Thursday, 19 November 2015

Muslim Political Classics

Trying to Understand Shah-i-Hamdan (RA) in the Liberal Democratic World.
“Political Islam” and Muslim religious nationalism have been with us for quite some time achieving very little in political terms but continuing to be seen as an aspiration of majority of Muslims. Although these are essentially modern phenomena and ideologically complicit with otherwise tabo modernist ideological notions, influential medieval scholars are roped in to buttress the cases. How convincing are the arguments and how effective or relevant today needs to be seen. Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, also called Amir-i-Kabir, is one of the great but neglected Muslim political theologians who needs to be better known and carefully studied to help us develop contemporary Muslim political theology. A perusal of his writings, especially his Zakhiratul Malook and Letters that constitute key sources for exploring his political theology, today in the post-secular (and for many post-theological) world while taking note of newer voices in both political theology and philosophy, constitutes an important unfinished task for Muslim thought. This column series seeks to explore the problem of engaging with medieval Muslim political theology in light of modern Islamist ideologies appropriating it for their own purposes.
      Shahi Hamadan’s theologico-political writings including his Zakhiratul Malook and Letters may be cited as an inspiration for political Islam fighting for implementation of Islamic State. On the surface a very convincing case is formed by taking certain isolated pages and paragraphs or statements from it. One can cite statements calling for treating other religious communities as second class citizens, for moral policing, for exclusive ideological system that is fundamentally intolerant of religious and ideological other. One can find, according to critics, almost ISIS and Taliban ideologue here and there. The question is how do we today relate to our medieval authorities and contest their framing in currently fashionable violent mode of political Islam? Besides it will be argued that no medieval text may be taken unquestionably in the face of changed realities in the world that necessitate reconstruction of Islamic political thought in light of now largely neglected traditionalist political thought. This will also require taking cognizance of secularizing currents of political thought, however. Hamdani has to be read in light of traditional political thought which informs, partly, some of the best minds in modern political thought. The idea of traditionalization of political thought that I call for, partly building on Hamdani, is what neither so-called radical Islam nor reformist Islam nor revivalist Islam stand for in letter and spirit. This rather than embracing secular model of polity that vetoes the Sacred Order is what I call for and see Hamdani calling for.
      To engage with the “problematic” content – to modern sensibility including Sufi sensibility – of his writings, especially Zakhiratul Mulook on which I focus, I first delineate key elements of what is supposed to constitute this problematic content. This problematic content is first of all his what appears to be extreme “obsession” with Shariah implementation in general and then all the debatable inferences that raise eyebrows including such edicts as ban on music, institution of strict moral policing and most importantly his appropriation of Hazrat Omar’s precedent for a strict implementation of what is called by some modern critics, as manifesto for second class citizenship for other religious communities.
      In the beginning we need to emphasize the point that Hamdani is a Sufi through and through and has clearly stated his doctrine of unity of being that excludes any construction of a religious other in the sense that would warrant othering or marginalizing on religious grounds.
      The question of Shariah implementation that has been an object of heated debate between Isalmists and their religious and secular critics may be understood better if separated into two elements viz. invoking God’s sovereignty or final authority for everything in Revelation and pushing for certain legalistic opinions supposed to constitute Shariah. Let us note that all traditional authorities across cultures and religions agree on the first clause in their own way. Traditional political thought is more or less Platonic invoking the care of the self or soul as the chief end of politics and that to be achieved through attention to transcendental moorings and grounding of ethico-spiritual enterprize in supra-rational traditional founts that the notion of the Sacred books/Revelation connotes. There is no purely secular ideal envisaged in traditional political theory and thus there can’t be in Hamadani either. What is to be debated is not dispensability of God’s sovereignty or Sacred Law but what it exactly means to invoke God as Law giver and distinguishing between God’s laws and human interpretations of them. Let us note that the father of Western philosophy has also a book on the type of Zakhiratul Mulook  called Laws and we have highly respected political philosopher Voegelin arguing for it.
      Muslims, generally speaking, can’t, as believing people, have issues with medieval political thought on either the notion of divine sovereignty or primacy of sacred law. Critics of the model of Islamization of State (in whom one can name not only leading modernist scholars but well known authorities from traditional ulama camp – we know  big names who separated from Jam'at-e-Islami disagreeing on Syed Moududi’s interpretation or model of Islamic State) don’t imply thereby any disrespect for the Sacred law or God’s ultimate sovereignty. There are theological and politico-philosophical critiques of essentially modern notion of Islamic State. One can cite philosophers such as Al-Farabi and modern scholars from Ali Abdel Razziq to Dabashi and the whole bunch of what identify themselves as Muslim feminists (to be distinguished from secular feminists) all targeting certain standard model of political Islam but none can be accused of inauthenticity though one might respectfully disagree with their position). One might also point out that If Shah-i-Hamdan is to be properly read he needs to be appreciated in light of modern Platonists and traditionalist political thinkers and such modern thinkers as Agamben and Zizek, all of whom target a certain understanding of democracy or liberal model in the name of something more foundational that is largely the concern of religion.  So far I don’t know if any study has been done in this respect. Let us not forget that almost all great names in political thought till recent times have spoken for a conception of politics that is sharply divergent from the secular liberal democratic model that today seems to be largely unquestionable. How far from unquestionable is this model may be gleaned from the contributors (most of which are highly regarded names, including Agamben, Zizek, Bodieu, Ranciere, Jean-Luc Nancy in their respective fields) of a recent text Democracy in What State? on the theme of democracy.  It means there is scope for questioning the hegemony of secular reason and secular polity and the need to engage with theonomous reason and the traditional/Islamic political thought for developing more humane and Spirit centric politics. However fundamentalist appropriation of traditional political thought needs to be questioned from within, as purely and exclusively secular critiques can’t be accepted by the community of believers in different traditions. Hamdani does help us in evolving such a model.
      The notion of forbidding what is wrong one sees rather narrowly interpreted or problematically theorized from medieval lenses may be interpreted in light of divergent scholarly discussions on the issue. We have great diversity in opinion on what it entails and one might cite those authorities if that is needed who side with least interventionist models. Brilliant summary of the whole debate on what constitutes forbidding munkaraat may be seen in Michael Cook’s Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought. The reader is referred to some dissenting opinions from traditional Islamic authorities on the notion of forbidding what is wrong as implying that brand of moral policing that appears reprehensible to modern sensibility wedded to the sacred idea of freedom.

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