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Authors: Nayab Naseer

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BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
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Imam
Ahmed’s turn to be arrested came
soon enough. When persuasions and threats failed, he was subjected
to corporal punishment and imprisonment in chains.
Imam
Ahmed nevertheless refused to abjure his beliefs.

As
imam
Ahmed was being taken in irons
to be dealt by
kalifah
al-Ma’mun himself, he supplicated to
Allah to prevent his meeting al-Ma’mun. His prayer was answered in
the sudden death of al-Ma’mun. Mohammed bin Nuh, the other person
who stood firm was unable to withstand the torture and passed away
on their return journey.

Al-Mu'tasim assumed the office of
khilafat
. Unlike al-Ma’mun, he was a destitute to knowledge,
but nevertheless continued the ‘Minha inquisition’ as explicitly
requested by al-Ma’mun in his will. His rule was the most brutal
towards the orthodox scholars in general, and
imam
Ahmad in
particular who intransigently continued to resist all attempts by
the authorities to force him to acknowledge the creation of the
Quran.

The frustrated
kalifah
finally ordered
imam
Ahmad to be flogged in public. This was carried out and
imam
Ahmed fell unconscious. The resultant commotion in
Baghdad reached an uncontrollable pitch, and Mu’tasim found it
prudent to release
imam
Ahmed from prison.

After al-Mu’tasim’s death, al-Wathiq took
over as the
kalifah
, and ordered his loyal Mu’tazilite judge
in Egypt, Ibn Abi al-Layth to press hard with the inquisition. The
masjids of Egypt had inscriptions written on them: ‘There is no God
but Allah, the Lord of the Created Quran.’ Prisons now became full
with jurists and traditionalists who resisted the government
demands. In Baghdad, however, the public became enraged over the
treatment smote to
imam
Ahmed, which made it difficult for
al-Wathiq to pursue the inquisition with same vigor. He therefore,
instead of re-imprisoning
imam
Ahmad, resolved on banishing
him from Baghdad, saying: “Do not live with me on this earth!”
Imam
Ahmad went into exile.

Towards the end of al-Wathiq’s reign, one
Ahmad bin Nasr al-Khazai, a student of
imam
Shafi was
charged for organizing an uprising in Baghdad. When he was brought
to al-Wathiq in chains, the latter, instead of asking him about his
role in the uprising, questioned him about his belief in the
creation of the Quran, to which Ahmad al-Khazai gave the standard
Sunni reply that the Quran is the speech of Allah. The enraged
kalifah
, upon hearing his response, personally decapitated
him. His head remained in Baghdad while his body remained on a
crucifix in Samarra for six years, a grisly warning to potential
rebels.

***

 

While the minha inquisition was in full flow
in Baghdad, the travels of
imam
Bukhari had taken him to
then great Central Asian city of Nishapur. He received a grand
reception, and wished to settle down there and devote himself to
teaching
hadeeth
. Here, he meet Muslim ibn al-
Hajj
aj,
may Allah have mercy on him.
Imam
Muslim became
imam
Bukhari’s student, and eventually authored ‘Sahi Muslim.’

Imam
Ahmed, exiled from Baghdad also
reached Nishapur. The two great
imam
s met here and
Imam
Bukhari gave his wholehearted support to
imam
Ahmed’s cause. This brought them to the wrong side of the
amir
of Nishapur, Khalid ibn Ahmad al-Dhuhali, and both
Bukhari and Ahmed were exiled from the town.

After al-Wathiq’s death, his brother
al-Mutawakkil became the
kalifah
. Unlike his predecessors,
he had the utmost respect and admiration for the orthodox Sunni
school. Promptly after assuming office, he sent orders throughout
the
khilafat
to put an immediate end to all discussions
regarding the Quran, released all prisoners of faith, dismissed the
Mu’tazilite judges, and more significantly deported the chief
instigator of the inquisition, Ahmad bin Abi
Du'a
d along
with his family. He further ordered the Mu’tazilite judges
responsible for the inquisition cursed by name, from the
pulpits.

The Mu’tazilate advance ended here, and
imam
Ahmed's stature rose as the hero who stood up against
the despot rulers.

