Translated by Ismaeel Nakhuda

Translator’s foreword: Written at the height of the Indian Independence Movement in 1938 (Sha‘ban 1357), Al-‘Itidal fi Maratib al-Rijal (Moderation in the Rankings of Men also known as Islamic Siyasat or Islamic Politics) is a lengthy letter that Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi (1898-1982) wrote to one of his students in answer to seven important and challenging questions of the time. Considering that this letter is important reading and also often read in the khanqahs connected to the Shaykh al-Hadith, Deoband.org has taken the liberty to serialise a new translation to make its benefit further widespread. Below is the translation of the answer to the second question. ((In translating Al-I‘tidal I have used a new version of the book recently published by Ittihad Book Depot Deoband that has the takhrij of hadiths by Mawlana Muhammad Jawayd Qasmi Balwi and Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Qasmi A‘zami. This version also includes subheadings that were not produced in the original version. Though I have not reproduced the takhrij in this translation, I have translated the subheadings to make reading more manageable. [Translator]))

Question Two

Who is right (on haqq) according to you? What is your view in regard to these issues?

Answer: In my view, this question of yours is so obsolete that it deserves not to be answered. Oh slave of Allah, if only you had thought about the knowledge, erudition, abstinence, piety (taqwa), integrity, depth, fear of Allah, connection to Allah, preoccupation in religious matters and firmness in religion of these respected individuals. What quality of theirs is there that I am able to place myself on the opposite side of the balance? In such a scenario, would my mouth or my pen have that much strength to adjudicate between these two seniors?

The manner of adjudicating between two individuals

Adjudicating between two individuals can only take place when the person judging has the complete aptitude to adjudicate between them, fully listens to both sides and then having listened is able to weigh their words, request answers to the objections of each and the rejoinders to answers, and then, after all this scrutiny, determine whose words carry weight and establish a view. Now you yourself evaluate the matter in that firstly my status is absolutely not that I am able to speak to these individuals as an equal and hypothetically if that were to happen on account of their noble manners, though it is impossible, then am I also in a position to weigh matters up? My status is such that even after establishing a firm view, if these respected individuals were to say regarding something that this is incorrect then I would be required to accept it, let alone scrutinise and review it.

It is necessary to fully understand an issue before commenting on it

I am astonished at people who are uneducated, their name [might be] Muhammad Fadil (or Muhammad the Erudite); they’ve read two newspapers or written a useless article in a newspaper, and then criticise those who are oceans of knowledge. Always remember, to criticise and refute a person it is necessary to have cognisance of the reality of what they say and the strength of their proofs. It is extremely foolish that without understanding the matter one begins to say things haphazardly. Our example is like that of the monkey that found a piece of ginger somewhere and began to think himself as an herbalist.

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that from among the signs of the Day of Judgement is that every person with an opinion shall consider his opinion to be good, something that is completely manifest itself today. Each person thinks [as the Persian proverb goes] there is none like me (humcho man digar-i-nayst), in that what I have understood is right, regardless of whether someone senior or junior says otherwise, or whether a scholar or someone who is prudent says something.

If one were to ponder then Hakim al-Ummah [Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi] (may Allah perpetuate the shade of his blessings) graduated as an erudite scholar in 1301 AH (1884) and has spent all of his time until now in 1357 AH engrossed in teaching and lecturing, explaining the Qur’an and the hadith, and providing spiritual pastoral guidance. He has spent over half a century diving into, understanding and explaining fiqh, the principles of religious sciences, and the Qur’an and hadith. This is an individual who has spent such a broad period in comprehending knowledge, the subtleties of the Qur’an and the finer points of fiqh—is his view so trivial that a person can spontaneously declare it to be frivolous and wrong?

Likewise, Amir al-Hind Mawlana [Husayn Ahmad] Madani graduated as an erudite scholar in 1316 AH (1898) and has spent all of his time until today in teaching and lecturing, providing spiritual pastoral guidance. He spent many years acquiring expertise in both the outer and inner sciences under the shadow of an erudite and ocean of knowledge such as Shaykh al-Hind [Mawlana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi] (may Allah have mercy on him). Thereafter, he spent the majority of his life debating political issues, in prison and under arrest, and acquiring an understanding of issues abroad. Are these individuals such that anyone can begin opposing their insight and spontaneously establish an opinion against them, especially someone as deficient as I am who is like a child in an elementary class and is similar to [the Urdu idiom] keh amadi keh pir shudi (how many days have you been around that you’re already assuming the role of a pir and murshid?). When I see the names of these seniors on posters and in newspapers, then I am left astonished and bewildered as what has the world come to, what sort of change has appeared in the world? The respect for the seniors has completely gone. If the people of knowledge, in light of their knowledge, were to say something against them, then there is some sort of leeway for this. However, these writers whose knowledge is limited to writing a newspaper column or delivering an eloquent speech refute using improper language that would be inappropriate for someone younger than one’s self. Seeing this leaves me extremely astonished.

