Quarterly: Issue No 50
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DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF MUHAMMAD (SAW)
The United States boasts about democracy as being an invention which it alone has spread all over the free world, but according to the bare facts of history, democracy is not an American invention. It is thought that democracy was first practiced in Rome BC where the Caesar was elected by the members of the Senate. But this Roman experience could easily be detected as an incomplete democracy, as the senators themselves were representatives of aristocracy and social elites who did not voice the common Romans as much as they voiced their own caste. No matter how short-lived and incomplete the Roman experience might have been, it was highly priced for being a privilege to all humanity and a step forward towards more mature types of democracy.
The First Democracy
The first true democracy which addressed the public at large, specially in sensitive issues like electing the ruler, was recorded immediately after the death of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam).
When Prophet Muhammad knew that his last moments to depart from his companions were nearing, he wanted to settle the issue of his successor to prevent people from having to be split among themselves; specially that the newborn state he established in the Arabian Peninsula was full of, not only varying but also, historically rivalling ethnic, tribal and political factions.
Deep within himself, Prophet Muhammad wanted his best friend and companion during the Hijrah, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr, to succeed him, but he could not have had his wish outspoken because this would have gone against people's human right to choose their ruler. He only asked Sayyiduna Abu Bakr to lead the people during his last illness in the congregational prayer in a symbolic gesture of his wish. He did not do any more to let the people understand his will, which if he had declared frankly, people would have obeyed him blindly. But for our beloved Prophet, more important than having Sayyiduna Abu Bakr as his successor, was to educate his people the principle of democracy as the only cornerstone for building a modern state which guarantees social justice and national security. It must be noted here that although most people understood the gesture, yet others insisted on practicing their right to choose.
Two Main Political Parties
At the time of the Prophet's death, the main political parties in Madinah were the Muhajiroon (the emigrants — mainly those who emigrated with him from Makkah to Madinah to escape tyranny) and the Ansaar, or the supporters. The Ansaar were the inhabitants of Madinah who received him and his people, hosted them and divided their own wealth and belongings amongst them. After the Ansaar had collected themselves together, on hearing the news of the Prophet's death, their leaders held a meeting in the colonnade or "Thaqeefah Bani Saad" which was a special place for public congregations, and they prepared their nominee, Saad ibn Ubaadah, for the position of a successor. Their obvious reasoning for claiming the position in their campaign was that the Prophet made Madinah the capital of the huge Islamic state; therefore it became logical that the ruler should be one of its inhabitants. In an eloquent oration, their nominee Saad ibn Ubaadah listed proofs of his privilege, he said:
“You the people of Ansaar! You have a privilege in Islam that no other tribe has got. Muhammad lived more than ten years amongst his people in Makkah calling them to worship Allah and abandon worshipping idols, but they did not believe him except for very few men who could not protect him or his religion or even protect themselves against oppression. But Allah has favoured you with these honours of believing in Him and His Messenger, supporting the Prophet and his companions, elevating His religion and fighting His enemies…”
The Muhajiroon leaders, who hurried to the colonnade to participate in the meeting, started their campaign by an oration given by Sayyiduna Abu Bakr himself to assert the Muhajiroon's right to the position. When Sayyiduna Abu Bakr was leading the campaign, he did not think of himself as a candidate but he was running it in favour of Sayyiduna Umar ibn Al-Khattab as the party candidate.
Election Fever Heats up
In our modern so-called ‘civilized’ election campaigns, nominees bring about all possible scandals of their rivals even if they have to spy on their private lives, and if they don't find any they don't hesitate to fake them either. In today’s modern world, the ends always justify means.
But Sayyiduna Abu Bakr ran his campaign in a different way. In his impressive oration, the prelude did not go for elevating his own party or nominee but rather for mentioning the privileges of the rival one of Ansaar.
And then he started listing his reasons for claiming the position. He said:
“You all know that the Prophet said: 'If all people choose to walk in a certain valley while Ansaar choose to walk in another, I'll take the same valley of Ansaar'. You Ansaar deserve whatever good I may say about you. But the Arabs will not admit this position except for the tribe of Quraish (to which the Muhajiroon belonged). Quraish is the centre of the Arab world as for both place and kinship.”
Then he took the hand of Sayyiduna Umar ibn Al-Khattab and asked people to swear allegiance to him. Such logic succeeded in attracting voters from the other camp to join the Muhajiroon side, one of them said: “Yes, Prophet Muhammad is from Quraish and his people have the right to succeed him, so don't argue with them about it.”