Very soon, one Ibn Kullub sought to reconcile
between traditionalists and rationalists by championing the
traditionalist cause using rationalist weaponry. However, his
efforts were rendered a failure since
imam
Ahmad issued a
decree of boycott against him for practicing speculative theology.
Such was also the case with some of the early ascetics like al
Harith al Muhasibi, who used to have large gatherings of sermons.
It only needed one statement from
imam
Ahmad to diminish
al-Muhasibi’s status, which caused him to die in exile with only a
few people to pray over his funeral. Such was the strength of the
traditionalist movement and the insignificance of the rationalist
movement.

Al-Mutawakkil showed his utmost reverence to
the hero of the inquisition
imam
Ahmad, and wished to take
care of all his affairs.
Imam
Ahmad, however, turned down
the offers due to his general dislike of being close to the rulers.
Al-Mutwakkil, knowing that
imam
Ahmad would refuse his
offerings presented some gifts to his son, Salih bin Ahmad. When
this came to
imam
Ahmed’s knowledge, he showed strong
disapproval and refused to consume anything from his son’s
wealth.

On Friday, the 12th Rabi' al-Awwal 241 AH,
(31st July 855 CE)
imam
Ahmed breathed his last. The news of
his death spread far and wide in the city and people flooded the
streets to attend his funeral.

Imam
Ahmad’s death proved the
ineffectiveness of the
kalifah
’s role in defining Islam, and
further unquestionably acknowledged that it were the scholars,
rather than the
kalifah
s, who became the true ‘inheritors of
the Prophets.’

Imam
Ahmed, spent forty years of his
life in the pursuit of knowledge, and only thereafter assumed the
position of a mufti. Yet, he did not suffice himself with seeking
knowledge. He also adorned it with actions by making
jihad
,
performing the guard duty at the frontiers of the
kalifah
and making
hajj
five times, twice on foot. He was equally
considered a leading example in material and spiritual asceticism,
for he lived a very simple life, detached from worldly pleasures.
He is often compared to Abu Bakr, the first
kalifah
, as a
single-handed champion of orthodoxy.

***

 

Imam
Bukhari, exiled from Nishapur,
traveled to Khartank, a village near Bukhara, at the request of its
inhabitants. He settled there and died in 256 AH (870 CE), sixty
years old. Like the funeral of
imam
Ahmed, the entire
populace of the town and vicinity came out to pay their last homage
to one of the greatest sons of Islam.

Imam
Bukhari spend more than sixteen
years traveling and meeting over eighty thousand people, retaining
in his memory one million
hadeeths
from them. From this vast
treasure house of knowledge he drew up his al-Jami' al-Sahih, a
collection of oven seven thousand tested traditions, arranged in
chapters so as to afford bases for a complete system of
jurisprudence without the use of speculative law. This book is
considered second only to the Quran in terms of authenticity.
Bukhari also composed other books, including al-Adab al-Mufrad, a
collection of
hadeeths
on ethics and manners, as well as two
books containing biographies of
hadeeth
narrators.

***

 

Ibn Kullub’s efforts did not go in vain
either. After the death of
imam
Ahmed, there appeared
Abul-Hasan al-Ash’ari who revived the attempt of reconciling
between traditionalism and rationalism.

Abul-Hasan al-Ash’ari was brought up in a
prominent Mu’tazilite household under the care of a hardcore
Mu’tazilite theologian Abu ‘Ali al-Jubbai. For forty years he
nourished on the Mu’tazilite version of Greek philosophy and
theology, which were to have a lasting effect on his thought. As to
why exactly al-Ash’ari left Mu’tazilism and made a sudden reversal
remains obscure, but it is was probably because the Mu’tazilites
were rapidly losing ground, and now royal patronage as well.

Al Ash’ari and the later Asharis held
comprehension of unique nature and characteristics of God were
beyond human capability and that while man had free will, he had no
power to create anything. They believed Quran is eternal, but only
when put into the Arabic language it became speech. In Arabic this
“eternal speech” came to be known as the Quran, in Hebrew it had
already became “Injeel” and “Torah.” Unlike Mu’tazilites, they
believed in the sirat (bridge over hellfire) and eternity of
hell-fire for die-hard sinners. Some later Asharis resorted to
interpretation of some of the allegorical attributes in the Quran,
initially in an effort to curb the waves of anthropomorphism that
were raging in their time. They based these interpretations on the
Arabic language and the contexts of the verses. Anything whose
interpretation was not abundantly clear to them, such as the Vision
of Allah for the believers in the Hereafter, they deferred to
Allah.