Take my advice very carefully. Always speak on an issue that you fully understand. However, if there is something that is contrary to something that is explicitly mentioned in Shari‘ah then there is no regard for it, in that no opinion is valid that is contrary to Allah and His Prophet. In fact, it is not possible for the muqallid to oppose the explicit view of the faqihs of the past. Those issues of fiqh (mas’ala) that relate to the process of legal deduction (istinbat), each of which has an explicit text of Shari‘ah, then to intervene in that with rational opinions and immediately adjudicate between them is folly. I strongly forbid you from this, in that do not hasten in raising an objection against the people of truth (ahl-i-haqq). Speak after a lot of contemplation and thinking. Avoid this as much as possible.

In terms of being guided and going astray, matters are of three types

How beautifully did Sayyiduna ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz (may Allah have mercy on him), who was referred to as ‘Umar the Second, adjudicate on the differences among the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them): “This is blood that Allah has purified our hands from, let us not soil our tongues with it.”

If it is said that the status of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) was lofty and exalted and how can others be judged according to the same standards, then I would say that the one avoiding speaking against them was Sayyiduna ‘Umar bin ‘Abdul ‘Aziz (may Allah have mercy on him) who was a Follower (tabi‘i) of great standing. The story of Khidr and Sayyiduna Musa (peace be upon them) is famous and well known. It is mentioned in detail in the Qur’an. The saying of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) is mentioned in numerous hadiths that may Allah Most High have mercy on Sayyiduna Musa (peace be upon him), if he remained silent then we would have learned of even more astonishing actions of Khidr.

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that Sayyiduna ‘Isa (peace be upon him) said that matters are of three: one is that whose goodness is clear, follow it; the second is that whose deviance is clear, avoid it; and the third is that in which there are differing views, refer them to those who are knowledgeable in them. (Al-Tabarani) The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said that the person who is extremely bold in issuing fatwas is more bold in heading to the Fire. (Sunan Al-Darimi) Sayyiduna ‘Abdullah bin Mas‘ud (may Allah be pleased with him) said that the person who answers every question of fiqh is insane. (Sunan Al-Darimi)

The meaning of the above is that many questions are frivolously asked. It is the habit nowadays that questions are not asked for the purpose of action, rather to disgrace somebody or to plot against them. It is extremely necessary to exert a lot of care in this. In addition to this, ambiguity sometimes exists in issues. In such situations, to issue a fatwa unnecessarily is also boldness. The saying of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) has been mentioned in numerous hadiths, the summary of which is that halal is clear, haram is clear, and between them there is a lot of matters that are doubtful and one should opt for a cautious position.

Appointing the unworthy to responsible positions is from the signs of the Last Day

The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “When matters are handed to those who are undeserving, then await the Day of Judgement.” (Al-Bukhari) An example of this is when unlearned individuals begin adjudicating between learned ‘ulama. It is also mentioned in another hadith that the Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) included seeking knowledge from those who are of lower standing to be from the signs of the Day of Judgement. My purpose in mentioning all of these narrations is that is absolutely inappropriate to hasten in refuting the people of truth in those matters that relate to legal deduction (istinbat) and are not communicated through an explicit text of Shari‘ah; it is especially extremely unsuitable for juniors to speak [on such occasions]. Yes, those who are their equivalents in actions, they definitely have the right to refute without hesitation. Nevertheless, in relation to whatever is explicitly contrary to texts (nass) then [the hadith] “there is no obedience of the creation in that which is a transgression against the Creator” is a clear and open announcement.

The ruling changes when the purpose differs

Now listen carefully, the core pivot in the issues present before us is [determining] what is beneficial for Islam and Muslims; all of the particulars before us fall under this issue. The following principles of Shari‘ah and other encompassing principles (qa‘idah kulliyyah) like them are such that listing particulars (juziyyat) under them and deriving particulars from them is not the job of all and sundry: [1] Matters are determined according to their purpose. One thing could be described as halal and haram according to what is intended. [2] Individual harm will be tolerated to repel the general harm. [3] Whoever is afflicted by two difficulties, then opt for the lesser of the two. [4] When halal and haram gather, then haram takes precedence [over the halal].

Only those who are proficient in the rules of Shari‘ah are able to derive the permissible and impermissible particulars from these rules. What greater irreligiosity is there than for those who are not proficient in the texts of Shari‘ah and principles of fiqh to simply look at a translation of a verse of the Qur’an or hadith and issue a fatwa?

