing a few learned Ulema unfettered the Muslim society by introducing Qadariya-the third school of thought in Islam. It is derived from the Arabic word Qadr meaning rights.
Qadariya argued that every human being was responsible for his each and every deed and action. Allah has given both rights and responsibilities with the power of thinking and observations to all humans.
Qadariya caught the imagination of the masses during the period of Hadrat Hasan al Bashri (R.A). His simplicity, character and soul stirring speeches conveyed the message of the school, far and wide.
Qadariya is the first school which discussed and defined destiny, Authority of Allah, rights and responsibilities of humans, life after death, etc., according to the teachings of Qur’an and Hadith.
Authority of Allah, and the rights of the humans till then had confused peoples of all religions. Qadariya dealt with and answered these questions within the framework of Islam and struck a fine balance between the authority of Allah and the responsibilities of mankind.
Up till now we have discussed the history of the religious thought in Islam and the challenges and responses it faced internally.
By the end of the first century A.H. Islam began to face external challenges from various religions, cultures and ideologies of that time.
For the other religions and cultures of that time Islam’s political dominance was not so dangerous as its expanding religious and cultural dominations. Qufa, Bashra, Bagdad etc. became the melting pot of various religions, cultures, philosophies and ideologies.
Islam has now got converted from practical religiosity or faith in action to philosophical speculation and dialectical theology. Islam has been face to face with the challenges from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and others.
The Muslim central leadership, on the one hand, has to defend the Islamic beliefs from the external influences, on the other hand, has to provide adequate response to the challenges posed by the slew of religions and cultures. The process of acceleration reached the apogee during this phase.
This became the reason detre for Islam’s fourth school of thought Mutzalah [rationalist]. They were cognitive. Mutazalah confronted external challenges from various religions and culture, answering their doubts and queries.
For the first time in the Islamic history Mutazalah explained and defined Islamic beliefs, ethos and basic fundamentals using logic and philosophy. In the process it laid the foundation of Islamic logic, philosophy, and literature.
The greatest achievements of Mutazalah was to explain Islamic fundamentals with the help of Unani Philosophy defining Allah’s power and authority, Tawhid life after death etc. In their later period Mutazalah accorded equal status to revelation and reasoning leading to imbalance in their approach.
Mutazalah’s excess reliance on reasoning, discommoded and estranged section of the Ulema. This led to the evolution of Islam’s fifth school, Isharah [fundamentalist]. It’s leit -motif was to accept Qur’an and Sunnah as it is. It gave utmost importance to words and the construction of the verses totally neglecting the recondite aspects of the Qur’anic message.
Isharah, deemed that the first group of Islam that is Prophet Muhammad’s companions’ method, strategy and way of living must be followed in toto, neglecting the changes and need of the society and ruling out Ijtehad. The founder of Isharah was Abdul Hasan Al Ashari . This group became famous by the name Ahle Hadith.
In the third phase Ummaids got engrossed the self aggrandizement. Majority of Ulema concentrated on the external formalism of Islam. A section amongst Ulema rectified the situation by stressing the inward and esoteric aspects. Later it become well-known by the name of Taswwuf. It metamorphosed through various stages to become an important element of Islamic beliefs.
This period shows immense progress in the sphere of Fiqh, law and jurisprudence and aided Islam to face the challenges of the time and fulfil the needs of the society.
Fourth Phase: Period of consolidation and standardization
This phase began with the Imam Gazzali’s consolidation and standardization of Islamic beliefs and teachings of various schools of thought. Before the advent of Imam Gazzali the Muslim society was in a state of Snafuor utter confusion. There was difference of opinion on various aspects of Islamic teachings, leading to conflicts and hatred amongst followers of various schools.
Imam Gazzali brought together the whole gamut of the teachings of various schools and gave Muslim society a consolidated and standardized Islamic Fiqh. This led to unity amongst Muslims and ended the prevailing obfuscation. Muslim society would always be grateful to Imam Gazzali for his extraordinary work and revolutionary vision.
Unfortunately, this consolidation and standardization of Islamic teaching ended the dynamism and growth of the Islamic thoughts and led to the phase of blind imitation and stagnation.