After the demise of al-Ash’ari, only a few
scholars adhered to the Ash’ari school, and were constantly
attacked by the orthodox scholars, often cursed publicly for
employing speculative theology. The famous creed authored by the
Abbasid
kalifah
al-
Qadi
r endorsed traditionalist
beliefs and attacked the rationalist movement including the
Mu’tazilites and the Asharites.

It was during the 5th
hijri
century
(11th century CE), when Nidham al-Mulk, the Seljuk
vizier
who had the Abbasid
kalifah
in his grip established a
network of colleges that became known after him as Nidhamiyya
Colleges that the Asharis could rise to prominence. Nidham ul Mulk
was an Asharite and filled the colleges with Asharis. He further
made fiqh lessons exclusively from the teachings of
imam
Shafi. This sudden influx of power for the neo-rationalist movement
caused many riots in Baghdad between the traditionalist and the
rationalists, who now began calling themselves the “Shafis.”

Thanks to official patronage, most of the
scholars that resulted from the Nidhamiyya colleges were influenced
by Ashari beliefs, and three such luminaries are Al Ghazzali (d.
505 AH - 1111 CE), Fakhr al Din Razi (d. 606 AH – 1209 CE) and ibn
Khalladun (d. 809 AH – 1406 CE).

 

Al Ghazzali, the Persian polymath advocated
the use of speculative theology to quell doubts, not to establish
dogmas. His work “The Incoherence of the Philosophers", is the most
famous Ashari work. Through this, Ghazzali succeeded in laying the
groundwork to "shut the door of
ijtihad
" in the subsequent
centuries in all Sunni Muslim state. Fakhr al-Din Razi was a
Persian mathematician, physicist, physician, philosopher and a
master of speculative theology. Ibn Khalladun was the famous North
African born Arab Muslim historian, pedagogue, philosopher
particularly interested in history and sociology.

Thanks to such scholars, the
ulema
began to generate fiqh based on
taqlid
rather than on the
ijtihad
. The Ottoman
kalifah
s, who soon became the
dominant force in Muslim lands found this a convenient tool to
retain their power, and as such did their mite to promote it.

During this time, the traditionalists who
clung on to the legacy of Ahmed ibn Hanbal came to be known as
Hanbalis. The legacy of
imam
Ahmed was taken over first by
Ibn Taymiyyah, and then by Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahab.

THE EYE OF GOLIATH

In the 7th
hijri
century (13th Century
CE), the mostly Buddhist Mongols launched one of the largest
assaults in history and met with remarkable success. For the first
time since the seventh century CE there was no azan in the vast
stretch of land stretching from China to Syria, all across Central
Asia and the Fertile (now Desolate) crescent. The Muslims found
themselves a repressed majority, their population decimated, their
cities destroyed, their masjids turned into horse barns, their
libraries and centers of culture burned, and everything of
literature and culture torn to shreds.

On one occasion, a Mongol had entered a
street in which there were one hundred men, he went on killing one
by one, till he killed them all, and not even one raised his hand
against the Mongol to harm him. On another occasion, a Mongol got
hold of a man but could not find any weapon to kill him, so he told
the man: “Put your head over this stone and do not move…” and so
the man put his head over the stone and remained there till another
Mongol came with a sword and killed him.

Such ineptness made Hulagu yearn for more and
more. After the pillage of Baghdad, he retired to his capital near
Lake Urmiah in North West Iran, and left the task of annihilating
the Islamic state to his equally blood thirsty general Ketbuga.

Ketbuga immediately set out for Syria and
Egypt – the last two Muslim states in the Islamic heartland. Though
Salauddin Ayyubi had recovered Jerusalem for the Muslims, the
Crusaders were still very much in Palestine, and they made common
cause with the Mongols.

Sultan Jalaluddin of Syria opted for flight
instead of fight. His army went into hiding in the surrounding
areas, and later fled to Cairo, where they told their sad story to
Sultan Qutuz, the Mamluke sultan of Egypt. Qutuz showed them favor,
sympathized with them, and gave them much money.

BOOK: Stories from Islamic History
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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