Sayyiduna Umar ibn Al-Khattab then stood up and asked the people:
“Don't you know that the Prophet gave the precedence of leading the prayers to Sayyiduna Abu Bakr?” “Yes.” they replied. “Does any one feel comfortable to precede the one whom the Prophet gave the precedence?” he asked. “No, no one does,” they said.
It was apparent that the general public opinion was going towards the Muhajiroon party. But who was their candidate? There was a short argument between Sayyiduna Abu Bakr and Sayyiduna Umar about who is going to be the Muhajiroon's candidate, as each one of the two was willing to leave it to the other. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr said to Sayyiduna Umar: “You are stronger than me.” but Sayyiduna Umar answered: “But you are better than me, and my strength will be for your sake”. At that moment everyone in the colonnade stood to take Sayyiduna Abu Bakr's hand and swear allegiance to him. On the following day while the people were attending the prayer, Sayyiduna Umar stood up and asked the people for a general allegiance to be added to the selective allegiance that the political elite gave the day before at the colonnade's meeting.
Having guaranteed the first principle of democracy namely free public election, the new ruler (Caliph) passed over to the second principle - which is freedom of expression. In his first public speech after he was elected Sayyiduna Abu Bakr said: “O you people! Although I'm not the best among you, I have been chosen to be your ruler. If I do right help me and if I do wrong correct me …”.
Running Out of Time
After Sayyiduna Abu Bakr's death, the general consent over the character of Sayyiduna Umar to succeed him saved time and procedures. But after Sayyiduna Umar's death there was again a need for election. Although he had the desire to have Sayyiduna Ali ibn Abi Talib succeeding him, Sayyiduna Umar couldn't impose his wish on the people. Before he died, Sayyiduna Umar had felt the absence of consensus around certain candidates and he was afraid of splits that may lead to a civil war, so he listed the names of six candidates and asked people to choose one from them. He gave the candidates the ultimatum of three days to settle the issue among the public to prevent any possible turmoil that might happen. His keenness over the security of the Islamic Society made him strictly give the authority to the State's chiefs to kill the six candidates in case they disputed in a way that set the Islamic Society on the path of a civil war. One of the six candidates, Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf, withdrew — although his chance was excellent — in order to run the election from outside. In a feverish race with time, he went through the city door by door knocking and taking votes. He also took the votes of army members outside the city of Madinah. He was doing his job even at night to catch up with the ultimatum set by Sayyiduna Umar.
In the last stages, votes went equally to two nominees; Sayyiduna Uthman ibn Affan and Sayyiduna Ali ibn Abi Talib. There was a need for a second round, but votes were equal too while time was running out. As Sayyiduna Umar feared, people began to feel restless and there was a fear of rout due to the delay. One of the chiefs asked Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf to give his vote and settle the issue. Feeling that his vote will settle the matter and that it is a veto for one candidate against the other, Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf tried his best to make his choice based on objective criteria rather than being emotional. He summoned Sayyiduna Ali in front of the public and asked him: “Do you swear by Allah to rule according to what is dictated in His Book and according to the Sunnah of His Messenger and the model examples of the two previous Caliphs?” Ali answered: “I hope I can, I'll try my best to do so.” Then Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf summoned Sayyiduna Uthman and asked him the same question and the latter answered: “Yes, I will”. Therefore, Abdur Rahman Ibn Auf swore allegiance to Sayyiduna Uthman and so did everybody.
This is the history of true and mature experiences of democracy which took place 1400 years ago. And there are many other lessons to be learnt by modern states of how true democracy could be built in the model of the Democratic Republic of Muhammad (peace be upon him).
The obligation to follow the opinion of those more knowledgeable than us is reported by Ibn Qayyim in his discussion of the different kinds of taqleed in his book “A’lam al-Muwaqqi’een”. He said: “There is an obligatory (wajib) taqleed, a forbidden taqleed, and a permitted taqleed. The obligatory taqleed is the taqleed of those who know better than us, as when a person has not obtained knowledge of an evidence from the Qur'an or the Sunnah concerning something. Such a taqleed has been reported from Imam al-Shafi’i in many places, where he would say: “I said this in taqleed of Umar” or “I said that in taqleed of Uthman” or “I said that in taqleed of Ata.” As al-Shafi’i said concerning the Companions -- may Allah be well pleased with all of them: “Their opinion for us is better than our opinion to ourselves.”” This is the meaning of Imam Ahmad's (ibn Hanbal) frequent warning in his answers: “Beware of speaking on a matter regarding which you don't stand on an imam (as your precedent)”: (iyyaka an tatakallama fi mas’alatin laysa laka fiha imam). Another saying of his under al-Ma’mun’s Inquisition was: “How can I say what was never said before? (kayfa aqoolu ma lam yuqal)”, quoted by Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah in his Majmu’ al-Fataawa.