It is these principles under which this current difference of views fall, in that there is a shared purpose, i.e. ascertaining what is beneficial for Islam and Muslims and saving them from religious harm is the shared purpose of both of these individuals. This should also definitely be the case in that the weakest Muslim should also not be pleased that Islam and Muslims are harmed even a little, let alone that a poor opinion is entertained regarding the walis of Allah and learned scholars. This is such a severe and dangerous mistake.

Thereafter, in the acquisition of this purpose there are currently two options, both of which are not immune from dangers, and this is something in which no one objects. Now, the only matter left in this issue that is being discussed is ascertaining which option is more harmful and which is less, which difficulty can be tolerated and which cannot, and which harm is widespread and which is confined. The example of this is exactly like two drivers who, for instance, intend to go to Makkah al-Mukarramah and need to take their vehicles along rugged dirt roads which contain ditches and are infested with bandits. There is definite danger. However, the difference in opinion is over which route is less dangerous and which is more, on which route do we think we will reach the destination and on which will we be stuck in a ditch and become utterly helpless, and on which route is there danger in the local government arresting the travellers and preventing them from returning home or going ahead. In this scenario, if there is a difference of view among the two drivers and each of them is of the opinion that they will reach the destination via one specific route whereas there is sure danger in the other path, then what fault is it of the drivers and what responsibility do they have in ensuring that the path they choose is free from danger and will definitely take them to their destination?

In this scenario, contemplate that the drivers are worried about saving us from the dangers on the road. They are completely absorbed day and night in worrying about how the caravan reaches its destination. Do they deserve to be thanked or rebuked and abused? Do they deserve as much assistance as possible, or should one place every possible difficulty in their way? Are those travellers who place obstacles in the arrangements made by their guides placing their religion and that of their brothers and community in danger or benefitting them? I shall repeat once more that whoever through his insight and experience views harm to be less in one side then let him surely adopt that path. However, where is the justice in abusing the other experienced individual or taunting them?

The two different viewpoints of the elders on whether to partition or not

You know that there are two political viewpoints in India that have existed for around 50 years. One is that Muslims are a minority and should strive politically in India with other communities, otherwise by remaining opposed to the majority it is difficult for any effort to bear fruit even though one has to overlook certain matters in this alliance. The second view is that the prejudice of Hindus is such that by joining them one would have to tolerate a great deal of religious and worldly difficulties before being even able to achieve the purpose, something that is not even definite; in this scenario it is necessary for Muslims to strive alone and independently.

My seniors (akabir) have always differed in these views and remain so now. Both views in their respected places are important. One cannot completely consider any one of these views wrong. In this scenario is it not necessary that one chooses what one considers important and wherein which harm is less and advise one’s friends that treading this path is beneficial and suitable. If there is a third path aside from these two options, then choose it if there is a guide or a driver, if there is someone who is accompanying one along that route. I am so astonished that we become so inflamed by a minor difference of view, and then begin disrespecting and deriding those who we consider our leaders and guides. And if the condition of the leaders of a community is that which we mention in our writings and speeches, then it is clear what the situation of the followers is. In this scenario, we are not just disparaging the status of these elders, but also announcing our unworthiness.

How remorseful is it that those beautiful character traits that were once becoming of Muslims have today been adopted by others while Muslims abandon them? Today there is unity and agreement in others despite their severe differences. Though they may disagree with the view of the other they respect each other. They secretly and behind closed doors, in fact openly, carry out secret talks while we consider following a senior individual, supporting him or to be included within his group to be pitting one’s self against the opposing group. We look to disgrace and humiliate them, even though we may harm ourselves or lose face [in doing so]. However, we only feel content when someone from the other group is disgraced and one of his faults is disclosed.

I will mention incidents from the first three generations of Islam (khayr al-qurun) and the pious predecessors. I have heard many stories about the recent elders of our family who were involved in court cases relating to land yet they would often travel the five to six miles to [the court in] Kairana from Kandhla together in one bullock cart. Whoever harnessed his ox first then the other would travel with him. I heard a surprising story relating to these incidents that there were two relatives who were involved in a very long court issue. The litigation carried on for a lengthy period during which the defendant passed away. The plaintiff sent a message to the widow of the defendant saying, “My argument was with my brother. You were his younger and there was no issue with you. The papers relating to the litigation are enclosed. I will accept whatever you decide and suggest.” This is an incident from this century (the 19th century) and one involving people of the world (dunya-dar). Would those who describe themselves as religious (din-dar) do this or are able to do this? How better would it be if we spent our energy in building rather than destroying.

To be continued…

Islamic Politics – Al-‘Itidal fi Maratib al-Rijal (Part One)