Among the evidences for the probative value of ijma’ is the Prophet's statement, on him be peace: “My Community will never agree on error.” The content of this Hadith is so well-known that it is impossible to lie about it [mutawaatir] simply because it is produced in so many narrations, for example: “My Community will not come together on misguidance”; “A group of my Community will continue on truth until the coming of the Hour.”; “The hand of Allah is with the Congregation”; “Whoever separates from the Congregation…”; “Whoever leaves the Community or separates himself from it by the length of a span, dies the death of the Jahiliyya (period of ignorance prior to Islam).” etc. Are our modern Salafis really following the Sunnah and the Salaf al-Salih?
Imam al-Tahawi said in his Aqida al-Tahawiyya: “We do not separate [in belief and practice] from the largest group of the Muslims.” (Walaa nukhaalifu jamaa’at al-muslimeen).
The commentators have explained that the "largest group of the Muslims" here refers to the ijma’ al-mujtahideen or Consensus of the Majority of Scholars of Islamic Law.
Both the knowledge of the questions on which there is Consensus, and that of the differences of opinions on the questions on which there isn't, are requirements of Islamic scholarship. The first scholar to compile a list of questions on which there was Consensus was Ibn al-Mundhir with his Kitab al-Ijma’ in which he lists 765 questions of worship and social transactions -- leaving out doctrine -- on which there is agreement among the majority of scholars, which is enough to form Consensus according to the definition of al-Shafi’i and others such as Tabari and Abu Bakr al-Razi.
Tirmidhi reports Abdullah Ibn al-Mubarak's view that jama’a means the concentration of the manners and knowledge of the Sunna in a living person (or group of persons) at any given time, i.e. without the necessity of their forming the Congregation of Muslims. Abu Bakr ibn al-’Arabi al-Maliki in his book Aridat al-ahwadhi remarks that this is one of the many meanings of the word, and that the most common meaning is that of Congregation in the large sense.
Shaikh Ibn Taymiyya has two contradictory views about ijma’. In the Mukhtasar al-Fatawa al-Misriyya, he says: “The Consensus of the Imams [of fiqh] on a question is a definitive proof, and their divergence of opinion is a vast mercy”; (Al-a’imma ijtimaa’uhum hujjatun qat’iyyatun wa ikhtilaafuhum rahmatun waasi’atun) and in this same book he also said: “If one does not follow any of the four Imams [of fiqh]... then he is completely in error, for the truth is not found outside of these four in the whole Shari’ah”.
In the second view Shaikh Ibn Taymiyya departs from the above and divides the definition of ijma’ into two kinds, a general one as expressed in views similar to the above, and a particular one to which he reserves particular adherence, which is that of the Salaf (Pious Predecessors). He says in his Aqeedatul Wasitiyyah:
The Ahlus-Sunnah are also called Ahlul-Jamaa’ah because jamaa’ah (Community) implies ijtima’ (gathering), its opposite being furqah (separation), and the expression jamaa’ah has become a name for people who share the same conviction, while ijma’ (Consensus) is the third principle (asl) on which knowledge of divine law (ilm) and Religion (din) rest. Ijma’ is defined as everything which people follow (jami’ ma ‘alayh al-Naas) in matters of religion. But the ijma’ to which there is to be meticulous adherence is what the first pious generation (al-Salaf al-Salih) agreed upon, for after them divergences became numerous and the Community became spread out.
Note that Shaikh Ibn Taymiyya scatters the concept of ijma’ between two diametrically opposed areas: the amorphous, unfalsifiable mass of “the people” on the one hand, and the bygone, crystallized era of the Salaf. The above departs from the position of all four schools of Fiqh, for whom the notion of ijma’ rests on two fundamentals:
a) the Consensus of Muslim scholars;
b) the Consensus of Muslim scholars at any given time in history.
It is very clear that Shaikh Ibn Taymiyya had departed from the Hanbali school's position although Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that for the single scholar to leave ijma’ constitutes shudhudh (dissent and deviation) - see Rawdat al-Nazir. Shaikh Ibn Taymiyya was severely taken to task for this by scholars such as Shaykh al-hafiz Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Taqi al-Din al-Hisni al-Dimashqi, Imam al-San’ani, and others.
May Allah guide us all in understanding Islam in its pristine purity! Ameen!
Requesting your humble duas!
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir,
Umhlanga Rocks, KZN,